Some memories stay trapped like flies in amber, perfect and golden, unchanging the whole of their existence. We can take them out and polish them or leave them in a drawer and ignore them but they'll always be the same. Immortals, too, stay trapped in the likeness of the day they are made. The lucky ones, caught in the full bloom of youth and strength, keep their heads, for a while at least. The others? Well, they don't last long. The Game they play is an unforgiving one and the rules give no handicaps. The strong live and the weak die. And so it was....
Methos woke, as he often did, with a conscious running-through of who and when and where he was. His name, the country he was in currently, and most importantly the date, were carefully catalogued before he even opened his eyes. The only thing he didn't need to remind himself of, he thought with a lazily contented grin, was the 'who' of the body beside him.
That fact was imprinted across
every single cell in his body -- permanently. Duncan MacLeod: beauty
layered on strength with a vein of weakness running through like a
fault line. Methos turned their fingertips-and-barely-there connection
into a full-body snuggle.
But something wasn't right. As
Methos held him in the odd half-light of the rainy morning,
"Mac," he whispered, close enough for his breath to ruffle
The shutters came down.
Small tremors still rippled
Rational thought was banished in
the blink of an eye. Methos leaned across, closing the small gap
between them and pressing
It was a balm, not a solution. But sometimes a balm is all there is.
Methos reached between them,
wrapping his hand around their cocks, stroking firmly. He bent his head
to capture the soft mouth again, slipping his hand behind
There was a sharp edge to the
need; Methos could hear it in his lover's voice and felt it echo inside
himself. He let their cocks go with a final rocking thrust of his hips,
relishing the small hiss that escaped from
Rain pelted like gravel against
the high loft windows and the wind howled. Methos was only minimally
aware of the violence outside their small world as he squeezed a blob
of gel onto
"Fuck, Mac," he whispered against his lover's mouth.
Methos gently withdrew the
fingers and slid his cock home. The heat and pressure were breathtaking
and he stopped, pulling his control back by the hair.
"Christ, Methos. Fucking move!"
As if of their own accord, the
muscles in the small of Methos' back tensed, slipping his cock almost
all the way out.
"More," Duncan breathed, almost too faint to hear.
At last Methos found a rhythm,
plunging slow and deep into the hot, smooth flesh.
"Oh yes..." Methos gasped as
Methos could only thrust more
strongly in response. He was helpless in the face of so much need to do
anything but respond to it. And
Methos let go and followed his
lover over the edge, free-falling into orgasm. Fire rolled through him,
along his spine from his tailbone to his brain, melting everything in
its path. He slumped against
The loft went quiet for a long time, the only sound the relentless rain.
"Good morning to you, too,"
Methos whispered at last, as he smoothed the tangle of hair away from
And suddenly things were normal again. They were just a couple of guys having a normal Sunday together. No nightmares, no demons, nothing more frightening than a load of laundry, for another day at least. The tension left the room as easily as if it had been blown away by a puff of storm-scented breeze.
"Nahh...not much. You?"
"Sunday stuff, you know, the usual."
"Might go for a run and get the paper, see what's going on in the world. As soon as I can move."
The quiet settled over them
again, and Methos was almost asleep when
Methos folded a hand around
A warm flush of familiar presence
roused Methos a dream-filled half hour later.
"Damp enough for you?" Methos sniped, grinning smugly while he slipped out of bed at last and pulled on a pair of sweatpants, knotting the cord so they rode low on his hips.
"Thought you weren't getting up,"
"Well, I'm awake now. Coffee?"
"Yes, please. I'm taking a
"That was 'coffee?' as in 'where
is my?' not 'coffee?' as in 'would you like a?'" Methos muttered at
He puttered about the kitchen,
made the coffee without another word of complaint -- after all,
Methos peered out from the side of the paper and gave his lover an appreciative once-over. "You could just stay like that all day -- I wouldn't mind."
"I think I might get a bit cold,"
"I wouldn't let you get cold. In
fact if you come over here now I'll show you just how warm you could
be." Methos shook the folds back into the newspaper and went to put it
down on the coffee table, when he caught the sudden frown creasing
"I know her,"
Methos leaned closer to
Suicide's Body Missing
Officials today were unable to explain the mysterious disappearance from the City Morgue of a body believed to be that of Sheila Connell. Ms Connell, 62, is understood to have taken her own life in undisclosed circumstances early Friday morning after a personal tragedy.
Friends of Ms Connell discovered the error when they arrived to identify the body at the request of police. Ms Connell was not known to have any living relatives.
Seacouver City Morgue has had ongoing problems with disappearing human remains and investigations are continuing.
Methos' heart plummeted. "She's one of us isn't she?"
"She is now."
The woman behind the bookstore
counter looked up at him and smiled as
She was lovely, not in her teens
like so many of the pretty young things he saw hanging around the
streets of Haight-Asbury, but somewhere in
her late twenties. Glossy, straight chestnut hair brushed her waist and
slipped over the smooth tanned skin of her arms as she swayed in time
to the sitar music that played in the background. The loose muslin
dress she wore hinted at the curves beneath, outlining them
occasionally as she moved. Before he knew it,
"Peace, brother," she said, catching his gaze with eyes the color of water over a stone, clear and gray.
"So you and this little hippie chick were involved?" Methos broke in, hoping to prompt more detail from his lover's memory.
"Not like that. No, Sheila wasn't interested in me like that; she had someone else. But God, could she talk -- we started talking about Kerouac that first day and before we knew it, it was dark and closing time. I walked her home, even though she insisted that as an 'independent woman' she was perfectly capable of looking after herself." He smiled with look of fond remembrance Methos recognized only too well.
"She probably was -- you do tend to treat women like they're made of porcelain, MacLeod."
"She might not even still be alive, Mac, you know that," Methos had to remind him. He knew deep inside that keeping Duncan MacLeod from doing what he thought he had to was an exercise in futility. Methos stood and went to him, grasping his shoulder. "Are you ready for that? You know what this city's like for Immortals, she could have been dessert for any one of us by now. When did she die -- Friday morning? She's been wandering around, in all likelihood not having a clue what she is, for almost two days. If she hasn't found a teacher her chances are pretty poor."
"Even with a teacher..." Methos
had to add, even though he knew
There was more to this than just
"There's more, isn't there?"
"It didn't have to be like this."
"Wanna toke?" she asked him, her gray eyes reddened and heavy-lidded as she dragged strongly on the joint. "'S good shit..." she squeaked as she attempted to hold in the smoke and talk at the same time.
It was early evening and they
were lying side by side in the park gazing at the stars while
Sheila apparently found his
abstinence hysterical and smoke exploded from her mouth in a wild
squawk of laughter as she rolled back on the grass. "Damn you're
She giggled to herself a little
She rolled up on her elbow to
look at him, her face grown serious again. "I'm sorry,
He leaned over her and grinned. "Maybe I'm just waiting for you to give up Laura and run away to the circus with me." He waggled his eyebrows at her and smirked like a cartoon villain, twirling the end of his thick mustache stagily. "You don't know what you're missing."
She wrinkled her nose at him.
"No, thank you." She gave a theatrical little shudder. "You're very
pretty and all,
"The heart wants what the heart wants," he supplied.
Pure unadulterated happiness spread over her face. "Oh yes...it certainly does."
"Hell! Is it that late?" Sheila jumped to her feet, staggering slightly before she regained her balance. "Come on, Mac -- jeez you're slow... Race you to the bar!" She hiked up her gauzy Indian skirt over her knees and took off across the grass towards the roadway.
"Holy cow, that was close," Sheila gasped as she shook in his embrace. "Wow...like that was nearly it...." Her knees buckled and she sank to the ground.
"Come on, Mac. You really can't
blame yourself for that," Methos said into the silence as
"Can't I? I should have let her die then. At twenty-seven she'd have had a far better chance at survival than at sixty-two."
"Could you really have just let
her run in front of that car, though? Really?"
Methos knew the answer to that even if
"I should have."
"But could you have?" Methos pressed.
"I didn't think -- I just reacted."
"Ma-ac...." Methos caught his lover's gaze and held it.
"No.... I guess not. But I should have."
Methos recognized the mulish set
Methos followed him a short while
"When have I ever let you go off windmill tilting by yourself?"
Methos sat quietly in the
passenger seat of the T-bird watching
They wound their way from the city out into the suburbs, industrial bleakness giving way to suburban smugness. MacLeod turned off the main road into a side street lined with gnarled yew trees, slowing to check the house numbers as they passed. Number fourteen, that was it -- Methos saw it just up ahead, a quirky jumble of bright flowers and eclectic objets d'art decorating the front yard.
"Over there, Mac," Methos said with a gentle touch of his hand to the other man's forearm.
"Yes, that's it,"
Methos was less impressed; up
close, the untidiness was more tacky than cheerful and the objets were less d'art and more d'iscount. The sun had struggled through the
clouds for the moment anyway and glare flared from the solar panels on
the roof. He squinted against it as he followed
Methos felt the buzz a split
It was then that they heard the crying: deep, gut wrenching sobs rising above the Sunday morning noise of lawn mowers and children playing. They had found her.
The sobbing continued unabated.
Duncan, Duncan MacLeod. Let me in. Please, Sheila?" Methos recognized
those soothing tones only too well; it was the same voice
She didn't hear or didn't care -- either way there was no response.
Methos tried the door, it swung
open to his touch and he cocked an eyebrow at
Some days he despaired of
MacLeod's continued survival. "She'll recover."
"Would you rather wait out here?"
"And let you go in there by
yourself?" Methos cursed himself as every kind of fool as he slid the
blade back into its sheath and followed
She didn't even look up at them as they entered. Sheila sat in the middle of the living room floor, crying in utter desolation. Dark blood splattered her clothes and lay in drying pools around where she sat cross-legged on the floor. In her shaking hand she held a carving knife, its broad blade scarlet with her own blood. Her wrists gaped with the long, ragged wounds still pumping her life out onto the floor.
Her eyes were dead, holding not a shred of surprise.
"I can't die," she whispered.
"Why can't I die?" Her face paled a little more, she looked up at
MacLeod and rasped, "
Sarcasm was instinctively on the
tip of Methos' tongue, but he left it there when he saw
With that bleak thought weighing
on his mind, Methos went back inside the small house. He found them
where he had left them, but now
"I'm going to take her back to the dojo, Methos. It'll be easier to explain things to her there. You wanna get the door?" He walked past Methos without waiting for a response.
Methos sighed and got the door. Easier? Some things never got any easier....
"Come on, Mac," he said as they
stepped from the lift. "She'll be back soon." He cleared the newspapers
from the sofa and stood aside to let
"Damn it all to hell." She began to cry again, curling into a ball in the sofa, knuckling her fingers against her eye sockets like a small child.
The crying halted and she blinked
at him, looking stunned as if she was seeing him for the first time. "
Methos perched on the edge of an armchair and watched the scene unfold. A really-not-disinterested bystander.
"No, I'm not dead, and neither
Methos cleared his throat.
"Except if your head is separated from your body. That's the one thing we don't heal from. That's the only way we can die."
"Well, good," she shot back tiredly, rolling back into a ball. "Then cut off mine. I want to be dead."
"Well, if you insist." Methos stood and put his hand to the hilt of his sword.
"A joke -- just a joke. Jeez...." Methos threw his hands up. This was getting to be too much like a Greek tragedy for his taste. "Well, kids, this has been all kinds of fun, but I think I'll head down to Joe's for a while. Catch you later, MacLeod." Methos strode away without looking back.
Methos stepped up closer to his
lover, laying his hand to one side of
It was his own fault, Methos
thought as he left the dojo and began to walk the short distance to
Joe's Bar. He'd never given
The sky closed in again, and he could taste the coming rain on the wind.
Joe had him sorted in one razor-sharp, gray glance. Seeing Methos striding through the door of the bar, Joe immediately pulled a beer, passing him the brimming mug as Methos settled on his regular seat at the bar, slipping off his coat and folding it over his lap. The bar was busy for a Sunday and noise -- music and chatter -- buzzed all about them, creating a protective cocoon around the conversation.
"What's MacLeod done now?"
"Just the usual 'MacLeod' thing,"
Methos smiled wearily.
"A few for you -- or a few for me?" Joe interrupted.
"1965--something like that. She just 'died' two days ago." Methos stopped and let Joe do the math. And speaking of unusual behavior...he had to wonder a little at his own. Since when was spontaneous sharing with Watchers in his own personal rule book? More of MacLeod's influence, no doubt.
"I take it she wasn't a little kid thirty-five years ago?" Joe leaned heavily with his bent elbows on the bar.
"Nope." Methos drained his beer and pushed the mug back towards Joe. "She was twenty-seven."
"Which means now she's--sixty-two?" Joe's voice turned questioning at the end as his face filled with the realization of all that implied. "Goddamn." He let out a low disbelieving whistle. "Is he gonna send her to holy ground? She hasn't a hope in the Game, has she? We had some figures--."
The obnoxious Watcher statistics. Methos shot Joe a poisonous glare, cutting him off mid-sentence. "She's in pretty bad shape -- I don't know what she'll do. Gods, Joe, tell me again why I put up with this?" The question was entirely rhetorical, Methos knew exactly why he stayed. And he would have put up with a great deal more than this to keep what he had, too.
"Beats the hell out of me," Joe answered with a sly smile.
Methos narrowed his eyes in Joe's direction and nodded towards the beer taps. "The answer, as always, to all life's dilemmas is more beer. Pour us another one, Joe."
While Joe filled a fresh mug,
Methos thought. He wondered what was going on at home, and when
exactly, for that matter, the loft had become home. He'd lived
there for two years off and on -- more on than off if the truth was
known -- and all of a sudden it was home? Perhaps it was Duncan who
made it home, he mused as he took the beer from Joe with
a murmured thanks and gazed into the froth. The only answers
that he found there were the ones he already knew. Of course it was
Duncan, who made it home, which was why he should have been there
for his lover instead of hiding out here, propping up the bar, while
Methos tossed down the rest of the beer and caught Joe's eye as he served another customer. He waited until Joe limped down from the other end of the bar.
"Headin' off already?"
"Yeah, I better go see what's happening." Methos wasn't fond of the knowing look that Joe shot him in response to that. "Keep MacLeod from doing anything too stupid, you know?"
"Yeah, buddy--I know. See you 'round."
Damn Watcher saw entirely too much, sometimes. "Seeya, Joe." Methos pushed away from the bar and shrugged his coat on, checking the placement of his sword without thinking about it.
It was raining lightly when Methos went out the door into the dismal afternoon. He squinted at the sky and briefly considered waiting for a cab. He dismissed the idea in favor of walking and giving himself a little more time to think things over. Jamming his hands deep into his coat pockets and hunching his shoulders against the invading fingers of rain drizzling down under his collar, he strode off down the street in the direction of home.
He had two blocks left to walk, when he realized the mistake he had made.
Methos trudged through the dojo doors and headed for the lift, still grumbling to himself about the likelihood of a challenge in the six block walk between Joe's and the dojo. What were the odds of that? Not high -- except in the orbit of one Duncan MacLeod, he answered himself grimly. As he reached the lift and threw down the gate, he slumped against the wall and rubbed his hand tiredly over his face. It came away scarlet. Fuck. He looked down at himself -- blood was spattered over everything he wore and he'd been too out of it to notice. He'd been damned lucky not to pass anyone on the way home -- stumbling down the street covered in this much blood might have been a little difficult to explain.
His legs were still behaving a little oddly but he managed to slide the lift gate up and walk out under his own power.
"Cut myself shaving," Methos growled, too strung out to play around. He dropped his coat on the floor and headed to the bathroom, only to have his path blocked by an angry and worried-looking Scot. "What?!"
"Does it really matter, MacLeod? Let me past -- I reek like an abattoir." He ignored the woman sitting silently on the sofa.
Methos slipped past
"Is this what it's like," she said at last, her voice awed and low, tinged with fear, "being Immortal?" She rose from the sofa and came towards Methos, who was suddenly mesmerized by the rapt horror on her face. "Is that really someone's blood all over you?" She reached out with a finger as if to touch him and he flinched, recoiling from her automatically. "Did you really just cut off someone's head?"
He could have been more gentle with her, definitely should have been more tactful, but he was filthy, exhausted, and impatient to be alone with Duncan and something about wide-eyed innocence in someone her age just rubbed him all the wrong ways. "Damn right," he answered coldly. "Welcome to the club. Don't worry, you'll be whacking off heads along with the rest of us in no time at all."
"Adam, that's enough!"
From the corner of his eye Methos
saw Sheila sink into an armchair and bury her face in her hands. A
familiar sob rang out. Then
"What the hell was all that
"Too loud, MacLeod, I'm standing
right here." He dropped his ruined shirt straight into the trash and
lifted his gaze to meet
"I have to go see how Sheila's
Methos stepped into the shower
and winced as the water hit his skin. It wasn't like he hadn't handled
a Quickening alone a time or two, he thought, flipping an obscene
He scrubbed himself thoroughly;
removing every trace of the dead Immortal from his skin as his thoughts
kept flipping back to what was going on in the outer room. It had been
a shitty thing to say to her, he knew that, but a small dose of reality
never went astray. Mac didn't see it that way though, that was for
sure. His protective instincts were on full alert when it came to this
woman and Methos was just a bystander. So much so that Methos had been
spared the third degree he usually received from
A few minutes later when he emerged from the bathroom, dressed and somewhat more himself, he found them standing in the kitchen, drinking coffee if the aroma was any clue. Sheila had both hands wrapped around the mug and her freckled fingers tightened on it as Methos looked at her. Her eyes regarded him warily, with the look of a stepped-on puppy. While she looked as if she'd taken a shower during his absence from the loft and all the caked blood was gone, her soft, lined face was still puffy as if she'd spent the whole time crying.
"This is all very bad karma," she said out of the blue, pushing the glasses she probably didn't need anymore back up along her nose.
Methos looked at
"No she is not going to holy ground, pal," Sheila ground out. "And while you're at it, would you mind not talking about me as if I'm not here? I'm too old for someone who looks as if he's still wet behind the ears to be ignoring me like that."
"Yeah, well, looks can be deceiving," Methos tossed at her with casual venom, taking another long pull at the beer. "And what's wrong with going to holy ground anyway? I've always found it very useful, restful even. Well, maybe not the chanting."
"I don't do religion -- period," she spat back. "Organized religion has the greatest potential for evil of any force on the planet," she finished, sounding like a slogan at a street march.
"Sheila, you don't have a lot of
"I have thought about it,
Methos caught the pained look,
She slammed the coffee mug down
on the counter, slopping a little over the side. "Gift?!
This is not a gift,
There was a long silence.
"But I do," Methos put in reluctantly. Damn MacLeod for making him do this.
"How old are you anyway?" Sheila asked sharply.
"Now you guys have etiquette, too? As well as all those rules? Well, hell."
Methos looked up to find Duncan's eyes fixed on his, saw the absolute understanding there, and thought perhaps this was the most important gift their love had brought him, this deep understanding and acceptance that flowed both ways. It was a reminder too, of all they had lost on the way to each other, all the pain that had gone before and all the loves lost that had made them the men that they were. The residue of his anger just bled away.
A harsh sob close at hand shattered the moment and they turned towards Sheila at the same time.
"I'm sorry," she wailed, the tears flowing freely again. "I just can't...It's all too..." Then she was gone, fleeing into the bathroom and slamming the door.
Methos watched her go, feeling
helpless in the face of her pain. Then
"What the hell do we do now?"
"Play it by ear, I guess. Maybe she'll change her mind about holy ground."
"I don't think so. She's completely against the idea. It's so bloody frustrating -- she won't even consider it to save her own life."
"Maybe that's it, maybe she
doesn't want to live," Methos said quietly, turning in
"Maybe not right now, but when she gets used to the idea she'll see it differently."
Methos wasn't so sure but he let it pass. "What about the cabin?"
"It's holy ground."
"She doesn't have to know that. She's a newbie, she'll believe what you tell her," Methos answered off-handedly.
"Lie to her?"
Methos shrugged and slipped away
"Up to you."
"I know," Methos answered mildly, picking up his beer and chugging the remainder.
"I suppose there's enough here
for a stir-fry of some sort,"
"Sounds fine." Methos was going to add more but at that moment, Sheila re-appeared from the bathroom, her eyes redder and puffier than before.
She looked every year of her age
now. Dark circles hollowed her red-rimmed eyes and the blotches left in
the wake of her tears only highlighted the pallor of her skin. She'd
pushed the short strands of her gray and chestnut hair behind her ears,
and it only served to highlight the softness of her jaw line and the
disappointed droop of her mouth. If she had once been as beautiful as
Sheila shook her head. "I haven't been able to eat much since Laura got sick. I just look at it and even if I was hungry before, when I see food my appetite just goes away. I'm sorry."
She certainly looked as if that was the case, Methos thought. Even through the ill-fitting sweats he could see that the skin hung loose on her narrow frame -- as incongruous as if she was wearing clothes a few sizes too large. He could see the angles of her shoulders but the gravity pooled the loose flesh around her waist, just enough to throw off the proportions of her shape and make her look vaguely deflated.
"Was Laura sick a long time?"
"Long enough -- five months. Ovarian cancer...by the time they found out, it was everywhere -- in her bones, in her liver...too late for them to do much more than watch her die. Slowly and painfully." Sheila's voice was tight and thin, almost unemotional in its flatness. "It isn't fair."
She shook her head minutely as if to shake off the memories and then in a slightly more animated tone said, "You go ahead and eat though. Don't let me stop you." She curled her legs up into the sofa and lay her head on the armrest. "I believe I'll rest a while."
Methos turned his attention away
from her and back to
He slipped down from the counter
at last, moving to stand beside
The flashing knife paused as
So the meal was made and eaten
and cleared away in whispered silence with a portion put aside and all
the while the woman on the sofa slept. Sometimes she slept so deeply
her chest barely moved and she was pale as death.
When at last Methos heard a
stifled yawn coming from his lover's mouth and the pretense of reading
became too tiresome to maintain, he stood and, taking
The light that streamed through
the loft windows in the early morning was eerie -- pale and watery with
the tail end of the storm. Methos blinked a wary eye at it and shifted
closer to the warmth of his sleeping lover. The graceful, hard length
But something was definitely not right, there was a discordant note playing somewhere, an absence.... Methos cast his senses around the loft, feeling for Sheila's insubstantial buzz. And found none. He extended the search to the furthest range of his ability, reaching down to the dojo and up onto the roof. Not there. Damn.
"Mac--wake up," Methos called as he rolled out of the bed. "She's gone."
"See for yourself, Mac. I can't feel her anywhere, can you? She's not downstairs."
"How the hell should I know!" Methos snapped back as he tugged on his
own clothes. "Back to her house?" He'd
known this would happen, the stupid bloody woman was probably already
dead. Her own damned fault, but he knew
that this would be another weight on
A few minutes and they were
dressed and heading out the dojo door.
A cold little part of himself,
buried not at all as deep as he would have liked, wished that they
would never find her, that she would simply drop off the map and leave
them to wonder if she wasn't still out there somewhere, or if a
headhunter had claimed her puny Quickening already. She never had a
chance anyway, but another loss -- another failure to protect on top of
all the turmoil of the recent years -- that could be the final straw.
The anger was unreasonable, unfair, certainly unwarranted, but it was
there nonetheless. Sheila was just someone
They were quiet against the throaty roar of the big car's engine. Methos sprawled deeper in his seat, gazing up at the cloudy sky. More rain soon. They'd have to put the top up. Perfect weather for this exercise in futility.
The house had been empty; a dusty, echoing shell of what had once been vibrant and alive. Worse than empty--dead. The only clue to Sheila's whereabouts had been the address of a bookstore that she and Laura had owned together. Methos wasn't very hopeful, but they really had nothing else to go on.
It didn't take much longer for them to pull up in front of the store and park the car. Laura's Books was a predictably eccentric-looking storefront settled comfortably between a coffeeshop and a store selling witchcraft supplies. Or at least what passed for witchcraft in this odd century. The bookstore itself was closed up, mail jammed into the slot and spilling onto the sidewalk.
Methos unfolded himself from the
T-Bird's passenger seat and came around the back of the car to walk
There. There it was at last --
the faint, teasing tickle of a new Immortal's buzz. Methos looked to
A pained, panicked moan from the back of the store told them where Sheila was hiding and they walked rapidly towards the sound. They found her in a storeroom, wild-eyed and disheveled, barely noticing their approach. When she did look up, she took one look at them and dissolved into tears again. He was getting really sick of that sound.
"I just wanted to be somewhere that reminded me of her," she hiccupped. "This was so much Laura's place. She made it what it is, I was just along for the ride." Sobs wracked her narrow shoulders as the tears came again.
As she sat, crumpled on the storeroom floor between the unopened cartons of hardbacks, she rolled a small gold-brown rock in her hands. Methos looked at it more closely as he tuned out her crying jag. It was a small piece of amber, quite a beautiful one, the size of a golfball, with an ancient dragonfly preserved inside.
Sheila caught his gaze and looked down at her hands, sniffling back the sobs. "Laura loves -- loved this stuff. She has a collection of it in her office. She always loved how you could look at something thousands of years old that was just the same as the day it died."
Methos felt the warmth of
Methos raised a cynical eyebrow, but his mouth quirked into a smile all the same. The Highlander sure could pick his moments.
She looked at him, gray eyes narrowing as they searched his face. She was quiet a moment before she answered, "Yeah. Okay...I guess that would be all right."
The shadows were long as
his aching limbs from the confines of the passenger seat and stood
beside the car, stretching gratefully. MacLeod sure did have a gorgeous
place here, he thought, gazing out across the lake to the island. Even
with winter just over the horizon, there was a
lushness about the island that winter's bareness couldn't
diminish. Even the cabin itself --
Of course, MacLeod had yet to
mention to Sheila that this was holy ground. As far as he could tell,
"You want to give me a hand with
"No problem." Methos smirked and
slipped past his lover, letting their bodies brush subtly. He hooked a
finger through the ring of
To Methos' surprise he heard Sheila laugh behind him, a small rusty sound that jarred in the late afternoon quiet.
"Mac--if you could see the look on your face just then... He got you good." She laughed again as she picked up a couple of grocery bags and began to carry them down towards the boathouse.
Methos saw the broad grin spread
"I haven't had you in forever,"
Methos could feel the heat
What little was left of the afternoon by the time they had arrived had flown by between the unpacking and the opening up of the cabin and showing Sheila around. Now the sun had set and the air had grown cold outside with the coming of the stars. In the cabin though, a huge log fire blazed in the fireplace and the living area was almost too warm.
Sheila seemed to be enjoying it here too; she had smiled more in the last few hours than he'd seen in the whole time that he'd known her. Though he wasn't fooled into thinking it was anything miraculous, it was at least, a start. She drifted over to where they worked in the kitchen. "You know what we need guys? Music. Got anything to listen to, Mac?"
Methos laughed out loud. "Don't
ask him that, Sheila, not unless you want to get stuck listening to
opera all night." Methos laughed again at the outraged face
"I don't just listen to opera. I
like lots of different things,"
"Yes, Mac," Methos deadpanned, smirking at Sheila. "Come on, Sheila, I think I packed some CDs, you can come and help me choose."
"Sure," she said as she followed him into the bedroom.
Methos tipped the entire contents of a duffle bag onto the wide bed that he and Duncan would share. A stack of CD cases slithered out amongst a tumble of books and notepads and other assorted debris he'd swept from his desk in the rush to pack this morning. Her hand darted out and grabbed a couple of the CDs.
"Springsteen?" she asked with a brilliant smile that took ten years from her face.
"Yeah sure. Why not? It'll drive Mac nuts."
Sheila laughed shortly, then her face grew serious. "You don't really like me, do you, Adam?"
Methos was taken aback that she'd had the nerve to actually mention it. He wasn't surprised she knew how he felt, or thought she did, just that she had the guts to call him on it. "It isn't that I don't like you, Sheila. That's not it at all." His eyes skittered away from hers.
"Then what is it?" she asked in a small voice.
"He's had a bad few years. I don't want to see him hurt again." Methos dragged his eyes back to hers, searching her face for understanding. "I won't see him hurt again."
If she caught the threat in his last words she never let on. "You don't understand," she rasped out, tears welling again, "I was ready to die -- I wanted to die. Everything was all arranged," she swiped the tears from her face, "and now...there's nothing for me now."
"Do you know what some people would do to have what you've been given?" he asked, unable to stem the tide of raw pain and anger welling up inside, ruthlessly forcing down the memories.
"Yes!" she snapped defensively. "I know!" Her voice grew quieter and colder as she continued, "But I didn't ask for it. And I don't want it. If I could give it to someone who wanted it then I would. But I don't have that choice, do I?"
"No. You don't. The only choice you have is a very simple one: live or die. There are still plenty of ways to die -- even for an Immortal. I'm sure you could find one of them." He couldn't keep the contempt from his voice and didn't try.
"You don't understand!" she flung at him, her voice still wet with tears.
"Oh, I understand all right," he forced out between gritted teeth. "Better than you know. Do you know the second thing that I did when I met MacLeod? I tried to get him to take my head. Yeah -- I wanted to die! I was sick of it all, sick of the game, sick of hiding, sick of losing people and places and having lives spin by in a heartbeat and sick of being so damned alone. But I forgot one thing, Sheila, for a little while I forgot that no one knows what's going to happen next. I forgot that life will always surprise you, no matter how jaded you think you are. Everything changes and nothing is forever -- not even pain." The anger bled out of his voice and it became soft with the memories. "If he'd taken my head I'd have never had what I have now, I'd have never known this. And this was worth waiting for." And if that wasn't precisely the chronology of how it had happened, she would never know it.
"What was the first thing?" Sheila asked, tears spilling down her face.
"What?" His throat was thick with
repressed emotion and he looked up to the doorway to see
"You said the second thing you
did was ask
Looking past Sheila, Methos' eyes
sought his lover's.
"Dinner is ready,"
Methos nodded and went to him, conscious of Sheila brushing by him in the hallway, then not at all. "How much did you hear?" he asked, standing close enough to kiss but leaving a hairsbreadth between them.
"Enough," his lover answered, a slow smile widening his mouth.
"You really shouldn't listen at doorways, MacLeod," Methos whispered, unable to stop his mouth curling at one corner.
"But I hear such interesting
"Don't believe everything you
hear, either," Methos teased as
"I did, you know," Methos whispered.
"Uhh...wasn't there somewhere we were going?"
Methos tugged his sweater back
into place. "Yes, dinner." He sent
A sad, jangling guitar chord spilled through the room, announcing the Springsteen CD Sheila had put in the player.
"Yeah," Methos agreed, following his lover back into the kitchen.
The sauce was simmering on the
stove and the pasta was keeping warm in its pot. The heavenly, timeless
scent of warming bread spilled from the oven. Methos breathed it in and
Springsteen played on repeat in the background, and gradually Sheila seemed to relax. She even ate a little. The wine flowed freely and eventually, as dinner was finished, the conversation became more and more animated. Then out of the blue, there came one of those silences that fall upon conversations from time to time -- a wide, echoey silence pregnant with possibility.
Sheila put down her wineglass,
"It wasn't my choice to make," he said, at last. The pain in his voice was almost palpable.
"But you did choose -- you pulled me out of the way. In that moment you chose for me to live. Why? If I had to be this way, why couldn't you have let me die back then?" There were tears in her voice and she dropped her gaze, staring down at her hands. "It's all right for you -- you're going to be thirty forever. You and Adam will both be handsome and strong -- and in love -- as long as you live.
"Look at me, Duncan -- I'm old-- And the one woman I ever loved isn't going to be Immortal with me. I don't stand a chance in this game of yours, even if I – if I...." The flood of words stilled and Sheila sprang out of her chair, knocking it to the floor behind her. She looked at them, her face pallid and stricken, then fled.
The slamming of a door down the far end of the cabin punctuated the stunned silence.
"Did I do the wrong thing back
Methos had never heard so much
"But she is right -- my actions condemned her to this. If I'd let her die then none of this would be necessary."
"Or she could have gone on to live to a ripe old age and died in her sleep and never become Immortal. Or she could have become Immortal then and died in the Game the very next week. There are a million different ways her life could have gone, and you aren't responsible for any of them."
"That doesn't make it any easier."
"You'll manage," Methos assured him. "You always do."
Shit. "No, MacLeod, I'm sorry. I can't. Not a good idea at all. No."
"But you could do it. You've got a lot you could teach her."
"I'm not disputing that," Methos replied with a deliberately arrogant tilt of his head, "but she's yours."
"But she needs you."
"I don't want to teach her, MacLeod!" Methos hissed, not wanting to raise his voice too loudly. "Get that through your skull! You know I don't take students."
It took all Methos' strength to
resist the plea in
"It'll be fine. You'll work it
out with her. She couldn't have a better teacher than you." He paused,
looking deep into the dark eyes. "Thanks for not pressing it." Methos
slipped his hand from
Methos was almost asleep but he managed a "Mmm?"
"Don't go anywhere."
He still wasn't quite awake and
it took him a minute to work out what
He wriggled until he was
comfortable, his head pillowed on
Methos hoped he did.
"Hold it up, Sheila!"
Methos slouched against the
doorframe and pulled his thick robe around himself more tightly. It was
really cold and the sun was barely over the treetops, but the two out
on the grassy clearing looked as if they'd been at it for hours.
Labored breath puffed from Sheila's mouth as
A delicious aroma teased his nose
in the chill morning air and he breathed it in gratefully. The coffee
was ready. Methos turned away from the lesson and went back inside. He
filled a large mug with the steaming brew, added milk and sugar, and
drank deeply. In the distance he could still hear their voices as the
Methos saw the look that crossed
her face and was briefly glad it hadn't been aimed at him. Still, she
didn't appear to have given up yet and that was good. She snatched the
sword from the ground and held it before her clumsily -- fumbling the
grip before finding a solid hold on it.
Methos sipped at his coffee and made a face. Damn, it had gone stone cold. How long had he been sitting here anyway? Sheila really hadn't made much of an improvement in all that time either. He watched her fumble a simple parry. Who was he kidding? She hadn't made any. If anything she was worse, exhaustion taking hold and making her movements slow and sloppy. It was too hard to watch anymore and it was cold and he needed a shower and some actual clothing. Methos gave up and went inside.
He stood a long time beneath the
scalding spray, thinking. Bloody MacLeod.
He hated feeling like this, really detested the queasy heaviness lying
in his gut as he thought about the 'lesson' going on outside. So
And she was probably screwing up on purpose. Unless she'd undergone a major attitude adjustment in the night, Sheila would still rather be dead.
He stepped out of the shower and
dried off. The prescient feeling of doom that had been lurking in his
gut since this had all started,
intensified. He pushed it aside.
Sheila was on the ground, sobbing
and clutching her left arm above the elbow when Methos walked out the
back door of the cabin again.
He walked up close to
Methos turned his attention to the woman sitting sobbing on the ground. "Healed yet?" he asked sharply.
Sheila looked at the bloodied skin beneath her hand and then back at him, nodding quickly, still sniffling.
"Right. Get up then," Methos ordered, wholly unaffected by the hurt look on her face. "And you won't need that," he added with a small sneer for effect as she went to pick up her discarded blade.
She looked even more confused. "But I thought--Mac said--"
Methos cut her off impatiently. "Don't think. Just do as I say for now. And I am definitely not Mac."
Gray eyes narrowed poisonously in his direction as she stood and faced him. Good, at least she still had the energy to be pissed at him.
"All right," he began. "There are things that I can teach you, that Mac can't. Won't. Sneaky underhanded tricks that will get your arse out of trouble every time if used correctly. That is, if you're interested in surviving?" he raised an eyebrow at her and waited.
She shrugged. "I guess so."
"Well, at least that was somewhat
honest." He seriously doubted she'd been as honest with
Time to start with the basics. "Have you ever fired a gun, Sheila?" Methos asked as they walked along the shoreline. The sun was higher now in the clear sky but no warmer and the wind that whipped across the lake held real bite. Methos hugged his leather jacket closer around himself and looked at her when she hesitated to answer.
It took a few more steps before she did. "No. I hate guns. I suppose next thing you're going to tell me that I need to learn to use one."
"Well yes, if you want to keep your head. Which brings up a very good question: do you want to keep your head?"
"I'm trying Adam, really I am." She sighed and looked down as she walked. "It's just really hard you know... It's like there's this thick glass wall between me and the rest of the world. I just can't break through it."
"It doesn't last. That's all I can say. It does get better... in time."
"And I have that, don't I--" she asked with a wry twist to her mouth.
He quirked half a smile back at her. "If you keep your head."
There were still shadows in her eyes but she nodded and forced a semblance of a smile.
Here. This looked as good a spot as any. They had reached a wide clearing backed by thick forest. Methos drew his pistol from the small of his back and checked it. "Okay," he said, handing it to her cautiously. "Let's see what you can do." He moved around to stand behind her. "You need to turn off the safety first." He pointed to the button and she pressed it tentatively, starting a little as it clicked. "Now pull back the slide." Methos placed his own hand on top of her clammy one and showed her how. "Now just point it your target and gently squeeze the trigger. That big stump in the middle there looks about man-sized." He pointed to the remains of a lightning-struck ash.
The short, sharp bark of the semi-automatic was shocking against the forest quiet. The stump remained stubbornly untouched but a small flock of birds gusted out of a bush on the far right hand side of the clearing. She emptied another six shots in the general direction of the stump but nothing even came close to touching it. Sheila let her gun hand drop, pointing the barrel at the ground dejectedly.
"Don't be so disappointed. Most people can't hit the side of a barn with a handgun when they first start, especially from this distance."
"I know, I know, it takes time, right?" she shot back impatiently.
"Well, yes," he answered mildly. "But standing closer works too." With his hand in the small of her back, he propelled her gently over the twelve of the fifteen feet that stood between them and the tree stump. "Now try to hit it."
She fired again, this time from only three feet away. A pale chunk of long-dead wood went spinning into the long grass.
"Someone gets close enough to lay a blade on you, they're close enough for you to hit them with a bullet. You're going to want to practice a lot, but you'll be fine. Do you remember how to put the safety back on?" She depressed the button hesitantly and went to hand the gun back to him; still holding it like it was a live snake. "No, you keep that one, get some more practice in. If you're serious about avoiding fights then a gun's going to have to become your new best friend. Later on, Mac or I will show you how to look after it properly."
"So that's it then. I just shoot them and run away. That's your whole answer," Sheila snapped.
His boot knife was in his hand and against her throat before she could even blink. She stumbled back and fell heavily to the grass, fear in her eyes as he fell with her, the blade still pressed to her skin. "No no no!" he shouted. "Where's the gun?"
It was lying impotently on the ground next to her right hand and Sheila turned to look uncomprehendingly at it and then turned back to face him. "I-you-- you took me by surprise. You jumped on me!" she threw in indignantly. "What was I supposed to do? Shoot you?"
Methos hauled himself away from her, shaking his head in disgust as he stood up and resheathed his blade. "Yes! That's exactly what you were supposed to do. Someone comes at you with a blade, you have to defend yourself, no matter who they are. You have to practice and practice, not just out here, but here," he tapped a hard finger against his own forehead, "in your head. You have to go over and over scenarios in your head until defending yourself becomes second nature. The weapons of your defense have to become an extension of yourself. So until they do, you practice, practice, and practice some more."
Sheila stood at last and dusted the grass from her jeans, glancing at him uncertainly. "Okay," she said slowly. "What do we do next then?"
"The next thing is that I go back to the cabin to talk to MacLeod and you stay here and practice shooting a bit longer," he answered in a tone that brooked no discussion. "But you'll need more ammunition." He dug another clip from his jacket pocket and showed her how to reload, nodding curtly when she finally managed it by herself. "Right then, I'll see you later." Methos shoved his hands in his pockets and walked away.
There were a lot of good reasons why he didn't take students.
Methos found himself deposited on a barstool next to the kitchen counter, still a little dizzy. "Wow. Whatever I did, remind me to do it again."
"You know--taking over teaching
Sheila for me."
"She's practicing," Methos answered as he wolfed down the eggs, almost groaning out loud with pleasure.
"Out there --
alone." The plate
"Yeah, so?" Methos forked another mouthful of egg into his mouth. "Mmm...these are remarkably good, Mac."
"So, don't you think you should have stayed with her? You are her teacher, after all."
"That was unfair."
"And treating me like shit because I leave your protege alone for five minutes wasn't? She's an adult and an Immortal and she's on holy ground. How much trouble can she get into -- really?"
Anger flared in
"Not much better," Methos admitted, catching
"So we just keep trying,"
"What else is there?" Methos said lightly before he pulled
Methos leaned back and looked up
"The gunfire's stopped, she'll be
Methos slipped into his own jacket and followed him out.
"She was practicing just here," Methos said as they rounded the corner of the path that led to the clearing where he'd left her.
"She's headed off down that way,"
Methos looked at the imprint; the damp loam had not had time to dry and the edges were still sharp and clear. "Yeah," he agreed. "Not ten minutes ago. Come on then."
They continued on down the trail,
passing through the cool, dark corridor of trees. It was narrow -- in
most places not wide enough to walk two abreast -- so he let
Methos nodded and headed off down the right-hand fork. He rounded a bend in the trail and felt the buzz teasing at the edge of his senses. Methos stopped, listening hard between the noises of the woods to find the one that did not belong. When he found it -- a small, sniffling gasp, all but undetectable in the whispering breeze -- Methos turned off the trail towards a huge fallen tree lying prone in a clearing.
Sheila looked up at Methos almost blankly as he came around the tree towards her. She sat cross-legged on the leafy ground, her back towards him. He might as well not have been there for all the attention she paid to his arrival. When Methos came nearer he saw the reason why.
Sheila had a pocketknife in her hand and was quietly and calmly slitting her wrist. He watched her watching the blood run out into the ground in front of her. Her face was still, as if she was meditating and deep in a trance. Only her hands moved, scoring deeply up the length of her wrist, then as the healing sealed the wound, beginning again. Just a little self-mutilation to get you through the day...
Sheila showed no reaction, although at this short range, she had to be aware of his presence. Methos laid a hand firmly on her shoulder and she jumped, dropping the knife and looking at him guiltily.
"What do you want?" she asked sullenly, glaring at him before turning away to gaze out between the trees.
Methos looked out in the direction of Sheila's gaze. She had picked a good place to sit and contemplate the world, if that was what she was doing, while she tried to bleed herself dry. The forest opened out before them and between the trees he could see the jagged mountains reflected in the lake's glossy surface. Oil-black rocks glistened at the shoreline and, as he watched, Methos caught the glittering arc of a fish jumping high out of the water. In the blink of an eye, all that was left was the concentric ripples spreading across the smooth water.
Resignedly, Sheila folded the knife and shoved it into her pocket. She stood, wobbling a little before she walked slowly down to the water's edge and bent at the waist, washing the blood from her hands. And not a moment too soon.
"Here you are,"
Sheila continued to look out into the lake, not turning her head as she answered, "I needed some time by myself, you know..."
"Right, then," Methos broke in
impatiently. "We can go continue our lesson now -- you've got a lot to
learn and I haven't got all year to teach it to you." He went to
Fine. Sure. No problem. And when Methos recovered his clearly absent sanity he might be able to explain to himself why he had just voluntarily put himself back in this situation. Methos shook his head at his own weakness. Duncan looked at him strangely but said nothing; merely leaning across and pressing a brief, devastating kiss to Methos' mouth and a quick squeeze to his hand, then slipping away down the path they'd just walked. Methos watched him stride away -- all flawed and beautiful and as dangerous to him as anything in his life. Ah yes, that was why he'd done this -- as if he could ever truly forget.
Sheila was waiting at the fork in the path. "Which way?" she asked sullenly.
Methos ignored the tone. "Back to where we were before," he ordered gruffly. He stalked past her without another word.
She glared at him darkly as she caught up.
Sheila was still glaring at Methos when they returned to the cabin late in the afternoon. It had been a long, hideous day and Methos was tired. Tired of teaching, tired of Sheila, tired of the great bloody outdoors -- of everything in fact.
He had spent the past several hours going over and over a few of his favorite methods of avoiding confrontation, including some basic self-defense moves that he thought she could handle without too much difficulty and few really dirty tricks that were useful in a tight spot. He'd spent a long time drilling into her the importance of constant awareness of her surroundings, constant planning ahead for every contingency.
Methos doubted if any of it had
really sunk in. Right now she was too grief-stricken and depressed to
take in much of what they were teaching her. He only hoped that in time
Sheila would do better. For
Methos brushed a not-quite-chaste
It was an odd night, that night
before it all went to hell. Sheila was talkative and animated, but
Methos knew it was a brittle, forced brightness that only went skin
deep. He wondered what
"Do you remember that party, when
that guy, what was his name--
The laughter that had been flying
about the room stilled.
"She always was too smart for all of us -- never would stand for any bullshit," Sheila answered, smiling tentatively as if it hurt her face to do so.
For a moment it looked like Sheila would dissolve into tears again -- her chin wobbled and her eyes filled but the storm never came. "I was the lucky one -- to have had her as long as I did. Now it just feel like part of me's been amputated." Methos refilled her glass for her and she took it, looking grateful for the distraction. She wrapped both hands around the glass and Methos followed the line of her gaze to the window, beyond which lay the night.
The very dark night, Methos
noticed, slipping from his chair to walk over to the window. He heard a
faint rumbling in the distance and shivered as an icy-damp finger of
breeze sneaked through the gap beneath the window. "Rain's coming,"
Methos said very softly. He turned to go into the kitchen, ostensibly
for more wine. A heavy sense of melancholy had settled over him and
suddenly all that Methos wanted was to take
Methos' mind kept darting, unasked, back to the lesson that afternoon. What an unmitigated disaster that had been....
Methos looked at her lying on the ground and snarled, "Get up! I can teach a ten-year-old to master this move. If you would put the slightest bit of effort into it, you might learn it too. You grab my upper arms, slide your foot behind my leg, lock your hip and push. Simple!" Sheila had become more and more listless and uncooperative as the afternoon had worn on, following his instructions only minimally.
She struggled to her feet, not answering back except with the resentful glare she had fixed on his face. Dusting the dirt and grass off her jeans, Sheila wandered over to a large boulder and sat on it, looking at Methos as if daring him to say something. Which of course he did.
"What do you think you're doing? I didn't say to take a break. Come on back here, we still have a lot to cover." Methos stalked over to her, his hands on his hips.
"No. I'm done with it. I don't care any more. I can't do this."
"Oh well," Methos began with casual sarcasm, "you'll make a nice little snack for some headhunter. Hope he makes it quick. They don't always, you know." It was cruel, but it would be crueler still not to acquaint her with reality.
Her eyes grew fearful; they searched his silently for a long moment. "You could do it," she asked at last. "Would you do it, please? You could make it quick."
"No!" he shouted, suddenly
furious with her. "Do you have any idea what that would do to
Sheila hung her head and looked chastened. "I'm sorry, Adam. I didn't think of it that way. I'm sorry I asked. We can go on with the lesson now if you want?" she offered with a cautious smile.
Methos wasn't buying the contrition wholeheartedly -- it was far too quick. "No, I've had enough for now, I'm going back to the cabin. Go or stay, I don't care."
He caught the glare she shot
at him as she left the rock and followed. He really needed to talk to
He really needed to talk to
They sat and talked and drank and laughed until Sheila's chin slipped for the third time from the hand it was resting on and she jerked upright, grinning foolishly. "Wow, I'm beat," she slurred, shaking her head. "I guess I'll be heading off to bed, guys. G'night." Sheila pushed away from the table and walked unsteadily down the hall.
"Always," Methos whispered,
hooking a lock of hair back from
Oh yes.... Methos stood
and held out a hand to his lover. Their eyes locked as
It was still raining when Methos
woke the next morning. The temperature had dropped too, he noticed as
he ventured an arm out from beneath the covers. Too
cold. The arm was quickly drawn back in and wrapped around
the sleeping heat of the other man in the bed.
The nightmares had come back in the small hours of the morning. Methos' heart had cracked as his lover had cried in his sleep for a boy dead at his hand and a woman who'd died in his arms. Methos had held and stroked Duncan out of the dream and back to real sleep, then lay awake for a long time, turning it all over and over in his mind.
He must have slept again because,
the next thing he knew, he was lying on his back in the bed and someone
very gentle was tracing a fingertip over his face. He opened his eyes
Methos blinked wearily and turned his head to look out the window. "Raining."
"Too cold...wet out," Methos
mumbled through the fog of sleep and incipient arousal. "Later." He
rolled over in the bed and heard
"Some of us have things
to do, Old Man. Sheila's gone for a walk or something. She isn't in the
house anyway. I'm going to go track her down, make sure she's okay in
all this rain. Some of the trails aren't very clear and it's worse in
the wet. Won't be long and maybe I'll make breakfast for you when we
A little while later the door re-opened and woke Methos from the light doze he'd fallen into. Lips brushed his cheek and Methos turned towards them, opening his eyes and frowning as his searching mouth met only air.
Methos pulled the covers more snugly around his shoulders, wriggling into a more comfortable position in the bed. He fully intended to take advantage of the peace and quiet and catch a bit more sleep while he could. Well, that was the intention anyway. Methos closed his eyes and waited for sleep to come back to claim him. And waited... Damn.
It was no use. The silence of the cabin was so deep it was worse than noise. There was no way he was going to be able to go back to sleep now. Thank you very much, MacLeod. When I get my hands on you.... Methos tossed off the covers with an impatient noise and climbed out of bed. A shower and coffee then.
A half hour later saw Methos standing in the kitchen looking out the window into the iron-gray morning, sipping his coffee. He was feeling odd -- a bit at loose ends. Duncan and Sheila were still out there somewhere, in the rain and wind. He was sure that they'd be back any minute.
It was the storm, of course -- that was his first thought when Methos heard the whip-crack of the lightning. Then the tremors rolled through the cabin and he knew just what it was. He'd been feeling that sensation for five thousand years now. He knew it as well as he knew the touch of the sun. It wasn't lightning -- it was a Quickening. And this one was on holy ground.
Methos' stomach roiled as his coffee mug dropped from nerveless fingers and smashed on the floor unheeded. He flew down the back stairs, taking three at a time and not pausing for a second as he hit the ground. He took off at a run across the grassy clearing at the back of the cabin and bolted desperately down the trail that led through the forest towards the blast site. The ground still shook and the arcs of energy still danced in the sky as Methos ran, refusing to even consider the implications of so much Quickening being released.
He wouldn't think about the probable source of so much power. The loss of Duncan -- his Duncan -- his beautiful, powerful, too-damn-good-for-me, lover -- was something he just couldn't think about.
He'd thought that they'd have longer...
No! Starting down that track would only lead to thinking about that thing that he refused to think about. Methos was so busy reining in his thoughts that he missed how the pelting rain had turned the trail's clay soil to a greasy mess. He slipped, his right foot flying out from beneath him and his right knee slamming hard into the ground. The pain was almost welcome -- a distraction from the noise in his head. All the things he couldn't think about. He forced his body back into the motions of running and continued on down the path.
Wherever it was, this thing that had happened, it looked like it was as far from the cabin as it was possible to be. The rain was driving harder now; dripping into his eyes and making the ground before him blur and jump. His clothes were drenched and heavy, dragging at his arms and legs. Methos pushed it all aside and kept running. The lightning was still leaping into the iron-gray sky when he dared a glance at it.
As Methos came nearer, the ground rocked beneath his feet like a ship in a storm. Not an earthquake though. This violence came from a far more esoteric source. He'd never known why and certainly not how, but the earth itself seemed to revolt against this violation of the rules. Quickening energy released in the presence of another Quickening on holy ground. It didn't matter that there hadn't been a challenge. Methos rounded another bend in the track and there it was.
Complete devastation, utter
destruction lay before him. Whatever had happened here had unleashed an
unspeakable force here. Dead center a circle of burned, blackened
ground struggled to smoke in the rain. Trees lay flattened against the
ground around it, like a house of cards toppled by a careless child.
The Quickening had stopped as he'd rounded that last bend in the trail
and now there was only the faint lingering buzz in the air to mark its
passing. But he could see no one -- feel no one -- and the knowledge
hit him hard. Methos looked about him wildly, searching for a place to
start looking, some clue as to where
But there was nothing.
Slowly, square foot by square
foot, Methos began to search, hauling aside logs and debris, fighting
off the rising panic with every beat of his heart. The rough bark tore
at his hands and soon he was leaving bloody smears over everything he
touched, but he couldn't care about that now, because someone
had died here and he couldn't rest until he found
Small, animal noises forced their way out of Methos' throat as he kept on searching; he ignored them like he was ignoring everything else that didn't matter. The pain, the cold, the rain that sheeted down and made his vision blur -- they were all irrelevancies. The minutes ticked by in his head and still there was not a flicker of presence or a single sign of a body.
The panic was becoming harder to
contain with every log he pushed aside, every branch and boulder. But
he wasn't giving in to it yet, nor would he until the second he held
His thoughts were becoming slippery -- dangerous and obstructive -- and Methos felt himself shutting down in response, working on automatic now. He never knew how much longer he worked, digging with his bare hands through the devastation, before his fingers closed around cold flesh.
His heart stuttered, torn between leaping back to life and stopping in dread.
It was an arm.
He pulled against the sucking mud
with a last, desperate tug and
Ohgod ohgod ohgod....
Beautiful head on beautiful shoulders. Still
out to it, but that would only be temporary. Methos found himself
gasping, almost hyperventilating as he took in the sight of
The rain mixed with the thick mud
It was still raining an eternity
Methos nodded, hanging on to
"How did she...?" Methos couldn't complete the question.
The thought tripped through
Methos' mind that that was how they'd got into this situation in the
first place, but he let it go in favor of struggling to his feet and
reaching down to help Duncan up. They really needed to get inside and
out of this rain. Mud made
They stood there a few minutes
longer with the rain pouring down over them, gratitude pouring through
Methos with a warmth that almost displaced
the cold. At long last, Methos stepped back from the hug and, letting
Methos pushed the bathroom door
closed with his foot, keeping the heat in as he tried not to spill the
steaming mug of brandy-laced tea he was carrying.
They still hadn't talked, not really. The long walk back had been slow and difficult, not very conducive to heart-to-heart conversations. Methos had been far more focused on getting them both under shelter and out of the storm. It had increased as they walked, ice-cold needles of harsh, driving rain that stung his skin. It pelted at the windows still, but now it insulated them from the world outside.
"She hung herself, you know,"
We'll never know," Methos answered noncommittally, a bad taste creeping up the back of his throat to spread through his mouth. "There's no way to know." There was no more to say and the small room was quiet.
Methos sighed. It was all going to come out and it wasn't going to be pretty. "It was probably mine," he said at last, avoiding his lover's eyes. "I made some up into a garrote a while back -- little wooden handles and everything -- and I was trying to teach her to use it yesterday. She must have taken it when I wasn't looking."
"You mean you didn't put it away
"How the hell was I supposed to know she'd use to kill herself?"
"You should have known! You're
five thousand years old! What good is that if you haven't
"It doesn't make me psychic!" Methos yelled back.
"It didn't take a psychic to see
how troubled she was. I can't believe you let her get her hands on
something so dangerous."
"I knew she was worse than she was letting on. I hoped she would get over it," Methos answered tersely. "I thought she was getting better. Hell, you saw her last night! If I'd known she was going to kill herself I certainly would have mentioned the fact that we're on holy ground." Methos took another deep breath and tried to let the anger go. "Anything could have happened," he swallowed over the memory of his panic and forced the words out. "You could have been killed. Surely you know that I wouldn't risk that."
"I'm never sure what I
know about you, Methos,"
Well, that said it all. The anger
Methos had thought he was rid of flared quickly. He stood and stalked
to the door. "When you decide, you can come find me." Methos threw the
door open so hard it nearly bounced off its hinges. "Or
not." He stopped and turned to face
"Well you thought wrong, didn't
"What do you want me to say, MacLeod? That I was wrong? Yes! I was wrong about her. Just remember I wasn't the only one!" He stalked out and slammed the door shut behind him.
He made it as far as the living
room when he heard the sound of the bathroom door crashing open.
Methos' hand itched for something to throw at him. Instead, he pulled his anger into a cold, hard shell around himself and drew his shoulders back. "Something else you wanted to say?"
"I can't believe you didn't talk to me about her!"
"We never talk about anything, why should this be any different?" Methos asked, surprising even himself with the coldness of his voice. Before he really knew why, he was walking out of the room and out of the cabin.
The tiny back porch was damp and rain blew in from time to time, but Methos ignored it, and his discomfort, staring out into the endless storm, thinking, wondering if they'd ever manage to work this out.
What seemed a long time later,
but might not have been at all,
It was too soon, and the pain
inside him was still too fresh. Methos shook off
It really was a long time later
when he finally dragged his cold and aching body back inside the cabin.
Methos had showered and dressed and was sitting on the side of the bed tying his shoes when he saw it. There on the dresser, placed right in the center where no one could miss it, was Sheila's piece of amber. He felt his heart slide down to his stomach as he stood and went to it, almost without consciously willing himself to do so.
The ancient stone was smooth and cool in his hands as he rolled it between them, thinking. The insect preserved in the resin was contorted in its death throes, perfectly preserved at the moment its life had ended. And there the metaphor fell apart: they weren't frozen at the time they died, no matter what lies their faces and bodies told.
Change, adaptation -- they were so much a part of his life that sometimes it seemed they were the only constancies. For a while there he'd thought the man currently sitting out there cursing his name might have been another. And now...? Now he should probably be packing his bags, only he found the urge to flee was strangely absent.
He slipped the stone into his pocket and left the room.
"That was unfair, before,"
Methos looked at him slowly. "Do we? Really?"
"Of course we do. We talk about
Methos stared at him for a long moment, weighing his words and the consequences. "That's why you've been pretending for the last two years that you don't have nightmares every other night," he said at last.
"It's not every other
night and that's different,"
"I...I...didn't want to worry you -- I thought I could deal with it on my own -- hell, I can deal with it on my own."
Methos raised an eyebrow and
looked at him, and waited.
He saw the penny drop. "Oh. And
Methos went and sat with him, the
residue of his anger bleeding away in the space of a breath. "Yeah."
"And you didn't,"
Methos paused. "It wasn't ever that...you do know that, don't you? I just didn't want to see you hurt. You take on so damn much, sometimes."
"I don't think she ever really wanted it to end any other way, you know. She just couldn't deal with the reality."
"Of course I can!"
"Then why are you still having nightmares about every damn thing you think you did wrong, all the way back to Glenfinnan?" Methos asked evenly.
"You are the only one who expects you to be able to fix everything for everyone, Duncan."
The sentence seemed to hang in
the air between them for a long moment, before
Methos turned and leaned back
against the windowsill so he could see into
"And you think that's enough?"
The pain on
"It has to be."
The silence that followed was wide and deep; the only reply that Methos could hear was the strong beat of a generous heart.