Disclaimer: I own neither the Highlander universe nor the Stargate universe. Smile if you recognize the minor extra crossover that I threw in for grins. But I don't own it either, alas.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed. This was a very fun story to write and I'm glad you all enjoyed it. I do, of course, have half a dozen ideas for sequels but if I ever write them it will not be for some time. There are too many other stories jostling for attention. I've been approached by another fanfic writer for permission to write her own sequel to this story, which I have granted. If she does write it, I'll link to it on my author's page.
A Square Peg in a Round Hole:
Junior Year of High School, Revised, A Clone's Tale
Mac looked up from his seat at the bar, half hopeful, half wary. He was keeping Joe company in the early hours of the morning after the bar had closed. It was a good time for someone to catch them both alone and there was an immortal with a familiar quickening approaching. It wasn't that he could recognize quickenings, per se, but he could tell if his own quickening had spent time growing accustomed to the foreign one. He hoped it was Methos.
More than a year had passed since he'd helped arranged Adam Pierson's funeral, been surprised to be named in the will, and hoped that wasn't Methos' way of saying "goodbye". It seemed like a reasonable time to get a drop-in visit. Instead of one old man, however, two immortals entered. Cassandra, looking unhappy, and an Asian man he didn't recognize.
"I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I do not want a fight."
"And I am Seijuro Hiko the eighth. I will not start a fight here and now."
Cassandra had waited impatiently for them to sort themselves out. Now that basic introductions had been made, she burst out, "I do not need to be patted on the head and told to leave greater politics to the men-folk! I do not need to be protected! I do not want it and I do not like it!"
Mac could feel his eyes widen at Cassandra's abrupt rant but if the centuries had taught him one thing about women, it was to not argue with them in that kind of mood. Clearly Joe needed a few more years to work on that lesson because he snorted in obvious disbelief. Mac snuck a peak at his friend out of the corner of his eye. Alternately, Joe may know but just not care. At least he was taking on protective camouflage: looking down, and cleaning glasses in the age-old barkeep tradition.
Cassandra cast a poisonous glare at the barman but, when she got no reaction, turned back to Mac. He struggled to keep his expression sympathetic. He didn't think he wholly succeeded.
Cassandra spoke again through gritted teeth, "I do not need to be told my place is in the home by That Man."
Apparently it was time to hear from Methos after all. Mac couldn't help brightening up at the promise of news, which didn't do anything to soothe Cassandra. Lord. He loved them both but neither of them were the easiest of people to get along with separately. Together they were impossible.
"So, what exactly has Methos done?"
Cassandra opened her mouth but Hiko interrupted, "In the interests of brevity, I imagine I had better explain." Cassandra glared but made no move to argue. "I met an Adam Matthews in Colorado Springs when he was allowing himself to be taken prisoner by a secret military organization based out of NORAD."
"What!" Joe and Mac spoke in unison. Joe put down his cleaning rag and Mac straightened to attention, ready to run to the rescue.
Hiko gave him a sympathetic look. "Indeed. But it gets complicated. In hopes of rescuing him, I did a bit of digging and discovered that the US military is in contact with extra-terrestrials who are not entirely friendly."
"What?" This time Joe interrupted alone, more dubious than anything else. Mac was less surprised by that part. When he had first accepted the idea that the stars were distant suns and that Earth was not the center of the universe, he had accepted the fact that there were likely alien societies out there, too. Hiko must have felt the same since he just shrugged.
"After an aborted rescue attempt, the Matthews, or Methos, suggested I contact Cassandra as a source of further information. Through a mixture of visions and a brief visit to the base with judicious use of her Voice, the lovely Cassandra discovered that Methos has recently departed Earth, taking with him an Air Force officer, leaving behind a newly immortal student, and with the stated intent of conquering the galaxy in order to keep Earth safe. I consider the matter resolved but Cassandra decided to come here and I didn't have anything better to do. So here we are."
Hiko fell silent.
Mac said, "huh."
There was a long pause.
Joe picked up his cleaning rag and continued to clean the already very clean bar.
Mac considered what he had been told. "Exactly how unfriendly are these aliens?"
"Sentient parasites with advanced technology calling themselves gods," Cassandra answered rather succinctly before expanding. "The closest set of aliens and the most immediately dangerous are apparently the Goa'uld: worm-like parasites who take over people's bodies. The Goa'uld have historically kidnapped populations of humans to keep as slave labor and as a source of hosts. They have also genetically engineered a subspecies of humans, called Jaffa, to act as living incubators for their larvae."
"Quite. Apparently there is a faction of the Goa'uld who have broken away and renamed themselves the Tok'ra. They consider themselves morally superior to the Goa'uld in that they tend not to take unwilling hosts."
"Does anyone go to them willingly?" Mac was faintly appalled at the idea. Then he waved off the question as extraneous. He was used to learning about dangerous enemies and wars and having to be briefed quickly and thoroughly, but this was a bit extreme even for him. "Sorry. The Goa'uld, the Jaffa, the Tok'ra. What else?"
"Well, then there's Methos," Cassandra added with heavy sarcasm.
"Who's going off to save the world?" Mac couldn't help sounding dubious. "No, I suppose I can see it, if he thinks the world is in real danger and no one else can do it instead. Is it really that bad?"
"Probably yes," Cassandra admitted rather reluctantly. "But he's not going to save the world, he's going out there to conquer it. He needs to be stopped."
"First, he's not exactly an easy person to stop even when he's actually on the same planet, and he's my friend so I want him to survive. More importantly, though, he said he's going to protect the Earth. He's got a real talent for surviving, it's what he's best at. And if he can use that talent on the Earth's behalf, al the better."
Cassandra looked at him like he was seven years old. And slow in the head. "Surviving is not his specialty. We're all good at surviving. If we weren't, we wouldn't be alive. Think about it, though, what is he better than anyone else at? What is the one thing that Methos has managed to do successfully that hundreds of other immortals have tried and failed at?"
What was it with these ancient immortals? Mac reminded himself that he was a suave, sophisticated man. But whenever he was with them he felt like the barest greenhorn, a bit slow, and whiny to boot. He sighed and seriously considered shrugging and making her just tell him what she was talking about. It took serious effort to suppress the urge. Instead he leaned back and considered what he knew about Methos and what he knew about Cassandra.
When he finally spoke, he did so slowly. "I've run across other groups of immortals, mostly pairs like Carter Wellan and Haresh Clay or the Valicourts: couples who have been together for centuries through their love of each other. But there have also been hunting groups. Packs of immortals who didn't necessarily even like each other but they still protected each other. None of them lasted more than ten years, most less than one year, before the Game broke them up."
Cassandra was nodding and, Mac could see out of the corner of his eye, so was Joe. Hiko was watching it all with serene eyes that didn't give any thoughts away.
"But Methos took a group of natural enemies and kept them together for a thousand years. Even when they finally broke up, none of them killed each other. None of them raised a blade to another until Methos himself three thousand years later."
It was really only as he was speaking the words that the full impact of what Methos had done hit him. And what he had demanded of his friend. Cassandra could obviously see it on his face because her mouth twisted to something between a smirk and a grimace. "Your friend, your little Judas."
A glass was put down with more force than necessary on the bar. Mac probably would have been just as mad if he couldn't see the pain so evident on her face. He wondered what betrayals she was thinking of. Then decided to let it go.
"His best skill is turning enemies into allies." It was a statement rather than a question but he waited until she gave him a confirming nod.
"Why do you think he needs to be stopped then? He's turning our enemies into our allies."
"Weren't you listening when we told you about the Goa'uld? They have a completely fractured society out there and they've still nearly conquered us half a dozen times. The Jaffa are treated like replaceable servants, the humans are slaves, and the Goa'uld themselves are autocratic gods. There are dozens of weaknesses in that society and if he were going out to destroy them, it would be one thing. But he's going out to lead them. By the time Methos is through with them, I have no doubt the Jaffa will be treated as half-craftsman and half-parents to the Goa'uld they carry, the Goa'uld will be protectors, and the human hosts will be carefully selected advisors. Methos is going to make them all love him."
"You seem to have a great deal of respect for a man you loathe," Hiko pointed out.
Cassandra pointedly ignored him.
"All it would take is the right kind of training institute for advisors and a good matchmaking services before all of Methos' followers are twice as smart as anyone else and both the Goa'uld and the Tok'ra are looking to him for leadership. And," Cassandra continued grimly, "if I can think of this, Methos surely has had a dozen more plans as well."
"I can see all of this being possible, I can even see why it's a bad thing to give an enemy people a smart charismatic leader who will smooth over some of their internal social problems, but," Mac raised a hand to stop Cassandra from interrupting, "Methos is not making them a stronger enemy. He's making them a stronger ally."
"No. He's. Not." Cassandra snarled. "They'll be our protectors while everyone on Earth sits cozily at home not paying any attention to the universe beyond our atmosphere. I didn't go through the women's rights movement just to be trapped in the same box, one size bigger."
"That's not," Mac began but sort of trailed off. He didn't think that's what Methos was doing, but he wasn't sure how to argue it.
"Or maybe you'd prefer to think of it like a reservation. Have you been to an Indian reservation lately? That's what Earth will become: a stagnant living monument to what we once were but are no longer. And all because of Methos."
"Actually," Hiko interrupted and reminded Mac that he and Cassandra were under observation from both Hiko and Joe, " the government is the one barring access. Methos slipped past and even took an American soldier with him."
"Yeah." Mac was grateful for the support. "Methos would probably welcome more with open arms."
"Hah!" Cassandra clearly didn't believe it for a second.
Hiko looked quizzical and even Joe looked somewhat dubious. He wished Joe would speak up rather than quite so obviously relegating himself to the audience position. The mortal understood Methos in a way Mac simply didn't. Sometimes he thought the mortal understood Methos in a way that he never could. Deciding to force the issue, Mac turned and asked, "Joe?"
Joe placed his hands carefully at on the bar. "I remember a conversation I had with the old man. I was trying to get him to tell me any secrets he knew about the Game. He said that Oscar Wilde had it right: "As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular." It didn't occur to me for days to wonder if he had a plan to stop war. When I asked, he just laughed at me in that way he had and said he was just a guy. But I've wondered."
Hiko smirked. "According to reports, Methos is claiming to be anything but 'just a guy'."
"He's told everyone at the base that he's a god." Cassandra sounded disgusted. "The new immortal even thinks it's true."
"Garvin didn't say that exactly," Hiko objected. "He just thought there was no convincing argument against it."
"We told him that Methos is merely another immortal like we both are and like he himself is."
"And yet Methos is a myth to most Immortals, even so, more than half again as old as the next oldest Immortal. Plus, 'immortal' is merely a description, and a poor one at that. It's not like there have been any good scientific studies on what exactly an Immortal is."
"And Cassandra," Mac couldn't resist stirring up trouble in order to add some lighthearted teasing to what was becoming an increasingly troubled subject, "you have to admit that Methos doesn't exactly act like any other Immortal."
Cassandra looked superior in a way that made Mac dread her response. "Anyway, we were going to kidnap that one and bring him with, but the military police would undoubtedly track us down and we wanted to avoid that for now. So you'll have to go to him: he's your student now."
"Wait, what?" Mac yelped.
"Jorge is your new student. I'm certainly not going to teach Methos' dregs. Hiko here has refused, and the child needs a teacher."
Hiko looked amused at the appealing look Mac cast in his direction. "He's not a child. He's a professional soldier who has already been trained in rudimentary swordplay, told not to fight on holy ground, and knows to avoid people attacking him. Plus, he works on a military base and I'll not teach anyone who places himself under another's command."
"He needs someone to teach him what being an immortal means because No One," Cassandra stressed the words and clearly meant 'Methos', "told him of the Game. And he can't go on thinking Methos is some sort of god."
Mac looked at Cassandra's angry face, Hiko's amused one, and Joe's watchful one and wished for a moment that he didn't know any of this. From the sounds of it, Methos was actually trying to do something good, something great. Helping a troubled foreign culture find peace and cohesion was exactly what Mac himself tried to do whenever he traveled. Methos had become in a few years one of Mac's closest friends. And some of that friendship was based on ideals, as much as Methos would have denied it. The old man tried so hard to be completely apart from the world, but when he thought it was necessary, he would do anything to protect his friends.
He looked down at the table and considered the wood grain. Cassandra clearly didn't know him as well as she thought she did. Methos' voice seemed to echo in his head from years back with new meaning, "We were brothers. In arms and blood and everything except birth and if I judged him worthy to die then I judged myself the same way."
And yet, a parasitic alien race? Declaring himself a god in order to redirect an entire species? Leaving behind a new immortal student?
Although, really, if anything, that abandoned student seemed like a message in itself. He wondered if this Jorge Garvin would be amused to horrified to be so similar to a matchbook casually tossed in a corner, left behind as a message to bring Mac closer.
Mac smiled faintly. Methos had admirable goals but sometimes he was a bit too ruthless. He had to know more. And he really, really hoped he wasn't forced to challenge his friend.
"Look I'll see what I can do about the student. I can move to be nearby and I still have a few connections in both the US military and government. I'll see what I can do." He hoped that was suitably ambiguous about what his plans were. Thoughts still caught up with who he would have to contact and what he could say to them, he gave Cassandra his apartment key so that she could stay there, he got Hiko's contact information as a Japanese official and promised to send his own as soon as he was settled into the next MacLeod identity, and finally managed to usher the two of them out of the bar.
Joe had finally stopped cleaning the bar when they were gone and Mac just looked at him for a moment. "Am I going to have to challenge him?"
"If I go up against him, I lose." The memory of Methos' voice spoke his own thoughts. There was no way to win a challenge against a friend. And, if Cassandra was right, Methos would also be the beloved leader of an alien species. There was no way Mac would challenge him, even if he could.
Joe knew him as only a Watcher could and knew Methos better. He spoke dryly, "Somehow I don't think that's part of Methos' plan. Anyway, eventually there's going to need to be an ambassador to Methos' new empire. You've done that before, Ambassador MacLeod."
"You think we're going to have to play this Methos' way, don't you?"
"And you don't? He's leading this dance and it sure looks like an interesting one. So, do I need to start looking for real estate in Colorado?"
Mac relaxed seeing at Joe's faith in the old man. Everything was going to work out all right.
"After all of his talk of Bora Bora, we're moving to ski country for him. Contrary old man."
"And for all his talk of lying low, he sure manages to keep life interesting." They grinned at each other. "We've got some busy times ahead of us."