Game, Set, Match
In the end... only kindness matters.
Duncan MacLeod struggled to his feet and whirled to face his opponent... the Immortal Khan. He lifted his katana to block Khan's massive two-handed stroke and shifted to his right... catching Khan's two-handed broadsword beneath his katana and twisting... hoping against hope that the move was enough... that he was fast enough, agile enough and strong enough to trap Khan's blade long enough so that he could twist free and land his own stroke.
Khan roared his indignation, and pushed the Highlander off so that Duncan floundered for a moment, before crashing to the floor. Swiftly he rolled to his right to avoid Khan's downstroke and flipped backward... feet over his head to crouch a bit unsteadily. He swept the katana before him, effectively blocking another of Khan's strokes.
Duncan's arms shook from the force of Khan's blows and the strength it took to stand against him. The two combatants pushed off and slowly circled one another, their blades flexing in their grip, sweat pouring from each of them.
"Submit, now!" ordered Khan, "and I will make it swift."
"Never!" shouted Duncan. Within him boiled rage at the immortal friends Khan had recently killed... Amanda, and then Methos. It was the game... and this was likely the final battle. MacLeod had made it until the end... and yet he felt no sense of accomplishment or triumph. He felt only a dull empty ache as he considered a life without those he'd lost.
From the beginning, he'd always known it could be this way. Immortals were doomed to kill one another until only one remained. Duncan had focused on surviving... never really contemplating what it would be like to be one of the final two. Now he was... and this haggis had challenged and killed the others... leaving Duncan MacLeod for the final battle.
Sweat dripped into his eyes. Duncan blinked furiously and shook his head quickly... managing to keep his gaze focused on Khan, his eyes, his hands, every move the immortal made.
Then... Duncan saw it. A quick glance to the right... which Khan then followed with a left turn and a raised blade.
Seeing the opening... and seeing it for a trap... Duncan shifted to his right, turned and sliced forward.
For a moment... time stood still. Then Duncan's katana met the momentary resistance of Khan's neck. Following through on the stroke and opening his arms as he crouched in the aftermath... Duncan waited.
The expression on Khan's face was one of surprise. Surprise that the smaller immortal had landed a blow! Surprise that it was over! Surprise... that he was dead! His brain was still firing thoughts... but his body was already slipping down and away. The blue-white of the quickening issued forth like a mighty torrent and roared into the Highlander.
He felt lifted up as the memories of his opponent lanced into him. He held the broadsword at Amanda's neck... he overpowered the world's most ancient immortal and took his head as was his right... He... Duncan MacLeod now held them all. All the immortals who'd ever been... save only a lost few... all their power and knowledge... everything.
Again and again the power roared about him and arced into the darkness. In the distance... above the roar... he could hear explosions and car alarms going off.
Then... as he fell to his knees and the power gentled about him... closing in like a warm grasp on his chest and throat... Duncan was suddenly aware that all was silence.
The iron grip loosened and fell away.
Duncan leaned on his hands and gasped... the pounding of his heart the only sound he heard... and then he glanced up.
The darkness of the summer night had paled... and all was a foggy gray. Wisps of fog moved about him and from somewhere... light grew... until the Highlander found himself lost in white light. The brightness paled until he was lost in a white and featureless landscape.
Rising in confusion, Duncan flexed his katana in his right hand and turned slowly.
"Hello!" he called out. "Can anyone hear me? Is anyone here?"
Then, Duncan thought he heard a soft thud, a skritch, and then another soft thud. The sounds continued for some moments. Curious, and cautious, Duncan headed in that direction. Again he called out. Again... there was no answer.
In the distance he began to make a huddled form. Heading in that direction, the Highlander at last came to the elderly man... playing... it seemed... Jacks. Again and again he bounced the ball with his left hand and grabbed a handful of the small metal pieces and then caught the ball. Over and over he bounced, grabbed and caught... until the white surface was clear. Then he began again.
"I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," Duncan said.
The old man paused his game and glanced up at the Highlander. His brown eyes, twinkling in his dark face were merry and gave no sign of confusion.
"Are you?" He returned to his game.
"What is this place? Who are you?" Duncan nudged the man with his katana.
"Oh... a real question?" Again he bent to his game.
"Answer me!" shouted Duncan as he grasped the man by the collar of his white robe.
Duncan lay the katana against the man's neck. "Answer me. Who are you?"
The old man met Duncan's gaze and smiled. "I am the arbiter of the change."
"You control the game?"
"No. I am the agent of the Source. I am here to arbitrate."
"The game's over." Duncan released the man's collar and stepped back.
"Is it?" The old man chuckled and bent again to his game of Jacks.
Duncan stepped forward and slammed a foot amongst the metal Jacks... scattering them and knocking the small multi-colored rubber ball away. "I want a straight answer. The game's over. What happens now?"
The old man sat back and crossed his legs. He ran a hand through his cottony white hair and stared at MacLeod with amusement. "What do you want to happen?"
"Stop answering my questions with questions!"
"Is that what I'm doing?"
Duncan groaned and turned about as he counted to ten. Taking a deep breath, he tried again. "My name is Duncan MacLeod. What's your name?"
"What would you like it to be?"
Duncan just glared.
"Oh very well. Since you refuse to call me the arbiter... you may call me Abraham."
"Abraham," replied Duncan.
"Abraham," the old man said with a slight bow of his head.
Duncan sighed and looked around. He gestured toward the white distance. "Where are we?"
"Where would you like to be?"
"Now stop that!" Duncan groaned as he sat down on the white surface next to Abraham. "I'm trying to learn what happens next,"
"What do you want to happen?"
Duncan stared and then the nature of Abraham's questions became clear in his mind. "I can make the world around me?"
"If you say so," Abraham said and flipped his right hand so that the scattered Jacks jumped into his hand. He pointed with his left forefinger so that the small ball leaped into his left hand. Smiling, the old man tossed the Jacks and bounced the ball, carefully picking up one Jack each time the ball was in the air. Then he'd catch the ball and begin again.
"What do I have to decide?" Duncan asked quietly.
"Oh... if you had it all to do over... what would you change?" Abraham winked as he continued his game. "What choices that you made, would you make differently. If you could save someone, would you? Should you? Especially knowing that in the end... this is the prize."
"What would I do differently?" MacLeod chortled a moment. "There are many things I'd change."
"Let's say you were limited to making three changes in your life. That you could reach back into time and make a change. Who would you save? Who would you kill sooner rather than later? If you could make another choice on going left or right at the fork in the road at some point... would you make the other choice?"
"I could change anything?"
"And go back and live your life over from that moment... with no knowledge of the end. If you could change three things... and then after the third one... return to your life... would the outcome differ? Or would you only make things worse?"
Duncan stared at the bouncing ball and considered closely the offer. He'd always been told that the game would give the winner ultimate power. What could be more powerful than changing the past... and the lives of his loved ones... so that there were other choices to be made? "I wouldn't recall this?" He motioned about the two of them at the white.
"This?" Abraham said. "Of course not... because it would not have happened. Understand Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod... that to live life over... will not guarantee that you win the game the next time."
Duncan nodded. It was dangerous to make deals with magical beings... and he had no doubt that despite his rather unassuming demeanor... that Abraham was a magical being. "What if I choose to change nothing?" the Highlander finally asked.
"Oh... then I fade away and you inherit the world... such as it is," Abraham smiled and gestured around them. "It might be a bit lonely, though. You have killed all the others."
"No," Duncan grinned. "Khan killed many of them... I only killed the ones who faced me."
"Yet within you they all exist."
"Not all," Duncan said with a sigh.
"Ah... you wish to change something, then?"
Duncan glanced up sharply. He did in fact regret the loss of Darius... that his quickening was not a part of who he now was. Could he return to that long ago spring day in Paris... and prevent Darius' murder at the hands of mortals. Could his friend then have another chance to live or die within the game? He wondered.
Abraham was grasping four Jacks at a time by this time. "The game is easy enough at the beginning... the longer it goes on... the more difficult the moves."
Tessa crossed Duncan's mind. If he'd known about the young junkie, Mark, could he have prevented her death? Could they have had that life together? Could he have watched her grow old and die? And in saving Tessa... what would happen to Richie? Would he have still killed him?
"And after reaching the level where all twelve Jacks must be grasped in a single fluid move... can you still manage to grasp the ball and lose nothing? After that, of course... you begin again."
Duncan nodded. He'd reached the final level... what was left except to begin again.
"Do I have to re-live my entire life?"
"Oh... no," Abraham smiled. "As I tried to explain. There are regrets in your life. There are things you did or failed to do... that given the opportunity... you would change. Now... some of those changes may change everything... and some may change very little the final outcome. But..." he smiled triumphantly, "some may change your life for the better."
Abraham handed Duncan the Jacks and the ball. "The further back you go... the great the change might be. I cannot guarantee what would happen."
"But I wouldn't know I was changing anything?"
"Oh... well... actually..." Abraham sighed. "From here... you can watch the events unfold. From here... the you that is here can make three changes in the tapestry of your life. Once all three are made... you will fade into your life at that point... and a different life will unfold based on those three choices."
"With no memory at that point of this?" Duncan waved about the white one more time.
Abraham nodded. "Exactly."
Slowly Duncan tossed the Jacks onto the surface and bounced the ball. While it was in the air, he swept a Jack into his hand and easily caught the ball.
"Why did you choose that Jack," Abraham asked softly.
"No reason," Duncan replied.
"But the changes you make... the lives you change... must have a reason. At least... they should have a meaning and a reason for you."
Duncan stared at the metal Jack in his palm. Slowly he smiled. "I'd want to save Darius from the Hunters. We shouldn't have lost him."
"That is your first choice, then?" Abraham asked.
Duncan nodded. "Yes. He should have had a choice as to how he faced his end... All he was should never have been lost."
"Then bounce the ball, Duncan MacLeod... and grab for the Jack."
Duncan stared at the blue-green ball... swirled with white and thought of how Earth-like it was. Slowly he bounced it and reached for the red metal Jack lying off to one side. Then he grabbed for the ball.