Carson Kearns' Highlander Fanfic

Lost in the Loving: Lighting You Home

Chapter 9

by Carson Kearns

carsonkearns@hotmail.com

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Iona Abbey

3.30am.  Sunday 21st September

Duncan watched until Lynn was safely inside her house and then turned to the man at this side and shook his head.  "Why is it that your solution to every problem is alcohol?"

Methos released Duncan's arm and shrugged as he burrowed his hands deep inside his coat pockets. "Because in my vast experience, doing nothing - or remaining drunk until the smoke clears - is usually a more intelligent approach than most of the solutions dreamt up by sober minds."  He further added, as an after thought, "And I find that, unlike my more sober colleagues – I’m usually still alive at the end of it all."

Duncan gave the man at his side no time to prepare for Duncan's next question.  "Methos – what did you see on the beach?"

Methos turned away, his back to the Highlander.  Before him was the Abbey, the Sound and the Isle of Mull and he used them all to provide a distraction. "I didn't see anything Duncan. It just brought back some memories, that's all."

Duncan persisted, reaching out to turn Methos to face him.  "Painful ones, from the look on your face."

Methos shrugged.  "Are there any other kinds?"

Duncan turned his collar to the damp mist creeping around them.  His next words were broken – as if they had to be forced. "Your memories might not have been real.  Maybe..maybe Ahriman…"

He wasn't allowed to finish the sentence. Methos grabbed both of his arms in a fierce clasp.  "Duncan! The memories were real!  Believe me they were real.  There was no Ahriman on the beach!  Just you, me and Lynn!"

Duncan tried to pull away but was unable to disengage.  His eyes locked with Methos', which were now filled with anger and obvious disappointment. So Duncan let himself be held, refused to look away- refused to acknowledge what Methos was suggesting.  Just held the stare.

Finally, he spoke. "He was there Methos. He was there! Why won't you even consider his existence? You're the one in denial!"

That was enough for Methos to break the hold and turn away.  Neither man moved for what seemed a very long time – as if unable to bear the repercussions of whatever was said.  For it seemed a foregone conclusion that any words uttered would be wrong – and provocative.

Duncan eventually disturbed the painful tableau by moving away.   Duncan eventually disturbed the painful tableau by moving away.  

His face was etched with dark blue shadows and under his eyes were deep lines of exhaustion.  Even the act of raising his hands to rub his temples was clearly one that required more energy than he seemed to have. He moved further towards their house and then stopped and took a deep breath before turning to face his lover.

"We're both too tired to talk about this any more tonight.  I don't know about you but I'm going to bed.  It will all still be here in the morning."  Methos decided that that last sentence uttered by Duncan said more about his emotionally exhausted state than anything else could have. For he had relegated to a throwaway line the announcement that he would in fact be alive in the morning to deal with whatever needed dealing with. Methos decided not to react but to accept the statement as if it was a typical and expected pronouncement from one's partner.  Shrugging his shoulders, he made his way towards the Scot. 

Just as Duncan thought that he was going to sweep past him, he reached out and took Methos' arm and together they made their way back to the shelter of the stone house and the warmth of their bed. As soon as they entered the house Duncan threw off his coat, and fell straight onto the bed.  Methos stood and watched, smiling, as Duncan fell into a deep sleep. He waited ten minutes and then skilfully stripped him before collapsing himself  beside the exhausted Scot.  Deep in sleep, Duncan automatically moved towards him and before Methos could even get comfortable Duncan had thrown his right arm and leg over Methos' freezing body. Methos snuggled further under the Scot until he was almost covered – Duncan's head resting securely on Methos' right shoulder and his long hair flowing, like a river, all over Methos' chest.

Tired as he was, Methos refused to let himself sleep for a while.  He wished only to keep experiencing the amazing feeling of Duncan, finally,  feeling able to open himself up in such a natural way to Methos' presence.  Indeed, it was the first time in many months that Duncan had reverted to his instinctive protective position.  Methos smiled as he recalled how often he had chided Duncan about the way his body and mind sought to protect and shelter anyone he cared for.  He snuggled deeper under the Scot's exhausted body and gave thanks in the scattered words of an old Rumi poem:

"A lover asked his beloved,
Do you love yourself more
than you love me?

The beloved replied,
I have died to myself
and I live for you.

If I love myself
I love you.
If I love you
I love myself."

And for the first time in a long time, Methos truly believed that he was indeed loved by the man now lying across him, who was once again prepared to take on not only the world, but the gods of the next one, to keep those he loved safe.  Truly, Methos mused, no one could ever accuse him of being attracted to boring lovers.  And with those thoughts circling his ever-active mind, he breathed the Highlander in, and settled into a deep and peaceful sleep.

It was noon before either of them woke.  This time there was no lovemaking – but without either speaking, they lay in each other's arms for another hour before rising and preparing for what was to come. After both had had a light lunch, they settled back in the lounge room, in front of the fire.  The day was uncharacteristically cool, despite the sun.  Duncan headed straight for the whisky.

"Yes please," Methos insisted, settling into the couch. As Duncan handed him the whisky, he pushed his lover further up the couch so he could sit at the end and have Methos settle against his chest.

"What happened to you on the beach last night?" he softly asked.  If Methos had hoped that this conversation was not going to take place, he was going to be disappointed.

Methos spoke so quietly that Duncan almost had trouble hearing.  "A thousand years ago, or close to, I was staying here on Iona. I was a chronicler," he laughed, quietly. "Can you imagine how peaceful my life was back then? The most traumatic thing I had to cope with was running out of writing materials."  He paused and emptied his glass.  Duncan reached down and refilled it.  Realising there was to be no escape.  Methos continued.  "One day I went across to Mull, with some of the monks, to exchange produce.  While I was there an Immortal appeared.  I made an excuse to go off on my own down towards the water and he followed and challenged me.  We finally met up down by the cave that you were so anxious to end your life in."

Duncan interrupted.  "You mean you still carried your sword then?"

Methos laughed, and continued almost without breath – anxious to get the telling over with.  "Not on Iona – but Mull wasn't holy ground and I always carry it off holy ground.  Anyway, bottom line – we fought. He died. Boom.  Lots of lightning.  I hadn't taken a Quickening in twenty years. I pulled my robe back on and as I was making my way back to the rest of the monks I saw a young man staring at me in abject horror. I called out to him but he ran off and I didn't have enough strength to put one foot after the other. Short version – he saw everything. From what happened later I think that he spoke of it and word must have spread. Some months later a Viking ship pulled in to the beach we were on tonight.  I felt an Immortal.  All I wanted to do (naturally) was to get away.  I headed for the Bay at the Back of the Ocean, - hit the water and swam for all my life was worth."

"Thought you couldn't swim."

"I can do a lot of things you think I can't," was all Methos offered on that point.

"I stayed under water as often as I could, thinking it might dilute my signature. I'm sure I drowned at some stage. Hours later I made it back to shore – although being washed up on the beach would be a more accurate description. I couldn't feel any presence and made my way back to where I'd seen the Viking ship coming down the Sound. And when…when….I got to the beach…".  He stopped and sat up suddenly.  "Get me another whisky, would you Mac?" He drank it straight and continued.  "When I got back to the beach …all of my friends….all the monks who I'd spent years with…were all…were all beheaded. I think that when the Immortal couldn't find me, he decided to leave me a sign of what my cowardice had cost these men."

Duncan tried to reassure. "But Methos, he would have killed them all anyway. He would have been raised like Kanwulf, to never show mercy." He ran his fingers through Methos' hair, trying to calm him.

Methos turned and looked at him. "But not if I'd accepted his challenge and fought him off holy ground."  He held up his hand to forestall Duncan's anticipated interruption. " I know that even if I had won that there was nothing to stop the rest of them slaughtering as they did.  But I'll never know will I, whether a deal could have been struck – because I was too busy saving my own miserable skin to even try? Can you imagine Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod doing that?  You'd be dead, of course - but you'd have died a hero."

Duncan was wise enough, this time, to say nothing.

"While I was on the other side of the island, swimming for my life, - the monks knelt there and prayed while they were beheaded. The Vikings didn't normally behead as a ritual form of slaughter. It was deliberate and it was aimed at me. If the Immortal couldn’t have me, then he took what he could have." He turned and stared at the man holding him.  "And that is one of the reasons why I hate the water – hate swimming. It always brings it all back to me."

Duncan could think of many things to say that all made sense on one level, but were garbage on another. So he tried to change the subject..

"What happened, Methos, when we were there last night?  You saw something." He closed his eyes and hoped against hope that Methos was going to say that he saw James Horton, standing there on that beach.  But hope was something that he had had in short supply for too long. As Methos started to talk, he knew that he was going to have to decide, before this night was over, whether he believed himself to be irrevocably insane.

Methos looked down, and spoke softly - but clearly.  "When we arrived at the beach I saw Lynn, sitting or kneeling.  I can't remember.  And then I was back there – one thousand years ago. I was standing there as if I was invisible, helpless, powerless, while they were all lined up and killed, one by one.  I couldn't look away and I saw every face as if it was yesterday.  The white sand ran red with their blood.  Every one of them died with dignity and such faith. I can tell you everything that was said – every expression on every face." He paused, as if considering whether to say what followed.  "But Duncan – before you suggest that it was a vision caused by Ahriman, you should know that I've had such visions before, at the times of the year's turnings.  The walls between the worlds are thin at this time – no matter where in the world we are.  And the walls between what is rational and irrational- sane and insane are equally thin," he counselled.

Duncan ignored the advice. "Methos – why do you come back here if it is so painful?"

"It's a private act of atonement. If nothing else, I can remember." With that, Methos drew the conversation to a close and went and stood by the window overlooking the Sound.  He stretched tense, tired muscles before the window.

"Methos – did you see lightning last night?"

Methos turned, surprised.  "Of course.  It was incredible.  That's why we went to the White Strand of the Monks. Why do you ask that?"

"Lynn said that she saw no lightning. I wondered if it was her or me that was mad."

"Well – I wouldn't worry too much about anything Lynn said. She was very upset.  She had a thick cloak on and may even have slept through most of it."

From the lack of response it was obvious that Duncan was content to let the topic drop.

Methos turned back to the window. "I think it’s time to tell me about your visions of Ahriman – from the beginning."

If Duncan had been hoping that Methos would also let that topic drop, it was now his turn to be disappointed.  Methos' voice made it clear that he would not accept anything but the entire story from Duncan's perspective.

Duncan rose from the couch and suggested that they make some fresh coffee, take a thermos and walk to the southern part of the island – to St Columba's Bay.  It was obvious that both were beginning to feel confined so Methos readily agreed to the walk. One hour later they had settled out of the wind, on a high point looking across the Bay and onwards to Mull. Hot coffee was poured and they let it warm their hands before Duncan started to tell what he should have told many weeks before – had he been able.

"Richie and I were coming back from the Opera." He smiled. "It won't surprise you to know that he wasn't impressed. Said that he didn't need to hear some fat guy singing about his lost love.  Then suddenly Landry was there, on the Quai. I thought he was some homeless derelict.  He was raving about needing to warn me about something – saying that the time was at hand.  The millennium was upon us and that he was coming."

Methos interrupted.  "Who?"

Duncan swallowed. "I didn't know who he meant, then, but after I'd looked at Landry's journal I realised that he had been talking about Ahriman.  Landry kept saying that I was the only one who could stop him.  Then I saw Horton – just standing there on the Quai. I was furious.  Thought that Joe had tricked me again  - about Horton's being dead.  Landry was calling out to me – told me that I didn't know what I was facing. Horton asked me if I thought that I was insane." He paused to drink more coffee and didn't object when Methos pulled out his flask and poured some whisky into it.

"Richie caught up with me and told me that Horton was dead – that there was no one there.  Then we heard Landry cry out.  There was red mist all around - but Richie couldn't see it," he added before Methos could ask.

Methos reached to claim more of the coffee, turning away so that Duncan was spared seeing the raised eyebrows that accompanied Duncan's description of the red mist  Duncan didn't pause, "Then the police came and all the usual.  But I was really unnerved.  How did Landry know my name?  He'd come to the Quai to find me Methos.  It wasn't an accident.  And Horton was there, but that was impossible!  Horton was dead.  I killed him.  Unless Joe had deceived me again.

"Go on…" Methos encouraged.

Duncan resumed, not realising that his left hand was now idly threading itself through Methos' fingers. "Richie and I went to the cemetery the next day and found out that Horton's body had been removed by Joe.  I was so angry – convinced that Joe had been lying to me. You know the rest of that story – I just lost it – ripped open the coffin at the airport.  Poor Joe," he sighed, stopping to watch one of the many crossings of the numerous boats that ploughed the waters of the Sound. "But I didn't know about Ahriman then – I thought it was Horton. Richie and I went to the morgue and they insisted that Landry'd died of natural causes.  But he hadn't, Methos.  He'd been strangled – I can still see the marks on his neck."  He continued the next sentence as if determined to get it out, uninterrupted.  And then he waited for Methos' reaction. "And while we were at the Morgue one of the corpses – one of the corpses -  turned and looked at me.  His eyes were blood red and he was staring straight at me…"

"Ah – Mac – did anyone else see that?" Methos asked - as non-accusingly as he could manage.

"Of course not.  That would have made it all too easy.  And don't worry – I don't expect you to believe it – just know that I believed it.  I know it sounds like something out of a “Halloween” rerun."

Methos' lack of reply confirmed that view – but Methos' warm grasp of his fingers gave Duncan the confidence to keep going.  If nothing else it was an incredible relief to be able to finally speak of what he had experienced.

"That night I saw Kronos – in the Barge.  He was dressed in a bizarre outfit – weird black tattoos on his face…"

Methos stiffened.  "Describe it to me." 

Duncan went on to describe, in perfect detail, the Kronos whom  Methos had known so well during their time as Horsemen.  "What you're describing certainly fits. But you could have picked that up from Kronos' own Quickening – or even Caspian's.  Or mine, when we shared that Quickening? I take it that that was when you came racing out onto the Quai, asking me if I'd seen Kronos?"

Duncan raised his eyebrows in assent. "He was there Methos!"

"Hey…it's OK.  I didn't say he wasn't. Keep going."

Duncan spent the next fifteen minutes describing his visit to Allison and her retelling of her grandfather's research, and his being so unnerved when he found his name in Landry's journal…

"Duncan – are you sure that you didn't write it there? I’m sorry – but I have to ask?  Did it say 'MacLeod' or 'Duncan MacLeod'?"

"It said 'MacLeod'. And I'm sure Methos that I didn't do it!"

"It's just that – well – there are a lot of MacLeods in the world.  How did Landry now that you were the right MacLeod? Even if it was  'Duncan MacLeod' - it could have been Duncan MacLeod from Black Bat Swamp in Tennessee!"

Duncan stood up – agitated, and walked over to the edge of the rise. He was clearly frustrated. "I've no idea.  None of it made any sense.  If you think that you're confused now, then think about how I was feeling at the time! Maybe Landry received a vision - I don't know!"

Methos watched the Scot start to pace and decided to remain silent, or risk not hearing any of the rest of it.  He had no doubt that Duncan believed everything that he was recounting.  But all of it, all of it - could also have been explained by Duncan merely being in the grip of major delusions, brought on by accumulated stress and grief. And too many powerful Quickenings from too many deranged Immortals – Kronos, Byron – Consonne.

Duncan stayed where he was, looking out over the water.  He took a deep breath and started to speak once again. "I stayed up all night trying to read the Journal. But I couldn't understand a lot of the old languages."  It was to the Scott's credit that he didn't pause to give any accusing looks at the world's foremost expert on those languages. "I found Landry's books on the internet and read as much as I could find of the book he'd written -  'The Mythology of Heroes.'  I actually owned a copy and read it when it first came out, but my copy is back in Seacouver. I read as much as I could on Ahriman and Landry's research in that part of Iraq. I must admit I was pretty crazed at that point.  Richie came by and I could tell he was shocked by how I looked. He'd seen me out of control often enough to know I needed help. I tried to make him leave but he wouldn't. He said that maybe all this was meant to happen, reminded me of Cassandra’s prophecy, and that reminded me of what the hermit had said just before my first Quickening.  I hadn’t thought about it in centuries."

Methos rose and came to stand beside him, placing his hand on Duncan's arm.  "Duncan – it's okay to take a breath every now and again," he reassured.  "Tell me in your own words what happened.  Richie was inclined to be a bit –well…just tell me in your own words.  All of it."

 Duncan then started his habitual pacing in earnest – gesticulating, turning away – turning back – placing his hands in his pockets and then pulling them out to illustrate a further point.  As he spoke, Methos reached for his empty cup and refilled it with the boiling coffee and whisky – as if hoping that it would give the Scot something useful to do with his hands.  Duncan continued, oblivious to Methos' mothering. "I told Richie all the details of the hermit – but, apart from Connor, I’d never mentioned it to anyone else."  He stopped to take the coffee being offered by Methos.

"You know, when I saw that painting tonight, it brought it all back – that night – that night back in 1625…"

"Tell me what happened Duncan."

And so Duncan told the story, finally, of what had happened to him that night. He told Methos of what the hermit had said: “I kine your name, Duncan MacLeod and I kine your destiny!” Again, Duncan stopped – as if lost in the memories, before looking back at Methos. "… but I told him that no man knows that. Gods, Methos – I was so young – so brash – so terrified.”

The color drained from his face as the reality of that terror flooded back and he repeated the conversation, held so long ago with the seer. He now remembered more of those events than he had remembered the night he told Richie of it.

//“What we are is written in the wind, long before we walk this world.  The roads we take…and where they lead us…you are blessed and cursed.  You will have time to prepare.  When your time comes you must be prepared to face an evil beyond any you can imagine, And evil is n’or the color black.  Tis the color of blood.  Every thousand years he comes, and he must be fought.  Long ago I did my part.  But now the responsibility is yours …raise that blade and strike here.  Take my head.  Taste the truth of what you are…take my head, and my burden.  They are yours…” //

He was silent after that and drained the coffee.  When he did speak again it was so soft that Methos had to ask him to speak more loudly – or move back out of the wind. He paused, as if thinking about it – and walked back to settle against Methos who was leaning against the warm rocks – out of the wind. "It never made any sense.  What the hermit said to me about being blessed and cursed. What "great evil"?  Time to prepare for a great evil?  Take his head and his burden?  All I wanted to do was forget all about it and if it hadn't been for Ahriman, I would have.  I'd already been frightened by another vision I'd had.  Visions make my skin crawl!"

“Visions?  You’ve had other visions about all this Duncan?” 

He looked as if he was going to start saying something - but then paused - and stopped, turning away.

Methos reached out and touched him. "Hey.  It's okay.  I'm here and I'm not going anywhere.  Tell me about it."

Duncan turned and stared. "I did visit here in 1625." As Duncan continued to stare he reached and stroked Methos' face as clouds of confusion and denial were blown away and, after nearly four hundred years, the events of that night back in 1625 finally came into sharp relief.

"I found shelter with Alexander and his family and he took me fishing with him.  I followed Alexander towards the large church here on Iona.  Both of us were exhausted after fighting the storm all night.  You know, I thought I had seen the crosses and slabs before, when you and I first came here.  Except they were all outside, back in 1625 – that's what confused me this time. While I waited for Alexander, I wandered around the cemetery and then found myself at the church door.  That frightened me because everyone had said that I was a demon. I wondered what would happen if I went inside – so I did. And then I found out.  I was so tired.  I sat down and closed my eyes and then I felt hot, stabbing pain, but I couldn't open my eyes." He was forced to slow down and breathe more deeply by Methos. But now nothing seemed able to stop his outpouring. "Then a sword flashed and a shadowed figure in a long robe was standing in front of me.  He reached out and beckoned me to come to Strathconnon Forest.  But when I looked at his hand it was only old bones, with bits of skin still clinging to them. It kept saying that I had to come to meet my destiny."

He stopped and turned to Methos.  "Can you begin to understand how petrified I was? Then Alexander was there and somehow I made it back to the boat without collapsing in sheer terror. Almost immediately after, I left for the Strathconnon Forest.  It was as if something was calling me there. And I somehow found that old man in the cave.  He was completely insane – insisted that I take his head.  He finally took his own head – but my hand was on the blade. Methos, I'd never taken anyone's head before.  If it had only been that it would have been bad enough. But after wandering around as an outcast for years, derided as a demon – to then have had that premonition and feel myself drawn to that same old man who was in my vision was…was - " He stopped, acknowledging that there were no words that could describe what he had gone through. "I was completely traumatised even before the Quickening hit me.  I don't remember anything after that and I think it was days before I came to my senses.  And it's only now that any of it is making any sense at all to me."

Methos squeezed his arm for reassurance.  Duncan shuddered and started to speak again - even more quietly.  "Methos, being trapped into killing that old man…I never ever want to take another head like that.  Never want to be trapped into killing someone against my will. And then I killed Richie in another accident. He died because of my blind fear, and confusion.  All the things that Connor tried to teach me to never bring to a sword fight."

"Duncan – do you truly believe that everything you were experiencing with Ahriman was real?"

"Yes – I do."

"Then what other state could you have been in when you arrived at that racetrack?"

"I haven't told you the half of it because it all sounds so utterly insane – Kronos kept reappearing.  Allison came to the Barge after she'd died. Things smashed and then were whole again.  At the racetrack Horton and Richie and Kronos were all circling me – there were two Richies.  They were surrounding me – cut me, shot me, chanting that they were Set and Ahriman.  Horton said I couldn't kill him.  He kept shape changing.  He was Richie and I was fighting him and then…"

Methos held him very tight.  "It's okay.  I know what happened then." It wasn't the shape-shifting that was unnerving Methos - for after all, it was a common view in Celtic shamanic experience that those with the da shealladh the two sights (and Duncan was certainly one of these) would be able to observe these.

Duncan continued, intruding into Methos' thoughts.  He seemed unable to stop himself. "I saw his body but couldn't understand what was happening. Horton wasn't there any more.  And I felt  - I felt –."  He closed his eyes, swallowed, and then breathed deeply before forcing himself to continue. "I felt the katana slice through Richie's neck.  He never raised his sword to me, Methos – never tried to defend himself.  And suddenly I knew.  I knew what had happened and that Horton had won.  And then the Quickening hit me.  Everything he was – his joy, his fear – his love.   His terror.  It all washed through me.  And then I was on the ground by his body."  He stopped and turned and stared at Methos – as if only now remembering. "You came.  God, all I wanted to do was die.  It's all I wanted for so long afterwards."

 Before Methos could stop him, Duncan rose and backed away.

 "I need to  - need…" but no coherent words came.  Whatever it was that he needed to do had no words and Duncan then simply turned and quickly made his way away from St Columba's Bay.  Methos watched him stumbling, and gave him five minutes before starting after him. Fortunately there were a very limited number of places that one could go to on Iona.  But Methos was sure that he knew exactly where the Scot was headed – the one place that always drew him in times of deep crisis.

Methos continued to follow, at a distance, in the Scott's turbulent wake.  He watched him make his way back to the island's main settlement, and then beyond it, past the Nunnery and the hotel and on to the Abbey’s front door.  Duncan, as always, was an incredible sight.  His long black coat and hair billowed out behind him as the wind gained strength. As Methos battled the wind himself, he wondered what it was about Duncan that no force seemed able to swallow up, hide or obscure. Indeed, it was as if nature herself was only ever a convenient backdrop for him.  Anyone else would simply look dishevelled and windblown – but Duncan looked like the hero in a Gothic melodrama, he sighed. 

  Sunday 21 September.  5pm  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Being a Sunday, the Abbey was open to all - however the briskness of the day had sent the numerous tourists off in search of warmer buildings. Duncan’s outline moved between the large stone Celtic cross and the dark outline of the Abbey – the very solidity acting as a counterpoint to the vibrant movement of the Scot. He was reminded of the night of Richie's death, when he had found Duncan on his knees in Darius' church looking like a figure out of 'Paradise Lost'.  All about him he heard whispered questions about what it was that he thought he had won, when Duncan agreed to not seeking to end his life this day? And then the truth hit him – and the reason he sought to burn these scenes into his soul. He suddenly knew, beyond doubt, that he was indeed going to lose the Highlander. 

//And none of your fine wit, your oh so brilliant strategies, your plotting or your planning – your hopes and your yearnings –will help.  All will come to nothing.//

And looking into the future, he saw only a vast emptiness and loneliness.   He felt the truth of these premonitions, circling him, as he continued to walk the path that Duncan had just walked.  He put his head into the wind (and its traitorous whisperings of all being lost) and started after the Scot – //As if there was  ever any doubt you old fool!// he chided himself, and pushed through the wind's resistance, as he had done all of his long life. As  he did so, he replayed the scene that had just taken place between Duncan and himself on the cliff top overlooking St Columba's Bay.

Without hesitation he entered the Abbey and stood, sentinel-like, watching and listening.  Biding his time. For after all, - after all – it was war. One did not leave the battlefield until one was certain of total victory – or total defeat. He moved to the back pew and sat down, letting the silence settle as he watched Duncan moving towards the altar. It was soon interrupted by the sounds of a choir practicing somewhere in the vast Abbey, and he shook his head as he recognised the strains of the Dies Irae – the hymn that had arisen from Notre Dame the night he had brought the broken Scot back to the Barge from Darius' church. He found his gaze drawn to the hangings that adorned the beautiful stonework. Up ahead, on the right, he could see the effigy of the Duke of Argyle.  He remembered Duncan mentioning it once. 

The sunlight streamed in through the windows, illuminating the invocations on the wall hangings:

Thou, my soul's healer  
Keep me at even  
Keep me at morning  
Keep me at noon  
On rough course faring  
Help and safeguard  
My means this night  
I am tired, astray, and stumbling  
Shield Thou me from snare and sin.”

He wasn’t too worried about the sin part of the prayer – //but Gradhach beware the illusory snares that circle…// he silently advised his lover.  He sat back and watched.   – and he waited. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday 21 September. 5.30pm

Iona Abbey.

Duncan looked around the huge Abbey, his earlier feelings of dread having dissipated.  The dying sun enabled him to easily find and light some candles near the altar. His hope was that, if this place had once long ago given him direction, then it might do so again.  Always, it seemed to him, he came to such holy refuges when his world appeared to have gone mad. 

He could feel Methos close by, up behind him,  – and didn't mind that at all.  His loyal Gatekeeper.  He wondered what Methos must be feeling now?  How could Methos counter the elation of Duncan being saved from suicide, only to now believe that the Scot was seemingly insane? Knowing Methos, he decided, he would simply see it as another hurdle to be kicked aside – because, it never seemed to really occur to Methos that he wouldn't have – eventually - what he wanted.  That probably went with the territory of living for five millennia.  Sooner or later, you simply outlived and outlasted all life and all resistance. Duncan continued to look ahead  - and tried to focus on the altar instead of the man standing quietly behind him. 

It didn't work.

His thoughts once again returned to Methos and how he had unerringly set his sights on the Scot years before.   No matter whose fault their frequent partings – Methos always came back to him.  A knock at his door.  An email out of the blue.  A phone call.

//This time it isn't going to work Methos,// he quietly avowed.

Methos had once accused him of being Immortal Central, not only for evil Immortals but also for those seeking help and shelter. He supposed it was true.  Richie always came back.  Even after Duncan's dark Quickening, Richie had returned to Seacouver where he would have known that Duncan would soon find him.  Duncan knew that Methos was desperately searching for some beacon to light Duncan home from the darkness that had enveloped him.  And all the while Duncan himself had been a beacon, for better or worse, to those he loved and those who both loved and hated him and what he stood for.

His thoughts on the power and properties of light drew his attention to the calming presence of the candles, the diffused light, and he allowed the sacred presence to wash over him.  He breathed deeply. He looked back to the altar, raised his eyes to the large window behind and started to talk. His deep voice reverberated off the stone walls.

"Do you know that after I killed Richie, there was nothing but blackness – nothingness.  I was swaddled in it…  thick and so soft. So safe.  Nothing could penetrate it.  It was like being inside the eye of a storm. I could sense you out there on the other side of it…"

Methos didn't move – and said nothing in reply.  Now was the time to let Duncan simply talk…

"I can remember feeling as if I was already in a different world.  On a different plane. I'd watch my hand take a knife and slash the flesh on my forearms.  And I couldn't feel it. Just watched the blood running.  I didn't want it to heal.  I never wanted to heal. Just wanted it to stop the pain of Richie's death…"

The Highlander continued, but this time quoting from the Book of Job:

"Why give light to a man of grief?
Why give life to those bitter of heart,
Who long for a death that never comes?…"

Duncan stopped and let the words wash over them both. "I hated you for trying to help me.  I'd  found a place that was safe and kept the pain away.  And you smashed down the walls. I used to use Job as the mantra that kept me safe inside the blackness.  And then you started to quote it back to me.  I pretended that I couldn't hear you.  I'd lie in bed, listening to you read it aloud. But it started to break through.  And I hated you for it."

"I know." Methos watched his lover, not allowing his gaze to deviate – as if he knew that these scenes were precious beyond words – and that they would be amongst the last of the scenes of Duncan that he would see for a long time.

Duncan broke into his thoughts. "You made me see how selfish I was being.  How self-indulgent." He looked down saying nothing, and then he raised his head, as if determined to confront the truths now circling him.   "I'd become so caught up in my own pain that it had started to become pleasurable…" he finished, in broken whispers.

Methos moved closer.

"Duncan – you're allowed to grieve for your dead.  It's only been twelve weeks."  He paused – not quite sure what to say, but conscious that he had Duncan on a very fragile thread. "I didn't quote Job to make you feel guilty.  I just wanted to get through to you – and I knew that Job's message was one that you would at least relate to."

"But Methos – I'm not Job.  I'm a simple man who was raised with simple beliefs. I should have died hundreds of years ago.  I should be a part of the dust of this land. I should be lying in a grave by Loch Shiel.  I’m not like Job – beloved of the gods. I've only ever been sport for the gods."

"Believe me Duncan – I know that feeling only too well.  The trick is to not let those particular gods win."

Duncan seized the opening. "So – you do believe that we can battle gods – and win?"

Methos smiled and shook his head.  "Touché, youngling. Yes – I do believe.  After all – I've been doing it for five thousand years. But does that mean I believe that Ahriman is walking the earth solely to engage with you? No.  I don't. I think that you're still in need of a lot of care – and time."

Duncan changed the subject.  It was enough that his lover had admitted the gods were real and that they could be defeated. Still he hadn't moved.  Still he sat with his back to the ancient Immortal, staring straight ahead, his hands in the pockets of his long coat.  "Did you ever see the movie Alien?"

"Yes, Duncan – I did."  Methos started to quietly move behind the Scot as Duncan's questions continued to reverberate and ricochet off the stone walls.  

"Do you remember the ads?  'In space no-one can hear you scream?' Well - it's true.  In the middle of my black cocoon, no one could hear me screaming. But it became the only music I could bear to hear." 

Methos finally took the final steps and sat down beside the tormented man who had seen too much.  Been through too much.  Loved too much. He reached out and put his arm around Duncan's shoulder and pulled him towards him.  What was amazing was that Duncan let him.

After a few minutes Duncan started to once again talk, as he had done that afternoon.  All of the trapped words that he had held inside him for so many months were finally given freedom.  "I became rather proud of the way I could carry on a conversation with people, smile at them, discuss their families and their livelihoods – and all the while, inside I was screaming – "

Methos pulled him closer, feeling the warmth and the life below the light coat. He found that his mind kept flying back to the Barge on the night Richie had died.  There were so many similarities and it unnerved him. He pulled Duncan closer.

Duncan breathed deeply and closed his eyes. "Richie would have been twenty-three, yesterday. Four years ago he became immortal. Four years ago Tessa died. A life for a life, Methos. Poor Richie. I've been thinking a lot about the first time I ever saw him -  in the Antique Store. 

//“I’m Duncan MacLeod – and you are dead!”//

"Do you know what his first sight of me was, Methos?"

"No Duncan." He leaned across and gently kissed Duncan's forehead.  

The Scot kept talking.  "His first sight of the great Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, and his last sight, were the same image – me, the brave warrior, katana raised. Smiting the wicked. "  He stopped, and pulled away from Methos.  "Am I the wicked, Methos?"  He turned and searched deep inside Methos' eyes – but seemed to find no answers.  "I asked you once who judges me? You didn't answer."

"We judge ourselves, Duncan.  And some of us judge ourselves too harshly and too often."

Duncan sniggered and lifted his large hands to rub and massage his temples and forehead.  "Tell that to Richie!"

At the back of the church they heard the large door creak open but neither turned.  They continued to sit and say nothing while the tourists and worshippers entered, walked around the Abbey and came to light a candle.  Eventually they genuflected and left.  Duncan continued as if they had never been there.

Methos watched them leave – and when he looked back he saw that Duncan was pulling something out of his pocket.  It was a glove and he recognised it instantly as the one Duncan had pulled from the dead boy's hand the night he died. Duncan started to rub the glove – as if it were an amulet.  Methos noted how smooth it was in so many places and he realised then how Duncan had used it to anchor himself to the boy over these past twelve weeks. Methos wanted to take the glove and throw it deep into the Sound.

Still, Duncan kept feeling it – stretching it – squeezing it. "I told Richie that last day on the Barge that I didn't believe in fate. And that was the worst lie.  If Richie had listened to fate, then he would have run like the wind that night he broke into the store.  He should have run – covered his ears against the all-knowing Duncan MacLeod and his posturings and advisings - his teachings - and his sham loving. But he didn't."  He let his hands drop to his lap. "We once joked about our racing starships in a few hundred years.  I told him I'd win – he should have run from me Methos…" he finished, once again looking down at the stone floor.

"Was it a sham love, Duncan?  Because I don't think it was."

Duncan looked up into the face of his salvation. After a while the words came. "No – it wasn't.  At first I resented him. I only took him in because Connor made me.  But I grew to love him so quickly.  Both Tess and I did. I didn't want to, because it always ends in death and pain. I was cold – and hard on him. But he saw through me and soon I let myself love him.  And now he's dead."

He stopped giving voice to the further words struggling to escape and allowed himself to start to slip back into the blackness that had given him shelter for so long. In that blackness, the words started to circle him again.

//Avoid the Highlander and his swinging sword.  Poor Richie. Broken child with his broken head, brilliant blue eyes fading into nothingness as they registered the final image he would take from this world – Duncan MacLeod pivoting in his dance of death, sweeping around as he ended the life of any who ventured into the arc of his katana – his mallet.  Poor Richie.  What had Rumi said? “Be the rose nearest to the thorn that I am.” //

He had cried so many tears over the past three months – but now, that poem that he and Methos had recited to each other, only days before, was the trigger for the tears that he had never really shed for Richie.  Up until now, they had all been for himself and what might have been – the loving family that he had been a part of.  The roses had indeed bloomed briefly, far too near the thorn that he was. But this time he wasn't alone in the blackness and when he looked deep into its depths, he saw Methos, illuminating it.  Guiding him home.

He was so lost in the grieving that it wasn't until he felt Methos' arms pulling him closer that he realised he was weeping. But this time the tears were accompanied by the realisation that Richie not only knew, but accepted that his young life was to be sacrificed on the altar of Duncan MacLeod's greater destiny. And that he had freely offered it.  Always, like Methos, Richie had come back to him.  No matter what he did to him, how appallingly he treated him – he always came back.  Not so much the prodigal son, he now thought, as was Duncan the prodigal father. 

Through his tears, he spoke of it to Methos, not realising that the very fact that he was still speaking and still acknowledging Methos' presence was the very evidence that Methos had sought that Duncan was not irretrievably lost, once again, inside himself. 

"I always had a good reason – a dark quickening – Tessa's death – his not listening to me as his teacher –."  Duncan reached up and seized Methos' hand on his arm, before continuing, as if determined to ensure that the connection was not broken. "But he was so young Methos.  So full of life. But every time he came back to me.  Always wanted to stand by me.  Help me."

Methos pulled Duncan's head firmly against his chest. "Then let him help you Duncan.  Let him be with you.  Stop shutting him out."  Duncan tried to pull away but this time Methos refused to let him go – and then finally the Highlander gave himself over to what it was that Methos had fought so hard to bring about.

Duncan MacLeod finally opened his heart, his mind and his soul to Richie Ryan and his Quickening. He opened his eyes and his soul, and offered to be Richie's road and his knower of roads - more than maps, more than love.

Energy swirled around the two most powerful Immortals in the world, as Richie's trapped Quickening was released from the confining depths to which Duncan had relegated it. It cocooned both Immortals before striking straight for the heart of the man Richie had loved, - totally and unconditionally.  But this time, Duncan, secure in the arms of his own beloved, welcomed Richie's spirit inside all the heights and depths of his being, and into the only home the golden haired boy had ever truly known. 

Richie had given him a gift – and Duncan was not about to throw it back in his face, or feel that he had to travel to the Otherworld to find redemption. And with the final settling of this most precious Quickening, came a corresponding acceptance of his obligation to protect the quickenings of all the Seans and the Richies and the Fitzcairns. He determined there, in that Abbey, to give them safe harbour and safeguard what they had all wanted only Duncan MacLeod to have.

Minutes passed. "Do you think, Methos, that maybe the winner of the Prize would be powerful enough to bring back everyone that they'd ever loved?" His broken voice, quiet as it was, had a newfound strength.  Methos heard the hope and answered it.

 "Duncan, I believe that if the Game is real, the winner can have whatever his or her heart desires. And that means that if it's either one of us, that both of us will live again. And everyone that we've ever loved."  If nothing else, it would be a motivation to the Scot to ensure that one of the two must survive.

Duncan paused and looked up at the darkening sky through the large window over the altar. “I know now what I have to do, Methos." He paused – and Methos heard his own soul screaming as he waited for the words that he never wanted to hear.  

"Methos - I have to do it alone."

The haunting image of his nightmares, of the golden eagle plummeting to his death, suddenly took on a new meaning as Methos received his own epiphany in the beautiful Abbey. His hands tightened around Duncan and he closed his eyes and quietly laughed at how one as clever as he could have so misinterpreted the dream.

For of course, he now realised, he himself was the golden arrow, lodged forever in the golden eagle's heart.  And the death plunge was not the death of the Highlander - but the death of their relationship.  His golden eagle was indeed plummeting  - and taking with it the only certainty that Methos had ever truly known.

"And so, like Richie, I'm about to be sacrificed on the altar of Duncan MacLeod's destiny." He released the Scot and rose from the pew.

"Methos!  I didn't choose any of this!"

"And nor did I!  Nor did I…"  The cruel coda was provided by a rich priestly voice coming from one of the nearby chapels:

"My days have passed far otherwise than I had planned,
and every fibre of my heart is broken…where then is my hope?
Who can see any happiness for me?"

How fitting, he decided, that this verse from  Job should bring this chapter of their lives to an end – and signal to Duncan what the decision to pursue his own private grail would cost.  If Methos had been capable of delineating any further irony, it would have been to appreciate the fact that it was Methos' own brilliant strategy that had brought this new resilience and determination to Duncan.  Wisely, he decided on a retreat.

He rose to leave the Abbey. "I won't try and talk you out of this Duncan.  But come back to the house when you're ready."  He turned and walked away – alone - as he had done so many times in his long, long life.

Duncan's deep voice called out after him. "Methos! I will defeat Ahriman.  I don't care how long it takes.  But I will defeat him. Will you be waiting for me?"

Methos stopped – let the words settle on the outer layers of his heart – and without answering or turning to look into Duncan's eyes, continued to walk away.  There was nothing more he could do for Duncan's illusions.  Indeed, he counselled himself as he left the Abbey and walked towards their house, if this was Duncan's way of dealing with Richie's death, then maybe his wisest course of action was to try and find him a further safe haven.  Iona had helped to heal the Highlander's heart.  Now he needed an equally safe place to help heal his soul and his mind.

And if it took one year or twenty – what was that compared to five thousand? He would wait while the eagle healed.  And one day they would be whole again.  One day, they would once again soar. He was determined.

In the meantime, he had phone calls to make.  Tomorrow they would pack, and farewell Iona. He would stand at Duncan's side until he saw him safely inside the next safe haven, where Duncan could study his Persian god and prepare himself for whatever battle he believed was looming.  And if Methos was very lucky, the people caring for Duncan might even manage to cast out these illusions once and for all, and help him deal with his accumulated tragedies.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

'Ioua'

7pm  Sunday 21st September.

When Duncan arrived at the house, he found that Methos had made all the arrangements for their travel – but as to where that was, he had no idea and Methos hadn't volunteered the information.

That night Duncan pulled Methos to him and refused to let him go.  All through the night he thought of the days to come without this extraordinary man by his side, and in his bed.  He kept hearing the poem Methos had written, in preparation for this very parting…

//…What pain is there to bear in holding fast to me
Your form and grace?…//

He pulled Methos more tightly into his arms, knowing that this night would haunt him for years. At one stage he even found himself wondering if Methos was right about Ahriman's non-existence – at least at this place and time? The seductive smell of the man in his arms permeated his body and he thought again of what he was giving up – and the pain he was causing them both.  He rolled his head slightly…

//…I gently press my face onto your pillow slip - 
I breathe you in…//


There was no sex – just the holding of each other and the intent listening to each other's hearts fracturing.  In the morning, Duncan rose early and spent two hours in intense exercises.  Methos sat on their bed and watched him through the large window – watched the golden dawning bathe him in golden light. His fingers found their way to Duncan's pillow…

//…My fingers trace the place where last you lay your head - 
I trace your pain…//

He gently eased the pillow slip off and wrapped it around his hand, before breathing its scents deep inside his body.  Later he would pack it with care, and take it with him as a talisman. 

//…Is it so wrong to long for scents that flavor still
your passing through?…//

There would be time for grieving, after he had taken Duncan to safety. He would find something to keep himself occupied – perhaps in Norway? He would give Duncan time on his own in a place where he knew that he would be safe. And when Duncan felt well enough to leave, Methos would know, and would come. Someday – some way, he would find a way.  Or what use was all the accumulated cleverness of five thousand years?

Joe had once berated him for letting himself become obsessed. Perhaps – perhaps he should take some time to think about that as well.  Remove himself from Duncan MacLeod's orbit and anchor himself, inside himself, for a while. Maybe that would be of more help to Duncan in the long run?  And to himself…

He quietly left the house and visited the Research Center to organise the delivery to one of his properties of Lynn's portrait of Duncan.  Despite his warning bells ringing about Lynn's true motivations, he could not deny that the portrait was magnificent and he never intended allowing anyone else to ever own it. His inquiries as to where the other painting was – the one that had so distressed Duncan, were met with confusion.  It had disappeared and could not be found anywhere.  On his return to the house he searched the rooms but failed to uncover it.  It was as if it had never existed.  But of course – it had.  And he himself had seen it.

He was still convinced that Duncan had painted it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Concluded in the Epilogue.

 

Carson Kearns


End of Chpt 9

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