Red, Red Wine

Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod sat upright as his immortal sense was twigged. Methos slunk through the barge hatch. His coat hung off him, all the better to hide his sword with, and the rest of his arsenal. Duncan knew for a fact that there was a Roman Legionary short sword in addition to his Ivanhoe lurking in the depths.

The Ďfeelí of Methosí approach was unlike any other immortals he had met in his four hundred years. It was deeper, rounder, aged like a fine red wine. Any immortal sensing its tang would have screamed "Ancient Immortal! Ancient Immortal! That is one fucking ancient immortal." Yet most immortals thought that he was a newbie. But once in a blue moon, and in that first memorable meeting, the quickening had sounded like a cacophony of many souls laughing.

Duncan had over the years devoted a fair amount of time considering the nature of quickenings. He had also, with various confidants, mused on the possibility that quickenings were accumulative. It was true that the older an immortal became the more coveted his or her quickening became. But were they really bigger and better? Darius refused to be drawn, preferring the inscrutable elder approach. However, it was undeniable that an ancient immortal had an ineffable quality, but was that the quickening or the person?

Methos raised an eyebrow in question, as he shifted his coat off his shoulders and threw it on the bed. There was a dull clunk which Duncan put down to an axe or two. The Highlander watched, trying to catalogue this most ancient of immortals. His chameleon faÁade was still in place, unassuming, unpretentious, most people would see a too baggy sweater -- with long sleeves hanging over hands like a badly dressed, underfed grad student -- and a face that looked as innocent as the day was long.

Duncan knew better.

Methos smirked and Duncan had the strangest feeling that Methos knew exactly what was going through his mind.

Still not saying a word, Methos padded over to Duncanís music collection and began to sift through the selection. Each and every CD was cast aside with a flare of his overly wide nostrils. A final CD passed his scrutiny and was slotted into the player. Duncan withheld a sigh as Pink Floydís ĎAnother Brick in the Wallí echoed through the barge.

Long and lanky and enjoying himself far too much, Methos threw himself down on the sofa. He leaned his head back on the arm and listened, his hand beating out a rhythm that had nothing to do with the music.

His hazel eyes hooded, he watched Duncan through long lashes. The supercilious cat-smirk on his face really needed to be wiped off.

"How do you do it?" Duncan blurted, and could have kicked himself; he felt like he was only one hundred again.

Methos cocked his head to the side. "Youíll have to be more specific."

"Your quickening, sometimesÖ" Duncan looked away from those too knowing eyes, "it feels different."

"May be it does, maybe it doesnít. You have an entirely different perspective to me. I generally donít go around feeling myself."

Duncan shot him a horrified glare, but Methosí expression was as innocent as the driven snow. "You can change it, canít you?"

"My quickening?"

"Yes, your quickening." Sometimes talking to Methos was like talking to a recalcitrant child.

"ĎCourse my quickening changes, it changes every time I end Ė appropriately enough Ė up to my neck in one of your quests. I thought youíd invited me over for an Italian meal?"

"Why does it sound different?" Duncan persisted, not moving to the kitchen area.

Methos sighed and then said pointedly, "You took Byronís quickening; that was different, wasnít it."

Duncan dropped his eyes, abashed. "Yes."

"And," Methos continued relentlessly, "George was Ďborní in 1788, and that makes him just a little younger than you."

"So what youíre saying," Duncan fumbled along, "is thatÖ Maybe Byronís quickening was a sum of the other immortals that he took."

"He didnít take quickenings unless he couldnít help it." And with a purely calculated tone added, "He was disabled, club-foot, remember? It put him at a disadvantage when he fought."

Duncan sifted through the slurs, knowing that Methos was trying to distract him. "So youíre saying that it is the person not the quickenings?"

"No."

"So what are you saying?" Duncanís voice rose.

"The first time you met me, I hadnít taken a head for over two hundred years."

"So," Duncan began slowly, "I felt you that first time and nowÖ I feel you and the quickenings that youíve taken recently?"

Methos clapped his hands mockingly. "Give the boy a cigar."

"What does my quickening soundÖfeel like?"

Methosí eyes narrowed and for the first time since he had forced this conversation, Duncan thought that he had intrigued the ancient immortal.

"Hmmm, pretty much like everyone elseís. A bit like sticking your head in the loo and flushing." The ancient immortal smirked as Duncan scowled. "What the longest youíve ever managed between taking heads, a week?"

"Hardly, try months; it was several years when I was with the Sioux."

"Tell you what, you spend a few hundred years not running around proclaiming that youíre Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, en gardť you foul, dishonourable fiend, and weíll have this conversation again."

Any riposte was blocked by Duncanís next thought. "So your own quickening is laughing all the time."

"Thatís hardly news." In one smooth motion, Methos was on his feet and was arrowing to the kitchen. Duncan had left the locally brewed beers in the cupboard beside the sink in two patient lines waiting for Methos.

"And you change your quickening by taking heads."

"Weíve already had this conversation, Highlander."

"So you can recognise an old immortal, whoís out of practice, by a strange feeling quickening."

"Yukk yukk," Methos retorted, not rising to the bait.

How could you have a decent conversation with someone when to get any opinions, speculation or examples from their own experiences, you had to drag them out kicking and screaming? Duncan pouted mulishly, he wanted to plumb the knowledge that Methos locked away and hoarded so frugally.

Methos sank back onto his sofa and concentrated on getting to the bottom of his bottle of beer as soon as possible.

"Methos!"

"You sound just like Amanda. What do you really want to know, Highlander? That I can change the Ďsoundí of my quickening at will? I can. I can choose not to take heads and over time assimilate the quickenings Iíve taken. Or I can allow them to take over me. I know which I prefer."

"If thatís the case," Duncan said, inspired by an instant of photographic memory, "why did you sound Ďnormalí the second time that I met you? After Kalas tried and failed to take your head? When you were trying to make me take your head."

Methos lowered his lashes coquettishly.

"You, bastard, you can change your quickening." Duncan was opened mouthed. "How? Can you reduce it so you sound mortal?"

"No," Methos finally admitted, "but you can make it until you sound like a newbie who has only taken a quickening or two. Itís a good survival strategy."

"Is that what this is about? Survival?"

"Isnít it always?" Methos countered.

Duncan had no real answer for that one. "Itís a trap."

"Hardly, you try wandering around with a five thousand year old quickening. Itís a bloody beacon. Iíve got enough of a price on my head without advertising. If you donít figure out how to do it," Methos said sing-song, "you donít last very long."

"How do you do it?"

"Why do you want to know, Highlander? Itís not honourable. Any rate everyone knows who you are. Youíre the famous Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Youíre a coveted jewel among immortals. The watchers favourite candidate to win the Game."

"Really?"

"Oh please, like you didnít know."

Duncan snorted, but innate honesty begged him to admit, "I donít want to win the Game."

Methos wriggled back into the couch cushions. "I know that. Did you know that?"

"I used to. I wanted to keep Tessa safe." Duncanís demeanour was the exact opposite to his older friend. He leaned forward elbows braced on his knees. He had always thought that if he won, it would be preferable to another Kurgan winning. His success would ensure a beneficent winner of the Prize. Yet to win the Game would mean no more sparring with Methos. No more wild monkey love with Amanda. The beginning of ultimate loneliness.

"And?" Methos prompted.

"Who wants to live forever?"

"I do," Methos said easily. "Think of all the new things to learn and experience in the future. The Gameís an anachronism perpetuated between immortals with no imagination. Itís a religion."

"But you canít deny that quickenings areÖ"

"Are what?" Methos interrupted. "Seductive. Controlling. Malicious?"

"They bring power."

"Your Darius didnít think so. Kol Teík didnít think so. If you drink too much beer you get fat and sluggish."

"Really?" Duncan quipped and was surprised when Methos stuck out his tongue.

"Come on, Iím going to teach you something new." The ancient immortal stood and held out his hand to Duncan.

The Highlander viewed it suspiciously. "What?"

"Trust me." Methos wriggled his fingers.

Gingerly, Duncan placed his broad, square hand across Methosí narrower one. He was tugged easily to his feet. Methos didnít release his grip and Duncan waited patiently for the next step. Nothing happened and they stood holding hands, in the middle of the barge moored in the River Seine. Determined to wait the wily immortal out, Duncan stood still, respirations easing out to a meditative rhythm.

He heard a multitude laughing softly and slowly they gave way to one sole voice chortling merrily. Then they stood in silence, not even hearing the lapping of the river against the hull. And Duncan felt the Highlands; the mountains were singing single note that made his guts resonate with contentment.

"Ah." Duncan exhaled and leaned into his friend, burrowing his face in the crook of his neck. He felt long fingers entwine in his hair and rub soothingly. "What was that?" he whispered.

"That was your quickening. Nice wasnít it?"

"Yeah," Duncan breathed.

They stood in a timeless instant simply marvelling, until Duncan asked, "How did you do that?"

"I didnít," Methos laughed. "You just stood still long enough. Youíll get better at it with time."

"Really?" He liked that idea, to be at peace with your own self to that degree.

Methos whispered directly in his ear, "Promise."

finis