The sky was grey, and the day dreary and the temperature less-than-desirable. Methos fit the spare key into the lock of the door of Joe's Bar and turned it, hearing the click of the bolt sliding back and pushing the heavy door open. The bar was dark despite the hour – it was only seven o'clock in the evening, and usually the establishment was bursting with good blues or jazz music and filled with talking people or those just there to enjoy the culture.
But not tonight. Joe was out of town on "business," and the bar had been temporarily closed until his return, which should be soon. Joe had called from Paris and told the "Adam" that his business was nearly done, and that he should be returning to the states shortly. Methos hadn't heard from Duncan in a while, and wasn't sure if he would for a while to come. The past year or so had been hard, and Duncan had shouldered most of it alone, or tried to, at least. Sometimes that man could be so stubborn…
Methos shrugged out of his coat and laid it on the bar, reaching behind one of the support posts to flip on the lights that hung suspended over the tables. He rummaged around behind the bar for a good beer, and then took a seat at one of the tables on the floor, popping off the cap and taking a swig of the drink, alone with his thoughts in the quiet bar. He liked the bar – it was a nice place to come and think alone when no one else was here, and sometimes even when other people were. That was the thing about it: you could be completely surrounded by people in here and still be very much alone. Methos liked that. He was used to being alone, and very much preferred it to the company of others, who would never – could never – stay with him for as long as he could stay with his own thoughts. At least, that was what he told himself.
He was nursing his second beer, lost deep in thought, when he heard a noise outside. He sat up abruptly in his chair, wondering what the noise could have come from. It sounded like an engine of some sort…
Abruptly the noise stopped – whoever it was must have left. Methos leaned back in his chair again, and had just lifted the bottle to take another sip when the door of the bar opened and in walked someone that he'd never thought he would ever see again. Actually, it was someone that he knew with all his heart that he would never see again. Yet here he was, stepping gingerly over the door stoop and standing off to the side of the door, gazing at the elderly Immortal with that ever-present grin of his. Methos set his beer down as nonchalantly as possible, but it was impossible not to sit straight up in the chair and stare at the man.
Right there, next to the door, stood Richie Ryan.
Methos stood and made his way over to the man, walking slowly, unsure as to whether or not he'd just had too much to drink and was seeing things. But he'd only had two beers, and besides, he didn't tend to get very drunk anyway. His distinct physiology took care of that.
And another thing: he hadn't sensed Richie's arrival. He must be hallucinating, then, he reasoned. If the boy were actually here – which he obviously was not, then – Methos would have felt the "buzz" of another Immortal the moment he came near the bar. So, then, he must be hallucinating…
Methos was about to speak to the boy – apparition – whatever, when the door slid open again and in walked the most striking woman that Methos had ever seen. And he'd seen a lot of striking women. She was wearing a black tank top and black pants made out of some leather-looking material, and her jet-black hair fell about her face in wispy strands, cut so that it stood up around her head in almost a punk-rocker look. Her skin was the whitest shade of pale, and around her neck hung a silvery, shining ankh.
She looked at him, her large eyes expressing age beyond even his comprehension, and immediately something struck him. He knew her. He didn't know how or why or where from, didn’t know if it was even truly real knowledge or just déjà vu, but he knew her. And she knew him.
"Hello, Methos," she said, her voice cool and fleeting, like a cool mist coming off the ocean in the morning. "It's been a long time."
Methos nodded curtly. "Yes, it has," he replied – it seemed the only logical response, and he knew that at some point, appropriately long, long ago, he had met her. But the lack of any other information was unnerving, and he didn't like that. He looked to Richie, a familiar face at least, who crossed his arms and returned the gaze. "And he's with you?"
She smiled, nodded. "Yes, as it was meant to be. You know how these things are."
Yes, he supposed he did. He had learned long ago that what was meant to be, was meant to be, and fate was not something to be trifled with. He still possessed a bit of superstition within that ancient frame… Methos nodded, then turned to the boy, who reached out, and before the old man knew what was happening, he was embracing the kid, truthfully glad to see him again, thankful and relieved to feel his presence, his solidity, there before him. Even if he was dreaming, but somehow Methos was seriously beginning to doubt that.
"Well, can I… um, get you anything to drink?" he asked after releasing his grip, suddenly at a loss for words for the first time in quite a while. "It's not exactly my bar, as you know," he nodded towards Richie, but he was sure the woman knew this as well, somehow, "but I'm sure Joe wouldn't mind."
Richie seemed to pause for a moment, deciding something, but he finally spoke up. "Yeah, a beer'd be fine."
"Anything for you?" Methos asked the woman, who simply smiled and shook her head gently. "No, thank you."
Methos grabbed the boy a beer and handed it to him, gesturing to his table. "Please, have a seat." They did so, and soon all three were seated at the table in the otherwise empty bar, sitting around the circle and looking at each other, the silence hanging around them like a curtain.
Methos took a swig of beer and looked at the woman, who was looking back at him complacently, chin resting on clasped hands, elbows propped up on the table. She had every bit the air of one who was ancient, older than time, but at the same time she looked innocent, young and childlike in her actions. Frankly, he wasn't quite sure what to make of her.
"I know you," he said presently.
She smiled again, a smile that seemed to chill the ancient Immortal, although he wasn't sure why. "Yes, I know you do. But you've evaded me for a long time, ancient one. Longer than any other – even Hob, my brother's dear friend."
Hob… Methos had come across a Hob once, a couple of centuries back… He had been a bookbinder by the name of Robert Gadling, known only to his closer friends as Hob. Was this the individual to whom she referred…? No matter.
"Evading you?" Methos asked. "I don't really know that I've ever seen you before; doesn't one have to be aware of something to evade it?"
"Not necessarily," was her enigmatic reply.
Silence fell once more, and Methos was becoming uncomfortable. He was very confused, and he didn't like being confused. When one became confused, one became vulnerable. And vulnerable was definitely something the he did not want to be. He wasn't sure what to make of the situation – whether he was dreaming and just didn't feel like he was (but then again, does one ever?) or whether this was really happening and he just couldn't grasp it. He didn't know quite what was happening here, the purpose of this hallucination, or what all of this meant.
The woman was… intriguing. He knew he knew her, and she knew him – that much was obvious. Her face, her voice, her presence… it was there, in his subconscious, floating amidst random memories that surfaced and faded like tides flowing and ebbing, falling back into the mist of his inner mind. He could see her, standing before him, offering her hand… But why…? She remained a mystery to him, and one that he wasn't sure he wanted to unravel.
And then there was Richie. If it was actually Richie, of course. There was the matter of the lack of an Immortal buzz, despite the fact that at the very least he was sitting less than three feet away. And another thing: this man had been strangely silent for quite a while – the Richie Ryan that Methos had known had been rather talkative, to say the least, and energetic and full of life. This man was quiet and laid-back, and seemed to know a lot more than his exterior would suggest. Then again, the Richie he knew also no longer had much reason to be either energetic or full of life. But he looked like Richie, still had an air of Richie about him; Methos had long ago learned to look beyond exteriors – Never judge a book by its cover and all that. After all, who was he to argue? It was he who was yet masquerading as Adam Pierson, mild-mannered grad student and Watcher, researching the mythical Methos and always making sure to tactfully fall short of any consequential findings. No, if Methos knew one thing, it was certainly that exteriors could betray the truth.
As could his thoughts. The truth was, he knew, that despite all that he told himself, he was afraid to let himself believe that this could actually be Richie Ryan. He had let go of Richie, let go and moved on as he had for countless lifetimes. That was the way of things, he knew, and the way of the Game. It had been bound to happen sooner or later, in some fashion or another. It always did. There could, after all, be only one. And all that. Methos knew that, and did whatever it took to keep going. And if this could truly be Richie Ryan, well, then he wasn't sure exactly what he would do. Most likely, it would be one of two things: he could either break down with joy at the return of one of his dearest – let alone, only – friends, or he could go mad. Which it would be, he wasn't sure. Methos had spent so long running from the ghosts of so many pasts that meeting up with one so soon frightened him, perhaps even more than the cessation of his living self. And the fact that it frightened him so much was what frightened him even more.
"So now what?"
Methos started as the sound of her voice shattered his thoughts like cold glass hitting a dark… nothingness… and turned his eyes on the young woman, who was now leaning back in her chair, stretching her arms over her head.
Next to him, Richie shrugged. "I don't know. This is all so weird."
You could say that again, Methos thought, although he remained silent.
"So, what do you make of this all?" Richie addressed him, and Methos turned to look at the boy, looking back at him, noticing as if for the first time the faded blue shirt, the well-worn black leather of his jacket, the unkempt hair that had been Richie's trademark look. The boy was looking at him now, that grin still on his face, as if waiting to see if the old man could figure this enigma out. He had a riddle, and he knew the answer, and although it was painfully obvious the older Immortal hadn't figured it out yet and Richie was amused by the whole situation.
"Are you a ghost?" Methos was startled to hear the words fall from his own mouth, straight and to the point, very much wishing an instant later that he had had the control to stop himself from asking the question.
"Me?" Richie indicated himself, whether for emphasis or out of boyish stupidity Methos knew not. "Nah, not really. Not really a ghost, no."
"Then what are you?" Well, the first question was out, why not bring on another? After all, he was most likely dreaming the whole thing.
"Um, well… you could say that I'm kinda… here," Richie said.
Well, that helped a lot. "Of course, you're here," Methos repeated, despite the fact that in his own mind, that simple observation was still quite questionable.
"Whether we're real or not is for you to decide," the woman cut in, bringing Methos' unvoiced doubt into words.
"And who – what – who are you?" Methos asked, turning back to her.
"I am… an idea, I guess you could say," she said, not looking at him, rather playing with the ankh that hung around her neck. The silver glinted in the dim light that hung over the table, catching its sparks and playing them across the table, along the floor and ceiling.
"Well, yes." She let the ankh drop from her fingers and looked up at him again with those eyes. The abyss they contained… the blackness, the knowledge, the age… "I am Death."
Methos sat silently for a moment. Death. She was right, then – he had spent his entire life evading her, he suddenly supposed. And he had known it as well… just not known that it was a person – well, personification, really, he guessed – that he had been evading. He'd never embraced – or even considered, really – that Death was a person, a cheery gothette who met you at the end to guide you to the other side, who met and talked with and whispered to and walked beside every living thing, waiting for her time. But it was her. And he knew it really was her – that she wasn't some crazy that just showed up and thought she was Death, that she really was who – what – she said she was, and that she spoke the truth. And she had Richie with her. And he'd met her before, somewhere else ago…
He turned to Richie, his body moving as of its own volition now; he felt as if he truly were in a dream. Fear suddenly gripped his heart, its cold, icy hand closing around it and plunging him into blackness that he'd never before. He had spent so long running, had done so much, so many things… Was it all coming full circle now? Was the dead here to make him pay for it all? Did he deserve any less? He shuddered inwardly at the self-condemnation.
"Are you dead, then?" he asked the boy.
"He is not dead," she answered for him, and Methos swung around again to face her. "He is my Eternal Footman, but no, he is not dead."
…I heard the Eternal Footman bought himself a bike to race… Some song Methos had once heard drifted back to him. How fitting, he thought with almost a smile. And somehow, the role did fit Richie.
"Why are you here?" He had to know – to know if she was here for him, so he could… What?! he asked himself. Get up and run? Fat lot of good that would do now, he imagined.
"Oh, to talk," she said pleasantly, resting her hands on her knees a moment.
So that was it? Death wanted to talk? Methos was a bit taken aback by this… not that he'd known what to expect; after all, he'd never actually expected to meet Death before. But still… he had met her before, if he could only remember…
"How… have I met you before?" he asked slowly, unsure as to whether she would answer his question, or whether he even wanted an answer in the first place.
She leaned forward. "I meet everyone twice," she explained. "Once at the beginning, and once at the end. Of course," she added wistfully, "no one ever remembers the first time."
But Methos remembered. Suddenly it was clear – her vision swam to the surface of the seemingly-endless 5000 year-old fog that had become his memory and the surface rippled, like water broken by the emergence of a swimmer on a cool, placid cloudless and windless day. And there she was, surrounded by black and light all at the same time, hand offered to him in a peaceful gesture, yet well beyond his reach, wearing a black robe or cloth of some sort that he remembered from as far back as he could remember… no, farther than he could remember. This was before, before anything else… And the ankh hung from her neck, even though it hadn't even been created yet, and she looked at him, and smiled, and spoke to him…
"I remember," he said.
"Yes," was her reply. "You do, and you are the only one. You alone have evaded me all these years, and it is because deep down, you always remembered when we first met. It has kept you alive, and it has kept you away from my hand."
"But I don't remember what you said," Methos emphasized; it was true, he remembered her speaking to him, but the voice mumbled nonsense, he couldn't recall the words.
"No, not directly, not consciously. But you remember, you know, otherwise I would have visited you a long, long time ago."
"Am I…" The words nearly caught in his throat, the fear back once more and he found himself almost shivering. It couldn't all be over now… it had been centuries – millennia – but it was too soon… "Am I… dead? Is that why you've come to me now?" The thought scared him more than nearly anything had. This couldn't be it…
She shook her head, and as she did so he wanted to sink down into his seat, just melt into the wood and cushion with relief. "No," she assured him, "You are not dead. It's not over for you yet. Unless you wish it to be so. Unless you want to leave now, not realizing what you have, what it all means."
"What it means?" Methos was puzzled once more by her words. What did she mean – was he somehow supposed to have figured it all out, just because he'd been around a while? Somehow the thought struck something in him – something so many had brought up. Something he had once believed…
"Just because I've been around longer than anyone else doesn't mean I've got it all figured out! I'm no better than anyone else – in fact, I'm worse than most of them!?" he said, his voice rising along with his body as he stood, ready to pound the table for emphasis. "What do you expect? I'm just a guy! All I've ever done was look out for me, for myself, and that's how I've stayed alive this long!"
"You've done what it takes to survive," she agreed softly, looking up at him. "You've gone to almost any end to make sure you stayed alive. 'Survival of the fittest,' I think someone once called it…"
"Darwin," Richie put in.
She smiled at him. "Thanks."
"Exactly," Methos pointed out. "I've done whatever it took, and I didn't always like it. Oh sure, sometimes I did – I remember that once I envisioned myself as Death. I killed, I was a monster, and I liked it."
He paused for a breath, and then sat down again, noticing their looks, wondering how crazy they must really think he was. Of course, not that he cared for what hallucinations thought…
"But not anymore," he said softly, a wave of despair and guilt – guilt he'd never let himself feel – crashing down on him without relent. Now it truly was coming back to him, everything he'd done was washing over him, making him pay with the memories of the countless faces, the countless lives… "I'm… I’m not proud of that, and it wasn't justified, and I can never repay all those I've killed for what I've done. The world was different – I was different. But things change." He sighed. "And all I've really done since is run from the ghosts…"
And now they'd caught up with him, and now he was going to pay for being… what? Human?
"You've been running a long time, Methos," she said, cupping her hands around her ankh once more, which seemed to glitter even in the darkness of her palms. "Running, just looking out for yourself and struggling to survive alone in the world. I know. But survival isn't everything. Until you've learned that, you haven't truly lived." She looked at him then – straight at him, and he saw all the ghosts of his past, all his wrongs, all his life, in her eyes. "Have you learned that, Methos the Immortal, the oldest living man? Have you learned that, in all your time here?"
"I…. I think so," was all he could say, feeling for the first time… since when? how long ago?… like a small child, like one who had been called upon by their teacher to solve an arithmetic problem and they weren't quite sure they'd done it correctly. He really was Adam Pierson then, young grad student who only got in everyone's way and didn't know the ropes yet, who had to be told how to do everything, who was new to the game. She knew so much more…
She smiled then, and something flooded into that gaze, something warm, something approving… Sacrifice, and concern for others, empathy and emotion and nobility and servitude toward some greater cause…
"I don't deserve this," he whispered, the wave of regret and bitter pain and guilt and anguish still crashing loudly in his ears. What was he doing? Arguing over the only thing he'd fought to preserve nearly his entire life? Why was he asking, why was he questioning, why was he doubting? Don't question it, his mind told him, Don't question it or you might lose it. But the words were already tumbling out, his defenses gone, now he needed to know what his self-doubt had been whispering at him for centuries…
"Why me? Why was I chosen to live so long, to see so much, to be burdened with so many years and lifetimes and millennia? I didn't do what others could have, I've wasted so much of it in fire and destruction and blood and murder… massacre… why me? What have I done? What have I to show for it?"
"Your knowledge," Richie spoke up, his belief in what he said evident in his voice. "You've done so much with what you've learned; Mac said you've been keeping a journal since the invention of writing – imagine what's in there! You've seen so much, you've learned the patterns that govern mankind and know the cycle that life goes through. You've had the time to learn that." He paused. "Some of us never got that time."
"You've stayed alive," she continued. "You've survived where so many others would have – have, in fact – died, ceased going on. Like you said, you were best at looking out for you, and you have done well, and accomplished much in that."
"But what good does it do?!" Methos asked, frustrated. "I've done nothing with that – no one will ever likely see it! Who would believe it? Who would… care?" His face fell as he contemplated one of the many truths he'd learned, one of the rules he'd come to live by. "Who would care if I left tomorrow? I've left so many people so many times, who would know the difference this time? I've been there, yes, but in the background. No one knew I was there, no one will ever know what I know, see the things I've seen…"
Methos looked up at the woman, discovering the truth in her words even as she spoke them. Yes, he realized, Death had been there, since the beginning of the world, and she had seen it all. She had been with him as well, all the way, always peering over his shoulder, so much a part of his life yet he still ran from her so…
"Wherever you went, I was there," she said. "When you ravaged each village, each city, each time I was there, left in your wake."
Methos sighed – what she said was true, and he knew he could never be forgiven for his actions, for his abominations.
"When you stopped the killing, I was still there, still following you," she said softly. "You fascinate me, you are out of my reach, and although your lifestyle required less and less of me, I have stayed."
He wasn’t sure whether to take that as a compliment. Fascinate Death? The thought, despite the praise in its intent, chilled him.
"Did I deserve it?" he asked meekly, looking at the table, at the rings of condensation his beer bottle had left on the surface, trying to study the grain in the wood. "Did I do enough good?" The regret and pain in his voice now was enough to make even her cringe at the deepest sorrow his tones conveyed. There was nothing but doubt now, in this moment of weakness, and Methos knew he would admonish himself for it later.
"That's not for me to decide," she said finally, softly, standing up from the table. Richie stood as well, and began walking towards the door. She leaned on the back of her chair as Methos got up, entrenched in so many emotions he feared he might be lost, he feared so much…
"You have to make up your mind for yourself. You get what everyone gets – a lifetime. Some are short, some long, but to each their own. A lifetime."
"A lifetime…" he echoed, looking up at her, her slim, pale figure dressed in darkness, the small star of light hanging in the everlasting symbol of life suspended from her neck. "Everlasting life…" he muttered to himself, remembering when the first ankh had been put down into the royal scrolls of Egypt's kings, when the first pharaoh had declared himself a god.
"I am no god," he told her. "I'm just a man, just a guy."
She smiled. "Of course you are. No one ever expected more of you."
"I did," he whispered, so softly that he wasn't even sure if she had heard him, wasn't even sure that he'd said it aloud, wasn't even sure if he'd dared to even think it.
"Well, then," she said, standing up straighter, taking her weight off the chair. "Are you ready to go, then?" she asked him softly, this time her eyes searching his for the answers she sought; answers he couldn't imagine her not knowing.
She held out her hand. "It's not my place to decide," she went on. "You get a lifetime, and you can't bargain or beg or plead or ask for more or less. A lifetime. Have you had yours? Do you want to rest? I can give that to you, if you're ready." Her face was gentle, and her voice gentler.
End it all? Methos was torn, where he knew he should not be. What had he done all these years? Run from the end, kept as far ahead of the shadows as he could so that no one else would end it before his time. But… she was offering to let him end it, to let him decide. He had so much doubt, and it was all gushing forward, threatening to take over, when he was so frightened to give in to it.
There was so much he had learned, so much he had seen, so much he regretted, so much he treasured.
Had he lost his faith in humanity, or had he found it in all he'd seen?
Nobility, treachery, justice, massacre, water, blood, light, darkness…
"No," he said, smiling weakly. "No, thank you. It's not my time."
She continued smiling as well, the action genuine, and lowered her hand and walked over to the door where Richie was waiting.
"Tell Mac… Tell Mac that I miss him," Richie said.
Methos nodded. "Goodbye, my friend. You have been missed, and will continue to be so."
"Thanks," Richie smiled. "I'll be seein' ya."
And with that, he was gone through the door of the bar, once more out of Methos' life, as quickly and quietly as he'd gone the first time. But somehow, this time, he wasn't truly gone. And Methos felt better about that.
"So long for now," she said, waving a bit.
He returned the wave, still smiling, no longer afraid of it, of her, of maybe even himself. "Yeah," he said. "I'll see you again."
"Sure will." She winked, smiled, and was gone in a flash of silver.
Methos sat, alone in Joe's Bar, nursing his second beer, lost in thought. A slow smile crept over his lips, and he took another sip of the warm beer. He looked at the bottle; warm was how it used to be served, before they'd come up with such things as iceboxes, as refrigerators. He liked it better the old way, he thought.
But things changed, he knew. Things always changed, and people changed with them. It was change or die, and he had changed, whether he had ever admitted it or not. He knew he could never repay all his debts, never make good all the bad he'd done. But he could do something, and something was a start.
After all, he was only a man.
Just a guy.
And things would always change, he knew, but nothing was ever truly lost.