A Gathering of Angels
A Gathering of Angels
(A Highlander/Touched by an Angel Crossover)
by Maygra de Rhema (c) 1997
The fingers twined in his were lax, but he didn't try to disentangle his fingers from hers, remaining by the bedside as he had for hours now. Days. The steady whine and blip of the monitors the only other sound in the room except for the occasional entry of a nurse or attendant checking on the patient. On him. Coffee brought out of compassion, a gesture of sympathy and understanding when no other help was available.
He had tried reading, attention focused for a few moments on familiar words. He couldn't read anything new, his attention span not that controlled or centered to take in things, words, he hadn't already memorized. His attention too easily diverted to any sound or movement--even imagined.
Because she hadn't made either, not in the two days since his vigil began...or concluded, the vigil beginning weeks ago. But she had been more conscious than not then, slipping in and out of lucidity without warning, the periods growing shorter. Until she finally fell to this...this twilight. Coma sounded to harsh for the lack of pain on her face...too kind for the lack of expression or life.
The machines were not to prolong her life, only to keep her from the pain, whether she was capable of actually feeling it or not. He knew too well that a body could feel pain even if the mind couldn't acknowledge it. The machines were for him, not her. He couldn't watch it and marveled that modern science had found ways to subdue even the traces of agony that could come with a death.
He had surrendered to the grief earlier, knowing there were only two ways to deal with it...let it come in its own time, its own way...or deny and deal with it later, probably when it was least desirable to do so. And it wasn't done with him yet. It had abated, for now. Left him calm in the wee hours between midnight and dawn...staff unwilling to make him adhere to the visiting hours. There had been so little he had been able to offer her but this...his company, his presence. A companion to ease her over the vast bridge she faced at the end of a hard journey.
"It won't be hard," a voice said softly and he looked up to see a familiar face on the opposite side of the bed, faint smile on the flawless mouth, green eyes filled with warmth and sorrow and a near perfect understanding.
"Andrew..." The name was whisper. The man smiled broader, not in humor but in a silent, comforting joy.
"I asked for this one..." he said crouching, laying his arms on the bed and catching the other small hand in his. "Sometimes it's yes...." the green-eyed gaze shifted to Methos, fair hair caught by light having nothing to do with the lamps in the room, or starlight or moonlight. "Reassuring to know you can still love this much, Meli-mateos," Andrew said.
"Don't....don't call me that, please," Methos asked, pulling his eyes from the radiant face to rest them on a less radiant but no less inspiring face.
"Sorry. Methos, then. I'll take care of her..."
Methos closed his eyes and leaned forward to brush Alexa's still warm lips with his own, the grief welling from deep inside again as he heard the sounds in the room change. The blip hesitated, faltered, then droned. The whine ceased, dropping to a hum as the lax body went limper still, collapsing in on itself exactly as if the spirit sustaining the dying body for so long had been lifted. He moved his lips to the limp hair, mouth pressed against the cooling skin as the nurses arrived silently, then the doctor.
He stepped back, releasing the small fingers. There wasn't anything left to hold onto as he pressed himself back against the wall while the doctor checked and re-checked, then marked the time on the chart a nurse held. The tubes and wires were removed, sheet deftly pulled up as the arms were gently laid on the whiteness.
"I am sorry, Monsieur Pierson," the doctor said, quietly, sincerely. Methos summoned a smile from nowhere. Faint, but reassuring, and almost honest.
"It's all right. Thank you...all of you for taking such good care ...." He stopped and the doctor nodded understandingly, ushering the staff out, one or two touching his arm briefly before the door was closed.
He almost wish they had stayed. Almost wished he had taken MacLeod or Amanda up on their offers to come with him. It had been a long time since he had faced this kind of grief. Too long. Sixty-eight wives--companions--in fifty centuries. He did the math in his head as he slid along the wall to crouch down. Unable to move forward, unable to leave. Heedless of the tears on his face. One companion every seventy-five years or so....except the last had been three centuries ago.
He had forgotten how much this hurt, how impossible it was to see past the pain when the loss was this fresh. And to face it alone....
No. Not alone...
There was a waft of air across his face. A feather light brush against his cheek as he closed his eyes and dropped his head back, surrendering tears, sorrow and control to the invisible strength that kept him company.
"DeSalvo's Gym and Dojo, Martial Arts Training," the accented voice read with relish, liking the slide of words over her tongue as she stared up at the three-story brick building at the edge of Seacouver's business district. It hovered in between the more affluent downtown area and the less desirable environs of the warehouse and waterfront area. The building itself gave off an air that someone cared something for it, despite the graffiti laden walls and poor neighborhood. "Is Mr. DeSalvo the man we're here to see, Tess?" She asked her companion, turning to face the older black woman sitting in the driver's seat of the immaculate red Thunderbird.
"No. Charlie DeSalvo already made his journey home," Andrew said from the back, leaning his long frame between the seats.
"The man we're here to see is a friend of Charlie's. Used to be his boss and was good friend," Tess said and pointed. "That's him..." she said with a grin.
Monica watched a man exit the building, broad shoulders and well toned body hidden by a long coat, the eyes obscured by dark glasses as he fished his keys out of his pocket and climbed into a Thunderbird, the twin of Tess' baby, save it was black and not quite so immaculate.
"His name is Duncan MacLeod," Tess said. "And he's your assignment, Miss Wings. There's a lot of anger stored up in that man, and a lot of grief. It's our job to help him see he doesn't have to carry it alone."
"A Scot. Broody bunch," Monica said, dark eyes already watching the man fondly. "But why are you here, Andrew?" She asked.
Andrew looked troubled, uncommon for the Angel of Death, and Monica felt compelled to lay her hand on her friend's arm and he caught her fingers, smiling faintly. "Because a good portion of what he feels stems from one source--a friend of his. Someone I know very well. Who shouldn't have needed me for a long time yet...."
"But something's happened," Tess said. "Take a good look at him, Monica. With your heart...Duncan MacLeod is one of the few...the special humans..." she said and Monica did as instructed, reaching for the truth about the man who was getting ready to pull out into traffic.
There was something odd about him, not quite immediate as if time stretched around him somehow...and she gasped softly. "He...he's one of the first....the First Children...." she murmured.
Andrew nodded. "A descendent, but yes. A few hopes left that all God's children can regain their physical Immortality."
"But we can't ...We're not supposed to interfere with them!" Monica said, surprised.
"No. Usually we leave them to the care of the Archangels, but this has become a special case," Tess murmured, all of them watching as MacLeod pulled out and Tess put the car into gear to follow him. "Their time is drawing to a close. Not immediately, but soon enough in their life-spans. And that man is one of their brightest hopes. Our job, and yours especially, Miss Wings, is to make sure he knows that he does have choices and that what seems to be true in one case may not be true in another."
"But the truth is always the truth," Monica said confused.
"Yes, baby, but that's not always obvious to humans," Tess said indulgently. "Now, Angel boy," she said as she pulled next to the curb while MacLeod pulled into a parking space in front of a back street bar. "I have to go see the man that runs this place and I don't think he's ready to see you again yet."
Andrew chuckled. "No. Not yet. Besides, my assignment should be along in a few hours and I don't want to scare him."
"That someone you know?" Monica asked, smiling as he nodded. "But he knows you...why would he be frightened?"
"Not for himself, Monica...for MacLeod," Andrew said quietly as Tess got out of the car, Monica following quickly. When she turned to look, Andrew was gone.
"I've never seen Andrew look so upset," Monica said as they hurried across the street.
"I imagine it's harder to be the Angel of Death when you get called to the side of the same people again and again for centuries," Tess murmured. "Knowing that they are denied over and over...but still have to face all the pain and fear mortals have of dying. We call them Immortals, but..."
"I know," Monica said shuddering and drawing her finger across her throat. "It seems cruel."
"God is not cruel, Miss Wings!" Tess said affronted and then smoothed her black and gray hair around her face. "Now, I have some business with Joe," she said pointing at the neon sign outside the bar that displayed the name as well as the owner.
"Is he a friend of yours?" Monica asked as they got out of the car.
"Oh, yes! Joe and I go way back!" Tess chuckled with real delight as she pulled the door open.
"And what am I supposed to be doing?" Monica asked.
"You, Miss Wings, are going to get a job with Duncan MacLeod teaching self defense," Tess said.
"How am I supposed to do that?
"By applying to Joe for a job as a waitress," Tess said as they entered the darkened bar to the sound of glass breaking.
"But Tess...that doesn't make any sense..." Monica began. Tess had stepped to the side as a man came hurtling toward her, right into Monica. Without really knowing what she was doing, the less experienced Angel caught the man's arm, pulling him forward and then stepping into him, shoving him back the way he came. Right into MacLeod's arms. The Immortal looked at the petite redhead in surprised and then finished the confrontation that had broken out with ease and expertise.
A second man leapt on MacLeod's back and Tess shoved Monica toward the brawl. Monica felt rather foolish but it also piqued her anger that her assignment was being ganged up on by two. There were other fights going on as well, none of it very serious, but there was an awful lot of glass and wood breaking. Monica grabbed the shoulder of the man at MacLeod's back, pulling him away. He swung at her and she ducked, coming underneath his arm and flipping him over her shoulder. He lay on the floor stunned, staring up at her in shock.
"Two to one's not very fair," she said to him gently as she heard sirens. She glanced up to see Tess holding open the door for a half dozen uniformed police officers.
"The two on the floor and those two!" an older man directed from behind the bar. Weathered face scowling in anger as he pointed to the four men MacLeod and Monica had been trying to subdue.
"What started it, Joe?" On of the officers asked, handcuffing the man Monica had put on the floor. "Are you all right, miss?" He asked.
She smiled broadly. "Oh, yes! But thank you kindly for asking," she said sincerely.
"They were playing cards..." Joe was trying to explain. "It was like a bad Western. Somebody accused somebody else of cheating...."
"The officer nodded, pulling back a bit from the strong scent of alcohol on his prisoner's breath. "And a few too many..." he commented glancing sharply at the owner/bartender.
Joe held up two sets of keys, with a wry smile and the officer returned his grin. "It is a bar after all..." the policeman said, shaking his head. "We'll let them sleep it off...but this is your quota for the night, Joe."
"Yeah, yeah!" Joe said waving them out, surveying the wreckage of his bar with dismay. MacLeod was already righting tables and chairs while the rest of the patrons began settling again after the fracas. Monica reached down to help and MacLeod smiled at her.
"Thanks for the assist. You handle yourself very well," he commented as the two of them reset a table.
"You're welcome...just a little knack I have..." Monica murmured.
"You wouldn't happen to be looking for a job?" he asked and reached into his pocket to produce an index card, neatly printed.
HELP WANTED:SELF-DEFENSE INSTRUCTOR
Part Time - Pay Negotiable
Contact: D. MacLeod
DeSalvo's Gym and Dojo
"I just lost one of my instructors. I came here to stick this up on Joe's bulletin board."
"Actually, I am," Monica said, resisting the impulse to look back at Tess. "I came here to apply for a job as a waitress, but your job sounds much more....interesting," she said with a smile.
"It's only part-time."
"That's all right."
"Have you ever taught before?"
"Not self-defense. I worked for the secret service briefly, though..." Monica said.
One of the dark eyebrows raised.
"Kind of a short term assignment," she said with a laugh.
"It pays, thirty-five a half hour session. Seventy-five for an hour. You can set your own schedule. Why don't you come by later and we'll see how well you do in a practice session?"
"You have yourself a deal, Mr. MacLeod," she said with a grin, extending her hand.
He took it but she saw the expression change in his face from warm humor to suspicion. "How did you know my name?"
She smiled impishly and pointed at the card still in his hand. "It says Duncan MacLeod right there, and since you've all but offered me the job, you must be him!" She said. "About sixish?"
He nodded, the smile coming back as well as a hint of chagrin as Monica swept past him and back toward Tess. "Nice work, Miss Wings," Tess snickered as the younger looking Angel left the bar. Monica winked as her supervisor let the door close.
"Thanks for the intervention , Mac," Joe said coming around the bar with a broom and dustpan in one hand, his cane held firmly in the other. "But did I hear she was looking to wait tables?"
"Was..." MacLeod said and fought Joe briefly for the broom. The bartender finally relented, letting MacLeod begin sweeping up the glass. "Damn, I need another waitress. She was nice looking..." Joe said, starting as Tess appeared beside him to take the dustpan.
"Well, you've got one, Joe Dawson. Monica and I came looking for a job together," she said, broad grin on her dark face.
"Tess?" Joe said softly and started laughing, a deep full laugh as Tess reached out to give him a long, hard hug. "Why would I want to waste your talents on the floor when I can get you on the stage?" He asked, pulling away, gray eyes sparkling with delight. "I can get you on stage, can't I?"
"And on the floor. I'm only here for awhile. Tell you what, when you play, I'll sing. When you tend bar, I'll wait tables. Deal?"
"Any deal I can get," Joe said and glanced at MacLeod who was watching the pair with amusement and curiosity. "Mac, this is Tess. She has the sweetest set of lungs a blues club could ask for...gospels a specialty. Tess. Duncan MacLeod."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. MacLeod," Tess said and MacLeod found himself responding to the big black woman's smile and obvious humor.
"Duncan, please. Monica...that was her name? I didn't ask. What brings the two of you to Seacouver."
"Just a little bird, Duncan. We've some business to take care of here. I knew Joe had bought this club. Thought I'd come to see how he was doing."
"Not too bad, Tess," Joe said, his arm still around her ample waist. "You going to come back tonight, Mac? You can hear her sing."
"I might at that. If her friend doesn't wear me out too much."
"Here, you give me that," Tess said, taking the broom. "I'll finish this, then Joe and I can practice."
MacLeod surrendered gracefully as Tess excused herself. Joe watched her for a moment, with a fond smile. "I met Tess when I got back from Vietnam. She was visiting the VA hospitals, giving concerts. Run into her every ten years or so. Like she just wants to check up on me. Great voice. Great lady."
"She seems nice. You called earlier?" MacLeod commented as Joe walked him to the door.
The smile faded a bit as Joe eyed his friend. "I got a call...Methos is coming into town. Should be here tonight sometime."
MacLeod nodded, his own smile fading. "Just to visit?"
"In part. He's bringing over some reports...stuff the Watchers don't want sent except by hand-courier. Closing the files on Koren and Caspari."
"We didn't know about him, Mac. Methos did a little...fixing....much to the surprise of the Watcher assigned to Cassandra...Adam Pierson just happened to be on holiday in Bordeaux....He kept you out of it Mac."
"Nice of him. Is he staying with you?"
"If he wants," Joe said evenly. MacLeod's tone was casual, even diffident. Joe Dawson was not fooled. "You still think he betrayed you."
"I don't know. Or care. Or want to discuss it," the Immortal said calmly. "I think I'll pass on tonight, Joe. Thanks all the same."
"Don't try to fix this one, Joe. He's not Richie. I don't owe him anything."
"I didn't say you did. But I think you're making a big mistake..."
"Why? Because he's the oldest of us?" MacLeod hissed softly. "Because what he did in the past is so long ago it shouldn't matter anymore? I won't challenge him, Joe. He set me up. That fight could have gone either way and he knew it. He used me to get to Kronos. I don't like killing for other people."
"You were after Koren anyway! For your own reasons and then for Cassandra's. Mac, it was always your fight."
"But I fight by my rules. Not Kronos' and not Methos'. He was willing to let hundreds die with that virus."
"Was he? He stopped it, Mac. He didn't have to tell you about the bomb in the fountain and he didn't have to challenge Silas. Cassandra had already tried to kill him--swore to. And she may still be after him."
"Then I'd say we're even," MacLeod said. "Let it be, Joe," he added more gently. "I'll see you around." Joe watched him go, chewing on the side of his lip, shaking his head as Tess rejoined him.
"That's an angry man," she murmured.
"Being betrayed by a friend has a tendency to piss people off," Joe said harshly.
"But you don't believe that," she said quietly. "I didn't hear all of it, but you seem to be caught in the middle."
"Maybe. They are both friends...I've learned some things about...about both of them I'm none to happy with."
"You know, Joseph. Friends sometimes have to accept the good and the bad about one another. People can and do change."
"Maybe so, Tess. But what do you do when one of them changes so much they might as well be a stranger?"
"Is that what's happened?"
"Not exactly. Mac and I just found out our...friend...may not be who we thought he was."
"Because of his past?" She asked, raising her eyebrows when he nodded. "So your...friend...hasn't changed, really. You have. You found out some things you don't like."
Joe nodded again and moved back toward the bar, moving stiffly. "He just doesn't seem the type to have been...so different then."
"I seem to remember another young man who was very different thirty years ago than he is now. He was angry when I first met him. Said some awful things to people--did some awful things in Vietnam that he was ashamed of later....I wonder how many of his friends now would have liked him then?"
"It's not quite the same, Tess. I remember how I was. What I did. But our friend liked being ...bad, violent. So he said."
"And you liked being a good soldier--doing your job. Until you had some time to think about it..." Tess said gently. "And people do change, Joe. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. And sometimes they stop changing."
"Meaning that change is part of everyone's life. The good and the bad. When the changing stops, so does the living. You think about that, Joseph Dawson," she said archly leaving him to empty the contents of her dustpan.
Joe stared after her in surprise. He had forgotten that aside from a singing voice that sounded in his soul, Tess had a way of cutting to the heart of other things as well. It was not a particularly comfortable feeling.
MacLeod sat in his car for awhile before heading home. His conversation with Joe leaving him angry and disquieted and depressed. He thought he had gotten past his disappointment in Methos. Past the anger. Until he was confronted with the very real possibility of seeing the older Immortal again. Or not. He doubted very much Methos would seek him out and there was no reason for MacLeod to run into him as long as he stayed away from Joe's.
Except he didn't feel comfortable with avoiding Joe as well, which is exactly what he would have to do. The break between he and Methos had put a definite strain on his friendship with Joe, and it was already fragile in its own right.
"Dammit," he murmured softly, trying to calm himself enough to drive home. Then his anger was distracted...a whisper/touch along his senses. Another Immortal close by but it was the oddest signature he'd ever felt. Not harsh and jarring as most were but rather soft and subtle. He looked around cautiously, getting out of the car, his hand sliding under his coat to grasp the hilt of the katana as he sought the other presence.
And found him across the street, watching MacLeod passively. He was tall, broad shouldered, the rest of his frame hidden by a long tan raincoat. Blonde hair stirring slightly in the faint breeze. He made no move toward MacLeod, nor offered any threat. Nor did he show any wariness whatsoever at MacLeod's presence. Odd in itself. He merely observed. MacLeod glanced anxiously back at the bar, wondering if the Immortal might not be after Joe--after what the Watcher might be able to tell him about others of his kind. He turned back, ready to warn the Immortal off only to find him gone. The street was empty. No sign of where the blonde man might have gone. And he could no longer feel the other either.
He waited a few more minutes but nothing and no one presented itself. Reluctantly, he got out of the car and went back into the bar to warn Joe.
Joe was surprised to see MacLeod return so quickly. He was tuning his guitar, having promised Tess a quick practice.
"No. There was an Immortal outside. I didn't recognize him and he disappeared before I could talk to him. I don't think he was after me," MacLeod said softly, so Tess wouldn't hear as she pulled a chair up to the stage. "Just keep an eye out."
"I will," Joe said. "Thanks for the heads up---is that him?" he asked as MacLeod suddenly tensed, the buzz assaulting his senses again only this time it wasn't the subtle presence of the strange blonde man, but a harder, elongated murmur, familiar as well--too familiar. Joe twisted to watch the door open, smile arrested at MacLeod's tense face as a well-known, slender figure entered, blinking a bit in the dimness. It took Methos a moment to adjust his eyes but he went almost as tense as MacLeod. He braved the encounter though, coming forward.
"Adam, good to see you," Joe said, rising to greet the man, although it was awkward.
"Yeah. Hi, Joe. MacLeod," he said flatly, breaking the gaze he held with the Highlander to pull something out of his back pack. He handed Joe a thick package. "Your reports."
"Thanks. You want a beer?"
Methos hesitated, glancing once more at MacLeod who had yet to say anything. "No. Thanks. Actually, I'm kind of beat. Do you mind if I crash at your house for a bit?"
"No. Go ahead. Spare keys under the register." Joe said, not missing the strained silence between the two men.
"Aren't you going to introduce me, Joe?" Tess asked, all smiles.
"Sure! Tess, this is ... Adam Pierson. Adam, you do need to sleep so you can come hear this angel sing," Joe said.
Methos' smile was genuine as Tess caught his hand. She studied him for a long moment, noting the fine boned, too thin face and the guarded expression in the hazel eyes, despite his smile. "Sing nothing. What this man needs is somebody to do some cooking for him," she said squeezing his hand.
Her words caught MacLeod's attention and he found himself looking at Methos instead of just staring. The older Immortal was thin. Thinner than MacLeod remembered and Methos had never had much, if any, extra weight to spare.
"I assure you, Tess, I eat plenty. Long flights just don't agree with me I guess. I'll see you later tonight, then. Thanks, Joe," he said with a faint smile and met MacLeod's eyes briefly before retrieving the key and leaving.
"He seems very nice," Tess said.
"Appearances can be deceiving," MacLeod said quietly. "Keep an eye out for our visitor, Joe," he said. "Goodnight, Tess."
He left them although he could have sworn Tess had been about to say something. He blinked as he exited the bar, stopping at the top of the stairs and saw Methos, standing next to the sport utility truck he had obviously rented. He wasn't looking at MacLeod though, his attention was fixed on something else and MacLeod felt the subtle murmur again, spotting the blonde Immortal the moment he did. Despite his feelings about Methos he approached the older man.
"Do you know him?" He asked.
Methos nodded. "We're ...old acquaintances. But what's he doing here?" he murmured half to himself, barely acknowledging the Highlander's presence.
"I saw him earlier. Just before you got here," MacLeod said and suddenly realized Methos was staring at him, something akin to dismay on the sharp features. "I think he's waiting for Joe."
"You can....you saw him. Earlier?" He repeated, almost gasping.
"Yeah. Who is he?"
"His name is Andrew," Methos murmured and turned back. Shrugging his pack onto his shoulder more firmly before heading across the street.
"What are you doing?" MacLeod asked.
"I'm going to talk to him," Methos said. "I want to know why he's here."
"A friend of yours? How long ago...any other ancient Immortals in your past I should worry about?" MacLeod said flatly.
Methos whirled on him, the hazel eyes glittering in barely checked anger. "There isn't anything about me you should worry about, MacLeod. We're through, remember?" he said softly, urgently. Then turned back and crossed the street leaving MacLeod shocked and uneasy.
Andrew lifted an eyebrow as Methos approached, a half-smile on his face as he settled his coat more securely around his tall frame. Seacouver was a lovely city but a trifle damp for Andrew's tastes, especially at this time of year.
He was not quite prepared for the hostility in Methos' tone when the Immortal reached him.
"Who are you here for, Andrew?" Methos demanded, a flush in his pale cheeks.
"Whoa!! What happened to, 'Hello'?" Andrew asked and studied the thinner man -- noticeably thinner. Methos looked neither well nor happy.
"Hello. Not MacLeod? Or Joe?" Methos said. The first word was harsh and sarcastic but the questions that followed were near desperate.
"I don't know...I was just told to be here and to wait. I do as I am told..."
"And don't question," Methos said and turned away. MacLeod was still watching them.
"I try not to question," Andrew corrected him gently, glancing at the Highlander. "So he can see me? I wasn't sure."
"He thinks you are an Immortal!" Methos muttered.
Andrew grinned and then chuckled. "Well, I am, in a way," he said, suppressing the urge to give MacLeod a cheery wave. "None too happy I'm here, is he?"
"Even less if he knew why. He thinks you are after Joe. Are you?"
Again the desperation and Andrew's smile faded. "I don't know, Methos. Truly. And while I can't be sure, it's not my job to come for you or your people. Not usually. But even if I were..."
"I know. I know," Methos said softly, apologetically. "I shouldn't begrudge anyone your presence. I was glad you were there when Alexa..." he stopped and stared blindly over the bay at Andrew's back.
"She is well loved, Methos," Andrew said gently. "As are you."
Methos chuckled mirthlessly. "So you said....love can be a curse sometimes."
"You don't believe that..."
"Don't I?" Methos said sharply then shook off the impending mix of fear and anger. "I'm sorry. I just don't ..." he stopped again. Even without the other-worldly aura, Andrew made him uncomfortable at times and in the same moment offered him comforts he didn't even realize he needed.
"Don't want to lose any more friends?" Andrew said. "I know that is hard...especially for you." A movement caught his eye and he glanced up. "Ah. Your friend is coming over here," he said. "I think you are supposed to introduce us."
"Introduce you as who?" Methos hissed, turning to see MacLeod wait for a couple of cars to pass before crossing the street to join them.
"I'm Duncan MacLeod," Mac said when he stopped.
The Angel of Death stuck out his hand with a big grin. "Andrew. Nice to meet you," he said, catching MacLeod off guard with his open smile. MacLeod took the hand automatically, noting the warmth of the man's hand despite the chill in the air.
"Andrew. Just visiting...friends?" Mac asked, glancing at Methos.
Andrew dissembled a bit with a chuckle. "Of sorts. Business mostly. Just happened by and...felt you and Methos. Thought I'd say 'hi'," he said uncomfortably but on the verge of laughter.
MacLeod was staring at him in shock, his face going harder. "Methos...you've known Methos for a long time?"
"Well, yeah. I knew him when he was Death...and before...since...What?" Andrew asked when Methos groaned softly.
MacLeod's smile was neither friendly nor attractive. "When he was Death? Four Horseman, Methos? Or were there more?"
"Well, actually, I was Death first," Andrew admitted and Methos laughed. MacLeod's expression was not amused.
"Took your place with your friends, did he?" Mac asked softly, dangerously. "Did you get a conscience and leave or did they kick you out?" he asked, almost a snarl. "You said it was over!" he hissed accusingly at Methos. "And so it will be...here and now or later," MacLeod said reaching inside his coat for his katana
"Hey," Andrew said, throwing both hands up, not entirely sure what was going on except that Methos had paled considerably.
"MacLeod, you cannot challenge him!" Methos said stepping between the two.
"That's the Game, Methos. By the rules," Mac said angrily.
"No, damn you!" Methos said as Mac pulled his sword, the long elegant fingers closing over Mac's wrist. MacLeod jerked away as if the touch burned.
"You canno' interfere," Mac said.
Andrew remained silent, green eyes narrowing slightly at the exchange and...listening. "I'm not armed," he said at last, laying a hand on Methos' shoulder and squeezing gently. "And we have no quarrel, whatsoever," he added easily, soothingly. MacLeod hesitated, meeting the green-eyed gaze and found his anger fading.
"Did you ride with the Horsemen?" he demanded.
"No," Andrew said evenly. "I just cleaned up after them." His hand did not move off Methos' shoulder even when the older Immortal winced at his choice of words.
"Your choice of friends is somewhat lacking," MacLeod said, trying to regain some control over his temper...or his feelings.
"Yours isn't," Andrew replied with a faint smile.
Caught off guard again, MacLeod looked at Methos who looked for all the world like he wished the ground would open and swallow him whole. He also looked shaken and ill and, Mac had to admit with the faintest hint of compassion, oddly vulnerable.
"Andrew knows more about me than you could ever hope too, MacLeod," Methos said softly. "Pray he doesn't come to know you as well."
Those words took MacLeod by surprise as Methos finally slipped from Andrew's comforting grip. "And if you challenge him you cannot win. Never doubt it."
"But since we have no quarrel there's no reason to find out, is there?" Andrew said briskly. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Duncan MacLeod," he said with another smile and Mac was struck by the sincerity in the words, stunned actually, as Andrew moved past him.
"You are going to get me in trouble," Andrew added to Methos. "I need a ride..."
Methos raised an eyebrow, the corner of his lip quirking upward. "Then I guess I'm driving," he said and Andrew nodded at MacLeod before accompanying Methos across the street toward his truck.
MacLeod watched them go, his brain turning over the very strange encounter and finally settling on one thought: Methos had been absolutely, irrevocably certain of the outcome of the near-challenge.
And MacLeod believed him.
The interior of DeSalvo's gym and Dojo was no more richly appointed than the exterior, but it still showed the same care. It was clean save for the rather lingering odors of sweat and bodies hard at work and even that was mitigated somewhat by the windows that were opened a crack to allow the air to circulate. The office, set behind a pair of wide glass panels, was neat if slightly small for the amount of books and papers Monica spied on the desk and shelves and floor. But the glass was clean as were the floor and equipment.
None of the equipment was of the fancy kind that she had seen in health clubs and television adds; the pieces that looked as much like art as exercise machines. Here there were weights and ropes and punching bags and thick padded mats on the floor. She paused by a bulletin board hung by the office that listed the classes and smiled. Mr. MacLeod was a very busy man. His name was penciled in for two classes a day, every day but Wednesdays and Sundays. She grinned as she read his name by two classes called "kid defense & junior karate." She had a weak spot in her own heart for the wee ones. It seemed Duncan MacLeod did as well.
There were, perhaps, a half dozen men in the gym, plus one young man who was keeping an eye on things, making sure no one added too many weights to the barbells. He spotted her and waved for her to wait. She smiled back, watching as he corrected another man's stance as he lifted what looked like a considerable amount of weight over his head.
"Hi! Matt Carstairs," the dojo manager said, introducing himself and wiping his hands on a towel. Monica accepted the hand shake and gave him her name. "Are you here to sign up for the women's self-defense class?" he asked, his blue eyes scanning her briefly, taking in the loose red hair and the flowing cloth of her dress.
"Ah, no. Actually, I think I may be teaching it. Mr. MacLeod offered me a position as an instructor this afternoon. He asked me to meet him here around six so he can see how I'll do."
Matt nodded, grinning again. "Okay! Well great. Women's changing rooms are on the far side," he directed her, pointing to the opposite side of the huge open area.
"Thank ye', but I'm fine," she said and Matt stared at her for a moment before biting his lip.
"Mac can be a pretty thorough when he tests. I could probably rustle you up some clean sweats," he offered.
She laid a delicate hand on the young man's forearm. "It's very kind of you to offer, Matthew, but I'm quite all right as I am," she assured him.
He still looked skeptical. "Okay. You want to wait in the office?"
"I'm fine, Matt. Go back to what you were doing. I'll just watch for a wee bit."
He shrugged and nodded, heading back to the weight area. Monica watched him for a moment then turned her attention back to the dojo as a whole. It was light and airy, the high ceilings criss-crossed with vents and ducts. She spied an elevator to one side, next to an emergency exit. The locker rooms set into either end of the space.
"Not the fanciest of establishments." She turned with a grin at MacLeod. He returned the smile, though not as fully.
"No. Not a trendy, upscale health club with a juice bar and a sauna. It's relaxed though...and friendly," she added tilting her head toward Matt.
MacLeod nodded. "Matt's been a godsend. He's a great manager and a good instructor as well. So, you want to change and we'll see how you do?"
"I'm fine," she said and MacLeod evinced the same shock Matt had.
"Monica, I need to see how well you handle yourself--" he began.
"Mr. MacLeod...Duncan," she corrected herself. "You want me to teach a self defense class, isn't that right?" she asked with the barest roll of her 'R's.
"Yes, primarily...women's self defense and beginner classes."
"And this is to stop them from becoming victims of potential muggers or others that might hurt them?"
"Yes..." he said, brow furrowing.
"And how many of their potential attackers do you think are going to wait until they change into a sweat clothes?" she asked with a glimmer of laughter in her eyes.
MacLeod stared at her for a long moment before an understanding smile eased the harder lines of his face. "Point taken," he nodded and stepped past her to lay his coat down on the bench under the office windows.
"I have no problem with wearing the proper attire when I teach," Monica informed him as she preceded him onto the mat. "But, I thought for thi--" she got not another word out before a heavily muscled arm encircled her throat, an equally strong hand grasping her wrist. As in the bar, the knowledge came to her and she stepped back, not driving her heel into his instep as he anticipated but throwing her weight back with enough force to send them both sprawling, MacLeod flat on his back with the wind knocked out of him as several of his patrons stared at the tangled bodies. Before he could react, Monica had twisted free and gotten to her feet. "Now," she said without even really breathing hard. "At this point I would be runnin' away an' screamin' bloody murder," she informed him, then stuck out her hand. MacLeod took it and she pulled him to his feet, the Scot surprised at the strength in the slender body.
"I am impressed," he said with a chuckle, his dark eyes glinting and Monica gave a tiny yelp as he rushed at her. She sidestepped him, tucked a foot behind his and caught the arm that reached to grab her, pulling forward and turning again. MacLeod stumbled and went to one knee, Monica holding his arm in a near painful grip up and behind his back.
"Nice move," he said through gritted teeth. Monica thanked him sweetly and released him.
By the time they were done, nearly a half hour later, the rest of the people in the dojo had stopped pretending to be working out and had watched Duncan MacLeod get put on his butt no less than a dozen times. The young woman he was working out with ended up on the floor or crying yield more than once -- and MacLeod would release her and show her whatever move had enabled him to get the upper hand. They were both slightly disheveled at the end of it although Monica seemed much more calm and collected than MacLeod.
When they were done and MacLeod made a formal bow to her, there was a smattering of applause from the observers. Monica blushed but her eyes were lively with humor.
"I am impressed...and pleased," MacLeod said, seemingly far more relaxed than when he had come in. "I need to change," he murmured. "Can I get you something to drink? My apartment is upstairs.
"That would be very welcome," she said and preceded him to the elevator, seemingly oblivious to the bemused look on his face.
"You have very good taste," Monica commented as MacLeod lifted the grate of the elevator and she stepped into his home. "This is lovely."
"Thank you," Mac said. "What would you like? Water, soda, juice?"
"Do ye' have any coffee?" she asked with a wide grin.
Mac stared at her then shook himself out of his bewildered trance. She fascinated him. "Sure. I can start a pot. You sure you want something hot?"
"To be honest, I have a huge weakness for double mocha lattes," she said with a small blush. "But if I can't have that...I do love coffee."
"Coffee it is then," he said with a grin and began pulling out the supplies. "Secret service, you said."
"Aye, for a brief time. Special assignment," Monica answered wandering about the loft with curious interest.
"Did you work for the government then?" he asked
"Not exactly. I was...on loan as it was. I'm actually...a case worker," she supplied.
"Of a sort," she demurred returning to the kitchen. "And what about you? How long have you been in Seacouver?"
"About fifteen years," he said, glancing up as she settled on one of the stools in front of the kitchen island.
"That's a long time in one place for you," she commented as he put mugs on the counter as well as cream and sugar.
"Why do you say that?" Mac asked hesitating at her phrasing.
"Well, only that a young man like yerself...folks don't seem to stay in one place for very long any more...and with that burr, ye' weren't born here," she said and MacLeod had to grin again.
"True. Scotland and you are Irish..."
"Or thereabouts," Monica said with a laugh and started to fix her cup. "Please, go on. You said you wanted to wash up. I think I can keep an eye on the coffee."
Mac nodded and agreed without thinking twice...the second thoughts only coming as he gathered up clean clothes and a towel and retreated to the bathroom. Stopping when he realized that for all Monica's attractiveness and her very pleasant personality, he was already treating her like an old friend. He had just given her free run of his home while he showered. Not like him at all...not usually. He hadn't trusted anyone so completely like this since...
Despite the warmth of the water running over him he felt a certain chill. Not since Methos.
He tried to cut off the emotion that accompanied that name. The confusing, uncontrollable mix of anger and betrayal and pain and loss he felt...had felt upon seeing the older Immortal earlier. Rinsing off, he shut off the water and toweled himself dry quickly. He needed to be moving, doing something, talking to someone...anything but thinking.
A clean sweater and dry jeans and he judged himself presentable enough for his guest. Monica greeted him with a smile and he met it...tried to. The coffee was just finishing and he deftly pulled the pot to fill Monica's cup.
"Oh, that smells heavenly," Monica said taking a deep whiff. "So, are you coming to Joe's tonight to hear Tess sing?" she asked him.
The confusing thoughts swelled up again as he fixed his own coffee. "No, I have things to do. I will listen to her some other time."
"When your friend isn't in town any longer?" Monica asked and Mac started, spilling hot coffee across his hand. He stuck his hand under running water in the sink. "I'm sorry," Monica said. "It's none of my business."
"No, it's not," he said firmly. "And how did you -- never mind," he sighed. "Tess is friends with Joe and you're friends with Tess. The world gets a little smaller every day."
"It does seem that way sometimes," Monica agreed, sipping at her coffee. "Or maybe sometimes it is just too big for us to see everything...to get the whole picture," she offered.
"Monica..." Mac wiped his hands dry. "It really is none of your business."
She smiled and finished her coffee. "Point taken," she said and slid off the stool. "Well, I intend to hear Tess sing and regardless of the reason, it's a rare treat yer missin'. So. Do you still want me teaching the classes?"
He nodded. "Yes. I like your style and you are right, teaching self defense in the real world will do these women more good than learning karate forms. They can take those classes as well if they like, but better safe..." he said and the smile returned. "Day after tomorrow good enough?"
"Perfect," Monica said as Mac walked her to the elevator. "Well then, I'll see you soon."
"If you have gear you want to bring, come by tomorrow and I'll get you a locker," he said.
"I'll do that. And if you change your mind about tonight, I'll save you a seat anyway!" she teased and waved her good-bye as Mac sent the elevator down. He smiled ruefully again and shook his head. He did like her and she meant well.
Gone, her parting shot still lingered. What could it hurt to go? He didn't need to sit or even talk to Methos if he showed. Or he could...they had settled on an uneasy truce although his words this afternoon came back.
MacLeod had to think about that. Methos had stepped between he and Andrew. At the time, Mac had thought Methos was trying to protect the blonde Immortal but Methos' last words had been near desperate. Had Methos been trying to protect Andrew from MacLeod or was it the other way around? The older man had sounded so certain, so absolutely sure that Mac could not win against the blonde.
Why? What did Methos know and who was this guy? Methos did not seem afraid of him for all the implication that Andrew may well have been as ruthless as the old man himself at one time.
Except Mac didn't believe that either. Andrew had seemed so...innocent? Naive? Nice?
He rubbed his face with both hands. His brain kept twisting round and round. Methos had not looked good. He had looked worse today than he had after Alexa's death.
Bad enough for a total stranger to comment on it. If you had just told me, trusted me a little bit. Would it really have made a difference? Mac liked to think it would have, that if he had not been so blind-sided by Methos' past it would somehow have been easier to deal with.
He was lying to himself and he knew it. Nothing in his experience, in his beliefs had prepared him for the evil that had risen from Methos' past. He wasn't sure he could ever accept it or the man himself.
He needed a why or an explanation. Methos seemed unwilling to give him either. Or an apology. An apology for using him ...for tricking him...for...
Betraying his trust and his friendship.
The anger surged upward again and MacLeod was at a loss as to how to resolve it.
"You look worried," Monica said softly, standing beside Andrew as he waited outside MacLeod's home.
"I am," Andrew said. "I can only have faith that there's a reason for all this. How did you do?"
Monica grimaced. "As a self-defense instructor, I am wonderful," she said. "But he doesn't need any help in self-defense. What he needs is to stop protecting his heart so much," she said softly. "How's your friend?"
Andrew sighed. "Bleeding. One with his heart wide open and the other so closed off he can't see what wounds he's causing. They are both good men, Monica. Why can't they see that?"
"Because, angel boy, they aren't looking with their hearts," Tess said.
"Tess! Aren't you supposed to be singing soon?" Monica asked, surprised to see her.
"In a bit. I'm on a break," Tess said with a broad grin, white teeth flashing in her dark face and her eyes sparkling. "So, is he coming to Joe's?"
"He says not," Monica said with a sigh. "He also told me it was none of my business."
"That's not good," Tess said. "We have to bring those two together again, to let them see and there's not much time."
Andrew looked shocked and paled a bit. "Not so soon...not the Gathering so soon?" he asked. "There would be more of us...wouldn't there?"
"Not that Gathering, Andrew, but a gathering of sorts. One man's past broke up a friendship. Another man's past might well make that breach permanent and if it does...well. There's a reason these two children were brought together in the first place if they can just find it in their hearts to see why. If they remain blind there won't be anything for you to do, angel boy. It's not up to you to gather these souls. Not MacLeod's and not Methos'."
"I know," Andrew said looking very distressed. "And I know there's a reason for it...but," he looked upward at the darkening sky, where the stars were just beginning to appear. "If anyone ever deserved a little peace..."
"Be careful what you pray for, Andrew," Tess said solemnly. "There's more than two lives involved in this."
Andrew looked embarrassed and nodded in agreement, but he could not deny the prayer that nonetheless made its way from his heart to God's ear.
The crowd at Joe's was no larger than usual, enough to keep the books still in the black and enough of his regulars to know that his "special guest" would be well received. He had almost started to worry that Tess had gotten waylaid or lost and was debating calling the police when she returned with Monica in tow.
"I was starting to get worried," he commented and Tess patted his arm, flashing a big grin at him.
"Nice to be cared for, Joe," she said and Joe felt almost embarrassed but he smiled, unable to help himself. Despite her searching ways something about Tess always calmed him, always made him feel less burdened.
"What can I get for you, Monica?" he asked. "On the house."
Monica peered hopefully behind the bar but there was no sign of any version of her beloved cappuccino machines. She gave a small sigh and smiled. "Just coffee would be lovely, Joe," she said and accepted the cup carrying it with her as Joe and Tess found her a table fairly close to the stage. They had barely gotten settled when Joe looked up and found another smile on his face. He waved and a moment later Methos made his way to the table.
He looked somewhat better, Joe acknowledged having time enough only to get the older Immortal seated and a beer on its way before he made his way to the stage. Either a nap or a shower or both had eased some of the gray pallor from the normally pale face and he looked less bowed by weariness.
"I'm Monica," the red head said extending her hand. "I am a friend of Tess'."
"Adam Pierson," he said with a totally disarming grin, shaking her hand. "My pleasure," he murmured almost shyly and then turned to accept the beer the waitress brought him, ordering another almost immediately.
"You haven't even started that one yet!" Monica said with a giggle. Methos gave another wry smile.
"No. But I will...and finish it," he said, then settled back as Joe began playing. Monica listened but she watched as well, sliding her gaze over her companion from time to time. The music seemed to relax him further, a faint smile playing on his lips. Sometimes he almost seemed to sing along, his eyes closing.
Tess got up to sing on the third song and Methos opened his eyes, grinning hugely when she launched into a slightly upbeat version of a Cole Porter song, his foot and fingers tapping in time to the music. Tess was nearing the end of her song when Monica saw Methos tense, body going utterly still between one tap of his fingers and the next, save to turn his head and peer at the door.
Monica followed his gaze and knew, without an Methos' extra sense, that the man who had entered was also an Immortal. The man paused, also sensing another of his kind. With deliberate slowness he scanned the room, eyes adjusting to the dim light until he found the one set of eyes that did not meet his and then slip away.
"Adam, are you all right?" Monica asked, touching his hand lightly.
"Fine," he said distractedly and rose. "Excuse me," he said and rose, taking his coat with him. Monica bit her lip, not sure what to do if anything. Methos made his way through the tables and then to the bar, the other Immortal meeting him there. Monica rose to follow when after a few words the two men headed down the back all toward the rear exit.
A hand on her arm stopped her and she found Andrew sitting next to her, an anxious look in his green eyes. "You can't interfere," he said sadly.
"They are going to fight, aren't they?" she asked and Andrew nodded, his eyes fixed on the back of the club, a little distance in them.
The band was winding up the set, Tess holding the last note. When it faded the crowd applauded and Joe and Tess grinned at each other. Andrew rose quickly, heading toward the back and then the lights went out. Monica was vaguely aware of glass shattering somewhere and there was an uneasy murmur in the crowd before the emergency lights came on and a collective sigh sounded.
"Settle down folks!!" Joe admonished, rising and coming off the stage. "Probably just popped a breaker!" The crowd settled and Joe made his way along the back hall with Mike, his assistant to the control panel. True enough, every breaker was tripped and resetting them did no good. Behind him he could hear Tess, already getting the crowd to join her in some well-known gospel tune.
"Well, damn," Joe said after they had tried three times. "Must have tripped the main. See if the phones work, Mike and get the power company out here. I'll go check the main in the alley." Mike assented and Joe made his way to the heavy fire door. He hesitated when he found it partly open.
"Adam went that way," Monica commented from behind his shoulder. "Some man came in and Adam went to talk to him and they left out the back."
"Adam?" Joe said, shock on his face before the tension set. "Oh...look, Monica. Could you go have Tess announce to the crowd that we have called the power company and that the next round of drinks is on the house? Nice crowd. Don't want to lose it because of a little power failure," he grinned.
"Sure I will," Monica said and slipped away.
Joe made sure she was gone before slipping into the alley, peering up and down it. He found the main but ignored it...searching. He could smell burnt ozone in the air and a coppery scent that he recalled too well from Vietnam. He could see nothing but he heard it, the sound of a groan, and almost choked sob. The corner of the alley revealed two crumpled forms, one with that peculiar limpness only the dead can achieve and without his head but the other still had his head and was regaining some sense. Methos had ended up against the dumpster, long limbs splayed as he fought to pull the narrow blade that had found a sheath in his hip, too low to kill him but awkward enough to make it hard for him to remove.
"Good thing I'm a Watcher - another Immortal would have your head by now," Joe murmured and reached for the hilt. "This is yours," he said with surprise.
"He was good," Methos gasped. "Not good enough though. Just pull it, Joe," he said and Joe did, trying not to watch as Methos nearly bit through his lip trying not to scream.
"Who the hell was he?" Joe asked when the blade was free.
"Eric Shavaughn?" Methos was already breathing easier as the wound healed. "Young but extremely well trained."
"Monica said you went up to him. Did he challenge you?" Joe asked as Methos began the painful process of hauling himself to his feet.
"Not exactly," Methos murmured leaning heavily against the wall for a few moments, face tightening against some additional unseen pain.
"Don't tell me you challenged him?" Joe said in disbelief.
"Not exactly," Methos dissembled. "I could really use a beer, Joseph." He started unsteadily toward the bar, tucking his sword and the thin blade into his coat.
"You didn't know him. He didn't exactly challenge you. No old scores to settle. Why?" Joe demanded. "Have you suddenly decided to take on the Game in full force?" he hissed.
Methos met his gaze stonily, refusing anymore information as he made his way back toward the door. Joe followed and stopped to reset the main as he passed. There was no change. The light outside the bar remained dark and there was no sound that the lights had come on in the bar.
"Sorry about the set," Methos murmured and stopped, Joe watching him in confusion. "I'm going to get some rest," he said finally. "If I can still stay at your-"
Joe made a sound between a sigh and a curse. "Of course you can still stay! I am not MacLeod-." He stopped, his brain finally registering. "You shit! Shavaughn was looking for Mac, wasn't he?"
"He was just looking, Joe," Methos said wearily. "It's over. Cross Shavaughn off your books and leave it alone. I will see you later," he murmured and headed back toward the front of the club, gaining strength with each step but his shoulders remained hunched.
Joe watched him until he turned the corner before pulling the door open and re-entering his bar. Mike told him the Power Company was on its way but it would be an hour or more. Joe nodded and made a call himself. There was a body in his alley that needed to disappear. Tess was still singing, the crowd having relaxed into a camaraderie of music and free drinks and a power outage.
Tess had just started into another song with an acoustic accompaniment by Jeff. I will not walk this road alone, she sang with all her heart and soul. Thinking of the friend who had just left, Joe though he had never before encountered such an inappropriate choice of music for a situation.
Closing his checkbook and setting the stack of bills aside, MacLeod leaned back in his chair and stared out the window, thoughts unfocused now that his immediate task was over. He was on the edge of a serious brood he could tell and then had to smile faintly. Trust Methos to make him aware of that slim edge he sometimes walked that was not quite depression nor really objective introspection.
You have brooding down to an art form, Mac. He could hear him, that undercurrent of amused, even affectionate, scolding.
If it bothers you, I'll stop, Mac had returned, recognizing for the first time the trait in himself as something that he could stop if he thought about it.
Not on my account! It's one of your most endearing qualities. Methos had gotten up then, sliding out of that boneless sprawl of his with an ease and grace that seemed impossible given his previous near prone position on Mac's sofa. A smirk, another verbal sally and they had been out the door and off to dinner or a movie or a bookstore or just....just out. Hanging together, Richie called it. It had been so easy -- Methos had been so easy to be with, his company -- infuriating as he could be at times -- a balm to Mac's soul. For once he didn't have to be the older or the wiser or the man other people looked to - and Methos assumed none of the sage and ageless wisdom Mac might have expected. He was, is, a little voice chided at MacLeod, just the guy he claimed to be -- fascinated by any variety of odd things, excited as child about this or that until Mac sometimes felt like the elder. That damn contest -- Methos had been so pleased, flattered and embarrassed all in one to be participating in that game show trial, embarrassed for not knowing the more modern references. He had made a total ass out of himself and enjoyed every minute of it -- and MacLeod had been caught up in his silliness -- and enjoyed the hell out of it.
It had all gone so terribly, horribly wrong so quickly. Restless without really knowing why, he got up and poured himself a glass of scotch, just a bit. He let the liquor warm some part of him that had gotten cold and moved again to the window, staring out at the river. If he watched the water long enough if the current might not carry some of his anxiety away.
Movement caught his eye and he looked down to see someone watching him. The tall man made no effort to hide himself, fair hair seeming bright gold under the street lights. Andrew.
There was no doubt in MacLeod's mind that the other man saw him. He moved quickly, grabbing up coat and sword and heading out the side door. Andrew was gone by the time he hit the street and Mac's hurried search provided him nothing, no trace of the Immortal. How does he do that? There was a grudging admiration in his query as he turned back toward the dojo. He did not feel particularly threatened but Andrew made him uneasy for a reason he couldn't define. The other man seemed more curious than anything.
The stair railing was under his had when he first felt it...just a pricking, *...by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes...* The sensation increased until it was an honest pain...not debilitating but obvious and MacLeod moved, setting his back against the wall, alarmed by his own weakness.
The sensation that followed was worse, bad enough to wish the pain back for all that he was not in pain, but his breathing was ragged, his mind fighting to close around images he couldn't identify, of darkness and fear, of regret and anger, weariness and....
It faded as quickly as it had come, leaving MacLeod weak-kneed and confused. Hard on its heels came another sensation, one far more familiar and he struggled to draw his sword, pushing himself upright.
"No challenge, MacLeod," Andrew said, stepping out of the shadows, shadows which seemed to fade around him. "Are you all right?"
Mac stared at him blankly. The concern on the handsome face seemed genuine and Andrew had both hands out in plain sight.
"Yes," Mac replied and he was, the attack, the imagery fading into a special pocket for odd memories within a few moments. "I saw you...earlier. What do you want, Andrew?" He tried to keep the edge out of his voice and failed. Andrew seemed not to notice.
"Nothing in particular at the moment," Andrew said with a smile. "Just in the neighborhood and let my curiosity get the best of me."
"The best way to assuage your curiosity is to ask, not lurk outside a man's home -- especially if that man is another Immortal," MacLeod said and resheathed his sword.
"That's very true. So why didn't you ask Methos about his past?" Andrew's expression didn't change.
"What are you, his personal defender?" Mac snapped.
"No. Just a friend," Andrew said.
"Isn't this where we left off last time?" Mac said.
"Pretty much, but you were angry then. Are you angry, now?"
"I don't think--"
"Walk with me?" Andrew asked, holding his coat open. If he was carrying a sword, MacLeod couldn't see it.
"Any particular reason?" MacLeod asked but pushed off the wall.
"You have questions. You won't ask Methos. Maybe I can answer them," Andrew offered and tilted his head, smile dancing at his mouth and eyes again.
"Why is it so important that I..." MacLeod began and then stopped, staring at his companion. "Do you know Tess...?"
"And Monica," Andrew said with a grin.
"What is this, a conspiracy?" Mac asked not sure if he should be outraged or amused. "How do they know Methos?"
"They don't. They know Adam...have met him, but they don't know Methos. Neither do you..."
"So I have discovered," Mac said bitterly. "Do they know what you...?"
"They know me. And that's not what I meant about Methos. Are we walking?"
It was on the tip of Mac's tongue to tell the man to take a hike, but instead he found himself falling into step with him. "So, you knew Methos when he rode with the Horsemen."
Andrew nodded. "I did. We met...oh, near the end of their reign. On a battle field...a slaughter," Andrew said unflinchingly.
"That you weren't part of..." Mac said as they crossed the street and began walking along the river.
"I was part of it, I just didn't participate in the killing," Andrew said softly. "I was there to...help the dying."
Mac glanced at him, seeing a bit of sadness mar the open face. "A healer? A priest?" he asked quietly respecting the man's mood.
"A comfort, I hope," Andrew said. "I found Methos in the center of a circle of bodies. He'd been hurt, mortally, and was healing. Trying to recover. He was very vulnerable had there been anyone left to challenge him. He was hoping I would."
"But you didn't, even though he had slaughtered your people."
"He was as much 'my people' as anyone else, Duncan," Andrew said. "I stayed with him until he was healed, a few minutes, a little while. We talked. When Kronos came back looking for him, I left."
"Kronos didn't challenge you?"
"He never saw me," Andrew said with another faint smile, but this one was bitter.
MacLeod digested this, chewing on his lip. "What was he like? Methos."
Taking a deep breath and thrusting his hands in his pockets Andrew thought for a moment. "He was unfeeling, dispassionate, efficient, the consummate tactician. He had no regard for the lives he was taking. As brutal a murderer as I have ever known."
"Nice to know he was telling the truth about something," Mac spat out.
Andrew stopped and looked at his companion. "You weren't listening. Unfeeling, Duncan. He felt nothing, no anger, no fear, no compassion or pity, no love."
"So what am I not hearing?" MacLeod asked. "He was a monster."
"More than that, he wasn't human," Andrew said quietly. "In his own way, he was worse than Kronos. But Kronos, at least, felt something for what he was doing. He loved it, reveled in the fear, the power. None of that made the slightest impression on Methos. He became Death because he was dead."
Protest sprang to MacLeod's lips and then he fell silent, listening instead of reacting. Listening so hard he missed the small, genuine smile on Andrew's face.
"Nothing?" MacLeod said, trying to get a grip on the concept. To feel nothing, to simply be what he had become?
"Nothing," Andrew confirmed. "Whatever he might once of been, when we first met on that killing field, there was nothing left. He was living, surviving. When he first joined Kronos there was so much there, so much anger, so much rage and a need to destroy, to take back, pay back...he might have been a monster then, but it was a human monster. What I met was nothing but empty."
"But he changed," Mac said half to himself. "What happened?"
"A raid, a village. They killed everyone...everyone except a small child...a boy. A toddler. Methos found him and the child reached up to him. Kronos asked him if he would take the boy to heir. Methos killed him."
MacLeod thought he would vomit right there. "And you can defend him?"
"He doesn't need my defense. It was the first human act he had done in over eight centuries, Duncan."
"Human?" MacLeod snarled.
"He did it out of mercy, not callousness," Andrew said softly, stopping. "It doesn't make it any less a murder, MacLeod. But it was the beginning...he killed that boy so that Kronos would not have the opportunity to raise another like himself. Kronos thought Methos did it just as he had killed the rest of the village, but it wasn't like that. It was the first time Methos took a good look at what he had become...what he was. He could have left the boy to die, and he would have with no one to care for him. He could have taken him, raised him as the heir to the Horsemen and bred another generation of ruthless killers. It's not an excuse...but it's what happened."
"And Cassandra?" MacLeod asked after a moment. "Did you know about her as well?"
"Yes. He took her captive for much the same reason. Better he than Kronos."
"You can excuse Methos but not Kronos," MacLeod said.
"I don't excuse either of them," Andrew said with a hint of anger. "Kronos never lost sight of who and what he was, MacLeod. Not then and not now. He was the same man then that you met a hundred years ago and killed a few weeks ago. He knew exactly what he was and he liked being that person. He never changed, never questioned, never had a moment's regret for what he was or what he did."
"And Methos did? Does?"
"More than you will ever know," Andrew said, his anger fading. "But he can't undo it. He can't take it back or make it go away."
"Or atone," MacLeod said flatly.
"Can't he? How many times does he have to die to pay for those lives, MacLeod?" Andrew asked without rancor. "One for one...if that's the payment I can promise you he was on the credit side before he joined the Horsemen. But that's not enough for you, is it?"
"It's not my place to judge him..." MacLeod began and was brought up short by the look on Andrew's face. Vaguely he thought he should reach for his sword but he was held immobile by a pair of green eyes that seemed to reach into his soul and twist it.
"No. It's not. But you are judging him and the worst part of it is, MacLeod, is that he is letting you do it. He may even agree with you. So when you come up with the price of his forgiveness, will you let him know so he can quite trying to destroy himself while he guesses? Because if he keeps it up he may well end up right back where he started -- feeling nothing. And when you face him across a drawn sword, you'll know what dying is all about." Andrew said quietly and abruptly turned away.
MacLeod grabbed at his arm and Andrew turned. For a moment Duncan just stared at the other Immortal, shocked to see tears on the fair face.
"Why? Why is this so important?" Mac asked, bewildered and alarmed when he felt his own eyes begin to burn.
"Why? Because forgiveness is important, Duncan. Because understanding is important and because love is more important than you can possibly know. Because Methos has done things in five thousand years that are both horrible and wonderful. If the worst of what he is can be accepted -- if he can be loved in spite of it -- what hope does that offer for the rest of the world? The nature of what you are defines that death will be your constant companion. But there is life there, too. Every day, every hour, every minute. Being Immortal does not give you the right to waste it," Andrew said, almost gently, laying his hand over MacLeod's. "You understood that once -- don't let a past you can't remember blind you to it now."
He pulled away and MacLeod stared blindly at the river. When he turned back again, Andrew was gone.
Up at dawn, MacLeod opened the dojo before his assistant showed up, catching Matt by surprise when he discovered his usual morning tasks already done.
"You okay, Mac?" Matt asked as his boss finished setting out the clean towels for the dojo's patrons. "Rough night?"
"Just a little extra energy this morning," Mac said with a reassuring smile.. "It's all yours. I'm going for a run."
He had not lied to Matt. He did seem full of energy he didn't quite know what to do with. It had started shortly after Andrew disappeared and while it hadn't kept him from sleeping, it had certainly provided him with some rather vivid dreams. He could not precisely remember them in any sort of context, but certain imagery remained and stark in his memory: A raging river and the firm clasp of hand on his, but he could not recall if he had been in that torrent or water or the one pulling the owner of the other hand free of the flood's pull; the snap and furl of a banner high over head, Green and Blue with a crossed ax and a scythe...no modern flag this but something hand cut and painted, his back to another's as they fought off an enemy whose face MacLeod could not see; the stark and barren coldness of an alley, where steel sounded and then the press of a hand hauling him to his feet.
There were others, always a conflict of some sort, the unerring presence of another person present but Mac could never tell who it was or if he were on the giving or receiving end of the assistance. He had come to no conclusions at all as he made his turn at the far end of the park where he was running, starting back toward home. Frequently a hard run would give him some sort of clarity but in this case he found only a measure of calm.
A calm that was shattered as he felt the indescribable presence of another of his kind close by as he crossed the bridge. He managed an inward curse. Running was one of the few times he did not carry a sword. A foolish habit, he knew, but for an hour or so a day it was nice not to have to think about the method by which he kept the clock on his long life ticking. He did not slow down, but he became more alert, changing his route to avoid any closed or tight paths. He had nearly reached the park gates and the other Immortal had yet to show himself. Three blocks to home and he would in a better position to defend himself if need be.
Faint hope. He was there, leaning indolently against the gate, bright blade twirling like a majorette's baton.
"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," the man said with a grin, disarming, charming, relaxed.
MacLeod slowed, needing a few moments to let his body cool, to assess his options. He had a couple: he knew this man. "Jonathon Stark...giving up the fur trade?"
Stark chuckled and let the point of his sword rest on the ground by his feet. "Forced to, I'm afraid. Not much call for the exotic furs and feathers any longer. The world has become far too politically correct." He was MacLeod's size, a handsome man in the classic sense, opportunistic, thrill-seeking, capable of cruelties only the truly bored could imagine. Mac's run-in with the man over the years had been mercifully short and only once before had they come to blades, a duel interrupted by chance and the laughter of a pretty woman.
"Looking for investment capital or just looking?" Mac asked him, maintaining his distance. He really had no personal grudge against Stark -- only a philosophical one.
"Research of sorts," Stark said, glancing at MacLeod with a raw speculation. "Rumors are rife. Interesting ones and your name just keeps popping up. I thought I might come see if they were true."
"Such as?" Mac asked.
"I understand you might have come into a great deal of...power lately. Inherited something old and nasty...or at least you might be hunting it. Rumor has it you have a line on the location of the oldest Immortal...went looking for a group of killers and tripped over a myth. Now," Stark grinned at him, lifting his blade to emphasize his point. "I, personally, am far more interested in ancient myths than Scottish legends -- at the moment," he said, raising an eyebrow. "Know where I might indulge my taste for things old and unlikely?'
"I have no idea what you are talking about," MacLeod said flatly. "And if I did, you don't actually think I'd tell you? You're not an idiot, Stark. I challenge, you challenge...I'm not likely to redirect you to someone else."
"Pity," Stark said, his tone indicating he was anything but disappointed. "And you are right. I didn't think you had suddenly turned from defender of the weak to Indiana Jones, hunting out the stuff of bad fantasy. Not your style at all, Mac. But, then again -- I believe there was a damsel in distress somewhere in the tale I heard and that is your style. But while I might be willing -- no, looking forward to seeing if you've gotten any better in the past two centuries -- I won't call you out now." The blue eyes raked along MacLeod's body appraisingly. "You seem to be unarmed -- dangerous, but unarmed. Be warned, though MacLeod. I came to your little burg to hunt...challenge. I do like a good fight, you may recall. If I can't find the fight I'm looking for, I'll settle for you. And if you truly don't know what I'm talking about -- which I doubt -- be warned that I am not the only one looking for a particularly old Immortal. Your little neighborhood just may get a wee bit crowded, yet. They are looking for Methos, but they'll go through you to get him. At least with me, you know I'll challenge him --not cut him down, if I find him." Stark said evenly and despite his unease and anger, MacLeod knew what Stark said was true. He didn't have to like the man to have some respect for him. Jonathon Stark did have his own code of honor and one that MacLeod might even approve of, if the rest of the man's life weren't such a miasma of opportunistic indulgences. Stark would not involve mortals in his hunt, nor would he attack unannounced.
He was also very, very good with a sword.
Stark saluted him with a grin, sheathed his sword and walked away, climbing into a dark gray sedan a few paces down the street. MacLeod waited for him to drive away before continuing on his way home...no longer running but walking quickly to keep his muscles loose until he could get to a shower.
Wiping his face with the towel he carried, Mac chewed on the encounter and his lip all the way to the dojo. No matter his own confused feelings towards Methos, he had never meant for himself to become a conduit to the older Immortal. He might not want anything more to do with Methos, but his anger and disappointment did not go deep enough to want him dead.
Patrons of the dojo were already working when he returned and Mac could not avoid at least a few words with some of them. He was distracted further by a message from Joe who needed to talk to him immediately. Not willing to discuss whatever his Watcher had on his mind in the office, Mac started for the loft, only to run into Monica.
She held up a gym bag. "You did say I should bring my things to store?" she said with a grin.
Mac met her smile with a tight one of his own and looked around for Matt. His manager was working with a client, spotting the woman for weights. His call to Joe could wait a few more minutes and Mac led her to the office, pulling out a lock and key and having her sign for it quickly before guiding her toward the women's locker room.
"I wish you had come last night...quite exciting," Monica said as they skirted the main floor and the mats.
"I'm sure it was fun," he said distractedly.
"I met your friend Adam. He seems very nice...but I didn't get to talk to him much before the lights went out. I wanted to but he didn't come back," she said as Mac held the door open for her. "Thank you. I'll just drop these off and be gone..." she began only to have MacLeod lay a hand on her arm as her last words sank in.
"What do you mean, he didn't come back?"
Monica studied MacLeod's face, schooling her own features carefully. "Well, I am not entirely sure -- a man came in and Adam went to talk to him, seemed to know him. They left out the back and then the lights went out. Fuse or something like. Joe went to check the problem...out to the main he said. But when he came back, Adam wasn't with him. He locked himself in his office until the bar closed. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Mac said but his pallor belied his works. "Get settled, Monica. Matt will help you if you need anything," he said with as false a smile as Monica had ever seen.
He left her then, moving arrow straight to the elevator even when Matt tried to catch his attention. Biting her lip, Monica entered the locker room and put her things away, securing the locker and turning to find Tess sitting on the bench between the lockers.
"That felt like a lie," Monica said worriedly. "He is worried about Adam."
"He should be," Tess said with a soft smile. "It's not a lie either...but worrying about someone is only a step away from admitting you care, and that's the truth Duncan MacLeod needs to learn, angel-girl."
Monica sighed and sat down next to Tess, leaning against her. "I just don't understand why it is so difficult for humans to admit they care...that they love," she said.
"Well, a lot of it has to do with the idea that they see everything, their lives, their feelings, their capacity or for love, to be a finite thing. As if there has to be an end to everything, since there seems to be a beginning to everything. They don't see living and loving as something that need not ever end. With Immortals, it's even harder...by nature of what they are they think things end, because they frequently have to end lives to continue living. Long life, not endless life...or love."
"But Duncan does know how to love," Monica said with a frustrated flutter of her hands. "So does Adam."
"It's not for us to know all things, sweetie," Tess said soothingly, putting her arm around the younger angel. "But if all things come down to a fight that might decide how the rest of the world will face life...which would you rather have? A winner that knows how to love, or a winner who loves whether he knows how or not?"
"There's a difference?"
"Aye, angel girl. Just as there is a difference between understanding and forgiveness. One sometimes requires the other...but not always."
"So Duncan needs to forgive Adam for something...what? What could be so horrible that Duncan couldn't understand and forgive him?"
"That's the problem, Miss Wings. Duncan does understand -- more than he would like to -- what horrible thing Adam has done. It's understanding that makes it so hard to forgive."
"Tess, that makes no sense tae' me at all!" Monica said, exasperated.
"In order for Duncan MacLeod to forgive Adam, he has to forgive himself first...but what he wants forgiveness for in his own soul is buried deep and won't surface. Until he can face that part of himself and find himself worthy of forgiveness, he can't forgive Adam. But if something happens before he reconciles himself with himself...he may never find the strength to forgive anyone ever again. And if he can't forgive, when that battle between love and time comes...the outcome may not be what anyone, including God, wants."
"You sound as if you think we might not find a way."
"I think we may run out of time before we do."
"Why?" Monica asked, not liking the sad look in her friends eyes.
"Because Andrew is carrying the Sword, now," Tess said softly, then folded her arms around Monica as the younger looking angel cried quiet tears not only for the Immortals but for the Angel of Death.
(c) A Gathering of Angels V. Watts, 5/1997
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