Author's Notes:

There are writers who plan long series. They have nicely detailed outlines, with every plot point decided well in advance. Then there are writers like me-- surprised by each word they put onto a page. <g> This story was a surprise to me, and the doors it opens in this series, well, they were quite unexpected.

Hope you enjoy!

Restoration Series #4

MEMORY RUT

by

D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 05-22-00)


As memory may be a paradise from which we cannot be driven, it may also be a hell from which we cannot escape.

John Lancaster Spalding, Aphorism and Reflections


Duncan MacLeod slung his bag into the backseat as the ragtop of his classic black Thunderbird folded into place. A sunny day in Seacouver. Seemed he got back just at the right time. Actually, Paris had been pretty good weather-wise during the week he'd spent there, but he just couldn't shake the feeling that he needed to return to Seacouver as soon as possible.

Probably just concern over the upcoming finals he had to plan. Methos swore he got more nervous over the things than his students. But there were a couple of seniors who needed to pass his course to graduate. If they failed, he failed-- as a teacher. Oh, yeah. The Old Man would laugh his head off if he told him that.

As a whole, his students were doing well, so he really had nothing to worry about. In fact, if he swung over to U of S and picked up the extra-credit reports a few of his students had begged for, he'd know for sure that all of them would pass. Shut up, Methos, he said to the chuckles he heard in his head. Shifting his bag to the trunk, he started the smooth engine and aimed the car toward campus.

"You back, MacLeod?"

He adjusted the folders in his arm, locked his office, and turned to face his colleague, Ed Robbins. "Yeah."

"How was it?"

"Not too bad. The damage was mostly on the outside of the barge. The vandals never made it inside."

"Sure it was just vandals?"

Duncan frowned, hearing something in Robbins' voice. "Who else would it be?"

Robbins shrugged. "How's Pierson?"

"Adam?"

"Yeah. He looked pretty bad when Andrews sent him home a couple of days ago."

The dean sent Adam home? "Why? And define 'bad'."

"As in the walking dead, MacLeod. Having the flu in the spring can be a real bitch."

"Adam?"

Robbins looked at MacLeod. "I take it this is the first you're hearing about it, huh? Well, don't tell Pierson I'm the one who ratted him out. The man has payback down to an art form."

MacLeod pushed through the door leading to the parking lot. "I won't let on, Robbins. I'll see you later."

"Hi, Dun--" Dr. Victoria Moon didn't even get a chance to complete her greeting as MacLeod literally ran down the steps. "A call from Joe?" she asked Rollins.

"I just told him about Pierson."

"He didn't know Adam was sick?"

Robbins shook his head. "It wasn't just that he didn't know, but that it was a shock. Makes me wonder if maybe Pierson has more than just the flu."

Victoria laughed. "Come on, Ed. Just because the two of them are Interpol doesn't mean that everything they're involved in is a conspiracy."

Robbins shrugged. "It doesn't?"

Victoria watched him walk away and shivered.

*****

"Joe? You heard from Methos?"

"And hello to you too, MacLeod," Joe's voice said dryly through the cell phone. "How was your trip?"

"Methos was sent home from the university because he was sick," Mac said as an explanation for his lack of manners.

"Guess he decided to take advantage of your absence and get himself a few vacation days," Joe said unconcerned. "Probably didn't want to put up with a lecture on work ethics from you."

"When was the last time you saw him?"

"Right before you left for Paris. I wasn't surprised he hadn't shown. You know he's been sorta reserved ever since the Talent Show."

"I know." Methos had scared himself with his brilliant performance, revealing things about himself that he wasn't comfortable with. "But it's more than that, Joe," Mac hedged.

"Isn't it always?" Joe questioned with a sigh. "He's been off his usual game since before Christmas. You wanna tell me what's going on?"

"He had to do some mental shifts to accommodate the Dark Quickening, and I'm betting taking in the five Quickenings from his run in with the Hunters caused another shift."

"What kind of shifts, Mac? Is the Old Man dangerous?"

"Only to himself, Joe." Methos had asked him not to tell Joe about the resurfacing of his mortal memories. The fleeting images had shaken him to the core. "I'm just afraid he might run off on us."

"If he does, I want you to Hunt him, then let me strangle him."

"You got it, Joe." Mac parked in front of an apartment building, and gave a sigh of relief as he walked inside. He was so attuned to Methos' Presence that he felt it immediately. "He's still in residence, Joe. I'll fill you in later."

He took the steps two at a time and knocked on the door. "Open up, Adam. I know you're in there." He heard a lock disengage, but the door remained closed. Cautiously he turned the knob and walked inside, his hand on his sword. "Methos?"

The pacing figure, dressed in sweats and a faded tee, never stopped its march up and down the length of the apartment. After a minute, Mac could make out what it was muttering.

"'Alone, Alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide, wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.'"

Mac refused to acknowledge the tingle in his spine the words caused. He'd never been particularly fond of the images Coleridge painted in his Rime of the Ancient Mariner. "You don't even like boats, Methos," he called, taking in the destruction of the room. The beer bottles were more or less expected, the liquor bottles were not.

"'I look'd upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I look'd upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

I look'd to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a pray had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.

I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky,
Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.'"

"Methos, stop." Mac grabbed the wiry arm when it passed and forced his friend to look at him. Robbins had been right; Methos looked like death warmed over. "My God! What's wrong with you, man?" This was more than just a hangover.

Methos blinked for a few seconds, looking surprised. "Sleep deprivation, I think. What are you doing here, Mac? I thought you were in Paris."

"You don't remember letting me in?" Damn. Was Methos opening the door for anyone who knocked?

Methos shrugged. "I must have known it was you and wanted to save my door from destruction. How was the fair city?"

"Fine. What's wrong with you? What's with the gloomy poetry recitation?"

Methos ran his fingers nervously through his short brown hair, causing it to stand up in unruly spikes. "Trying to stay awake."

"You're trying to-- Why, Methos? Why are you torturing yourself like this?"

The older Immortal laughed. "This is not torture, Mac. Sleeping is torture. Dreaming is torture. This, this is mere inconvenience."

Mac shook his head. Methos was paler than usual, leaner than usual, more unfocused than usual. He may call it inconvenience, but Duncan knew he was doing himself great harm. "Come, sit with me." He pulled Methos toward the sofa.

"If I sit, I'll sleep," Methos mumbled anxiously.

"I'll keep you awake." Methos sat. "What's this all about? Is it the ghosts again?" The night before Methos had taken the Dark Quickening he'd been swamped by the ghosts of his past. "Or are you remembering more from the Time Before?"

Methos drew his legs up beneath him and wrapped his arms around himself. "Both, neither. Nightmares, MacLeod. Terrible, terrible nightmares. I wake myself with my screams."

"Shit," Mac said sympathetically. "When did this start?" Silence. "Methos?"

"The night after the Talent Show."

"Three weeks ago? Why didn't you tell me?"

"They were just nightmares, you know? I figured they would eventually take their place in the rotation and I wouldn't have them again for another six months or so."

"The rotation?"

Methos gave a small smile. "I have so many nightmares that they've learned to take their turn. Polite buggers, they are."

"It's scary being you, isn't it?"

"You don't know the half of it," Methos agreed wearily.

"But these wouldn't go away?"

"No. They were getting so bad, I was considering talking to someone."

"Why didn't you?"

"You had to go see about the barge."

"You're more important." Duncan knew just how bad Methos was when his friend didn't give a smart reply to that. "Talk to me now."

A ragged breath. "Do you know that I hadn't had a new nightmare since Bordeaux?"

"It was a very intense time."

"You never really understood any of that, did you?"

Duncan got up and searched for food. "What parts do you think I don't understand?"

"Why I hadn't killed Kronos before."

"You said it was because you couldn't judge him without judging yourself."

"You know I can lie with the best of them, MacLeod."

Duncan couldn't find anything edible, or potable for that matter. He debated going out, but one look at Methos and he knew if he left, he wouldn't be allowed in again. Not just the apartment, but the Ancient's soul. With a sigh, he plopped back down on the sofa. "So, what's the truth, Methos?"

"The truth is that I loved him. I loved them all-- even that sick fuck, Caspian. That's another part I don't think you understood."

Mac picked up a pillow and worried the fringed edge. "You're right. I don't know how a man with your intelligence, your ability to see straight through to the heart of anyone, could allow himself to love such monsters."

Methos shifted to sit on the very edge of the sofa, his back perfectly straight. "Can you comprehend how old I am?"

"No." He could say the number. He could read books, see artifacts, but comprehension of life that long was truly beyond his ken.

Methos looked pleased at his honesty. "For two thousand years I was the loneliest man on earth. That's not an exaggeration, Mac. I had outlived everyone I loved, everyone I knew, everything that I knew. There were maybe a handful of Immortals in the area, but we weren't friends. We'd been taught we couldn't be friends. We avoided each other when we could, killed each other when we couldn't. There was nothing for me to hold onto, nothing to be my anchor. Everything was so fleeting, so short-lived. I didn't even have gods to cling to, MacLeod, for they ended up being as mutable as the sand dunes, changing as the winds so ordered.

"When I read in your Chronicles about the massacre of Little Deer's tribe, I wept. I had been there too many times not to sympathize, not to feel the emotion in the technical, dry report. Massacres, floods, famines, earthquakes, plagues.... So much death. Sudden, brutal, all-encompassing. And when it was over, there I remained, not only the sole surviving witness, but the one left to set things right-- to bury, cremate, entomb; to mourn, rage, avenge; to go on, love again, lose again. There came a point when I was five times your current age, carrying five times the weight on my shoulders, having suffered five times the heartbreak, that I decided I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't smile at a lover, tickle a child, hell, even pat an animal on its head. It just hurt too much to care."

"Methos." Mac tossed the pillow aside and reached out to touch the back of his friend's hand. Methos jerked away.

"If I'd had any sense at all, I would have found one of those elusive Immortals in the area, and figured out a way to lose my head. Instead, I became a hermit, albeit not a very successful one. I wandered out into the desert. I can't begin to recount the number of times I died while I searched for a water source, but when I found it, I set up camp, and convinced myself I had found contentment in my deliberate solitude. But as long as there have been deserts, there have been fools willing to cross them, and it seemed these fools invariably landed on my doorstep. I was a bit eccentric even then, so those who survived their journeys, thanks to my hospitality, spread rumors of my existence, and soon my camp became a regular 'pit stop' for those crossing the burning sands. I didn't mind; the knowledge they provided was invaluable, and they never stayed long enough for me to care about them. In my opinion, it was a win-win situation."

"But it wasn't enough, was it?" Methos raised an eyebrow at Mac's interruption. "You criticize, ridicule, and deliberately annoy, but it doesn't hide the joy you have in being with people, old friend. It shines forth when we're at Joe's, in the faculty lounge, in the classroom. You need people like others need food and water. You may hang back in the shadows, or distance yourself in some other fashion because it's really not the interaction you need, but their energy."

"Maybe I'm not the only one suffering from sleep deprivation," Methos said dryly.

"Denial doesn't make it any less true."

"You're ruining a good narrative."

Duncan chuckled. Even completely exhausted, Methos retained his wit. How had that ability impacted his long survival, Duncan wondered distractedly. "Forgive me."

"As always," Methos said with faux graciousness. "Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Playing hermit in the desert. Anyway, one night I heard a horse enter the camp. On its back was an injured man. I had some rudimentary healing skills, but he was beyond help. I made him comfortable while his body failed, listened to the story he wanted to tell before he died. Apparently, his tribe had been attacked by two demons. He knew they were demons because they awoke from death to slaughter the entire tribe. I was intrigued. Two demons? Two Immortals? Not killing each other? After I committed his ashes to the winds, I packed up my tent, took his horse, and went in search of these demons."

"Why?"

"Because the stranger's death had shown me that a century of solitude had not blunted my ability to feel. Because I was curious about two Immortals who were not consumed with killing each other. Because maybe...maybe there was a chance I could find someone I could care about for more than five minutes. Even if they turned out to be totally wrapped up in each other, there was a chance that they would kill me. Either way, the loneliness had to end, MacLeod."

"Who were they?"

"Kronos and Caspian. I followed the trail of bodies, and soon faced them. I had learned a lot about them from their raids. I knew one was a brutal killer, and the other killed but with more purpose. From their eyes I could tell which was which, and I made my appeal to the one with the scar, the one with purpose. I told him the flaws that I had seen in his attacks, the treasures he'd overlooked, etc. I was told later that if I had come before them with false flattery, my head would have been taken without so much as a word. But Kronos respected me for my boldness. There was a period of-- adjustment, then I was offered brotherhood. I took it."

"They were psychopaths, Methos."

"My psychopaths, MacLeod. A family who wouldn't keel over dead during the night, people I knew would still be there in a hundred years, two hundred.... I didn't have to pretend to age with them. I didn't have to hide my long past. I could-- I did-- love them with everything I was because I could, because I knew that they weren't going to leave me. They were mine for as long as I could protect them. Do you think I planned all those raids because they were fun? Because I truly enjoyed killing? I planned them in order to keep my family alive. And for a thousand years, I succeeded."

"And the slaughter didn't bother you? You weren't sickened by the knowledge that you were making others suffer your greatest pain? Men, women, children, Methos, all ending up being sole survivors like you had been."

"They were mortal; their pain would last only so long."

"Was there anything you couldn't rationalize away, you son of a bitch?" Duncan was surprised to find that he was more curious than angry. Apparently, he truly had accepted Methos' past.

"I was protecting my Clan, MacLeod. I couldn't change them, though I spent countless hours trying, so all I could do was protect them. Especially Silas."

"Tell me about Silas. Was he your student?"

"God, no! My student would have had a decent sword, not some unbalanced axe." Methos jerked to his feet. "Cold water. Want some cold water, Mac?"

"You have no water in your refrigerator, nor ice in your freezer."

"Damn." Methos started pacing in front of the window, the sinking sun a golden halo behind him. "I was out scouting for our next raid when I felt Presence. Cautiously curious, I traced the sensation to a pit outside a village. For some odd reason, I took offense at the thought of one of us being trapped like a wild beast. I felled a tree, pushed it into the pit, then backed away, my sword at the ready. This enormous man crawled out, an axe dangling from one large paw. I told him that we had no quarrel, and that he was free to go. I wasn't sure whether he was blinking because he was adjusting to the bright light of the sun, or because my words confused him, but then he turned to me and said softly, 'But I have no where to go.' We got him a horse, and I took him home with me. It took some convincing, but the others eventually agreed to accept him as a brother.

"But in truth, he was mine, MacLeod. I sheltered him from Caspian's cruelty when necessary, protected him from Kronos' sometimes explosive wrath. Silas might have been on the lower end of someone's intelligence scale, but he knew who he was and where he belonged. When he wanted something, he came to me and allowed me to intercede on his behalf. When Caspian or one of the slaves hurt his feelings, it was my comfort he sought. Many a night, he fell asleep at my feet as I told him stories I'd told for thousands of years."

"He was your child, even more than Richie was mine, because he wasn't your student," Duncan guessed.

"Yes. And just like any parent, I wanted to do right by him. Cassandra showed me that I could make other Immortal contact without losing my head , and at the same time I was realizing that organized armies would soon become a threat to the Four Horsemen. Individual men were easily scattered and defeated. Armies, trained armies, would fight to the end. We were all in terrible danger. Kronos believed we couldn't be defeated, and laughed at my warnings. I saw that the only way I could stop them was by leaving them. Kronos knew what he and Caspian had been without me-- just a couple of thugs. He wouldn't go back to that, I was sure, so I knew they would withdraw if I left. A thousand years of brotherhood, of love, of laughter, of living, and I had to give that up. Anything to protect my family, remember?"

"You took Silas and left?"

Methos shrugged. "Something like that. He was hurt of course, not understanding why I had broken up our family, but one thing you could say about Silas, was that he was loyal...and he trusted me implicitly. 'Oh, Brother,' he said as he stepped into that forest in what's now the Ukraine, 'this reminds me so much of home.' Then let's make it so, I told him. I purchased the land, and Silas made it into his own private zoo. After a while, I started needing people again, so I moved on. But I returned at least once a century to make sure he was okay. No matter how long it'd been since I last visited, he would throw his arms around me and say, 'Welcome home, Brother!' I brought him exotic animals when I could, told him about others I'd seen in my travels, and sometimes he fell asleep at my feet just like he used to. When he would look around and see that my bags were packed again, he would look at me and merely say, 'Come home when you need to, Brother.' I did, MacLeod. After that first run-in with Kalas, that's where I went."

Methos came back to the sofa, sprawling on his stomach with his bare feet in MacLeod's lap. "I was so relieved to find out that you still lived, that I never felt the impact of Caspian's death. That was a betrayal of what we had been to each other. With Kronos, it was much more personal; you killing him didn't hurt him nearly as badly as learning that I chose you over him. See, he knew what I meant when I said I go with the winner; the winner was whoever I chose it to be."

"So, you did manipulate the whole thing?"

"Of course, MacLeod. The outcome was too important to leave to fate."

"Was killing Silas part of your plan as well?"

"I accepted that his death was a probable outcome."

"By my hands, yes. But by yours?"

Methos took several deep breaths. "The fight in the submarine base is not the most prevalent image in my nightmares. Instead, what I see over and over again is Kronos and me riding into the glade. I'm lying to him about the last time I'd seen Silas, and then Silas runs out to greet me with his usual enthusiastic hug. He takes in Kronos and asks, 'We ride?' I reply, 'We ride,' and there is the moment I earn my thirty pieces of silver, MacLeod. It's in that instant that I kill my son. The actual cut was but window dressing."

Duncan could feel the shudders running through Methos's lean body. "Whether you were his brother or his father, he was going to kill you in Bordeaux," he reminded his friend gently.

"Possibly. But I think in the end, he would have pulled the killing blow."

That startled the Scot. "Then why didn't you?"

"Because while he may have had qualms about killing me, he would have beheaded you without so much as a bat of his eye."

Duncan froze. "You killed him to save me?" No answer. "Have you been back to the Ukraine?"

Methos nodded. "After I met with you at the church at the end. When his animals were injured, he sometimes caged them while he took care of them. I just wanted to make sure his friends were doing okay, and weren't dying waiting for him to release them. But I guess he knew he wouldn't be coming back for a while, or perhaps he knew he wouldn't return at all. I often thought that what Silas lacked in higher reasoning, he gained in a sense what was to be. His menagerie was flourishing, and still is. One day the animal remains in those woods are going to stump the hell out of a number of scientists."

"When? You said his menagerie is still flourishing. When did you go back?"

"After Ryan's death, while you fought Ahriman. Silas had been right; it was-- it is-- home to me, MacLeod."

Methos took several even breaths, and Duncan thought he'd fallen asleep, until the man spoke.

"Do you understand now, Duncan? Do you understand that as surely as you mourn your Richie and Tessa, Robert and Debra, Ian and Mary...I mourn my brothers, and I miss them. Even though we hadn't been together in two millennia, I miss knowing that they exist." His voice was a mere broken whisper.

"Aye, Methos. I understand."

"Good. Now give me a tissue before I ruin my sofa."

MacLeod got up, located a box of tissues, then plopped on the floor next to Methos' head and offered up the box. "Thank you," he said softly.

"For what?" Methos asked before loudly blowing his nose.

"For trusting me with this."

Methos gave a sad smile. "It would be foolish of me to trust you with my head, but not with my heart."

Duncan wondered if Methos would let him have the box back. "May I ask a question?"

"Certainly."

"These dreams from the Time Before. Why are you so convinced you were buried alive because of a transgression? Could it be that your burial was a symbolic act, like a servant being entombed with a pharaoh in Ancient Egypt?"

Methos shook his head. "It's in the corner, MacLeod."

"What is, Methos?"

Methos closed his eyes. "The evil. As I try to claw my way out, I feel it sitting in the corner, red eyes glowing in delight at my struggle. The darkness I brought to the grave, released upon my death, waiting to be reunited." His eyes opened and Mac saw the shadowed fear in their depths. "It waits to claim me as it did before. I can't let it, Duncan."

And that was when Duncan realized that it wasn't the past terrifying Methos, but the future. "It won't, my friend. Not tonight. Remember what you told me at the mall? You asked me to keep watch. Let me do so again."

"Strong."

"To have followed you from mortality to immortality, yes. But surely I can fend it off for one night, one night in which you regain your strength to defeat it permanently."

"Never that strong." Methos dropped his head onto his folded arms. His eyes closed, only to fly open again. "One night?"

"Rest, Methos. I have the watch."

"My shield."

"Always."

Methos slept.

*****

Duncan opened the door quickly before Methos could be awakened. He took the bags out of Joe's hands and signaled for the mortal to join him in the kitchen. "Thanks for picking this up for me," he said, as he began unpacking the grocery. "I sorta promised I wouldn't leave him alone."

"You sorta promised-- What the hell's going on, Mac?"

"It's complicated."

"What about the Old Man isn't? That Dark Quickening isn't coming back to bite us on the ass, is it?"

"No, Joe. You saw what happened to it."

"Yeah. And I also see him passed out on the sofa, looking more dead than alive, and you're telling me you can't leave him alone-- not even long enough to pick up a handful of stuff at the corner mart. Forgive me for being concerned."

"I'm not sure what's going's on," Duncan admitted. "At first, I thought it was just growing pains."

"That shifting crap you mentioned earlier."

Duncan nodded. "But now....

"But now?" Joe prompted when Duncan let his silence go on too long.

"I think when I asked Methos if he knew anything about demons, he lied to me."

Joe had also had doubts about that. For the old man to dismiss Duncan's fears so quickly.... "Why did he do that? He knew how desperate you were."

"Because he wasn't lying to me; he was lying to himself."

Joe shook his head. "I don't know about that, Mac. He's usually pretty honest to himself, sometimes even brutally so."

"Maybe he wasn't even consciously aware he was lying, Joe. Don't you think it was uncharacteristic of him to just say he'd never seen a demon? Without saying he'd check his journals, without offering to break into the Watcher files to see if there had been a mention of a millennial demon?"

"He was out the Watchers by then, Mac. He couldn't--" Joe stopped. "Sorry. I forgot who we were talking about. But you're right; he should have been jolted into research mode. His actions during that time have always been a mystery to me." Joe pulled out a chair and sat down, gesturing for Mac to do the same. "The old geezer had stayed at your side when any sane Immortal would have headed for the hills. He watched you take Sean Burns' head, for Chrissake, and still hunted you down and dragged your ass to the grotto. So, watching you...with Richie shouldn't have spooked him. Yet, he just cut and run right after getting me through the funeral. I've never understood that, maybe I've never forgiven him for it either. You both left me in a pretty rough place."

"I'm sorry, Joe. I'm sorry I disappeared for a year, but Ahriman was slowly destroying me. I had to get away, pull myself back together. My being around would have done you more harm than good."

"I know, MacLeod, and I can accept that. Especially when I had my own experiences with Ahriman. If you'd stayed and confronted him, he would have won. But that doesn't excuse Methos. That doesn't explain why he left. At first I thought he'd gone after you. Then when you returned alone.... And now you're telling me that he knew about demons all along? What the hell was the man thinking?"

"He was doing what he knew to do, Joe."

"What? Run?"

"No, he gave me the answer today; he was protecting his family."

"By leaving us?"

"I was the Champion; Ahriman was my fight."

Joe snorted. "When has Methos ever given a shit about whose fight it is? He's run from fights of his own, and stayed to do battle with your enemies. No way, Mac. You gotta do better than that."

"I can do better, Joe. According to the prophecy, I was born to defeat a specific demon. One who came in swirling red mists; not one who sat in the dark with glowing red eyes."

Joe shivered. "What the hell are you talking about, MacLeod?"

"Methos' demon waited in the shadows. If he and Ahriman had joined forces...."

"Shit. Are you saying that Methos has some demon he's going to have to fight, too?"

"He's been fighting him, Joe, for over five thousand years. I believe that's why our friend has gotten so adept at hiding."

"And that's why you're afraid he's going to run."

Duncan shook his head. "I was wrong about that. This, whatever this is, has been getting closer and closer for the past three weeks-- maybe even since the Dark Quickening. If he was going to run, he would have done so by now. I think Methos is tired of running, and now he's strong enough that he doesn't have to."

"A showdown at high noon?" Mac shrugged. "And we just happen to have front row seats. How the hell did I end up with both of you? The Society has been watching you sons of bitches forever, and I end up with the two who just happen to be demon-bait. This is my punishment for violating my oath, right? Instead of being cleanly executed, I've been condemned to slow madness courtesy of the two most infamous Immortals. God loves a good joke, doesn't he?" Joe grabbed one of the bottles of beer Mac hadn't put in the fridge yet.

"He needs us, Joe."

"Does he know that?" His fingers picked at the bottle's label-- Pierson's Old Tyme Ale. It was rapidly becoming a local favorite. "So, what's this demon's game? I haven't noticed any escalating violence, no signs of imminent world destruction."

"I think it just wants Methos. It had him once and lost him."

"So it's pissed?"

"Or Methos is the only one who can satisfy its hunger."

"It craves something in his soul?"

"I don't know, Joe. All I can do is speculate. What I do know is that Methos is a brilliant man, far more intelligent than Kronos."

"And?"

"And Kronos designed a weapon that could have destroyed most of France. What do you think Methos could design?"

Joe gripped the bottle. "Shit."

Duncan just nodded. "I need another favor, Joe."

"Why stop at just one more, Mac?" Joe asked dryly.

"We use you terribly, don't we?" Duncan asked sympathetically.

"I thought you were bad, but the old man is starting to match you." Joe ran a hand through his shock of graying hair. "You know, I signed on to be your Watcher. How the hell did I end up with him, too?"

"That's simple; he chose you."

"I seem to recall it was you who told me his true identity."

"Exactly as he knew I would. Methos knew he would need allies, and he handpicked each one of us."

"Manipulative bastard."

"Sometimes an outcome is too important to leave to fate."

Joe stared at Duncan. "That sounds like something he would say."

Duncan inclined his head. "I quote the master."

"What's the favor, Mac?"

"Stay with him while I go down to my car for a few things." Joe nodded and followed Duncan to the living room. "If he looks like he's growing agitated, just touch him and tell him he's safe." Duncan had successfully used the technique twice.

"What's wrong with him anyway?"

"According to him, it's sleep deprivation. He's had some dreams that won't let him rest."

"The demon?"

"I don't know if his performance three weeks ago gave the demon hope that he could reach Methos, or instilled in the demon the fear of losing him. Either way, the demon has been pressing his assault."

"And you and me are gonna keep the thing at bay with just a touch?" Joe asked skeptically.

"No, Joe. We keep him at bay by having faith in Methos. Our touch is for Methos' benefit, a symbol of our trust."

Joe eyed the sleeping Immortal warily as the door closed behind Mac. How could such a mischievous old goat look so damn young and innocent? Think you got the Highlander wrapped firmly around your little finger, don't you? Well, you do. But I'm not as in awe of you, Old Man. I won't fall as easily as he has. He reached out and brushed his hand against the unkempt brown mane, surprised to find it was soft. Methos turned toward the touch without waking, and Joe smiled, his mind finding an image of a kitten he had as a boy. It had bitten him on more than one occasion, but had remained his best friend until it died of old age.

Joe stroked the hair again. Nope. Not going to fall that easily, he thought.

And fell anyway.

*****

"You know, I'm going to get a complex if you keep sleeping fifteen to twenty hours in my presence," Duncan said as Methos finally stirred.

"Put the 'b' in boring, did you, MacLeod?" Methos replied, stretching languidly. "Did I hallucinate, or was Joe here at one point?"

"He stayed until he had to go close the bar. He's called three times since he left."

"I slept through the phone?" Methos asked eagerly. "Please tell me you've discovered a way to turn down that damn ringer. I had to pull it out of the wall just to get some peace."

"It's still unplugged. Joe rang my cell phone, which I have on vibrate."

"Sounds kinky." Methos looked at how comfortably ensconced Mac was in the overstuffed leather chair, beer dangling from one hand, a red pen in the other, and a stack of reports on his lap. He even had on fresh clothing. "Made yourself at home, I see."

"Su casa es mi casa."

"Knew I would regret that comment as soon as I made it." He sniffed his T-shirt. "I need a shower," he declared, and left the room.

Duncan smiled and dug his phone out of the crevice of the chair. "He's awake, Joe," he said when the bartender answered.

"And?"

"He managed to insult me in under twenty seconds."

An amused snort. "He's okay."

"Yeah, and we're going to make sure he stays that way."

"Have you talked yet?"

"No. He decided he needed a shower."

"You think he's going to talk?"

"Oh, he'll talk; I just doubt if he'll say anything."

"You got a plan of action?"

"The usual: stay close and watch his back."

"Call me if you need me."

"Not if, Joe, but when."

"Keep me informed."

"I will."

Ten minutes later, a freshly scrubbed Methos returned in clean sweats and a tee. Still no shoes. "You check in with Nanny Joe?"

"Yes."

"Good boy. Isn't it time for you to pack up your toys and head home?"

Duncan took a swig of the beer. "I don't know. Thought I might take up residence on your sofa for a while."

"That would be rather audacious of you."

"Really?"

Methos nodded and sat Indian-style on the sofa. "Thank you, MacLeod. I needed last night."

"You still dreamed." He lost count of how many times he'd soothed his old friend during the long hours.

Methos waved his hand dismissively. "Just the usual. None of that Time Before terror and angst. Melodrama at its petty best."

"You know why those dreams didn't return, don't you?"

"Because Duncan MacLeod of the etcetera, etcetera, forbade it?" Methos guessed acridly.

"Because you exposed the demon to the light, Methos. It no longer gets to torment you on a nightly basis. You've stripped it of that power."

Methos groaned. "You know I don't believe in demons, Mac."

"But that doesn't stop them from believing in you, does it?" Duncan replied, understanding Methos' continued denial. It didn't mean that Methos didn't recognize the demon; it just meant he wasn't ready to recognize it publicly.

"I'm no Champion, and I have no desire to be one. I leave that hero-type crap to Boy Scouts like you. I'd rather have a beer than a bunch of thank-you bouquets any day. By the way, that's a hint."

Duncan sighed and got the beer, his motivation being he didn't want to get kicked out before they said what needed to be said. "So what do you call resisting a demon every day for at least five thousand years, if not heroic?"

"Survival."

"Do you know what the demon wants?" Duncan handed him the bottle.

"Me."

"Why?"

"Because I'm cute and have a wonderful sense of humor?" Methos took a long draw of the beer. "How the hell am I supposed to know? You're the resident demonologist, not me."

"He can't have you," Mac said flatly.

"I knew if you stayed long enough, we'd agree on something, MacLeod. Congratulations. Guess it's time for you to hit the road, huh? I know for a fact that your bed is way more comfortable than that chair, especially after a long international flight."

"And how exactly would you know that, Methos?"

He widened his eyes innocently. "It's not like you were using it in the daytime, Mac."

"You aren't thinking about taking any long international flights, are you?" Brown eyes demanded that the hazel ones meet them.

"No. I've been running ever since I woke up in that tomb. It's time to dig myself a new rut."

"Or maybe climb out of the rut, and onto your proper path?"

"If you start quoting the Tao, you're going to find your bum out on the sidewalk."

"And I was just going to offer to cook dinner."

Methos slid into a reclining position. "Mi casa es su casa, MacLeod. Wake me when it's ready."

With surprise, Duncan saw Methos really was asleep. Amazing. As he made his way to the kitchen, he realized Methos hadn't said much at all, except to say he wasn't going to run-- and Duncan already knew that. But it was good to hear the words from the Ancient himself. And sometimes what Methos didn't say was just as important as what he did. He hadn't said,"I don't need your help", "I'm going to do this on my own", or "Leave me the hell alone." He had given Duncan a chance to walk away, and when the Highlander hadn't, the oldest Immortal had turned over and gone to sleep.

Hmm. Maybe Methos had said enough after all.

THE END

(Restoration Series #5)


Comments? D.L. Witherspoon

Back to TVLIT 101