The Morning After
By Douglas Hathaway
This was written in response to "The Prize," by Moonbeam, posted to this list by Red Wolf on 8-21. I'll repost that story so people will know what I'm talking about. Although this happens right after "The Prize," it's not an authorized sequel. I originally wrote it as part of my LOC to the author. I decided to post it here after the brief "tcboo" discussion. I don't think the Game would end this way. But Joe always ends his voiceover with, "There can be only one. Let it be Duncan MacLeod." What if he got his wish?
This is my first angster, as well as my first HL. No humor here. Methos has already died as the story begins.
The streets were dark and silent as Joe walked home. He thought he could smell the ozone that must still linger in the air.
//Naw, cordite, I ought to be smelling cordite. Like after a firefight.// He thought about how many mortal men would have died in a battle that produced as much light and explosion as he'd just seen.
The end of history. The end of life as we know it. What would they call it? Soon, the rest of the world would find out. All the warring nations, speakers of every language, members of all the races would be united at last under the ...rule? Stewardship? Management? Joe couldn't think of a word to describe a relationship of governor to governed that hadn't existed since the time of the Old Testament. But somehow, all mankind - all his kind - were about to find out that they would live and die under the judgement of Duncan MacLeod until the end of time.
It hadn't made any difference yet. Somewhere out there, two brothers still had each other by the throat. And he was just an old man with a cane, staggering down a deserted street an hour before dawn. Any mugger could have gotten the drop on him. The power company had stopped trying to keep up with all the broken street lights. He imagined scientists from around the world trying to come up with an explanation for the electrical destruction that had come to dominate life in Paris these last few weeks. And would never happen again.
So what would he do now? There can be only one. He smiled ruefully at the irony. He'd never thought about it before, but it applied to the Watchers as well.
//Deep down, you always know some day your guy is gonna buy it. Probably not in your lifetime, but sooner or later, it's gonna come for him as sure as it's gonna come for you.// But his guy had gone the distance. That made him the last Watcher on the planet with anyone to Watch. And he was slacking on the job.
A gust of wind let moonlight through a break in the clouds. Joe stopped, and studied the tattoo on his wrist. When he'd joined, he knew that this was going to be the most important thing he ever did with his life. They all did. And now it was over. Would they take out all that equipment down at headquarters and hold a garage sale? Would they book an American Legion hall every ten years for a drunken reunion? Once you'd devoted your life to something as big as this, how could mortal life ever seem as interesting again?
After the quickening - Joe realized he'd always think of what he'd seen tonight as the quickening - most of the Watchers had silently followed as Mac carried Methos' body to the cemetery behind St. Joseph's. But Joe knew Mac well enough to know that he'd want to be alone. And he wanted to be alone with Mac the next time they saw each other, so that he could try to make sense out of everything that had happened, and would happen.
If they ever saw each other again, Joe thought with a pang. He'd devoted his adult life to Watching Mac, but Mac had lived well enough without him for most of his 400 years. What would Mac need him for now? Certainly not his help tracking the competition.
Rationally, Joe knew that this was the best possible outcome to the Game. Mac had won, and there was no other man in all of history Joe would have trusted more with the future of his world. But was there any way he and Mac could ever again be just a couple of guys hanging out together?
He thought of all the others he'd known, good and bad. Cord, the first, carrying him unconscious through 16 miles of hard country. The smart thing for him to have done would have been to hide until dark, and hike out, leaving the Marines to figure out where to send his medal and his folded flag. But he'd risked his cover to save Joe's life. How could a guy who'd do something like that sell out a bunch of freedom fighters 30 years later? He wished he could have just talked to Cord, without the threat of a duel to the death hanging in the background.
He remembered Amanda, the way she could light up a room, the desparate loneliness he could sense behind her noisy flirtation. He was glad somebody besides Mac had taken her head.
Richie. God, what a pain in the ass that kid could be. And what he wouldn't give to have him back. He stopped to catch his breath, remembering how Richie had died.
And would it have been any better if Mac had had all his lights on when he'd taken the kid's head? Because that's how it would have had to end. Either that, or one of the competition would have bagged him. That would have been easier to bear, to think of Richie as the victim of someone he could hate. But Richie would have been no less dead for that.
//Y'know, Mac, if he'd been one of us instead of one of you, he'd probably still be alive right now, ripping off somebody's car stereo.//
Methos...Not yet. He couldn't deny what he'd seen. But he could try to ignore it a little while longer.
He saw the back door of the bar, a block ahead. I'm getting old, he thought, as he willed his aching hips to cover the distance.
Inside, he hit the light switch. The room stayed dark. He realized how far he'd walked without seeing a lighted window. Methos - the quickening, he corrected himself - must have knocked out a power station. Feeling his way along the bar, he rummaged around the shelf beneath the cash register until he found the hurricane lamp.
He switched it on and placed it on the bar. A white envelope, with his name on it, rested against the cash register.
"Ah, Jeez," he said as he picked it up.
It was unsealed. He pulled out several sheets of plain white paper, stapled together. He gripped the edge of the bar as he began to read.
It was signed in an alphabet Joe didn't recognize. "Adam Pierson" was printed neatly underneath.
Joe raised the lamp and looked around the room, as though Methos might be hiding in the shadows, watching his reaction. He looked at the chair Methos had sat in, nervous as a high-school kid as he flirted with Alexa. He thought about the times Methos had risked his life for him, for Mac, for Amy. He remembered how Methos had held him when he lost it after Mac killed Richie. Now he was alone.
In a daze, he got out a bottle of Methos' favorite brand of beer, opened it, drained it into a pint glass, and set it on a coaster on the bar. It was as though part of him still thought that any moment now, Methos would bound through the door, smiling, eyes wide with the excitement of a risky plan well executed. "Joe, we've found another way! We've gotten around the Rules. MacLeod doesn't have to take my head after all!" And Mac, subdued but relieved, would walk in behind him.
But he heard no footsteps on the stairs. Just the airbreak on a distant delivery truck. Through the window, Joe saw the first light of dawn against the clouds. Soon, streetsweepers would discover the shattered glass and twisted metal left behind. The power would come back on. And Mac would take over the world.
Joe reached into the speed rack for a bottle of whiskey. //Screw it. This is a special occasion. Might as well open the good stuff.// He reached to the top shelf on the mirrored back wall and brought down a bottle with a wax-sealed cap. It snapped as he twisted it. He poured himself a double.
Seated on the bartender's stool, across from where Methos would have been drinking his beer, Joe held the bottle in his hand and silently read the label;
"Aged to perfection in charcoal-lined casks, from a recipe as old as the hills..."
"Aged, my sweet Irish ass," he growled, "What the hell do you know about what it's like to be old?" He put the bottle on the bar, and drained the glass in one gulp.
He looked around the room again, now grey with weak morning light, looking for a ghost, or someone to blame, or anybody who gave a damn.
//I knew a guy. He was a friend. He lived for 5000 years. He died last night.//
"Goddamn!" he sobbed. Then he buried his face in his arms on the bar, and shook with silent tears.