Universe: A virtual "6th" season wherein "Modern Prometheus" was the finale of season 5 and ignores all events in the "real" season 5 finale and all of season 6, as well as the last movie. This season takes place 1997-1998
Summary: Plothole filler, Revolutions 6:8. The events of the two-day ride to Silas's cabin. Also, while this fic can stand on its own, it helps if you've read A Bitter Ale. Storm and Memories in Fading Light wouldn't hurt, either. If you haven't read those, just know that the children Methos talks about were slaves that he sort of adopted from in horsemen camp.
Disclaimer: If I owned them why would I waste my time posting to fanfic sites? I'd be off making lots and lots of money! But since I'm not, I therefore don't, nor do I pretend to.
AN- There's an amusing story behind this fic:
I have a friend where I go to school with who writes Slash in the Sentinel fandom. Last September I began been alpha-reading her fics (the notebook written drafts before she types them) for content and flow. Then SouthernChickie wrote her first slash fic, and we were talking about it and she challenged me to write one of my own, and I told my Sentinel slasher friend about the unofficial challenge in passing, and then she egged me on, too. Long story short, last October, when I was elbow-deep in my theatre internship, sitting up in the attic of the SFAC running followspot for performances Secret Garden, I wrote my very first slash fic in a spiral notebook. My Sentinel slasher friend alpha'd for me and she said it was good and I should type it up, so I did.
Then, aside from letting SC read it because she issued the challenge, I did absolutely nothing with it. I only write in one universe for Highlander and the concepts I laid down in the slash fic don't mesh with my views of Methos or the horsemen.
Fast forward to the ending of Memories in Fading Light. I had just finished that story, and was getting ready to move onto the next plotbunny, when I thought back to the slash I had written months previous. Turns out, I really liked quite a bit of it. Therefore, I decided to try converting it over to a non-slash version. The following fic is that non-slash version.
That being said: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IN THIS FIC IS MEANT TO BE TAKEN AS SLASHY! It IS possible to have a very close friendship with someone to the degree depicted below WITHOUT wanting to get into the other's pants. This fic is about one such friendship, and what happened to it.
For those of you interested in the slash version of this story, I archived it in Livejournal, in the community "highlander underscore fic" (no spaces). It was posted with the same title on April 11th under the username "myystic." If you can't find it but still wanna read it email me and I'll hook you up.
Now, without any further ado:
"How long is this trip again?" Kronos asked with a slight whine. They had been riding for less than an hour.
"If we stop for the night we should be there late morning the day after tomorrow," Methos answered tiredly. "If we don't stop it'll be sooner."
Kronos grunted in acknowledgement.
"Why brother?" Methos prompted in wry amusement. "Could it be that you've finally grown tired of sitting a horse?"
Kronos's loud guffaw was swallowed up by the vastness of the empty forest. "You should know me better than that," he said, a harsh note of warning in his voice.
Methos smiled and half shrugged to show he meant nothing by it.
"Anything's possible," he defended. "The two of us riding together again is proof enough of that."
Kronos chuckled. "Your befriending that naïve boy scout is proof enough."
Methos returned the chuckle uneasily.
"He has his charms," he pointed out, weakly defending himself from an attack that wasn't really there.
"Oh I'm sure," Kronos said wickedly. "I don't recall you being easy to charm."
Methos didn't respond and Kronos laughed again. Then they returned to a less than comfortable silence.
"No matter how long, the body never forgets how to ride a horse," Kronos mused aloud, finally breaking an hour's worth of quiet.
"You? Forget how to ride? Isn't that the third sign of the apocalypse?"
Kronos glanced askew and saw Methos's cheeky grin and laughed again, appreciating the joke.
"You always could make me laugh, brother," he said, a new softness in his voice.
"It's not all that difficult."
Kronos turned in his saddle to regard Methos fully.
"Do you have any idea how many times I've missed the chance for a good laugh since you've been gone?"
"Now don't tell me that you've run out of ways to keep yourself amused." Kronos grinned evilly. "Of course not, brother," he corrected. "I just meant that the amusement isn't the same without your delicious color commentary."
"Why Kronos," said Methos with mock aghast. "If I didn't know better I'd say you've gone sappy."
Methos never saw Kronos's response coming. Suddenly he felt a steel-toed boot connecting squarely with his jaw. It sent him tumbling off the back of his mare. Kronos chuckled and directed his gelding to continue onwards. Ten minutes later and he heard Methos galloping up behind him.
"That wasn't very nice," Methos hissed in irritation.
"But it answered your question, didn't it?" Kronos defended merrily.
"Have you gone deaf in your old age?" Methos asked incredulously. "I said 'if I didn't know better,' IF!"
Kronos laughed in the face of Methos's indignation. "Brother, you have me laughing so often they'll think it should have been me in the asylum instead of Caspian."
"I wonder why," Methos mused pointedly.
"You know, you haven't exactly been your normal, cheerful self lately," said Kronos, that harsh hint of warning returning.
"You broke my jaw and my ass still hurts from the fall," Methos snapped. "What do you want?"
"You haven't been right since we boarded the plane," Kronos persisted. "So don't give me that."
"Talk to me, brother. If I didn't know better, I'd say you didn't want to be here." Methos ended his silence by laughing uncomfortably. "What can I say, brother? You make me nervous."
Methos could have sworn he saw a look of hurt cross Kronos's face.
"Why? Just because I knocked you off your horse?"
"Well that whole threat to take my head if I refused to join you rather puts a damper on our relationship," Methos pointed out vehemently. "Or maybe it was your wanting me to kill MacLeod simply because he is my friend."
"Ah but you didn't kill him, did you," Kronos reminded him. "And you've killed friends before so don't even bother."
"But never without reason," Methos amended.
"I gave you a reason!"
"And your word was never good enough for me!"
An angry glare hung between them. Surprisingly, it was Kronos whose expression changed first.
"Yet you're here now," he pointed out. "You came all the way to the back woods of Romania based solely on my word."
Methos's anger melted from him and a world-weary look replaced it.
"You said you'd kill me, remember?" He reminded, almost sounding like he didn't care about it now.
"Methos the survivor," said Kronos.
Methos shrugged. "It's what I do best."
Silence fell as it seemed that neither of them knew how best to break it.
"Is that why you joined the Watchers?" Kronos asked at last.
"It's a great way to avoid the others." Methos confessed.
"Were you avoiding us?" Kronos asked softly.
Methos shrugged again. "Just everyone who might want to kill me."
"And you thought that we would kill you?"
Methos merely arched an eyebrow. Kronos could say nothing to refute the redirect, so he didn't. Silence descended again.
"You know Caspian and I rode together during the Crusades?" Kronos asked finally.
"So I've read."
"He and I spent ten years together in the Holy Land."
"Oh I'm sure. Raping, pillaging, burning…"
Kronos shrugged and smiled. "And Silas worked for me during the Spanish Inquisition. Now those were some fun times."
Methos laughed. "More raping, pillaging, and burning," he pointed out. "Just less riding."
Kronos chuckled merrily. "Religion provides the best opportunity," he pointed out knowingly.
"I spent too much time in Rome to pay attention to the changing faces of organized religion," Methos said dismissively.
"You're too old to be just another disillusioned Roman," said Kronos, equally dismissive.
"Oh, I was disillusioned way before Rome."
The two laughed slightly at that, Methos at the sad truth to the statement and Kronos at Methos having actually said it.
"When was the last time you've seen them?" Kronos asked when the laughter died.
"Silas and Caspian. Your brothers."
Methos nodded carefully, biting his lip.
"You haven't seen them at all, have you," Kronos stated, not really surprised.
"Silas I've seen," Methos replied. "France, eleventh century."
Kronos smiled delightedly. "And?"
"And… he and I ran into each other at an inn outside Versailles. We had a nice dinner and got drunk off our asses laughing about the good old days. Spent the evening passed out in the hayloft above the stables and rode on the next day."
Kronos just kept laughing. "That's it? You don't see each other for thousands of years and all you do is get drunk one night then ride on your merry way?"
Methos shrugged. "I had places to go, people to see…"
"Family to avoid?"
Methos turned quizzically in his saddle to regard Kronos.
"Would you have seen him—spent time with him, if it weren't for some happy chance?"
Methos shrugged in a lost sort of way. "I never went out looking," he confessed. "But that didn't mean that I wasn't happy to see him."
"But you weren't happy to see me."
Methos smiled slyly. "Your methods of saying 'hello' leave much to be desired." Kronos's hurt yet bemused expression blanked and he shrugged, defeated.
"I wanted to get your attention," he defended.
"Well congratulations," Methos droned. "It worked."
"Besides," Kronos added. "What's a little throwing dagger to the heart between friends?"
Methos chuckled without amusement. "A little death between brothers…" Kronos let the comment fall.
"This wasn't the first time I tried to find you, you know."
"Oh?" Methos asked, trying not to sound like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"Yeah," Kronos reiterated, nodding. "Every time I'd get a line on you I'd discover that you'd just left town."
"I never knew you were looking for me," Methos defended.
"Of course not," Kronos 'agreed' in a tone that made Methos nervous. "An old immortal with mutable eyes, dark hair, and a quiet yet sarcastic wit? You'd be surprised how much people remember when given the proper motivation."
Methos shrugged, pretending that he didn't care. "That's why I never stayed in one place too long."
Kronos laughed outright. "You? Methos the survivor, the master of redirection, manipulation, and disguise? I just thought that secretly you wanted to be found. That it was some sort of calling card or bread crumb trail that I was supposed to follow. So you can imagine my surprise when every time I thought I'd caught up to you—" Kronos snapped his fingers, "you'd gone and run off again."
"Well if I'd known you were looking for me…"
"All you had to do was ask."
Implications settled into silence.
"Are they really all that bad?" Kronos asked after the silence had become too stifling. Methos looked at him questioningly. "The memories I mean."
"Why do you ask?" Methos's tone was guarded.
"You ran away because the pain of those children's deaths hurt you too much," Kronos explained. "I get that. It took a few decades but I finally did understand it."
"Must have been quite a stretch for you," Methos bitterly replied, the turn of conversation cutting too deeply.
Kronos merely laughed.
"You see? Now I know I've hit the mark. Especially if you're still sensitive about it."
"Yes that's why I left," Methos snapped. "Yes it hurt and yes I'm still sensitive about it." Kronos's growing cackling interrupted Methos rant. "What?" He asked incredulously. "You mocked my life and my friendships; do you have to mock my pain too? Does it make you feel better?"
"Oh, nothing like that, brother," said Kronos, bringing his laughter under control at last. "It just amuses me that in the end, you couldn't even take your own advice."
Methos groaned melodramatically and hung his head.
"What was the first thing you taught me, hmm? Never let yourself get attached to transient things."
Methos snorted a laugh. "You should talk," he said. "You're still attached to me."
"Immortals can live forever while mortals die and civilizations rise and fall. We are not transient like the rest of the world. We are outside it." Kronos's voice took on that emphatic quality it gets whenever he's passionate about what he says. "And you my friend, world's oldest immortal, are far from transient."
Methos then gave Kronos a meaningful gaze, and in that stare much was conveyed. Kronos was the first to break and lower his eyes.
"If we don't adapt… we get stuck between times," Methos said at length. "I've never met an immortal capable of holding back the tide."
"Before MacLeod?" Kronos's insight surprised Methos and his reaction signaled the accuracy of the remark.
"MacLeod has been the same for four hundred years," Methos observed.
"And I haven't changed in over four thousand," Kronos countered. "But you've latched yourself to MacLeod like a barnacle on a buoy in the storm."
"Since when are you a poet?" Methos nearly whined.
"Since you've become too transient to even survive on your own."
Methos sighed and bit the inside of his lip.
"You used to look to me like that, you know."
"You?" Methos deflected. "Either you change your mind at the drop of a hat or you don't know what 'transient' means."
"The world changes its face now and again," said Kronos. "But the people remain the same. The Babylonians were the Romans were the Chinese and the Goths, the British, Italians—everyone who's dared to build an empire! And you, my friend, my brother," Kronos's voice was bitingly saccharine. "You change your face as often as they, if not more. Yet beneath it all, you're still the same old Methos."
"You think so?" Methos's voice was unreadable.
"My dear brother, I know so."
Methos chuckled forcibly but didn't comment.
"And when I said that you were far from transient, I meant it. You're still here, you're still the same, and you will continue to live forever with all your happy little masks and seemingly stronger personalities to cling to."
"What makes you so sure?" There was a hint of challenge in Methos's voice.
"You're here now, aren't you?" Kronos countered. "You didn't skip town, you didn't kill me while my back was turned—and I mean really try to kill me, Methos, not that half-assed attempt to give me an excuse to take your head before you pansied out of it. And you didn't beg for your life in the end when I had played into your designs only to find that you couldn't be as noble as you'd hoped."
"I didn't have to," Methos pointed out, deftly covering his emotions. "I simply offered you a better deal."
"That's exactly what I mean," said Kronos, laughing again. "You've never really changed, Methos. If I thought you had, I would have taken your head that first night after I stuck you with the dagger."
"Is that so?" Methos asked, somehow amused.
"I know you just as much about self preservation as you," Kronos pointed out. "And unlike you, I can actually follow good advice."
Methos let the comment fall and silence threatened to descend again.
"But you're still attached to me," he mused eventually.
"Even though you've gone and latched onto MacLeod the way you used to hold to me." Kronos's voice held a level of regret that surprised Methos.
"You said you understood why I left," Methos said eventually.
"And I did," Kronos agreed. "But that doesn't mean that I had to like it."
"You weren't transient enough to survive the end of that way of life," Methos told him. "For all you say about following good advice, you never learned to adapt to change."
"I got over it, didn't I?" Kronos defended hotly.
A tense pause hung between them.
"I didn't hunt you down relentlessly to take your head, did I?"
"But you still might, if you can't erase the last three thousand years and put your horsemen back together again."
Kronos momentarily looked as though he would fly into a homicidal rage. Then suddenly he laughed.
"You left me because you forgot your own advice and got too attached to a few insignificant slaves and couldn't handle their deaths to the point where you stole a horse and fled off to who knows where and you claim that I'm them one who can't adapt to change?"
"I wouldn't disrespect them if I were you?" Methos threatened, his voice low and dangerous. Death incarnate.
Kronos chuckled in defiance of the threat.
"You told me from the start not to get attached to anything because people die and civilizations fall. You, the last survivor of the fall of Ur, an antiquated relic from the Glory Days that I chanced upon in an Elamite cage! You who claimed that death was inevitable for everything that breathes so never fall in love, never care, never bat a lash—you who unmercifully deigned to lend meaning to my existence and change my life forever—You, Methos who I named and taught to live again. You fell in love with a pair of children! Forsook my company for theirs and left my side the day they died. Yet all this time you claim that I'm the one who can't adapt to change. Your world ended when they died and you had to clean your slate and start over. Well my world ended too that day yet I got by just fine."
Kronos's eyes were burning; Methos saw a passion there, for the words and the convictions. It sang to him and frightened him at the same time. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
"And yet here we are," he said softly. "Trying to put your world back together again."
"Because I only attach myself to the select few immortals that don't change, even when their world crumbles at the deaths of a few insignificant slaves—"
Kronos didn't get the chance to finish the statement. Methos launched himself from his horse and tackled him, bringing them both crashing to the ground. Methos tumbled over Kronos, then Kronos over Methos and back again. Finally Methos wound up on top, dagger drawn and held to Kronos's throat.
"I told you never to disrespect them again!" Methos spat in an ancient tongue, breaking skin with the dagger.
Kronos laughed triumphantly.
"You see," he said, purposely sticking to English. "All these years and you're still the same as you ever were. You are still Death!"
What had come over Methos vanished just as quickly as it had taken hold. His face when white and he dropped the dagger. He pushed himself off of Kronos forcefully and sat back a few feet away, eyes wide in horror and disbelief.
"The great Methos who doesn't care!" Kronos taunted, gesturing from flat on his back on the ground, to his amusement and Methos's shame. "Oh, what's the matter Methos?" He asked condescendingly as he reclined on his elbows. "Can't take a little truth?"
"Why must you always play your games at my expense?" Methos asked tiredly, defeated.
"Your expense? Hey you tackled me, remember?" Kronos then shifted into a sitting position. "And you can't blame me for your going and getting attached to mortals. That's your own doing."
"Have you ever loved, Kronos?" Methos asked in reply. "Have you ever loved someone in spite of the fact—even when you know their time is limited? Have you ever gone into it knowing that one day they will leave you, and loved them anyway?"
Kronos's reply was softly spoken, and fell like a sledgehammer into Methos's soul.
Methos visibly flinched and turned his face away.
Kronos sighed tiredly before moving to his hands and knees. He crawled forward until he was within arms reach of Methos and then he sat down Indian-style, close to his brother yet not quite invading personal space.
Methos didn't even acknowledge the move.
"Why do you do this to yourself, brother?" Kronos asked in soft bewilderment. "Immortals are hard enough to endure as it is, but these mortals? How can you allow yourself to love them? You exactly what that brings."
Finally Methos looked up.
"How can you ask me that?" He asked quietly. Kronos held his eye contact without wavering.
"Mortals die," he said, his voice surprisingly gentle. "That's their purpose. They are born, they live, and then they die. If they get lucky then maybe they can find happiness. If the world gets lucky then maybe the can contribute something wonderful to society. But like their bodies, all of that fades with time. Every city, every ideal, everything horrific and everything great. All is mortal, Methos. Every part of it."
"Except us," Methos whispered.
Slowly, hesitantly, Kronos reached forward, almost as though he was afraid that Methos would shatter beneath his touch—either that, or his hand would burn from it. Regardless though, he tentatively put a hand on Methos's shoulder.
Surprisingly Methos didn't shy away, and he found his brother's grip to be as gentle as a lover's hand and yet as frightening as one who takes love by force.
"We are immortal," said Kronos. "We get to sit and watch while everything fades away. You of all people should know why there are so few of us Old Ones left."
"Gathering's a bitch," Methos said bitterly, purposely evasive.
Kronos snorted a laugh. "Now you know that isn't what I meant," he chided. "Even immortals can die. What's worse, they can die a hundred times and still keep their heads attached."
Finally Methos mustered the courage to make eye contact again. "Some would call that 'adapting.'"
"I prefer to call it 'tragedy,'" Kronos retorted with surprising bitterness. He released Methos's shoulder finally, unable to tolerate the physical contact now that his mood had shifted. "How can an immortal lose the thread of who they are? How can an immortal live year after year, century after century, with no real sense of their own identity?" He then surprised Methos even more by being the first one to look away. "Death would have been a kinder fate."
Methos's closed his eyes in an elongated blink, wincing through a silent inhale.
"And you haven't changed, in all these years…" He lamented.
"I know who I am," Kronos said naturally. "And I like who I am. Why should I change just because the mortal world does?"
Methos snorted in disgust. "You sound like MacLeod," he said, turning away and standing at last.
"Do I?" Kronos asked to Methos's retreating back. "Is that why you love him?"
Methos stopped in his tracks.
"It's not like that," he defended.
"Isn't it?" Kronos challenged as he stood. "Then why is your back still to me?" Methos spun around but the words died on his lips.
"I don't love MacLeod," he said plainly, looking Kronos in the eye and daring him to see a lie.
"You can't fool me, Methos," said Kronos harshly. "I've lived too long. You know I'm not accusing you of wanting him in lust but don't insult my intelligence by denying that you love him!"
Methos stood frozen, unable to refute the statement and unable to turn away from Kronos's angry glare.
"It's not like that," he said at last. "MacLeod…" But he couldn't say more.
"Like what?" Kronos asked, his voice unforgiving. Then his entire expression changed as he saw the truth in Methos's eyes that his tongue could not express. Methos saw that Kronos knew and he blinked and turned away again.
"You love the feeble boy scout because of what he is, what he represents to you. He's your hero, now. Your champion."
Kronos got no reply from Methos and so he came a few steps closer.
"I know how it is, Methos. I know you. You only give your love to people who are safe."
Methos spun around at that and found himself face to face with Kronos. Then faster than Kronos could see or react to Methos had raised his hand in memory of Alexa and backhanded Kronos, hard. Kronos stumbled backwards, his lip cut and bleeding, but all he did was laugh.
Methos's eyes were Death's.
"Is that why you couldn't kill him?" Kronos asked, wiping the blood from his chin as his quickening healed the cut. "The same reason you didn't kill Cassandra?"
"I never loved Cassandra!" Methos spat.
"Oh no?" Kronos retorted. "Now are you going to tell me that it was simply the appeal of a pretty lady slave who you could train to serve you perfectly and then never worry about burying her and starting all over again?"
"The idea had merit," Methos defended petulantly.
Kronos laughed. "Oh I'm sure. That's why you didn't stop her when she ran from our camp. And why you didn't kill her back in Seacouver."
"Killing immortals is never that simple," Methos defended. "Do you think MacLeod would have just been content to let us take this much of a head start if we had killed his witch?"
Kronos laughed again, wickedly.
"So it had nothing to do with you trying to convince her that you've changed the way you tried to convince MacLeod?"
"She'd never believe it," Methos admitted despondently.
"Well not that there's anything to believe," said Kronos with exaggerated amusement. "But why do you say that?"
"She hasn't changed in millennia either," Methos explained. "If she had… she would have moved on."
"Aside from how you've just proved my point, you do realize that this makes you the only one who tries to believe they've changed," Kronos pointed out with much amusement. "Or, as you say, 'adapted?'"
"I have changed," Methos defended.
Kronos gave him a sly look and began closing the gap between them.
"Oh really?" He asked. "How?"
"I don't want this anymore, Kronos!" Methos said vehemently. "I don't need it!"
Kronos laughed again. "Of course you don't need it!" He agreed. "You never needed it, Methos. Or have you forgotten?"
Methos looked away.
"You should have died in Ur," Kronos continued.
Methos tensed but didn't turn.
"But you didn't die, did you," Kronos went on. "The Elamites kept you alive for decades—centuries maybe! One of their useless demigods that they had tamed. I don't know what you were before I found you, but I know what you became."
Methos turned violently to face Kronos.
"What?" He spat the question, his voice strained, choked by emotion. "What am I?"
Kronos approached slowly, cautiously, ever aware that the eyes of Death were upon him.
"Don't you remember?" He asked, his voice once again gentle, almost loving. "I freed you from that slaves' dungeon because I sensed that you were like me, some freak of nature that couldn't die. I freed you and you told me what we are. How we are creatures that exist outside of time; how we have our own rules to follow that make it unnecessary to concern ourselves with the world of mortals."
Methos blinked in memory.
"Don't you remember how we abandoned my camp, and I named you 'Methos,' man of myth, and together we set out, two immortals who never needed to bother with the mortal world again?"
Methos opened his eyes and found himself face to face with Kronos.
"When I asked before if you had missed it, your first thought was of the killing. Did you really forget the feeling of freedom? The ultimate freedom, Methos. The freedom from mortality."
Methos was silent for many moments as he formulated a response. When he spoke his eyes defied him and his voice betrayed his age.
"I had stopped counting time long before your Kassites invaded Elam," he explained. "When you came into my life… I had long since forced myself to forget what had been before that cage. You gave me a name to replace the one I had tried to leave behind. Your world… it wasn't hard for it to become the only world I knew."
"Methos and his walls," said Kronos. "You were always good at playing the chameleon. Call it adaptation if you must, but all you do is try to lose yourself in your current life because it's easier than living with the memories of all you've lost."
"How do you think I've survived for five thousand years?" Methos defended, emphasizing his age.
"Yes, you have survived for five thousand years," Kronos agreed. "But I have lived for four thousand."
Methos turned questioning eyes at Kronos.
"You melt into lives, adrift through time, content in all your defense mechanisms until you can find another immortal to attach yourself to, one who's better at surviving unscathed by time."
Methos closed his eyes, as though he couldn't bare to look at whatever truth Kronos was touching upon.
Kronos took a commanding step forward. "Immortals like Macleod, and Cassandra," he said definitively.
Methos seemed to shrink back, even as he stood there, hoping and praying against the inevitable.
Kronos came closer still. Once again, the most simple of phrases fell like a sledgehammer into Methos's soul.
They stood there frozen in time for an elongated breath, neither seeming capable of breaking the moment.
Finally Methos opened his eyes, and two brothers stood staring at each other across a sea of time, regret, and memory.
"Any port in a storm," was all Methos had to say. Kronos seemed to smile in the split second before he pulled Methos close, enveloping his slight frame in a terrifying yet reassuring hug. He had hit things too close to the mark and buried memories forced themselves to the surface and threatened to swallow Methos whole. As much as Methos tried to deny it—as much as he forced himself to forget, Kronos was still family; and Kronos fully realized it, too. At times like these, as he said, being in a calm port in a storm is preferable. For right now, to weather this storm of emotions, he'd settle the surprisingly safe arms of his brother's embrace.
They stayed that way for many minutes, both afraid of the position they found themselves in yet also afraid to end it. Then finally, as though in unspoken agreement, they parted and backed away from each other.
"It's getting dark," Methos observed, striving for distraction.
"Yes," Kronos agreed, more than willing to be distracted now, too. "We should probably stop here for the night."
Methos nodded in agreement.
With silent proficiency the two of them went about setting camp. Methos gathered stones for a fire circle while Kronos went to round up their horses. While Methos was gathering wood Kronos had the horses unsaddled and tied to nearby trees, giving them freedom to graze but also insuring that they wouldn't run off.
Finally the two were roasting frozen hot dogs over an open flame.
"Did you have to choose hot dogs?" Kronos asked.
"What's wrong with them?" Methos returned innocently.
"They seem a strange anachronism for us is all."
Methos snorted. "No more so than the jeans you're wearing or the matches we used to start the fire."
Kronos half-nodded. "Fair enough."
They cooked and ate their meal in comfortable, companionable silence. For the first time since Kronos had rather forcibly reintroduced himself to his brother it seemed as though all the tension had melted away. The present and the future has melted into the past, and aside from the modern comforts of jeans, hiking boots, hot dogs, and matches, it was easy to forget that it wasn't thirty-five hundred years ago, back before the horsemen, back when it was just Methos and Kronos, riding the wilds together and searching for adventure.
Finally, when the stars were bright in the sky, Methos doused their fire.
"We should sleep," he said. "We have a long ride tomorrow."
Kronos nodded his agreement. Then suddenly he laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"Oh, it's nothing, really."
"Well, it's just… I was about to tell you that I would take first watch."
Methos laughed loudly at that. "This is the twentieth century, Kronos! We don't need to worry about tribes of barbarians or hordes of bandits trying to knife us in our sleep."
"I know! I know!" Kronos defended, blushing slightly despite himself. "Now you see why I didn't want to tell you."
"Well, at least you caught yourself in time."
"Indeed," Kronos sneered through his indignation. Methos only laughed again at his brother's continued embarrassment as he laid out his bedroll.
"Good night, brother," Methos said dismissively as he rolled over. His sword was right beside him, hand resting on the hilt, and he most certainly didn't try to fall asleep right away. Yet still, he felt much safer than he by rights should have in showing Kronos his unprotected back. Methos couldn't help but welcome the feeling, however knowingly misguided it might have been.
After some rustling sounds and a bit of unintelligible grumbling Methos felt the rush of air that signaled Kronos had just dropped his bedroll right behind him. Kronos lay down beside Methos and rolled onto his side. Then he shifted so that his back was firmly pressed against Methos's, sharing body warmth.
The familiarity was comforting. Methos felt himself relax as Kronos's soft snores drifted his way. He laughed slightly at that, even though there was sadness in it. Lying thus, they didn't have to worry about the growing chill in the air. They had covered themselves in their jackets and found sleep lying easily back to back.
Methos fell asleep with a smile on his lips.
It felt like home.
The warmth was nice. There was still a bit of winter's chill lingering in the air; it wasn't noticed all evening and into the night, but now in the early morning mist it made its presence known. Yet still, back to back, two brothers found that they didn't care.
It surprised Methos to realize just how much he had missed it, waking in the morning and knowing all was well because Kronos was still at his back. Yet knowing what will probably happen over the coming days and weeks, it made the pain that much more palpable. The icy fingers that gripped his heart at the thought of the inevitable loss made him shiver.
Methos bit his lip. "Cold out."
"I guess I'm just not used to roughing it then."
Kronos sniggered. "You call this 'roughing it'? You really have gone soft, brother."
"So sue me."
They lapsed into silence again. Both knew that they probably should be getting up yet neither felt motivated to do so.
"I used to love this," Kronos' voice interrupted the silence at last. "Using your back as a space heater. When it was just you, me, a few horses and the entire world at our feet."
"I remember," Methos admitted. Then he sighed. "Life seemed so much simpler then."
"Maybe because it was."
"Do you ever wish…" Methos's voice trailed off, unsure if he should speak his mind. "Do you ever wish that we didn't invite Silas to join us? Or that we had simply disbanded Caspian's army without—"
"You mean, do I regret allowing us to become a group of three and then four?"
Methos sighed again. "We didn't need to become the horsemen," he said. "We could have just let life go back to normal."
"Sent Caspian packing with his army and left Silas alone with his animals?"
"You make it sound like abandonment. It's not."
"And you make it sound like you regret your brothers."
Methos was silent at that.
"But I see what you're saying, though," Kronos admitted. "But Silas was fun to keep around, remember? And Caspian proved too useful. Can you honestly tell me that after Elam and Assyria… after Babylon… that you just wanted things to return to what they were beforehand? Do you really think that they could have?"
"I suppose not…" Methos admitted ruefully.
"Besides, you can't deny how much you enjoyed watching Damascus burn knowing that only we four horsemen were to blame."
There was nothing Methos could say to that, so he didn't.
"Come on," he said instead, sitting up. "We have a ways to go yet."
Kronos silently agreed.
Before long they had packed up camp, gathered their things, and remounted their horses. They were underway again before the early morning mist had completely burned off.
The two horsemen rode in companionable silence until Kronos broke it.
"Did you have to rent the saddles too?"
Methos chuckled. "It would have attracted unnecessary attention if we asked for two horses without any tack."
"Yeah, well, my ass would have thanked you."
"Consider it payment for the fall I took yesterday."
Kronos couldn't help but laugh.
"Now that's something else I miss..."
Methos blinked in confusion.
"A few good horses and lots of empty country."
Methos smiled in understanding and welcomed memory. "Kronos, Kassite tamer of horses."
"That's who I am." Kronos shrugged. "No matter how many years go by I still prefer the old ways best."
Methos grinned. "Never would have guessed."
Silence returned again.
"It makes sense," Kronos mused after a time.
"Oh?" Methos asked in a mixture of trepidation and amusement.
"You're still a scholar, after all. Not even slavery or the horsemen could drive that from you."
"Just as saddles or cars and airplanes haven't changed you any," Methos agreed dismissively.
"What's with you this morning?" Kronos asked, giving Methos a scrutinizing gaze.
"Nothing," Methos assured with ease.
"You could never fool me, Methos," Kronos countered. "You're preoccupied, I can tell."
Methos sighed. Sometimes there were definite drawbacks to having someone know so much of your soul.
"Given the circumstances can you blame me?" Methos defended, dropping the useless act.
"As much as I'd love to believe it's our stroll down memory lane…" Kronos drawled. "MacLeod?"
Methos sighed. "He was a good friend."
Kronos barked a laugh. "How can you say that? How can he be such a good friend when he knows next to nothing about you?"
"That was by design," Methos informed to Kronos's continued amusement.
"Well then how can you consider him a friend if you have to keep things from him?"
"Sometimes it's necessary."
"Why? So that your true past and personality don't offend him?" Kronos relished this point. "I've heard of him," he continued. "Of some of the challengers he's faced."
"He is rather notorious," Methos interjected ruefully.
"Well be that as it may," Kronos continued, "I wouldn't put it past him to take your head over this. How can you count such an immortal as a friend?"
"What? Compared to you?" Methos snapped.
Kronos had no retort.
"How can you let yourself be judged by them?" He asked at last. "What right do they have?"
"Judgment is a part of human nature," Methos dismissed.
"But how can you put up with them judging you without them even knowing you?" Kronos persisted. "MacLeod and the others like him. They weren't there—didn't live what we lived or feel what we've felt… what we feel. Yet they think their so-called modern world view gives them the right to judge us on a past that goes back millennia before even their ideals were born! It makes me sick."
"Is that why you turned Ramirez against me?" Methos asked bitterly.
"Ramirez?" Kronos questioned. "Ah yes, the chronically overdressed Egyptian!" Kronos couldn't help but laugh at the memory.
"He never spoke to me again after you got through with him," said Methos.
"Well I did you a favor then, didn't I," said Kronos. "He couldn't have been a real friend then, could he," another statement. "Not if he let your past mean more to him than your present."
"And this is different than you how?" Methos snapped, and once again Kronos had no retort.
"Methos," he said eventually. "You are my brother; the one person I could trust, the one person—don't you get it yet? You were my best friend, my brother—the other half of my God damned soul! I've never had anyone mean as much to me as you did. Your friendship, your trust, companionship… I have never tried to replace you, Methos. I don't even think I'm capable of it. I can't replace family as easily as old shoes, brother. The horsemen sure, I've tried to ride again. But never you, Methos. You were precious to me. Irreplaceable. And I would rather live without you than force myself to accept some cheap knockoff the way you try to look to MacLeod, or even that Ramirez. How dare you hate me for proving to you that those you try to use to replace me aren't even worth your time! If my once-professed soul mate must replace me… don't you dare get angry at me for trying to be sure you find an adequate replacement!"
Methos felt his insides knot from the strength of Kronos's speech and the emotions behind it.
"Really?" He asked at last, reeling his own emotions back behind finely constructed walls. "I could have sworn you were just jealous of my other friendships because I had the audacity to replace you."
Kronos bit his tongue against a retort and remained angrily silent.
Finally this silence grew to be too much for Methos.
"I never did, you know."
"Did what?" Kronos snapped hotly.
Then somehow Methos found the courage to continue, letting some of his own anger show through.
"Ramirez was the student of a friend. I helped him through his grief after his wife died. He was never your replacement. Just a good friend—a friendship that you ruined either for spite or your own amusement. So was all that stuff you just said true, or just to the point where I mean so much to you only when it doesn't get in the way of your own selfishness."
Heated silence descended again.
"You never replaced me?" Kronos asked eventually, not able to maintain the silence.
"Of course not!" Methos reiterated. "You think that I could so easily replace my soul mate? You think that I could have wanted to? How can you think that of me?"
Crushing realization suddenly gripped Methos's soul like a vice. "You think you never meant to me what I meant to you."
The level of hurt in Methos's voice deflated Kronos's anger.
"You left, remember," he said quietly.
"And you're the one who made that all about you," Methos countered. "After you said that you understood."
"I understood that you were hurt!" Kronos countered angrily. "I understood that, for all you said about not needing mortal existence, and about how we can live without it—above it even! I understood that despite all your posing, all your panache at living life like you don't have a care in the world, that secretly you care too much. You buried your past and attached your life to mine to forget it all; but you didn't, not really. You can never escape who you are, Methos, who you were. No matter how much you like to pretend that you can. You fooled everyone, including yourself! Everyone but me, but then you pushed me away and left me. I became part of that past that you had to bury. I became a part of what you had to forget! Just another transition, another stage in time, put it all behind you—forget it all and bury all feeling! Adapt! I understand quite well, my pretty little myth, but I would rather have been replaced than buried and forgotten."
Silence fell like a gavel.
"I needed to move on," Methos said finally. "I needed to… get passed the pain."
"Life is pain!" Kronos snapped.
Methos took a deep, calming breath.
"Maybe you're right and I was wrong to feel for those children the way I did."
"You were weak."
"Are you going to try and hurt me all morning or would you like me to continue?" Methos said impatiently.
Kronos gestured lazily.
"Now, I was trying to tell you, that—for better or worse—I found that I cared too much for those children. It hurt when they died, but I couldn't share that with you. You claim that I left you. Well I may have been the first to leave the horsemen, but you had been cold to me for years before that. You stopped wanting my company, you stopped trusting me. We were growing apart and you wouldn't let me do anything to stop it! So drop the poor me jilted lover routine. You turned your back on me first. And since you had pulled away I began looking elsewhere for… someone to want me. And I found the children. By the time they died… I was hurt, sure, but what hurt more was knowing that you either wouldn't care about my pain, or worse, would revel in it. And you can't tell me that you wouldn't."
Kronos was oddly silent when Methos was done speaking.
"What? Can't you even say anything in return?" Methos asked.
Still Kronos was silent.
"If you thought I was wrong then you'd be either arguing with me or trying for my head, so you're either stunned into silence by revelation or shamed there by truth."
Silence again. Methos began to feel as though he was speaking to a wall.
"You still expect me to try and take your head?" Kronos asked at last.
Methos blinked in surprise. "Like you said, it's what you do best."
Kronos chuckled mirthlessly. "I've always been good at taking life," he said. "Mortal, immortal, makes no difference. Friend, enemy, perfect stranger. The killing was always easy."
"And you'd rather kill me than deal with your emotions when you learn that I'm not what you want me to be."
"I want you to be who you are!" Kronos said with surprising emphasis.
"So long as who I am fits into your designs."
Kronos laughed then, but it was cruel. "Oh please. If you wanted to run, and I mean really run, you'd be long gone by now. And if you were going to take my head I'd already be dead. You're here now because you want to be, Methos. When it comes down to it, I didn't really bully you into tagging along."
"You have a funny way of looking at things."
"Do I? You gave me the horsemen to save your head, but if you truly felt in danger we never would have wound up in that situation. You couldn't make up your mind between me and your precious MacLeod; but in the end, you chose me and you've been downright miserable ever since like your bad attitude is some sort of revenge for my returning and disrupting your happy little life."
"I think you overestimate me," Methos said, quietly defeated.
Kronos didn't say anything to that.
"Did you love Cassandra?" He asked instead after brief pause.
"What?" Methos choked on the question as it took him considerably by surprise.
"Your little witch," Kronos clarified with venom. "Did you love her?"
"It doesn't matter anymore," Methos said dismissively.
"It matters to me," Kronos insisted. "Did you love her?"
Methos sighed a long-suffering sigh and decided that he couldn't avoid the question.
"Maybe I did," he confessed. "She was our first new immortal. Maybe we should have killed her, but don't you remember how appealing the concept of an immortal slave was? She was young , she was pretty, no clue what she was and capable of living forever!"
"A pretty face to wash your feet and fluff your pillows for eternity."
"That's how it started," Methos admitted. "Then seasons became… decades… And she was so lovely back then! In her animal skin dresses with her hair pulled back as she scrubbed the cookery in some river…"
"You fell in love with her."
Methos couldn't help but smile. "She fell in love with me."
Kronos seemed genuinely surprised and Methos laughed.
"Stockholm syndrome," he explained. "The sun rose and fell each day because I said so. I was rewarding when she pleased me and punishing when she didn't."
"So she constantly sought your approval to avoid the pain," Kronos continued, catching on.
"And she mistook approval for affection. Replaced really. And then she wanted to please me just to please me."
"Because she loved you," Kronos concluded. "Or thought she did."
Methos nodded. "And thought that I loved her."
Kronos sat back in his saddle and allowed this information to sink in. What Methos said, it made sense.
"But did you?"
Methos's breath hitched as he thought about it. "Would you believe me if I told you that by now I don't remember anymore?" He asked, surprising himself with the truth to the statement.
Kronos laughed, amusement plainly showing. "Funnily enough, I think I might," he answered. Then the laughter died. "It's her fault, you know."
Methos blinked. "Cassandra?"
"It was after she left that things… started to change."
"And that's her fault?"
"Maybe it's yours!" Kronos snapped impatiently. Then the anger left him almost as quickly as it came. He sighed heavily and looked away.
"All this time…" Methos mused, his voice a choked whisper. "All this time you've been believing that I loved her."
"Can you blame me?" Kronos asked quietly. Then, in the light of realization: "Didn't you know that? Didn't you guess?"
Methos was silent. He shook his head a few times, at a complete loss for words.
"We should have killed her when we had the chance!" He cried out suddenly. "We should have taken her head like we did with every other immortal we found!"
"If not for her then you wouldn't have—and you and me, we—I wouldn't have needed—Oh God! Those children! I wouldn't have loved them then!"
Kronos wasn't getting through and so he tried a more direct approach. He grabbed Methos's reins and stopped both of their horses. He was trying to get Methos's attention but it didn't seem to be working.
"Don't you see?" Methos continued, oblivious to Kronos's actions. "If I didn't love them I never would have left!"
Kronos took Methos forcibly by the shoulders, sitting awkwardly in his saddle to do so. Methos seemed to come to his senses then. He chanced to make eye contact, and it was all Kronos could do not to gasp at what he saw. Tears were pooling in those mutable eyes—eyes of green and gold that hadn't shown such raw emotion since their master spoke of desert winds and the fall of Ur millennia ago to sate the curiosity of his newfound friend.
"I wouldn't have…" Methos barely whispered, his voice strained and hoarse. Kronos kneed his gelding in just the right spot and he side-stepped over to Methos's mare. This was done in the same instant that Kronos pulled Methos into and embrace. Methos choked out a sob and Kronos held him close. Methos sputtered in long-dead languages and Kronos let him as he soothingly ran his hand down the back of Methos's head and neck; silent, caring, and awed.
Neither of them knew how long they stayed that way. They were both finally home again in that shared embrace, and Kronos's loving hands that rubbed soothing circles on Methos's back and brushed his tears away that carried with them the last scarred remnants of a perceived rejection that never was. Kronos too found absolution in that embrace, greedily drinking in a kind of forgiveness there that he didn't eve know he needed.
A brotherhood was rekindled there in those woods, a redeeming kind of love that laid the past to rest. They were soul mates after all, and those bonds were electric, sparking in the need to be reborn; and when they finally separated, exhausted from the cathartic release at the last an understanding was reached, an unspoken truth about the past that brought them crashing through to the present free from the memory of pain for the first time in two thousand years. While the ghosts of old wounds still chase through the trees barely on the cusp of memory, none would dare to haunt them now. Not as they reclined in their saddles and held each other at arm's length as if to be sure that it wasn't all just a dream and to prove that the other was actually there. In that moment, both of them felt alive again; alive and whole, for the first time in two thousand years.
It was then that they discovered it was growing dark again.
"Let's spend the night," Methos said, his voice nearly pleading to be allowed. Kronos nodded his consent, not trusting his voice.
Once again they made camp. Once again Kronos tended to their horses while Methos cooked their food. Once again they ignored the anachronisms and allowed themselves to truly believe that they had never chanced upon Silas upon the road, and that the last three thousand years did not exist.
Once again, the world was only Methos and Kronos.
Once again they laid their bedrolls beside each other and went to sleep, back to back. They didn't stay that way for long, however. In his sleep, Kronos shifted. Perhaps it was because this night was colder or perhaps it was because he needed a more reassuring presence than just the feel of Methos's back, but he turned over on his side and snaked his arms around Methos's torso, as they used to do when they needed to avoid freezing to death in the snow. Methos stirred briefly but then relaxed into deeper sleep again. Kronos slept soundly too—soundly and warmly.
It was their warmest, most peaceful sleep in over two thousand years.
Methos was the one to wake first.
He shifted around in Kronos's embrace and turned to gaze at the fading stars overhead in the increasingly lightening sky. An incredible feeling of peace washed over him. Hurts of millennia that for so long hadn't been allowed to see the light of day were finally exorcised. Kronos had sought his forgiveness and Methos found his heart more than willing to give it; and in return Kronos was eager to forgive Methos's own crimes, which purged a guilt that the world's oldest immortal had carried for so long that he had forgotten what it was like to be without it.
Right now he was discovering what that was like.
Damn, but it felt good.
And Methos was content to enjoy this feeling for now, because he knew that it wouldn't last long. Actually, Methos has only until Kronos wakes up. Then the pain of guilt will return.
Methos knew that he had that long because as they passed together into restful oblivion he had made up his mind. The world was a good place; a place that doesn't deserve what Pestilence has planned for it. Death can't exist if there's no one left to die. Kronos has to be stopped.
And Methos knew that he had to stop him. No one else would be capable. Methos himself had only just gained that power now, as he and his brother, best friend, and soul mate wiped a two thousand year old slate clean.
And Methos knew that he would need MacLeod. MacLeod to defeat Kronos, because Methos knew that he didn't have it in him—he never would, no matter what Kronos's crimes against him were. Methos needed MacLeod to kill Kronos and save the world.
It has nothing to do with love.
Methos wasn't choosing MacLeod over Kronos. He was choosing life over Death. He was choosing—
It wasn't about MacLeod! The man would probably take his head right after defeating Kronos, and the world's oldest traitor would probably be in the mood to let him. And if not MacLeod, than no doubt Cassandra.
The world would end so that Methos could save the world.
MacLeod doesn't matter just as surely as Kronos doesn't matter. Love doesn't matter here! Only life. Only preservation. Only…