Lightning by Rhi
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Author's Notes:
With thanks to Kat Allison, whose work keeps inspiring me to write better stories and more Joe Dawson.
Disclaimers: Lazy? Me? Just because I wrote one story to cover two challenges? I'm just conserving energy. Ask my muses. Honest. Anyway, this story is for both the Lyric Wheel and Devo's 'Where does Methos go, anyway?' challenge. Not making money, all credit and concepts to R:D/P, etc. This is set between "One Minute to Midnight" and "The End of Innocence".
Rated: PG

It's not something for young souls, somehow. Don't get me wrong -- we get 'em young sometimes. Johnny Lang. Kenny Wayne Shephard. Robert Johnson, who didn't live nearly long enough for that music to claw its way out of his soul, so it clawed out his gut instead.

But there's something about the blues that just takes... age. Seasoning a soul, the way they used to season wood for the true English longbows. Time was, it took twenty-one years to make a bard. Seven years as an apprentice to learn the basics of the craft, then another seven years of travelling to learn how other folks did it and to keep you close to the people you were singing to. And then a final seven years of polishing and practicing everything you've learned until then, and usually writing your own stuff, too, before you could call yourself a master.

The blues are like that, too.

You learn your instrument, your skills, and then you practice and perform, and tear your heart out, night after night, and offer it up, hoping like hell someone out there will hear what you're saying and get it somehow. 'Cause it hurts too much not to hold it out there, and it hurts even worse if what you gave 'em comes back untouched and unheard. So you practice and you try, and if you scrabble through the years, yeah, you seem to end up touring, and you get to hear Chicago blues, and Memphis, and that sweet, aching sliding Delta blues that only seems to show up along the dusty paths of I-55 and Hwy 51 going down to New Orleans. And New Orleans blues... man, we should all be remembered so hard and buried so sweet as they do down in the jewel of the Mississippi Delta. Then there's Texas, and Georgia....

But somehow, over all the years when I was living two lives at once, trying to make up for everything I lost in Nam, I guess -- somehow the music and the immortals never seemed to mix. Two lives, yeah, but not tied together then. Not the way they get now.

It was almost easier when I was running Shakespeare and Company for Don in Seacouver, back when Duncan was living there with Tessa. That was simple. He stayed out of the Game, somehow, most of that time. Oh, some of his long-lived friends contacted him occasionally, but they kept it away from Tessa. She was mortal; the Game wasn't her problem. Most of 'em tried to keep it that way.

And me? I got to run a bookstore, keep an eye on one of the most honorable immortals around, and still had time to hit open mike sessions up and down the coast. The worst part was telling folks I couldn't take the gig, couldn't join their band and go on tour, 'cause I never knew when wanderlust might hit Mac, or Tessa might finally get a job in Paris again, the way she eventually did.

Now? Now, hell, I own a bar in Seacouver, and play when I like, and it seems like half the immortals on the West Coast show up there to see Mac, and didn't the Tribunal just love that? Y'know, I never had a problem believing the bastards were gonna shoot me for talking to Mac. It's stupid to assume one rule can cover everything, everybody, but I did agree to it, so I can't bitch too much. But they were gonna kill him. Now excuse the hell out of me, but it seems to me that killing one of the leading contenders for the Prize would kind of violate that whole 'never interfere' clause. O' course, I could be wrong there. Yeah, right. And my shoulder doesn't still hurt at night, despite the patch job the old man did.

No, Jack Shapiro never did pass logic classes. Sonuvabitch wanted to shoot me for violating my oath, but he took Jakob Galati's head with his own sword and came after Mac. Small wonder we've got a new Tribunal, a new head of the Watchers, and some folks trying their damnedest to make sure this never happens again. Hell, they're even looking into whether a few Watchers -- the ones for the more honorable immortals like Connor MacLeod in New York, Grace Chandel down in Caracas, Father Liam in Paris -- should reveal themselves and ask the immortals to keep it quiet, the way Mac mostly did. Mostly. He told Amanda, and Richie, but hell, those two can be trusted not to shoot us for seeing a quickening, too.

Fat lot of good the new policy does me, though. MacLeod's not talking to me after that screw-up in Lyon. And the worst of it is, I understand where he's coming from. Richie's off in Europe, building himself a rep that scares the hell out of me.... The kid's head-hunting, has been ever since Mac tried to take his head and came way too damn close. But Mac isn't listening, and Rich wouldn't listen to him, I don't think. Hell, the way my luck's gone with those two lately, they'd just be pissed off and throw the whole 'never interfere' thing up in my face.

And the others? Lord only knows where Amanda is; sooner or later, I'll see a headline for a spectacular theft in Western Europe or Toronto, maybe New York or hell, maybe she and Cory Raines will hook back up and take on Vegas. They're overdue for another spree together, and I've been hearing rumors he's in the area. Only rumors, though; he ditches Watchers almost as fast as we can get them assigned.

As for Methos, well, I thought 'Adam Pierson' had simply vanished off the face of the earth. Officially, he's somewhere in the mysterious east tracking a journal that may give a lead on Methos. In bureaucrat, that means they don't know where he is and won't admit that he took off on department funds. Me, I think he's a little closer than Nepal.

The nice thing about running the bar is that I can play when I want... and I can encourage new talent, too. I've had some damn fine bands up on my stage, and it's getting to the point that a good review at my bar can lead to touring offers and (a few times, for the really good groups) a recording session contract. So I get demo tapes from all over the country now. We don't get as many bluesmen off the West Coast, but damn do we listen to 'em out here.

So I got this tape in the other day -- didn't think twice about it. It wasn't half-bad, either. Blues quartet playing on the fact that they have a damn fine lead guitarist, and a singer with a soprano that doesn't etch glass like most. Impressive smoky voice on this woman, husky as Lady Day, but those rich notes are a good octave and half over most of your blues singers. The contrast hits you right in the spine, wraps around your bones, and yanks you up straight to listen to her pain.

Interesting thing is, she decided to borrow a trick from Loreena McKennitt, who's been recording old folk tales, and selling albums with 'em. This lady decided to try something close. Sliding, wailing guitar song, all the grief in the world... and it cuts back after a few minutes to let two people start speaking. They're trading lines back and forth, sounding almost like a Shakespeare dialog, but they're good enough to make it sound like a real conversation, not some awkward recitation like you get in high school performances if you're unlucky.

They were using a piece by Shelley, one of his that's always reminded me of the problems immortals can face in just getting up out of bed, day after month after century. Damn if I don't understand why the old man doesn't like mornings at his age. So there I was, so caught in those smoky, hurting tones of hers when she's talking about "All that we wish to stay Tempts and then flies. What is this world's delight?"

I guess my mind was on him anyway, because of the poem, because of the question, but the male voice that picked up the conversation really was Methos. Blew me away, those rich tones of his wrapped around the lines, "Lightning that mocks the night, Brief even as bright." Thank God for Methos, right then. Because I had almost believed her, could almost see the hospital bed where I woke up the first time without my legs. Her despair was that convincing.

Scary as hell to be sitting there, listening in my office with the lights on and still feeling like I was sitting in the dark, wondering where he was, what he was doing, listening to a woman's smoky voice foretelling the end of joy, and the death of the world. But every time it got too bad, there's the old man answering her that things weren't so bad, that everything changes and joy comes around again. Not something I expected to hear from him, not after the way he left Paris.

He and Mac fought like cats and dogs after the trial, and they're so close to each other they were leaving lethal wounds. It was like the only purchase they could get on each other was the kind of raking, clawing gutshots you see a bobcat put on an unlucky elk in some nature special. That 'us or them' question from Mac hurt Methos, worse than he'd ever let Mac see. The old man tried his damnedest to get us off the hook with the Tribunal, but Mac just remembers that he was willing to help capture Galati. As if Mac hasn't done things he regrets later to help his friends?

They're so much alike, and then so damn far apart, too. As tight a friendship as I've seen Duncan MacLeod form in my seventeen years as his Watcher. And with Hugh FitzCairn dead, he doesn't have many friends left who'll dish back as much shit as the Highlander gives off. He needs the old man for that, to remind him that most of us don't play by the same rules as Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.

Of course, Methos gets to kick him out of the broods, too, when Mac feels he should have managed to pull off something that would have taken St. Jude, St. George, and the Archangel Michael working together. Mac started out a clan chief's heir and he still thinks he's responsible for people he loves. Doesn't occur to him that he can't always win; he thinks he has to try. And he hurts like hell inside, when he fails.

Stubborn bastard. Takes Amanda's mischief, or Richie's youth, or Adam's goading to shake him out of those. But the fact that he keeps trying is why they all love him.

And Methos needs Mac, too. Needs his youth, his fire, those bedrock certainties which I think the centuries have worn away from Methos. The old man needs to have someone around that he can needle with those bullshit anecdotes, those evasive answers, and his talent for cadging beer and food. And I think Methos needs Mac around to have someone in the Game who isn't after his head, who doesn't want anything more than his company and conversation. A friend, basically. I don't think the old man has nearly enough of them.

I can't get Amanda or Rich, and FitzCairn's dead, which keeps me from having to decide whether an anonymous telegram would be breaking my oath. But when I called that band today to confirm their contract for the end of the month, I asked 'em about the guy on that piece. And guess what?

Seems that 'Benjamin Adams' shows up in New Orleans every so often, sits in on sessions for anyone who needs a back-up singer. Apparently, he's got a baritone that just won't quit. As much as Methos has seen, as much pain as I hear in his voice some days, why am I not surprised he's a favorite of the blues musicians down there? Bet he fits right in.

So in the morning, I'll start checking around for Ben Adams, or Adam Pierson, or a couple other names he's dropped to keep me from worrying too much. Just see who I can find in New Orleans. Because I'm hearing rumors that Cory Raines is in town, which means trouble's not far behind. Because Haresh Clay and Carter Wellan were in Chicago a week ago, and Mac's got some old history with them. And because, damn it, he may be a pain in the ass sometimes, but Duncan MacLeod's a good man who's taken a lot of hurt lately, and lost a lot of friends. Just because he won't accept help openly doesn't mean we can't help at all.

Back-up singer in New Orleans. Who'd have thought it? Good time of year to be down there, too. But, old man? You are coming to visit soon. Just as soon as I can find you.

~ ~ ~ finis ~ ~ ~

Comments, Commentary, & Miscellanea:

Written for the HL Poetry Lyric Wheel. Poem provided listed below.

"Mutability", Percy Bysshe Shelley

The flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow dies;
All that we wish to stay
Tempts and then flies.
What is this world's delight?
Lightning that mocks the night,
Brief even as bright.

Virtue, how frail it is!
Friendship, how rare!
Love, how it sells poor bliss
For proud despair!
But we, though soon they fall,
Survive their joy, and all
Which ours we call.

Whilst skies are blue and bright,
Whilst flowers are gay,
Whilst eyes that change ere night
Make glad the day;
Whilst yet the calm hours creep,
Dream thou -- and from thy sleep
Then wake to weep.