A Ghost of Winter's Past by Ithildin
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Author's Notes:
This was the first fic I ever actually posted publicly ten years ago. Oddly enough, all these years later, it still gets more comments than anything I've written since. Not sure what that means, but it's nice nonetheless. Hope you enjoy it.

LaCroix glared at the Salvation Army woman as she rang her bell at him. Satisfied with the look of fear that ran across her face, he continued on his nightly stroll. Wretched mortals and the hoopla that was Christmas, he thought to himself. It was impossible for a vampire to take a peaceful walk, constantly assaulted by people singing, ringing bells, traffic and general mayhem.

He continued to grumble to himself as he made his way back to CERK, thinking of some particularly scathing monologues on the subject of Christmas for his upcoming show. LaCroix headed for his studio, pausing at the entrance on hearing a mortal heartbeat within. If he had been annoyed before, now he was angry. A mortal, uninvited, in his studio. LaCroix was in no mood for this--in fact, whoever it was likely to be dinner.

LaCroix threw the door open angrily, ready to seize the ill-fated mortal. He came to an abrupt stop at the sight that confronted him.

Sock-clad feet on the control board, a bottle of beer in one hand, the man lounged indolently in LaCroix's chair. "Are you always this cheerful, Lucius, or am I specially blessed?" he asked sarcastically. He lifted an amused eyebrow at the glowering LaCroix.

"Are you always this rude, Methos, or do you always act this way when you are a guest?" LaCroix countered, looking meaningfully at the feet on his control board and the several empty bottles that littered its surface.

Methos just grinned at LaCroix's irritation--he was so easy, it was like taking candy from a baby. "Now is that anyway to greet family, Lucius? I come all this way to spread Christmas cheer and this is the welcome I get." Methos dropped his feet to the ground and leaned back in the chair as he looked up at LaCroix, his eyes glittering in merriment.

"Need I remind you that we have not been 'family' for over two thousand years?" LaCroix, exasperated, moved around Methos to clean off the control board. "And as for Christmas cheer, please do feel free to take it with you when you leave."

"Now, now... you of all people, Lucius, or should I say Scrooge? Aren't you always going on about once family, always family?" He looked over at LaCroix slyly. "I'm sure I've heard you mention it to Nicholas on more than one occasion."

Methos got up and moved to the CD rack, ignoring LaCroix's bad mood. "How is Nicholas anyway? Still on his quest for mortality and ignoring you utterly? And Janette? Still as lovely as ever I'm sure. " He sorted through the CDs, oblivious to LaCroix glaring at him. "Ah, yes. Family. Nothing quite like it." He whirled around to look at LaCroix, a smug grin on his face. "I'll need to see them while I'm in town, catch up on old times."

LaCroix gave a long-suffering sigh. He knew from long experience that there was no dealing with Methos when he was in this mood. "Do you actually have a reason for this visit, or are you just here to be generally irritating?" he asked, peeved, ignoring Methos' questions.

"Lucius, I'm wounded! I came to see *you* of course, to spend the holiday with my family." Methos dropped back into the chair. "What on earth has put you in such an unusually bad mood?" he asked, becoming irritated with LaCroix's foul attitude. "This can't really be about Christmas, can it?"

"Not you too? Don't tell me you've been sucked into this mortal holiday feeding frenzy?" LaCroix looked at Methos as if he had gone quite mad. "Peace on earth? Goodwill? What hypocritical nonsense! Humans at heart are killers, predators. They'll never change," he stated, daring Methos to disagree with him.

"My, my, my, Lucius. We *are* in a mood aren't we?" He put his feet back up on the board. "I think it's commendable that they try to change, or at least realize that they could do things better. Even if it is only once a year." Methos looked at LaCroix consideringly. "You know, I've always found winter feast days to be the one constant in my life. Some of my earliest memories are of Solstice celebrations. I find the holidays comforting no matter their name, and I would think you would too. I remember a time when you threw yourself wholeheartedly into them."

"I was a child, Methos; I haven't been that for a *long* time." LaCroix said, his voice distant, as if remembering the boy he was.

"No, you're not a child," Methos agreed. "But you are what the child became, after all; you can't deny your past, Lucius, or who you are. Haven't I always tried to teach you that?"

LaCroix looked at the one being who actually made him feel young. The person who was his only connection to a childhood all those centuries ago in southern Gaul. He had first met Methos around this time of year, he remembered. His mother had been busily preparing for the arrival of the little sister that she had not seen since she had married Lucius' father and moved away, and her new husband. From all accounts he was a prosperous wine and ale merchant from Northern Gaul.......

@__________________________@


Lucius wandered forlornly down the path away from the house. His mother was in a tizzy over the impending arrival of her youngest sister and her new husband. And if his mother was in a tizzy, then the whole household was. It was always a busy time of year around Lucius' home, just before the Winter Solstice. His mother, a Gaul from the north, tried to keep the ways of her people as much as was possible. As much as was possible in her husband's Roman household. And she tried to pass her pride in her heritage, her people, to her only child. But today, she had shooed Lucius out of her kitchen and out from under the servants' feet. There was far too much to do and an energetic twelve-year-old boy was something she did not need today. She had given him a freshly baked sweet cake and sent him outside to play, and out from underfoot.

Lucius loved his mother, though he was getting to that age when sons think they are far too grownup for that sort of thing. He would still often sit by her feet as she sewed, listening to her stories of the goddess and the days of celebration that followed the seasons. As for his Father, Lucius was more in awe than fond of him. But still, it was his father's approval that he sought above all. A retired General in the Emperor's army, Lucius' father was often away on Rome's business. Lucius was very proud of his father, and his greatest wish was to be a great hero like him, to be a General in his Emperor's service. He practiced religiously with the swordmaster his father had obtained for him. He would make his father, and Rome, proud of him! Lucius didn't quite understand the sad look that passed over his mother's face when he told her of the great feats he would accomplish when he was a man grown, but decided it was because she was a woman. She did not understand a man's destiny.

Lucius realized he had reached the stables, and decided he would visit his horse. *He* appreciated Lucius' company, he thought sullenly as he reached Comet's stall. The horse nickered happily at the sight of his young master. He scratched Comet's nose and ears, generously sharing the rest of his sweet cake with him. Comet snuffled his chest in thanks, making the boy laugh as the happy horse almost pushed him over.

"Silly horse! You like mother's cakes as much as I do, don't you?" Comet seemed to understand, whinnying in response to his master's voice. "You would never think me a bother, would you boy?" He wrapped his arms around his beloved horse's neck. Comet had been a tenth birthday gift from Lucius' father and was his most precious possession, even more prized than his sword.

Giving his horse one more squeeze, Lucius wandered out to the practice yard that fronted the stables. He opened the weapons cabinet and gazed at his sword a moment before removing it. Fine! He shouldn't be in the house anyway, that was a place for women. Lucius was a warrior! He would spend the afternoon honing his skills. Moving to the practice dummy, he began striking half-heartedly, still lost in his thoughts. What difference to him the arrival of an Aunt he had never met and her *merchant* husband. Lucius sneered the word to himself. He knew all about merchants, he had listened to his father talk to his friends about the subject at great length. How they were lazy and slothful. Gaining their wealth on the soldiers that risked their lives to keep Rome's roads free of brigands and criminals. Most of them barely knew one end of a sword from another, Lucius thought disdainfully.

And yet his Aunt had married one, and he would have to put up with him living in his house for who knew how long? Lucius sighed. He wished his father were home. As he thought about his banishment because of the arrival of the merchant, and his father's long absence, he became angry. He started to flail at the dummy, thrusting and slashing with all his strength. He would show all of them!

So engrossed was he in his attack, he never noticed the arrival of a spectator. At the sound of an amused chuckle, Lucius spun around, seeing the tall, lithe man that sat on the fence post watching him.

"Didn't your swordmaster ever tell you that attacking in anger is the best way to get yourself killed?" the man asked, still grinning.

Lucius glared at the stranger. "Who are you, and what are you doing on my Father's land?"

"Do you always greet guests so courteously, boy?" the stranger asked, arching a brow at the glowering twelve-year-old. He jumped off the fence, walking across the yard to tower over Lucius.

Refusing to be intimidated, Lucius shot back, "A guest usually introduces himself to his hosts." He squared his shoulders, attempting to look intimidating.

"And children usually show more respect to their elders," came the stern reply. "But you do have a point, young Lucius." The man's face once again bore an amused grin. "I am your uncle, Methos. Your mother sent me to fetch you. Your Aunt and I met fair travel and arrived early."

Lucius was dumbfounded at the identity of the stranger. *This* was the merchant? He had been expecting a short, portly old man. Not the tall, fit young man that stood before him.

"Not what you were expecting, hmm?" Methos looked amused at the boy's obvious confusion. Lucius started. How did he know what he was thinking? He looked at his Uncle Methos suspiciously. Reaching over, Methos pulled Lucius' sword away from him before the boy realized what had happened. "A fine weapon for one so young." He looked at him seriously. "But do you respect it, is the question."

"What do you know about swords?" he asked as derisively as a twelve-year-old could. "You're a merchant!" he said, unconsciously parroting his father.

Methos looked down at the boy, an enigmatic look in his eyes. "Enough."

Lucius snorted, giving a more than telling response as to what he thought of that!

"So, you think that because I'm a merchant I can't fight?" He placed the edge of the blade against the boy's unprotected throat. To his credit, the boy didn't flinch. "A lesson, boy--don't assume. Assumptions can kill you." He turned the sword, hilt towards Lucius. "Take it."

Taking his chance, Lucius grasped the sword, bringing it around to avenge the insult he had suffered. But he found his strike blocked by a blade that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. Startled, he looked up at Methos' face above his, looking down at him with a mocking expression in his eyes.

"As I said, don't assume," Methos said coolly as he forced Lucius' blade down. "It can be deadly." In one swift move, he had disarmed his young nephew and was holding both blades in his hands. "Now, would you care to learn what a *merchant* can teach?" He stuck the point of Lucius' sword into the ground before him. "Or shall we go back to the house where I'm sure your mother has thought of all sorts of chores to keep you busy?" He leaned against the practice dummy, waiting for the boy's answer.

Lucius considered his options; he was a child, but was already exhibiting the pragmatism that would serve him well as an adult. Obviously this uncle of his had more to him than Lucius had first thought. Very well, if Methos knew things worth learning, then he would learn. And learn all that he had to teach.

Lucius picked up his sword and held the blade up as a signal of readiness to his opponent. "I will learn," he stated gravely.

Methos smothered a smile at the boy's very serious effort to behave as a man grown. "Very well, " he said, matching the boy's grave demeanor, "so we begin." Swiftly, he joined his nephew in battle.

That Solstice was the happiest Lucius had ever spent. After their rather rocky start, the two became virtually inseparable. He followed Methos around like a puppy, soaking up every tale, every bit of warcraft that his uncle cared to teach. Methos filled the void left by Lucius' stern and often absent father, becoming both a mentor and a friend. That winter and the ensuing year were to be some of the last happy moments in Lucius' young life. By that same time next year, both his mother and aunt were dead of a fever that Lucius' father had unwittingly brought home from his travels.

Both husbands were devastated by their unexpected loss. Lucius' father became embittered and angry. The only love and affection he had ever felt circled around his beloved wife. With her death he had none left. Especially for the son who reminded him all too much of what he had lost. Alcohol and grief melded together to create a man whose only emotions were rage and anguish.

Methos was no less affected by the death of his young wife. He had loved her dearly, and though he knew he would outlive her, her death had come too soon. It never got easier, no matter how many wives he buried. Still, he had hoped to have a whole lifetime with this one. Not a life cut short by plague. Methos dealt with his grief as he always had--he would move on. His only regret this time would be leaving the boy here with his heartless father. But it could not be helped. Even if he could have taken Lucius with him, his father would never allow it. He cared nothing for the boy, but he was a Roman, and his son was his legacy. No, Methos thought with regret, better to leave now before the boy became any more dependent on Methos' presence here.

Methos walked toward the stable, knowing he would find Lucius there with his beloved horse. He watched him for a moment, unobserved. He had grown much in the last year, his form already hinting at the powerful frame he would have as an adult. Right now the icy blue eyes were unguarded as he spoke in low tones to Comet. Methos sighed. He would do one last thing for his dead sister-in-law and, hopefully, for Lucius.

Methos banged against the door as he entered the stable to give Lucius time to gather himself, the pride of a thirteen year old being a delicate thing. As he approached, he saw that the guarded, wary look that was always in Lucius' eyes these days was up in an instant. He relaxed slightly when he realized it was his uncle.

"He's a fine animal, Lucius," Methos commented, patting the horse on the neck. "You do a good job with him." He paused, taking a deep breath. "Lucius, we have some things we need to talk about."

"You're leaving." It was a statement, not a question.

Methos started. Damn, the boy was too observant by half. Well, there was no help for it now. "Yes, I am. I wish it were different, but I have to go." Regret tinged his voice. "But I wanted to have a serious discussion with you before I go. You're almost a man now and I think you are old enough to understand what I am about to say."

"I'm listening," Lucius told Methos, his young voice hard.

Methos heard the tone, his heart sinking. He'd probably already lost him, but he had to try. "Soon, you'll be joining the Emperor's legions as your father wishes."

Lucius nodded. "I will be a great hero and my father will be proud of me," he declared, attempting to convince himself as well as Methos that this was true.

"There are other things that the future could hold for you, Lucius. Staying in the army does not have to be all there is for you."

"But why would I want to do anything else? To win glory in battle, to defeat the enemies of Rome. What better destiny?" Lucius looked at his uncle, not understanding what he could possibly mean. He realized that his uncle's eyes held that same odd look his mother's had when they had spoken of his future.

"Even if that glory means killing your mother's, *your*, people?" Methos put his hand on Lucius' shoulder. "You know that the rest of Gaul is a prize that that Rome can't wait to seize. If you stay this course, Lucius, one day you will be forced to slaughter your own people." His dark eyes bore into the boy's blue ones as if trying to imprint this conversation on his soul.

"I am a Roman, my mother became Roman when she married my father. It is my duty to attack *all* Rome's enemies." Lucius shook off Methos' hand. "I know my duty, and I will fulfill it."

Methos sighed. He had tried. For their sakes. "Hear me well, Lucius--you can't deny who you are. Your mother's past is yours, her blood flows through your veins. Not just Rome's." He knew there was nothing more he could say to his young nephew. What happened to him now was in the hands of the deities. "One day you will realize that family, and your heritage, can be your most precious possession. I only pray you do not realize it too late."

That was the last conversation the two would have for many years.


@______________________________________@


Methos waited for LaCroix to come back from the place in his past that they were both revisiting. When he did, it was with that same guarded look he had worn two millennia ago.

LaCroix turned away abruptly. "I have a show to do," he said shortly, his tone making clear that he wanted no more reminders of his childhood from Methos.

Never one to do as anyone wished, Methos ignored the warning. "Isn't it time you let it go?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." The timbre of LaCroix's voice would have been enough to make most mortals, or Immortals, fall back in fear. But Methos was not most.

"Knock it off, Lucius, you could never lie to me." Methos' voice took on the mocking tone that LaCroix hated. "She didn't leave you on purpose. Do you think she wanted to die and leave you alone? I find it amazing that someone who has visited so much death on humanity would care. You made your choices, for good or ill. And now you live eternally with the results of those choices." Methos heard the cracking of plastic as LaCroix crushed a CD case in his hand. Good, he thought, I'm getting somewhere. He battered the point home. "Yes, live. That is the operative word. Your son might disagree, but you do *live*, Lucius. Live, feel--you don't merely exist, any more than I do."

LaCroix turned to look Methos in the eye. "Yes, Nicholas would most certainly disagree with you." He arched an eyebrow. "Do you perhaps have a point to all this psycho-babble?" he asked, his voice dripping sarcasm. Once more in control.

Methos gave an exasperated sigh. "You always were a stubborn boy." LaCroix's eyes glinted dangerously at that. "It's the Solstice, Yule, Christmas. Whatever you want to call it. But the common thread is new life, be it the Sun's return or the birth of the son of God. Renewal, Lucius, renewal." He gripped LaCroix's arm. "And if I'm not mistaken, you could use some renewal. Humor me, for old times sake. Let's go renew ties with your family. I'm sure Nicholas and Janette would very much like to spend the holiday with their father, and his cantankerous old uncle."

LaCroix allowed a small smile at Methos' description of himself. "On your head be it then."

Methos smiled triumphantly. "Well now, that's par for the course for me after all, isn't it?" He glanced at LaCroix wickedly. "If you're good I may even give you your present," he announced, dropping back into the chair to pull his boots on.

LaCroix gave him a long-suffering look as he put in a prerecorded tape for the night's show. "I'm quite sure I will be unable to contain my excitement," he replied dryly.

Methos merely smiled enigmatically as he stood and shrugged into his coat, burying his long hands in the pockets. "Shall we?" he asked, indicating the door with a nod.

"After you, *Uncle*, after you.


End