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 July 1999.
With thanks to Margaret for reading and commenting.
It is time - again. The latest in a long line of occasions when I find myself driven to pack up my possessions and leave - to run as far and as fast as I can from the comfortable security of whichever place I am currently calling home. As always, I will leave without saying goodbye. And, as always, I know that those I have come to call my friends will not understand my actions; why I have gone from them without a single word of apology or explanation.
Perhaps MacLeod will look for me for a while before frustration and disappointment give way to anger at my thoughtlessness. He may even wonder, for a time, if he said or did something wrong, something that drove me away. I wish it were that simple. It would be comforting to be able to accept that Scottish guilt Mac is so good at exuding and use it as an excuse for my flight. But the blame - if one can call it that - rests squarely on my shoulders. I run because of who and what I am. I don't stop running because I do not want my friends to be brought face to face with the demons who snap at my heels at times such as this.
The truth is, sometimes our hold on the things which define us as civilised is so very tenuous. The potential for the primitive in each of us is much closer to the surface than we would like to believe. Trust me, it's true. I know it from long personal experience.
You might think that I, of all people, would be able to control this tendency in myself. I've had more reasons than most to want to lock up the dark places of my soul and never look into them again. Once more I say, I wish it were that easy. If I never had to face the reality of those walled up spaces in my heart again I would count myself lucky.
There have been times when I thought I had won the battle with that deeper, more visceral part of my nature. That was merely wishful thinking on my part, though. Even after all this time the old instincts, my own particular brand of darkness, can still threaten. When I least expect it - and least desire it - I feel the familiar impulses fighting with the conventions of civilisation and they drive me until I conjure up the latest in a long line of Methos disappearing acts.
I know those I leave behind cannot understand why I disappear with no warning, only to reappear again weeks or maybe even months later. Sometimes, as with MacLeod, I can see the questions in their eyes when I return. Where have you been, Methos? those looks ask. Why did you leave? But how could I explain it to them? If they knew why I had to run so far and so fast they would probably hope I never came back again. It's really for their own good that I leave - and that I tell them nothing of where I've been or what I've done.
I've learned from bitter experience that when the urge to strike out, to hurt and destroy comes upon me I have to take myself away from the people and places of my normal existence. If I did not, I would have no life to return to when the darkness recedes. In the modern age, even more so than in the long span of my history, Death has no place in the waking world. And I well know that I am still capable of dealing death - and not only to those the Game would consider my rightful prey - should my control elude me.
Make no mistake, we may draw a cloak of civilised behaviour around ourselves, but the fact that our very nature as Immortals routinely requires us to kill simply to survive means the savage in us can never be too far from the surface. So, it might be hypocritical of MacLeod and his ilk to judge me because my inner beast is a little more savage than most, but judge me they would.
Of course, I have a choice when the urge for violence takes me. I can deny it, fight against it, and seek my salvation in the denial. Or I can give in to the darkness and allow myself to become the creature of my own worst nightmares. I have walked both paths over the years and each option might be considered to have its merits.
If I deny the baser side of my nature it's certainly easier to face those I've left behind without guilt when I do return to the fold. There are no deep, dark secrets, no unspeakable deeds to hide from them - well, no new ones at any rate. Doubtless this path would be the MacLeod approved option, but it has its costs too.
To practise that denial is not easy. There are times when the desire for violence flares up in me like a fire. The need to kill, to hurt, to desecrate can be close to overwhelming. After 5,000 years I may have learned to be civilised, but I was not born that way. The old instincts are burned deep into my soul. Once, such impulses were all that kept me alive, and the survivor in me finds it hard to ignore them at times like these.
Sometimes, the only way to prevent the destruction from being wreaked upon those around me has been to direct its force inwards, upon myself, instead. After all, I am Immortal. No matter what violence I may unleash on myself, I will heal. Or so it goes in theory. Those scars run deep, though, far outlasting the physical evidence of any harm I may have inflicted.
The self-loathing I feel in the wake of such episodes is almost worse than the violence which birthed it... and, as a result, the darkness remains inside me. I am merely able to lock it away for a while longer. There may be no need to feel guilty when you have hurt no one but yourself, but it doesn't mean you will have peace of mind.
Then there is the other way - indulging the beast within. In my more honest moments I will admit to certain uncomfortable truths. One such is that allowing my inner darkness an outward expression provides me with a sense of fulfilment I don't care to examine too closely. It brings me too near to parts of my past I would rather forget about.
Once I would have found an outlet for my violent impulses in war or raids. In such times, killing was the norm and I had more than enough of it to keep me sated. And, in the aftermath, there would be plenty of frightened survivors to satisfy my more personal needs for conquest and possession.
In these more civilised and enlightened times it's not quite so easy to find what I need, but if you know where to look... Though, even in my darkest moments I have to believe that I am, at least, no longer the cold-blooded murderer I once was. If I ever lose that certainty I will be truly lost and never be able to return to my mundane life. I will have become too dangerous.
I hope it never comes to that, but I know I can come perilously close to crossing that line when I let down my guard. So I seek out willing participants in the dark games I crave. If you're prepared to pay enough there will always be a compliant body, someone ready to accompany you into madness. Sometimes, if you're very lucky, they are so grateful to find another who understands the needs that drive them that no inducement is necessary.
A very long time ago I learned that pain and pleasure are merely two sides of the same coin. And now it depends entirely on the whim of my moods which side will be uppermost when the time comes to make that call. All too often, though, I have woken in a strange place to find beside me the evidence of how I have enacted my darker desires. At that point, more often than not, I have been sickened to the stomach. I do not enjoy being reminded so graphically of the depths to which I am still capable of sinking. And then I usually pack up and run again - only this time back to sanity and safety, rather than away from it.
Sometimes, now, I wonder what might happen if, just once, I didn't run at all. What MacLeod would say if I admitted to him the visceral urges driving me and asked for his help. Would he understand and appreciate what such honesty cost me? Or would he, as I suspect, be disgusted by my needs? Mac claims - after his experiences with the Horsemen and Byron - that he can handle whatever else my past has to throw at him. I'm less convinced. As an exercise in the hypothetical it's all well and good, but if the truth of my past were to be made manifest in the present...?
After Bordeaux I told Mac that I had changed - and it was the truth. When I was with the Horsemen I wouldn't have run away from the darker side of my nature; I would have revelled in it. What I would once have viewed as a strength I now accept as a weakness. I have learned to treat these periodic slides into violence as a mortal might deal with a recurring illness. I fight the symptoms so that I can survive. For I know that if I ever let these urges overwhelm me they will surely lead me recklessly into a situation that will kill me. It's ironic, isn't it, that my own nature should be as much my enemy as any Immortal out for my head.
I have always insisted to MacLeod that he cannot fight my battles for me. If I am honest, though, this has become one I would gladly cede to him. Running from myself becomes more tiring each time I leave. It seems as if I always need to flee further and more swiftly to escape, and I'm not sure if I even want to any more.
But, in the end, it seems I am as much a coward now as ever. I dare not stay. I'm not quite ready to be judged and found wanting yet again. I still need to know that I have a place to come back to when I am free of the darkness once more.
Where will I go in the meantime? I don't know - and at the moment I can't bring myself to care. Will I fight or submit? That choice needs to be made soon, I know, but for now I simply need to leave - to be gone before Mac comes back and finds me hesitating at the door, my duffel bag clutched in my hands like a shield.
The first step is the hardest to take. I am leaving my sanctuary behind me and I really wish this hadn't come upon me now. The trust between us is still so fragile...
One step, then another and yet more... and as I walk away from the barge I can feel the mask of civilisation begin to slip away from me, too. If it weren't such a familiar sensation it would be frightening.
I feel a cold smile settle on my lips. Suddenly, I don't want to fight the violence. I want - need - to embrace it. Yes, for the last time, or so I tell myself, I will give in to these feelings coursing through me. Let me bid farewell to my brothers in the time-honoured way.
I find the shadows, become one with them. If you should see me now, fear me. Remember, I was Death... and, for this brief span of time, I am again.
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