"Getting There" by cslatton
Part 1: 'Genesis, Exodus & Other Revelations'
|Well, I had to move fast|
*Paris. Tuesday, February 2, 1999.*
He'd requested a corner booth with a clear view of the door. The waitress, smiling knowingly, hadn't argued and MacLeod decided that she was probably right: the pub would have been perfect for an evening's tryst. Maple walls gleamed in the muted light, the gathering dusk forgotten beyond leaded glass panels. Pillar candles beckoned from every table, flame reflecting in the stained glass windows that defined the booths. Vintage tones of Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald took turns on the sound system.
It would be a nice spot to bring Amanda to once she was back from Madrid. A few drinks, a quiet walk back to his place... MacLeod smiled, imagining her consternation at having to locate his barge yet again. Road repairs had redirected too much traffic toward his usual location and he'd moved the *Nobile* further north, seeking a little peace.
But no long-legged beauty would be slipping into his booth tonight, apparently. MacLeod had been here the better part of two hours and the bar had filled steadily, making the door a little less visible through the crowd. Worse, the waitress' smiles had transformed from sympathetic to pathetic at least twenty minutes ago.
MacLeod hunched his shoulders, pulling the tension from his upper back. If he had been meeting anyone else, he would have left by now. And if he'd been meeting for any other reason...
An electric tingle wafted through his inner ear: a deep, resonant "om" and the vibration of warped laughter, hollow as if distorted by echo. MacLeod glanced up.
A couple excused their way out of the exit and he entered in their wake, a slender figure in black. Or navy, it was difficult to say in this light. Even without the distinctive buzz, MacLeod would have recognized him: the short brush of hair in its accustomed chaos, the long-boned, languid grace. MacLeod smiled despite his fit of pique.
The old immortal had located MacLeod instantly, but he strolled without hurry, hands pocketed, quick, dispassionate vision memorizing entrances and exits, the placement of furniture, a habit honed beyond conscious thought. His lean, broad-shouldered frame was deeply slouched, almost lost within his coat, a posture calculated to disavow his significance to any casual observer. Charlie Parker's "Anthropology" drifted from the speakers, custom-ordered for Methos' easy gait.
MacLeod tried for his best poker face and levered an eyebrow as Methos slid into the booth.
"Well, it's nice to see that some things haven't changed."
"And which things would those be?" Methos asked.
"Your impeccable sense of time, for one. In the future, I'll try to specify which time zone I'm using -- provided I manage to get a second appointment with you sometime this century?"
"That might be a good idea." Methos blinked at him. His eyes were light but he didn't return MacLeod's smile and the Highlander hesitated.
Their waitress filled the void, taking Methos' order -- Kronenbourg -- and offering to refresh MacLeod's scotch. MacLeod nodded, too distracted to note her appraisal of his date.
Methos needed a shave. Odd, MacLeod hadn't noted that fact only a moment before. Candlelight made it clear, however, flickering over the rough stubble on Methos' jaw and neck. He looked thinner, too, older, the youthful grad-student persona of Adam Pierson flawed by the loss of several significant pounds. MacLeod frowned. Methos was usually more cautious than that.
"Well. It's good to see you, too, Highlander."
MacLeod stirred guiltily. "Sorry. You look... a little tired. How've you been?"
"Tired, apparently," Methos shrugged, not permitting MacLeod to take him seriously. "And yourself?"
"Joe said he tried to call you earlier this week."
"There was a message on my machine," Methos acknowledged. He shifted, sliding deeper into his seat, assuming his customary sprawl. MacLeod frowned as big-booted feet settled on the bench to his left. Methos didn't note the disapproval, looking away to scan the bar. He failed to focus on anything in particular; nor did he offer an explanation for his week-long truancy. "Been busy," he'd told MacLeod when he'd finally returned his messages this afternoon. But busy doing what remained the unanswered question.
"You've been out of town?"
Methos shook his head without glancing over. "Nope."
The drinks arrived and Methos accepted his beer with an exaggerated bow -- or as much of one as he could manage given his position. It was Ella's turn again: *Grand to be alive,* she crooned, *to be young, to be mad--* MacLeod wet his lips with his scotch, watching Methos take a deep, appreciative swallow.
*Tell him, Duncan. He's heard worse news, for God's sake. Just... tell him.*
Methos sat his drink down and regarded MacLeod candidly. His eyes were dark, but his body language bespoke transparency and guileless companionship. MacLeod felt the hair on the back of his neck begin to stand up.
"I stopped by your place several times this week," MacLeod tried again. *And at some pretty damned inconvenient times, too.* "You weren't in, so I assumed you were traveling again."
Methos pursed his mouth, eyes rolling up in an exaggerated search of some mental calendar. "No. Sorry. Must be my wretched timing again." The smile was brilliant. MacLeod squinted.
"Adam. Is there is something I should know about?"
"Probably. Any subject in particular?" Methos raised his hands in surrender as MacLeod's scowl deepened. "Look, there haven't been any non-forecast atmospheric conditions this evening, if that's what you're driving at. And thank you for your *concern.*" The boots beside MacLeod shifted but remained on the bench. "I'm just late, that's all." Methos raised his brows over his glass. "Perhaps I should reset my sundial."
"That might be a good idea."
Methos saluted him good-humoredly, but the humor did not touch his eyes. In fact, MacLeod realized, Methos' irises failed to reflect their usual patterns of green and gold; even with the candle flame so near, they were flat black. Lifeless as a doll's.
"Damnation." MacLeod grimaced. "You've heard, haven't you? About Cassandra?"
Methos watched the foam slide down the interior of his glass. "She's dead. Or so rumor has it." He glanced up without lifting his head, eyes hooded beneath his brows. "But then it wouldn't do to plead my ignorance, would it?"
The Highlander frowned. "Beg pardon?"
Laughter erupted across the room. Methos kept his voice low. "Isn't that why you *summoned* me here? Because you want to know my role in this? How I convinced them to do it? Why I didn't have the balls to just kill her myself?"
MacLeod flushed, his voice dropping to a growl before he trusted himself to speech, his brogue rising with his anger. "Dammit, Methos, don't sit there and try to own to this. I'll no' believe you."
"Don't you?" Methos seemed to be taking some grim pleasure in baiting him. MacLeod grabbed one of the ankles reclining next to him and throttled it savagely.
"I do no'. If you'd wanted her dead, she'd have been dead several thousand years ago. I dinna suspect you, you bastard." He bit back the *should I?* that sheer spite demanded. Methos was lashing out, a reaction born by pain and past experience. And if MacLeod had ever distrusted the old immortal, he knew better now. Methos was innocent of Cassandra's blood. After everything the Horsemen had done, Death had granted her life once, and had stood by that decision.
Death was terribly still across the table now. Methos endured MacLeod's fury, fascinated by the ferocity of this unexpected loyalty. Both his hands remained loose upon the table, forgotten on either side of his drink. He hadn't even reacted to MacLeod's grip on his leg. MacLeod released him and removed his hand abruptly. The boots remained.
"How--" The Scotsman's brogue had dispersed. "When did you hear?"
"The day after."
"A *week* ago? And you--" MacLeod clamped his jaw. He would not judge another man's grief, least of all this most private of men; he understood little enough of Methos' relationship with Cassandra. He forced his tone into neutrality. "You didn't call to confirm because you feared my reaction?"
Something came alive in Methos' eyes. Something malicious and dark. "I hate to burst your bubble, Duncan MacLeod, but the whole damned world doesn't tremble at your approach."
"I--" a gamut of responses ran through MacLeod's frontal lobe. He settled on: "I stand corrected. So, why didn't you return my calls earlier?"
Methos dropped his gaze back to his glass, his anger extinguished with an abruptness that left MacLeod dizzy. "I'd hoped it wasn't true," he said.
*And if he didn't call, he could pretend it was simply rumor.* So. It *was* grief.
"I'm sorry, Methos."
Methos released his beer and reached for MacLeod's glass. He held it up, catching the waitress' attention, and waved two fingers above it.
MacLeod protested. "No, no, I'm fine--"
"Well, I'm not, and beer's just not going to get it."
They waited in silence. Ella's warble was interrupted briefly by the low rumble of thunder. It boomed like cannon-fire, distant and high above, an echo of another age. MacLeod's jaw was clamped so tight it hurt. Methos might as well have been stone, his shoulders hunched against emotional impact, eyes down, revealing nothing. The waitress delivered two fresh glasses of scotch and Methos ordered two more. MacLeod watched her walk away.
"I'm sorry, Methos. I wish you hadn't heard this from a stranger."
Methos rolled the scotch around his tongue before swallowing but MacLeod doubted he tasted it.
"Tell me." Methos didn't look up when he asked.
"They're young immortals. Very young. The oldest... maybe less than ten years since his first death."
"How many?" Methos' face was a mask, voice flat.
"Six, as far as the Watchers have been able to figure. Over the past year or so, they'd joined in a kind of loose affiliation, running like pack dogs in and around New York. Theft, drugs, murder-for-hire, they've done it all. And they've killed every immortal who's approached them, even those offering to mentor."
"And Cassandra approached them? Why?"
"I wish I knew. Apparently, she took up with them out of nowhere. Her Watcher" -- Methos rolled his eyes -- "had lost her for a few days. When she caught up with her again, Cassandra was with this gang of murdering thieves." MacLeod shook his head at the idea and fingered the paper napkin that had accompanied his drink. "She was even training with them, Methos. Hand to hand combat. And--"
"Yeah." MacLeod sighed. "I believe she was training them to come after you. And instead, they took whatever she taught them and turned on her. I'll lay money on it."
Methos blinked at him. "And that's supposed to make me feel better, I suppose? The woman wanted to be avenged for past sins, MacLeod. She couldn't get you to do it for her, so she went looking elsewhere -- and finally got what she deserved? Is that it?"
"No, that's not it. You asked me what I know. I'm telling you."
Their second round of scotch arrived and Methos downed his in a gulp. He kept his hand on the empty glass, the other hand invisible on the bench beside him, his face turned in profile. An air conditioner kicked on somewhere above, and the candle flickered, oranges and reds streaking the old immortal's face.
MacLeod swept this thumb across the condensation on his glass. "The Watchers are having a hard time of it."
Methos snorted. "I'll send a sympathy card."
"There was no Quickening, Methos." The old immortal turned to study him, brows drawn. "It's like she... redirected it somehow." MacLeod spread his hands helplessly. "The power gathered, but wouldn't discharge. Instead, it... *moved.* Is that possible? As a witch, was she powerful enough to manage something like that?"
Methos didn't respond, absorbed in some distant pain. MacLeod dropped his head and combed a broad hand through his hair, over his scalp and down, pausing at the abrupt line of hair and bare neck. Over a year since he'd cut it and he still felt naked without the ponytail, exposed. That thought brought other griefs and he dropped his hand back to the table.
"Joe said the Watchers have a legend. About an immortal whose Quickening refused to surrender to her killer. Have you heard it?"
It took Methos a moment to realize MacLeod had spoken. He shook his head. It might have been an answer.
"According to this legend, the woman's Quickening transported to her lover even though he was many miles away at the time of her death--"
MacLeod bit his lip. Methos' silence was unnerving and he felt like a fool, spinning fables while the present sat so solemn at his table. He took another drink; the tumbling of ice in the glass made a comforting chime and he wondered when he'd decided alcohol was the best way to steady his nerves. He sat the glass down and pushed it aside.
"Anyway. Despite the Quickening, the Watchers are convinced Cassandra's killers are immortal. They've reinvestigated first deaths, previous Quickenings... And meanwhile, the sons of bitches have disappeared back down into their rat holes. Trying to steer clear of the police, probably." MacLeod grimaced. Yeah, like the Watchers had left anything for the police to examine. Per protocol, Cassandra's Watcher had called for backup and all evidence had been removed. Nothing remained: no weapon, no blood. No corpse. After surviving the better part of three thousand years, this had been Cassandra's destiny: a headless corpse stolen away in the darkness, unwashed, unmourned, as though she'd never existed. And all for a Game. "She never had a chance. Four of them attacked her at once. She killed one of them and the other three cut her down when the Quickening hit her."
Methos looked like he'd been transported out of his body; he was a shell clutching an empty glass. "All the fine young horsemen..." he whispered.
The words hit MacLeod like a physical blow. "Don't. There's no comparison, Methos. The Horsemen are dead, and this--"
"They're not *all* dead." The voice was cold and predatory.
MacLeod leaned forward, forcing himself to keep his voice level. "Yes. They are. Every single one of them."
Methos' jaw set. "It must be a great comfort," he sneered. "To be so certain of your friends." His eyes were unreadable but a muffled *pop* across the table brought MacLeod to his feet.
Methos glanced down. Slivers of glass and ice sparkled beneath his fist, slick with liquor and blood. He froze, watching the dark liquid soak the napkins and spread across the table.
"Let's go." MacLeod pulled the old immortal to his feet. "Do you hear me?" he hissed. "Let's get out of here."
But it was too late. The bar was a sudden flurry of wait staff and towels and curious onlookers. Methos stumbled as he rose, dead weight, and MacLeod tugged him backward, shoving one of the proffered towels into his wounded hand, concealing the healing sparking there.
"Monsieur, please! Let us call an ambulance--"
"No, it's all right," MacLeod was his most reassuring, exuding competence as he spun Methos toward the door. "I'll take him to the emergency room myself. It'll be faster." Methos wavered, trying to form words but MacLeod pushed steadily. "My car's just outside. We'll be fine--"
Still preoccupied, Methos allowed himself to be shoved through the door and out into the evening air. MacLeod tugged him across the parking lot, mindful of the prying eyes at the windows.
"Come on, Methos, we've got a damned audience here. What are you driving?"
Methos had had enough of the histrionics, however. He shook free without answering and staggered to a halt beneath a halogen light. He examined his hand, his breath forming small huffs of fog before his face. The wound had healed, of course, bloodied bits of glass plastered to his palm, luminous in the glare.
"There's blood on my hand," he whispered. "Why is there always blood on my hands?"
"Methos?" MacLeod grabbed his arms, pulling him upright. Methos' breathing was tight and sharp, his skin far too pale. He looked... shell-shocked. Brittle. "Methos," MacLeod was whispering now, too. "You're scaring me."
Methos' reaction was immediate. His expression hardened and he broke free, slamming the younger immortal across the hood of the vehicle behind him. Unprepared for the treachery, MacLeod twisted on instinct and slid to his feet.
Methos had turned and was striding south, heading for the sidewalk along the riverbank. The night sky lit briefly, lightening captured like fireflies in the gathering thunderclouds. Thunder rumbled in its wake, then there was only the sound of Methos' boots crunching gravel.
Methos gave no indication that he heard. He walked swiftly, his eyes forward, hands pocketed. Tension cloaked him like a palpable aura. MacLeod pursued him, covering the ground and reaching out his hand.
"Don't," Methos hissed, "touch me again."
MacLeod obeyed, slowed and reconsidered. Some days, the distance between Methos' exterior facade and his interior reality could be nothing short of terrifying. Still, Methos could usually locate one emotion and stick with it for the better part of an evening. There was an entire conversation going on here, completely without words. Something precious was being negotiated. And here MacLeod stood with no interpreter. No, MacLeod decided. He'd lost enough friends in the past three years. He would not lose this one. Especially this one. He matched Methos' stride, determined.
"All right, Methos, talk to me. I understand you're upset, but the Horsemen are not an issue here--"
"I'm upset about *Cassandra.*" Methos corrected. "An entirely different topic, thankyouverymuch."
"Really? You sure about that?"
Methos did not glance over but he did slow his pace. "She was the final witness. All right? The fruit of slaughter and cruelty. *My* cruelty. Happy now?" Methos' face was tight as a fist, eyes too bright, reflecting gold in the glimmer of the full moon.
"She was the last of it all," MacLeod agreed. "And now it's over. Let it die with her, Methos. She has her peace. Accept yours."
Methos stopped, an action so abrupt that MacLeod took several steps past him and had to turn.
"Just like that?" Methos demanded breathlessly.
MacLeod resisted the impulse to touch him again. "Yeah. Just like that."
Methos stared. A shudder took him, stilled by an act of will. MacLeod kept his own expression carefully neutral, sniffing the air, examining the nature of the old immortal's reticence. In five thousand years, Methos had spoken a hundred languages, but he was most eloquent in his silence.
"I don't understand this, Methos. Whatever happened to forgiving yourself? Accepting what you are and moving on--"
"Oh, spare me the psychological pabulum, MacLeod." He moved to step past but MacLeod refused to yield his ground. MacLeod offered his hand instead. Methos, forever certain of betrayal, recoiled. He studied the empty palm and glanced up to gauge MacLeod's expression.
"Forgiveness is a conscious choice, Methos. You make it every day of your life."
"Well, thank you Dr. Jung, I'll be sure to pencil that into my schedule this week."
"Come on, Methos, drop the sarcasm. This isn't fair."
"Fair? No. MacLeod, I'll tell you what's unfair. Unfair would be me inviting you for a drink and then plumbing your soul for insights into Richie and his ignoble death. *That's* not fair." Methos looked like he wanted to deny the words even as he spoke them but he didn't, glancing away instead, giving MacLeod time to recover and perhaps determine an adequate retaliation.
"Okay," MacLeod nodded. "I deserved that."
Methos made a dismissive motion with his pocketed hands. His coat flapped his legs, a button chiming on resonant metal.
"But," MacLeod continued, "it doesn't mean we're not having this conversation."
Methos jerked his head back around. "Oh, yes, it does." He stepped carefully back and away, leaving the sidewalk, giving MacLeod and his unaccepted hand a wide berth. He resumed his course along the grassy bank, a scant foot from the water's edge.
"Dammit, Methos, what do you want me to do?"
The indignity of hearing his name flung out in public made the old immortal pause. He answered quietly, "I want you to leave me alone."
"I can't do that, Methos--"
But Methos was walking again. MacLeod paced him, keeping to the sidewalk. He had no doubt the old man would take to the river if pressed. It was freezing, and Methos hated the water with the passion of most felines, but he'd do it all the same.
"These immortals are not the Second Coming of the Horsemen, sent to resurrect your past." MacLeod didn't bother to hide his frustration. "They're just a bunch of young thugs who've had their first taste of blood. It's tragic but it's ignorance. It will pass and they will adapt and move on. Or they will die."
Methos was shaking his head. And laughing. It was a bitter thing, ripped from some place very deep. "Perfect description of Silas. And Caspian. And Kronos."
"And Methos?" MacLeod demanded. The old immortal was silent. "You'd already reached your first millennium when Kronos found you. Youth was no defense."
"No," Methos voice was steady. "There is no defense."
MacLeod swore. "I'm not passing judgment on you, Methos. I don't have that right."
MacLeod looked at Methos sharply. A floodlight across the river defined his profile in a haze of electric blue. Cobalt draped his shoulders and haloed his hair. Within the glow, Methos' face was alabaster and there was absolutely no expression. MacLeod stopped walking.
"I've never sat in judgment on you, Methos. Not ever." Methos surprised him by pausing. MacLeod spoke to his back. "I've misunderstood you. I've turned my back on you. I've even hated you once. But I have never judged you."
Methos nodded, a lifting of his chin, then the same action reversed. "And I've been meaning to discuss that oversight with you, Highlander."
"Damn you!" MacLeod covered the ground between them. Methos held very still as MacLeod halted by his elbow. "I'm not your judge and jury. I'm no man's judge. I'm not fit."
"Since when?" Methos asked quietly. He seemed to be actually expecting a response.
MacLeod was breathing hard, caught within the still-point of Methos' personal space, the old man's shoulder brushing his collarbone. The air here was calm as the eye of a hurricane, voltaic, and ungovernable, and it took MacLeod's breath away.
His knuckles were white as he made his confession. "I know what I'm capable of, Methos. You know it, too."
Methos eyes were a foot from his own and they did not blink. "So. Welcome to the club, young immortal. What of it?" The words had the ring of a gauntlet but Methos stood there, immovable as stone, his hands in his pockets.
"Welcome to what club? Start making sense, Methos, or I'll knock some into ye."
Methos smiled, a twitch of the lips, that did not reach the eyes. "Oh, you know the club, MacLeod," he purred. "The one with the sign that reads 'Unworthies Granted Immortality. Amateurs need not apply.'"
MacLeod nodded. "Oh. So *that's* the sign you were born under, is it? And all this time I thought you were a Scorpio." He took a step back, withdrawing from the spell of that deathless Quickening.
Methos chuckled, his eyes lost in shadow, and MacLeod retreated to the sidewalk, turning his collar against the wind.
"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."
MacLeod winced at the address. Wondered that Methos spoke it with such respect.
"You sound like you're trying to invoke something. Or is that 'provoke'?"
"It must be 'provoke,' Highlander. There's no need to invoke. You're here." Methos' formidable talent for sarcasm was conspicuous by its absence. "Duncan MacLeod, Hero. Defender of the Oppressed." Methos spread his hands low at his sides. "And here am I. The Oppressor."
"Not any more, you're not."
"Then you *are* my judge? You can't have it both ways, MacLeod. Judgment and mercy must be bestowed by the self-same hand."
MacLeod shook his head. *Of all the stubborn--* "Ask Richie what this hand bestowed him." The admission was little more than a moan, his breath condensing in little huffs that swirled away in the wind.
Methos' gaze remained unblinking. He licked his lips. "I prefer to take my counsel from someone with some actual life experience. Ulysses, perhaps. Odysseus, Agamemnon. Perseus. Heroes all, even with their flaws."
"And all *mortals.*"
MacLeod squeezed his eyes shut. He'd had one drink too many to follow Methosian logic. Not that the lack of alcohol would have made him much quicker, he imagined. "Something you want to tell me, Methos?"
Methos considered. "No."
"You want me to find Cassandra's killers? Be their judge and jury? Is that what it will take for you to let this go?" Methos looked away, staring out across the river. He looked like a man wishing to be gone. He didn't turn as MacLeod approached. "I'll do it, Methos. If that's what you need--"
"I need nothing," Methos hissed. He lurched forward, continuing his path along the bank.
"If you're going after them, Methos, I'm coming with you."
Methos spun to face him. "What?"
"I'll stand with you and ensure a fair fight--"
Methos face was incredulous. "Five thousand years lifting a sword against a five-year-old infant? What is fair in that fight, Highlander?" Methos swore in another tongue, something ancient and effective. He looked like he wanted to spit. Instead he turned and resumed his retreat.
"Is that why you haven't tracked them already?" Methos didn't respond and MacLeod paced behind him, determined to resolve this battle. "Is that why you hate to fight, Methos? Why you run to your books and your lies? Because no immortal is your equal? Because they're all so much younger? Or are you're scared that once you start killing again you won't stop?" Methos faltered, slowed. "That's it, isn't it? There's always that fear that the next Quickening will be the one that puts you over the edge. The one that resurrects Death."
Methos turned to consider him. There was no street light here and the clouds had smothered the moon. Methos was simply a blur of ever deepening hues of black. When he spoke, his voice was soft, completely without inflection. "I made my first mortal kill before I had attained the rites of manhood. He was a raider and I stepped over my father's dead body and slit his throat while he raped my mother. My next memory, I'm grown, a general in my tent, laying out a plan of battle. The next morning, I took the gates of Warka in Mesopotamia. A city of forty thousand. And it wasn't enough. I'd march on Ur the following winter. When Kronos found me, all I'd known was the sword and the strategy of slaughter. And when I was free of him..." He swallowed. "I've never stopped being Death, MacLeod. I just stopped killing. You want to avenge Cassandra, then do it. But you look them in the eye when you deliver the coup de grace. Because it will be me looking back at you."
Methos turned and resumed his walk, shrugging down into his coat. MacLeod fell into step beside him, desperate to maintain this tenuous hold. The dark bulk of the *Nobile* loomed in the near distance.
"Look, why don't you stay at barge tonight? I know you may not want the company but I'll feel lot better."
"No, you won't. But thank you."
Methos' sincerity only made his refusal harder to accept. "Then have a drink with me before you go."
"I already have."
MacLeod shook his head. He'd expected resistance, of course. For all his conniving and manipulation, plays for sympathy were anathema to Methos. He'd sooner face a sword than compassion, rather die than admit to a need for simple human kindness.
"You never asked me."
MacLeod glanced over, and only then realized that Methos had stopped again and was waiting several steps back. MacLeod turned, seeking his face in the gloom. Methos was very still, arms wrapped tight around his chest -- why did the man never seem to be warm?
"Never asked you what?"
"How I knew Cassandra was dead."
MacLeod took a step toward him and Methos took the same step back. The Highlander tensed. He always got nervous when Methos felt the need to put this kind of physical distance between them. It wasn't a great distance. Just enough to allow a man to swing a sword if he felt the need.
"How *did* you know?"
Methos didn't answer, looking at MacLeod in a kind of wary expectation.
Because the answer was obvious, wasn't it? MacLeod had suggested it himself.
"Her Quickening," MacLeod whispered. "It came to *you.*"
Methos tilted his head and lowered his chin, regarding MacLeod obliquely. "That's not possible."
It was a statement, not an argument, an indoctrinated response a man might use to defend a cause he no longer believes.
"Isn't it?" The sky flickered, lightening flashing east to west, the forerunner of the coming storm. The thunder followed rapidly, rumbling through both ground and sky and leaving his ears ringing in the near silence of its wake. "What happened, Methos?" He took a single step inside the charmed circle Methos had drawn. The old immortal did not retreat this time, hugging his chest, holding his grief with both hands. His eyes were focused up the river, far beyond the barge.
"I thought... I thought I was dying." Methos seemed to continue the sentence but had no air to vocalize. MacLeod thought he heard the world 'finally,' but could not be certain. "I was asleep when it hit me. I felt her presence. Not as strong as I would have expected, given her age, but enough to recognize, to be sure of." The mouth worked silently again, the eyes hardening and he spoke from a distance far greater than the space between them. "They had fallen on her like a pack of animals. They didn't simply kill her, MacLeod. They butchered her. She..." Methos closed his eyes, the words a harsh moan. "She had flashbacks of the Horsemen. Kronos. Me, when I --" A solitary drop of rain splashed his cheek, startling him from the nightmare. He stepped back, blindly seeking to restore the previous distance.
"I'm sorry, Methos."
The old immortal blinked at him like he'd forgotten his presence. "Since when have you felt the need to apologize to me more than once a lifetime?" he growled.
"Life needs to apologize to you, Methos. Since life doesn't seem to have gotten around to it yet, I'll stand proxy."
Methos straightened, neck and shoulders pulling him to his full height. "My, but you do take on airs."
MacLeod blushed. There was nothing friendly in Methos' tone, but it was difficult to be certain in the darkness. He made his own tone light, allowing his brogue to brush any edge off his speech. "Aye, 'm an ignorant Highland barbarian with delusion of grandeur. I know naught of the secrets of life. Now, how about that drink?"
"From one barbarian to another," Methos hissed, "fuck you and your liquor cabinet."
MacLeod took a deep steadying breath. "I meant no harm, Methos. And I don't pity you. I've just dredged up a hell of a lot of bad memories and I don't want you dealing with them alone."
"Well," Methos dropped his arms, "where the hell have you been all my life, then?" There was a subtle shift in Methos' stance. It was nothing overt, but MacLeod took a step back on reflex. Methos stepped sideways with the grace of a dancer, moving resolutely away from the water, to the firmer footing of the sidewalk. His arms remained at his sides, within easy reach of his weapons. "So, which bad memories should we cleanse this evening?" he demanded. "Ah, the Horsemen, of course. My own battle with the 'Dark Side,'" he fairly hissed the words, "the one I so utterly failed. Shall I be the dutiful friend and offer you hope, MacLeod? Shall I tell you that it gets better, that your demons flee and never return? That three thousand years from now it won't haunt your dreams and terrify you into complete inaction in your waking life? You want the secret of life, young immortal? Well, the secret is, there *is* no secret. The god you bow to today will be dead in a few hundred years and they'll march a new and improved version out to take his place, and all your prayers will be forgotten. Oh. Well. Better luck next time."
"Methos, don't do this."
"You live, MacLeod." Methos gasped and stumbled, surprised, apparently by his own vehemence. He lifted his hand, ordering MacLeod's distance. "You live and you enjoy what part of life you can and you endure the rest."
"I don't believe that."
Methos leaned forward. "*Oh, *trust* me," he hissed.
MacLeod blinked at him. How could a being incapable of injury be so deeply wounded? Methos straightened and turned, face bathed in shadow. He walked the bank southward to that distant place he'd been staring at.
MacLeod called after him. "I don't believe it. And I don't believe you do, either."
"Oh you believe it all right," Methos turned, walking backwards, hands in his pockets. "It's just that it doesn't exactly fit in with your plans."
"And does it fit in with yours?" MacLeod shouted, unwilling to follow further. "Tell me what's wrong. Tell me what to do to make it right."
Methos stopped, removed his hands from his pockets, covering the ground between them in a few deliberate strides.
"God damn you!" He spoke each word with such deliberate clarity there was no need to shout them. "I don't have your answers, MacLeod. How many times do I have to say it? I can't tell you what you want to hear because I. Don't. Know." He was breathing hard and it hurt to look at him but there was no despair in his eyes. Only a boundless desolation that cored the world to its heart. He was a stranger, this man MacLeod called friend. If MacLeod lived to be five thousand years old, Methos would still be a stranger to him. And Methos knew this; knew and accepted because there was nothing else, there was no cure.
"I'm sorry." MacLeod barely heard the words come from his own mouth, speaking without thinking.
Methos heard them quite clearly, however. He straightened and his six-foot-one towered over MacLeod's six-two.
"Don't ever," Methos whispered, "apologize to me again."
Methos turned, and with his steps came the percussion of thunder. The sky split suddenly and spilled. Methos paid no heed. Soaked in an instant, he walked swiftly south, his steps never faltering.
MacLeod stood in the downpour, watching the solitary figure until darkness had swallowed Methos whole. MacLeod continued watching, hoping for a glimpse of him in the lightning. It was long time before he turned and walked on to the barge.Continued in Part 2
Disclaimer: Ella Fitzgerald's song is "I Didn't Know What Time it Was," Rogers and Hart, Verve Records, 1997.