Methos by Firelight
Duncan picked up his bag and rolled his shoulders. The spaceport was crowded--much more crowded than he remembered. He'd last been through Aurora about seven years ago, and traffic had been light then; the walls distant and eggshell-pale. Now everything was cramped and dingy, and he wondered how long it would be before Aurora was replaced with something shiny and modern.
Some days, he felt like he would like to be replaced with something shiny and modern.
He walked slowly through the mass of humanity that streamed over the walkways and filled the transports. As he reached the food vendors, he felt a Quickening ringing in his skull.
He knew that Quickening. It was deep and strong, laced with laughter and voices: Methos. He looked around, trying to spot his friend through the crowd. It had been sixty years since he'd last seen or heard from him--he'd started to wonder if Methos had finally been killed. He'd heard rumors that Methos had gone to Mars, but he'd been unable to verify them; unsurprising, given the political unrest there.
He couldn't imagine Methos on Mars, but sixty years of not being able to find him on Earth or the Moon had made him wonder. The last time his friend had disappeared, it had only been for about ten years; that time, Methos had been hiding out Siberia. For no readily apparent reason--but then, Methos probably had a reason he wasn't talking about.
He jumped as a finger dug into his back. "Boo."
"Methos!" He turned around and Methos grinned at him, the bright smile creasing his face out of youth.
"Please. Valentine Michael Smith."
"So you *have* been on Mars. Bad joke, old friend," he said, embracing the other Immortal, who thumped him on the back affectionately.
"I suppose so--especially since only antiques like us understand it. No one reads the classics any more." Methos stepped back, still grinning. "Michael Roberts, actually. And, let me guess, you're still Duncan MacLeod."
"It's worked for almost a thousand years."
Methos shook his head. "Only you. Let's go get a drink." He wrapped a hand around Duncan's neck and tugged him towards what looked like a horribly seedy bar.
It was a horribly seedy bar. A horribly seedy bar with live music, real live waitstaff, and sixteen beers on tap. Duncan couldn't help but laugh. Trust Methos to know a bar with good beer.
Of course, Methos didn't order a beer. He ordered an eighteen-year-old scotch, older than Aurora station, and the server frowned and asked him for ID. Methos held out his credit chit and the server touched it to his tablet and frowned, but apparently accepted it as valid.
Duncan ordered a beer and slurped off the foam, earning himself an amused look from his friend. "So. What have you been doing with yourself, Methos? You look good."
Methos sighed and rested his elbows on the table. "Just a matter of keeping in shape for us, isn't it?" He tilted his head to one side. "I went to Mars to get away from the identity checks. Same reason I went many places many times. This time...well." He shrugged. "I got caught up in the Martian freedom movement. Methos the freedom fighter." He laughed. "I guess I headed out there, mmm, over fifty years ago. The seamier side of Martian society was a good place to hide out."
Duncan chuckled into his beer. "If you were hiding out, how did you get involved in a freedom movement? You of all people."
Methos smiled faintly. "I'm a sucker for a pretty face, Mac. My most recent wife talked me into it."
"You got married again?"
Methos shrugged and stared into his glass. "Yes."
Duncan knew that shrug; he'd seen it a lot over the years. "She's dead?" he asked.
"They all die, Mac. That's what happens." Methos took a sip of his scotch. "Yes. She's dead. Killed sixteen months ago in the riots. I was performing an assassination on the other side of the dome. Couldn't protect her."
Duncan closed his eyes. "An assassination." He held still for a moment, reminding himself of everything he knew about this man, his friend. He was surprised--surprised Methos could still surprise him, after all this time. Surprised that Methos would find work as an assassin, surprised he would admit it.
Methos' expression was gentle when Duncan finally opened his eyes. "I'm still a killer, Mac. That's never changed. All Immortals--all Immortals who survive--are murderers to the bone."
"You don't have to kill mortals."
"Actually, sometimes you do." He leaned forward, his eyes intent. "They're mortal, Mac, not innocent."
"So that's what you're doing now?"
"No." Methos sat back, his face suddenly sad. He rubbed a finger along his collarbone. "Do you know, the last time I raped someone was 1814?"
Duncan put down his beer and searched his friend's face. "What?"
"I was working for the British army. She was the wife of a French officer that they wanted to...shame, I suppose." He frowned. "It wasn't the first time I'd followed that kind of order. There have been--oh. Hundreds. Women. Children. Men. But she was the last." He turned his glass around on the table. "You ever rape anyone, MacLeod?"
Duncan swallowed hard. "A couple times. After Culloden."
Methos nodded. "In anger. On a whim, you might say. I've done that, too. Lost my taste for it over a thousand years ago." He exhaled shakily and shook his head. "Orders, though--that's a matter of practicality, isn't it? You follow orders." He tossed back the rest of his scotch and met Duncan's eyes. "The people I was working for--they wanted me to kill someone. That, I'll do. But they wanted her raped first. That, I won't. Not anymore." He bit his lip. "And so 'Sean Tailor' died in an explosion, and 'Michael Roberts' is going to Earth to become a medical doctor." He smiled. "So. What have *you* been up to?"
Duncan stared into his beer. "Teaching, mostly. Worked on the expansion of Luna City. Low-G farming for a while. Nothing like--God, Methos. I can't believe you."
"What can't you believe?"
Duncan sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "I just--I thought you were past the killing thing."
Methos looked thoughtful. "I think...killing's not something I do for pleasure anymore. I haven't for a long time. It's just something I'm good at. A skill among many. I try not to kill the wrong people, you know?" He pressed his credit chit to the order screen on the table and the server appeared with another scotch. "You've done that yourself."
"No, I suppose not." He swirled the liquid around in his glass. "But then, you're sort of an absolutist, Mac. You make decisions about good and evil and you stick to them. I'm more practical. If it keeps me alive, it's good. If it doesn't, it's bad." He put the glass down and folded his hands. "I've got only a few absolutes. I don't rape on command, and I don't kill anyone under the age of twelve."
"Twelve." Duncan knew he sounded sickened.
"Unless I absolutely, positively have to, no."
Duncan shook his head. "We've been friends five hundred years, and you always manage to surprise me. I don't think I'll ever understand you."
Methos reached out and took hold of his forearm, digging his fingers into the skin. Duncan stared down at Methos' white knuckles for a moment, feeling the sharp edge of fingernails, and raised his head to meet his friend's eyes. "I hope you never do, MacLeod," Methos said, his face intent and suddenly ancient. "I hope you pray to your God every night of your life to never understand me."
Duncan held those eyes, hoping to see in them the man he thought he knew, but it was a stranger who looked back at him. "Methos--"
"You're over nine hundred years old, Duncan. You've been a good man your entire life. Yes--you have done terrible things. We all have. We're murderers and worse, every man and woman of our kind who lives more than a hundred years. Not many of us can sustain a code of honor in the face of what we are." He tightened his grip, and Duncan winced in pain. "In order to understand me, you'd have to lose that. The only oath I've honored in a thousand years is the Hippocratic, and that only because it's impolitic not to. So pray, Duncan MacLeod. Pray long and hard that you never, *ever*, understand me."
Methos let go of his arm, and Duncan rubbed the bruise until it went away. "I worry about you," he said, fighting to keep his voice from cracking. "I worry that you've died, or gone mad. I worry that I'll never see you again." He reached out and took Methos' hand, turned it over to look at the sword calluses. "I don't want to worry about what the hell you're doing as well."
Methos nodded and closed his fingers around Duncan's hand. "For the next twenty years? I'll be on Earth, practicing medicine like a good little Immortal. Hopefully I'll save more lives than I've taken in the past few years. Balance the scales a little." He released Duncan's hand and stood up. "Don't worry about me. Bite on the bullet, old man, and don't let them think you're afraid."
Old man. Yes, he was that now: an old, old man. "Kipling. The Light that Failed."
Methos nodded. "The classics. Like us." He shoved his hands into his pockets. "Take care, Mac. Keep your head."
"You, too," Duncan said, and Methos smiled sweetly at him, looking for a moment all of eighteen. Then he walked away, his stride as graceful as ever. He imagined that Methos had walked with that same easy grace for almost six thousand years now: movement as practical as his morality.
If he himself lived another five thousand years, would he still walk the same way? Would he still be the same person, or would he he have become like his friend?
Duncan pushed aside his half-finished beer and picked up Methos' abandoned scotch. He downed it in a single swallow and tried to keep his hands from shaking.
He stared into the empty glass and he was older than the alcohol, older than he looked, but younger--so much younger--than the man who had just left. After a long moment, he closed his eyes and prayed.