Chapter Thirty

Methos approached the dojo slowly, remembering the night just over a week before when he had fled here from Kronos. Shaking his head ruefully, he recalled just how much had changed during that time. All his brothers were gone now; Duncan was fully aware of who and what Methos had been; and Cassandra … well perhaps they had found some closure.

Straightening his shoulders, and unconsciously mimicking his actions of the week before, Methos strode toward the door of the dojo. Unlike the last time, there was no immediate sense of another immortal. Knowing that the Thunderbird was still parked outside, Methos assumed Duncan was in the loft and headed for the elevator.

Halfway to the loft, Methos felt the shiver of another immortal. But instead of feeling the expected wariness that usually accompanied such presence, Methos was encompassed by a sense of familiarity. He knew that it was MacLeod awaiting him in the loft.

Methos stepped out of the elevator to see Duncan leaning against the kitchen island, katana nowhere in sight. "MacLeod, nice to see I'm still welcome."

"Would you leave if I told you that you weren't welcome any longer?" Duncan asked neutrally.

Methos opened his mouth to deliver a pithy rejoinder, but was halted by a strange feeling, almost a compulsion to tell the truth. "As a matter of fact," he replied slowly, "I believe I would."

"You know, Old Man," Duncan almost sighed, "I believe you would too." Turning slowly, Duncan retrieved two beers from the fridge, handing one to Methos as he moved to sit on the couch. "So …"

"So," agreed Methos. "By the way, what happened to your house guest?"

"Cassandra left shortly after we ditched the Hummer. Now, we really need to talk about what happened, Methos." Duncan refocused the conversation as if Methos had never tried to interrupt him. "And this latest development," Duncan gestured to encompass everything since Methos' heralded entrance, "just makes it even more important."

"MacLeod," Methos managed to drag Duncan's name to multisyllabic heights, "couldn't we just accept that something happened and move on? Do we have to dissect everything into little pieces? Didn't you learn anything from the last week?"

"I learned many things in the last week." Duncan was determined to have his say, regardless of Methos' efforts to sway him. "And one of the things I learned was that there is more to you than meets the eye."

"Speaking of eyes," Methos drawled as he settled into his customary sprawl on the couch, "did I ever tell you that I helped Galileo develop his telescope? We originally intended it for seeing more of the ladies."

"Forget it Methos, it won't work." At Duncan's businesslike tone, Methos abandoned the sprawl and leaned forward a bit, hands clutching his beer bottle between his knees. "You won't distract me that easily."

"It would have worked on Joe," Methos exclaimed in a tone that bordered on petulance.

"Perhaps," conceded Duncan, "but I think he would have been humouring you. And I'm in no mood to humour you right now." Squaring his shoulders, Duncan turned to face his friend and launched into all the things he had longed to say since they had escaped the burnt out wreck of Laserocity.

"Methos, during the Quickening, I, well, I sensed you. I sensed your detachment, your aloofness, your ability to survive; it was what pulled me through. It seemed that I got a part of your Quickening." Methos began to squirm as Duncan continued. "And then, today, when you were coming up in the elevator, I knew it was you. I didn't even think about it, I just knew it was you. How is this possible? Has this ever happened before? What does it mean?"

Duncan would have thrown more questions out, but Methos' upraised hand stopped him. Visibly biting his lip, he settled back in his chair and waited for the eldest to enlighten him.

"I could spin you a tale of joint Quickenings, and increased power, and magic beyond your ken, MacLeod." The petulance was gone from Methos' voice, and in its place was fatigue. "But it would have no more truth than the image of Adam Pierson that you had stuck in your thick Scottish skull before this last week." A tilt of Methos' head and a subtle lift of one eyebrow stopped Duncan's outraged gasp before it gained full voice.

"Don't you see, MacLeod, you're doing it again." Some passion returned to Methos' voice as he rose from the couch to stride about the loft. "Even knowing who I was, and who I am now, you still want me to have all the answers. You still want me to be the wise, old immortal. The one who can make it all have meaning for you."

"That's not true!" Duncan surged to his feet in his haste to express his stifled outrage. "I just want you to … I want … I mean, you should …"

"Yes, MacLeod, what is it you want?"

"Oh hell!" Duncan slumped back into his chair. "I wish you weren't right Old Man, but I guess, this time, you are. I want you to make it all make sense for me."

"I can't do that for you, MacLeod." Methos' voice changed once again, this time betraying gentleness and understanding it did not often show. "I cannot change who I was, I will not change who I am, and I do not know any more about what happened during that double Quickening than you do." Putting down his empty beer bottle, he moved toward the elevator.

"But I will tell you this," Methos said as he slipped on his coat. "If you did receive part of my Quickening, and with it my survival instinct, then I'm glad. It should give you the time you need to figure this out for yourself." Stepping in to the elevator, he couldn't resist getting in one last parting shot. "And maybe I won't have to save your sorry arse so often."

Pushing the button, Methos felt the elevator start to lower him to the main floor of the dojo. Just as his head began to sink below floor level of the loft, he heard Duncan's voice call out to him, "You're welcome!" Chuckling, Methos reflected that while things weren't perfect between the two of them, they would be all right.

***************

One evening, a few days later, Methos sat alone in his apartment, reading a "description" of ancient Celts by Strabo, an Asiatic Greek "historian" who had spent most of his life in the library at Alexandria. He couldn't help chuckling over the "observations" stated by the author as fact which were, it was known to modern readers, in fact either hearsay or outright invention. What had once passed for research he found positively comical these days.

He was roused from his amusement by the sense of an approaching immortal, and Methos instantly reverted to cautious alertness. Setting down the text carefully, he reached for the sword that had been thoughtfully placed just by the arm of the chair and stood up, smoothly, in a single motion. It never occurred to him that a week ago, he might have assumed it was MacLeod coming to visit. Now, of course, he could tell that it wasn't.

Now standing against the door, he placed his eye to the peephole… just in time to be startled by a firming knocking. "It's Cassandra," said a muffled voice.

Sighing as his heart rate began to calm again, he opened the door. "It's a little early for a sparring session, isn't it?" he asked with a sardonic smirk. "Wouldn't you rather come back after I've been asleep for a few hours?" When she didn't take the bait, he leaned against the doorjamb and dropped the sarcasm. "I thought you'd left town."

"I did," she replied quietly. "But I realized I'd left something unfinished."

For a brief instant, Methos was absurdly certain that she was about to draw her sword and slay him while he stood with his own sword dangling uselessly in his hand. But her air of serenity never wavered, nor did she make any movements, aggressive or otherwise. He felt like laughing at his crazy assumption, but managed to control that impulse.

"I owe you my thanks," she said. "You saw that I was torturing Caspian for the sheer pleasure of it, and you made me realize that before I went too far. You brought me back from a very dark place."

"Simple self-interest. If you'd developed a taste for barbarism, I might've had to fight you after Kronos, and I was already tired."

She stared into his eyes, and Methos shifted uncomfortably. She had certainly developed the capacity to unnerve him in the millennia since they'd first met.

"I understand that accepting thanks makes you feel vulnerable, so I won't press. But know that I do thank you." Seeing his expression turn scornful and his mouth opening to let fly a sarcastic response, she again did the unexpected. She laughed. Not the hard, bitter laugh of the past week, but a light-hearted, girlish sound that, once again, disarmed him.

Shaking her head in an almost patronizing manner, Cassandra turned, still smiling, and began to walk away. Relieved that the encounter was ending, Methos straightened in preparation for going back inside. He called out to her one last time, intending to say, "If you're ever in town again, call and warn me."

What he actually said was, "I should have stopped him."

Cassandra halted and turned slowly. They stared at one another with identical expressions of stunned confusion, she because she wasn't sure what he'd meant, he because he was.

Bugger all! he thought, mentally kicking himself repeatedly and ferociously. I was mere centimeters from a clean getaway.

She had taken a step or two closer, still staring, still awaiting an explanation. Everything that was him screamed to toss off a flippant remark and retreat to the safe haven of his apartment. But there was a tiny marginal element in Methos now that was not him, and somehow, it was running the show at the moment. Damn you, MacLeod!

"When Kronos came to take you from my tent, I should have stopped him. I wanted to, but I didn't."

He watched her face, hardly daring to breathe, disgusted with himself for making the revelation. He fervently hoped the Highlander would be rigorously and regularly tormented by the part of him the Quickening had bestowed.

When she spoke, her expression was impassive, eminently rational. He found that, like nearly everything else about her, unnerving.

"If you had stopped him, he would have killed you."

"Possibly." He had enough male ego to be mildly affronted at the automatic assumption that Kronos would have been the victor – although he knew it was true.

Cassandra looked at the wall and shifted her weight in what, for her, amounted to fidgeting. Methos felt some gratification at the small sign of vulnerability. The scales should never be tipped too far in one direction; it was unnatural and upsetting.

Not looking at him, she said slowly, "We all make choices. Sometimes we regret them, but usually, they reflect who we are and what is foremost in our hearts. For you, your own survival was more important that any feelings you had for me. I couldn't accept that for a very long time, but now, I do."

He frowned slightly. "Why?" He couldn't see how the events of the contest had brought about this acceptance, as cathartic as it may have been.

"Because," she answered, coming closer, "I have seen that you have not been able to accept it."

Raising a sardonic eyebrow, Methos said, "So, knowing that I've been tortured by my choice all these centuries eased your mind." It was out before he realized he'd made another revelation he didn't intend.

"No. At first, it gave me some satisfaction to know you had suffered. I saw it as your punishment for betraying me. Now, I see it as proof that I did mean something to you, and that part of you, at least, wanted to come to my defense. Somehow, that makes you a better man than I'd given you credit for."

"So I'm no longer a monster in your eyes."

Cassandra's expression darkened as she looked downward. "My definition of 'monster' is up in the air at the moment."

Methos sighed, thinking a moment before he spoke. "You know, it's a common misconception in Western culture that good can and should triumph over evil by strictly ethical and noble means. That is hogwash, pure and simple. The unvarnished truth is that sometimes, to defeat a monster, one has to become a monster, or at least adopt monstrous methods. It's not pretty, and it doesn't make for an uplifting or noble story, but it's the truth.

"So, you lost yourself in the moment and started to enjoy Caspian's anguish. It's not attractive, and it revealed something about what you're capable of that makes you uncomfortable. Fine. But wherever you went for that moment, whatever it took to bring you back, you did come back. That's the important thing to take away from the experience."

He fell silent, a little shocked at making such a speech, but continued leaning casually in the doorway with his arms folded. The sword he'd long since tucked inside the doorway.

She looked up at him, serenity back in place. "You're right. I hope that Duncan understands that as well."

"I suspect he does," Methos said dryly. "If not, he will in time."

In the silence that followed, it struck him as ridiculous to have had this entire conversation standing outside his apartment. "Would you care to come in for a drink?"

In her eyes he saw the acceptance, then the hesitation, and he realized that for her, the apartment was both his turf and the site of her struggle for empowerment. For him, of course, it was sanctuary.

"Better still," he said, "why don't we go somewhere else? Two equals, sharing a drink and becoming reacquainted." He deliberately avoided the word "friends." Presumption was dangerous.

She nodded, and he ducked inside to grab his coat, and they proceeded to walk away from the apartment. "By 'sharing a drink,'" she said, "I assume you mean I get one of my own."

The joke surprised him, but he kept his balance. "If you insist." He made a show of sighing heavily. "Can I at least tell you what you have to order?"

"No," she said, shaking her head emphatically. "I will order whatever I want."

"Lot of bloody adjustments you're asking me to make," he said, scowling comically.

"I may even want to tell you what to order."

"Oh, no. I am the undisputed master of my own drinking."

They continued in this manner, talking, occasionally laughing, moving forward along on the path to wherever they were headed.

THE END