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 August 1998.

THE FINAL REVELATION

Five thousand years of wit and wisdom reduced to this.

MacLeod looked down impassively at the other Immortal. Methos hadn't even noticed his approach - any more than he had been aware of Cassandra when she stood poised to take his head. Or perhaps, MacLeod reflected, he had known she was there, but in his overwhelming exhaustion and grief Methos simply hadn't cared. Either way, it was a frightening reflection of his state of mind.

Why had he stopped her? After all that Duncan had learned about his erstwhile friend he wasn't sure what had prompted that choice. It had certainly shocked Cassandra - she had been on the verge of ignoring him, MacLeod knew. Didn't Methos deserve to die every bit as much as his... brothers? Cassandra believed so - and she had suffered at his hands. Perhaps it would have been just, but then again... Duncan had known only friendship from Methos. Did he truly have the right to judge him?
Methos on his knees

In the here and now MacLeod couldn't find it in his heart to hate the older Immortal, no matter how much his rational mind balked at sympathy. How could he summon up hatred when Methos sprawled so pitifully at his feet, broken, his body still wracked by the breathless, rending sobs.

Duncan had never seen Methos' control torn apart this totally. The joint Quickening had been traumatic it was true - elemental, unsettling, startlingly intimate. In all his four hundred years of taking the heads of fellow Immortals MacLeod had never had that strange sense of being inside someone else's skin - not that he'd previously experienced such a Quickening - before. He wondered if Methos had felt it too. If so it might go some way towards explaining the usually calm and self-contained Immortal's reaction.

As MacLeod had taken the essence of that which had been Kronos into himself, he had felt it arc out irresistibly and pull Methos into the connection too, for just a few seconds, bridging the gap between them in an indescribable way... Duncan shook his head; consideration of that strangeness was a matter for another time, another place. Whatever had happened though, surely Methos should have been recovering from its effects by now. MacLeod was aware he was himself still tired and shaken, but nothing approaching this.

Or maybe Methos' reaction was nothing to do with the unusual Quickening at all. Perhaps it was, however unlikely it seemed for a man who had once caused countless deaths without conscience, one of simple guilt, grief and regret - if one could call such emotions, stretching back as they did three thousand years, simple.

MacLeod hesitated, uncertain what to do now. Should he just leave Methos to grieve - allow him time alone to deal with his memories and the consequences of his actions? Or should he stay and try to talk to him, attempt understanding in an effort to pull him out of the emotional morass he seemed to be drowning in? Did he even want to stay, knowing what he did now about Methos?

"Methos..." Duncan ventured tentatively.

"Leave me alone, MacLeod!" The words were hissed back at him in a hoarse, broken voice barely above a whisper. The acoustics of the base nevertheless brought them clearly enough to his ears. Perhaps the choice was out of his hands.

"Methos, are you all right?" At the very least he needed an answer to that question.

The dark head was raised slowly. In the shadows MacLeod couldn't see his face. There was a moment's pause and then the sound of Methos' bitter laughter. It sent a shiver down MacLeod's spine - he'd heard that sound before. Methos had laughed like that as he stood by his car and calmly, cruelly shattered every illusion Duncan had ever harboured about the ancient Immortal's past history. Now the laughter rose in pitch until it took on an almost hysterical edge.

"Methos!" MacLeod persisted, more urgently now. Abruptly the noise ceased.

"All right? What do you think, MacLeod? Bloody - stupid - question! But then you're good at those... Only trouble is you never like the answers they get you!" There was a depth of self-loathing in the words that shocked Duncan.

"I didn't mean to..." MacLeod spread his hands in a placatory gesture.

"No, you never do, do you?" Methos cut off the attempted apology sharply. "But somehow you have an uncanny knack of saying exactly the wrong thing at just the wrong time - it's yet another of your great talents. Only, save it for someone who cares, MacLeod..."

The Immortal was trying for anger, but the bone-weariness he felt stole the strength from his voice and the words served only to underline his pain. Methos felt the weight of every single one of his five thousand years more acutely than he had ever done before. Perversely, considering he was aiming his barbs at probably the only person who might help him ease that burden, Methos continued. He knew he shouldn't, none of this was MacLeod's fault, but in his current vulnerability the words escaped him anyway. It was an old defence mechanism, designed long ago to avoid the possibility of anyone getting behind his emotional barriers. If it gave him the time he needed to regroup...

"And speaking of caring, since when did it matter to you if I'm all right? 'We're through', remember?"

Macleod did remember. And he didn't appreciate having it flung back in his face when he was trying to hold out an olive branch.

"You really are a bastard..."

"If the shoe fits... Bye bye, MacLeod!"

Duncan was on the verge of storming out and leaving the ancient son of a bitch to stew when Methos turned his head slightly and MacLeod was finally able to see his face. What he saw was quite at variance with the taunting words, and it stopped him in his tracks.

Apart from the twin tracks of moisture still sliding slowly down Methos' cheeks, his face was a lifeless mask. It might as well have been carved from cold marble with two pieces of obsidian in place of the eyes. There was nothing of Adam Pierson in the set features, and precious little of the Methos that Duncan knew either. There was no overt emotion - it was as if the old Immortal had lost the ability to feel, to make any kind of connection with his surroundings. And yet the tears told mutely of the pain he had embraced when he killed Silas.

Three deaths. Three men whom Methos had called brothers millenia before Duncan MacLeod had been born were gone. No matter that Methos might have hated Kronos for trying to force him to once again take up a persona he had cast off two thousand years ago. Of no consequence the fact that the most sordid moments in Methos' past had been dragged up and laid bare for all to see. There were some bonds even hatred could not entirely destroy.

"Methos!" In spite of his earlier instinct to simply walk away Duncan tried again. The dead eyes, all black fathomless pupil in the dimness, met his for just a second and MacLeod shuddered involuntarily. He had no idea how to deal with this Methos - even more a stranger to him than the erstwhile murderer and rapist who had ridden his pale horse in the guise of Death.

Slowly Methos pulled himself up, sitting back on his heels and reaching for his discarded sword. Duncan felt a momentary disquiet, but it quickly became obvious Methos had no intention of using the weapon on him. He merely looked at the bloodstained blade with distaste and then glanced back at MacLeod.

"Leave me be, Highlander, you were right to turn your back on me before." Once again the self-hatred was clearly evident. "I don't deserve your concern, your pity. Cassandra's the one who needs your support, not me. No doubt she thinks you've completely taken leave of your senses, letting me live..."

"She's long gone. Besides, I think she can take care of herself without my help," observed MacLeod thoughtfully.

"And I can't?" retorted Methos, mocking him again. "I'll survive, MacLeod. I always do."

"By going with the winner?"

"Yeah, that's right."

"Have you taken a look around you lately, Methos? Which one of us is still standing?"

There was a sharp intake of breath from the other Immortal.

"Low blow, MacLeod..."

Duncan looked at the kneeling figure for a long moment. Methos was right... Now wasn't the time to press this. The nerves were still too raw - for both of them. Silently MacLeod sheathed the katana and headed for the steps which would take him out of this hell-hole. His departure was watched by Methos with something akin to relief.

As the Highlander walked heavily up the stairs he heard a sharp, metallic clang behind him. He paused, turning to see what had caused the sound.

Below, Methos had let the sword slip from his suddenly nerveless fingers. The noise it made as it fell sounded like his own death knell to him. Believing MacLeod gone he let his control slip again. Methos hugged his arms about himself and rocked back and forth on his knees as his helpless sobbing echoed back to him again and again from the cold walls. How long did it take to cry out all the pain stored up three thousand years ago? Methos didn't know, but he hoped it would be a long, long time...

Duncan watched the other man in silent sympathy for a timeless moment. Never had he seen Methos look so fragile, so vulnerable, so at odds with his own immortality... What contradictory emotions the old Immortal was capable of provoking in him! MacLeod shook himself out of his reverie and turned to continue on his way out. Methos deserved his privacy - some grief was just too personal to be shared. Duncan could understand that, even if so much else about Methos eluded him.

But never again, Duncan vowed. When Methos recovered, ready or not, they would talk - for as long as it took. He'd make sure of that; the old Immortal wasn't going to pull one of his disappearing acts this time. All other considerations aside, there was still the little matter of what had occurred during the joint Quickening. That needed to be explored, understood. Whether their friendship could survive these upheavals or not was very much open to question - as far as Duncan was concerned the jury was still out - but MacLeod was positive about one thing. He would have the truth out of Methos. Never again would there be an unexpected revelation like this one between them...

THE END

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