|All characters herein belong to P/D, Rysher, and anyone but me. Nomoney
made of course, just for our meager enjoyment.
This story takes place two years after "Archangel" and,bore no resemblance in any way, shape, or form to anything TPTB planned for Highlander.
Excerpts of "The Gathering", "Line of Fire", "Homecoming","Through a Glass Darkly", "Archangel", "Avator", "Armaggedon","Haunted", "The Messenger" are credited to their writers.
Absolution by Peg Keeley
It had been inexorable.
Like the blackest moonless night after the brilliance of sunset.
Like the minutes passing as cold, calculating images into the past.
Like the vaporous, ethereal ghosts of memories that visit unannounced and uninvited, then, as the mind tries to touch them, vanish only to return again, but never the same.
It was inevitable.
As the sunrise must surely break.
As time drives each life relentlessly ahead to tomorrow.
As the memories fade.
Duncan MacLeod knew that there was no place to go to flee from himself. He had tried that. He had looked the devil in the eye and found himself. So, in the end, what was there to say? To do? What kind of answer was there to give?
He returned to the moors. The damp, cold, desolate wastelands that had accepted his pain when Deborah had died. They had welcomed him with his father disowned him. They whispered pity in his ear as the wind off the sea left a taste of salt on his tongue to accompany the tears.
"...after the accident." Dawson had stumbled, uncomfortably over the words. The look in his eyes had said all. Murder.
What do I call it? Not an accident...not deliberate..A mistake? Hardly.
Phases of light and dark, sun and rain, passed around him as he sat as immovable as the rocks around him. Time, go by without me. I will remain here, alone, until you or I cease to be.
It was raining. It had been raining for weeks. Rain is good for a blues man, but the acoustic guitar leaned against the stool where it had patiently awaited its life-giver for too long.
Joe Dawson pushed a whiskey towards the patron before him. The man had made no attempt to brush the droplets of water from his gray trench coat. "I came," the man uttered.
"Yeah," Joe poured himself a whiskey also. He felt uncomfortable in the presence of this living legend. The Immortal's eyes seemed to penetrate into his soul. "There wasn't anyone else."
"Not any more," the other agreed.
Joe searched the face for response -- sorrow, anger, pity -- but saw nothing.
"Did you call me to help Duncan or you?"
Joe felt a flash of embarrassed anger. "I don't know." He downed his own whiskey.
"Stop drinking so much."
Go to hell sprang to his mind, but he caught the words before they cleared his tongue. He turned away and opened the register drawer. From beneath, he pulled out an envelope of cash and placed it on the counter. "Took some doing. He may need that. The dojo's sold."
A hand slid out of the coat pocket, accepted the envelope and vanished back into a pocket. "Duncan always did run away from his painful memories." There was gentle amusement hidden in the words. "The trick is in not running too far."
Joe scanned the stoic features again, hoping for something to give a promise. "He spent a year in Tibet. I thought we had lost him. I didn't know what to think. He came back--did what he needed to do--his duty. But he never really came back. The fire was gone from him. I saw him struggle to accept and go on, but..." he lost the end of the sentence. "I don't want to lose him, too."
"Aha," the Immortal said softly with a lift of his eyebrow, "then this is also for you."
Joe floundered, attempting to stuff the anger inside, but it showed in his eyes. "What difference does that make? Duncan MacLeod is a good man. He's fighting the battle of his life--and it's with himself."
The fabric of the coat swished as the Immortal got up from the bar stool, turning his back on the Watcher and the untouched drink. Without another word, he started towards the door.
"Hey!" Joe shouted towards his back. "Maybe you'd like to know-- he's in the Highlands on the moors."
Connor MacLeod closed the door as he left.
(Highland Moors, Scotland)
Duncan saw her again. Tessa. Her golden tresses flowing over her shoulders, blue eyes dancing with love and laughter.
Did she see him? Did she know he was there. She was so close her perfume filled his senses. Her hands, the hands of an artist, the hands that had touched him in pleasure and sorrow; her fingers moved over the lichen-faced rock, feeling every facet of the rough surface.
He reached out, the wet, cold stone surface greeted his fingertips. She was gone. "Tessa? I need you." The sound of his own voice was alien to his ears. His words were blown away by the ever present off shore wind. There was nothing but the blackness of his soul. "If I had been there I could have saved you."
And Little Deer laughed. "I will give you many strong sons!" The music of her voice lingered. She lifted her deerskin clad arms towards the sea she had never seen in life. The light misty rain seemed not to touch the raven hair that furled behind her. She walked towards the edge of the palisade.
"Come back!" He pleaded, the vision pulling him to his feet. "Don't leave me! I should have stayed. I could have saved you!"
She was standing on the very brink of the cliff. He could not see her face, but knew she was smiling. She suddenly turned towards him and it was the face of Deborah. "It is you I love, not Robert!"
"Deborah, stay with me!"
The vision of the past stretched out a trembling hand and he staggered forward. He could feel his fingers brush over hers, the warmth of her soft skin.
Then he was quite suddenly alone as he collapsed on the edge of the high cliff. His hands dug into the soft humus, scraped against moss and rock, driving lichen and dirt beneath his nails that broke and bled. They would heal in moments. The black despair and guilt that had claimed his soul, the unrelenting torment of his mind, the ragged, gaping wounds of his spirit remained. There was no restoration. There was no hope.
Gwen Goddard glanced casually into the study where the warm fire burned. The hearth offered the only light to the room on this cloudy, late afternoon. Reflections flickered off the dark oak paneling and the paintings that covered the walls. They spoke of better times; flower dotted hillsides, sunny cottages, children at play. She had not painted in two years. Her life seemed to be in stasis. Her gaze lingered over the figure of her husband, Warren, who sat in the stuffed chair staring into the fire. He was unaware of her presence.
I should envy you, your past, your future when I will be gone. Instead I pity each day you must face and your struggle to get through it. She pondered the days Warren had not "gotten through." On six occasions he had tried to take his life which, being Immortal, was a difficult task. It had been kinder when he could not recall the death of Andy. She wished she had left him alone. But then she had not known about Immortals, about Warren's five hundred years. She just knew she loved him, she wanted to help. What did I do to you, my love? Duncan MacLeod had thrown open the doors on Warren's horrendous act and walked away leaving his tortured, broken friend behind. Warren begged for death, pleaded for MacLeod to end the pain. At first Gwen had been grateful that Duncan had spared Warren after their sword play. Warren had fled France, the murder of Andrew Donnelley and the law in pursuit. Lost in the pain and confusion of abandonment, Gwen had consulted the volumes of writings he had left behind and eventually learned the truth. She had determined to rescue her Immortal love. It had cost money, a lot of money, and the best lawyer in Europe. She'd saved his Immortal life again. And for what? He lived in the shadows of life, waiting for a death that never came. She had once taken solace that her Immortal husband would outlive her. She would never face the pain of loss. Now she knew there was greater pain. The pain of watching Warren's day by day agony from which there was no relief, no escape, no end.
The door chimes melodically announced a visitor and Gwen was drawn away from her thoughts to answer. She glanced through the stained cut glass of the door. She did not know this young, dark- haired stranger. He was not one who looked evil. Nor did he seem to have the compelling warmth of goodness. He wore a long coat.
She opened the door just a crack. "May I help you?"
"I am here to see Warren Cochrane. I need his help."
The breath caught in her throat. Only Immortals would know Warren's former name of Cochrane. Are you the one? Are you the Immortal come to end his torment, here to take his head, his quickening and free his soul? "Does Warren know you?" she asked to stall for time. I don't want him to die. If the moment is here, can I face this?
"No," the man answered. "But we have a common friend--Duncan MacLeod." He could tell that surprised the woman, but she took no pleasure at the name.
Gwen felt a flash of regret--she'd allowed Duncan to destroy Warren once. Was this nameless Immortal here to complete the job?
"Please," his voice took a more gentle tone. "Just let me talk to you. I know about Warren and Andrew Donnelley."
She remained half hidden by the door. "You come saying you know so much. You don't even give your name."
"Pierson. Adam Pierson. I am a friend of MacLeod's. Cochrane may be the only one who can help him."
Her face was still clouded in suspicion, but she opened the door just enough to allow him to enter. He followed her back to the parlor, but remained in the doorway of the room, arms crossed as she went to Warren's side.
"Warren," Gwen's voice was gentle, but hesitant, as she bent close to his ear. "There is a friend of Duncan MacLeod to see you."
Methos examined the moment critically. Surely Cochrane had sensed his arrival and knew he was there, yet had made no motion of acknowledgment. Warren simply raised his gaze wistfully to where his sword hung on the wall over the mantel of the fireplace. Methos wondered if Warren's hope was he would take his head. The Watchers' files had documented that Cochrane had attempted to take his own head several times. Sloppy and ill-timed events as if Cochrane's internal soul had objected to the plan. If killing one's student was horrific, taking one's own life thereby causing the quickening to be eternally lost had to be the ultimate Immortal sin. There were only two recorded Immortal suicides--both accomplished by goading another Immortal into committing the beheading. Cochrane had already tried that one. Maybe I would do him the greatest favor by just taking down that sword and... he did not finish the thought.
Gwen was still waiting for a response from Warren. He gave none.
Methos at last approached him. "Warren Cochrane?"
His eyes very slowly turned to look at Methos. "You know me by that name?"
"We have never met," Methos answered. "But we both know MacLeod."
"MacLeod?" he whispered...
(1995 Normandy) ...
The old inn was dark, occupied only by Warren, MacLeod, and ghosts of the past.
"What happened here?" Mac asked.
"I don't know," Warren murmured his response.
"You were here with Andrew, your student. You were here and Andrew died. What happened?" The tone of voice hardened, demanding.
"I don't know," Cochrane cried. "He was like a son...."
Mac had driven the facts home. "You killed him! You killed your own student!"
"I know, I know, I know what you're thinking! That only a monster could do such a thing. That me, Cochrane, is such a monster!" the tormented Cochrane screamed. "Well, if I'm a monster, then slay me! What thing on earth could be more evil than me?! Could anything be more deserving of death?! You should have left it alone, MacLeod. You should have let me forget!" He struck out with his sword in fury and pain.
Mac blocked the blow with the katana. "I don't want to fight you!"
"Why not!" Cochrane screamed back lunging towards his fellow warrior again and again as MacLeod countered each move.
"Don't do this!" Mac pleaded. He spun away from Warren into the shadows.
For one brief, awful moment, Cochrane thought he was alone. In fear he flung the flashlight beam of light from corner to corner of the old tavern. He ran into the next room to see Mac's light lying uselessly on the floor. He stepped forward, looking around. In that instant, Mac jumped from the shadow and sliced his sword blade deeply into Warren's abdomen.
In a groan, Warren stumbled to his knees. "End it, MacLeod. End it now."
"I won't take your life," Mac answered through tight lips.
"Please," he whispered, tears in his eyes. "I cannot live with this."
"You're going to have to..."
....."I have no friend MacLeod," Warren murmured without emotion.
"He needs your help," Methos insisted, beginning to wonder just what kind of help he had thought this Immortal schizophrenic could be. Had this been worth risking his anonymity?
He shook his head. "Not mine."
"MacLeod has killed his student," he whispered softly, aware Gwen was still standing with them.
Cochrane's eyes came to focus on Methos and really see him for the first time. "Should that matter to me?"
"Maybe not," Methos answered curtly. Suddenly he felt anger. Anger at Cochrane's apathy; anger at himself for attempting this stupid idea. "I just thought that---" he paused, "--it might be better than spending the next couple of hundred years sitting on your ass throwing the world's biggest pity party. I thought maybe you might find some kind of fulfillment--purpose for Andrew's death if it helped someone else." He stopped and took a deep breath. God, what an idiot I am.
Warren, without a word, shifted his gaze back to the fire.
Methos turned on his heel. "Maybe not." He more fled to the door than walked, was through it and half down the sidewalk and when he heard a voice call to him.
He looked back.
Cochrane stood framed in the doorway of his home, blinking at the bright daylight.
(Highland Moors, three weeks later)
Tessa was in his arms. Flesh touching flesh, her softness quivering from his caress. Then, the warning pounded, unexpectedly through his head. He had not felt it for a long time.
"I feel something," he murmured, distracted from her beauty.
Not understanding the depth of the words, she giggled playfully. "I hope so!"
"No, someone is here." He was already gently pushing her aside, and pulling on his pants in one motion.
"I didn't hear anything," Tessa whispered, caution in her tone.
"Neither did I," he murmured. The katana, always within reach, found its place in his hand. He started for the doorway.
Tessa had had little contact with Duncan's Immortal world, but knew about how Immortals sensed each other. "Duncan, be careful." It was more of a prayer than a plea.
The intruder was in the showroom; he could not only sense the Immortal, but hear him as well. Clumsy this one.
"On guard, you fool." The voice was young, the tenor of adolescence, the tone playful, as if the Immortal battle was a thing for amusement
The boy had turned towards him, sword held high, a look of total astonished fear as he beheld Duncan before him, katana ready.
"I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod and you are dead," he declared.
"Ah, dead?" Richie Ryan had uttered, in a gasp. "Woah." He dropped the sword. "Geeze. I ripped off a couple of bowls and a cup. I'm sorry, all right?" A tough scowl attempted to cover the panic of the tall man advancing on him with a gleaming sharp sword. "Here, take 'em. They're all in the bag." The demeanor was slipping as he became more animate. The words were coming faster, fright slipping through. "I'll pay for the window. It's over, okay?"
Duncan's raised sword never wavered. "It's over when I cut off your head." The words had been prophetic.
...Duncan awoke from the nightmare, screaming. He was numb from his vision of the past, but slowly became aware he had probably died from exposure again sometime recently. Not that it mattered. He knew another Immortal was there and had been for some time. The katana lay, wrapped in a suede cloth, tied with a leather strip on the orange lichen covered granite rock behind him. There were footsteps grinding across the stone as the other Immortal moved closer. A slight scraping sound was heard when the handle of the katana touched the ground as it was picked up.
The blade touched the back of MacLeod's neck. "Is this your answer to failure?"
At the voice, Mac did turn, in a combination of surprise and embarrassment. "How did you find me?"
Connor drew back the sword and slid the blade back into the suede. "Needs sharpening," he remarked. He sat down on the rocks beside his kinsman. "You need a bath."
"Then go away." It seemed peculiar to be talking to another person. How long have I been here?
"Did you come here to die?"
"I don't know."
"Heh." He gazed out across the moors to the sunlit sea. There were gulls dipping to the sea after fish and laughing to one another. "You found your purpose."
"Your purpose in life. That old hermit found his-- to pass his quickening on to you."
"So, is this your purpose? To sit here a wait for the next champion to arrive?"
Mac eyed Connor quietly. "I don't know. I just know I don't want this anymore."
He grinned. "No one asked you. There wasn't an option."
Duncan turned around on his butt so that he was sitting cross- legged facing his old teacher. "Did you know this was going to happen?"
"Did I know about the Ahriman thing? No. I knew something would happen. I didn't know when."
"You knew Richie would die?" he demanded.
Connor did not answer for a long time. "Do you remember when you and Tessa had the antique shop and Slan Quince came?"
"Of course I do," he snapped.
"What had happened just before Slan broke in?"
Mac hesitated, knowing that his mind had been replaying the moment over and over...
"It's over when I cut off your head...."
"Richie," he whispered.
Connor nodded. "Slan had wanted him. I had followed Quince and the boy for three days. It wasn't just chance I showed up at your home."
"Why did Quince want Richie?"
"They all wanted Richie."
"All of them. Felicia. Kiem Sun. Voshin. Reinhardt...even Gregor."
"Didn't you ever wonder why there were suddenly Immortals standing in line at your door once Ryan moved in with you?"
Duncan did not want to admit he had not. The time of the Gathering was a hand, that had been reason enough. Connor chuckled. "Just like you," he remarked, as if he'd read Duncan's mind. "Everything isn't always about you." He sighed. "You sensed there was something special about Ryan, didn't you?"
MacLeod was not sure of anything anymore. "I thought so, but he was so young."
Connor lifted an eyebrow. "Yeah." He sighed and stretched out his legs. He didn't much like sitting on this cold, damp rock. "Maybe that was my fault."
"If I'd done right, I'd have taken him with me. You and Tessa weren't equipped to handle this."
"You?" Mac blinked. "What do you mean?"
Connor shrugged. "The special ones need more adjusting. More instruction. I just didn't want to do it. Never much cared for the student scene. I really thought you'd at least keep him alive till he turned thirty or so. Then I was going to come back for him. The United States is a pretty safe place in the world."
Mac felt his pride bristle just a little. "All it takes in one punk with a gun."
"Yeah." Connor remained silent for a while. "So what happened?"
"What?" Duncan did not follow Conner's quick jump from subject to subject.
"Why did you take his head?" Connor clarified, no warmth to his tone.
Mac felt as though he'd just had his face pushed headlong into the rock. "I've come to terms with that, Connor."
"If you have, then you can discuss it."
"Ahriman used me to kill him."
"So it wasn't your fault?"
"I didn't say that."
"What did you say?"
Duncan looked away. "I can't explain it to you. A force of evil that is unleashed every thousand years...."
"What a crock."
Connor shook his head. "Evil isn't unleashed every thousand years. You don't see this world a beautiful place then--whammo-- every thousand years it all goes to hell. Things are pretty nasty all the time. Evil exists, Duncan, all around us, all the time."
"This was different."
"It took forms--shapes--there was Horton, and Kronos." Mac wasn't sure Connor would even know who these men were. "They were dead, coming back to life."
"You're telling me this evil brought the dead back to life?"
"Yes--no," Mac thought about Sophie. "I don't know. There was this woman--he made her kill herself. Then somehow she was still alive." He looked up at Connor, confusion and question on his face. "She saw herself dead. He kept her alive."
"Evil cannot give life, Duncan."
He glanced away. "I defeated him. He is gone."
"Hardly. Reality check, Duncan. You are not Jesus Christ. No one, not even an Immortal can defeat evil forever."
"But the evil was me, in me. I defeated it," his voice faltered now.
"You were the evil? Really? The good and the evil?"
Duncan just looked at him, past words, past feelings. Nothing mattered.
Connor gave a half smile. "So the world begins and ends with Duncan MacLeod."
The small package had been left on the bar counter. Joe picked it up carefully as he glanced around. The anniversary. Two years. Two years since that fateful night at the racetrack. Just the thought resurrected the emotion, the sorrow. He poured and downed a quick shot of whiskey to bolster his courage before further examining the package. Blinking back tears even now, he removed the brown wrapping paper. Inside was a carefully carved box no bigger than a baseball. Each side had been whittled, then fit together in perfect dovetail handiwork. There was a small brass knob on the top that opened the lid. Inside was a delicately carved bird, its wings poised for flight. He carefully placed the object on the shelf next to a similar one he had received last year on this date. Anniversaries are not always pleasant. He wiped away a tear and remembered when life seemed so friendly. The phone rang breaking his concentration.
"Dawson," he said into the receiver.
"You found it?" the voice at the other end asked.
"Yes. Were you here?"
There was a small chuckle.
"It's been two years." Dawson poured himself another drink as he spoke.
"What is two years where Immortals are concerned, Dawson?"
"Well, I'm not Immortal." Joe tried to calm himself. "Will I live to see this end?" He swallowed the alcohol that stung his throat, but burned in his stomach with a warmth he could not feel emotionally.
"I don't know." There was a soft click as the phone hung up.
(Moors five weeks later)
It had taken over a month out on the damp moors, but at last, Connor had gotten Duncan to agree to move off the hard rock. The weather was starting to cool, winter would be approaching soon. A mile from the small hamlet of a town was a field that lay untilled, fallow, ignored. In that field, in a small grove of trees was an equally abandoned goat shed.
Connor sighed as he pushed open the rusty hinged door. "Not much, Duncan, but it will be better than the open moors."
Duncan did not respond. He simply stood there gazing without emotion at the surroundings.
The hay was old and rancid, the floor covered with dirt and bugs. There were cobwebs festooned through the rafters. Connor laughed lightly as he picked up an old rake and attempted to clear some of the filth from the floor. "Better than where I grew up," he remarked hopefully. This would be closer to town. He would not have to leave Duncan quite so long to get what meager supplies they needed from time to time. His kinsman seemed totally unable to care for himself and would be easy prey for any Immortal who stumbled upon them. Connor tossed the two sleeping bags on top of the smelly hay. For now it would have to do. In some ways being out here was reminiscent of the old days; peaceful, remote. It offered a blessed change from New York City. Duncan sat down quietly in the dimming light and said no more.
At times he will talk for hours, ask questions, talk about things, then he goes back--to wherever it is he escapes. The last time it was a week before he spoke again. Connor pushed some stones into a small circle on the earthen floor and gathered some dry twigs and sticks. In a short time there was a small fire burning. Right now they needed it for light and cooking. Within a few weeks, it would be essential to keep them warm. A few weeks? How much longer can this go on?
He blinked and turned to Duncan. "Yes, I'm here."
"You knew Richie was special."
"He had a future he never lived to see," the older MacLeod said quietly. He shrugged. "There will be another to take his place sooner or later. The future is still the future."
Connor tossed a small branch onto the fire. As it landed, there was a sudden display of activity on the bark as a cluster of ants tried to flee from the inferno. "Did you ever notice that Richie was affected more by the Quickenings he took than most Immortals? Some--a few--are like that. They retain more of the traits of Quickenings. They sort of act like sponges, soaking up what is around them. If you squeeze it a little, it all comes back out. Darius was one, too."
Duncan remembered Alec Hill and how Richie had changed, taken up music and smoking, been attracted beyond reason to Jennifer. He slowly leaned forward with a twig and lay it across the branch creating a bridge for the ants to escape onto the dirt floor.
Connor gave a small smile. "Good sometimes needs a helping hand. The fate of the world never rests on the shoulders of one man. A hundred years ago I met this Immortal running around who claimed to be the legendary Methos."
"Methos?" Mac whispered, suddenly seeing the image of his friend.
"Well, no, he wasn't. I mean, Methos is just a legend. He just said he was. His real name was Anastophales. A former student of your friend Darius. " Connor picked up a can opener and cut the top of a can of baked beans. "He believed in peace and all. I heard his head was taken by Colbrath."
Mac nodded, but said nothing.
"Shortly after, Richie took Colbrath's quickening. With that he inherited the essence of Anastophales."
Mac nodded again. His mind recalled how Richie had left town in search of answers following Colbrath's quickening. Where had he gone? Mac had never asked. Now he wished he had.
"Since the death of Darius, Anastophales was the closest thing to the pure essence of goodness I've ever heard of, even if he was a bit eccentric. That quickening in someone like Ryan where it could be retained, focused," Connor commented, "well, it would have given forces of evil something to really worry about."
"If that's true, why don't I ever feel this? We all sense little bits of the Immortals we've taken from time to time. But I never feel him," Mac's sad admission was a whisper. He looked hard at Connor. "I never feel Richie. It's like he never was."...
Richie had patted Mac's shoulder in reassurance. "I'll always be there for you."
...Mac closed his eyes to hide the tears. He'd promised himself "No more tears" over a year ago and had run from the pain, the horror, the guilt. When noble deeds and normal life could not wash it away, he hoped to find a way to die. Now that looked unlikely as well. The pain was too great and Connor made it come back. Run. Do not think, just do not feel, there is nothing, I am nothing.....
Connor hid his disappointment as he watched the glaze slowly drop over Duncan's eyes again
(Normandy, four weeks later)
It had taken Methos quite a bit of time to determine where MacLeod had gone. He had cut the ties with the Watchers by simply vanishing. His Immortality had gradually erased the tattoo. He had not spoken to or seen Joe since Richie's death. Dawson had vehemently insisted on handling the funeral and burial of Ryan without the help of any Immortals. It had been a little irrational but then most mortals had not had as much experience burying their friends and enemies as Methos had. He'd granted Joe his request by staying away and somehow that decision had become permanent. Besides, dragging Cochrane around these last weeks had been the closest thing to habitating with the living dead that Methos could imagine. The man rarely spoke, never complained. If Methos gave him food, he ate; if a meal was skipped, he never seemed to notice. If MacLeod is anything like this basket-case, he probably had his head stolen by now Methos had thought more than once.
It was ironically enough, Amanda who gave him his lead. He had been touring Normandy with Cochrane, hoping to jog the guy's psyche. They'd entered a small coffee shop where Methos had propped Warren up in a corner table and ordered some sandwiches. The warning buzz brought a glimmer of light to Cochrane's eyes as Methos glanced quickly around looking for trouble.
"Adam!" Amanda had the prudence enough to call. "Haven't seen you in so long."
"Amanda," he replied, with a lot less enthusiasm.
She slid into the booth next to Warren. "Who's your silent friend?" she asked.
"Warren Cochrane," Methos replied.
She blinked. "The Warren Cochrane? MacLeod's friend who-"
"Ugh, yes," Methos interrupted. "I thought he and Mac might, you know, share their experiences."
She looked dubious. "Some kind of group therapy idea?"
"Something like that." He offered her a sandwich that she accepted. "You haven't heard from MacLeod, have you?"
She shook her head. "He's gone off to the Highland moors. Communing with nature or something. He always did do stuff like that."
Methos hid the look of pleasure. He never quite trusted Amanda, he wasn't sure why MacLeod had ever trusted her with the secret of Methos' identity. He would just as well not have her know all his intentions.
"You haven't seen Joe, then, have you?" she said, a note of concern about her.
"Well, he's still in Paris, running that Blues Bar...."She paused. "There's something not right about him."
"Is he sick?"
"No. I think he's got an alcohol problem."
'Joe? He's a bar tender. He's supposed to handle booze. And know how to treat it."
"I'm telling you, Adam," she emphasized the name, "I saw it from the time of--you know. He just keeps drinking more and more. Last time I saw him, he'd forgotten Richie was dead."
"He was drunk at the time. Said something about he wished that Richie would get his life together."
Methos sighed in regret. Joe had been his friend for many years-- longer than MacLeod. "I need to finish this, Amanda. Mortals, even Watchers, don't ever handle Immortal deaths well."
Amanda glanced at Cochrane. "And he's handling it so much better," her tone was sarcastic.
Methos licked his lips. For a guy trying to remain invisible, I keep winding up with a lot of responsibilities. "Look after Dawson. I will handle MacLeod. If I can get MacLeod through, that will be the greatest help for Dawson."
"Okay. You know, maybe there was something more to this separation of Watchers and Immortals," she remarked. "Doesn't look like being Mac's friendship did anything for Joe."
Or Ryan either Methos thought. Or me!
(Moors, six weeks later)
Connor shifted his backpack laden with canned foods and a six pack of beer as he climbed the rugged trail leading out of town. The town people mumbled amongst themselves about where he went and what he was doing out on the moors, but they willing accepted his money when he came in for provisions. Once the local constable questioned him and the officer was apparently satisfied with his response because he'd been let alone since.
As he got closer to the shed, he moved more quickly. He always worried about how Duncan had done in his absence even thought it was only a few hours. Entering the yard, he felt the reassuring sense of Immortal presence and knew all was well. He pushed through the doorway and greeted Duncan who sat in lotus position on a blanket--just has he had left him earlier. Something like owning a Gigi-pet he kidded himself. After greeting Duncan, who did not respond, he set about stoking the little fire pit. As he'd foreseen, the weather was much colder now. Each day he needed to make the fire a little bigger that required more fuel. He went outside to collect some more wood.
(One mile away)
Methos followed the trail up from the village. Warren followed behind him in his usual silence. According to the people there was a man in his thirties who was living up this way, but they knew little about him. He seemed to keep to himself and had referred to himself as MacLeod which, in the Scottish Highland was by no means an uncommon surname. Methos was convinced the long journey was nearing its end. As they walked, he wondered what would happen when Duncan and Warren met. Had Warren thought about this? He doubted the former Scot warrior thought about anything.
Methos' thoughts were interrupted by the sighting of a small shed up the hill. There was a small thread of smoke rising from the thatched roof that testified there was someone living there. As they cautiously approached, Methos felt the Immortal hum and, on instinct, drew his sword. In the same instant, he recognized there was more than one and his self preservation drive came to full alert. It was a relief to notice than Warren had also readied his sword. They slowly crept closer to the shed.
Connor, sensing the approach of two Immortals, dropped his armload of kindling, and slipped behind the old decaying haystack, his sword in hand. Two Immortals who had no doubt discovered they were here and were coming to take on the two of them. He had plotted this event through his mind countless times over the past months, knowing he might somehow have to protect them both. The best defense is a strong offense. He lunged forward with a broad sweep of his sword.
Methos met the strike with his weapon as the blades rang out in the cold evening air. They parried blows, each attempting to disarm the other without causing injury. Warren moved away from them and went inside the shed.
Connor, spotting Warren, stepped back from Methos and made a break for the door. He burst inside to behold Warren standing over Duncan who sat looking up without fear at Cochrane's sword raised high overhead.
"Stop!" Connor shouted.
Methos froze in the door behind Connor. "Cochrane!"
Warren turned to face them, tears streaming down his face. "The pain!" he wailed. "You can't know the pain."
Methos and Connor exchanged looks, somehow realizing that they were both on the same side.
"Put it down, Cochrane," Methos said quietly. "Not this way."
Warren and Duncan remained frozen, looking into each other's eyes. Warren is here to free me, to do what no one else can possibly understand. He knows. How could I have denied him this peace? Peace. A true friend. "Do it," Mac whispered.
Cochrane lifted the sword just a little.
"No don't! We need him!" Connor shouted. He lifted his sword placing the edge of the blade against Cochrane's neck. "Is this what you want? Is it your only answer?"
Cochrane's face was twisted in the torture of pain, guilt, and regret. "There is no end to the pain," he whimpered. "He suffers."
"You came to help him," Methos reminded.
"This is his only help," Cochrane glanced back at Duncan. "I am tormented by Andrew every hour of every day! He is inside my head! Taunting me! There is no peace! No rest!"
Connor tightened the grip on his hilt. "Put the sword down, Cochrane."
Warren gazed from Duncan to Connor, his agony slowly ebbing away to be replaced by a quiet ethereal smile. He spun the sword suddenly towards Connor, but the sweep never completed half of its arc before Warren's headless body tumbled to the floor.
Methos issued an oath just before the quickening struck Connor.
Joe gave a wide grin. "Amanda!" he greeted as she came through the door.
She smiled and made her way to the table he occupied. Every male customer's eye followed her. How are you, Joe?"
"Right as rain," he replied and motioned to his employee. "Another glass." When it came, he poured Amanda a drink from the gin bottle that sat before him.
She noticed the two small carved birds sitting on the table before Joe. "Nice work. You do these?"
He shook his head. "Gifts. They mark a year each."
She nodded, but did not understand. "They mean something?"
Joe smiled and rubbed a hand on one "One year. This is a dove. Birds of peace--did you know that they fight to the death?"
Amanda could smell the strong odor of alcohol on his breath. She felt sorry for him.
He picked up the bottle to pour himself another drink and she put her hand over his.
"Joe. I'm sorry. I know it's hard."
There was a smile of bravado on his face. "What's to be sorry about? It's what you all do, right?" He ran a finger down the smooth finish of the second bird. "A pigeon. A pigeon." He gave a sad half laugh.
Her brow furrowed in question. "Those dirty birds that crap all over the city?"
His smile, this time, was a sad one. "They always come home," he whispered. "A promise."
The ring of the phone stopped her question. Joe's employee carried over the cordless receiver. "For you, Sir." His eyes lingered a moment on Amanda, but she didn't look back.
"Yeah," he said into the phone.
"Hayes, Sir. I have a report."
Joe stiffened. This was the field agent he had assigned to Watch Connor and Duncan. "Go ahead."
"There's been a quickening, sir."
Joe was sitting bolt straight up now. Amanda knew this call was trouble. "A quickening? Whose?"
"Don't know, Sir. I couldn't get close enough. Two men came to the shed, it was too dark to see who they were, but at least one was an Immortal. After a fight that finished inside, there was a quickening. Do you want me to get closer?"
Joe's heart was racing. Of course, you idiot. But he said: "Just don't get detected. Connor MacLeod is one crafty dude."
"Understood, Sir." And Hayes was gone.
Upon the mention of Conner's name in the same sentence with a quickening, Amanda had leaned forward in alarm. "Dawson, what's going on?"
It was as though his entire being had suddenly come to attention. "There was a quickening where Connor and Duncan have been staying," he explained. "Field agent couldn't tell who it was."
Amanda's eyes widened. "Methos," she murmured.
"What!" Dawson snapped at her.
"Methos had Cochrane. He was looking for Duncan." She bit her lip. "I told them where to go," she added meekly.
The quickening had set fire to the dry thatch roof and Methos had scrambled around, unassisted, to put it out while Connor swooned on the dirt floor recovering from the powerful quickening of Warren Cochrane. By the time the fire was out, smoke had filled the small goat shed and there was a huge gaping hole in the roof. Today it would pose no serious problem. Soon it would permit in rain and snow.
Duncan knelt before his dead friend, his hands resting on Cochrane's headless body. "Warren," he whispered.
Methos was waving a wet blanket around trying to disperse the smoke. "He said he'd help me," he grumbled.
"Methos?" Duncan blinked, looking at him.
Connor looked up.
Methos gulped once. "Adam Pierson," he corrected quickly.
Connor glanced from Duncan to the Immortal firefighter, trying to determine in an instant what the hazard was here as he got to his knees. Obviously if the man had wanted his head, he'd already have it. He kept his sword in hand. "Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," he stated, eyes narrowing.
Methos took one step backward, realizing immediately, this was not a man with whom he wished to tangle. "Ah, same song, second verse?" he quipped to lighten the mood. "Tell him we are friends, MacLeod," he commented to Duncan. "Ah, Adam Pierson, and--" he glanced at Duncan again, "--we are friends--usually."
"Friends?" Connor remarked coldly. "Immortals aren't here to make friends." But his sword lowered just a little. "You never did understand that, Duncan." He shook his head. "Friends." He muttered again.
Duncan rose from Warren's body. "Nevertheless, Connor, we are friends."
Connor gazed back at his kinsman. Duncan sounded alert, cognizant, like his old self instead of the disembodied voice of living death he had been for the past five months.
Duncan looked back at Methos. "Why did you bring Cochrane here?"
Methos licked his lips. "At the time it seemed like a good idea. You kind of had something in common."
"No we don't," he declared. "Andrew died by Cochrane's fit of rage. Richie was a deception."
Connor hid his pleasure at the sudden change in Duncan's countenance. Could it be that the event of Cochrane's quickening had been enough to snap him back to reality? If so, the death had been for something after all. "Looks like we all need to talk. There's soup on the fire."
Methos cast a look of disdain at the small pot of boiling broth. During the foray of the quickening and the fire that followed, it had been half dumped. "I vote we eat out."
It was amazing that Duncan agreed to leave the shed without argument. The three men took the mile hike down to the village where they supped on ale and steak and kidney pie. It was the first real meal Duncan and Connor had eaten in months. Afterwards, they took a room where they shared one large king sized bed. Connor felt as though they'd been dropped into the lap of royalty. They put the shower to good use and then washed their filthy clothing. They wrapped up in towels as their garments were dripping over the towel rack.
"How long has it been?" Duncan asked quietly as he sat on a stuffed chair.
"Too long," Connor muttered. "You will need to get back in shape, Duncan. You're thin, weak, underfed. That is, if you have decided to live."
His look was sad, but he was in the real world. "There is never any going back, is there?"
Connor shook his head. "Life goes on Duncan."
Methos lay sprawled across the whole bed watching them. "We all have regrets, MacLeod. They are part of who we are, just like our loves."
He nodded. "But we have to want to live," he whispered...
Sophie's eyes were wide with terror, pleading: "Please, I want so much to live!"
..."Sophie," he murmured.
"What?" Methos asked.
"Connor, you said evil cannot create life."
He nodded. "It's canon, Duncan. Life is good. Evil cannot beget goodness. Check out Genesis chapter one if you'd like."
"Sophie was dead. Ahriman made her jump into the Seine River. She drowned--only she didn't. I rescued her. She was living, carrying on life, not just with me but with her brother. She seemed so normal. But she was dead. Her body was in the morgue--She saw her own body in the morgue. Ahriman promised to give her her life back if she would kill me, but she wouldn't." He scowled in recollection. "She gave up that chance for life by jumping back into the river to save her brother. Explain that, Connor."
Connor pressed his fingers together and stared at the carpet. He wasn't even sure he followed the entire thread of Duncan's statement, but he decided to try to give an answer. "She was alive, Duncan. You did save her. Evil can mimic death and life, but it cannot give or take them. Your demon of Ahriman created the body, not the living girl. She already was alive. She was alive until she jumped that second time. Why didn't one of you try to rescue her the second time?"
He blinked. "Because we knew she was dead."
"Because Ahriman said so? Duncan, your catechism was too long ago," Connor said with a small staccato chuckle. "John 8:44, the devil is the father of lies, remember?"
Mac sat silently in the chair, regretting he had not realized the trick and removed Sophie as far from Ahriman as he could. She was an expert on the Zoastrian--she'd not realized it either.
"Effective ruse," Methos commented. His eyes slowly widened. "He could have done this more than once."
Joe was in bed, but sleep did not come. Hayes had reported back to say three men had left the goat shed and that he'd dug the body back up. It was Warren Cochrane. That had been a relief. Duncan had left the shed; perhaps the end was in sight. With my luck the light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming the other way he smirked.
He tried again to get comfortable, but his mind would not grant the sleep his body craved. He wanted a drink Just one drink to help me sleep--that's not such a bad thing. I deserve it. He sighed. It would mean a major struggle to fit into his artificial legs. The wheel chair would be easier.
He wheeled out to the small wet bar in the living room and dropped two cubes into the glass, then added the scotch. He began to lift the glass to his lips.
"You don't really need that, Joe."
The glass shattered as it fell to the tiled floor. Joe spun the wheel chair. "Dear God." Not an oath, it was praise.
Richie Ryan crossed the room to stand before him. His clear blue eyes filled with tears as he leaned over and the two men gripped each other in a fierce bear hug.
"God, you look good," Joe finally said when words returned. "How have you been."
"Just fine, Joe," he replied quietly. "It might not be best for me but," he sighed, "--life isn't always about what's best for ourselves, is it?"
Joe managed a shake of his head, through his own tear-filled eyes. "No, I guess it isn't."
Richie fetched a paper towel and cleaned up the broken glass. Joe sat there pondering how a friend he had not seen in two and a half years--whom he thought he'd never see again--could be right here with him doing menial janitorial duties.
"I'm glad you came back," Joe commented, radiating joy. Richie put away the trash and sat on the couch across from him.
"It was time," he said quietly.
"Are you ready to face MacLeod?"
A frown crossed his face. "I may never be ready for that, Joe..."
(Paris Summer 1997)
Richie had just turned out the light for sleep. The light drizzle was still wetting the window outside. He had almost gone back to the barge. Almost. He knew Joe and Methos were there with Mac right now. That placed him in good hands. Even if they thought he was losing his marbles, they'd keep a good eye on him till morning. Richie hoped by then they could find a plan for dealing with this Ahriman thing. Maybe Darius church might reveal a clue. Churches and religion had never been high on his popularity list. But this time was different. Maybe it was the hope. Maybe he should dress and go there tonight.
"That wouldn't be a good idea at all."
He jumped awake, stiff with horror staring into the maniacal, grinning face of Horton, inches from him, nose to nose. "How did you get here?" he managed to utter.
"That isn't the real point now, is it?" he replied, placing a hand on Richie's panting chest.
It was cold. In spite of his panic, even through the T-shirt, Richie noticed how cold the hand was--like the touch of the dead.
Horton chuckled as the TV set suddenly switched on by itself, fizzing, channeless. Horton turned to gaze at the set and Richie's attention was caught as he suddenly saw himself walking towards Duncan's barge.
"What is this?" Rich gasped in confusion.
"Your life," Horton hissed.
"No, this isn't real--that's not real!"
"Are you so sure?" The eyes of the aberration gleamed with a red glow. "You were going to go to Darius' church. Maybe you did. Maybe you are on your way to tell MacLeod. You can save him-- maybe--if you hurry!"
On the screen, a car shrieked to a halt on the wet bricks before Richie and he saw Joe in the back, Horton with a gun to his head.
Still on the bed, Richie's mouth opened. "Joe!"
Horton laughed. "Poor, poor Joe!"
The Richie on the TV was chasing the car, hollering.
Richie bounded from the bed to the door, still clad only in his underwear. He pulled the door open, then froze. "No."
Horton laughed with glee. "Run! Run! Maybe you can catch them!"
He shut the door, a determined glare in his eye. "No."
"Why not?" Horton issued a new cackle. "It is so---you!"
"Because that's what you want!"
The sound of the phone ringing echoed over the TV, recapturing Richie's attention.
"Hello," rumbled Mac's deep baritone.
"Mac, it's me!" Richie saw himself yell excitedly into the receiver. "Look, I saw him. I saw Horton! He's got Joe!"
Mac glanced at Joe who, with Methos, stood before him. "That's not possible." But there was confusion in his tone.
"No. Look, I know what I saw! I think they headed into the old racetrack!"
"No, Rich!" Mac ordered. "Do nothing! Nothing! Get back here!"
"Sorry, Mac...." and the receiver fell.
Horton whispered into Richie's ear: "It is your fault, you know. So impetuous, rash." The breath felt like air out of the ice box. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. He will try to save you! So...."
"No, Mac!" Richie screamed, grabbing the TV set.
He threw the set to the floor where it shattered with an explosive blast.
"So...like....you!" Horton's eyes glowed red again.
The TV vanished and reappeared intact, still playing.
Horton threw his shoulders back and proclaimed. "You sent him!"
Richie's clenched fists pressed against his temples in horror. "This isn't real. You aren't real! Who are you? What are you?"
Horton laughed, vanished, then reappeared on other side of the room as Allison Landry. "I'm whatever--whomever--you wish me to be." She began to undress before him. "I can be the woman of your dreams."
Richie backed away, towards the door. Get out of here. Escape. But maybe I can find out more if I stay. Maybe I can help Mac defeat this thing! I have to find Mac! Run! Stay!
Allison burst into a hideous laugh, disappeared and reappeared between Richie and the door in the form of Ed Shank, his former foster father. The image held a belt in his right hand. "You want to defeat me, Richard?" The man laughed.
Richie spun away, stumbled over the bed in horror and bewilderment. "This is not real!"
He roared in laughter. The belt whistled as it cracked against Richie's outstretched left arm. "Is that real, boy? This isn't real. That isn't real. There is real." He pointed at the television.
Another image had appeared. Voices echoing, laughing, taunting and MacLeod, sword drawn, carefully circled in a perverted dance of death with the personifications of evil.
Richie recognized the personage of Horton, he didn't know Kronos. The third brought his heart to his mouth. "That's me!"
Shank moved closer and whispered into Richie's ear. "What's real, Richie? We all have our dark side, don't we? Wouldn't you like to even the score with MacLeod? He's tried to kill you twice."
"He couldn't help it," Richie fired back, "it was an accident!" But his eyes were glued to the macabre events unfolding on the screen. This isn't real. It can't be real. I am here.
"Are you here? Or there?" Shank whispered. "Which is the illusion?"
Richie blinked as Mac's katana swept outward. There was silence. Total, breath holding silence. The goading and laughter of the scene on the TV were gone. There was only the image of MacLeod, a confused, broken MacLeod, sword bloodied--staring.
Richie stared, too, in shocked horror as his own image collapsed to the side in slow motion and fell dead at the Highlander's feet. "It's not real," Richie's lips barely moved.
"Real, real," Shank murmured in sing-song fashion. "What is real? What is illusion? Is that real? Are you merely in disembodied soul reliving the past? You brought it on yourself, you little idiot. Always prideful. Always know better. You see--it got you killed. Murdered at the hand of Duncan MacLeod."
Richie had no answer. He was numb, powerless to do anything but watch the agony of Duncan as the man wept over his slain friend He could hear the sobbing of Joe Dawson. Duncan begged Methos to take his life or his sword or both for one without the other was still sure death.
"Mac," he managed to murmur, touching the hard screen.
Mac had pulled off the leather glove from the dead body and issuing a Lakota chant, fled into the dark.
"This is a trick," Rich announced with a sneer at the form before him.
Shank gave a cold leering grin. "So sure?"
Richie ran to the dresser for his gloves--only the right one was there. A scowl crossed his face.
"You see? What is real? What is not?"
In a blinding flash they were both standing in a cold blue-tiled room. Richie recognized it immediately as the morgue he had escaped from two years ago. The floor was cold under his bare feet- -he was still clad in a T-shirt and underwear. He glanced at Shank. "What is this; some perverted Christmas Carol story?"
Shank pointed to one cubicle. "That one." He made a motion and the door opened by itself. Shank walked over to the zippered bag. "Come. See."
Richie did not move from the spot. His heart was thundering in his ears.
"Afraid?" Shank cooed. "Of what? That I'm right?"
"You aren't right," Richie responded, in disgust.
"Prove it. Come and see." The zipper un-did itself.
Richie took a step closer and was face to face with his own dead image. The skin was blue, waxen-like, eyes closed. There was a bloody towel wrapped about the face, a trickle of congealed blood still on the mouth that was half open. Richie gasped.
Shank grabbed Richie's hand and pressed it against the cold face. "It is you, Richie. You are dead."
Richie screamed in shock.
"MacLeod killed you!" Shank chided in his ear.
"NO! You tricked him!"
"He killed you!"
"No, I'm here."
"You are dead. Dead. Dead. Murdered."
"You did it. You killed me!" He was past panic now. Past logic. Past thinking.
"MacLeod did it!" Shank grabbed him by the hair and brought their faces together. "I cannot kill. I can only create opportunity. He has to want to do it."
"NO!" Richie shrieked, hands over his face...
...Joe sighed. "He has suffered beyond belief, Richie."
"I kept my word," Joe added. "No one, Watcher or Immortal, knows you are alive."
"Thank you," he said with feeling. "I know it's not been easy for you either."
Joe tried to flash a smile. "Will you answer me a question--just for my own curiosity?"
He smiled the old playful smile Joe had known for so long. "I'll try."
"Where did you go?"
He laughed. "Is that all? Easy, really. I teamed up with a Christian rock group. Pretty convenient actually. Travel the world and take my Holy Ground with me."
"Even tried my hand at a little acoustic guitar."
Joe felt a sudden moment of pride. A father whose son goes into the family business must feel like this.
"Actually, I was better at drums. Anyway, I stay with the sound crew, nobody ever sees me, only met two Immortals in the last two years and never identified myself. No fights, I just slipped away."
"You haven't taken any heads?"
He grinned. "Dead men don't usually take heads. My last head was William Colbrath." He was quiet for a moment after that. "Those guys I've been with have helped me learn a lot about good and evil."
"Little Richie Ryan got himself religion?" Joe teased.
Richie gave a gentle smile. Joe felt uncomfortable. It was a smile that said Joe was the ignorant one. "The fake Methos wasn't so far off the mark really," Richie supplied. "There is a life other than by taking heads. We conquer evil by putting away the fear, not by denying it, hating it, or trying to love it."
"Wasn't there a message of forgiveness in there, too?" Joe asked.
It was now Richie's turn to express discomfort. "MacLeod tried to kill me three times, Joe. Some part of him wanted to kill me."
"He's an Immortal, Richie, trained for four hundred years on the absolute that Immortals are here to kill each other. Of course some part of him wanted to kill you. Just like some part of you could choose to kill him. But he wasn't free to choose not to."
(Scotland) Connor checked the three of them out of the small hotel while Methos dragged Duncan through a clothing shop in search of reasonable clothes. It sold exclusively golf outfits, that would have to do. They met in an hour and piled into Methos' rented car headed for the airport.
"What do I say to Joe?" Duncan asked quietly as they traveled.
"'Hello' might be a good place to start," Connor remarked. "We've got to know the truth."
Duncan stared out the window recalling his final confrontation with Ahriman...
"Without my anger and pride, you are nothing....."
...I learned too late to save my friends. Too late to save Landry, Allison, Richie, Sophie. And my anger, my pride? Where are they today? He scanned through his soul, and found an empty void. No love, no feeling but that of the emptiness.
Connor, watching Duncan, thought he could see his kinsman starting to slip away again. Not after all this. I'm sure not gonna give up a quickening to bring him back again. "Duncan."
He turned to him, his features clearing. "What?"
"What are you thinking about?"
"Why me?" he asked. "Why did it choose me?"
Connor shrugged. "Because you were Richie's teacher."
"An entire year later I confronted Ahriman again. Why then?"
Connor shrugged. "Maybe to finish what he started. To take pleasure in your torment."
"But there is no cycle of one thousand years?"
"The thousand years part was Landry's idea. Everything goes through fluxes, Duncan. Times for love, hate. Good, evil. It goes around, comes around again," Connor explained.
"Sort of like bell bottoms and mini-skirts," Methos offered from the front seat.
"It killed Landry," Mac commented, ignoring Methos' remark.
"No, it didn't," Methos spoke up again, "a heart attack did."
"No, that's what the autopsy said--he was strangled, we saw it," Mac said emphatically.
"Let me guess, here. Based on Conner's theory, he died of a heart attack. The evil made you and Richie see it as a murder because you were available to that," Methos explained. "That is, if you buy the theory that evil is the master of lies."
"Not a theory," Connor remarked. "A fact."
"It's all illusion," Duncan whispered. "Landry died by heart attack, Sophie wasn't really dead at first..."
Duncan's sword cut through the damp air, struck the neck, slicing through. The head fell, followed by the now lifeless form of Richie Ryan. The quickening, tinged blood red bubbled forth...
..."What about Richie?"
Methos glanced at Connor. "I saw his dead body, Mac," he said quietly. "He was dead. Joe saw it, too."
"An illusion," Mac whispered, and seemed to gain momentum as the words came. "Sophie was dead, but she wasn't. Damn, they even did an autopsy on her illusion. We just accepted it as truth. Connor, you said there is no truth in this evil. When we get to the airport, I'm calling Joe."
Joe was surprised at the voice on the other end of the phone. "MacLeod, it's sure good to hear your voice!" he said with heartfelt joy. "Where are you?"
"Edinburgh," he declared from the phone booth.
"You sound good."
He hesitated for a moment. "I'll be all right. I have to ask you something."
"Okay. Fire away."
"Is Richie alive?"
The silence crackled over the long distance line for too long. "What?" Joe whispered.
"You heard me, Joe. Is Richie alive?"
"Mac, we both know--"
"I know that if he was alive, you are the one person he would confide that in." Mac gripped the receiver so hard his knuckles were white.
Outside the booth, Connor accepted the order of fish and chips from Methos.
"You should not have let him call," Methos muttered. "Ryan is dead. We both know that."
"I just want to get him back to Paris. His relationship with Dawson is critical to his recovery. Even if Dawson is a Watcher."
Methos grumbled and took a bite of his food. "Doesn't it strike you as odd how we all go out on a limb over Duncan? I mean, it would have been easier to just take his head, wouldn't it?"
Connor glared at him. "He's my student. The question is why you went out on a limb. You had a lot more to lose--Methos."
Methos stared at him in silence. "I guess we all have our secrets to live with."
Duncan hung up the phone. "Dawson will meet us at the airport."
Methos and Connor stood there a moment, waiting. "Richie?" Methos asked timidly.
Mac's shoulders seemed to sag as his features fought to contain the emotion. "No."
The flight time offered plenty of opportunity for discussion. Duncan had gone to sleep almost before the plane had gone airborne. But sleep would not be an option for either Connor or Methos, neither liked flying.
Connor had taken the time to fill Methos in on some of what he had told Mac of Anastophales.
"So the old flake did have a name," Methos remarked with some satisfaction. "Wouldn't like to keep taking the flack for his mis-deeds forever."
Connor sighed. "You did not know Darius."
"No," Methos admitted, "just what Mac has told me. I knew of a great Roman warrior once--Darius before his change, but afterwards..." he shook his head.
"Near as I could learn, there is a constant battle between good and evil. God and Satan, if you choose. Every religion deals with the good and evil at battle. There are ultimate evil mortals like Hitler, and ultimate good ones, like Mother Theresa. Why not with us, too?" Connor offered.
Methos was quiet, meditating on his past. I could certainly fit the ultimate evil at one point. Ironic how under my name, Anastophales was an ultimate good. Wasn't one of MacLeod's devils my old brother Kronos? "If Anastophales was an ultimate good, he was certainly a gullible one. Expecting no one to ever desire his head."
Connor grinned. "Yeah. But he really was quite old. Ramirez told me of him once, that's how I made the connection when I met him. He had some kind of ability to look into the heart--know the emotion of the other Immortal. I guess by feeling that he knew who to avoid."
"Yeah, and by not being able to do that, a lot of other naive Immortals who followed him got killed," Methos added bluntly.
Connor gave a little laugh. "Nobody's perfect. He did, after all, mis-read Colbrath."
I always wondered if he knew who I was. I guess he did, Methos mused...
The fake Methos gave a look of mild contempt towards the real article as he rose from tending the garden. "Can anyone live for 5000 years and say they did nothing, risked nothing? Merely stayed alive? It would be pointless."
"Some would say that experience was worth saving," Methos replied.
"I am not one of them," he answered with conviction, then broke into a simple smile. "But we can talk about it."
...Well, here I am, risking it all; coming back to a life I swore to leave for a hundred years or so. For what? Duncan MacLeod. Joe Dawson. Richie Ryan. One is dead, two are in torment. One isn't even an Immortal. He cast a quick glance at Connor. This MacLeod is no average Immortal either. Maybe that's why I'm here. Duncan would have been there for me. Dammit, I've acquired a sense of loyalty.
Joe waited. He felt as if he had been waiting for two and a half years. My entire life has been on hold. Like something was destined to happen. But what? Is this something like what Mac has been feeling? Just waiting for something to happen. He watched as the airliner slowly pulled up to the jet way. The man down on the tarmac crossed his two beacons and the pilot cut the engines. An attendant maneuvered the ramp into position by the door of the plane. Well, it's almost over now--or at least we are opening a new phase.
Passengers were moving up into the waiting area. Most were searching the faces of those waiting for recognition. A grandmother was given hugs as she bent over her two towheaded grandchildren. A business man approached the man holding a sign with his last name on it. A young woman threw herself into the arms of her lover and they embraced and kissed unashamedly before the world.
Joe spotted Mac first. Taller than either of his companions, he was easy to spot. Their eyes met as though nothing else existed. Mac crossed the short distance to Joe in what seemed like a single step. He gripped the Watcher in a tight, crushing hug Joe could sense Mac's sorrow of absence and pain of living in its act. Joe had sworn he was going to be tough, but tears filled his eyes and streamed down his cheeks. And when they parted to look at each other, Mac's face was wet with the same.
"You need to put on a little weight," Joe remarked gruffly, in an attempt to recover.
"Guess I do," Duncan agreed.
Connor and Methos came forward now. "Hello, Joe," Methos offered his hand and Joe took it.
"Didn't expect to see you," Joe said.
"Well," he gave a little sigh, "what is life without any risk?"
Joe extended his hands towards Connor. "Thank you."
"Well, car's outside," Joe said with enthusiasm. It is so good to see Mac again--but now I must continue the lie. He had never really thought much about this part of the deal. As a Watcher, he was accustomed to living half-truths, but this was going to be the greatest challenge. When they reached the car, he walked to the driver's side and unlocked the door. There was a scrap of paper under the windshield wiper.
"A ticket?" Mac asked.
"Naw, some sort of ad," Joe grumbled, starting to crumple it to throw away. Then he stopped and gave it a quick glance.
"Darius' Church. I could not ask this much of you."
Joe's heart was in his mouth. Shaking with both fear and anticipation, he shoved the paper into his pocket and got into the car. "Mind taking the scenic route home?" he asked, trying to keep his voice from shaking.
"Scenic?" Connor asked.
"I don't think we're in any hurry," Methos said quietly. He was mildly intrigued by the sudden nervous shaking of Joe's hands.
They headed across Paris, not taking the most direct route to Joe's bar or towards the barge. The barge Mac wondered, who's been caring for it all this time? Joe, no doubt, hired someone to care for the exterior again--like last time. Where would I be without Joe? My mortal friend.Very quickly, Mac identified the route towards Darius' church. One more visit for old time's sake. Just like Joe. He always was sentimental at heart. This is where I faced Ahriman. This is where I defeated him. Only Connor says I didn't. I just turned him away for a while. Is the final gathering about Immortals or Ahriman? Or both. Will there be one ultimate good and one ultimate evil? If so, what happens when a good Immortal takes the quickening of an evil Immortal? Does it make the good one a little evil on the inside? Is that what Dark Quickening is all about? What of the reverse? Could it make an evil Immortal good? Didn't something like that happen to Darius?His thoughts were thankfully interrupted as Joe parked the car out front.
"We're here," Joe announced.
"But why?" Connor asked, skepticism in his tone.
"It's okay, Connor," Mac reassured him. "This is Darius' church. It's an important place to me." He got out and stood by as Joe fought his way to his feet. "Is Father Bowford here?"
Joe shook his head. "I don't know."
They started up the walk. Mac went first, then Joe, the other two lingering behind. Every step brought back memories to Duncan. His first encounter with Darius. The months he had spent here under his tutoring, learning there could be more to living than picking and choosing battles. There could be peace-- of a sort.
He recalled Tessa running to his arms on this walk. Her warm embrace. Richie and Darius beaming with pleasure from the doorway.
Mac opened the wooden door and looked upon the small sanctuary with its neat rows of wooden folding chairs, the crucifix positioned on the wall behind the altar. And he remembered finding Darius, and his scream of agony, pain, at his loss. He slowly looked around. It always seemed there was a little of Darius lingering in this room. He'd returned often to talk with him.
Like an electric charge, Mac felt the sudden tingle of an approaching Immortal. He gasped.
In the doorway, Connor and Methos both tensed.
Joe turned quickly, pushing them both back on the steps and slammed the thick wooden door, leaving Mac alone in the church.
Mac turned to the door. "Dawson!"
Connor was on Joe like a raging tiger. "Open that door, you damned Watcher!"
"It's okay!" Joe tried to assure him, blocking the door with his full weight. "Methos! It's okay! Tell him!"
There was a flash of indecision across Methos continence. "Joe?" He said quietly, knowing someone had to show calm. "Tell us what's happening."
Mac had walked down into the church, looking sharply around for the source of the buzz. "Whoever you are, show yourself."
Silence answered him.
"This is Holy Ground!" he shouted angrily. "You can't fight me here." He kept looking. The room was empty. He moved towards the small study that had been Darius'. Father Bowford had taken up residence there now. The room was also empty. The Immortal was still here. "Why are you hiding?!" Mac shouted. "Show yourself."
Mac thought he would faint. If the sound of the voice was not enough, the image of Richie stepping from behind the altar less than ten paces away from him overwhelmed him completely. He wanted to see Richie. This was Richie. Richie was dead. This was Ahriman come back to taunt him. Connor said Ahriman could not be destroyed. Mac's mouth was dry, his legs shaking uncontrollably. "You are dead," he managed to utter.
"I am here," Richie said quietly.
"Joe said..." Mac's voice trailed off.
"I asked him to not tell anyone."
Of the jumble of emotions raging through him of disbelief, joy, anger, confusion, it was betrayal that won. "Why?" he whispered, tears in his eyes.
Richie stepped down from the altar to the floor of the sanctuary. "I had to. You remember what you told me once? You said if you ever came after me again, I needed to do whatever I had to to defend myself. That lesson was finally learned."
"The pain you have put me through--I wanted to kill myself," Mac gasped, part of him still not believing what he was seeing. Is this some kind of trick? Is Joe tricking me, too?
"What you went through?!" Sudden anger flashed in Richie's eyes and color rose in his cheeks. "What we all went through. I saw you kill me, MacLeod. And it wasn't the only time! Three times you tried to kill me! Three times! Ahriman made me watch as you beheaded me! If that image had been me, you would have done it! And Joe! Two and a half years of suffering!"
Mac blinked at the accusations, mostly because he knew it was true. Jaw set he muttered. "How long has Joe known you were alive?"
"From the beginning..."
It had taken all Methos' strength to get Joe back to the car. Methos had then returned to the cataclysmic spot and gently collected the body and swords into a blanket from the trunk. Once it had all been deposited in the back, he got into the driver's seat.
"I'll take care of the details with the morgue using our usual Watcher contact," Methos offered.
Joe nodded numbly. "I'll make the rest of the arrangements in the morning."
Methos dropped Joe at his bar and drove away. Joe unlocked the door. The bar seemed odd, cheerless, unchanged from the horrendous events of the evening. Somehow it seemed it should have changed, looked different. Something. He noticed a glass ring on the counter and took a moment to wipe it off. Suddenly, the tears were flowing uncontrollably.
He gasped in shock to see Richie standing in the doorway. "Richie! I don't understand-" He was hurrying across the floor as fast as his plastic legs would permit. He grabbed Richie's arm to be certain he was really there.
"I know, Joe, I saw it, too. That bastard Ahriman made me watch it all."
"We've got to tell Mac!"
"No, Joe," Richie said quietly. "It's too much. I want to stay dead. The whole thing with Mac is over. He wants everything to run by his rules, and it won't. I've been the focus of his anger for the last time."
Joe stared at him, pain and confusion plain. "Okay. You go if you want to. I'll just tell him-"
"If he knows I'm alive, he'll look for me till he finds me."
"He'll get over it, Joe. I've watched him before. He'll maybe remember for awhile--have those little moments of recollection--but it'll pass. Less than two months after Tessa's death he was bedding Annie Develon. He cared about Tessa a whole lot more than he could ever care about me. Trust me, Joe, it will pass." Richie sighed. "I'll miss you, Joe, but I'll be a whole lot safer if Duncan MacLeod thinks I'm dead."
..."So he just put on a fake funeral, buried an empty coffin...." Mac whispered. "Just like Horton. He lied about Horton dying, too. Twice."
Richie sat on the step to the altar. "Mac, Joe only did what I asked him to. He is your friend, too. I never should have made him do that. It's been killing him."
Mac thought about that. The last two years had been hell on the Watcher. Richie gone, Mac a year in the Far East trying to put it all together. Then there had been another encounter with evil. Mac's eventual succumbing to the depression. Joe had been through it all. He sat down, too. "You're right," he admitted.
Richie gave a little grin, touched by sadness. "Damn, Mac, you can't imagine how long I waited to have you tell me I was right."
Duncan smiled at him. "I wish you had trusted me more."
"It's not that I trust you more, Mac. I did it for Joe."
"What do you mean?"
"It can't go back to the old days. My work is too important for that."
"Your work? What work?"
Richie gazed off through the far wall. "I'm not sure, but I'll know when I find it. Remember how I told you that I used to stay awake nights wondering what great thing I was supposed to accomplish because I was your student?"
He nodded. "I also remember you were down right pissed when you said it."
"Well, it's still out there. And someday I'll find it. You've been a good teacher, Mac. A great one, in fact. No one could have taught me more about what it means to be Immortal--both the living and the dying." He stopped for a moment. "I came to say good-bye."
"Good-bye? Where are you going?"
He rose. "I guess I'll know when I get there."
Mac jumped up and embraced Richie as if he would never let go. "You cannot imagine all the times I thought of you as not just my student, but as my son," he admitted, still in the embrace.
"Then I guess that fits," Richie answered. "You were my Dad."
Mac slowly, regretfully, released him as though he might vanish before his eyes. "Will I see you again, Rich?"
A small thoughtful frown crossed his face. "Maybe. But, if you don't mind, I'd like to remain dead to the rest of the world."
He nodded. "Sure."
Richie moved towards the rear door. "Good-bye, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."
"Bye, Richie." He stood there for a moment, gazing at the door Richie had closed behind him. In less than five minutes time it had been all over. The heavy burden of guilt was gone, leaving just a warning twinge behind--it could have been real. It could have really happened. MacLeod, wiser than he had been on entering the chapel, returned to the front door. He opened it to reveal the three men standing there, looking at him.
He saw the look of knowledge, of hope, on Joe's expression. He gave him a hug. "Thank you, Joe. Thanks for everything."
"Well?" Methos asked. "Who was in there? What happened?"
Mac gave a small smile. "You know those stories about Darius' ghost lingering in the sanctuary?"
Methos and Connor scowled in unison.
"There's a lot to that." Mac walked away from them down the path towards the car.
Joe smiled as the flock of pigeons that had been on the sidewalk scattered into the morning sky as Mac passed.