It took three days, but finally Methos got a flight from Paris to Toronto, then after many attempts, gave up on renting a car and simply bought a used SUV for an exorbitant price, and headed south. The countryside seemed so normal, even as the radio continuously broadcast various reports, rumors, rants, speculations and commentary on what happened, why it had happened, and what the country and the world should or should not do about it.
His concern was not with the world, which would continue turning regardless of the immediate actions of men or their countrys' leaders. His worry was entirely personal. He hadn’t been able to reach Mac. He was fairly sure he would have known if MacLeod was lost to permanent death, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t potentially buried under unthinkable tons of steel. The image literally gave Methos chills, and he suppressed the thought for the hundredth or so time. Methos had assured himself again and again and again that all would be well, that MacLeod was entirely capable of taking care of himself and had done so successfully for over 400 years. But he couldn’t dismiss the notion of Duncan MacLeod dashing into the burning buildings to save anyone he possibly could – and the vision of the horrifying collapse of two of the tallest, most densely populated buildings in the world was among the most chilling he had witnessed in recent centuries.
His friend and sometime lover had always wanted to ‘make a difference’. Oh, a century or two ago, he had given up trying to take a hand in world affairs, and ultimately acknowledged that man’s capacity to wage war and destruction upon himself was boundless and virtually unstoppable by any one man, even an Immortal. But that didn’t prevent him from reaching out to individuals, one at a time, gathering them into his circle of care, if only for a moment. Especially in a moment of crisis, when his Immortality could protect him from dangers others might not survive.
Joe had been no help at all. The Watchers were in total disarray. Their Northeast headquarters had been in the adjacent high rise, which had collapsed on the second day. Their people had been evacuated, they still had many missing in the chaos immediately following the attack, and their secondary headquarters did not yet have their communications system up, so all Joe knew was that MacLeod had, indeed, been in New York City on September 11th.
He should have anticipated that there would be no place to park his newly acquired vehicle, for any price, but he still wasted two hours driving around Manhattan. He gave up, and made his way to a lot in New Jersey near a train station, hiked his dufflebag onto his shoulder, and made the long, uncomfortable trip into the city. It was a distinctly odd atmosphere, unlike any he had encountered in New York in decades or even centuries past. People met his eye. They actually looked at each other, giving up seats to those who appeared to need them, inquiring as to the welfare of perfect strangers. Amazing.
Then, as Methos climbed out of the subway near Mac’s building in Soho, he could smell it. For a moment he stopped in his tracks, and someone behind stumbled into him, cursing him under his breath. That was a refreshing sound of normalcy amid all the strangeness, and brought him back to himself. The smell, however, had shaken him, taking him back to ancient battlefields and old, ugly memories. It was the sickly sweet smell of burning and decaying flesh, overlaid with newer, more modern scents of electrical insulation and other combustibles that weren’t around a few thousand years ago.
He rubbed his nose reflexively, as if that would somehow dispel both the smell and the memories. It did neither.
Mac’s loft was empty, as he knew it would be when the elevator to the 12th floor ascended and he felt no Immortal presence. He punched in the lock sequence to the penthouse apartment and let himself in the door, setting his bag on the floor and moving into the large room. There was a noticeable layer of gray silt over everything, but the bed was unmade and there were breakfast dishes left on the counter, and an inch or so of coffee was still in the decanter, now cold.
He checked the answering machine, to discover over twenty messages left, about a third of them from himself or from Joe, or Amanda, or the deValicourts, demanding to know where Mac was. The rest of the desk was neatly arranged, with a pile of papers related to Connor’s estate sitting next to the computer. Mac had disappeared for months after Connor’s death and the debacle with Kell, emerging eventually to deal with the details of settling his clansman’s rather extensive holdings in New York and around the world, most of it going to various charities. Methos had spoken to him several times by phone, offering to help, but each time Mac had declined. Reading between the words and the tone, Methos heard the plea for time, for space to heal. The last decade had been full of devastating tragedy, and if Duncan MacLeod was feeling emotionally fragile, well, that was hardly a surprise. Methos could wait, just so long as he knew the man was alive and reasonably sane, which was the best one might expect, under the circumstances.
But now, Methos wasn’t absolutely certain his friend was either alive or sane. Methos scrubbed his face with his hands and sat with a tired sigh on the big leather couch in the living area. “Okay, MacLeod. What have you done with yourself this time?” he murmured aloud to the empty room.
He shed his coat at last, then steeled himself to walk out on the balcony, where bright sunshine belied the general miasma of grief and shock that was stamped on every face he had seen. A cool autumnal breeze ruffled his hair, and the air seemed a little cleaner up here, although the stench was inescapable. He shaded his eyes against the harsh rays of the setting sun, and dared take a look at the skyline of lower Manhattan. He honestly didn’t think he would be as affected by it as he was, but he could feel the sense of loss somewhere deep in his gut. Over five thousand people in one fell swoop. A hard smile tugged on his lips as he considered that whoever had been responsible for this atrocity was playing in the big leagues now, and even giving the Horsemen a run for their money. He could only be grateful that all those centuries ago, he and his brothers had not had such media for mass destruction at their beck and call, for surely they would have used it, and he had a hard enough time dealing with his regrets.
But killing was easy at a distance, the act of cowards and madmen, and whoever had manipulated the strings of the deluded bastards who had given up their lives in the name of pointless hatred and the slaughter of innocents, his days were numbered. Assuming Mac was still alive, Methos had no doubt that if anyone could unite the Immortals in an effort to eradicate this scourge from the face of the earth, it would be Duncan MacLeod. If not, well, there was always Death to call on. He was still around, and had a number of tricks up his sleeve that would ultimately get the job done.
“Look, I’m not licensed to practice in the States, but I can certainly do triage, and hand out bandages. I’m a trained medic, for God’s sake!” Methos had been arguing with the policeman preventing entry into the disaster area for almost ten minutes.
“All right!” the exhausted, dust-covered man finally waved him in the direction of a number of trailers moored up on the sidewalk. “See if they can use you over there, but you’ll need to get a vest and a hardhat!” The man had to yell over the constant grind and thrum of land movers and cranes, shouts and shoveling.
Methos picked his way over to the trailers, and found a vest and hardhat sitting on some rubble, temporarily or permanently discarded by its previous user. He donned the garments and stepped up into a cramped, chaotic space. A grimy, hollow-eyed man was sitting on one of two examination tables crowded into the area, and a vest-clad figure was bent over his forearm, stitching a long, but shallow gash.
“What is it?” the medic called over her shoulder. Her voice was hoarse, and when she glanced up, her face was dirty with sweat and dust and blood, her dark hair held back with a damp kerchief.
“New recruit,” Methos answered. “Dr. Adam Pierson. From the U.K., and I’m not licensed here, but I can pitch in on whatever you need.”
The look of relief on her face was heartrending. “Thank God,” she whispered. “I haven’t even been to the bathroom in almost eight hours. And I don’t think anyone is going to be checking for a license out here.”
Methos reached for a pair of latex gloves from the open box on the shelf. “Then go, I can finish this. Take a break, get something to eat, get some rest.”
The woman’s strong mouth set in a line. “I’ll make a quick trip to the bathroom, get some water and be back. You watch, as soon as I leave, something nasty will turn up. Mostly we’re getting first aid type stuff, rescuers with cuts from all the glass, turned ankles from stepping wrong in the debris, some breathing problems from all the dust,” she pointed to the oxygen stored in the corner. “The only bodies they have found for the last two days have been dead.”
“That doesn’t mean some of them can’t still be alive,” insisted the fireman she had been stitching up.
Methos looked up at him. He couldn’t be more than twenty-five years old, but he had that shell-shocked look all too familiar to those who had been in war.
“Right,” Methos agreed, reaching for the thread and needles the other doctor had been using. “Of course.”
“Oh,” the woman had made it halfway out of the trailer, but stuck her head back in, “And my name is Joanne. Dr. Joanne Lawson. Dr. Pierson, was it?”
“Just call me Adam,” Methos smiled in her general direction, his concentration now on sewing the fireman’s forearm back together.
“Glad you’re here,” she called, and disappeared.
The casualties came in waves, and there were moments of frantic activity, followed by lulls of tense waiting. Once, while Methos was helping Joanne pull a dislocated shoulder back into place, the whole area suddenly went eerily silent. Everyone froze. The generators were turned off, the landmovers went quiet, and Methos looked up. “What’s happened?” he whispered.
“Someone thinks they might have heard something, a survivor,” she whispered back. “They turn off everything to listen.”
When Methos turned back to his patient, who was sweating and shaking with pain, the man waved him off, not wanting to risk crying out or making any noise. They stood still and silent for over ten minutes before the generators came back on. Joanne shook her head sadly. “False alarm,” she sighed.
The next time Methos looked up it was dark outside, with the bright sunlight replaced by huge outdoor floods trained on the wreckage of two of the tallest buildings in the world. He had kept his mind tuned all day to MacLeod’s presence, and once or twice had thought he felt a distant tremor, but it was too vague to be certain.
He and Joanne finally took a break, stepping out of the trailer and sitting on the steps. There was no escaping the smell or the dust-filled air, and Joanne coughed, and leaned back, letting her eyes close. “You should get out of here for awhile,” Methos advised. “You look like you’re ready to collapse.”
“I feel like I’m ready to collapse,” she answered with a vague, half-smile. “But those guys,” she gestured to the never-still ant bed of activity of the WTC disaster site, haven’t stopped for a week. “We’re the first line of defense, Adam. The rest of the medical staff, the ones with all the real expertise, are back at the hospital, trying to save the lives of the critically injured. “These trailers are about the only medical refuge these folks have. There are food trailers a block back that way,” she pointed north. “And cots set up in that building down there so they can take quick naps, but it is hard to even get them to do that.”
Methos nodded. “I think I have a friend in there,” he nodded towards the disaster site.
Joanne gently squeezed his forearm. “I’m sorry.”
Methos shook his head. “He’s a pretty hard guy to kill, I know that,” he added with a grim smile. “And I know if he wasn’t crushed by the buildings collapsing, he’s for sure in there, trying to dig people out.”
“He’s a fireman?”
Methos shook his head. “He’s been about anything and everything, including a fireman, a medic. He’s just one of those all-around hero types who tends to rush in where fools fear to tread.”
Joanne was studying him closely. “You care about him a lot,” she observed, an eyebrow raised that was full of implications.
Methos chuckled. “Yes,” he admitted. “I care about him a lot.”
“You’re being very brave about it. I don’t think I could do what you’ve been doing. I would be out there, digging through the rubble with my bare hands.”
Methos shook his head. “If he was caught in the collapse, that wouldn’t really help. If not,” he shrugged. “I figure I can do some good here, and be close enough to be able to track him down if and when he emerges from that mess.” He didn’t add that he was hopeful that – unlike the over 5,000 entombed victims of the terrorists’ ugly attack – eventually MacLeod would emerge alive, even if the entire World Trade Center had fallen on him. So long as his head was intact. Methos sent that hopeful thought towards the mountain of twisted steel and glass.
The night passed in a blur, broken only by a two-hour nap on a hard cot in the hallway of an abandoned office building two blocks away. The steady stream of relief workers became more impressive the longer he stayed, and soon his participation became less a convenient way to stay near where he might find his lover and friend, and more an act of inspired loyalty and support for these thousands of people so willing to give until there was nothing left to give, to help others. His body would heal, his energy was easily renewed, he could go without sleep and food longer than those around him, and yet they constantly amazed him with the strength of their resolve and determination not to give up, not to give in to exhaustion or despair. In five thousand years, he could not ever remember seeing such an unstoppable outpouring of human bravery and kindness.
“Adam, go home!” Dr. Hamadi insisted. Methos looked up into dark, concerned eyes and for just a second he thought they were MacLeod’s.
“What?” He had been sorting and putting away supplies recently delivered by the Red Cross, and evidently lost his concentration.
Dr. Ahmad Hamadi was in charge of the various medical units on the wreckage site, and spent most of his time monitoring the varying levels of exhaustion of his crew. “You fell asleep putting away bandages, Adam. It’s time to go home and get some rest. There are others here who can do that. We do not have a shortage of volunteers.” The doctor’s strong, brown hands grasped Methos by the shoulders and turned him towards the door with a little push. “The site team captains have all decided to send anyone home who has been here too long, now go!”
“But…” he wanted to say he hadn’t found his friend yet, but at that moment, his whole frame tingled with the sharp tang of Immortal presence. He stumbled down the steps, scuffing the perpetual layer of ash and debris that could not seem to be cleaned away no matter how many times they tried.
“No, MacLeod, no more!”
The use of the name whipped Methos’ head around and he turned, trotting towards the yellow plastic tape barriers keeping non-workers from the main wreckage site. A man in a fire captain’s uniform was nose to nose with a very, very welcome sight. Mac was filthy, his hair white with dust, his face gray with dirt except around his mouth, where he had been wearing a dust mask. But to Methos’ eyes he had never looked better. “Carl, this is ridiculous, I don’t need…”
“No, it isn’t ridiculous at all. I’ve been keeping tabs on as many of the workers as I can, and when I feel they have reached their limit, it is my duty to send them away. Now, as far as I can tell, you’ve been here since the first hour, with maybe three or four breaks for sleep. No one can go that long without becoming a danger to themselves and others. We have enough people to rescue without having to rescue each other, God dammit. Now, get your ass out of here, and if I see you back here again in less than 24 hours, I’ll have the police escort you home!”
MacLeod’s eyes finally flickered in Methos’ direction, widening, then a tired smile lit his face, and his shoulders slumped. “All right, Captain. Yes, sir, Captain. Whatever you say, sir!” he snapped off a sharp salute, but softened his irony with a smile.
The fireman laughed gently and clapped MacLeod on the shoulder. “Get some rest, Mac.” Then as Mac walked away towards Methos, the Captain called, “Oh, and MacLeod?”
Mac stopped and turned back.
Methos read the sadness in the stoop of Mac’s shoulders. “No, Carl. Thank you,” Mac answered, then turned towards Methos, stumbling ungracefully over some debris as they closed the distance between them. He threw an arm over Methos’ shoulders and the two of them walked away from the horrifying scene. “You look like hell,” Mac said with an affectionate smile.
“So do you,” Methos answered happily, wrapping his arm around Mac’s waist. Just then Joanne stepped out on the steps of the medic trailer, and caught Methos’ eye, her face lighting up as she saw the two men together. “I found him!” he called.
She hurried over to them, and much to Mac’s obvious surprise, she threw her arms around him, almost strangling him in a hug. At last Mac pushed her away, his laughter stopping instantly when he saw tears pouring down her face. “What was that for…what’s wrong?” he asked.
Joanne laughed, wiping away her tears and sniffling. “I’m sorry, I don’t usually go around throwing myself into the arms of perfect strangers.”
Methos felt his mouth quirk. “Don’t worry, it happens to him all the time.”
“It’s just that Adam has been so worried that you were caught in the collapse, and yet he was here working day and night, and …God, it just seems so wonderful to have at least one lost soul found, after all the…” but this time the tears couldn’t be stopped, and Mac gathered her in, letting her sob on his shoulder.
As they trod wearily north to the nearest subway station, then on the subway, and during the three-block walk to Mac’s flat, they were stopped again and again by people expressing their gratitude. It was a remarkable experience, especially since Methos knew how vast the devastation was, and how little he had done to make a difference. He didn’t know about MacLeod, but he suspected he felt the same way. But at least Mac probably didn’t feel like he was somehow connected to the perpetrators of the act through thousands of years of history. Methos couldn’t shake the morose thought that ‘there – but for the tide of time – go I’.
“Stop it, Methos,” Mac said as they rode the elevator in silence up to the apartment.
“Stop what? I didn’t say anything.”
“I can hear you thinking.” Mac keyed in the security code that opened his door, immediately unbuttoning his filthy shirt and heading towards the bathroom. “It was a long time ago, and you said you weren’t that person anymore. You asked me to accept it.” Mac turned and faced him. “Do you?”
“Do I what?” Methos decided he must really be tired, since he wasn’t following the conversation.
Mac came to him and wrapped his arms around Methos, who gave in to an irresistible urge to tuck his head into Mac’s shoulder, breathing in the aroma of sweat and dirt deeply imbedded into hair and skin and clothes. “We both need a shower,” he mumbled.
“Aye,” Mac whispered. But instead of heading to the bathroom, he lifted Methos’ face with both hands, fixing him with a warm look. “Methos, whatever evils there are in the world, they are not in you. I know that. I trust that. Do you?”
“We all have evil inside, Mac. You know that, too.”
“Yes,” Mac answered roughly. “Oh, yes, I know that. But I’ve come to terms with my demons. And I believe yours were tamed long ago.”
Methos felt his throat close and hot tears gather in his eyes. He was so tired, and so wanted to believe that he would never have done that horrifying deed, but he couldn’t be certain. He lowered his face, ashamed of his threatening tears. “Do you always make people cry, MacLeod?”
Mac laughed and pulled him in for another hug. “It’s a gift. Come on, let’s get a shower and some sleep.
Joanne Lawson finished putting away the stack of supplies Adam Pierson had left, finding herself whistling an off key version of an old Quaker hymn, Tis a Gift to be Simple, as she did. For all the death and destruction around her, she suddenly had hope, not only inspired by the unprecedented outpouring of assistance and sympathy for all those involved in the World Trade Center disaster, but also because she had been witness to a small miracle. Joe Dawson had sent her here to find Duncan MacLeod, but she had mostly come to help, and she had managed to do both. She reached high, putting the extra rubbing alcohol out of the way and closing the cabinet, automatically pulling her sleeve down to cover the tattoo on her wrist.
But there was more to the miracle than simply finding a missing person. When Joanne had called Joe to tell him MacLeod had been found, and told him about Adam Pierson’s appearance, he had laughed out loud, and told her the young doctor was also an Immortal, newly discovered by the Watchers. She had been stunned. What a unique privilege – to witness Immortals setting aside their differences, dedicating their time and energy and even risking their lives to help their mortal brethren. And if the looks that had passed between Adam Pierson and Duncan MacLeod were any measure, it seemed that they could set aside their horrible Game and find love amongst themselves. The concept belied all the hateful things Horton and his Hunters had said about the Immortal race, and lifted her heart that what she did mattered, both here, in the midst of this tragedy, and in her life as a Watcher.
It also brought home to her that no race of people, no religion, no nationality, was ‘evil.’ There were only individuals who perpetrated evil acts, and those individuals were, after all, only human.