by Maxine Mayer
I've been through a great deal in four hundred odd years. More, perhaps, than might be expected, even for an Immortal. I'm fortunate. I am. Good looking. Talented. Reasonably intelligent. Brought up well, with faith in myself, in my identity, my cause, my strength. Simple, maybe. But strong of heart and body. And a thoroughly nice guy.
So, what I've been through doesn't really quite fit the parameters God intended for me.
I'm certain He didn't want me to endure Dark Times. Not like this. Not over and over again. Couldn't have been in His plan. Not for me. Not for Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod - such a nice guy.
This is the second time it's happened this way. Methos leaving and me sinking. I'm shaking my head over it. Making funny little motions with my lips. Like - this can't be happening. This is impossible.
First, he left with Alexa. Perfectly natural, right? Nice boy meets nice girl and they ride off into the sunset. Only - Methos is not a nice boy and Alexa was dying. And there I was - standing in front of Joe's Bar with this sinking feeling....
But we got through that. And I got Methos back. Good old Adam Pierson, another nice guy. Right?
Then, it happened again. He left with Kronos. Perfectly natural, right? His brother from thousands of years ago. What did we have in common, anyway, Methos and me? He fit better with Kronos and the other Horsemen. They understood him. Accepted him. So why this sinking feeling? Why sit in a chair in a hotel room in Bordeaux and hear my own voice crack when I answer Cassandra - sure, I'll kill him, if I have to.
What exactly would make me "have to" kill him? At what point would the cup run over and make me have to kill Methos?
I was fortunate, again. I didn't have to. It wasn't even a close call.
So, if you don't count killing with words, I didn't kill Methos and he didn't kill me and everything's hunky dory.
I'd been sitting - just sitting - in my favorite chair in my loft above my dojo in Seacouver, when I felt it. The unbearably strong buzz of a truly old Immortal. Felt like it was coming from Mexico. That far away, and that strong.
But it wasn't Methos' buzz. Something different about it. Didn't know what. This buzz was - damn it - it was stronger, harsher. The bell inside sang a major chord, not a minor chord, like Methos' buzz.
I had plenty of time to stand up, locate my katana, get it, and get downstairs in the elevator, and wait there a while, before the owner of that buzz finally made his way up to my dojo. How he found out where I live, I'll never know. From the Watcher database, I suppose. Or from the telephone book.
"I'm Quentin of York."
"Duncan MacLeod," I replied, my voice low and raspy, as if I hadn't spoken for months. I hadn't. Not for weeks, anyway.
"Put up your sword, I'm not here for you."
"Why are you here?"
One word. The only word in the world, it seemed, that could batter my heart quite that way. I swallowed hard, and stared at Quentin of York without replying.
He could keep silence too. He stood there, white-blonde hair long to his collar. Thin. Incredibly beautiful. Very young. No more than seventeen, by the look of him, when he made First Death. And so old I had trouble existing in his presence. And nothing - no hint of a phony baloney persona - to mediate between his centuries and mine. No "Adam Pierson" in Quentin of York. No "nice guy." No concessions to my youth. No concessions to the times. Flat out Immortal. Old Immortal.
Finally, I said, "What about Methos?"
"I can take you to him."
"Then let's go."
The first thought I had when I saw Methos again - a stray bit of flotsam kind of thought - was that he must have exerted superhuman effort when we spoke last, in Bordeaux, after we'd killed off the three Horsemen. To have stood there in the cemetery and made small talk with me.
Because he was cold as the grave, in a bed in Quentin's chateau in Switzerland, now. In a luxurious suite of rooms, no part of which he was using at all, except for that small portion of the huge four poster bed he'd been given, that he lay on.
Quentin said, "He's been like this for weeks. How he made it here I don't know. He didn't fly. Drove. From Bordeaux all the way here. Alone. Collapsed in the driveway."
"Why'd you come for me?" I asked. It didn't look like Methos needed a friend. More like, a doctor. Or a priest.
"He cries out - not all the time - occasionally. Finally, Lamartin and I made out what he was saying."
"Mac." His voice couldn't be flatter. His hatred for me couldn't have been more obvious. I don't know what Methos told Quentin and his partner Lamartin before Bordeaux, before this collapse, about me, about us. Whatever it was, they didn't like it at all. Not at all.
I sat down in an armchair near the bed and put my head in my hands. I didn't move or look up for a while. When I did, I was in the dark. Night had fallen and the lights in Methos' sickroom were still off. Quentin had left the suite.
I got up and opened the door to the hallway, letting in a little light. Then I went back to Methos' bedside and watched him - sleep.
I fell asleep too, my head resting on my arms, on the edge of the bed. I was wakened by Lamartin's buzz - another one so old and so powerful I was out of the chair and searching for my katana before he'd set foot on the bottom steps leading up from the hallway to this storey. He must have just arrived on the grounds.
Then I sat back down, feeling foolish, and put my katana aside.
"I'm Lamartin of Bordeaux, if you'll pardon the expression." He was older than Quentin, to look at. I realized he resembled me a little. But with a lot more charm and sensuality. A lot better looking too. And of course, single-minded. When had I stopped being that? Never mind. I wasn't any more. He still was.
"I guess you know who I am," I said, with a small smile.
"Unfortunately, I do. The man who killed Methos."
"He's not dead!" I said in a loud whisper.
"No. No thanks to you."
"Why do you say that?" I love him, I didn't add.
"Because it's true."
I changed the subject. "Has he revived at all, since he first came to you?"
"No. And if he continues this way, one of us will take his head."
"You're not serious!" I said, indignant. "That's - against the Rules of the Game."
"Really? An authority, are you? On our Rules?"
"It's like - taking a head after Quickening," I said fast.
"Not at all. It's putting a wounded horse out of his misery."
"No! I want him to live!"
"You want!" Lamartin mocked. "You want! Shall I bow before you? Are you an Incarnation of the Christian God?"
"Please - don't say that! Let me try! Please!"
Lamartin expelled a breath. "Very well. Try. You did this, damn you. Fix it!"
That was certainly confirmation of what I believed. That I did it. Whatever it might take to destroy a survivor of Methos' caliber, I'd done it.
Powerful, indeed. Fool!
You gonna bitch about it, now? "Worry it like a bone?" as Methos would say? Or you gonna "fix it," the way Lamartin said? Clean up your own mess? What's it gonna be, Duncan?
I thought such things as I went about the chateau, fetching water and cloths and changes of bed linen. And I prayed. And I thought again.
After a while, I started talking out loud to Methos, as I washed his face and body with tepid water - not too hot, not too cold, spit it out of God's mouth.... I was drifting, I think.
"So, what's happened to you, friend?" I think those were my first words. "Too brittle, too old, to survive a little betrayal, a little killing, a little Quickening?"
I was encouraged by a slight motion of Methos' shoulders, the first voluntary movement he'd made since I'd seen him like this. Unconsciously pushing away my words, probably. Pushing me away, too. Couldn't blame him. Couldn't let him do it, either.
"Hm? What's the trouble, Methos? No heart for the big heat? Got out of the kitchen, did you? You never did like to cook. Liked to eat, though, didn't you?"
I started to cry then. I mean, more than just tears filling my eyes or a tear rolling down my cheek. Really cry, hard. Sobs like his, after he'd taken Silas' head, and all the while Cassandra was standing over him with that ax. While I was bartering for his life, cashing in every marker I had with her.... Those kind of sobs.
Hadn't realized how much I'd been holding in, these weeks since Bordeaux.
Hadn't realized how much it hurt, being "through" with him.
After a while, I stopped crying and made a face. "Great, MacLeod, that's really helpful. Just look how much good it's done. Raised the dead!"
It hadn't, of course. Methos still lay there. Motionless. Pale. Every bone in his body evident. Every contour of his skull pronounced. His eyes closed. Those beautiful accepting wise eyes. I remembered that moment when we met. "Mi casa es su casa." Would I ever see that look in his eyes again? Drifting, I was drifting....
"Quentin, I think he should be fed intravenously. He's lost too much weight already. He'll be really weak when he comes round. Have you a doctor you trust, to come out here and hook something up?" I hated to talk to them, either of them, but I needed their help for Methos.
Quentin and Lamartin looked up from their meal. Then at each other. Back at me. God, they hated me.
"He needs nothing physical, MacLeod. Nothing. Have you no spiritual sustenance to offer him? An apology, perhaps?"
"Look, Quentin, he's not hearing anything. Nothing you say to him and nothing I say to him. And who is it that wants an apology? Methos, or you two?"
"Don't play games with me, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. This didn't happen in Bordeaux. This started long before the Horsemen came back into his life. Your lives."
"Leave it be, Quentin," Lamartin said. "He's not capable of understanding. Forgiving. Apologizing. He's simply distressed that he can't wave a magic wand and make Methos whole again. So he can get on with his life and forget what's happened."
"I'll never forget it!"
"Right," Quentin said harshly. "But by the time you've rationalized it away, the gods themselves won't recognize your guilt in this. No doubt, you'll convince Methos he's done something wrong, again. That he's saved your life too few times to make up for whatever it is he thinks he owes you."
"Methos doesn't owe me anything. He was there, when I needed him. Every time. Maybe, too often."
"You can say that again," Lamartin retorted. "Idiot could have had your head, and been done with it! Instead, he dragged you out of Kalas' path. Brought you back from madness. Manipulated the Kronos business. Idiot! For whom! For a Green Boy who wouldn't know his better if he tripped over him in the road!"
"Methos never looked at it that way," I rejoined. "He was - happy - when we were together. He didn't look down his nose at me. And -"
"And? You didn't - what? Appreciate who he is? Have a clue who he is? What he is?" Lamartin again.
"I can't defend what he's been, the things he's done, no." I was still strong in that. I couldn't defend him. Forgive, maybe. Ignore, even. Accept? Perhaps. Defend, no.
"He's been more than a Horseman, you fool!" Quentin spoke icily. "Has he told you nothing about himself, nothing at all?"
"We didn't exchange anecdotes, if that's what you mean."
"He's dying up there, Quentin! Will you get a doctor for him or will you have him fade to nothing?"
The two old Immortals were silent for a moment. At last Quentin spoke. "Very well. I'll fetch Lamartin's Watcher. He's a physician. He'll feed Methos intravenously, until he can take sustenance on his own. If that ever happens."
"It'll happen. He'll come round. I promise you." I promised myself. I was so frightened I could scarcely endure it, but I forced myself to leave the room without begging those two for a word of encouragement, which I needed badly. Methos would pull through. He must. He must. So he would.
It was more than a week before Methos opened his eyes and spoke. And it was all I could do to keep from walking out of his suite when he did. His first words were charming.
"What the hell are you doing here, MacLeod?" Those were his exact words.
"Visiting the sick." I smiled weakly.
"Very funny. How'd you get here? I'll take Quentin's head, if he called you."
"Then he's a dead man. 'Cause he did." This time, I smiled broadly.
"Damn his eyes!"
"Didn't know you were so angry with me, Methos. You seemed okay with me after Bordeaux."
"Goes to show what you know," he replied. "Get this stuff off me!"
I disengaged the intravenous tubing quickly, before he ripped it out. "There. Good as new. Just didn't want you to starve."
"Lot you care." Then he turned away from me, utterly, without moving a muscle. Just closed his eyes again.
"I do care. You know I do."
He didn't reply for some minutes. Then he spoke without opening his eyes. "Duncan, please call Quentin and Lamartin. And please leave the chateau. Now. I - I need to be apart from you."
"For how long?" My one concern. How long? This was doing me no good whatsoever. And I put myself first. Methos could handle it - sure he could. Hadn't I seen that? I couldn't handle it. Not anymore.
"Just go. Please."
"I want to know your history. From the beginning. And through the middle. Until Adam Pierson."
"You want what?" His voice rang with horror.
"I want to know it all. I'll sit here as long as it takes you to tell me. I don't want it second-hand from the Chronicles. Or from your friends. Or lovers. I want to hear it from you. From A to Zed. As long as it takes."
Wearily, he replied, "God, MacLeod. You haven't got that long to live, Immortal though you are."
"I've got all the time it takes. You can start any time. I'm listening."
"Which part didn't you understand? The go away, or the get the hell out of here? I don't want to talk to you. I don't want to look at you. I don't want to know you. We're through."
"No. We're not."
"What, you want a list of my good deeds? Something to match your giving Anne and her baby a house you renovated with your own two hands? Taking Richie in? Paying for Claudia's piano lessons? There are no 'mitigating circumstances' in my life, MacLeod. I'm not a 'nice guy,' never was. Never will be. The closest I come, is 'jerk'," Methos told me.
"That's not true. Even in the few years I've known you, you've come closer than that. You helped Richie. You helped Alexa. You tried to help Joe. You've certainly done more than your share for me."
"Thousands, MacLeod! I've killed thousands! Women and children. Helpless. Defenseless. For no reason at all -"
"Right. Let's try to get past that part. Three thousand years ago, you were not a 'nice guy,' I grant you that. Are we gonna get past it, or do you really want to keep sticking it to me?"
"MacLeod, as long as you see it as something I did to you - to you, not something I did to some poor hapless creatures three thousand years ago - how the hell are we gonna get past it?"
I didn't answer. I had no answer. He was right. As usual. I couldn't accept it, that what he'd done was in the past. That he didn't kill my family, my children. Burn my village. Rape my woman. That he hadn't betrayed me. Didn't even know me, when he'd done those things. I just couldn't accept it.
Was there no way around it? Because there sure as hell didn't look like there was any way through it. Not for me. Not for us.
Damn it, I love him, I thought, why am I this way? What's wrong with me? Why can't I be like Joe, like Quentin, like Lamartin? I was sure even Amanda or Darius wouldn't be struggling with this the way I was. They'd accept it. Accept him. What's wrong with me?
Methos smiled, then. "Doesn't work, Duncan, does it? There is no answer."
"There's got to be!" I shouted, desperate.
"Sure. You had the answer. We're through. That's the answer. Let it be, MacLeod. Don't trouble yourself over it. You must've lost a lot of friends in your time - in four hundred years - men and women who didn't measure up. I'm simply one of them. Let it be. Let me go." He paused. "Do it for my sake, if you won't do it for your own. This is really not good for me, Duncan. This really hurts. In case you hadn't noticed. I'm really suffering here. The sooner you give it up and get right away from me, the better off I'll be. I promise you that."
What it took for Methos to admit that, I can't imagine. A declaration of love, if ever I heard one. And I still hadn't let the scary word pass my lips. Could I even say it? Even that much? Say it, if not show it?
That much I could do.
"I love you, Methos. Please don't push me away again." Then I smiled. "It's not exactly making my coat shine, either."
"You're a nice guy, MacLeod. You needn't humble yourself. You haven't done anything to blame yourself for. I'm the one who rode with Kronos. And the rest of it. Not you."
"Well, I'm the one who murdered Sean Burns. I didn't hear you say 'we're through' after that."
"You must have missed it - you weren't really tracking very well, at the time." Methos grinned.
"Missed it? Shame. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'cut off your nose to spite your face,' doesn't it? Really noble of you to risk your life to save my soul, under those circumstances. Being through with me, and all."
"Let me put it this way, Methos. If we don't get through this - it's gonna change the face of the Game forever. Because you won't be saving my sorry ass and I won't be saving your skinny bum. And that'll be a helluva a shame. One helluva a shame. I think."
"You sure place a high value on your sorry ass, MacLeod. You think the Game won't get on without you? Or me?"
"I know it won't - not without you, Methos."
He didn't speak for a minute. Then he said, "Got along without you before I met you - gonna get along without you now." Quotes a song at me! Hard. He's a hard man. How come I never noticed that before?
But I had an answer. "Life's not a musical comedy, Methos." Brilliant.
"Really? Could've fooled me."
I pushed on, like the foot soldier I am. "I want your story. All of it. You're not getting rid of me till you tell it to me. That's final."
"You won't like it."
"Let me be the judge of that - no pun intended."
"Okay. But first get me a beer."
I couldn't believe it. "You're really gonna tell me?" I felt like someone had pulled rocks off my chest.
"Why not? Make the time pass. Always a good thing."
"I'll get you a beer." I turned to go, then looked at Methos once more. He was still pale but his eyes were bright, alive, though not welcoming, not like they'd been when we met - mi casa es su casa. I pulled myself back to the present. I didn't deserve welcome and was lucky to get toleration, I thought.
"I meant it, you know."
"What?" Make me repeat it, bastard.
"I love you." I swallowed. It wasn't as hard to say, the second time, but it still sounded - forbidden - to me.
"You're a nice guy, MacLeod. Loving me's not a bad thing to do. You'll see. You'll get used to it."
Damn him. For reading me like the funny pages in a newspaper. Damn him. And bless him. Probably why I love him.
"Well. We'll see about that, won't we?" I sighed. "I got used to Amanda, so I suppose anything's possible."
"You said it."
"Okay. I'll get your beer. You rest for a bit. Deal?"
"Deal." He smiled. Not sunshine. Maybe, moonbeams. Anyway, he was alive. My prayers were answered. If I fed him and groomed him, maybe his coat would shine again. I had to try.
I went to get beer. Five thousand years of history, I muttered to myself. And he'll stretch it out, to 'make the time pass,' the miserable bastard. Probably be a long night.
In the pantry I found that the servants had all gone to bed, while Quentin was sitting at his butler's table drinking a large glass of milk and eating from a plateful of cookies. Feeling a little lighter in my spirits, because Methos was awake, I laughed.
"Ah, MacLeod. Join me?"
"No thanks. But I'll take a little something up for Methos. He's revived. Talking. He asked for a beer, so I suppose he's on the mend."
"That's good." Quentin looked at me. Contemplated me, I should say. "All right, Duncan, I admit it. I was wrong. You do perform miracles."
"I really didn't do anything except wait, Quentin. Don't trouble yourself apologizing. Whatever it is about me you don't like, it hasn't changed in a week."
"I've known Methos for - millennia. Seen him in a dozen different incarnations. This last was the worst, the most dangerous. It could only have been your fault."
"How have I put him at risk? Look at his history, man - he's not the reclusive researcher he's been pretending to be for a couple hundred years, Quentin. Whatever he's been doing since he met me, is who he really is. The kind of person he really is."
"Think so?" Quentin sighed wearily, then took another sip of milk. "Perhaps you're right. The danger, the risk-taking, the role of protector. Being the mind behind the scenes, acting as judge and jury - he wasn't uncomfortable in that persona. It is part of who he is. Yes, I suppose you're right. But he's easy, MacLeod. So very easy, for all his layers and complications. Not suggestible. But tremendously impressionable. He is moved to throw himself into a life."
"Is that so wrong?"
"You be the judge. I knew he was in trouble when I began to receive faxes of poems he'd scanned into his computer. Pages torn from books - imagine!"
"That wasn't as bad as you thought - he had a flood in his basement - the pages were already out of the books."
"Then, you feel it's a sign of sanity when a five thousand year old Immortal sends the poetry of Shakespeare, Hopkins, Rilke to his former student?"
I smiled. "Could have been worse. Could have been poems he'd written himself."
"Excellent, MacLeod. You've put your finger on the source of my dismay. He didn't send his own poetry because he didn't believe it was fine enough to express what he felt. When he met you."
"Yes. Yes indeed."
"So what did you do about it, Quentin?"
"What could I do? In the old days, we were able to protect him - his other friends and I - if we put him in the way of safety. Get him into a monastery with congenial, lovable brothers, and he'd stay there for centuries, passing his time with books and philosophy, out of harm's way. Match him up with a man of Darius' caliber, and he'll do everything but put up his sword for good, to be worthy of Darius."
"You protected him that way - by letting him love Immortals who were pacifists by inclination?" I wasn't exactly shocked. Simply, surprised. That they cared so much for Methos.
"Certainly. For two hundred years he managed to wriggle out of Ritual Combat - this, in a man whose very essence is struggle and conquest and victorious battle! He wouldn't re-enter the Church, but he came as close as he could - to imitate Darius. He made himself into a scholar. Again. Twentieth century style. Renowned, by the way."
"But Darius was murdered, and Methos was at loose ends. And he met me -"
"Oh, that wasn't an accident, or fate. That was part of his personal Quest, you know. To find a successor for Darius. He researched you long before he met you."
"You think I'm a mistake - for him. A wrong kind of friend."
"Face it, MacLeod. You're a Warrior. You take risks. It's who you are, what you do. You protect whoever comes within your orbit. Methos is drawn into your spirit, and it brings out the protector in him. And the risk-taker. The fool. Who'd do anything for love. He's not stable the way you are. He's always 'over the top,' always 'a bit much.' Even his Adam Pierson guise is 'a bit much,' a bit too stereotypically the reclusive professional researcher. You must have noticed that."
"I noticed that he chose a lover who suited Adam Pierson. As far removed from the kind of woman the old Methos would desire as night from day."
"But that was a last ditch effort, MacLeod. He'd already thrown in his lot with you. Already risked his life for your head, with Kalas. And was about to abandon himself to danger again, at the time of your Darkness."
I was silent. Then I sat down at the small wooden table across from Quentin. "It's too late to stop it," I told him. "Way too late."
"We know, Lamartin and I. Perhaps that's why we've been so angry with you. Because there's nothing we can do to stop this. He loves you. Simple as that. He will do whatever he must to protect you. At any cost to himself."
"I love him too."
"I know that now. You must be careful, MacLeod. He's fragile. A miracle of survival, true. But a fragile personality. Much more blood on his hands, and I don't know what will become of him."
"I don't know what to do."
"Treat him as you would a lovely old musical instrument - a Stradivarius, perhaps. Don't bang him about. Don't play hard rock on him. Be gentle. Care for him. Guard him with your life. He will reward you beyond your dreams."
"I know. He already has."
Quentin looked at me as if he wanted to say something more, something special, but couldn't decide if I was ready to hear it. At last he said, "You know, he loved Kronos."
"Loved him?" I was shocked, this time. "How? The man was a monster. A stone cold killer."
"But he had an enormous heart. Great spirit. He was very old, MacLeod. You knew that, of course. Methos - appreciated - Kronos' struggle."
"What do you mean?"
"Kronos was an anachronism. Even thirty centuries ago. He couldn't make the full move into the New Times, as they were then. He was tormented by his age. By his Immortality. He wanted so much - he wanted to be a great person. A royal person. But he couldn't. He was lost in the past." Quentin shrugged. "Or so Methos saw it."
"He felt sorry for Kronos?" Icing on an ugly cake. I'd killed the man. Of course.
"He loved him, was what I said. Listen when I speak, Duncan, and you'll learn something!"
"Loved him. You're saying that I'm like him, like Kronos. That I can't move into the future. That I want to be a great person, but I'm lost in the past. The person I was brought up to be. And I can't move forward."
"I didn't say that. You said it. But there are similarities between you and Kronos. You both draw men to you without effort. And you have a cruel streak, no question. I've read your Chronicles. In that, you resemble Kronos greatly."
"And Methos loves us both."
"Yes. More. Kronos loved Methos. So do you."
I put my head in my hands. I felt worn out, exhausted. I was playing with fire. This was not a right friend for me. I shouldn't even be here. I shouldn't even have met Lamartin and Quentin. I'm too young. Too young....
"We cannot choose our fate, MacLeod. Besides, I'm not unhappy to know you. I'm enriched."
"Nice of you to say so. I'm beyond bewildered. Well into mystified."
Quentin stood and came round to my side of the table. He had long thin fingers. He placed his hand on my shoulder and I looked up. His buzz had shifted, suddenly, from cold to incredibly warm. I startled like a deer in the forest. "Don't be frightened, MacLeod. Some day, you'll do it, too. If you survive. You'll learn to control your 'feel,' shift it, dampen or deepen the emotions it emits. You must be aware of Methos' skill in this regard?"
"No. I'm not aware of that. I only know, sometimes I feel the love in his buzz, and sometimes, just coldness."
"And sometimes, nothing at all, just presence. Isn't that so?"
"Yes." I thought for a moment. "When he was with Alexa, I felt nothing but presence. No - emotions - from him.... "
"Of course not. How could he feel what he feels for you, when he's busy wooing somebody else? He must cut himself off. So he did. That's why I tell you - take great care with him. He's unstable. Very fragile. He does that without calculation. It's not his plan. It simply happens. Because he doesn't trust who he is. Doesn't want to be who he is."
"Doesn't want to love me?"
"Oh, now he does. He's accepted. That's why he suffered so when you turned from him. But before, he wavered. Was unsure. Shut himself down, as best he could. For your sake, please know that. And as I said - without thinking about it, without planning it. Sheer instinct."
Quentin took his hand from my shoulder and I knew our interview was at an end, for now. He left the pantry moments later, and I gathered some food and drink on a tray for Methos, and went upstairs.
Probably Methos wouldn't want to eat cheese and grapes and slivers of Genoa salami cut fine by me. Or drink fruit juice. Probably, he'd be annoyed. Ask for his beer. Ask what took me so long. But I'd try to get him to take in a little healthy sustenance before he went back to his beer diet. Gotta keep him alive. Because I want him to live. Oh, I want him to live. Now, more than ever.
"What's this? Pablum for babies? I don't want salami and cheese, MacLeod. I don't want juice. I want a beer."
"Well, maybe next time." I sat on the edge of his bed - he hadn't gotten up, I realized. Must be feeling pretty weak, for an Immortal. Damn. "Here, have a grape."
"Quit that!" He brushed away my hand, made as if to brush me and the tray I'd brought off his bed, then thought better of it, I suppose, and put his hand behind his head. "What took you so long, anyway? Waylaid in the kitchen? Been talking to the Great White Judge?"
"What'd you mean?"
"Quentin. What's he been telling you about me? Filling your head with lies, no doubt."
"Well, straighten me out. And by the way, I changed my mind. I don't want to skip the Horsemen, after all. You can start your story with Kronos. We'll work our way up from there."
Methos stared at me. "Why? Why'd you change your mind?"
"Tell me about him. I killed him. Don't I have a right to know whose head I took?"
"Duncan, I don't think I can talk about Kronos."
"Why not? Nothing I don't already know about how you felt about him. You loved him, Quentin says. Is that true? More than brothers? Closer? Why? How?"
He shook his head. "It's not like you think."
"Mind reading again?" I said, with a small grin.
"MacLeod, let it be."
"Nope. Talk, Methos." I relented. "Please."
He took a deep breath, then stole a glance at me. There was a something in his eyes - not suspicion, exactly. Maybe, fear. But he swallowed it, if it was fear. Made himself talk. Good. I need to know.
"Kronos was a special sort of man. They didn't come any bigger, back then. Or tougher. Or stronger. I did love him, if that's what Quentin told you. Believe it or not, he was fun to be with."
I laughed out loud. "Kronos - fun? Enough, Methos! Don't put me on!"
"I'm not! Truly not, MacLeod! He was fun. He loved to drink, and laugh, and wench. That's what we called it then, wenching. Funny, how it all comes back. He loved the horses. All animals. He adored sunsets. He loved the stars. He had a wonderful temper - like Quickening fireworks, Kronos' temper. I loved to see him explode. His anger was beautiful. So true, so clean. Like wonderful bells. No hesitation. No confusion. Pure."
"Sounds too good to be true," I said. This was incredible. Waxing rhapsodic over a bastard like that! God, what he must think about somebody worthwhile, like Darius!
"Oh, it was. He'd as soon kill you as look at you, if you angered him. And he was a very jealous man. What was his, was his forever. Try to steal it, or seduce it away, and you died. Period."
"Surprised Cassandra survived, then."
"Yes, you're right. He'd have killed her that night, I think. He knew me well. Too well. Better than I knew myself. I'd no idea until he faced me with it, how attached I'd become. No idea, really. I was always a bit of a jerk, MacLeod, even then."
"Not a jerk. Just - a lover unbeknownst to yourself. You were younger then."
"All right. Take my side. I was younger. A mere two thousand years old. An adolescent, if you will."
I smiled. "I remember telling Richie that I was seventy-five years old when I met Kristin, and I was still a kid."
"Not the greatest comparison, is that?" Methos said, grinning.
"Close enough." I thought. "So, Kronos was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Why'd you leave him, then? You must have run away, right?"
"No. That's not what happened. It was about two thousand years ago. Around the time of Christ. We got caught up in the Christian business. Captured by the Romans. They made him a gladiator, small as he was."
"I believe that. He must have been fierce."
"And nothing and nobody could kill him."
"Too skinny. No, not really. I managed to elude them. Slip away."
"The great survivor, you are. A regular Houdini."
"You said it."
"But you were glad, by then, to escape him and the others." I knew that was true, at least.
"God, yes. Absolutely. I'd had it up to here." He touched his nose. "But I didn't leave."
"You didn't?" I was surprised. "What happened?"
"I helped them escape, of course. Had to. Couldn't leave my brothers behind bars, now could I?"
"I should have known," I said, "the noble savage and the three stooges. You're too much."
"Come on, MacLeod. How could I leave them in prison? They were Immortal. It's the same principle as Quentin, you know. I couldn't leave him in the brothels for the same reason. It's simply not fair."
"Oh noble one - how is it you didn't have the same compunction about Kalas?"
"That was different."
"I don't know," he said, exasperation seeping from his every motion. "It just was."
"Let me guess. Gotta save that MacLeod's neck. He can't win."
"Something like that." He grinned sheepishly. "Yeah. Probably something like that. You know, Duncan, I may be a scholar, but nobody ever called me a thinker. I didn't think. I did what seemed right at the moment. Kalas taking your head - just didn't seem right."
"No. It wouldn't have worked for me, either." I laughed.
"So. What else do you want to know?"
"When'd you meet Darius?"
"Wow, you don't miss a beat, do you? You got a list of these questions someplace?"
"Just talk, Methos."
"Darius. Darius." Methos sighed. "He'd already become a Christian by the time I met him. Already a religious. Pretty holy, too. All atoned for, his crimes, such as they were. Not that I ever thought they were crimes. He was simply a Warrior Immortal, like any of us." He held up his hand. "I mean, any of us besides me."
"I didn't say anything!"
"You were thinking, MacLeod. I saw it. You were thinking!"
"Don't change the subject. Talk about Darius. How'd you become friends?"
"Through Quentin and Lamartin. Business dealings. Quentin sent Darius to fetch me - around the year of Our Lord 1200. Met up with him again in Paris, later. Then again, more recently, nineteenth century. He told me a little about you. God, how that man loved you, Mac. Hard to believe. You were - so young!"
"You watched me, didn't you?" I was curious, and not a little amused. Watchers watched, and Methos chose watching for a reason, something inside him that being a Watcher suited.
"I watched everyone, back then. It was - I suppose nowadays they'd call it a hobby. It was my life. And it was a lot harder in those days, too. Distances were real distances. Time was real time. No planes, no trains, no computers. Shoe leather was shoe leather."
"What were you looking for?"
"The One. As in, in the End there can be Only One."
"Not Darius?" I thought he'd wanted Darius to be the One.
"Yes, of course. But in case. Things happen. Darius was safe on holy ground. But there was always the chance that something might happen to him. He walked around unprotected, after all. Didn't even carry a sword any more. Let's just say - hedging my bets. And I always believed that the One would be a Warrior Immortal, not a holy man."
"Did you? Really?"
Who was this guy? Where'd he spring from? He watched, and made some sense of what he saw, and didn't share it with anyone.
"If not for Kalas, we still wouldn't have met, right?"
"Certainly not. Whatever for? Why would I want to meet Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, noteworthy Green Boy, and risk-taker extraordinaire? To get myself into trouble? No, MacLeod. We wouldn't have met even now, had it not been for Kalas."
"Do you agree with Quentin and Lamartin, then, that we're not right friends for each other?" I didn't expect an answer, just wanted to ask, in case.
"I believe that love finds a way." And at that moment he looked into my eyes, and he was my Methos again.
"So do I."
"Yes. You do."
Quentin wasn't finished with me yet. When I left Methos' suite - he'd finally fallen into a natural sleep - I went down to the pantry for a drink. The sun was coming up and the servants were about. So was Quentin.
"Might I have a word with you, Duncan, if you please? In private," he asked, coming into the pantry on the heels of my buzz, I imagine.
"Sure. Just looking for a drink. Thought your cook might know where you keep it."
"Come with me."
He led the way to his library and music room, an enormous affair, about double the size of my loft, and got out a bottle of scotch from an antique cabinet. He poured a glass for me, then made himself a drink. Considering that it was breakfast time, I took the fact that he was willing to drink with me as a sign he wanted to make me feel welcome. Finally.
"Salud!" he toasted.
"Cheers!" I replied, and tossed the drink down in one swallow.
Quentin refilled my glass and I followed him to a couple of armchairs which were set up in front of the fireplace. It looked like they were his and Lamartin's favorites. The cushions were worn and there were open books laying face down on the floor near one of them. He sat in the other and gestured for me to take what was probably Lamartin's chair. I sat and nursed my second shot of liquor, staring into the fire.
"I could beat about the bush for a while, but it seems a waste of effort, considering your temperament," he said at last.
"I like the straight road, yes."
I don't think Quentin was really capable of coming to the point yet, at least, not with me, because he asked, "You and Methos all right now?"
"I don't know. I don't understand any of what's been happening with us. Nothing, since the Horsemen. So I can't judge how far along we are towards being friends again." I don't know why Quentin made me speak more frankly than I really needed to, with a stranger. But he did, and I did. Couldn't seem to stop myself. Another unanswered question.
"I see." He paused. Then he looked up from his drink at me and asked, "You up for a bit of adventure?"
"What?" The man always startled me.
"Just business, is all. But it's not in Europe and it's not in Seacouver. Something - a little different. Working for me. You and Methos both. A chance to be alone together. In unfamiliar territory. A time to forget, to let things fade, a bit. What do you think? Would you like that?"
"What kind of work?" I was suspicious. Always was, of rich Immortals. Even Richie'd noticed that.
"Nothing illegal, I promise you."
"Nothing illegal." I nodded. Then I smiled. "How about, immoral?"
"Not even fattening," he replied with a grin. He couldn't have looked any younger if he'd tried.
"Okay. If it's okay with Methos."
"You don't ask whether it's dangerous."
"I don't care if it's dangerous. I'm sure Methos wouldn't give a damn, either."
"True enough." He paused. "How much do you know about gold?"
"Gold? Next to nothing. A bit about diamonds, though."
"Yes, of course. Very useful, diamonds, when you're - traveling through lives. Well, I've got to make a trade. A great quantity of bulky gold bars for an enormous quantity of tiny little diamonds. You start big and end small."
"Sounds illegal to me," I declared. But I didn't say it with disapproval in my tone.
He shook his head. "No. The gold is legally ours - I mean, it belongs to our corporation. The paperwork is righteous. The danger is in the transfer. I need people I can trust to get the gold out of the country and safely to its destination. And on the other end, to make the trade and bring the diamonds back to me."
"More than people you can trust. People who can defend your shipments. No nice guys for this job."
"As you say."
"Talk to Methos. If he's willing to do it, I've got the time. And I've got the inclination. Sounds - different. Never did anything like that before."
"Good. I need a few days to set the final details with the buyers at the other end. Then, it's a go."
"First, talk to Methos. I don't want to do this alone."
"Of course. Of course. Understood."
We sat in front of the fire for a bit, finishing our drinks. Then Quentin left the room without a word.
When he returned, I'd fallen asleep in Lamartin's armchair, only to wake to his buzz. I asked, "Well, what does Methos say?"
"He thinks I'm improving with age. 'Never had a better idea, Quentin,' were his exact words."
"He thinks old Immortals are an acquired taste," I said, inconsequentially.
"And what do you think?"
"I think I must have acquired the taste with my mother's milk, because it didn't take any getting used to at all, knowing Methos. And little more, knowing you. But Lamartin," I wiggled my hand, "well, maybe if he didn't want to strike me dead whenever he sees me, maybe I'd like him too."
"Lamartin is jealous, MacLeod. He was Methos' - friend - for centuries. Then they fell apart. And Lamartin and I became friends. But Lamartin never accepted the fact that Methos could actually get past him."
Quentin laughed. "Because Lamartin believes he's God's gift to the human race! How could he reconcile himself to being supplanted by a younger version of himself!"
"I'm nothing like him!"
"Oh yes, you are, in the two things that matter to Lamartin - looks and passion. Very like him."
"We're talking centuries, here, since they were - friends. He's still jealous?"
"Millennia. Have you found that time is important, in affairs of the heart, or self-esteem? I'm curious to know."
I shook my head. "Of course not. What was I thinking!"
"So, my young friend, I suggest you watch your back around Lamartin. He'd as soon kill you as kiss you, you know."
"It is Methos he's jealous about, not you?"
"Both. Neither. Probably, someplace inside his pretty head he wouldn't mind taking a shot at you himself, MacLeod. Never mind. He'll do nothing to distress Methos. And certainly, nothing to anger me."
"Would that anger you - if he killed me. Or - took a shot at me?"
"You've no idea how much! And neither does Lamartin. Let's keep it that way, please."
"My lips are sealed."
"You'll tell Methos, I'm certain."
"Oh, I don't think it's likely to come up, Quentin. We have trouble telling each other what time it is. And whether or not it's raining outside. I don't think we're likely to discuss your lovelife."
"Good." He smiled, then shot a bolt of buzz at me that would have knocked me off my feet, had I not been sitting already. I must really have pleased him. "Very good. But MacLeod, you must learn to distrust us all. Every one of us. All old Immortals. Including me."
"Please - not too many lessons in one day. Have a heart!"
"Oh, I do. I surely do." Mysterious smile, then fade to black, as he left the room again. And I sat in the chair drifting in and out of sleep, and thought about the mission I was about to go on, and about Quentin of York, a golden devil such as I'd never met before, nor hoped to meet the like of, again.
Methos and I started out a few days later, from Lisbon, with a shipload of cargo, including the gold bars Quentin had entrusted to us to transport and protect.
Being with Methos was so different from the few hours I'd spent with Quentin, that it was indescribable. But it was good. Warm. Human. Methos was good and warm and human. Quentin and Lamartin, for all their fire, were cold as ice. I understood, at last, what they saw in Methos. Why they guarded him with all the ingenuity at their command. Methos was unique, for our kind.
The three of them were all old Immortals. Near the same age, I supposed, although I didn't know for certain. Old, that much I did know.
But where Quentin and Lamartin had skimmed their centuries, Methos actually lived his. Allowed each age to touch him, move him, bring him joy and pain. Engaged. With the times and with the people. With Mortals. Allowed himself to be Mortal, insofar as he was capable of that, with his difference, his Immortality.
It made him so different from them. So vulnerable. What Quentin and Lamartin considered Methos' weakness, his instability - this near-Mortality of his - I believed was his greatest strength. And certainly, it was what I loved in him. Attractive as the other two were, they didn't begin to stir my heart. Nor could they. While Methos had consumed me from the moment we'd come into each other's lives. I hadn't understood why, until I met Quentin and Lamartin. Then it became clear as a bell.
I wouldn't put it past Methos, that conniver, to have dragged himself to Quentin and Lamartin's villa, and collapsed there, just to engineer such an outcome. Don't think I'm paranoid. Just realistic. Methos is a schemer, no question.
The trip by freighter to New York City was uneventful. Several trusted hands were on board to assist Methos and me in case of trouble, and to help the crew. We were armed with automatic weapons. Surprise surprise - Methos knew how to use them. Read it in a book somewhere, no doubt.
I loved the sea and took pleasure in spending hours on deck in all kinds of weather. Methos hated the sea but kept me company anyway. We talked a little about the Game. Some, about Darius. But our worst moments came when I asked the question that had been troubling me for days.
"Methos, what about women? You, Quentin, Lamartin. I've never met Immortals before who weren't ladies' men, at least at some time in their lives. Never. But the three of you talk as if women didn't even exist for you. Ever."
"MacLeod, it's our age. When we were young, women were property. Like cattle or children. Simply - property. You can tell an old Immortal by his attitude towards women."
"Are we back to the chivalry debate, now?"
"No, no. It's not that. All primitive peoples had a - less humane - view of the value of human life. And women were low down on the food chain. Back then."
"Yes. But they had their uses. And not simply childbearing."
"Of course they did. We slept with them. Married them. Had children with them. Some of us even loved our women. But they were just that - our women. They were property. 'Your woman.' 'My woman.' Do you remember how Kronos spoke to you about Cassandra?"
"Yes, I remember."
"That was typical. To him, I ought to have been frightened of you because I'd lured you away from your woman, then stolen her. To him, you ought to have wanted to kill me, for that. Instead, you ignored me, and went after him. I don't think he even understood it, at the time. And of course, he didn't get time to think about it."
"Sorry. If I'd known he was hankering after a philosophical talk, I wouldn't have taken his head."
"MacLeod, this isn't a joke. You asked me a serious question. I'm trying to answer you."
"Where are the women? In your life. In Quentin's. Lamartin's. Couldn't ask for a man more likely to be attractive to women, than Lamartin. Why, no women?"
"There are. Were. Will be. But -" he shrugged. "-our love was reserved for men, because our respect extended only to men." He looked up at me, hopefully, I think. Wondering if I'd understand. I really didn't.
"You want to know about Alexa, right? And Amanda?"
"No. I don't want to hear it. I don't need to know. It was just a question. You've done your best to answer me and I'll think about what you've said. Maybe I'll get it, after a while. Or not. It doesn't matter."
"It's not sexual, MacLeod. Sex doesn't enter in."
"No. I think for all of us - the Old Ones - sex is just something we do. With men. With women. With Immortals. With Mortals. It's not unimportant. I'm not saying that. Simply - it's not tied to love. Not necessarily tied to love."
"I'd say 'I see,' but I don't."
"Damn you, MacLeod, why don't you? Have you never loved somebody without feeling sexual desire for them? Have you never had sex with somebody you didn't love?"
"Yes. Kristin is a fine example. Sex without love. And Richie and Joe are good examples of love without sex."
"That's not love. That's friendship."
"Well, we Old Ones call it love."
"No, Methos. You're wrong. What I feel for you, is love. What I feel for Richie and Joe, is friendship." I needed to get it said. Not just for Methos' sake, either. For my own.
He blushed. "Couldn't have said it better myself, MacLeod."
"No. You couldn't," I replied smugly. Who says nice guys finish last? I was definitely ahead of the game, today.
We docked in New York and had no trouble with customs. It was only when we'd loaded our gold onto a separate truck and began the trip from the docks to the warehouse that our troubles began.
I was driving. Methos next to me in the passenger seat. Behind, inside with the gold, were the four trusted Mortal associates Quentin and Lamartin had sent along with us as back-up - Fritz, Lorca, Georg and Brett. They were all heavily armed and experienced. And smart. No oats mixed in with Quentin's beef. Whatever they knew or guessed about their masters or us, they kept to themselves. I was reasonably certain they weren't Watchers. But they'd treated us with respect and kept their distance on the ship. Certainly, they hadn't expected us to prove ourselves or win our spurs, so they must have realized Quentin wouldn't send untried men to lead them.
The trip from shipside to the warehouse further uptown, through a dark dreary section of lower Manhattan, wasn't long. At this hour of the night - around two in the morning - the streets were deserted except for derelicts, prostitutes of both sexes, and their pimps and marks. Plus an impressive number of moving trucks and cars.
"It can't be far now - around that corner, I think," Methos told me, pulling his head inside from the passenger window. "Lovely neighborhood."
"We'll come back and explore in daylight. Right now, all I want is to get this load delivered and retrieve those diamonds, and get the hell out of here. A hotel on Central Park South will suit me just fine."
"Ah, luxury! You got used to it fast, at the chateau."
"That wasn't luxury - that was opulence! And I didn't care for it much. I don't think you did, either."
"MacLeod, I go where I'm sent, do what I'm asked, and then I skiddadle back to my monk's cell fast as my big feet can carry me. I like to travel light. A chateau on my back wouldn't suit me at all."
I was about to agree, when the headlights of another vehicle blinded me. A long limousine screeched to a halt in front of us, on the narrow cross street we'd turned into to get to the warehouse. Then, from behind, another limo trapped us. I stopped the truck.
"Well - that was too easy, I suppose," I muttered to Methos.
"Right you are, MacLeod. Wonder who Quentin's opposition sent. None of our kind, it doesn't appear."
"Do as we planned, Methos, and if our men in the back do the same, we're home free."
I stepped down out of the driver's seat and stood by the side of the truck, apparently unarmed, waiting for the opposition.
A tall, well-built man came around from the passenger seat of the limo in front of the truck and walked over to me.
"If you guys hand over the keys to this truck, we'll take it and you can go."
"And if we don't?" I asked, smiling.
"Then you'll be damaged, permanently, and the truck, too. And we'll need to transfer the cargo to another truck, waiting up the block."
"Okay." Then I grabbed him and kneed him and turned him around, my arm at his throat, my knife held high, visible to anyone from the opposition. "If you want your master to live to pull another job with you, get out of your cars, tell your sniper friends to stand down and join us, and lay down your weapons."
"Do, it, fools!" shouted the man I had by the throat. "Do what he says!"
"Well, that was easy," murmured Methos appreciatively from the truck.
"Not so fast," I replied, waiting for all the leader's men to come round from their various vantage points. "Okay, who are you?" I asked the man I held by the throat.
"Name's Harris. Just a hired gun."
"Who sent you and your men?"
"Quentin and Lamartin know," the man I held by the throat, Harris, told me. "They'll deal with him. Just let me and my people go."
"Why would I do that?"
Methos leaned over and stuck his head out the driver's window. "Mac, don't start anything we don't want to finish. Let them go, and let's get this stuff delivered."
"Listen to your friend," Harris said, "we don't want trouble. If we can't get the cargo, we're out of here."
I shook my head no. "To ambush us again, further down the road. I don't think so."
"Mac!" Methos shouted, panic in his voice. "You can't kill them all."
"I can and I will."
"No!" He opened the driver's door and stepped out of the cab of the truck, weapon in hand. "This isn't what we do, Mac. Just let them go. Now." His voice was quiet and deadly, and he'd trained his weapon on me. "Now, Mac."
"Listen to your friend," Harris repeated. "This didn't go down. I'm not about to try again tonight. Let us go and you'll never see us again."
Methos added, "All your weapons, down that drain, now." He pointed to the sewer opening at the curb. I tightened my grip on Harris' throat.
"Boys, do as he asks," Harris screeched. They did. Dumped thousands of dollars worth of automatic weapons into the sewer - somebody would have a field day with them, but not tonight.
"Get back in your cars now, boys, and drive away," I said with a smile. They were out of there in a heartbeat, in both limousines.
"What about me?" Harris asked, panic in his voice.
"What about you? Take a cab!" I replied.
"Here, at this hour of the night? You'll leave me here without a weapon?"
"You'd rather I slit your throat?"
"No, no. Here's fine." When I let him go he staggered back for a moment, rubbing his throat, then ran for his life, back towards the docks.
"Let's go, Methos," I said, and ran round the front of the cab up into the passenger seat. "Drive."
He started the truck slowly, carefully, and I stuck my head out the window to look for the warehouse we were after. As we came closer to the place we were looking for, a huge garage door slowly opened and we drove on inside. We were safe with our buyers, thank God.
After Methos and I completed the transaction - turned out that Methos had experience valuing diamonds, a heritage from one of his past lives, in Amsterdam, he told me - we finished all the paperwork and took the diamonds from the buyers, parting from Fritz and his crew. They said they'd made plans to return to Europe without us. Told us Quentin didn't expect them to travel with us again. I wasn't surprised. Methos and I would make targets of ourselves, carrying the diamonds, if we surrounded ourselves with bodyguards. The rest of the trip we'd be on our own. Not that we'd needed bodyguards up until now.
"Well," Methos said, after we'd walked a ways uptown together, "that was different. And they say you're just a guy - goes to show."
"What'd you mean?"
"Just a guy - with a knife - talking down armed mercenaries. Lovely. They didn't even know we had a back-up team in the truck."
"Methos, if you take the head, you take the heart - you should know that. Harris was their leader. He paid the others. If he said jump, they jumped." I grinned. "Elementary, my dear Watson!"
"Right. So, what'd you want to do now? Get these diamonds back to Quentin or take off with them for Tahiti?"
"You think I'd rip off Quentin and Lamartin?"
"Why not? Couple pussycats like that - we could handle them." He grinned.
"Methos - where'd you bury your head for the last two hundred years? There's no place we could hide from those two, if we tried to steal from them. Don't you get it? They're everywhere. We're not alone, even now. And they hired Harris and his crew. Quentin and Lamartin simply gave us a ride for our money."
"I know, dummy. Come on, Methos. Armed mercenaries, and not a shot fired? Face it - I'm not that good."
"Well, then, if you don't want to rip them off, what do you want to do? I'm a bit too revved up to sleep now. Luxury accommodations or no."
"New York never sleeps. Let's see if we can find a bar, get a drink." I banged Methos heartily on the shoulder, and he stumbled. "Come on, Sundance, let's party!"
We found a bar further downtown, near the Village, which was still open, and went in for a beer. The crowd had thinned out enough for us to get a table. The waiter who took our order stared at us.
"Draft beer," Methos ordered.
"Scotch. Neat," I told the waiter.
"Coming up." Methos and I were waiting to talk privately, so we noticed when the waiter didn't move away after taking our order. We looked up at him, a question in our eyes. He continued to stare at us, first at me, then at Methos.
"What?" I asked. "Do I know you?"
"No. Not you. Him." The waiter pointed to Methos, and I looked a question at my friend.
Methos shrugged. "Sorry. I don't recognize you. My name's Adam, Adam Pierson." He stuck his hand out to shake the waiter's hand.
"I'm Alfie," he said, shaking his gray head. Man must have been about fifty. "But I must be wrong. It can't be you."
"Oops," I remarked, laughing. "Say hello to Alfie, Adam. And where were you, thirty years ago?"
"Alfie!" Methos stood and embraced the waiter. "God, Alfie, yes, it's me! God, Alfie, it's good to see you again!"
"Stephen? How can it be? You haven't changed - you look the same! It's been twenty-five years!"
"Take it in stride, Alfie. Come on, join us for a drink. This is my friend, Duncan. Meet Alfie, the Queen of the Silver Dollar, so to speak!"
"Of all the gin joints, in all the cities in the world, you had to walk into mine!" Alfie said, with a smile. "I'll get us something to drink. Be right back."
When Alfie walked away I said to Methos, "Make it quick, old pal. Who's this guy and why's he taking your age in stride?"
"He's Alfie, old flame of mine. And he's taking my age in stride because he's so glad to see me again he doesn't give a damn. Lighten up, MacLeod. It'll be all right. He's - okay. Like Joe. Knows how to keep a secret."
"If you say so."
"I say so," Methos repeated solemnly. "Besides, it's a little late to run and hide, isn't it?"
"When you're right, you're right."
Alfie returned with drinks and then joined us at the table, on my side of the booth, so he could look his heart's fill at 'Stephen,' his old flame.
"Damn your eyes, Stephen, I mourned you for years, when you left. Couldn't sing a note. Worked the bars, to live. Where'd you go?"
"Didn't you get my letter? Or the key?" Methos asked.
"What letter? What key?"
"Safety deposit box. Contents would have kept you in style, to this day."
"Leon must have stolen it. Bastard disappeared right after you. Didn't say a word. God, I missed you. Nobody knew all the lyrics to all the old songs the way you did, Stephen."
"Except for you, friend." Methos grinned. "Damn, it's good to see you! You just waiting bar, or are you singing someplace, too?"
"Sometimes, Saturday nights, I do a set or two for Tumbler - you remember Tumbler? He finally put together enough money to buy a tavern of his own - calls it 'My Gal' - pretty popular cabaret. Really only a piano bar. As I say, I do a set or two, weekends."
"Sounds like fun. Wish I could hear you again, Alfie."
"You two planning on being in the city long? Tumbler'd love to see you again, Stephen."
"Mac - what'd you say? Can we do it? Spend one more day in New York?"
"Look - we do what you like. I'll go along, if it'll make you happy. But how many of your 'old flames' are you ready to meet, looking like you do?"
"Oh, Tumbler's cool," Alfie replied for Methos. "He won't say a word. And there's nobody left of the old crowd save us two. I'm afraid the plague struck us down like dogs, Stephen." He turned to me. "AIDS, you know. Only us couple old celibates left, from the old days."
"You can't mean it. No!" Methos had turned white.
"I do mean it. Not a songster in the bunch, didn't succumb. Sorry, old flake, just the way it is. We sang pretty, we really did, but that didn't save us." Then Alfie asked the same kind of question I'd asked Methos so many times. "Where you been, Stephen? On a desert island someplace? You must have lost plenty friends to AIDS, over the last thirty years."
"Actually, I've been - away. Studying." Methos was pale. He trembled like a leaf. I could hear his heart thumping across the table. And his aura twanged at me - discordant, harsh.
"Alfie, listen," I said. "It's been good meeting you. We'll come by tomorrow night, to The Gal, and hear you sing. Right now, I think our friend's a little tired. He's not as young as he looks, you know."
"Yeah, that's for sure." Alfie stared at me. "You take good care of him, hear me? He's a special guy. See he gets some rest. And make him come tomorrow night."
Methos stood up, and I did too. "I'll be there, Alfie. Wouldn't miss it." He embraced the waiter again, and we left the bar. I looked back when we'd walked down the street several yards. Alfie was standing in the doorway, watching us move away. I took pity on him and waved, and he returned the wave, after a moment. Just what I needed. More friends of Methos from the old days. At least, it wasn't from three thousand years back.
I found a cab as quickly as I could and bundled Methos into it. He looked in a state of shock. Damn, I never should have agreed to this trip. He wasn't up for it. Then, to meet an old friend - luck of the damned, Methos had. I gave the cabby orders to get us to Central Park South, and hoped the hotel I'd made reservations at had kept our rooms. Thank God, they had.
When the bell hop left, I got Methos' coat off and sat him in a chair. I ordered food and beer from room service and joined Methos in another chair. The suite was elegant. I had a feeling we wouldn't be making use of much of it, though.
"MacLeod, I'm sorry. I didn't think we'd meet anybody from the old days -"
I smiled. "You never do, do you?"
"Alfie and I were close. Really close."
"You saying what I think you're saying."
He grinned sheepishly. "If you think I'm saying what I'm saying, then, yeah."
The waiter came with our order and I passed a beer to Methos.
"What's the story, old friend. Watchers, cabaret singers. What's been going on with you, this last half century?"
"How better to avoid other Immortals? Who looks for our kind in Greenwich Village?"
"Still singing the old song, Methos?" I wasn't angry. Not really. Just a little tired. And bewildered. Quentin and Lamartin - that's one thing. Alfie and Tumbler, quite another.
"Boy, MacLeod, nothing pleases you! I run with a rough crowd, and you're offended. I hang out with artistes, and you're pissed. What's a man to do? I am who I am. What I am. My life's an open book. Read it and weep."
"I'm not offended. I'm not pissed. Just -"
"Shocked? How does this stack up - better or worse than Kronos and the Horsemen? With you?"
"Don't lose your temper, Methos. I told you - it's okay. Just - a little out of my province, is all."
"You can say that again."
"If you want me to, I'll say it again. I'm bewildered. An Immortal - and not just any Immortal, someone of your caliber, hanging around in bars and among Watchers. It's so strange. I can't get it through my head. At least, with the Watchers, I've had time to get used to it. This - this is -"
"Shocking?" He nodded his head. "I know, Duncan. Why'd you think I put up a struggle, when I met you? Tried so hard to get away from us? Because of this kind of thing. Because of who you are, and who I am. You're a hero. I'm just a guy. It didn't look much like it'd work, for us. You can see I was right."
"I'm no hero, Methos. Not by a longshot. And if it weren't for you, I'd be a dead man by now."
"That doesn't make me a right kind of friend for you, as you'd say."
"Doesn't make you a wrong kind of friend, either."
We were both quiet for a while, drinking our beers. In his distraction, I noticed Methos even took in a little food. Good, he was eating something, anything, I thought. Then I thought, am I his mother?
"They're all dead, MacLeod. All of them. So much life - gone. And I'm still here."
"Yeah. You're still here. You're Immortal. Must've happened to you hundreds of times."
He shook his head. "Doesn't make it any easier. Especially not hearing it like that, from Alfie."
"Practically accused you of not giving a damn. Where have you been, anyway, that you didn't realize what AIDS would do to that crowd?"
"Just where I said. Studying. Being a scholar. Then, being a Watcher. Busy busy. Too busy to keep tabs on my old friends, I suppose. Or draw the connection between Pestilence and Death."
"Don't blame yourself. You didn't kill them."
"But I survived."
"We always survive, Methos. It's who we are. Would you rather we didn't?"
"You know the answer to that one, Duncan."
"So. Let's get some rest, buy some clothes. Then, put on a happy face and go sing show tunes with your old buddies, like the nice guy you are."
"I'm not going alone."
"No, you're not. I'll be with you, every step of the way. But I won't sing. Gotta draw the line somewhere."
The ache was still there, in Methos' aura. And my heart felt as sore as if I'd taken a bullet. But we laughed. That was something. We did laugh.
It was nearly a week before I could drag Methos away from his old friends, that old life, and get us on a plane back to Switzerland, with Quentin and Lamartin's diamonds. I'd phoned ahead and Quentin sent a limousine to meet us at the airport and bring us to the chateau.
"Methos, Duncan, good to see you again. Successful, as well. How good it is to know one's trust is well placed," Quentin said in greeting.
"Good to be back, Quentin," Methos replied with a smile. Then he hugged the lovely boy. Being around Alfie and Tumbler had softened him, somehow. His aura felt open and light. He smiled all the time. And he appeared to be a nice guy again. No more Methos, violent Horseman. No more Adam Pierson, reclusive scholar. Just Stephen, singer of sad sweet songs. It was a little disorienting, for me, but nice. Quite nice. Strange though, how no face he wore seemed less real than all the other faces. Somehow, Methos really was all these people - these 'incarnations' - as Quentin had dubbed them.
"My God, Methos, where've you been? Who with? A hug? Not since the celibate centuries have you hugged me! Missed that." Quentin actually beamed. I braced myself against his buzz, or it would have knock me down.
"And me, mi figlio? Am I to be left in the cold?" Lamartin asked, smiling his sensual smile.
"Never!" And Methos hugged Lamartin as well.
"Good, that felt good! I've missed you, figlio mio! These last years -" Lamartin didn't finish his sentence. There were actually tears in his eyes.
"A drink! Champagne! He's back!" Quentin shepherded us into the chateau, then took me aside for a moment. "Duncan, friend. What can I say? You have the diamonds?"
"Here." I handed over the pouch to him. Amazing, how small a pouch of diamonds that much gold will buy. Amazing, how much those diamonds were worth.
"Thank you, Duncan. You've done well. Very well. In all I trusted to you," he added pointedly.
"Not my doing. We bumped into a friend of Methos from the old days - about thirty years ago. The man and his friends did the rest. Methos is like a new man, somebody I've never seen before."
"Yes. He would seem that way, to you. But he's the old Methos again, to Lamartin and me. Sweet and hot and happy. That cerebral business was killing him, you know."
"What'd you mean?"
"The Watchers, the research, the Chronicles. The reclusive meek persona. The acerbic wit - just to keep his hand in. It was destroying him. We were nearly ready to let him go out and take heads, just to get a little fire back into him."
"And then he met me, and you didn't need to 'let him' do anything." I understood, at last.
"It wasn't the best way to go. We'd have preferred him to take heads on his own, rather than for your sake. But we were ready to accept whatever we could get, by that point. He had to leave the Watchers, leave that persona. It was killing him."
"I dunno. He seemed happy enough to me."
"Seemed is the operative word. He always 'seems' happy. He's an actor. But you know that."
"Oh yeah. I know that much."
"MacLeod - anything you need, anything you desire - simply ask, and it's yours. You've done our kind a great service. I know you didn't do it for our sake, but you did it, nevertheless. You've brought him back from the dead and you've stuck by him despite your misgivings. We owe Methos' resurrection to you. And we know how to show our gratitude."
"Please, Quentin. Don't even think about it. Just don't fight me for his friendship. That's all I ask. I need him. And I think he needs me. Don't fight us."
"I won't. That's a promise, MacLeod. You two nice guys can ride off into the sunset together, and I won't lift a finger to stop you. That's all you ask?" Quentin said.
"All I ask. All I want. All I need. Thanks for giving me a chance with him."
"You're welcome. Truly welcome."
I was quiet for a moment. Then I said, "Look, Quentin, I don't think we'll get much time to talk alone again, so I want to ask you something before we leave."
"Yes. What is it, MacLeod?"
"Don't underestimate Methos. Think before you try to manipulate his life again. Promise me that, and you've made me a happy man."
"I promise," Quentin said solemnly. "I surely do." Then he grinned, beamed his buzz at me - couldn't resist doing that, I suppose - and hugged me. "You're a nice guy, MacLeod. You keep it that way."