"Getting There" by cslatton
Part 3: 'The Surface of Things'
Disclaimed in Part One.
The lines quoted are from the following poems, respectively: "Heaven and Earth: A Mystery" and "Written Beneath a Picture." *Lord Byron: Selected Poems and Letters.* William H. Marshall, editor. Houghton Mifflin Co, Boston, 1968.
In death, you face life with a child and a wife
Who sleep-walks through your dreams into walls.
You're a soldier of mercy, you're cold and you curse,
"He who cannot be trusted must fall."
Bullets can harm you and death can disarm you
But no, you will not be deceived.
Stripped of all virtue as you crawl through the dirt,
You can give but you cannot receive.
Your conscience betrayed you when some tyrant waylaid you
Where the lion lays down with the lamb.
I'd have paid off the traitor and killed him much later
But that's just the way that I am.
-- Bob Dylan "No Time to Think."
*Street Legal,* 1978. Special Rider Music.
*Adam Pierson's apartment. Paris. Saturday, February 13, 1999, 3:47 a.m.*
Rain tapped the window, a hollow, arrhythmic echo of the clock on the desk. The curtains lit briefly, the lights of a passing car dancing across the wall.
On the desk, Alexa's photograph caught the receding light and the frame glittered with momentary fire. MacLeod blinked against the glare. He scarcely recognized the woman in the photo. Bathed in Mediterranean sunlight, her cheeks flushed with laughter, this Alexa bore little resemblance to the fragile, fearful creature Joe had introduced him to four years ago. There was an unfamiliar strength in her gaze, a confident set to the shoulders that spoke of courage born of personal combat, the easy posture of a victor confident of her crown. Even the frailty of her arms seemed fairie-like and magical, a badge of newly-blooming power, instead of just more proof of the illness that had eaten away her life and finally swallowed her whole. The transformation was remarkable. A few short months with Adam, and she had been remade into his image: quietly, fiercely alive.
She had Tessa's smile. Odd how MacLeod had not noticed before. Those tiny lines that appeared from nowhere to crinkle above her cheeks, that gentleness across the eyes and the flash of fire where light struck moisture....
There was no doubt who Alexa smiled for. Only Adam Pierson could have evoked that abandoned joy, that assurance that life was good, if only for today. Methos, death's own familiar, had taught this woman how to live. Nor had he failed to teach her how to die with dignity and grace. He had been at her side, MacLeod knew, faithful guardian as she took her first tentative steps into eternity, finally more immortal than Methos himself.
At least until yesterday.
The photo reflected in the clock's dome, Alexa's delight arching across the surface, distorted, but unrepentant. MacLeod traced the line of her wind-tossed hair. His fingertips left ghosts upon the glass, sparkles of warm mist that bloomed and then vanished without trace.
"Who remembers you now, Alexa?"
Thunder rumbled in the near distance, the silence all the more oppressive in its wake. MacLeod had never known these rooms without Methos' rich energy and his muscles were tense with expectation, nerves worn raw with seeking some shadow of immortal Presence. What he wouldn't give to sense that familiar resonance. To glance up and find Methos, cat-lithe and wary at the door--
But the foyer was empty. Only the rain and the clock competed in the silence.
Beyond the desk, lamplight gleamed on new wood, cold chrome and glass. Anonymous textiles adorned the walls; the sculptures were abstract and alien. Methos' apartment mirrored MacLeod's own sense of effortless order, that balance of utilitarian and aesthetic that bespoke a kindred soldier. But MacLeod's home harbored antiques and momentos, treasures that held him to his roots, his sense of family and purpose. Methos' apartment, in contrast, held nothing much older than the mid-1920's. How was it possible that a man of Methos' years had felt at home here, exiled, even in private, in the perpetual, imperious Now?
The clock chimed softly, marking the hour. Perhaps it was an answer.
MacLeod rose, finally surrendering to the urge to *move!,* to *do something!* He circled the desk and crossed the living room. Past the sofa, braced against a central column, was a curious oak throne. Tall and narrow, it was one of the few true antiquities in the apartment and it looked anything but comfortable. Yet, Methos had lounged just here, not a month ago, chatting amiably with MacLeod, a beer dangling from one hand, one foot tucked beneath him in a variation of his usual open-legged sprawl. His free arm had curled above his head, long fingers wrapped in the curved band of oak that ribboned the throne's back. He had been laughing at some story MacLeod had spun. That delighted child's laugh--
MacLeod stepped past the throne, retreating back to the bedroom beyond it.
The room itself was a simple affair: a double bed, a standing lamp. A Philistine acrolith stood sentry beside the curtain. MacLeod patted down the bedding; there was no weapon beneath the mattress. He found a book beside the pillow: *Lord Byron: Selected Poems and Letters.* MacLeod flung the little volume across the bed, angry suddenly without allowing himself to analyze why. The book dropped to the floor with a soft *thump* and he left it there. The nightstand supported a glass, half-empty. He sniffed the contents: water, or heavily diluted wine.
Off to his left, the bathroom yielded even fewer clues than his earlier search of the kitchen. Fumbling through cabinets, he took the time to run his hands along walls and tiling, seeking loose baseboards and grates, anything that might make an effective hiding place for... well, for whatever secrets Methos might have wanted to keep close at hand.
A search of the cabinetry produced a small cache of toiletries and the standard stash of bath sheets. A dish of intricately carved soapstone graced the sink. It held a half-dozen sunflower seeds, a silver necklace, and a pen cap. The laundry surrendered a hand towel and a T-shirt.
He had a similar lack of success with the dresser. Coins of conflicting governments littered the drawers beneath the clothing. He found no cryptic notes taped to the undersides of the drawers, no forged identities wedged behind the drawer guides.
The linen cabinet yielded the only real surprise: a cardboard banker's box. The contents shifted softly as he lifted it and moved it to the bed. Inside were several small boxes -- wood, metal, plastic -- and sealed vinyl bags. MacLeod removed each item and arranged them on the bed. A signet ring gleamed on the brocade coverlet, a ruby surmounted with a gold crest. Beside it, he laid an Iberian armband studded with amber and lapis lazuli. On the velvet interior of a wooden box he found a pectoral necklace. Its fragile leaves of gold tinkled as he lifted it to the light. He had seen similar riches when Schliemann dug up Troy.
A dagger beckoned from its own custom box, an elegant weapon, Chinese, possibly third Dynasty. It balanced well in MacLeod's hand, silk-wrapped grip molding to his fist with an effortlessness that bespoke quality and craftsmanship. The blade was pristine; there was no wear upon the edge, no stain of sweat or blood on the grip. Deadly as it was, Methos had not kept it for protection, certainly. Had it been a presentation, or payment for some highly-regarded service? Perhaps it had been a wedding gift, stored away for memory's sake. MacLeod had often been told that things apart from their history had little value. The realization of whose history he held here, however, rendered every item priceless. Precious. MacLeod re-sheathed the weapon and turned his attention to the next item in the box: a heavily tapestried fabric wrapped in linen.
It was a man's doublet. Embroidery covered every inch and although the colors had faded over centuries, here and there a strand retained its former vibrancy. Painted in thread was a medieval battle: wild-eyed horses trampling as men flailed one another with swords and pikes. On each shoulder were the towers of the opposing castles, the perspective skewed and flattened in the manner of most pre-Renaissance art. Pennants flew from battlements, presenting coats of arms that MacLeod could not immediately identify. From the high-arched windows, women posed in all the finery of court, impassive creatures clutching flowers, oblivious to the slaughter beyond their moats.
The workmanship was remarkable. It was the kind of tribute a nobleman might receive from his bride, an artifact of love taken from her hand as she blushed and fluttered in preening modesty. There was a tear in one sleeve, expertly mended with thread as old as the doublet itself. The edges of the cuffs revealed wear and the neck had begun to fray a little. It was Methos' size, MacLeod had no doubt, so severely tailored that it must have been made for him: broad across the shoulders, ample in the chest, narrow at the waist and hips. MacLeod ran his hand down the length of the tunic, jealous to know its secret history. Had it once truly clothed the old immortal's heart, whispering against his skin as he breathed, shared the caresses of a wife or a mistress....
There was more in the box. A linen bag containing a bit of misshapen pottery, Iberian alphabet forms scrawling unevenly across its surface. In another bag, Turkish coins only a few centuries old. A packet of letters bound by a ribbon, the paper yellowed and beginning to powder. Faded ink, written in a woman's hand, addressed a Mikel Ardam. MacLeod did not presume to disturb the ribbon.
The final treasure was yet another wooden box. The size of a jewel case, it held several velvet-lined trays. Each tray was divided into sections and each held a finely painted miniature. There were two dozen or more, some designed as pendants, some as pins. Some were enhanced by simple frames, some with finely filigreed borders of gold, silver or ivory. There were Renaissance courtiers and Victorian ladies, Elizabethan noblewomen and children standing mute as grownups.
One portraiture particularly caught his eye and MacLeod fingered it carefully. It was a family portrait, mid-sixteenth century judging from the clothing: a man seated on a velvet bench. A dark-haired beauty stood behind him, one small hand laid possessively across his shoulder, an intimate gesture that clearly proclaimed "husband and wife." On the man's lap was a toddler, curly hair as dark as his proud parents'. Secure within the man's large hands, the child was bending forward, beckoning a furry little dog at the woman's feet. Despite his antics, and the dog's disinterest, the child's expression was one of complete contentment. A similar sentiment reflected in the eyes of the woman. It was the image of the man, however, that brought MacLeod to his knees. Clad in the most severe black, a bemused gleam in his eye, was the near-perfect likeness of Methos.
Lightening flashed beyond the window to MacLeod's left, the glare temporarily rivaling the electric lights. Thunder rumbled quickly after; across the room, the wineglass trembled, the liquid rippling, sparkling with reflected glory.
MacLeod slid into a seated position on the floor and took a deep clarifying breath. The potential history of the portrait, its unknowable story, hit him like a blow. It burned in his gut, a pain so deep that for a moment he was incapable of thought. Methos' painted gaze regarded him from the coverlet, waiting patiently, but MacLeod could not meet it.
|His hand found Byron's book beside him. A slender ribbon marked a
page, tantalizing him with answers. MacLeod opened the volume, reading the first passage
his eye fell on:
"And man -- Oh, men! my fellow-beings! Who
Shall weep above your universal grave,
Save I? Who shall be left to weep? My kinsmen,
Alas! what am I better than ye are,
That I must live beyond ye?"
Another rumble of thunder left the floor vibrating beneath him. The sensation was so akin to a Quickening that MacLeod closed his eyes on instinct, nerves anticipating the eruption of blinding pain and color. But the blow did not come.
Of course, it did not come. No Quickening awaited him here. The greatest Quickening had been ripped from the world for no comprehensible reason, millennia of knowledge gone in the space of a moment with no one to receive it. Lost. Like Darius. Just... gone.
The idea of losing Methos in the name of someone's trophy case was obscene, but at least there would have been someone to blame, something to avenge. At least Darius had left him that much. Methos dead, with no one to receive his Quickening-- Methos surely would not have wanted his death to mean so little. The loss left MacLeod speechless, his heart clenched, unable to accept the magnitude of such emptiness. Like Darius, Methos was not supposed to die.
Tessa spoke. He heard her voice, a memory so real he felt the brush of air against his ear. *I know you'll never find another friend like Darius....*
"But I did find him, Tess. I found him. He was here--"
A great and ancient friend, one he would trust with his life, with the lives of those he loved, a chieftain to whom he could swear a silent allegiance -- a man who's very presence would signify home. In disappointment, and in betrayal, he *had* found him. Methos would have been an unwilling chieftain, certainly, had MacLeod bothered to inform him. But Methos was the answer MacLeod had sought for centuries. Proof that immortals were not simply some freak of nature, rats trapped in an eternal maze, compelled to live and lose, love and lose, until insanity or the Game finally caught up with them.
Methos was confirmation that life itself was the gift, that love came fresh and new to the heart in every age. Proof that all MacLeod's fears were unfounded: that life was and always would be worth the living. It just took a little more effort at times, that was all.
The book went lax in his hand and MacLeod shook his head to clear it. Methos would be laughing his ass off if he could see him: kneeling on the floor like some penitent before a reliquary--
But, oh, to hear that laugh, that deep rumbling, irreverent chide--
It was Byron, however, who spoke from the pages as MacLeod's eye refocused:
"'Tis said with Sorrow Time can cope,
But this I feel can ne'er be true:
For by the death-blow of my Hope
My Memory immortal grew."
Memory. And wasn't that something MacLeod knew too well? He breathed deeply in the silence, willing himself to finally listen to the unwelcome sensations gnawing at the edges of his brain. Ever since he'd entered the apartment, MacLeod's memory had fretted and pawed. Now, finally allowed its due, images flooded his nerves, picture-perfect and intense. They were the memory of another uninvited visit to Methos' apartment, years gone now, that first meeting when MacLeod had expected only a bookish researcher and found instead a myth made flesh. The images solidified around him and the room chilled with realization. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor, slumped forward, his back to the bedroom door. The pose was unnatural; even knowing he was alone, every cell in MacLeod's body cried out against the position.
But this was just how Methos had sat when MacLeod had first met him. Not for the first time, MacLeod wondered what had possessed the man, sitting with his back to the door when he had surely sensed MacLeod's approach. MacLeod had learned the hard way that Methos' mind was a complex place, and his emotional armor even more so, but how to account for the world's greatest survivor, his legs tangled beneath him, showing his undefended back to a stranger? As a Watcher, Methos surely knew MacLeod's reputation as an active and deadly player in the Game. And yet, MacLeod had sensed no tension in the old immortal, no hint of fear or even caution...
Had Methos trusted him even then? Was such a thing possible? Or had he been in the dark grip of a death wish as MacLeod had too often suspected? Had he simply left himself unguarded, anticipating death? Wanting it?
And just how completely had MacLeod disappointed him?
MacLeod jerked as his cell rang. He stood, fumbling the phone free of his pocket, leaving Byron to tumble to the floor.
"MacLeod?" Joe's voice was raspy like he'd been ill. MacLeod didn't bother blaming it on transatlantic circuitry. "Mac, is everything okay? I thought you were gonna call me back--"
"I'm sorry, Joe. I, ah, got to looking around. Guess I lost track of time."
"So you found them?"
For a lingering moment MacLeod scanned the collection on the bed. Then deliberately turned his back to it as he spoke. "No, Joe. There's... nothing. No journals, no notebooks, not even a grocery list." He heard the not-quite lie as it formed on his lips. *Not yet,* he promised. *I'll share this with Joe. But not yet.*
"Nothing? But-- That's not possible. What about the computer?"
"There's nothing worthwhile there, either. From what I can tell, he probably purged the hard drive on a regular basis. Can't say that I blame him after Kalas..."
"Dammit, Mac, those journals have got to be somewhere!" The phone's electronics sputtered with Joe's desperate cursing.
"Joe, I'm sorry. The man has a shredder and no file cabinet. There's not even a tape in the answering machine."
"Goddam paranoid--" Joe didn't complete the sentence and MacLeod didn't bother arguing the point. Paranoia was not a survival trait; it bred mistrust and inspired betrayal. Every paranoid MacLeod had ever known had suicided young. Methos had not lived this long on chance and psychosis.
"Look. You're certain the Watchers don't have them?"
"What? Oh. No way. Trust me, MacLeod, if the Watchers had Methos' diaries, they'd be preening like a bunch of peacocks, secret society be damned. Methos is the Holy Grail, for crying out loud. The Rosetta Stone that justifies everything the Watchers stand for."
MacLeod's jaw clamped tight, for just a moment he was unable to speak, the pain in his gut threatened to double him over. MacLeod ignored it, heading back to the living room, fleeing the treasures on the bed as if Joe could see -- and the Watchers through him.
"So," he growled "one of their former colleagues dies and it doesn't occur to them to stop in to do a little search and rescue of files and research material?" He stopped short beside the couch, realization robbing him of any forward momentum. "Or is that what *I'm* here for? Your trusty double-agent--"
"Hold it right there, MacLeod! You know me better than that. Or at least you damned well better. Adam Pierson had been out of the Watchers for what? Three years? After all that time, they'd have done all the follow up they needed. The man was old news--"
"But *the man,*" MacLeod mimicked, "was still using International Asset as a reference on a car rental form. You're going to tell me that they didn't think that was just a little bit odd? Come on, Joe. That one's a little bit of a stretch, don't you think?"
Joe sighed, a ragged hissing over the circuits. "Mac. Watchers are loners, in case you haven't noticed. Adam knew he could trust the Watchers not to give out too many personal details if it anybody started asking questions. Even on former members. Believe it or not, It's not all that unusual."
MacLeod paced the living room, scanning the walls blindly. "So. You haven't made a phone call this afternoon? Haven't let your bosses know they'd missed the assignment of their lives?" He couldn't avoid the bitterness that tainted his voice. *Rosetta Stone. Was that all the man meant to these people? To Joe?*
"No, Mac. I--"
"You what? Dammit, do they or do they not know Adam Pierson was Methos?" The past tense hurt and his jaw ached just forming the words.
Joe's voice, when he answered, was very quiet. "No, Mac. They don't know. But maybe if I had told them, none of this would have happened."
"If I'd have told them, then he'd have had a Watcher. I would have known he was in Seacouver--"
"And what? You could have foreseen an automobile accident? Now you're not making sense." MacLeod stopped short at the breakwater and leaned against it with his free fist. Methos' liquor collection tinkled pleasantly as the cabinet shuddered with his weight.
"I could have done something, dammit! Wait --" There was a soft grunt on Joe's end of the connection, the sound of metal scraping wood. "The store."
"Methos had those rooms beneath the book store--"
"Which flooded on a regular basis." MacLeod took a deep breath, willing his anger to subside. " The last time Paris had this much rain, Methos was drying out his *recipes.* Trust me, he wouldn't keep his journals at Shakespeare and Company."
There was a deep silence on the other end of the call and MacLeod hadn't the will to fill it. Near his hand, the Scotch beckoned, but he made no effort to pour it. On a separate shelf was a compact stereo and several stacks of CD's, rock mostly, the Stones and Cream with their ancient rhythms, a fair smattering of jazz. Two Hopi fetishes posed atop one of the speakers. A thin layer of dust covered it all.
"You know, I'd always thought he'd have to have a climate controlled warehouse somewhere." The hope in Joe's voice bordered on mania, a drownin man trying to convince himself he could spontaneously evolve a set of gill. MacLeod did not interrupt him. "But, the problem is where? I mean, Methos has been keeping a journal since writing was invented, right? As meticulous as he is--" Joe stumbled over the tense but refused to correct himself. "Well. He'd have needed a warehouse all to store it all. He might hang on to a few favorite volumes here and there, or pull something to transcribe before it deteriorates, but... not the entire collection. Where do you house something like that without it attracting some kind of attention? MacLeod? You still there?"
"Yeah." It was mostly the truth, anyway. "Have the police come up with anything new?"
"Oh, the Hardy Boys, Incorporated? Sure. Aside from the fact that I didn't close the bar until three and had a couple dozen witnesses, I'd probably be suspect number one right now."
MacLeod frowned "What are you talking about?"
"Seems Adam Pierson had an insurance policy. Two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars. With me as beneficiary."
"I'd have thought he would have set up a policy for one of his alternate identities."
"Well, he may have had other policies lying around, but this one's got *my* name on it. And, Mac? It gets better. He took out the policy *eight* years ago. Mac, I barely knew him eight years ago. Hell, I wouldn't have known him back then unless he walked right up and introduced himself. Why would he list me as his beneficiary when I was little more than an occasional voice on the phone?"
MacLeod was squinting. "I... don't know. What about his current journal? At the hotel--"
"He'd packed up everything. Whatever he had with him is nothing but ash. Whatever was going through his head, whatever the hell he was doing here, his final thoughts... All of it's lost, Mac." Joe's grief was palatable, but for once, MacLeod had nothing to spare for him. A deep insulating cocoon had been spinning in his gut all evening and had finally sealed his heart. MacLeod did not fight it. It was a thing of instinct, something he never failed to trust.
"This..." MacLeod brushed his fingers through the dust on the cabinet, stilling his thoughts. *Something... just *feels* wrong about all this--*
"Man to man, MacLeod, just you and me. No Watchers. No Immortals. No 'my kind' and 'your kind.' You're going to tell me you never asked him where he kept his journals?"
MacLeod's weariness was suddenly overwhelming and the question took a minute to penetrate. "No, Joe. I never asked him. If he'd wanted me to know, he'd have told me." There was a well of silence on the other end of the line. "What did he tell you when you asked him?"
"He said... He said he was writing for the One, you know, the winner of the Game. He said *he* would know where to find them and that that would be enough."
An automobile horn blared across the river, the sound locked at a distance beyond the curtain. The clock ticked on behind him. It would be dawn soon. The first dawn in five thousand years that had not risen to find one singularly familiar inhabitant.
"Look, Mac... They're... supposed to be releasing the body Tuesday. I'm assuming Methos would prefer cremation. What do you think?" There was a desperate level to the question, the aftertaste of bitter decisions.
MacLeod didn't want to think. It was impossible to contemplate. Joe, however, was mortal, with a mortal's certainty that the dead still required something of them.
"Mac? I mean, if that's not a good idea, I thought maybe... he might like to be buried with Alexa. Or maybe we could scatter his ashes at sea--"
"He doesn't like the sea." The words were little more than a whisper. MacLeod had to sit down suddenly. There was no chair at hand and he didn't trust his legs to carry him to the sofa. He slipped down to the floor in silence and steadied himself against the lower door of the breakwater.
"Mac? Mac, you still there?"
MacLeod nodded. Joe wouldn't see the response, of course, but it was the best he could manage right now. He was thinking of Methos in the rain, the air of resignation that had cloaked him then, colder than the winter storm. MacLeod had smelled blood that night and had credited to his own dark wounds. But what if he had been mistaken? What if it had been Methos hemorrhaging there, the rain's dark splatters concealing a life bleeding from the seams?
What if MacLeod had not simply let him walk away? What if he had braved that hidden gauche and Methos' switchblade tongue, and simply refused to let him go?
And what if he could wake now and find that the world had not shifted and aligned itself with the wrong star --
MacLeod pushed upright and the cabinet door clicked quietly under his hand. It was one of those magnetic latches common on furniture in recent years. He pulled the door open without actually thinking about the action and stared inside. The bottom shelf was empty, the upper shelf, a sliding unit designed for a VCR, displayed three books stacked on their sides: a copy of *The Iliad* in medieval Arabic, an apocrypha in Hebrew, and a paperback of Ray Bradbury's *Dandelion Wine.* MacLeod slid the shelf out, needing simply to feel something real, something other than the phone at his ear with all it's horrible decisions--
"Mac." Joe's voice was quiet, with the reverence of a man aware that he trod where angels feared.
"I'm here, Joe." But MacLeod's voice was distant and he was busy running his fingers across the blemishes on the shelf behind the books. There were wine stains, black smears and splatters soaked deep into the wood. Drippings of hardened candle wax left his fingertips greasy. A kernel of amber glittered duskily in the far corner, like dusty glass, almost translucent as he brought it to the light. MacLeod caught its resinous odor and identified the crystal immediately: frankincense.
Joe was speaking again, a droning buzz inside a box. MacLeod let the phone slide to his chin. He didn't want to hear, couldn't. The cocoon had reached his brain and Joe's incessant voice was just so much static. MacLeod's free hand had anchored itself to the breakwater's shelf, to the wood with it's tell-tale patterns--
Ah, but what tale? He glanced back toward the bedroom.
Odd about that banker's box. All those treasures, each piece museum quality, pulled from some controlled environment like show pieces ready for display--
There was a nagging at the fringes of MacLeod's conscious thought. Impossibilities whispered indistinctly, mysterious as the mute remains of frankincense and candle wax.
Joe's voice buzzed at his chin, electricity discharging softly against rough stubble. "Mac? You okay? What's going on? Talk to me, MacLeod."
But MacLeod did not answer. He felt that same cool detachment that possessed him when he stood with a sword in his hands, a decision made.
He just wasn't certain yet what had been decided.
The room flickered briefly, more lightening. The window shuddered with the percussion of thunder and the sudden violence of rain against the glass. He nodded. Daylight, apparently had made its own decision; there would be no sun today.Sheltered within his emotional cocoon, MacLeod was not surprised.
Continued in Part 4