DISCLAIMER - Highlander and its characters is the copyright of Rysher and Panzer/Davis Productions and no infringement is intended. The story, such as it is, is copyright Karen Colohan December 1998.

AUTHOR'S NOTES - This story is set at some point between "Revelation 6:8" and "Forgive Us Our Trespasses".

With thanks to Erika and especially to Laurey for their comments and suggestions on this story. It is that much better for the intervention.

ALTERNATIVES

Duncan MacLeod opened his eyes as the last flashes of a Quickening's fire subsided around him and found himself unexpectedly in a familiar place. It was cold and dank, and eerie shadows chased one another around the periphery of his vision. Cavernous stone walls towered above him, echoing back even the smallest noise. What reached Duncan's ears now was the sound of painful, helpless sobbing.

He had been here - in this place and time - before. Bordeaux...

But why was he here now? Duncan frowned in confusion. This was all in the past, over and done... and yet his surroundings seemed so very real. Was he dreaming? If so, why dream of this? It was a moment in his life he would far sooner forget. It had not only been the lives of two ancient Immortals which had ended in this place... The echoes of Methos' tears and the sight of his forlorn figure, hunched over and shaking, were a stark reminder to Duncan of the chain of events that had led to this - to the death of his trust in the oldest Immortal.

What had brought him back here to face that reality again?

Another sound intruded on Duncan's reverie. It caught his attention, drawing him away from the outward manifestation of Methos' pain and desolation. Duncan identified it as the sharp click of heels on stone - Cassandra.

Duncan fought against the memory. It was all still too raw. The choice he

had made here had done nothing to ease his estrangement from Methos, but it had cost him another long-valued friendship. No, he didn't want to be back in this terrible moment. He would not be part of this a second time. This was merely a dream - and it was his dream. He would direct it as he wished.

With an effort of will Duncan turned away from the scene in front of him. He did not want to dwell on the image of Methos sprawled so abjectly on his hands and knees, apparently unaware of the danger he was in.

What had driven him to insist that Cassandra spare the oldest Immortal's life? Misguided pity? A twisted sense of justice, or perhaps it was vengeance - Methos condemned to live with his regrets, fully aware of all the consequences of his actions? Or had a trace of his former warmth and friendship for the man still remained? Even now Duncan wasn't sure. What he did know was that Cassandra hadn't understood. Her eyes, her voice, everything about her tense posture had screamed at Duncan that she would never understand, or forgive.

Another friend lost to Death, no matter that this one still lived and breathed... Methos had much to answer for.

A feeling of extreme unease fell over Duncan then as the dream, vision or whatever it was, refused to release him from its grip. He tried to ignore what he knew was happening behind him. Enough anger remained for Duncan to feel that it would only be just if he were to allow Cassandra to take Methos' head this time. But his heart refused to accept it and, inevitably, Duncan turned to face the familiar tableau.

Cassandra stood as she had that day, with Silas' axe raised threateningly above Methos' vulnerable neck. Head bowed, and lost in his grief as the old Immortal was, Duncan still wondered if Methos had in fact known, or cared, that she was there. As before, Cassandra's eyes met Duncan's and he was once again caught in the mingled hatred, anger and disbelief that burned there.

"You want him to live?"

"Yes, I want him to live."

A moment passed and Cassandra made no move to back down. Duncan spoke again, this time more insistently,"Cassandra! I want him to live!"

Duncan heard the words he had spoken echo once more around the abandoned base. They were not, however, followed by the metallic clang of the axe hitting the ground as Duncan remembered. Instead a single word rang out in the vast space.

"No!" Cassandra snarled, her face a mask of fury.

To Duncan's horror, Cassandra did not throw down the weapon in disgust as he had expected. Nor did she turn on her heel and leave. Instead, she focused her attention back on the crouched figure in front of her and raised the axe higher.

Duncan tried to cry out, to beg Cassandra again to stop - there was too much distance between them for him to intervene in any other way - but no words would pass his lips. Held helplessly immobile in what had now become a terrifying nightmare, Duncan could only watch as Cassandra brought the heavy blade down on Methos' unresisting neck. The stroke was swift and clean. The oldest Immortal's head was severed from his body without even a moment's resistance on his part, his 5000 year existence ended in mere seconds.

Duncan screamed, but no sound emerged from his throat.

This wasn't real. It couldn't be! It hadn't happened this way... It was only a bad dream and if he tried hard enough, Duncan reasoned, he could wake himself from it. He closed his eyes, deliberately shutting out the horrific sight in front of him. When he opened them again he would not be in Bordeaux, but in Paris - and he would find himself lying alone in his bed on the barge.

Duncan felt a wave of dizziness sweep over him and slowly let his eyes drift open. Despite his previous certainty, though, it was not the interior of the barge which greeted him. Instead, Duncan found himself standing over Methos' lifeless form, the severed head lying to one side, where it had fallen. Duncan looked down and found himself holding his bloodied katana.

This time a very real scream was ripped from Duncan. His fingers opened reflexively and his sullied blade tumbled to the ground. At that moment Duncan also identified the reason for his disorientation as the first, almost gentle, tendrils of Methos' Quickening curled around him.

"No! NO!!" Duncan's throat burned with his wild cry of denial. This was all a lie, an illusion. Methos was alive...

For the sake of his sanity, Duncan held on to his certainty that this was a dream. If he let himself believe for even a second that it was anything more... and yet the sensations were terrifyingly real. Methos' Quickening was as stunningly powerful as Duncan had always imagined it would be, and all that power was pouring inexorably into his body. The bolts of intense blue lightening pierced Duncan even as the misty aura wound itself about him suffocatingly.

"Methos!" Duncan cried out in fear and guilt. "No!"

The intermingled pleasure and pain of the experience was nearly overwhelming. Duncan flung his arms wide and struggled to stay on his feet. The sense of the old Immortal's presence washed over him with a frightening intensity and Duncan fought against it. Would he be able to retain his own identity with the strength of Methos' personality inside him or would he be as lost as he had been after the Dark Quickening? Not that the essence of Duncan's erstwhile friend felt evil or in any way threatening, in fact quite the contrary.

Now perhaps you will truly know me, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. The faint whisper seemed to ghost through Duncan's mind. All of me - what I was then and what I became - Death, Methos, Adam... They all played their part in making me the person you knew. Learn from that experience, Highlander, grow stronger because of it. Remember...

The quiet voice faded as the last of the Quickening's power settled into Duncan's body. With an effort he straightened, letting his arms fall limply back to his sides. As he looked around him Duncan let his dark gaze take in a scene that was both familiar and utterly unlike anything he had seen before. Instead of one headless corpse at his feet there were two. Both Silas and Methos lay dead in front of him. Again Duncan shook his head, denying the evidence of his own eyes. Not real! NOT REAL!

"Methos!" Duncan sank to his knees beside the old Immortal's body. He couldn't have done this. It wasn't possible! But all Duncan's senses told him Cassandra was nowhere near and it was certainly he who had just experienced Methos' Quickening... No! He had wanted Methos to live. He had convinced Cassandra to spare him. Duncan knew that his friendship with the oldest Immortal might not have been the same after this, but he'd never wanted Methos' head...

How else could I make you understand? You wouldn't listen to me any other way. Duncan started as Methos' soft voice echoed inside his skull once again. Your world is defined in black and white, MacLeod, you don't have room for shades of grey. You judge everyone by your own rules and code of honour and woe betide those of us who don't match up to your exacting standards...

Duncan shook his head in denial. No, that wasn't fair. He had listened to Methos' side of the story...

He hadn't let it make a difference though, had he? He had judged Methos on the basis of his actions 3000 years earlier: chosen to ignore everything the old Immortal had done for him since their first meeting, the times Methos had saved his skin... That could have no bearing on what had happened here though, could it? No! This couldn't be his fault - Duncan refused to accept that possibility. Methos had still wanted to live...

Slowly Duncan reached out a trembling hand towards the lifeless shell which once housed the ancient spirit of one of his closest friends. What had really happened here? Methos was dead. That was undeniable, but how? Try as he might, Duncan could not recall what had transpired immediately before he found himself standing by Methos' body, katana in hand. His last memory was of Cassandra and the falling blade of Silas' axe. Then all his perceptions had changed, and now he no longer had any idea of what was real and what a dream. Had he done this?

"Methos..." Duncan's voice broke as the realisation swept over him that the old man was, in every sense that mattered, lost to him. Never again would Methos turn up unannounced on his doorstep looking for a place to stay. No more would Duncan find his fridge empty of beer and his couch taken over by the sprawled body of the other Immortal. Methos was gone, along with all the irritations, contradictions and challenges that were part and parcel of having the oldest Immortal as a friend.

A howl of anguish and guilt broke from Duncan's throat. Methos was dead and he had been the one to destroy him. He had judged Methos and found him wanting and, in his arrogance, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod had presumed to be jury and executioner as well. Oh God...

Be at peace, Highlander. Once more Methos' voice sounded in Duncan's head. Accept what has happened, move on. You can't live in the past. Don't try to... If I can teach you nothing else, at least learn this lesson. If you don't you will never survive. Your guilt will kill you.

Duncan's hand finally made contact with Methos' body, but to his shock it was insubstantial. His fingers passed right through it. Duncan stared in disbelief, snatching his hand back with a startled gasp. What was happening to him? None of this made any sense...

With a cry Duncan woke to find himself lying in his bed on the barge, tangled in the disordered sheets. His skin was sheened with sweat and his heart was pounding from the terrifying realism of what, Duncan now realised, had been a nightmare. Oh, dear Lord, it hadn't been real! Methos was alive; he hadn't killed him.

"Thank God, thank God!" Duncan offered up the heartfelt prayer.

Duncan curled himself into a tight ball in the middle of the suddenly vast expanse of his bed. He felt very alone. Duncan was also afraid of falling asleep again, scared of returning to that terrible world in which Methos was dead, by his hand. Duncan lay shivering under the tangled sheets, trying to understand what had prompted the awful dream. He hadn't even spoken to Methos in weeks. They had left Bordeaux separately and avoided meeting one another since returning to Paris.

And there, Duncan suddenly realised, lay the crux of the matter. He and Methos had made no real attempt to resolve the rift in their friendship which the events in Bordeaux had caused. Duncan still didn't really understand what Kronos and Cassandra's reappearance had meant to Methos. He had barely considered the conflicting responses which must have left Methos torn between past and present emotional ties. Indeed, for all the contact they had had since the demise of the Horsemen, Methos might as well be dead. Duncan had cut him off completely.

Hurt that Methos had not trusted him enough to tell him the truth about his past - though in the wake of Duncan's reaction when he did find out that decision seemed well justified - and feeling betrayed, Duncan had turned his back on the old Immortal. The horror that Duncan had felt on learning about the atrocities Methos had committed as one of the Horsemen had blinded him to everything else. He had refused to accept that the man who had ridden as Death was now buried deep in Methos' past, that the oldest Immortal had changed - and that he now bitterly regretted that part of his life. Cassandra's baleful presence had only served to muddy the waters further.

The current state of affairs could not be allowed to continue. Duncan knew what he needed to do. He had to seek out Methos and try to repair their friendship. It was up to him to make the first move. It wouldn't happen overnight. They might never regain the easy trust in one another they had once shared, but the thought of Methos not being a part of his life hurt Duncan. The nightmare had brought that fact sharply into focus.

The simple truth was that whatever Methos had been thousands of years ago wasn't the issue here. The man he was now was what counted, and Duncan had to admit that Methos had done nothing to threaten his life in the time he'd known him. On the contrary, he had hauled Duncan's ass out of the fire more than once. Yes, Methos had manipulated him throughout the Horsemen debacle, but by doing so he had kept Duncan alive and, in the end, Methos had risked his own head to save Cassandra - probably not for the first time.

No wonder Methos had been so hurt by Duncan's speedy defection to Cassandra's cause. The old Immortal had wanted him to understand, to accept him for what he was, and Duncan hadn't been able to do it. Well, that was about to change. Duncan would offer an olive branch and hope to God that Methos would accept it. After all, the alternative was unthinkable...

THE END

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