by Meredith Lynne
Lately, it always seemed to come back to rain. Leaden skies, grey days,and thunder. There were times when he wasn't sure if the clouds were causing, or caused by, the storms raging inside him.
On a leather couch in a large room, Duncan MacLeod sat quietly, head resting in his hands. Dark brown hair, freed for once from its customary band,curled in a soft fall over his shoulders. His body was young, eternally so, but his mind and heart within were heavy with age. The gentle hiss of rain against the many windows of the loft broke the silence gently, incessantly; the occasional flash of lightning illuminated the faded brick walls in stark, icy light.
Everywhere there were traces of the past. Mementos of past travels lined the walls in curious counterpart to items of modern convenience. A designer might have described the mix as eclectic, and been impressed with the contrast between antiquity and the cutting edge of progress. Few would have seen it for what it was: The haven of a man whose life had spanned centuries, who had gathered to himself the rich beauty of each lifetime and created in his home a monument to both the history he'd witnessed and the age he currently embraced.
The center of the long room was blocked out by an oriental rug, its weave of the same muted grey, brown, and olive tones as the furniture. The couch and chairs were of fine old leather, soft as butter and beckoning with comfort. Behind the couch, a king-sized bed with a grey-green spread and plump pillows dominated the room's sleeping area, an aged tapestry softening the harsh brick wall above it. At the opposite end of the loft was the kitchen, a bare sketch of a room with dishes set on open racks above the counters and a good-sized island in the middle companioned by a few low stools.
The loft was a model of good house-keeping, from the perfectly made bed to the shining cleanliness of the kitchen. No papers cluttered the top of the long, flat desk positioned near the loft's elevator, nor did dust rest on any of the curios or pieces of art. The unrelieved order mocked the man who lived within it, at odds with the emotional turmoil rising inside him.
Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. He said the words in the quiet of his mind, and found that he'd lost the connection to them. For four hundred years, that name, that affiliation, had defined him. He'd drawn the boundaries of his soul with those words, built his life around what they meant to him.
Honor. Loyalty. Courage. Kin.
Immortals have no family, but he'd done his best to build one. The friends he'd made, he'd made his Clan. Maybe there was no formal ceremony,maybe they didn't even know it, but they belonged to him, and he to them.He'd taken Richie Ryan into his home, Joe Dawson into his confidence, Amanda into his bed. The Clan MacLeod he knew was lost in the mists of time,lost to him forever. The oaths he'd sworn to his clan had transferred to the make-shift family he'd created with no fanfare, no announcement. He didn't question it. It was the way things were.
No. It was the way things had been.
Richie had moved out. He'd forgiven Mac for the things he'd done under the influence of the Dark Quickening, but Mac hadn't been able to forgive himself. And Richie hadn't felt comfortable in the Dojo after that;he'd found an apartment, and spent more and more time out on his own. It had been days since Mac had last seen him.
Dawson was closed off behind a wall of hurt MacLeod had built for him. Mac closed his eyes, remembering all the times he'd shut Joe out of his life, all the times he'd turned his back on the man who had never asked for anything but his friendship, whose only goals had been to help him. The man who'd stood by him even when Mac had sent him away again and again. Joe Dawson had learned more about loyalty in his 50 years of life than Mac had in four hundred. He'd given of that loyalty unstintingly for years, and Mac had taken it for granted, abused it, ignored it...and only very rarely bothered to return it. Now Joe always had a smile and a drink for him at the bar, but the smile was superficial, and his eyes lacked warmth. Mac didn't even know if Joe was Watching him anymore. There were new faces haunting him through the streets of Seacouver these days,and Joe seemed to have lost interest in his assignment.
And Amanda was just....gone. He'd last seen her in Paris, after his fight with Keane; she'd taken off for parts unknown after that, and didn't bother to say where she was going or when she'd be back. It could be anything between a week and a century.
Of the family he'd built, that left only one. The one loss that cut deepest of all.
Methos opened the door to his apartment just a crack and flinched visibly as a wave of deja vu wash over him. The woman in red waiting outside, with her short chestnut hair and huge, dark eyes,brought trouble with her like a faithful servant. He hadn't known her long,but even a short acquaintance with such a woman was sometimes more than enough.
"Amanda!" he said pleasantly over the chain lock. "Go away."
"Let me in, Methos," she demanded, lips set in an angry red line. There was enough determination in her eyes to change the course of a star.
"Oh, no. I let you in, next thing I know I'll be shooting somebody in the back. Again."
"Methos, I need your help."
"I've heard that one before. Go recruit somebody with a little less to lose, all right? I'm not opening this door."
Her voice dropped an octave, to the level of velvet danger. "Open it,"she said softly. "I can enter as a guest or I can enter uninvited, but I am coming in. And you want me to be happy once I'm there, Methos. You really do."
With a sigh, Methos removed the chain and let her in. She probably wouldn't kill him if he didn't, but he didn't think much of the odds she'd leave his apartment in one piece.
"What is it this time? No, wait, I'm keen to guess." He closed his eyes and touched fingers to his temples. "I see a tall, dark Scotsman with very little sense....wrestling with a moral dilemma...someone lurking in the shadows with a sword....an intimation of danger...." He stopped, and cast a glance at the short red dress Amanda was just barely wearing. "Either that, or you've finally decided who's the better man."
The book struck him full in the chest; luckily, it was a paperback.He held Amanda's eyes with his as he picked it up, hoping she'd telegraph any further violent whims. "You lost my place," he said.
Amanda's glare made it clear that she wasn't interested in his problems. She swept the apartment with her eyes before taking a seat, her legs crossed primly at the ankles. Probably casing the place, he thought.His own eyes darted around the room, making sure everything that wasn't hidden was either bolted down or low in value. Discreetly, Methos moved to place himself between Amanda and his desk, protecting with his body the journals he'd been working on .
"There is something wrong with Duncan," Amanda said, "but damned if I can figure out what it is. He doesn't call Richie, he doesn't go to Joe's,he doesn't do anything. He just sits there in his loft and broods. Methos,you have to go talk to him. Find out what's wrong."
"Amanda, are you feeling all right? Has your memory failed you? Cast your mind back to what happened the last time you asked me to talk to MacLeod." For a moment, she actually seemed to be thinking about it. "Is it seeming like less of a good idea now?" He made his voice deliberately patronizing, in the hope that if she were sufficiently irritated, she might go bother somebody else. Dawson, maybe. Or Ryan. Methos nodded to himself at that thought. Ryan and Amanda definitely deserved each other.
"Methos, I didn't know where else to go."
He sighed, shaking his head. Whatever medicine MacLeod needed, he didn't have it in stock. "Look. I'm not going to give you a dissertation on what's happened between me and MacLeod, but believe me when I tell you: I am the last person he wants to see."
"Why?" she said, eyes flashing dangerously as she abandoned the honeyed approach. "One day you're his shadow; the next day you've vanished,you've left the Watchers, and no one is allowed to speak your name in Duncan's presence. I don't know what you've done to him, Methos, but you've got to fix it. You've got to!" Her voice broke at the last, tears filling her eyes.
"I can't! D'you think I want it to be this way? D'you think I've got so many friends I can spare Duncan MacLeod? I've tried to talk to him.He doesn't listen. He doesn't care what I have to say."
Amanda sagged into a chair, bowing her head into her hands. "I can't stand to see him like this," she said. "I don't know what to do. Coming to you was the only thing I could think of."
Methos knelt beside her chair and put a hand over hers. "There are things about me you don't know," he said, tilting her chin up and forcing her to meet his eyes. "Things that MacLeod can't live with. I'm sorry, Amanda, but whatever friendship he and I could have had with each other is dead. It died twenty-five hundred years before he was born."
"No," she said. She squeezed his hand and raised her eyes up to his. "You're right, Methos, I don't know what happened between you two. He won't talk about it. But whatever it is, this...this darkness he's living in...you're at the heart of it,and you're the only one who can take it away."
Methos unlaced their fingers and turned toward the window. Outside,the sky was dark with the promise of rain. "He needs me to be the person he thought I was. No matter how hard I've tried to be, I'm not that man, Amanda.I never have been."
"You saved his life," she said. "That's enough for me. You've saved his life several times, even when it meant a risk to your own. Why?"
"What do you mean, why?" he snapped. "Because the man's an idiot! He'll trust anybody who bats their eyes at him! He can't walk down the street without tripping over four people who want to kill him for being such a boy scout all his life, and he won't raise a hand against anyone but Satan himself."
"That's why he was in danger; it's not why you saved him from it."
Methos ran a hand through his short hair, cursing under his breath in a language that had died before Amanda was born. It was a startlingly insightful question, one he'd asked himself time and again. He still didn't have an answer. Maybe there was no answer to be had.
"Somebody had to," he muttered finally, unable to meet her eyes. And then, words he'd said before, not so long ago. "He's too important to lose."
Richie stood in front of the elevator guard in the deserted Dojo, gathering the will to go upstairs. His footsteps had echoed loudly on the hardwood floor as he'd walked into the darkened room, a lonely sound that somehow both saddened and irritated the young man. Everything had been pushed to the sides of the room, opening up the hardwood floor for Mac's workout.In spite of the warm familiarity of the Dojo, in spite of how much it felt like home, Richie could think of more than fifteen places he'd rather be. Not that it mattered; he didn't really get a choice in the matter.Joe was working, Amanda was searching out Methos, and anyway, it was his turn.
They'd agreed to keep an eye on Mac just before Amanda left. Joe had the easy part; since he'd moved up a bit in the organization, he had the authority to set a few Watchers in strategic locations. He didn't even have to leave the bar. Somebody had to actually talk to Mac, though, to make sure he wasn't considering anything stupid. Somehow, that job had fallen to Richie.
He keyed into the elevator, and rode up in silence. The small, dim space was stuffy, confining, and he reached up to pull the collar of his brown leather jacket away from his neck. Halfway to the second floor, he felt the flash of awareness that warned of another immortal's presence, and steeled himself. Part of him had been hoping Mac would be out.
His mentor greeted him at the elevator guard with a sword -- which,all things considered, was probably a good thing. At least he'd gotten past the apathy. There'd been a few weeks there when MacLeod wouldn't even look at a blade, which had made all of them more than a little nervous.
"It's just me, Mac," he said, pulling up the guard and then holding his hands out, palms open. "I've come for a beer, not your head." It was a feeble joke, but he had an easy room; MacLeod chuckled a bit as he put away his sword. Richie took the opportunity to observe his mentor unawares, quickly noting the gauntness of cheeks that normally bloomed with health and cheer. The same immortality that had frozen Richie permanently at age 18 also protected from ill health; there was very little Mac could do to himself that would cause any long-term damage. Still, he didn't look as if he'd been eating well. And he was making noise when he walked -- that,more than anything, gave Richie pause for concern. On his way past the couch, Richie could have sworn MacLeod narrowly missed bumping into the coffee table. Grace was as much a part of Mac as his immortality was; to see him without it worried Richie more than he cared to admit.
"Nice to see you, Richie," Mac said as he returned, offering his hand. "Where've you been?"
"Fulfilling my duties to the young ladies of Seacouver," Richie answered, grinning. Unflattering as it was, his sex life was always good for a laugh.
"A man's work is never done," Mac replied, answering his student's grin with one of his own. It was faint, but genuine; Richie mentally filed that under 'positive' for the report Amanda would demand later. "There's beer in the fridge."
Richie opened the door and grabbed a bottle. "Anything on TV tonight?"The top of the bottle joined its brethren atop the refrigerator, just under the wine rack.
"Hockey on ESPN."
"There's a surprise." Richie folded himself into a chair and propped his feet up on the coffee table, an insolent grin daring approbation. MacLeod glanced from the dusty boots up to his erstwhile student's eyes, saying nothing, and Richie moved his feet. Whatever's wrong with him, it sure hasn't affected his parental tendencies, Richie noted with an inward smile. Another positive.
"So, Mac, what've you been doing?" he asked, craning his neck back to look around. The loft was spotless; the bed was perfectly made, the furniture polished till it gleamed, the kitchen counters wiped clean and reflective. There were no dishes in the sink, no papers on Mac's desk. From all appearances, Mac had been holed up in the loft for weeks doing housework.
"I've been watching a great deal of television," Mac answered, his eyes following the path Richie's had taken around the loft.
"Then you'll like this," Richie said, opening his knapsack. "I come bearing gifts. You have a VCR around here somewhere, don't you?"
"Yeah, but I don't think --"
"Let's see...what've we got... " Richie began pulling video cases out of the bag, keeping up a running commentary as he went. "'Alien'...that's about --"
"An alien, maybe?"
"Yeah. There are two sequels, but we'll just pretend they were a bad dream. The second was okay, the third one was a nightmare. The first one,though, that's a classic. I also brought Friday the 13th parts one through ten. That Jason guy could teach us immortals a thing or two about resilience."
"Richie, I don't need a babysitter."
Richie paused as Mac's voice filtered through his monologue, unsure what to say. Was I that obvious? he wondered silently. I knew this was a bad idea... The truth was, a babysitter was exactly what Mac needed. He just didn't know how to word that in such a way that he'd be alive at the end of the sentence.
"I don't know what you mean, Mac," he fumbled, trying to recover. "I was just--"
"You were just taking your turn. I know. Last night I considered asking Joe's tag-team Watchers up to the loft for dinner; I would have, if I didn't know it would've scared them out of their skins. Go home, Richie. I'm not going to do anything foolish."
Richie wrestled with indecision, but just for a moment. MacLeod had taught him the value of silence, but he'd also taught him that there were times when you had to speak out. In the absence of guidance, he decided this was one of the latter. "We're not afraid of you doing something foolish,Mac," he said with a quiet intensity. "We're afraid of you not doing anything at all. How long are you going to go on sulking up here?"
"That's not what I'm doing."
"What you're doing," Richie said firmly, "is feeling sorry for yourself. It's not like you. We care about you, Mac, and we want you to get past this. Aren't you even going to try?"
"Look, Richie, I know you're just trying to help. But you can't do this for me. None of you can."
"Then you do it. Let us back in, Mac. Let us help you, ok?"
MacLeod said nothing, and Richie turned away with his thoughts in turmoil. It made him uncomfortable to see his teacher like this, so beaten.Nothing had hit him this hard since Tessa had died; Richie hadn't known what to do then, and he didn't know what to do now. He knew that there were depths to MacLeod's personality he couldn't fathom, and he felt helpless in the face of such determined misery.
And so it was almost with a sense of relief that he heard the elevator's motor grind into life. MacLeod turned with Richie to face the source of the hyper awareness that alerted them to the Presence of another immortal.
When the elevator returned, Richie breathed a sigh of relief; not just because the new arrival wasn't an enemy, but because he'd just been let off the proverbial hook.
"I was just on my way out," he said, grabbing his knapsack and moving past them into the elevator. Both men ignored him, their eyes locked in a silent test of will.
By the time he disappeared from view, neither MacLeod nor Methos had made a single move.
Mac turned away first. "Drop the elevator key on the table when you leave," he said, his voice implying that the sooner that happened the better off he'd be.
Methos blinked, one corner of his mouth twisting up in self-mockery.He'd known it wasn't going to be pleasant; he just hadn't realized how much it would hurt. "Yeah," he said, taking off his coat and tossing it at a hook on the wall. "Thanks, I'd love a beer."
MacLeod glared as Methos helped himself to a bottle from the fridge. Methos bore up under it, not unused to the expression, and popped the cap off. "You hire a housekeeper recently?" he inquired, gesturing at the general cleanliness with the bottle.
"What are you doing here, Methos?" MacLeod demanded.
He shrugged. "I honestly don't know. One minute Amanda was at my door,the next minute I was at yours. If we could figure out how she does it,we could rule the world."
"I thought you gave up that ambition."
Methos darted a look of hurt and disappointment at the man he had --still -- considered his closest friend. "It was an expression, MacLeod,"he said dryly. "I didn't invent it." He tilted his head back and took a long pull from the bottle. Something told him he didn't want to face the rest of this conversation stone cold sober.
"I don't know what Amanda told you, but I don't want you here," Mac said. "You know your way out." He threw himself into a chair, facing away from the unwanted visitor.
Methos groaned inwardly, rolling his eyes. MacLeod would never learn.For a man so sure I can't be trusted, he thought, he's awfully comfortable turning his back on me.
Perhaps it was time to make a point.
The thought and the deed were one; in a split second, Methos' blade was at MacLeod's throat, his breath coming fast from the exertion as he leaned over the back of the chair. "Is this why you want me to go, MacLeod?" he demanded as the other man froze in his seat. "Afraid I'll take your head? You think that's what I'm here for?"
"I don't know what you're here for," Mac answered carefully. The muscles in his neck were taut with the effort to keep his throat off the blade.
"I could have it now. A twist of my arm, and your head is mine. Maybe I should. It's what you expect of me, isn't it? Maybe it's even what you want from me. Shall we play it this way, then, Highlander? It seems a fair deal, don't you think? I take your head, and you -- you get to be right.I bet that sounds appealing. You die, of course, but you get to do it on the moral high ground."
A flicker in MacLeod's dark eyes let Methos know he'd injected the right amount of flippancy into the remark; it was the tone that gave him a direct line under MacLeod's skin. He'd noticed within an hour of their first meeting that there were certain kinds of remarks that, said in a certain way, worked like fingernails down a blackboard. Methos had been practicing assiduously ever since, and now considered him self something of an expert.
"I don't want to be right," MacLeod ground out through clenched teeth.
"Don't you!" Methos said, his voice hard and dark as he pulled back and tossed his blade to the floor. He whirled away from the Scotsman, pressing the heels of his palms to his temples as if to hold in all the angry, bitter things he wanted to say. Several deep breaths and counts often later, he turned back to face MacLeod only to find him out of the chair, across the room with a katana in his hand.
Methos laughed quietly, a dry and humorless sound. "A little late for that, isn't it?" he said. "If I wanted to kill you, you'd be dead already."
There was a wrenching sorrow in MacLeod's dark eyes, and evidence of an even more agonizing confusion. "Can't you just leave me in peace?"he said softly.
The plea cut Methos to the heart. He almost did leave then; if it would have eased the weariness and pain in his friend's eyes, he would have.It wasn't going to work that way, though. Five thousand years hadn't left him completely insensitive to the human heart; if he left now, with so much unsaid between them, Mac would be worse off than if he'd never come in the first place.
"I can't." Methos voice was low, trying to convey the depth of his regret for causing this pain. "Not until you've heard what I have to say to you."
MacLeod shook his head slowly, the fire draining out of him; he set aside his sword, and returned to the chair. "If you put it that way," he said. "Talk fast."
He didn't even want to look at him. Methos stood in front of him, his hazel eyes a constant request for clemency that he didn't have to give and a constant reproof for a judgment he couldn't help but make. Methos had said it himself: What he'd done, Mac couldn't forgive. Not even if he wanted to.
Perhaps, especially if he wanted to.
Moments spun into crystalline silence. Methos' steady gaze was unnerving; it carried the weight of centuries. Mac had no doubt the man could stare at him like that, unblinking, for days if he chose to. Given leave to speak, Methos was now strangely silent. Perhaps he was just now realizing there was nothing left to say.
There was no such luck in store for Duncan MacLeod.
"I don't know where to start," Methos said, sounding a little lost as he sank down onto the leather couch across from MacLeod. "I didn't think I'd get this far."
"I didn't think you had the guts to get this far," Mac said harshly.
"Don't flatter yourself," Methos answered wearily. "It would've taken more courage to say no to Amanda than it has to come here and speak to you."
Something with which MacLeod could not, in good faith, disagree. "Why don't you start by telling my why you think I'd want to hear anything you have to say."
"That's the easy part. According to Amanda, you've been brooding for weeks about the state of my soul and the nature of my past sins. Normally I wouldn't mind the kibitzing, but I've been handling the job just fine for the past two thousand years and I hate to see you wasting your time."
"The state of your soul is of no interest to me, Methos."
"If only." Methos sighed, and looked away. "Gods, if only."
Mac cast his eyes toward the floor. The sorrow in Methos' voice was an echo of his own, and he didn't even want that in common with the man who'd called himself 'Death on a horse.'
"I won't apologize to you for things I did before you were born, MacLeod," Methos said softly. "It would have no meaning for you, and it couldn't come close to expressing the depth of my regret."
"Your regrets," Mac said. "Why should I believe you have any?"
"Because you know me! You may not like what you know, but don't pretend to be ignorant of who I am. It's an insult to the friendship we did share, once."
"I thought I knew you, Methos. I wanted to know you."
"You do. You just can't bring yourself to admit it. Look at you, brooding for weeks while trying to reconcile the man I was with the man you wanted me to be. I have news for you, Highlander. I'm not either of those men."
"Then who are you?" MacLeod stood up and paced the length of the couch,a bitter anguish lining his face. "Who are you, Methos?"
Methos blocked MacLeod's path, and glared into his eyes. The things he hadn't wanted to say surged out of him before he could stop them. "I'm the guy who offered you his head so you could stop Kalas," he said, his low whisper almost a hiss. "The guy who took Kristin's head when you couldn't, so she would stop coming for you and your student. Remember Ingrid? I'm the guy who was there for you after you had to kill her. You want more? I'm the one who pulled you out of evil after your Dark Quickening and brought you back to yourself, something I knew even then I was bound to regret."That last wasn't precisely true, but at least his confrontations with MacLeod's dark side had been relatively lecture-free. "I'm the one who fought and killed a man I'd called my brother for a thousand years. You think I did that for the people of Bordeaux? I did it for you, MacLeod. That's who I am."
"No!" Mac couldn't control the anger in his voice. "That's who you wanted me to think you were."
"Yes. But it's more than that. It's who I wanted to be. It's who you helped me to be."
"You don't get to be that person. Not after the things you did."
Anger tinged Methos' voice as he answered. "What do you want me to do? D'you think that I don't grasp the magnitude of the wrongs I've committed? Do you imagine that there's some way I can atone for it? What forgiveness is there for a man who slaughtered thousands of innocents, even if he should ask it? What penance would be great enough? My life? Take it.I'd have done it myself centuries ago if I hadn't thought death was too good for me."
"So instead you pay no price."
"I pay every day, MacLeod. I pay with the knowledge of what I've done and the certainty that there is no force on Earth strong enough to absolve me. The only way I know to expiate my crimes is to live, and to feel their weight on my heart every day. I can't live long enough to feel all the pain I've earned, but I can try. It's all I have."
Mac remained silent, remembering his justifications to Stephen Keane after the death of Sean Burns. I live with it every day, he'd said. To hear his own words echoed back to him, for much the same reason, shook his composure. Could his wrongs and his penance be compared to those of Methos? And if they could...what then? He'd condemned Methos in his mind for taking pleasure in killing; but hadn't there been, for a few horrifying moments,a dark pleasure in his murder of Sean? He'd gone to the man for help,he'd been that much in his right mind; he'd resisted the urge to kill Joe,to kill Methos, each time he'd had the chance. Having been possessed of that much reason, could he honestly blame Sean's murder on the insanity of the Dark Quickening?
Or could it be that a part of him knew what power lay in terror and death, and craved it, just as Methos had all those years ago? The thought of how alike they might be made him shudder.
"Do you want to hear something amusing?" Methos was smiling a bit in self-mockery as he posed the question. "Sometimes I think that maybe there is someone out there...up there...who looks down at my life and punishes me, a little at a time, for the things I've done. Sometimes I wonder if maybe..."
"I wonder if Alexa died...because of me. To punish me."
The pain in the man's voice made it hoarse and low; it hurt Mac just to hear it. He stood abruptly, and one step brought him close enough to grab Methos' slight shoulders and shake him once, hard. For a moment, he didn't think about the things the man had done. All he heard was the hurt,and Duncan MacLeod had never been a man who could ignore another's pain.
"Alexa died because she was sick, Methos," he said firmly, his voice rough, but kind. Whatever he believed to be the truth of this man, he had never been able to doubt the depth of Methos' love for the woman who'd died so recently, in such pain. "She was a woman with a life and friends and family. God didn't put her on this planet just to kill her so you would hurt. It doesn't work like that."
"Then how does it work?" Methos demanded. Mac could almost see the other man's soul bleeding. "Alexa was possessed of such courage and beauty,such goodness..." His voice broke, and he closed his eyes, visibly struggling to regain control. "It doesn't seem possible that her death was random.The destruction of such a woman, MacLeod.... it speaks to me of malice.Of intent. I know it's irrational, believe me! But the idea that she died for my crimes... I can't get it out of my head."
"I don't know how it works, Methos, but it's not that way. Alexa's death wasn't about you. If anything, you were blessed to share her last days,and she was blessed to have someone who cared about her there at the end."
Methos laughed without humor, a cold sound that grated against MacLeod's ears. "Me, a blessing. I think not."
"To Alexa, you were. Thank God she didn't know..." He trailed off, his face tightening in self-reproach as he realized what he'd said.
"...what a vicious, murdering bastard I really am," Methos finished for him. "Yes, I suppose I do have that to be thankful for."
Mac turned away, his heart shutting down. He'd expended all the comfort he had for the man who'd been Death.
Methos closed his eyes, and shook his head slightly. A ghost of a smile, self-realization, touched his lips. "I can't do this," he said softly."You were right. I shouldn't have come."
He tossed his key onto the coffee table and turned toward the elevator.He stopped with his hand on the guard, casting one last glance around the room he'd come to consider almost a second home.
His eyes stopped on MacLeod's. "I hope someday you can forgive yourself," he said softly, his voice rough with emotion.
"Forgive myself? For what?"
"For not being able to hate me, no matter how hard you try. Amanda was right; I did do this to you. I made you my friend, and then I made you see what I am." He stepped into the elevator and pulled down the guard."I didn't intend to hurt you," he finished softly. "But then you knew that, didn't you?"
The elevator took him out of sight.
Two weeks later, Joe's
"Why can't I just stay out of things?" Amanda said, twirling her shot glass on the counter of Joe's bar. Joe took it from her fingers and set a coaster underneath it.
The place was empty, and would be for at least another hour; the single light above the bar cast the tables, bearing upside down chairs, into hazy silhouette. Bottles of every shape and size lined shelves behind the bar, surfaces catching and throwing back the light; a similar gleam, reflective tears, shone in Amanda's eyes.
"You care," Joe said gently. "We all do."
"Yes, and look at where it gets us, Joe. I was trying to help. Now Duncan won't speak to me, and Methos has vanished. Richie is the only one with access now, and he doesn't have a clue what to do or say."
"That's not precisely true," Joe said, already regretting the decision he'd just made. He'd known Amanda long enough to suspect she hadn't come to his bar just for a drink and a little commiseration. She'd come to talk him into seeing MacLeod, and he'd already resolved not to fight her on it.
Amanda wasn't blind. "I knew I could count on you, Joe. You've never let him down."
"Yeah," he said bitterly. "Good old Joe."
Her hand came up, touched his bearded cheek softly. "We take you so much for granted," she said. "You're always here for us, and the only time anybody remembers is when they want something."
Joe was startled at the woman's insight. To all appearances, a thousand years hadn't given Amanda a great deal of emotional depth, but sometimes... Sometimes she said something so right on the money you had to re-evaluate.
"You think we don't know?" she asked softly. "Mac isn't the best at talking about his feelings, especially not to the person those feelings are about. When he hurts over Methos or Richie, he comes to you. But when he hurts over you, Joe, he comes to me."
Joe shook his head, not wanting to hear anything more about Duncan MacLeod and his feelings. He'd thought about that subject for the greater part of the last ten years of his life, and even more in the years since they'd met and grown to be friends. Or whatever they were. Joe had always thought it was friendship, but lately he'd come to realize that it was one-sided. MacLeod thought of Joe when he needed information, or when he needed help, or even just a drink. He understood, now, that it ended there.
"Joe, I know you don't believe it now, but it's true. Remember what happened after Jack Shapiro put the two of you on trial?"
"I'm not likely to forget that anytime soon," he said gruffly. He still remembered the look on MacLeod's face at the end, when he'd gone to the barge to try to make things right.
"I was with him that night, Joe. He didn't sleep. He didn't eat."
"He was upset about his friend Jacob," Joe said.
"He was upset about his friend Joe," she corrected. "You were all he talked about. He told me how the two of you met, how you became friends. He even told me about your high-school sweetheart, what was her name...Bitsy?"
"Betsy," Joe corrected automatically, smiling in memory. "He told you about that?"
"He was so pleased for you when it looked like things were working out.And he worried about you for weeks when it ended so badly."
"It wasn't that bad."
"Yeah, that's what you told him, but he didn't believe it for an instant. Why do you think he dug out your old football? For that matter, who do you think got it out of your house without asking for it?"
Joe's eyes widened with disbelief. "That was you?"
"Duncan's a little big to be much of a thief."
"I need a drink," he said, reaching for his favorite brand of scotch.
"Uh-uh," Amanda said, deftly taking it away. "I need you sober. So does he."
Joe glanced at the bottle with a sigh of regret, then checked his watch. "My last set will be over at ten. I'll call in one of the guys to closeup, and then I'll go see Mac. But I can't promise you anything, Amanda,"he warned. "I can't even promise he'll let me in."
"I have that covered," Amanda pressed a key into his hand. "I know you gave yours back, but he sort of forgot to ask me for mine..."
Joe shook his head, smiling. "You are incredible."
"So I've been told, Joe. So I've been told."
"What is it with that woman?" MacLeod ranted, pacing the width of his apartment with arms waving wildly. "What's it going to take to get her to mind her own business?"
Joe shrugged. "More than you've got, I think," he said.
"Look, Joe, this is none of your affair, all right? Go home."
"Sure," Joe said amiably. "But I warn you, if I can't make any progress with you, she's threatened to send up the newspaper guy on the corner."
MacLeod tried to glare at his Watcher, but thinking of the extent of Amanda's determination brought a half-smile to his lips that lightened his dark expression for a moment "She'd do it, too," he said.
"Right. So you might as well listen to me."
MacLeod sat on the couch and looked up at the mortal expectantly. "Go ahead. I don't know what you think you're going to accomplish, though."
"I didn't come here to be your guidance counselor, Mac. I just wanted to drop off a bit of information."
"If it's about Methos, I know he's gone. Amanda left five messages on my machine."
Joe shook his head and scratched at his short, greying beard. "I know. Before I came here, I did a bit of checking. I know where he is."
"Good for you," Mac said, refusing to be drawn out. "Maybe you can send him a postcard."
"I don't think so. He's gone Hunting."
MacLeod's head snapped up. "Methos?" he said, incredulous to the point of laughter. "Hunting what? A free beer? A good book?" He wouldn't precisely call the man a coward; it was just that most of the time, where fighting was, Methos was not.
"Funny, that," Joe said, eyebrows raised.
"You don't think it's funny? How you can pick and choose which parts of Methos you believe in and which parts you don't?"
MacLeod looked at his friend reproachfully, eyes narrowing. "Joe. Not you, too."
"I just find it interesting. I mean, you accept that he's a guy who'll walk a mile in the rain for a free beer and doesn't sleep for days so he can finish a book. That doesn't conflict too much with your 'Methos is evil' theory. But you can't cope with the fact that he's also the guy who's pulled your ass out of the fire, what, three times, four? I can list them--"
"It's not that I can't accept it," Mac interrupted. "I know it's all the same Methos. But which one? Who's to say he's not still Methos the Horseman, playing some game only he knows about? Fooling us all, getting us to buy into his charming 'just a guy' act for his own reasons?"
Joe shook his head, casting a disappointed glance at his friend. "The fact that he lied about who he used to be doesn't necessarily mean he's lying about who he is."
"No. But it doesn't mean he's telling the truth, either. I keep going over things, everything I've done since I met him. And all of it - every bit - seems to have been of benefit to Methos."
"In what way?"
"Kalas wanted his head; I killed Kalas. He wanted Kristin dead; I took him to her and let him kill her. He wanted Kronos dead; I killed Kronos.What does that tell you?"
"Look at it another way, Mac. You wanted Kalas dead; he offered you his head, his Quickening, so you'd have the strength to take Kalas down. Kristin was going to kill your student; he warned you, and probably saved Richie's life. And when Kronos wanted to destroy Cassandra, you, Bordeaux, and God knows what else, he put his life on the line to stop it. Killed his brother to put an end to the Horsemen forever."
MacLeod shook his head angrily. "Damn it, Joe--I know what he did. I don't know why."
"He did it because he cares about you! The man has two over-riding goals in life; to stay alive, and to keep you alive. The rest of it, it's just window dressing!"
"I've spent too long seeing only what he wanted me to see, Joe. Look,I don't know what he is. I don't know who he is. Is he good, or is he evil? Is he Death, or is he my friend? He's lied too often. You all want me to shake his hand and pretend it's all over, but how can I do that when I can't trust him?"
Joe moved closer to his friend, a familiar look of determination hardening his eyes. "At the bar, when you told me about Methos, you said that in your gut you couldn't see him slaughtering innocent women and children."
"Yeah." MacLeod's voice was rough with the memory of those shattering days.
"So now, think about the mind set it would take to do those things. Think about how a man could do the things he did."
"That's all I've been thinking about, Joe."
"Okay. Now tell me -- from your gut -- could such a man have met, and loved, and been loved by a woman like Alexa, a woman who was dying?Could he have risked his career, his cover, his life, on the chance that an ancient legend might be able to save her? Could he have opened his heart to the pain he knew was coming to offer himself to her as a last gift before death?"
MacLeod whirled away from the Watcher, hands clenched into fists. That question -- those questions -- had been tormenting him for weeks. Trust Joe to know that. Trust Joe to ask them, and demand an answer. He'd seen the anguish in Methos' eyes when the two of them had spoken about the Methuselah Stone and the attack on Amanda; MacLeod knew that had been real, and deep. It seemed that for a time Methos had lost his veneer of sophistication, lost his habitual detachment. Replacing it was raw,aching need, an overwhelming passion to help the woman he loved, even if it meant destroying Adam Pierson to hunt down a legend.
"No," he said from behind clenched teeth, his voice almost a growl.The Methos he'd seen then was not an illusion or a lie; even in the midst of his anger, MacLeod couldn't deny that truth.
"I know you don't want to trust Methos, Mac, but you have to trust yourself. Your heart tells you that the man who did the killing three thousand years ago is not the man you befriended a year ago. If you can't believe in him, believe in yourself!"
"How can I resolve the two? How can a man change so much?"
Joe didn't back down. "How can you be the man who killed Sean Burns,who nearly took Richie's head, and at the same time be the man who helped save Cassandra from Kronos?"
"That's not fair!" MacLeod said loudly.
"Neither is what you're doing to Methos."
"How did I get to be the bad guy in this? I'm not the murderer in this equation!"
Joe's voice was lower now, so low MacLeod had to strain to hear him. "Neither is he. Not anymore. The only killing he's done in the past two hundred years has been for you, to help and protect you."
"I thought you didn't come here to be my shrink, Joe."
The other man nodded. "I didn't intend to." He smiled a little, then. "Force of habit."
MacLeod answered that with a ghost of a grin, and some of the tension in the room diffused. There was no such thing as a Joe Dawson without opinions. "So finish telling me what you came here to say," MacLeod said.
"That was it. Methos is out Hunting. You knew he'd dropped out of the Watchers. He's apparently dropped back into the Game, as well."
"Who is he after?"
"Have you ever heard of a man who calls himself Falcon?"
MacLeod fell heavily onto the couch, blood draining from his face as the implications struck home. "You're joking."
"He's using a back door into the Watcher database he thinks I don't know about. Falcon is the name he most recently looked up."
"Falcon is lethal, Joe. My god, the guy hunts for sport! And he's good at it! Methos is going to get himself killed."
"I don't think so. Falcon isn't the first he's gone after. Since he talked to you, Methos has gone after four immortals, all of them bad news.All of them killers. And two of them were good, Mac. Very good."
"And he beat them."
MacLeod shook his head. Part of him had wondered, since the first time he'd seen Methos fight, just how good he really was. MacLeod had bested him on several occasions, but each time he'd felt that it was a bit too easy.Now he had his confirmation; the man had been holding back. The thought of all the times he'd been at Methos' mercy was chilling.
But then, MacLeod reflected, I'm still alive. He was beginning to wonder what that said about the world's oldest living immortal.
"Mac, there's more," Joe said. "I...ah...I had him assigned a Watcher."
"Calm down!" Joe said, sharp-voiced with irritation. "Jason is a very close friend of mine, and I trust him completely. He reports only to me.All he knows is that Adam Pierson is immortal. Only I know that Adam is Methos.I had to keep an eye on him, Mac. What was I supposed to do?"
MacLeod sighed, and rubbed his eyes. "I guess you were supposed to assign him a Watcher. You just better pray the guy has the sense to stay well-hidden, or Methos will have him for breakfast. What has your man learned?"
Joe hesitated. MacLeod could see that he was wrestling with a decision, some bit of information he wasn't sure he should share. He'd seen the look too many times in the past not to recognize it. "Out with it, Joe.I know you have something more."
Joe relented at once, seeming almost grateful for the demand. "His Watcher got very close during the last fight. Close enough to hear what they said to each other. Adam -- Methos -- introduced himself in a very interesting manner."
Joe pulled out a miniature tape-recorder, shrugging at MacLeod's expression of disbelief and disgust. "It's a living," he said defensively, rewinding. When the tape stopped, he pushed play; the sound of Methos' voice and another's filled the space between them.
"My name is Trevor. I take it you're here to challenge me?"
"Righto, old boy." The English lilt was familiar; the Methos style was unmistakable. "Ready?"
"I don't know you. Why the challenge? Did I kill someone you knew?"
"No, not so far. But you know what they say; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. "
"A do-gooder, then? How delightful."
"Not a do-gooder," Methos' voice said above a clash of metal againstmetal. "Just a man with old debts."
Joe stopped the tape. The silence left behind was thick with implications.
"He's trying to make up for it," Mac finally said, astounded. "He's killing immortals who kill indiscriminately, to pay the debt he thinks he owes."
"That was my thought, too."
"My God, Joe...I sent him out to do it! Of all the idiotic--"
The Watcher frowned. "You told him to go hunt evil immortals?"
"I told him he wasn't paying for his crimes. I told him living with the guilt wasn't good enough."
Joe shook his head, his eyes and voice cold. "Sometimes, you are the best man I've ever known, you know that? But other times..." The Watcher sighed heavily, looking away. "You can be such a judgmental bastard, MacLeod."
The accusation in his friend's voice matched the accusation in his own mind. And he wasn't just thinking about Methos; he'd been a bastard to Joe, too. He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees, and pushed his fingers into his hair, holding his head in his hands. Concern was coiling deep in his chest, but at the same time, something else was relaxing, breaking away.
Methos was in trouble. His friend was in trouble. He sat up, giving himself an inward shake. Finally, finally, he was able to see it clearly. The Methos who had been, and the Methos who was: Two different men who happened to share the same body and the same memories, just as he and the Duncan MacLeod of the Dark Quickening had.
Death on a horse...
And Methos needed him.
MacLeod looked up at Joe, one corner of his mouth lifted in a smile. "Would you care to help a bastard help his friend?"
Around 1 a.m. An alleyway on the Dark Side of Seacouver
Methos was losing.
He'd tracked his quarry to a bar on the west side. A bit seedy-looking,but so were all the other bars lining Main Street, and at least the music was good. He'd stayed long enough for the Falcon to sense him, to see him, before stepping outside, back into the night.
The man had tracked him, then, away from the crowds. At one a.m. ona weeknight, even the wilder areas of the city were relatively quiet. Methos had found a protected alleyway between buildings a few streets over, and waited there until a flash of Presence warned him that his prey was near.
Falcon. An immortal who hunted men, not just other immortals, and not just because of the Game. He did it for pleasure. It was something Methos understood; it was someone he had been. This man, however, had experienced no epiphany, no change of character. He was as much Death as Methos had ever been, and it was going to be good to kill him. It was going to be like killing that part of himself he hated so deeply and so well.
At least, that was how he had planned it.
Methos was good -- in truth, he was very, very good. In the past few weeks, he'd come up against skilled fighters, but none who pressed him to the limit of his abilities. That was good, it was safe; Methos didn't want to try his limits. He didn't want to have to let slip the fragile control he was able to maintain -- just barely -- when wielding a sword. It would be too easy to let go, and descend into the blood-madness that had kept him alive so long; he didn't dare exercise all his skill.
And without that, without the full extent of his prowess, Falcon was a match for him.
So be it. He'd come to this place in search of absolution; if he couldn't find it in victory, perhaps he'd find it in death.
He didn't plan on making it easy, though. If Falcon wanted his head, he was going to have to work for it.
Mac heard the clash of swords before he felt the tingle of Presence; he left Joe behind, sprinting toward the source of both sensations. He didn't have to go far; in an alleyway just off the main thoroughfare, he found them.
His sword drawn, he advanced on the two men just in time to see Methos fall. The other man -- it had to be Falcon -- stood over him with sword raised for the killing blow, about to bring the blade down.
Methos crouched on his knees before Falcon, his eyes staring straight ahead, not even a tremor marring his perfect calm. His right hand still gripped his sword, but the point rested against the concrete as ifhe'd forgotten it was there.
A crazy thought -- He wants to die! -- flashed through his mind evenas he strode forward.
Falcon paused at the sight of the intruders. "Whoever you are," he said, "You can't interfere."
Mac stopped in his tracks, anguish evident in every line of his face. "Don't do this," he said hoarsely.
At the sound of his voice, Methos turned his head just a little. His eyes filled with regret at the sight of his friend, but he said nothing.
"He challenged; he lost. His head is forfeit."
That could not be argued. MacLeod's eyes were fixed on those of Methos, their dark gazes locked together in a silent communication. The sound of careful steps, and the tapping of a cane, approached from behind him; he ignored it. "He's young," he lied to Falcon. "I've lived four hundred years. Spare his life, and I'm yours." The words came without thought and without regret. He'd sent his friend to this moment, this alleyway; he had to do whatever was necessary to bring him out of it.
"No!" Methos shouted, his voice mingling with Joe's cry of protest.
The Falcon only grinned, bringing the sword down to rest against Methos' neck. "Him first," he said to MacLeod. "Then you."
"Him first, and you'll die before he hits the ground," MacLeod corrected.
"This was a fair challenge," Falcon said, grinning. "You won't interfere until it's played out. All of it. Remember the rules?"
Mac knew it, knew he couldn't stop what was about to happen. He swallowed against a rising desperation. His eyes shifted to look at Methos, wanting the man to fight but knowing there was no way it could be done.
Methos offered a small smile that conveyed an abiding amusement at his own foolishness and something else....something unreadable. He raised a hand slowly, placed it inside his coat, just over his heart. "Is the debt paid, Highlander?" he asked softly.
Mac's eyes were burning, and he almost couldn't speak. He forced the words out anyway, past the dry ache in his throat. "The debt is paid," he said.
There would have been more, but Joe's voice interrupted him, coming from his right.
"You know what?" Mac turned at the wild note in Joe's voice, and was surprised by the nearly feral grin on his face. Never before had he seen his mortal friend smile that way, with a warmth that came from anger rather than kindness and with just the slightest trace of cruel pleasure. "I just realized something," Joe continued.
From inside his jacket, the Watcher pulled a gleaming .38 and drew abead on Falcon's forehead. MacLeod watched him in disbelief, stunned beyond the capacity for action.
"I don't have to play by the rules," the Watcher said, and fired.
"Joe!" Methos stood over the body of his erstwhile opponent, a nasty-looking dagger that might have passed for a short sword gleaming dire promise in one hand while his primary blade hung loose in the other. Mac wondered just where he'd hidden the dagger; he was certain it hadn't been there a moment before. "You can't just--"
"Can't I? Looks like I just did." Joe moved closer, and nudged the body with the tip of his cane. "Not a bad shot, either." There was a small,dark hole inches above the corpse's nose. "How long do you think it'll take him to come around?"
"Long enough," Mac said. He gripped Joe by the back of his neck and pulled him into a rough embrace. "Joe," he said gruffly. "That wasn't exactly fair."He struggled for a tone of reproach, but gratitude won out. "Thank you," he added quietly. "That was too close."
Joe smiled, and reached up to clasp Mac's shoulder. "My pleasure," he said softly.
Methos was shaking his head in disbelief, gesturing at them with the point of his sword. "The two of you have just broken every rule in the book,and now you're bonding over it?"
Mac spared a half-smile. "Don't be so conservative," he said.
Methos cast a dark glance in Mac's direction. "If you could have waited two minutes longer to play Lord Protector, Falcon here would have been about a foot shorter." He waved the dirk in front of him, its edge gleaming in the light from a nearby street lamp. "I wouldn't let Kalas take my head; you honestly think I was going to give it to this bozo? This was a fair challenge, single combat between immortals, and you tried to stop it. And you, Joe!" he continued, shifting his gaze to the mortal. "'Observe, record, never interfere'...? You just shot an immortal!"
Joe shrugged. "So? I was off duty. And it's not as if it's the first time," he added with a quick, amused glance at MacLeod. He hefted the weapon again. "It won't be the last time, either, if we don't get out of here."
Mac grinned; it wasn't a pleasant expression. "Joe, take Methos to the car. Don't let him out of your sight. In fact, take him back to the loft and stay there until I arrive."
"What are you going to do?" Joe demanded.
"I'll catch up," he said softly. "I have a few things to take care of."
"Mac," Methos began.
"Don't argue with me on this, Adam," Mac replied, eyes flashing a hard warning. "Just go. I'll deal with you later. And Joe? If he tries to get away from you, shoot him." His grin was answered immediately by his Watcher.
Methos' eyes widened briefly, and for a moment it looked as if he had something to say. One look, however, stilled the words on his tongue. He allowed Joe to take his arm, and they started for the mouth of the alley.
As the two men walked away, Mac moved to lean against one wall, and settled in to wait.
Methos stepped out of MacLeod's bathroom, freshly showered and changed into a borrowed t-shirt and the only pair of sweats he could find with a tie he could cinch tight around his waist. Both were black; both were about three sizes too large.
At the moment, Methos didn't care. He was more interested in being alive, warm, and among familiar things. He wasn't inclined to test Joe's resolve to keep him at the loft; his ardor for battle had faded quite a bit since MacLeod and his Watcher had intruded on his Hunt.
Now he spared a moment to look around the room, trying to become accustomed to the idea that he was here, and not fighting for his life in a dark alleyway.
Arms folded, hands gripping his elbows tightly, as if against cold,Methos wandered between the different areas of the single room. In the kitchen,he ran a hand over a countertop, fidgeted for a moment with a rack ofcooking utensils. In the living area, he slid a finger down a stack of CD's, noting titles and artists; his lips quirked briefly upward, remembering who had called who conservative back in the alley. From there he moved to the bed and sat down on its edge, fingering the heavy olivine covering as hesank into the softness of the mattress.
"You could take a rest," Joe said from his chair. "You look like you need it." The mortal looked deceptively relaxed; he might not be able to rise with speed, but Methos didn't doubt Dawson could turn fast enough to nail him with the .38 on his lap should any such action be required.
"You wouldn't really shoot me with that thing, would you, Joe?" he asked, smiling a little.
Joe's eyebrows climbed up his forehead. "Oh, I don't know," he answered in a drawl. "I'm starting to understand why people call these things 'equalizers.'"
Methos frowned slightly. He wasn't entirely sure Joe was joking.
There was no time for further discussion; the elevator geared up, and a flash of Presence brought Methos to his feet. Dawson stood up, too.Not for nothing has this man been a Watcher all his life, Methos reflected.He knows the look.
The two of them faced the elevator, Methos with his sword, Joe with his gun.
"Relax," a voice called up the elevator shaft. "It's just me."
"Yeah, well, it's just us, too," Joe answered, putting away his weapon.
Methos was a little slower to lay down his sword.
"Put it away, Methos," Joe said reassuringly, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Mac's here, which means Falcon is a head shorter now. The deadly part of this evening is over."
Methos took a deep breath, nodded. With trembling hands, he lay his sword on the coffee table and sat down on the couch, resting his head in his hands. Seconds ticked past as he tried to center himself, to find his strength. "I am so tired of this," he said softly.
"So am I."
Methos' head snapped up. MacLeod was standing in front of his chair, a bottle of beer in each hand. Joe had gone back down with the elevator.
MacLeod held out one of the bottles; Methos accepted it. "Thanks."
MacLeod settled into a chair across from the couch, taking a long drink from his own bottle. Silence - then the question Methos knew was coming.
"What in the name of all that's holy did you think you were doing, Methos?" he demanded.
"Atoning," he said. "After our conversation, I thought perhaps it was time to try a more active penance."
MacLeod shook his head, his expression half angry, half amazed. "You could have been killed."
"I was about to take him when you so rudely interrupted. And anyway, what is it you always say? Death before dishonor?" Methos tried for an amused tone, but the weariness in his voice overwhelmed the humor.
"Yeah, and every time I say it, you laugh."
"It's not sounding so funny these days." Methos straightened, stoodup, and took his bottle into the kitchen to set it on the counter. "Thanks for the loan of the clothes, Mac," he said when he returned. He took his sword from the coffee table and rested the blade easily over his shoulder. "I think it's time I went home."
MacLeod's voice was gruff, but the word was clearly a request rather than an order. "Please stay," he added in the same tone.
Methos let his head fall forward, feeling the taut pull of muscles he couldn't relax in his neck and shoulders. It wasn't precisely pain, but it was more distant from pleasure than he usually cared to be. He turned back toward the living area, reaching up with one hand to squeeze some of the tightness out of his shoulders. "You don't have to worry, MacLeod. I'm not going to go out Hunting again. Further rescues will be unnecessary." As unnecessary as this one was, he added silently, a little irritated that MacLeod had cut the battle short. A few more seconds would have seen his dagger in Falcon's belly, and Falcon's head rolling on the street.
"That's not it."
Methos sighed. "Look, I'm leaving," he said. "The loft, the city, the state, maybe even the continent. I assure you, this is the last time Methos the Great and Powerful will intrude upon your perfect life."
MacLeod closed the space between them. Methos took a step back--not precisely out of fear, but not far from it. "Is that what you want?" he demanded.
"It's what I have to do. If I stay here, I'm going to drive myself insane. No offense, MacLeod, but you've ruined my life." Methos laughed without humor. "I was doing just fine for myself before you came along. Sometimes I was almost able to forget. At least I can say I've learned something about myself; fifty centuries old I am, and just as much an idiot as I ever was. Getting involved with you and your friends was a mistake."
"Since when is having friends a mistake?"
"Since the first person I've really given a damn about in a few thousand years decided I was some kind of monster," Methos snapped. His eyes bore into MacLeod's, anger replacing some of the weariness. "Usually that's a good indicator that it's time for an extended vacation."
"Time to run away, you mean."
"Call it what you like, I can't stay here." He tried to rein in his emotions; they flashed back and forth between anger and pain so quickly he couldn't even keep track. "I don't expect you to understand."
MacLeod gestured vaguely with his bottle. "Explain it to me," he said."I'm listening."
"Fine." Methos hurled his sword onto MacLeod's coffee table and began to pace the width of the room. "You're not going to like it, though, I promise you."
Methos reclaimed his beer from the kitchen and sat down abruptly. He wasn't sure how to start, but he knew he wasn't going to be able to stay silent. "Let me tell you what the nights are like," he said.
MacLeod's eyes clouded with uncertainty, but he nodded.
"The lights go out, and I see the blood running from my victims' bodies and soaking into the sand. I hear their screams. I see their fear. And I'm filled with such rage... such hatred, MacLeod." He stopped, shaking, his hands squeezing the cold bottle so tightly his knuckles were white with strain.
"Go on," MacLeod said quietly.
"It hasn't happened every night for the past three thousand years, but often enough. Too often. I rest there in my bed hating the killer I was. Not just for the killing, either, but for lacking the courage to pay the final price. I know what I deserve for the crimes I've committed, MacLeod; I just don't have the guts to do it. You were right about that. I deserve to die, but I want to live."
MacLeod started to speak, but Methos waved him into silence. "There's more," he said. "This is the part you're not going to like." When Mac remained silent, Methos took another deep breath and continued.
"One day, an immortal walked into my home with a sword and knew me, somehow, for who I was. And I was surprised -- I was stunned -- by his reasons for being there. You see, he didn't want to take my head; he wanted to save it."
"I remember," MacLeod said.
"Yeah, if you'd only known then." Methos ran a hand through his hair, the neutrality in MacLeod's voice cutting deep. "He did save my life. He even saved me from the closest thing to suicide possible for our kind. And he let me into his world."
"You didn't give me a lot of choice."
Methos smiled at that, remembering. "You were the first person who'd called me 'Methos' in more years than I could count, and you helped me when I was nothing to you but a stranger with a legend's name. You had honor, which I sorely lacked. You had courage, which I didn't even really want. And you had friends. Do you know how rare that is among our kind?"
"Yes, it is. You were something new under the sun, MacLeod. You intrigued me."
"Nice to be appreciated."
"So here it is. I moved into your orbit, and you accepted it. I knew it didn't count; I knew the person you accepted wasn't me. It was Adam Pierson, not Methos. Adam Pierson, world's oldest living 'guy'. I knew that you would have no respect or friendship to offer one of the Four Horsemen, no matter that I might have changed...was changing. How could you? There are no shades of grey in the MacLeod philosophy.
"So I lied. Hid the truth, anyway, which I knew you'd take to be the same thing, and then later I lied to cover that. But it wasn't about deceiving you, Mac," he finished softly.
"What was it about, then?" MacLeod asked, genuinely curious.
"It was about saving myself. Not physically, though I'll admit you're handy to have around in that regard. I've lived the better part of my life as a student, a researcher. Adam Pierson isn't that far off the mark, you know. He's who I'd like to have been, if I were mortal. I've always had a love of books, of history, of fine things. You, though -- you yanked me out of my scholarly pursuits and made me look outside of myself. You made me notice people, care about them. I didn't know how to do that before you came along, and I didn't think I could do it on my own if you left again."
Methos sighed, shaking his head. "After we became friends, you know how I banished the faces in my dreams? I'd lie there in the dark, and I'd say to myself, 'Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod calls me his friend.' You see? Everyone knows Duncan MacLeod doesn't hang out with bad guys. Your friendship... It made me think I might not be so bad, after all."
"I guess I should feel lucky to be so understood," Mac said. "I don't. You take a lot on faith, Methos."
"I'm not often wrong about people."
"How nice for you."
Methos looked away. "Kronos wanted me to kill you. You know why, don't you? It wasn't that sordid little ranger business you two had together. It was because you were my friend, and he knew it. He knew that as long as you were alive, I'd never be completely his."
"And if I'd died that day at the submarine base? If he'd won, instead of me?"
Methos gave a short, barked laugh, lips quirking into half of a grin."Moot point. If he'd killed you, I'd have been next. When I raised a blade against Silas, I signed my own death warrant."
"He was good. He could've beaten me, maybe, on another day."
"No. The first time, maybe. The last, no. You were too angry to lose, I'd seen to that." Methos shook his head, remembering the flames he'd cast about them to break up that first fight. "You know that rule about not interfering with a challenge once it's begun, Mac? Turns out it's more of a guideline..."
They laughed over that, the easiest moment that had passed between them since Cassandra had returned and turned their lives inside out. For a few moments, the two men held each other's gaze,each trying to find a way to hold on to the familiar warmth. It faded slowly; there was more to be said.
"You were right about the plan," Methos continued softly, breaking the tenuous connection. "Mostly right, anyway. The things I said to you at the car --"
MacLeod shook his head sharply. "I don't want to talk about that."
"We have to, Mac." Methos knew that he'd have to speak quickly to get the words out past his own reticence; Mac's interruptions made it too easy to back away from the truth. "Please," he said quietly. "If you're going to understand, we have to. The facts were true, Mac, but the way I told you... I had to get you away from me. If I couldn't find you, Kronos could hardly expect me to kill you. Yes, I killed. Yes, I killed a lot. But did I revel in it the way I told you I had? Bathe in the blood of women and children, laugh as I cut them down? No. That part was a lie. I hated myself for telling it, and I hated you for believing it. I liked killing when it came in clean battle. But the rest? No. There was no pleasure in that."
"Then why, Methos? Why do it at all if you didn't want to?"
"Kronos wanted it. He wanted a strong right arm, a brother, a strategist...and if I wanted to live, I had to be everything he wanted. Don't you see? It's what I've always told you. Live. Grow stronger. Fight another day. At first, I thought there'd be a time to slip away from him. I waited for it, prayed for it. Weeks turned into months, then years,then centuries. I became...complacent. The killing became routine. If I did what Kronos wanted, I had all I could desire. Books. Women. Other pleasures... Nothing was denied to me. Eventually...I didn't even want to leave."
"But you did, eventually," MacLeod said softly.
"I was angry when we spoke at the car. That was part of it. I'd hoped that you knew me better than to think I could still be that man. I'd hoped you'd be able to see that I had changed, and when you couldn't...I wanted to hurt you. Part of it was to get you away, so Kronos wouldn't know I couldn't kill you, but part of it was to hurt you the way I hurt. When you told me we were through, I was glad, and I was shattered. It meant you'd stay away from me...but then again...it meant you had no idea who I was. It meant our friendship had been a lie from the beginning, a lie we told each other and pretended was true."
"I knew you were lying." MacLeod smiled at Methos' look of dismay. "I'm not a total idiot, Methos. It took me a while, but I went over and over the things that you said, trying to fit them into what I knew about you.I couldn't. Eventually, I realized that you were either lying then, for those few minutes, or you'd been lying all the months before. I'm not that bad a judge of character."
"I don't know, Mac. I make a hell of a first impression."
"You're certainly a lot more complicated than you pretend to be."
"Occupational hazard," Methos said, grinning. Another shared moment; another chink in the barriers.
"And the plan...?"
"I thought I'd driven you away, and I knew you could take care of Cassandra. I was planning to run. But when I found Cassandra at the base, I knew you weren't far behind. I had to make a new plan, and I did. And it worked."
"You had it all mapped out? Everything that happened?"
"Two things I didn't anticipate. First, the virus. Even I couldn't have dreamt up that kind of insanity. And I didn't think he'd send both Silas and Caspian after you. I gave up hope when Kronos told me that." Methos' eyes clouded, turned inward as he remembered those dark moments when he'd believed MacLeod was dead.
"So you did expect him to take Cassandra while we met at Elysium Church."
Methos met MacLeod's eyes and held them, nodded sharply. "I did."
"She was bait. To bring me there."
"To bring you to kill Kronos. Yes."
"Why?" MacLeod's voice conveyed both pain and confusion, the cry of a child hurt beyond its understanding.
Methos took a deep, steadying breath. It was a moment before he could speak in the face of his own betrayal. "I couldn't do it myself. I couldn't kill him. I had the skill, I had the strength. I didn't have the will."
"And so you brought me to do your dirty work."
"I couldn't do it myself," he repeated. And then, the words that seemed to haunt him. "Somebody had to."
Methos watched as MacLeod tried to assimilate that knowledge. Mac's eyes were closed, his nostrils flaring as he brought in deep, cleansing breaths. He was still, but Methos could sense the tremor that ran through him; a slight vibration, just beneath the skin, as muscles tensed with the effort not to move. "She could have died, Methos,"the Scotsman said finally, his voice low and rough. "They could have killed her."
She'd never been safer. Of course, there was no way to explain thatto MacLeod, no way he'd understand. Kronos didn't want to kill Cassandra; he wanted to watch Methos do it. Just as he wanted to watch him kill MacLeod, and every other thing he'd ever cared about. Kronos wanted his soul, and he meant to have it completely. Only at the end, when Silas was posted outside her cage, had there been any danger; and even then, it had been too late. Caspian was gone, only Methos could pass along the order. And Methos,in spite of his love for his brother Silas, had no intention of letting that order be carried out.
"Now you know," he said softly. "I risked us all. I weighed our lives versus the evil Kronos could inflict if he were left unchecked, and I judged that losing them would be worth it if in doing so we could rid the world of the Horsemen. It wasn't my decision to make, but I made it. I couldn't have made any other."
"And you wanted me to know this?"
"Yes. I wanted you to know about the Horsemen, I wanted you to know I'd been one of them, and I wanted you to know what part I played when the four of us came together again. And now I want you to tell me: Is it toomuch? Judge me," he said, his voice dropping to a whisper. "Am I evil, MacLeod?"
"I can't judge you, Methos!" MacLeod said sharply. "I can't sentence you; I can't absolve you or punish you! I'm not your priest, and I'm not your judge and jury!"
Methos looked at him calmly, sadly, then spoke into the silence that spun out between them. His eyes were unreadable. "Aren't you?" he asked softly, finally. "You do a fair impression."
The words hit Mac like bullets, projectiles of truth. Methos was right; he had judged him. If Methos had chosen him as a moral barometer, it was because that was how MacLeod had presented himself. Boyscout, his friends sometimes called him. He'd always liked it; it made him feel he was keeping to his chosen path, navigating his life with honor.
An honor that had two edges, it seemed. One to cut himself; one to cut the people he cared about. He thought of all the times he'd fought Amanda over her light-fingered habits, heists that hurt no one but offended his sense of morality. The times he'd turned on Joe -- a man who'd offered him friendship and asked only for a share in his life -- and accused him, dismissed him, cast him off.
And he thought of how close the man on his couch had come to dying earlier in the evening in an idiotic attempt to live up to the standards of Duncan MacLeod. Methos had saved Richie's life for no other reason than that Richie was his friend; had saved Mac's own life, saved his very soul after the Dark Quickening.
And for things Methos had done in a different world, in millennia past,as a different man, MacLeod had unwittingly set him on a path to destruction.
Unwittingly? he asked himself in the quiet of his mind. Or did you know how close he was to the edge? Know what he might do?
Mac looked up at Methos, really looked at him. He took in the short, wind-whipped dark hair and the deep, olivine eyes so filled with weariness and hurt. The narrow, slumped shoulders swathed in one of his old t-shirts. The man seemed so fragile; too fragile to have survived five thousand years, but there was a strength in him like old iron. Mac had seen it. He saw it now, though Methos didn't seem able to access much of it at the moment.
"You truly feel that way?" he said finally, still not quite comprehending his importance to Methos. "You value my opinion that highly?"
"I value your friendship that highly," Methos said quietly.
Mac hesitated only a moment, then stood and moved to the couch, sitting inches away from Methos. He looked straight ahead, eyes on the far wall, as if he might find the right words written there.
Finally, he spoke. "Then I guess I'd better give it to you," he said, his voice low.
Methos' head snapped up, his eyes wide. "What did you say?"
Mac looked at Methos with kind eyes. It felt good to let go of the doubts. "I said that if you value my friendship so highly, it's yours."
"Just like that?" Methos' eyes were narrowing now, as if he couldn't quite trust what he'd heard.
"You were right," Mac said. "I judged you, and it wasn't my right. I wasn't there. I wasn't hurt by your actions."
Methos nodded in sudden, hateful comprehension. "I see. So it's not actually, technically friendship I'm getting. It's the warm glow of being right. That's really more your cup of tea than mine," he said coldly, standing and moving away from MacLeod.
Mac flinched at his expression. "Methos, that's not what I meant!"
"Oh? Then what did you mean? Oh, wait. I know. I get your pity, too. No thank you."
"Pity? Are you serious?"
"Oh, yes. I'm deadly serious. Poor, broken Methos. I should have expected this; I can't believe I'm actually surprised. Of course, you would have to offer forgiveness, wouldn't you! After all, it's the charitable thing to do." Methos laughed bitterly. "I'm such a fool. Have a nice life, MacLeod," he said, snatching up his sword for the second time and striding toward the elevator.
MacLeod acted without hesitation; his sword was at Methos' throat before the smaller man had taken three steps. Methos was stopped cold, standing like a pale statue with the blade millimeters from his jugular.
"You're not going anywhere," Mac said. His voice was dark, velvet with danger, and he pressed the sword closer. Methos took a step back, then another, retreating before the blade. It was a trick Methos had used on him once, and Mac was glad of the opportunity to turn the tables. In not too many steps, the couch blocked any further movement, and a gentle shove toppled Methos into the cushions. Looking down, the point ofthe sword still close enough to threaten, Mac smiled. "You're going tosit right there, and listen for a change."
It was a smile Methos recognized. He'd seen it in a Parisian church when his friend-turned-enemy had held a sword to his throat on an earlier occasion and come within inches of taking his head on holy ground. He'd seen it again just after MacLeod had killed Sean Burns. He'd seen it for what he'd prayed was the last time beside his car, near the Spring, where he'd taken Mac to confront the evil that had overtaken him.
Seeing it again now was somewhat disconcerting.
"You know that offer I made you, back when we were fighting Kalas?"Methos said carefully, keeping a close eye on the hand that held the katana.
"You offered me your head, so we could defeat him together." Mac answered. "So?"
"So, the offer has expired, Mac..."
MacLeod gave a quick, pleasantly vicious grin. "I'll make a deal. You get to keep your head, and I get your word right now that you won't try to leave here until we both agree it's time."
"You want my parole?" Methos almost laughed, the idea was so archaic. In times long past, it had been a custom among honorable men that noble prisoners would be allowed to move freely about their jailer's homes or forts -- if they gave oath that they would behave as gentlemen and not try to escape. Trust MacLeod to know of it; Methos wondered momentarily how many "hosts" the man had offered his own parole. That he should have ever violated that oath was beyond the scope of possibility, and it was somewhat amusing to think of Duncan MacLeod held, literally, a prisoner of his own honor.
"That's exactly what I want. It's either that, or my blade stays right where it is. And I warn you, I tend to talk with my hands."
The thought of MacLeod's sword perched where a particularly enthusiastic gesture could sever his head from his body was more than enough motivation for Methos. "Fine," he said. "You've got my word. Now get that thing away from my neck." He felt it wise not to mention how seldom his offered parole had held him in the past.
Mac's smile changed then, became something infinitely less threatening. Methos wondered if he knew where he'd come by the previous expression,then decided to leave it alone. Things were bad enough without bringing Mac's evil twin into the discussion.
Abruptly granted run of the loft, Methos used it to fetch another beer from the kitchen.
"What about me?" MacLeod said when he returned to the living area.
Methos let slip an amused sideways glance. It was so easy to fall back into the old banter. "Yeah, you can have one," he said. "They're in the fridge."
The dark look MacLeod returned him on his way to the kitchen was familiar. It brought back double-edged memories; the way things had been, and couldn't be again. He sighed softly, and started drinking. It would take much more than a few beers to relieve the tension in the room, but as such things went, it wasn't a bad start.
"So," he said, leaning back. "MacLeod. Since I doubt you're keeping me here because of my charming personality, why don't you say whatever it is you have to say so we can end this and get out of here?"
"You and I," Mac said calmly, taking a seat at the opposite end of the couch, "are not ending anything. Except," he added as Methos wouldhave spoken, "the pretense that either of us will be of any use to anyone with this unsettled. Agreed?"
"You're the one with the sword, MacLeod," Methos said dryly, gesturing with his bottle at the katana.
"Ah." Mac lay the sword on the coffee table, next to the one Methos had brought. "Sorry."
"I'm over it," Methos said, leaning back against the cushions of the couch.
MacLeod took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Whatever it was he wanted to say, Methos could see it was costing him dear to say it. Or to try to say it, he thought with irritation. MacLeod seemed to have lost the ability to speak.
Finally, words came. "What I've been trying to say to you, Methos...God, I don't know why I bother, but... Look. You asked me if I could accept what you'd done. I'm telling you. Yes, I can. I have. We can put it behind us, now."
The words Methos had wanted to hear. Needed to hear. And now, the moment come, it was so hard to trust them, so hard to believe. He'd thought the Mac's acceptance would heal him, give him a sense of peace, but instead it cut deep. Drew blood. God, it hurt to hear those words and not be freed. He found he couldn't speak around the pain; instead he just shook his head, eyes brimming with all the emotions he'd pent up over centuries, the guilt. The shame, when he'd realized how deeply, deeply evil he'd allowed himself to become, all in the name of survival.
"Methos," MacLeod said. He laid a hand on Methos' shoulder, squeezing hard. "Methos, I'm telling you, your friendship is of value to me also. What you did is in the past. I want it to stay there. I can't do without you, my friend. Don't make me."
The knowledge came too late, far too late to make any difference. He'd fought, he'd bled, for this man. This friend. He'd struggled with himself and with MacLeod's code of honor, desperately trying to find his wayto absolution. If MacLeod could accept him, he'd thought, maybe it would mean the end of the pain. Maybe it would mean the debt had finally, finally been paid in full. Maybe it could be over, if MacLeod, with his boyscout sense of honor and justice, could know him through and through, and still call him friend.
And now, the deepest cut of all. What he had wanted had come to pass, and it made no difference.
His eyes were blank as he stared at MacLeod, his features slack with shock. "It doesn't matter," he murmured softly, shaking his head.
"What do you mean? You've hounded me to death, Methos, you've torn me apart to bring me to a place where I can forgive, and you say it means nothing?" MacLeod sounded angry, but there was something else in his voice...fear?
"I thought it would go away," Methos said. His voice was soft, rough. "MacLeod, I thought your acceptance could take it away....but it can't. Nothing can. How could I not know that?"
"Take it ...." A pause, as understanding came."Good lord, man. You thought I could take away your guilt? Are you daft? No man can do that, no man but yourself."
"I can't!" Methos pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, blinding himself. Shutting himself away.
MacLeod moved, then, and knelt on the floor. He reached up, and pulled Methos' hands away, gripping them in his own. "You must," he said. "I can only let go of my own anger and blame, Methos. You have to let go of your own, now. Right now."
"I can't," he said again, his voice barely a whisper. There was too much. The guilt was his baseline; without it, he wouldn't know how to be Methos. As MacLeod's clan had defined him, so had Methos' guilt made him who he was. Every step he'd taken was a step away from Kronos. From Death. He'd become his own opposite, a reflection -- insubstantial. Nothing.
And maybe nothing was what he deserved to be.
Methos looked into the dark eyes so intent upon his own, and asked the unthinkable.
"The judgment has been made, MacLeod," he said. "Can you carry out the sentence?"
The words were so soft MacLeod had to strain to hear them; when he understood, his eyes went wide with shock.
Then they narrowed to anger.
The blow was stunning, knocking Methos from the couch and onto the floor, nearly breaking his jaw. "Get up," MacLeod said, his sword now at the ready. He stood over Methos, dark eyes filled with dire promise. Methos scrambled to his feet, and backed away. He'd never seen MacLeod strike in anger until this moment. And he was still coming.
Methos edged behind the couch, putting the most solid piece of furniture in the room between them. "Mac," he began carefully.
"Shut up," MacLeod growled. "Not another word. You want to die? You hate yourself that much? Then pick up your damned sword and fight."
Each word was a blow, each word drove anger deeper into his heart. Methos' lips drew together in a thin, white line. "I'm not going to fight you, MacLeod," he said, each word bitten off with icy precision.
"Oh, yes. You're going to fight, or I'm going to kill you where you stand and tell every immortal I know that Methos, world's oldest man, dieda coward, begging for his life. Should make a stunning conclusion to your Chronicle, no?" MacLeod's expression was grim, but a smile of dark entertainment darted over his lips. "Take up your sword!" he commanded.
"I will not." Methos sat down on the edge of the couch, his eyes glaring up into those of the battle-mad Scot. "Go ahead, do what you have to,"he said. "Just be careful you don't ruin your couch."
"I don't give a damn about the couch," MacLeod said.
And then he proved it, his katana flashing bright in the golden lamplight before driving deep into Methos' chest.
Mac hadn't meant to actually kill him, but Methos had goaded him into it -- probably expecting him to be so angry he'd go for the head. Mac had planned to threaten again, to show Methos exactly what it would feel like to be as close to death as he seemed to want to be. This...
Well, this was a little bit closer than he'd planned to take him.
And he was a little concerned about the couch. He wasn't particularly pleased about having shredded one of his favorite t-shirts, either.Shaking his head, Mac pulled the ruined shirt over Methos' head and used it to swab most of the blood off of the leather cushions.
After a few minutes' consideration, MacLeod sighed and took care of the rest of it, lifting Methos by the shoulders and running a damp towel around the entrance and exit wounds. Close inspection of the rapidly healing damage reassured him even as it conjured a trace of guilt; a look at the hollowed cheeks and pale skin made him feel like nothing so much as a bully. A moment later, though, he laughed softly to himself. Smaller he might be, but the man lying dead on his couch was no victim. After dumping the newly-clean body unceremoniously across the foot of his bed, he set about turning his home into a demilitarized zone.
Mac didn't want to be tempted to use his own blade again, and it didn't seem prudent to leave Methos' sword where it could be easily reached, either. Taking the man's duster from its hook near the door, he felt around the lining for whatever provision Methos had made for his weapon.
His hand connected with something solid, and his eyes widened in amazement as he pulled from the coat not only the dagger he'd seen earlier, but also a darkly malevolent pistol, complete with silencer. He thought it quite likely the same weapon Methos had used on him weeks earlier to prevent him from fighting Stephen Keane.
"Dear Lord, Methos," he muttered, rolling his eyes. "A sword, a dagger,and a gun? How many times did you think you'd have to kill the man?" He shook his head, and replaced all three weapons. Apparently, Methos had survived for five thousand years by walking around in his own private armory.Mac made a mental note never to fly anywhere with Methos. He must be hell on airport security.
Twenty minutes of work and relative peace later, all visible weapons had been removed to closets and cupboards and all traces of the confrontation had been scrubbed out of existence. If I've learned anything in 400 years of immortality, MacLeod reflected, a touch of black humor breaking through the grisly moment, it's how to get blood out of anything. A groan from the other end of the room warned that the final piece of evidence was reviving.
Blankness, grey, silence....and then a point of light. A sound. The heart beat once, then again, and then fell into its normal rhythm. A searing pain as air rushed back into still-healing lungs. A thousand needles pricking a thousand nerves throughout the body as life returned to dormant capillaries and blood, having begun to pool in the lowest points of the body, took up its remembered flow.
Exhalation, and then another breath. Consciousness, unwelcome so soon, returned as electricity sparked between synapses and neurotransmitters resumed their duties.
Methos lived again.
"Oh, god..." he said, coughing a bit on the last word. His hand moved involuntarily to the source of the pain, surprised to find his skin whole. Five thousand years, countless deaths, and it still came as something of a shock to find himself breathing and intact when every instinct told him he was dead.
A shadow loomed over him, carrying something that smelled warm and sweet. He kept his eyes closed, and felt a strong hand behind his neck, lifting his head as the rim of a mug was pressed to his lips. He drank, sipping slowly. Hot, honeyed tea. Mint, he thought, frowning. Mint and...
"...Apple?" he croaked, voice still rough with the ravages of his recent demise. "That's your idea of tea? It tastes like shampoo."
"Special recipe," MacLeod answered, setting the cup aside and helping the man to a sitting position. "How do you feel?"
"Like an animated corpse."
"More so than usual?"
Methos didn't grace the quip with a response. Instead, he answered with a question of his own. "Why didn't you finish me?"
"Have you ever heard of Quickening insurance?"
MacLeod waited patiently for Methos to catch on. "No...?" he said, cautiously questioning. After a moment of silence, his patience was rewarded with a slight chuckle and half of a smile. "I hadn't thought of that," Methos said. "You want to be careful, Mac. At this late age, growing a sense of humor could be traumatic."
"My computer doesn't have a surge protector, either," Mac added,still grinning.
"Get with the times, MacLeod," Methos said dryly. The pain was lessening, and with it the warmth of returning life. "And get me a shirt, will you?"
"I live to serve," MacLeod answered.
Methos winced at that. The words were too familiar. "You live to serve me," a voice whispered in the dark of his mind. His voice. He shook his head, pushing the memories away. "In that case, make it a sweater."
Soft, cable-knit warmth struck him in the chest; he pulled the cream-colored sweater over his head, frowning at the inches of material that hung past his fingertips. He pushed the sleeves up his arms with a scowl.
MacLeod sat next to him on the bed. "I'd just as soon leave the swords out of this from now on," he said, his expression turning serious.
"That gets my vote," Methos said wryly. Even fully healed, he could feel a phantom ache in the vicinity of his sternum.
"Good. Nobody's killing anybody for the rest of the evening?"
"Oh, sure, now that it's my turn. Fine, fine," he added, noting MacLeod's glare. "I need a drink."
"Can I have a moment of gravity here? There are some things I need to say," MacLeod said. "Things you need to hear."
"I think we've said just about everything there is to say, Mac," Methos said. "I did terrible things. You forgive me. I can't forgive myself.That ticks you off. Have I left anything out?"
"Yes, but thanks for the synopsis. You left out the part about not being Methos the Horseman any longer. And the part about saving the people of Bordeaux, maybe the world, regardless of how you went about it."
"Tell that to the guy in my mirror. Reflection of a reflection, that guy. All I am now is just the negative of who I used to be, Mac. You know what that makes me?"
"It makes me him, MacLeod. It makes me the same."
"It makes you an answer. You know, you keep telling me I think with my morals instead of my brain, but you do the same thing. And you're supposed to know better, Methos! It only took me a few weeks to figure out you're not a killer.How many thousands of years have you been working on it now? Two, three?"
"If I'm not a killer, then what am I?"
MacLeod gripped Methos' wiry shoulders and shook him. "You're my friend!" he growled. "Joe's friend. Hell, even Amanda likes you."
"Likes Adam Pierson, maybe, but that's not who I am, remember? I don't get to be that person." MacLeod's own words, thrown back at him. It was almost poetic.
MacLeod threw up his hands in disgust. "It's like talking to a wall. It's worse. Walls don't make smart-ass remarks and think they're being cute."
"Ah, but they're not as charming as I am, either."
"Not as charming as you think you are, that I'll grant you."
Methos sighed. "It's late, MacLeod," he said. "I'm hungry, I'm tired,and I've just come back from the dead. I'm finding it a bit of a challenge to maintain a positive outlook."
"Fine. I'll make breakfast, you listen. Deal?"
"I'm not sure I'm that hungry."
The look MacLeod turned on him was filled with dire promise; Methos got the hint and stretched out on the bed, fingers laced behind his head. "Can I listen from here?"
"Yes, if you'll promise to stay awake."
"If you can't keep my attention, that's your problem," Methos answered.
The sarcasm created a distance between them; Methos used it liberally, fighting for enough space to hide his inner turmoil. He felt as if his soul had been scraped raw, every emotion intensified and painfully obvious.He wanted MacLeod on the other side of the room, his mind on finding a suitably sharp remark with which to parry; he wanted him distracted.Methos needed time to build the walls back up, and fortify them.
He closed his eyes, and cleared his mind. It was a survival technique,one that had served him well in his five millennia of life. All that was painful, all that was real, all that was Methos, he pushed away, back into the dimmest recesses of his heart. He cleared the way, and then let someone else in to fill the empty spaces. Someone familiar, comfortable; not loved, but not quite despised. Adam Pierson... a man infinitely younger, less secure, unsure of himself. Quiet, bookish, unassuming. Safe.
He opened his eyes, and nearly jumped out of his skin. Mac was there, watching him with folded arms from the foot of the bed. "What?"he demanded, surprise battling with irritation.
"It's not going to work, Methos. I've seen you do it too many times.I'm only making breakfast for two, so why don't you see if, between the two of you, you can find someplace else for Adam to be?"
Methos' eyes narrowed. "Perceptive today, aren't we," he said.
"Always," MacLeod answered. "I just don't advertise it as aggressively as others might." There was no mistaking the target of that barb; Methos rolled his eyes toward the ceiling, and said nothing.
Standing over the stove in the kitchen, doing his best to mangle a pan of eggs, MacLeod berated himself for taking so long to see Methos for who he truly was. There was a great deal he didn't know about his friend; five thousand years was long enough to forget more history than MacLeod had ever learned. If the events of the Bronze Age seemed like legends to Mac, how would they look to the man who'd lived through them? The sheer immensity of time Methos had survived was impossible to grasp, even for an immortal; how many changes could those years have wrought?How much of them could Methos actually remember?
The Scot frowned, and turned off the heat under the pan. The eggs had burned; they were darker even than the bacon, which itself was a few shades closer to black than it should have been. With a muffled curse, he tossed the spatula he'd been using onto the counter, mindless of the mess,and turned toward the other end of the room where Methos lay stretched out on his bed.
"Methos, you have to be here for this to work," he said, exasperated by the other man's apparent ease.
Almost lazily, Methos opened his eyes and focused on MacLeod. "Do I look like a man with places to go?"
Mac shook his head angrily. He didn't know how to break through the barriers Methos was throwing up between them, and he didn't know how to help his friend from the other side of them. He sat beside Methos on the bed, abandoning the ill-fated breakfast preparations.He suspected neither of them were nursing much of an appetite.
"You told me that you thought I could take your guilt away. I can't do that, Methos. What I can do is help you take it away. I'm willing to do that, but I can't if you're going to wrap yourself up in Adam Pierson and pretend nothing has happened here!"
Methos sat up, easing into a lotus position."I don't get it," he said flatly. "MacLeod, I am everything you hate, everything you've always despised. You've fought and killed men for much, much less than what I've done, but here you are trying to feed me breakfast and soothe my wounded soul!"
"You were a killer for a thousand years. You renounced it. You've been torturing yourself ever since. What has it been? Two thousand years? Three?"
Methos laughed. "Renounced it, have I?"
MacLeod's eyebrows drew together. "Haven't you?"
"Why do you think I hide rather than fight, MacLeod? You think I'm afraid I might lose my head? In a thousand years, I haven't met the swordsman I couldn't best if my life depended on it.
"I'm not afraid of the dying. It's the killing that terrifies me. Every time I fight, it all comes back to me, and it feels good. It feels strong, beautiful, clean....my god, it's an incredible rush. I like it, MacLeod.I stopped it because I like it."
"But you did stop it!"
"Yes. But there's no twelve-step program for bad guys, y'know. 'Hi,I'm Methos, and I'm a homicidal maniac.' You might say I'm on the world's longest 'dry drunk'."
"So, you like to fight. That's not unheard of among our kind, you know."
"MacLeod, I like to win. And you know what winning entails...among our kind."
"Killing. In the same way I did all those years ago. I liked it then;I like it now."
MacLeod thought for a moment, his eyes turned inward in contemplation."I guess....I guess I don't understand that, Methos."
"No, I guess you don't." Methos' lips tightened as he frowned, trying to find a way to explain. "Highlander. You were born into a world that taught you about honor and dishonor, loyalty and betrayal, right and wrong.Those things are intuitive for you, they're part of your nature. I was born into a culture that taught me about mine and yours, kill or be killed, us and them. As much as your honor is a part of you, my code is a part of me."
MacLeod shook his head, smiling a little. "Methos, we're not that different. My "us" is a little more inclusive than yours, that's all."
Methos didn't return the smile. "Mac...the only person on my 'Us' list is me."
At that, MacLeod laughed outright. Having so often been on the receiving end of Methos' version of honor, it was impossible not to. It had taken him weeks--longer, even, than that--to reconcile his hatred of the things his friend had done with his deep affection for the man himself. Having done so, finally, he found himself remarkably clear.
Methos glared, irritated. "What's so funny?" he demanded.
"You," MacLeod answered, still grinning. "You and your 'every man for himself' speeches, trying to show everyone what a hardened, selfish man you are. There are some who may buy into that, Methos, but I'm not one of them."
"Then you're a fool," Methos snapped.
"No doubt, or I'd not be sitting here bashing my head against five thousand years worth of stubborn." MacLeod hid his smile, and spoke from his heart. "Who has your 'us' included since I met you? Me, for one. Then Joe.Alexa. Amanda. Even Richie once or twice. Your 'them' has included those people, and only those people, who have threatened one of us."
"That's not the point, Mac."
"It's the only point."
"Okay, so maybe some of your boyscout tendencies have rubbed off a little. Don't forget, though, while you're writing my resume', that I would have cheerfully killed anyone who stood in my way, innocent or no, when I was trying to help you. Any of you. I could have done it while whistling a happy tune," he added, his voice snide.
"Like Jacob Galati," MacLeod said softly.
"Just like that," Methos confirmed with a sharp nod. "Him or you. No contest."
"And if he'd been mortal?"
"Would've cut about thirty seconds out of the decision-making process. Mortal or no, Watcher or no, I didn't give a damn about him. I wasn't happy with the idea of giving up one of our own, but I haven't been staying up nights over it, either. I'm sorry, MacLeod. That's just the way it was. It's the way it's always going to be, every time I have to make that kind of choice."
"Fine," MacLeod said. He tried to put the force of his acceptance into that one word, to fill his eyes with it.
"You are infuriating, do you know that?"
MacLeod ghosted a smile to his friend. "It's been mentioned to me on occasion," he said. "Methos, if you can deal with my 'boyscout' code,I can deal with your...whatever the hell code it is. What do you call it, anyway?"
"In sophisticated circles," Methos said loftily, "it's generally referred to as pragmatism."
"Whatever. I can deal with it. Now, answer me this. So far I've born up under your constant pressure to compromise my ethics. Can you bear up under the same from me? I'm not going to let you run around killing people, mortals or otherwise, just to protect me."
"And I'm not going to let you stop me."
"Then I see a great number of arguments in our future."
Methos shook his head, chuckling softly. "My five millennia of stubborn have nothing on you, Mac."
"You won't sacrifice a friend for anything, will you." It was a statement, not a question.
"Not if I can help it. Not without doing everything I can to avoid it." MacLeod looked at Methos calmly, steadily, drawing on the past. "You're too important to lose."
MacLeod nodded, unhesitating, and stretched out his hand, gripping Methos' arm just below the elbow. Methos' eyes widened in surprise, but answered the offer with his own grip, their forearms meeting in a strong hold.The clasp echoed the bond of friendship slowly regaining strength between them.
"I said I couldn't do without you," Mac said seriously. "I meant that. Methos..."
"You know you are absolutely forbidden to ever do anything as stupid as hunting down Falcon again, don't you?"
Methos laughed. "Not that I have any such desire, Highlander....but just who do you think could stop me if I did?"
MacLeod smiled, refusing to be drawn out. "You would. For me."
Methos returned the look, eyes bright with mingled relief and elation.
"Yes," he said softly, his smile fading into solemn promise. "I suppose I would."