A Winter Night by Unovis
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Author's Notes:
A slightly different version appeared on the Slash Advent Calendar 2003 for December 20. Many thanks to Ev vy and Taz for input and good advice, most of which, willful sot that I am, I failed to follow. This opened the door to the Village stories about Darius and Methos.


It was a little, crackling fire with pale flames, but it would do. A few scraps of roof tile under the wood kept it off the floor; the muddy stone wouldn't scorch, but he fussed anyway. He had a particular dislike for the smell of burning marble.

Methos pulled his knees up and leaned back against the ruined wall. It's Saturday this time, he told himself. It's December 21st. It's the year of our tired old Lord 1996. He tugged his pack closer, lifting it when it snagged on the hilt of his sword. The pack clinked when he put it down, and a rattle answered overhead. Wind, or little feet. "Or a ghost," he said, aloud. "Show yourself, and say hello." He untied the top flap and took out a bottle, a dried sausage, and a jackknife.

The corkscrew blade stuck, and poked his thumb. He licked the puncture clean as it healed. "Don't look for blood," he said, in case there really was a ghost. A very old ghost. He heard a small, soft sound that might have been a snuffle. "No scraps, either. If you eat me, I'll make you sick." He knew that for a fact.

There were other things in the pack for later, if the spirit moved him. Tobacco. Some crumbs of incense, from Yemen or thereabouts. A slab of black German chocolate. He wormed the old corkscrew into the cork, just as the last light left the sky. Through a broken arch to his right, a window long bereft of glass, he'd get his first glimpse of the moon. The cork left the bottle with a burp. "This is for me, you know, not you. And it's red, not that thin Rhenish stuff you like." His hand around the bottle wavered, but he didn't spill the wine. I don't really expect you. We only stayed here a few decades, just a minute, in the grand scheme of things. Then you moved on, to Paris and nobler company. I hope he was worth it, in the end. "But oh, my great good friend, I wish you were with me tonight."

The sensation sizzled up his nerves like static, like a storm, and he slopped the wine, after all. He put the bottle down carefully and picked up his sword. A large, dark shape detached itself from a column and scuffed across the leaf-littered nave to his defensible corner. Breath burned in his lungs. "Duncan MacLeod, of the clan MacLeod." His mouth twisted. "Mi casa es su casa."

"Your casa's a wreck."

"Casualty of war." Methos inventoried his weapons to hand. Sword at his knee. Luger in the pack. Jackknife in his hand; and a jagged bit of tile by his hip. Fire he could kick with thick boots, if push came to shove. What did MacLeod want, and why was he here?

Duncan squatted on the other side of the fire, as though Methos's words offered a genuine invitation. Or as though he didn't care. "You're not that hard to track."

"Wasn't trying to be." There's nobody I'm afraid of, now. Except you.

"That should make it easy for your Watcher."

No easier than for yours. Amy Zoll was well and truly ditched, a hundred miles away. Methos doubted Joe was crouching in the bushes. He watched MacLeod unship a small bag from his back and sit crosslegged to open it. The katana lay at his side, mirror to Methos's sword.

"What do you want with me, Mac?"

Duncan took out a canteen and sipped. Not water, Methos bet. "It's my birthday."

Yes, I know. "The Solstice. The longest, darkest night of the year."

"It used to divide the old year and the new. It brought an end to the old year's decay, so the new year could start to grow. "

"And that makes you, what? Scourge of darkness, Child of Light?" Come to take another whack at evil?

"Just me. You know me, you know who I am. More than I know you." Duncan leaned forward, the better to see over the fire. His eyes were bright, in a shadowed face. "I wondered what you were up to. Why you haven't run away. Why I've found you camping out in Darius's old church."

Oh, death and bloody hell! "Not a church, now. They never rebuilt after the bombing, just let the cemetery grow." Still holy ground: take heed. "It seemed like a safe place for a picnic."

"This was Darius's home, before he came back to Paris. He told me about it."

Our home. What else did he tell you, Solstice Boy? Did he tell you what he thought you were? Did he tell you what he made me promise, for the sake of you? Or did he mention me at all?

Duncan leaned back, and dug into the bag. He brought out a loaf of the local bread and something wrapped in white paper. Cheese. He held them up, and pointed at Methos's sausage. "Share?"

Methos cut the sausage. He tossed half over the fire. Duncan caught it without dropping the bread and tossed back a hunk of cheese. Methos flashed on a memory of enemy troops bunging food over the ramparts, between the trenches. Duncan tore off some bread and threw it. It bounced off Methos's hand.

When in doubt, eat. When in need, eat. They chewed in silence. After Duncan finished his peasant sandwich, he settled back, taking his time, making himself comfortable. He brushed dirt from his knee. "A long time ago, Darius told me about this church, and about his comrade Matthieu. I didn't put it together until now. You said you knew him, of course." He took a swig from the canteen. "I didn't know how well."

"Not well enough. Darius, somewhat like myself, was not a simple man to know." Methos's stomach clenched at the thought of Darius talking them over, to MacLeod. Did he tell you about the deer I tamed? The garden? The bodies in the crypt? Did he tell you why we parted?

"I have to wonder why, with you both in Paris, he never mentioned you. Never introduced us. Why he left this place, just before meeting me."

"And now you've got a theory?"

"Now I've got more questions."

Your fucking Prophecy. Cry Cassandra, and by this holy stone, I'll take you down. "I might not be the best one to ask." He picked up the wine bottle and wet his lips, then drank. The flood of flavor steadied his mind.

Duncan sipped from his own supply, in sympathy. "Of course you are. You've got the answers."

"We tried the truth and you didn't like it. Remember? We're through."

"I remember, you go with the winner. I remember, that's me."

"I'm not your man." Sorry, Darius. I tried.

"You are. You attached yourself to me, and I think I need to know why."

Twist, snake. Tell him he's got the brownest eyes in Christendom, and the broadest arse. Tell him he reminds you of a long lost son. Tell him.... "Darius thought you needed guidance. He put himself in your path. And then he died." Or tell a bitty truth.

A little offense there, masked by the flames. "He asked you to look after me?"

"You're too important to lose." His mouth puckered with the wormwood, and he drank, to lose the taste. He watched MacLeod turning it over in his mind, and wished he'd brought a more comfortable mat. Big enough for two? asked the damnable voice in his head, and he twitched it away angrily. Why couldn't it have been the ghost, instead?

"Darius was the best man I've ever known," Duncan said. "I don't like to think... I'm reluctant to believe he was using me."

"He used us all. For the greater good," said Methos, unable to resist.

"He knew who you were?"

Child! "He knew about the Horsemen. He knew Death."

"And he forgave you?"

"No. He loved me."

Mac retreated into thought again. It was going to be a long night. Methos took out the tobacco, and his pipe. He'd save the chocolate for last, the incense for another visit.

It's the longest night of the year; if you live through it, the days get broader, and the darkness wanes.

Isn't that what you told me, old friend?