Disclaimer: Highlander the Series is property of Rysher Entertainment. The characters Methos, Connor, Darius, Duncan, Amanda, Kronos, Caspian, and Sean Burns are used without permission, but with great reverence. All other characters, and the story itself, belong to Jennifer Allen, copyright 2002. Please send all comments to Jen at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you distribute or save this story, please leave the header intact.
Timeline: This story is the third and final piece of my Horseman arc that includes The Centre Cannot Hold and For the Reckoning Comes. This story starts out a year after For the Reckoning Comes. I wouldn't recommend reading this one before you've read the first two, as it won't make much sense. All of my fanfic can be found at http://www.jendaveallen.com/Fanfic/ficidx.htm, or you can email me and I'll send you a copy.
Acknowledgments: As always, tremendous thanks goes to my beta readers—Dave Allen, Glo. Phillips, Denise Underwood, Cynthia Hoffman, Jane Credland, Ron & Sue Koci, and Kay Brenner. Someday I'll even forgive a certain pair of them for making major restructuring requests and then being able to back them up so well that I had to give in and make them. You know who you are. <grin>
Warning: This story contains scenes that are violent, sexually graphic, and involve discussions of m/m rape and torture. If you're under 18 or don't like to read about such things, please select another story.
Tuscany, December 2000 (1 year after For the Reckoning Comes)
Bryan was in heaven. He stood at his kitchen counter, kneading a loaf of French bread while watching a tape of Farscape. The air was redolent with the rich scent of tomatoes and spices as his homemade marinara sauce simmered on the stove behind him and his fresh-made lasagna noodles boiled gently in their pot. Soon he could set the bread to rest and make the lasagna, then he could go back to working on the Napoleons. By the time Jim got back from his ride, Bryan would have their favorite comfort foods ready and waiting.
A shrill ring broke into his contentment, and he scowled. After dusting his hand off on his apron, he stopped the VCR and tapped the phone's 'Speaker' button. "Hello," he said, a trifle resentfully.
JL's chuckle sounded through the phone's speaker. "I bet I interrupted Farscape, didn't I?" she asked.
Bryan grinned, his annoyance forgotten. "Yeah, but since you sent me the tapes, I guess I'll have to forgive you. What's up?"
"What's up?" JL repeated with mock indignation. "You vanish without a word to anyone, then suddenly I get a message from you begging for Farscape tapes. Not a word about how you're doing or whether Jim's okay, just you complaining that you missed most of last season and need your fix. And you ask me what's up?"
"Well, I considered buying the Science Fiction Channel and having them send me over the masters, but I thought I'd try you first," he replied, ignoring her main complaint.
JL paused while she considered that statement. "You know," she said finally, "if anyone else said that, I'd tell them to pull the other one."
Bryan chuckled. "Trust me, the entertainment industry is such a pain in the ass, even I save that kind of thing as a last resort. But much as I'd love to dig the Hollyweird dirt with you, I'm in the middle of three recipes and need to get my noodles out of hot water."
"Is that what the kids are calling it these days?" JL asked with a laugh.
Bryan blew her a raspberry and carried the pasta pot over to the double sink, carefully lifting out the strainer insert. He set the strainer in the second sink and gave the noodles a quick rinse in cold water to stop them from cooking further. "You," he eventually replied, "are a pest, even if you do provide my Farscape fix. My noodles are just fine, thank you. Finally."
"I'm damn glad to hear that, Bry," JL said fervently. "I've missed you. There's a million things I want to talk to you about, if you've got the time."
Bryan took a quick mental survey of his own resources and nodded to himself. "Tell you what—I'll call you after dinner. We won't be rushed then." He glanced at his watch and did a quick time calculation. After all his years of traveling, he could calculate time zones in his sleep, but something had to be off this time—JL was not a morning person. Ever.
"OK," JL hesitated, then rushed on with her news. "Do you have Colin's number? I, um, moved in with him yesterday."
Being careful to keep the 'I told you so' tone out of his voice, he replied, "Is that why you're up so early? It's only, what, 9 am in Seacouver, right?"
JL growled slightly. "Colin's kids are visiting for the holidays. We drafted the two oldest to help me move, so they got tired out, but Charlie's only seven and he thinks morning is a fantastic time to come jump on daddy's bed."
Bryan couldn't keep from laughing. "And he survived waking you up?"
JL snorted. "Even I know that killing a man's kid on the first day isn't socially acceptable. You have to wait at least a year or two."
Bryan chuckled again. "I think that's great, Princess, truly. On the very…"
"…first day you met him you said we should get together," JL interrupted resignedly. "Yeah, yeah. I know. Don't you ever get tired of being right?"
A shadow passed across Bryan's face and he shuddered. "Give me a break, kid," he said, a little more gruffly than he'd intended. "I haven't been right about much lately. Let me revel in nailing your relationship with Colin, okay?"
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "Considering how badly things went the last time I saw you, I'm sure it was hell. But you're okay now, right? You and Jimmy?"
"Yeah," he agreed, forcing himself to shake off the lingering depression. "We are. Finally. August will probably go down as the worst month of my entire life, but we got through it. All that's left is making it up to each other, and we're good at that."
"Thank God. I don't think I'd want to live in a world without you guys in it."
"Here's hoping you never have to," he replied with a chuckle. "Now I've really got to finish dinner. I'll call you later, okay?"
"Okay." JL hesitated a moment, then said quietly, "If you want to talk about it, I'd be happy to listen."
Bryan smiled, amused at the idea of playing patient to his patient. Still, she was a good listener when she wanted to be, and if August had taught him anything, it was that there weren't enough good listeners around. "I'll think about it," he compromised, "but to be honest, I'd be hard pressed to know where to start. It was…well…long."
"Man, have I had months like that," JL replied. "Years, even."
Bryan heard a door open, then JL muffled the phone while she exchanged a few words with Colin. He thought he heard a quick kiss, but it could have been his imagination—he frequently imagined kissing with the least bit of provocation. That reminded him of how he and Jim had spent the previous evening, and he was happily drifting off into his memories when JL's voice dragged him back to reality.
"Well, you have hot noodles, and we have Charlie spilling Fruit Loops and milk on the couch. Talk to you later?"
"Yeah," Bryan replied, reluctantly coming back to the present. "Later, Princess."
"All my love to Jim," she replied as she hung up.
"Mine too," Bryan replied to the air as he turned off the speaker and went back to the sink. He looked at the cold mass of congealed noodles and sighed. At least that was easily fixed. It was about time one of the problems in his life was. After August, he was absolutely certain that he deserved a least a hundred "Get Out Of Jail Free" cards.
Tuscany, August 2000
Bryan shifted on the window seat, reminding himself sternly that his entire future depended on his remaining calm. When he'd regained control of his emotions, he looked up at Jim. His lover-turned-patient was leaning against the wall near the bar, staring at the ice in his Scotch. His fourth tumbler of Scotch, the voice in Bryan's head noted, and he's reaching for the bottle again.
"Jim, please," Bryan pleaded. "You promised you'd try, remember?"
Jim snarled, but his hand dropped back to his side. "Don't you have enough to feed your sick fantasies already?" he challenged. "Does hearing about the hell I went through rescuing you make you feel special or something?"
Bryan swallowed hard, digging his nails into his palms. "It makes me feel sick," he admitted. "I'd love to forget the whole thing, but that won't fix the problem, and I refuse to give up while there's still a chance of helping you."
"How the fuck is this helping me?" Jim snapped, hurling the heavy crystal tumbler at Bryan's head.
Bryan ducked reflexively. The tumbler shattered along with the picture window, sending shards of glass raining down on his back. Bryan focused on the pain, glad for anything that distracted him from the burning desire to cut off Jim's head. He glared at Jim, catching a momentary look of concern on his lover's face. Brief though it was, it still gave Bryan a handle on his rage.
"Look," he finally growled, brushing pieces of glass off his shirt, "we've been through this a hundred times. You knew damn well I'd be tracking you, but you kept using your 'James O'Leary' identity and paying with the same credit cards. That's a cry for help if I ever heard one." Raising his head, he met Jim's gaze defiantly. "And when I did find you, you agreed to come here after only a token argument. You want help, Julian. Admit it so we can move on."
"I was stupid enough to believe your promises," Jim snapped, "but all you've done is make things worse."
Bryan could see Jim's jaw clenching as he bit off further commentary and fought for his own control. Three months of this and we're both ready to snap, he realized. This has got to end soon or we'll end up killing each other. Bryan searched for something to say, but words eluded him. If there was another option out there, he was damned if he could see it.
Just as Bryan was about to give up and let himself fall apart, Jim spoke grudgingly. "I still don't see what difference the details make."
"I don't know either," Bryan admitted wearily, "but there's something you're not telling me or that I'm not understanding. And I've got to understand it or we're not going to get through this." Bryan gazed at his lover pleadingly, willing him to listen. Let me in, Julian, he pleaded silently. Be honest with me and I know we'll find the key.
Jim turned away and stalked to the other end of the room, terrified that his face would reveal his secret—or that he'd do something even more violent to make Bryan stop asking. In his mind, Kronos' laughter echoed tauntingly, daring Jim to admit that Kronos was alive and well deep in Jim's psyche. The cool breeze from the broken window couldn't account for the sudden chill that ran down his spine as he remembered that laugh.
But Bryan was right about one thing—Jim did want to fix this. Maybe if he finished the story and finally explained the scars on his neck, well, maybe Bryan would decide it was enough. Maybe he'd stop asking and Jim could go back to forgetting. He doubted it, but these were desperate times. He felt rather than heard Bryan come up behind him, and he knew it was now or never.
Running his hand over the scars on his neck, Jim spoke in the flat, emotionless tone he'd cultivated on a hundred battlefields. "It was dawn, about four months after I'd joined up. I thought he was beginning to accept me, to trust me just a little. That alone should have warned me that a test was coming. Kronos loved tests."
Jim shook his head, disgusted with his own naiveté. "That morning he ordered me to plan a raid on the town with the largest number of children in it, because he'd heard that the brothels and slave markets were paying top dollar for young, innocent victims to amuse their jaded clientele. It was my chance to prove myself, and he made it clear that he expected great things from me." Jim shuddered. "I admit, I started thinking of possibilities because I needed him to trust me so he'd give me some slack. But while I considered it, he began talking about how much fun it was to rape children. He said he found their pitiful struggles and high-pitched screams adorable. He even promised me my pick of them if my raid met his expectations, and he made some very specific suggestions about what I could do to the child once I had him."
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Jim continued, "I couldn't do it after listening to that filth. I knew Kronos would still raid the village, that all I was doing was making my own life miserable, but I had to draw a line somewhere. So I said no. Several times, in fact. Kronos just nodded and walked into his tent. Every nerve was screaming at me to run, but I knew that would just make it worse." He laughed bitterly. "At that point, I still thought it could get worse. Stupid of me.
"When he came out he had his 'special' collar. He'd threatened me with it before, but I'd folded before he needed to use it. This time he didn't give me the option." Jim rubbed his neck again. "It was made of iron lined with sharp spikes, and it was heavy enough that the weight alone made the spikes cut into the back of my neck. When he pulled off my leather collar, the iron one slid down a little and I could feel blood trickling down my back. I knew it was going to be sheer hell and I was willing to beg, but he wouldn't give me permission to speak. He'd decided that I needed a lesson, and that was that."
Jim's voice faltered as he poured a fresh glass of Scotch. When he spoke again, he'd regained a little of his composure. "He ordered me to strip, taunting me and laughing at my embarrassment. When I was completely naked, he took a length of chain and hooked it to the front of the collar, pulling on it until my entire neck was bleeding. He paraded me around in front of the guards—and Caspian—that way, then mounted his horse and yanked the chain until I was up on my tip toes looking into his eyes. He leaned down and kissed me before kicking his horse into a gallop and dragging me along behind him. He rode over the worst ground he could find; through briars, over stone walls, into fields of stinging nettles."
Laying both hands on the wall, Jim leaned forward and concentrated on breathing until Kronos' malevolent glee receded from his memory. Drawing on his last bit of strength, he continued, "By that time, he knew how much abuse my body could take better than I did. Whenever I lost consciousness he'd stop, let me heal a little, then drag me to his side and ask if I was ready to obey. Before I could respond he'd take off again. He kept that up all day and half the night."
Jim took a huge gulp of Scotch and shivered. "It scarred as badly as it did because he left that collar on me for a full month. Every time I moved too quickly, the spikes would reopen the wounds. Kronos loved watching me bleed while he fucked me—he'd thrust himself into me as hard as he could, in lots of different positions, to make the collar move as much as possible. Then he'd lick the blood off my throat and threaten to weld the collar shut so I'd be marked as his forever." Jim finished his Scotch and set the glass down hard enough to shake the table. "Getting him to take it off took, well, let's just say it took effort," he concluded flatly.
"Damn," Bryan whispered, reaching out a comforting hand.
Jim spun and slapped Bryan's hand away, his desire to fix things instantly transformed into fury. "Save your fucking compassion for someone who deserves it," he snarled. "After that, I didn't fight him anymore. I stopped caring about what happened to the children—I just wanted to protect myself. I sold out villages that you and I had lived in, places we'd called home. How's that for heroic? Brave? Worthy?"
"He tortured you, Julian," Bryan soothed. "You had no choice."
"There's always a choice, Bryan. Always."
Bryan shook his head. "Everyone has their breaking point. It's not a sin to be human, Julian. The sin is to keep doing it when you're no longer under duress."
Jim grabbed Bryan's shirt and swung his lover into the wall hard enough to knock several knickknacks off a nearby bookcase. "What do you think I've been trying to tell you, you moron? Remember those pesky, uncontrolled rages of mine? The ones you threw in my face before you traipsed off to Bordeaux? What do you think I did after I packed my bags and slammed the door in your face? Took up knitting? Opened a home for wayward orphans? I killed, you asshole, killed. Mortals, immortals, whatever and whoever caught my attention."
Bryan's jaw clenched, but he forced himself not to fight against Jim's hold. "Maybe," he replied evenly, "but as enraged as you were, you always targeted those who deserved to die—murderers, gay bashers, rapists, other scum. You didn't pillage villages and rape babies."
"And that makes it all right? As long as you're sure that someone's scum, you can beat the life out of him and walk away with a song in your heart?"
"Well…um…I…" Bryan straightened and shook his head. "You're not changing the subject."
"You're right, I'm not. You are. Answer my question. Who gave us the right to decide who deserves to die?"
Bryan shifted uneasily, sensing a trap. "No one gave it to us. But we've both been around a hell of a long time. We can decide who's a menace to society and who isn't."
Jim snorted and shoved Bryan into the wall again. "Bull. We've been making that decision since we discovered we were immortal. Hell, before that, even. Your family owned slaves, remember? Every day of your youth you decided who should serve and who should be served. Might has always made right in our world."
"Maybe," Bryan replied, grabbing Jim's wrists and squeezing hard to show that he was tired of being shoved around. "Is that so wrong? We may not be saints, but we're not evil incarnate either."
Bryan blinked. "What?"
"Who says we're not evil?" Jim insisted, dropping his hold on Bryan's shirt and pulling away. "Slavery is regarded as evil now. We owned slaves, so why aren't we evil?"
"The times…" Bryan stopped, but it was too late.
"…were different," Jim finished with a triumphant sneer. "Why does that work for us and not for Methos?"
"We didn't murder for the fun of it," Bryan replied flatly. This discussion always ended badly.
"But the times really were different. Marauders were the rule, not the exception. By the laws of their land, they weren't doing anything wrong. Hell, they killed fewer people than the Roman army you idolize so much."
"It's not the same."
"It is. Rome didn't need land, she needed slaves and money and something to fight. But altruism? Bringing civilization to the poor savages who desperately needed it? That was just a lie you told yourselves so you could sleep at night." Bryan shook his head, but Jim pressed on. "Let's face it, Bry. You've played god since you were old enough to punish your first slave. I jumped on the bandwagon as soon as I could. We're no better than Methos or Kronos, we just have a better façade. At least Kronos didn't try to rationalize his actions."
Bryan stared at Jim in horror. "You can't be serious. We've never taken pleasure in killing helpless women and children."
Jim's eyes narrowed. "Be honest with yourself, will you? All mortals are helpless compared to us, even the murderous scum you claim deserve to die." Bryan started to speak, but Jim held up his hand warningly. "And don't just change helpless to innocent, either. We don't have the right to judge anyone's innocence any more than their guilt."
"There's a difference," Bryan insisted. "There's a huge gap between judging a murderer and creating a virus so you can hold the entire world hostage to your sick whims."
"Are you sure the gap is really that huge? That playing god just a little isn't like being just a little bit pregnant?"
"Yes," Bryan replied firmly, glad to be back on solid philosophical ground. "We know there are limits. We might cross the line sometimes, but we stop ourselves from going too far. Okay, so we never questioned owning slaves until the world changed around us. As soon as it did, though, we realized we were wrong and changed with it. And it's not like we haven't tried to make up for our mistakes. You've devoted centuries to healing sick bodies just as I've worked with injured minds. We may not go out of our way to help everyone we meet the way Mac does, but that doesn't make us evil. Neutral, and selfish occasionally, but not evil."
"And neutral is good enough?"
"Good enough for what? For me to think I deserve to keep on living? Yes. It is."
Jim sighed and folded his arms across his chest. "It must be nice to make the rules that you judge yourself by. You can't be found wanting when you've stacked the deck."
Bryan snarled. "At least I'm honest about it. I don't act all high and mighty and then murder mortals in alleys because I can't find a dog to kick."
"What's the matter, lover?" Jim purred with a malignantly triumphant smile. "Changing your mind about how evil I am? Feeling all judgmental? Should I start calling you Mac?"
Bryan growled and stepped forward, but Jim was already moving towards the door. He paused long enough to look at Bryan one more time, and the self-loathing in his eyes ripped directly into Bryan's heart.
Jim slowly dropped his gaze and turned away. "I told you I wasn't worth chasing after," he said bitterly as he slipped out the door.
Cursing himself soundly, Bryan struggled against the urge to follow his lover. He knew Jim needed to calm down, and his own patience was already completely exhausted. A gust of cool air reminded him of the mundane problem Jim had created, and Bryan seized it like a life raft. Finding, cutting, and nailing plywood was uncomplicated and straightforward, with no chance of the plywood talking back or pushing one of Bryan's hot buttons so that he forgot what he was trying to do. While he boarded up the window, he ran through the calming mental exercises he'd learned from Darius. By the time he'd finished, he was feeling vaguely human again.
He glanced at his watch, surprised that it was almost 2 am. He was too keyed up to sleep, and he knew he'd only have nightmares if he tried. He needed to figure out a way to solve this, or at least make a little progress. The roads are empty now, a voice in his mind suggested. Bryan smiled. A fast car, some good rock and roll, and a few curves to test his mettle were just what the doctor ordered.
Going back to his room, Bryan grabbed his keys, wallet, and cell phone. He put on his leather jacket and headed out to his prize Ferrari. Giving her a loving pat, he slid into the driver's seat and headed out of the estate towards one of his favorite twisting mountain roads.
Bryan cranked up the CD player, but even the Grateful Dead couldn't take his mind off the mess he was in. There's a reason they keep harping on the 'do not treat family' rule, Bryan's inner voice chided. It's because your family knows you as well as you know them, and they can make you as freaking crazy as they are. You claim to be a pro, idiot. Act like one and call somebody.
"Who?" he retorted aloud. "Sean and Darius are dead, Connor hates this shit, Duncan's too damned judgmental, and Amanda couldn't sit still long enough to counsel anyone. A mortal wouldn't understand, and the only immortal counselors left are priests. I am not going to deal with a priest."
You might have to, the voice replied.
Bryan shook his head, unconsciously increasing his speed as he desperately tried to come to terms with the idea of talking to a priest. Long ago, he and Jim had been active in Mithras' church, but those priests were long dead. They'd joined the Catholic church, but the church's growing dislike of homosexuals combined with its quest for power over enlightenment had driven them out again. Somewhere along the line religion had become more political than spiritual, and it had been ages since Bryan had found a priest he could relate to. While talking to a neutral party was good, it had to be someone they trusted completely, or neither of them would let down their guard and be honest. Admitting your weaknesses to a strange immortal was a poor survival tactic. No, there had to be another way.
What about Methos? the voice offered.
Methos. Bryan's hands froze around the wheel as he remembered the last time he'd spoken to Methos. He'd been chained in Kronos' lab, still furious that he'd been caught so easily. Kronos was questioning him, but Bryan was maintaining his sarcastic, fuck-you façade. Then Methos had walked in.
For a moment, Bryan had rejoiced. Methos would save him. Despite Mac's ranting, Bryan knew Methos couldn't have done all those horrible things, because Bryan couldn't love someone who had. He loved Methos, therefore…
But Methos was dealing in a different set of equations. Instead of stopping Kronos, he'd offered to help, and he'd done it with the chilling efficiency of a man who knew all of Bryan's weaknesses, fears, and desires. In half a day he'd broken Bryan more thoroughly than Caspian had ever done. Even Kronos had been impressed. Bryan remembered him slapping Methos on the back as Bryan babbled on about JL and Colin, telling Kronos what they looked like and where to find them. He'd hated betraying his friends, but he couldn't take the alternative. He just couldn't.
Bryan took the first curve on pure instinct, and the Ferrari's engine growled in protest. The sound, combined with a small skid as the car's right rear tire left the pavement, helped bring him back to reality. You're on the mountain now, you idiot! the voice said urgently. If you drive off the road, you could damn well lose your head in the crash. You don't even have your seatbelt on!
With a mental shrug, he hit the accelerator. Death was preferable to remembering Methos' betrayal.
The Ferrari's wheels left the pavement at every turn, making Bryan laugh maniacally. This was fun. He rocketed up the mountain, delighting in the way his memories disappeared in the surge of adrenaline. Speed was all that mattered.
He headed for the tightest S curve on the mountain at three times the posted limit. Exhilaration coursed through him as he began to enjoy the ride.
Suddenly, he glimpsed a flash of light coming toward him.
Headlights! Shit! Hit the fucking brakes! His voice was almost hysterical now, but Bryan steadfastly refused to panic. He lightly tapped the brakes and turned the wheel a fraction, careful not to over-correct.
The Ferrari responded beautifully until its tire caught a patch of gravel. The car fishtailed, and Bryan doggedly fought the wheel. Time slowed to a crawl as he concentrated, and the car began to straighten out. He breathed a sigh of relief and glanced back up at the road. If the other driver stayed calm, they'd be fine.
For a second, Bryan thought they'd beaten the odds. Then the other car began to skid as its brakes locked. Bryan yanked his steering wheel, but it was too late. Car met car in an outraged squeal of metal, and Bryan got a glimpse of the other driver's terrified face before both cars rebounded and Bryan headed back toward the cliff. In a heartbeat, the Ferrari's tires were spinning on air and gravity yanked the situation out of Bryan's hands.
The car had almost enough momentum to make it across the gap and back on the road, but gravity wasn't about to be denied its new toy. The Ferrari dropped and rolled down the mountainside, throwing Bryan around like an ice cube in a cocktail shaker.
It seemed like a lifetime later when the car hit a rock and flipped, but gravity wasn't done playing yet. Bryan catapulted through the windshield and sailed a few hundred yards before slamming back to earth. He fell awkwardly, shoulder first, and was rewarded with a brief flash of pain and the sound of his own neck snapping like a dry twig.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Pain. Pulsing, burning, agonizing pain everywhere, overshadowing everything. Bryan couldn't move or see, but he could feel. Cursing physics, gravity, and fate, he tried to lie still while his broken body mended itself. Relax, Bry, he chided himself. You know the pain only gets worse if you rush things.
Breathing as steadily as possible, he tried to distract himself by cataloging the sensations. That dull ache must be my bones knitting, he decided. And that twisting nausea in my gut is probably my internal organs realigning themselves. The charley horses cantering all over my back are from the muscle damage. A white-hot burst of pain flared up his arm, and his fingers flexed involuntarily. "Nerves regenerating," he muttered through gritted teeth. "My favorite."
With a sigh that sounded suspiciously like a whimper, he tried to relax again and think about anything else. Jim believed that immortals woke up quickly so they wouldn't be vulnerable any longer than necessary, but Bryan didn't feel capable of defending himself right now. Hell, Kenny could behead him in this state. He'd probably thank the brat for it.
Maybe Jim could come up with something powerful enough to block out the worst of the pain. If they put a sedative in a false tooth like Hollywood spies used for cyanide, they could break the tooth upon waking and go back to sleep for a while. All Bryan needed to do was convince Jim that sparing themselves regeneration pain was worth the aggravation of dental work.
Bryan whimpered again, realizing that his lover had learned everything there was to know about recuperation pain from Kronos. The things Kronos had done to Jim had been designed to keep him in a state of agony for as long as possible. Nothing as straightforward as the beatings Bryan had suffered at Caspian's hands.
With an effort, Bryan wrenched his mind back to the present. Unfortunately, physical agony wasn't enough to keep his mind off Jim's problems, even though a man in this much pain surely deserved a break.
Shifting carefully, Bryan reassessed his condition. The pain had subsided to a dull roar, and he was becoming aware of the smell of burning rubber. Sitting up slowly, he looked around until he spotted the burning remains of his Ferrari a few hundred feet below. Numb, he watched the flames licking eagerly through the windows. He could kiss the car, with its custom-made stereo components and assorted electronic gadgetry, goodbye. At least they can't trace it, he thought wearily. Not even the car's id number will survive that heat.
He shuddered, suddenly grateful he'd been thrown clear. Broken bones and lacerations hurt, but burning was worse. Even now, he vividly remembered being burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition just because he was a homosexual. He didn't care to repeat the experience.
Sighing wearily, he worked his way to his feet. Brushing his hair out of his eyes, he looked back up the mountain and tried to guess how far he'd fallen. The moon had already set, and the sun was still hiding behind the eastern horizon. He couldn't tell if he'd get to the road faster by climbing up or heading down. "Damn Audi," he grumbled. "If that idiot had just given me a second to correct…"
Bryan froze for a moment, then started scrambling madly up the hillside, his own hurts forgotten. "Please be alive," he muttered to whomever might be listening. "Please."
He reached the road just as the sun appeared, and he used its feeble light to follow the skid marks. The Audi had fared better than the Ferrari. It lay crumpled against the mountainside in a pool of gas, oil, and transmission fluid, but the passenger compartment looked reasonably intact. To Bryan's relief, he couldn't smell anything burning. The Audi's engine had stalled and shut down, so there shouldn't be any sparks from the engine.
Bryan approached the car and peered inside. The driver's window was cracked, and Bryan picked up a few more cuts prying it out so he could reach the driver. The man was unconscious but breathing regularly, and Bryan found a strong pulse in his throat. His face was bloody, though, as was the edge of the steering wheel. Probable concussion, Bryan decided. Moving him is a bad idea.
Retrieving his cell phone from his back pocket, Bryan flipped it open. To his surprise, it lit up immediately. "I should call Nokia," he muttered, dialing the police, "and tell them their phones are crash-proof. Maybe they can add that to their brochures." A few moments later, he was describing his location to an officer who promised to send an ambulance immediatamente.
"What is your name, sir?" the officer asked.
"Mud," Bryan replied with a weary sigh as he cut the connection. "Or maybe Stupid Fucking Bastard, depending on who you ask."
Stepping back, Bryan forced himself to memorize every detail of the Audi and its injured driver. "Congratulations, Cutler," he told himself. "You nearly killed some guy just because you can't handle Julian's problems. Now you get to deal with a whole new shitload of guilt. Way to go, moron." Balling one hand into a fist, he slammed it into his other hand with a loud smack. "Way to frelling go."
The distant sound of a siren cut through his self-recriminations. He returned to the Audi to check the driver's pulse one last time. The man groaned and shifted, slightly allaying Bryan's guilt. With one last shake of his head, he started back down the mountain, scrambling through the underbrush so he wouldn't meet the rescuers and be forced to explain why his clothes were torn and bloody while his body was unwounded. He couldn't hitchhike in that condition either. The estate was at least fifty miles away, more if he stayed far enough off the beaten path so no one would see him. He could call Jim, but right now hiking fifty miles cross-country was far more appealing than spending an hour in a car with Jim.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A puff of warm, horse-scented air brought Jim back to reality with a start. Mildly confused, he glanced up at his Friesen stallion, Windrunner. He remembered kneeling down to dry off the stallion's legs, but the stiffness in his knees attested to the fact that he'd spent a lot more time on the floor than it took to wipe down even four legs.
Windrunner nuzzled him again, clearly expecting Jim to quit daydreaming and feed him a treat.
Chuckling uneasily, Jim reached into his pocket for a sugar cube. "Okay, okay," he reassured the horse. "I'm sorry I stopped spoiling you for a second. I guess I'm falling asleep on my feet."
Windrunner snorted and tossed his head, his thick black mane dancing. Jim straightened, throwing his arms around the horse's neck and burying his face in the mane. "I'd be lost without you, boy," he whispered. "You've been my only escape from this hell."
As if returning the hug, Windrunner tucked his head around and rested his nose on Jim's back. They stayed like that for a long moment before Jim broke the embrace. "What do you think, boy?" he asked, tugging Windrunner's forelock to get the horse to follow him back to his stall. "Could I win Bryan back by offering him a sugar cube?"
Windrunner cocked an ear in Jim's direction, but seemed unimpressed. "You're right," Jim agreed wearily. "I'd have to lace it with enough Prozac to make Oedipus forget his mother. I'm not sure they make sugar cubes that big." With a sigh, Jim opened the stall door and moved aside. The horse stepped in and turned around expectantly. Jim scratched him behind his ears and fed him two more sugar cubes. "That's it, piglet," he announced, swinging the stall door closed. "You're done for the day. You wouldn't want to lose your svelte draft horse figure, now would you?"
With a snort, Windrunner turned his back on Jim and searched for overlooked wisps of hay in his feed rack. Jim shook his head and glanced at his watch. 3 p.m., and he'd come out around 11. "Time flies when you're having a psychotic breakdown," he muttered to himself.
Trudging up to the main house, he braced himself for the usual afternoon confrontation with Bryan, but the Ferrari was still missing. Puzzled, he walked in and checked for messages, but no one had called either his cell phone or the main house. He considered calling Bryan, but he wasn't the one who'd gone missing, so he shouldn't have to call first. A small voice in his mind pointed out that that was a childish reaction, but he quashed it almost before realizing it was there.
With a shrug, he wandered into the kitchen and grabbed an apple off the counter before drifting into the living room. Most of the furniture was still shrouded in dropcloths because neither of them had the energy to uncover it. The living room hadn't been aired out, and the mustiness made Jim vaguely uneasy. Bryan's love for this house was the one constant in the universe. Jim hated the implications of Bryan letting it go untended.
You could just tell him the truth, the voice in Jim's mind offered. Not the crap you've been feeding him, but the rest of it. The real horror behind your nightmares.
"He'd leave me in a heartbeat," Jim retorted, pacing restlessly around the room. "He could never forgive me for that."
He'll leave if you don't tell him, the voice countered. He's not stupid, and he knows he's not getting the whole story. Remember what he said yesterday? No more lies. No more holding back. Complete disclosure or it's over.
"He doesn't mean it," Jim whispered, willing himself to believe it.
Care to bet your life on that? the voice taunted. Without Bryan, your life isn't worth living. He's your entire world, for better or worse, psychotic or stable.
Jim sank down onto the couch, cradling his head in his hands. He took a steadying breath, but that filled his nose with the couch's familiar aroma of old leather. Normally a comforting smell, today it triggered more of the memories that Bryan was forcing him to confront. Without warning, he was back in Kronos' camp, curled on the floor of his master's tent, wondering how he could possibly endure another moment of Kronos' attention.
I'll always be here for you, my pet, Kronos' sweetly-menacing voice purred in Jim's mind. Jim flinched as though Kronos was still standing behind him. He almost managed to overcome the illusion and stand up, but an errant breeze brushed against his neck, reminding him of how Kronos' warm breath had felt when he had whispered seductively in Jim's ear. Lost once more, Jim sank back into the caress of the leather couch.
My teachings are within you still, burned into your very soul, Kronos' voice continued, drowning out Jim's strangled whimper. I showed you your true worth, helped you see what you could achieve. The others lie to you, my pet. They seek to make you weak, to mold you in their worthless images. Remember what I taught you. Cast your guilt aside. It will only drag you into Hell. That is not your path. You were born to bring Hell down upon others, not to be bound by it yourself.
Using every ounce of his strength, Jim broke Kronos' hold long enough to grab a nearby vase and fling it against the wall. The explosion of sound silenced the voice for a moment, and Jim rose to his feet with a snarl that would have unnerved even Kronos. "Shut the fuck up and DIE already!" he howled. "Mac took your head and now I want you out of mine! Do you hear me, you miserable piece of filth? Die and leave me the fuck alone!"
By the time the last echo had faded, Jim had regained some semblance of self control. Taking a deep breath, he stalked out of the room, grabbing his cell phone and the keys to the Porsche on his way out. He still couldn't bring himself to call Bryan, but taking a drive seemed like a really good idea.
He cruised around aimlessly for a while, trying to guess where Bryan might have gone. The problem was that when they were here, they rarely left the estate except for occasional forays into town for variety. Where Bryan would go when under this much stress was anybody's guess.
Jim tried several of the back roads into the vineyards. Maybe Bryan was checking out the fields, pretending he cared whether the estate would be out-produced this year. He didn't spot the Ferrari though, nor did he feel Bryan's presence. Giving up, he headed into town to buy gas and check with the gossipmongers at the local café. If anyone had heard about anything unusual, they'd be discussing it over espresso and biscotti. That, at least, was something he could rely on.
By the time Jim arrived at the café, it was almost 5 p.m., and he smiled to himself when he saw the animated conversation over in one corner. He ordered a double espresso, found a nearby table, and eavesdropped. He soon pieced together the story of the moronic imbecile who'd raced up a mountain road, crashed into an oncoming car, then drove off the cliff. Jim breathed a soft sigh of relief when the storyteller informed his audience that the first victim had only suffered minor injuries. That was the first lucky break Jim could remember since Mac mentioned Kronos' name in Joe's bar.
The storyteller paused as if he sensed that some of his audience was drifting. He leaned forward slightly and lowered his voice, and Jim automatically leaned forward as well. A chill ran up Jim's spine as the storyteller described the trail of wreckage the rescue team had followed down to the burned-out body of the other car. Prepared for the worst, they'd searched the surrounding underbrush, yet the only trace of the other driver were bloody shreds of fabric clinging to nearby bushes and a few footprints. No one, the man insisted, could have lived through that crash, much less walked away from it. No one human, that is.
Jim shuddered slightly and drained his coffee. Immortals were human all right. Only humans were that good at hurting each other. No other animals could even come close.
With a bone-weary sigh, Jim left the café and climbed into his Porsche. Retrieving his map from the glove box, he checked the location of the road the storyteller had talked about. It was about fifty miles from the estate, and Bryan had been walking since dawn. 11 long hours, and he hadn't called. Jim rested his head on the steering wheel, trying to come to terms with that. He'd known Bryan was upset, but for his hedonistic lover to walk all day rather than make one phone call—that was unbelievable. Maybe he'd lost his cell phone in the crash.
If only he believed that.
Out of places to look, Jim headed back to the estate. As he drove, he tried to decide what to say to his partner. On one hand, Bryan had broken their cardinal rule and injured an innocent mortal. On the other, he was so stressed out right now that a lecture would either send him into a rage or a serious depression. Neither one sounded particularly fun to deal with, although either would take the spotlight off Jim for a few hours. The way Jim felt right now, that might be worth a few broken bones.
As he turned into the driveway and waited for the gates to open, Jim decided that he'd see how penitent Bryan was. If he were upset enough, then Jim wouldn't need to belabor Bryan's obvious stupidity. But if Bryan made one crack about how the road should have been empty at that hour, Jim would gladly tell him exactly how arrogant and foolhardy he was. Happy to have settled on a plan, Jim parked the Porsche and walked into the main house.
The familiar song of Bryan's immortality filled Jim's senses as he walked in the door. His entrance went unchallenged, though, and that show of carelessness deepened Jim's concern.
He's probably asleep, Jim reasoned to himself. After a day-long hike, I'd want a nap. Still, he's never slept through me coming home before…
Jim laid his keys on the table, thought for a moment, then headed for the bedroom that Bryan had claimed as his own. When they'd arrived at the estate, they'd reached an unspoken agreement that the bedrooms were a sanctuary—Bryan never tried to psychoanalyze Jim when Jim was in his room, and Jim never went into Bryan's room. Now, however, Jim felt the need to invade Bryan's privacy. He could always apologize later if Bryan got upset.
The door opened silently, and Jim leaned in the doorframe with his arms crossed, observing. The room was a mess, with clothes strewn across the floor, towels heaped in the corners, muddy riding boots lying on the carpet. The clothes piled near the door were badly torn and stiff with dried blood. Jim winced. That much damage must have hurt. Badly.
A familiar grunt and the rustle of silk drew Jim's attention, and he moved into the room so he could see the bed. The sheets were snarled around Bryan's naked, blood-and-dirt streaked body. Jim swallowed hard to get past the lump in his throat. Against the royal blue silk, Bryan looked wasted and frail. By the time he'd caught up with Jim in Florence, Bryan had regained most of the weight he'd lost thanks to Kronos and Caspian's none-too-gentle ministrations. Now he looked thinner than when he'd returned from Bordeaux. Jim could clearly count his ribs, and the line of Bryan's collarbone looked sharp enough to cut Jim's hand if he dared touch it.
Jim reached out and nearly did just that, but he withdrew before he made contact. "This is my fault, isn't it?" he whispered to his lover. "You were getting better, and now I'm destroying both of us." As he watched Bryan sleep, he felt his resolve strengthen. Maybe Bryan was right. Maybe their love was strong enough to survive the unvarnished truth. Lying certainly wasn't working.
Perching on the edge of the bed, Jim shook Bryan's shoulder gently. "Benito," he called softly. "Benito, wake up. We need to talk."
Bryan didn't even stir. Jim frowned and shook him a little harder, but he was rewarded with nothing more than a small grunt and another rustle of silk as Bryan curled a little tighter around himself.
Jim's frown deepened. Maybe this was a sign that he shouldn't tell Bryan what he was feeling. Maybe fate was trying to protect him because Bryan wouldn't be able to handle the truth. Maybe he should just let sleeping Benitos lie. Jim worried his lower lip with his teeth, trying to decide what to do. Reluctantly, he shook Bryan's shoulder again. This time Bryan didn't even grunt.
With a heavy heart, Jim crept back to his room, wondering where he'd find the strength to maintain his self-imposed code of silence. Maybe he should just give up and leave. He knew the way the world worked. It would only be a matter of months before one of his rivals found him and challenged him. Weakness was synonymous with death for those who lived by the sword. I could cope with that, he decided, flipping open a bottle of sleeping pills in the hopes of getting a few hours of sleep. At least then the voices would stop.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Bryan drifted through the estate's orchard, hoping the autumn sunshine and the rich smell of apples would lift his spirits. It was a perfect day. The sky was blue with a few fleecy clouds, the sun was warm, and the bees provided a lulling buzz as he walked along. Even the birds were chattering happily above him as they helped eat his apple crop. Contentment seemed to ooze out of the ground, but it left Bryan completely untouched. All he could hear was the sound of his Ferrari hitting the Audi, and all he could see was the terror on the other driver's face.
Surrendering to his depression, he sat down under a tree and picked up a couple of windfall apples. He hurled them despondently at the birds gathered nearby, but they merely flew to another tree and resumed eating. Ordinarily, Bryan's estate manager would have a crew down here harvesting the crop, but this year Bryan had ordered them to give the house a wide berth. Although the manager's family knew about Bryan and Jim's immortality—it was, in fact, a family secret handed down for generations—Bryan still didn't want anyone to see what he and Jim were going through. The horrors Jim was relating were definitely not for mortal ears.
Sighing heavily, he crossed his legs and rested his elbows on his knees in a traditional Yoga pose, striving to clear his mind with some relaxation exercises. Let the anger out, he told himself as he breathed deeply and evenly. Let it flow into the ground, the air, the tree behind me. Let me find peace, balance, and harmony. Let me return to my center and find the strength to go on.
He hadn't gotten very far with the exercises when he felt the approach of another immortal. Adrenaline kicked his heart into high gear and he grinned wolfishly. He knew the odds of Jim seeking him out were infinitesimal, and his friends had been warned that this was not the time to drop by uninvited. That left his enemies, and he'd never been so ready to meet one. He leapt to his feet and reached for his sword, the urge to kill centering him the way the exercises hadn't. Life and death were so gloriously black and white.
When the other immortal came into view, Bryan froze in confusion. Methos. Strolling through the trees like nothing was wrong, like he'd never interrogated Bryan in Bordeaux. His hands were stuffed deep in his coat pockets, and he walked with the slight slouch that was Adam Pierson's trademark. I'm small, his body language seemed to say. Small and harmless. Don't mind me.
Part of Bryan longed to attack and make Methos feel as much pain as he had inflicted on Bryan. Another part wanted to race forward and seek comfort in Methos' embrace, then tell him his troubles and listen to his counsel. Another part wanted to run away, but Bryan had never been good at running. Besides, this was his orchard. If anyone was going to run, it should be Methos.
Methos halted a few feet away, within easy speaking distance but well outside sword range. For a long moment the two regarded each other, both wondering how Bryan was going to react. Methos prayed silently that Bryan would give him a chance to explain, but he kept his hand around the butt of the gun in his coat pocket just in case. He didn't want to shoot Bryan, but he definitely wasn't going to cross swords with him.
A lifetime later, Bryan spoke a single word that dripped with unadulterated loathing and made his choice abundantly clear. "Traitor," he said, flinging his sword aside and diving for his former teacher.
The instant that Methos realized that Bryan meant to fight, he drew his gun. His finger was tightening on the trigger when his brain registered the fact that Bryan had discarded his sword. He forced himself to relax his grip. He could handle unarmed combat, even though he loathed the idea of getting pounded. He told himself that he'd known this was coming and that he might even deserve it, but it still took all his self-control to throw his gun aside.
Closing his eyes just before Bryan made contact, Methos prepared himself to go with the blow. Even so, he grunted as Bryan's weight drove them both to the ground and one of Methos' ribs cracked against a rock.
Bryan laughed wildly and tried to pin Methos so he could break a few more bones. He was stronger, but Methos was more agile. Bryan's first punch had driven all thoughts of letting his student take out his aggressions on Methos' body right out of Methos' head. Getting hit hurt.
Twisting, Methos squirmed his way out from under Bryan. He rolled away, hoping for enough distance to regain his feet before Bryan's next attack. If he could keep Bryan circling for a while, maybe he would calm down a little and Methos could start talking.
But Bryan only wanted to fight. Methos had barely straightened up when he was back in range, his fists slamming into Methos' shoulder and chest. Methos staggered backwards into a tree, and he used its trunk to keep himself upright. He launched a right cross of his own, but Bryan blocked it with his forearm and retaliated with a solid punch to Methos' solar plexus.
Methos gasped and started to double over, but Bryan grabbed him by the throat and slammed him back into the tree. Methos clawed at Bryan's arm, struggling to breathe. The hate in Bryan's eyes scared Methos. He kicked out in panic, catching Bryan in the crotch.
Bryan howled and dropped Methos reflexively. His eyes narrowed and he went to slam his fist into Methos' face.
Methos knew he should let Bryan win, but his reflexes took over and he ducked. Bryan's agonized roar as his fist hit the tree shook Methos to his soul, and he didn't struggle as Bryan lifted him by his shirt and hurled him across the clearing.
Methos landed with a thump and a curse, but the curse was directed at himself for being stupid enough to think that Bryan would be grateful for his support. He'd been so sure that Bryan could forgive him anything—even torture. Now he couldn't remember why he'd thought that.
Methos dragged his attention back to the fight and tried to get up, but it was too late. Bryan's boot slammed into his ribs, eliciting a whimper from Methos. Curling into a fetal position, he gazed up at Bryan and tried to focus on his student's face. "Bryan, please. We can talk about this," he panted, hoping the bloodlust he saw in Bryan's eyes was actually a hallucination caused by his failing vision.
"Not interested," Bryan replied with a chilling smile as he gave Methos a final kick in the ribs that drove several of them deep into Methos' lung.
Methos gazed blearily up at Bryan, praying that his student was satisfied with the damage he'd caused.
Bryan glowered over him, his fists still clenched and his knuckles bleeding where he'd scraped them on the tree's rough bark. A few drops of blood fell from Bryan's hand onto Methos' upturned face, and Methos closed his eyes in weary resignation. This wasn't the way he'd planned on mending his relationship with Bryan.
He thought he heard someone cursing as he started coughing up blood, but pain quickly overrode his other senses. His last thought as the blackness claimed him was the hope that Bryan had gotten the worst of the rage out of his system, because next time Methos wasn't going to give up his gun.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Methos fought against regaining consciousness for as long as he could, but the insistent buzz of a nearby immortal gnawed on his nerves as badly as his knitting bones did. With a groan, he shifted cautiously, trying to figure out how far along the healing process had gotten. His ribs were tender, but they didn't hurt nearly as much as they should have. Bryan must have taken the time to arrange Methos' unconscious body so his ribs would heal faster.
Closing his eyes, Methos allowed himself a triumphant smile. He'd been right. Bryan couldn't stay mad at him very long no matter how furious he was. Compassion. It had always been Bryan's greatest strength, and his biggest weakness. Today, though, Methos felt disinclined to complain about it.
Sitting up carefully, he looked around. He spotted Bryan's emerald-green shirt through the trees, so he climbed gingerly to his feet and headed in that direction.
He found Bryan sitting half-curled, his arms wrapped around his drawn-up knees and his head resting on his arms. Methos cleared his throat softly, but Bryan didn't move. Squatting down, he laid a hand on Bryan's shoulder. Bryan leapt to his feet and spun, his eyes wide and his body poised to flee.
Methos' reflexes kicked in and carried him backwards several steps, but he relaxed slightly when he realized that the anger in Bryan's eyes had been replaced by panic.
Holding out his empty hands, Methos spoke slowly and carefully. "I didn't mean to startle you, Benito," he soothed, hoping Bryan's favorite nickname would remind him of all the history they shared. "I wanted to thank you for taking care of my ribs." He shifted slightly, which made Bryan flinch and step back. Methos took a deep breath and fought to keep his face impassive. Bryan's fear cut straight through to whatever guilt reflex Methos had left.
At a sudden loss for words, Methos studied Bryan for a long moment, noting the way his clothes hung loosely on his gaunt frame, how his hair was tangled and unkempt, how his hands were shaking slightly. He took an experimental step forward, and Bryan immediately moved several steps back and wrapped his arms protectively around himself. Dropping his hands slowly, Methos moved away from Bryan and sat down under a tree, making himself as inoffensive as possible.
Bryan watched him suspiciously, but when Methos didn't move for a few minutes, he unwrapped his arms and steadied his breathing. His fingers caressed the butt of Methos' gun that now stuck of out of his waistband, but whether that was for his own reassurance or as a warning, Methos couldn't tell.
After a few minutes of strained silence, Bryan finally shrugged to himself and sat down. "I should hate you," he said matter-of-factly.
"A lot of people would," Methos agreed quietly.
"But you still came here. Why?"
"Because I don't want you to hate me, Benito. Our friendship means a great deal to me, and it always has." Leaning forward, Methos waited until Bryan looked up and met his gaze. This was the part of his speech that Methos had rehearsed carefully. He knew he needed to hit a balance between the way he felt about the past and the way Bryan remembered it.
"You have no idea what your trust and devotion meant to me," he continued earnestly. "How much it helped me reshape myself into someone who didn't have to kill to feel important. You…and your big, guileless eyes and your sappy, romantic heart…you reminded me that I was capable of caring for someone other than myself. I honestly thought I'd forgotten how to do that."
Bryan snorted angrily as the pendulum of his emotions swung back towards hate. "You have a fucking miserable way of showing gratitude, you bastard."
"I know you won't believe this, but my only goal was to keep us both alive," Methos replied evenly.
"Only goal my ass!" Bryan snarled. "You tortured me for that prick! I was resisting until you started making suggestions." Bryan's fists clenched and the muscles in his neck and shoulders bulged as he fought the urge to lash out again at Methos, but, for the moment, he kept his distance. For once, he felt ready to take Methos on in a war of words, and only the smallest part of him wanted Methos to win. "Kronos didn't know I'd been burned at the stake," he snarled, "you did. He never would have thought of driving spikes through my hands and setting them on fire as a…what did you call it? Oh, yeah. As a 'warm up.'"
Methos dropped his head and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to banish the memory of Bryan's screams. "I had to," he muttered, more to himself than Bryan.
"Had to?" Bryan parroted. "Had to? Did you have to make me beg to be raped with your dagger? To make me…"
Methos' head snapped up and he cut off Bryan's accusations with three simple words. "Yes, I did."
Bryan blinked, thrown by that unexpected revelation. "What? Why?" he finally sputtered.
Taking a deep breath, Methos prepared himself. He always hated having to fall back to the truth, but this time, it was all he had left. "You thought you were resisting Kronos, but you never really experienced the depth of his…creativity, Bryan. He left you in Caspian's unimaginative clutches and saved his true torments for Jim." Methos paused, letting Bryan think about that for a moment before he continued. "He was going to question you for days. Literally. I could see it in his eyes. He was going to use you as an amusing diversion while his plans for global domination fell into place. I couldn't allow that to happen."
"So you tortured me faster? How the fuck is that better?"
"Because you told him less than you would have." Bryan shook his head angrily, and Methos held up a restraining hand. "Please, Bryan, hear me out. You can always shoot me later." Methos paused, waiting for Bryan to settle down and start listening. If he could sell this, the rest would be easy. "If he had tortured you for days, you would have told him everything," he finally explained. "Your relationship with me. Everything you know about the Watchers. And, most importantly, that Jim rescued you from Kronos' camp all those years ago. Trust me, Bryan. If Kronos had found out that Jim tricked him, he would have been furious. He would have made you tell him where Jim was, and sent him parts of your body until Jim finally freaked out and came to him. Or he'd have gone to Seacouver to confront Jim himself, and possibly found Joe, JL, and Colin as a bonus. It would have been bad, Bryan. Very, very bad."
Methos paused to let Bryan assimilate that thought. His student looked extremely skeptical, but his hands unclenched ever so slightly. Methos allowed himself a momentary feeling of hope. Maybe Bryan could understand the ends justifying the means, even when the means were too horrible to contemplate.
"But…" Bryan frowned, trying to put his finger on the problem with that. "If you're so sure he was set on torturing me, why did he stop after you stepped in?"
"You distracted him when you told him about JL and Colin. He had to go out and tell Caspian and Silas where they were staying and what they looked like, making sure they understood the importance of bringing them back alive. While he was gone, I…convinced…you to start talking about Mac. When Kronos got back and heard you say that you weren't working with Mac, that you'd rejected Mac's requests for help, he lost interest. I was pretty sure he would. His attention span was generally good for only one major project at a time, and Mac was the project du jour."
Bryan's eyes narrowed. "So you made me sell out JL and Colin just to distract him? How the fuck did you know they were there?"
"I saw Colin in the airport, and I made sure he realized that I'd seen him. The odds that Colin would have taken JL and gone to ground by the time Caspian and Silas got there were…acceptable."
"Acceptable? Acceptable?! She was your lover, you unfeeling prick. You know what they would have done to her if they'd gotten their filthy hands on her!"
Methos sighed wearily. "Of course I know. But the risk wasn't all hers, Bryan. If they had caught her and she told them that we'd been lovers, Kronos would have used her against me. He would have used you against me if he'd had any idea we were lovers, or even just student/teacher." Methos paused, glancing at Bryan to make sure he was still listening. "You know in your heart that I'm telling the truth, Bry. You have to, or you would have acknowledged our relationship at some point. But you didn't. Even when I was torturing you, you never said anything like 'but I thought you loved me,' or 'how can you do this to your student?' It was in your eyes, but you never said it out loud. Why not?"
Bryan licked his lips and shrugged. "I don't know."
"The hell you don't. It's one of the first things I taught you. Never let your enemy see your weaknesses. Love is a weakness in those situations."
"But I love JL, and I betrayed her!" Bryan sobbed, finally giving voice to one of the many regrets he'd racked up during his ill-fated trip to Bordeaux. "I told him…you…everything about her!"
Methos took advantage of Bryan's guilt to sidle over next to him and put a comforting arm around his shoulders. "You didn't have a choice, Benito. I made you tell because I knew what questions to ask and how to ask them. You never stood a chance."
Bryan tried to shrink away from Methos' arm, but this time Methos didn't withdraw. Instead, he moved closer to Bryan.
"I'm sorry I had to hurt you, Benito," he said softly. "Truly I am. But I was doing a high wire act without a net, and you were a distraction I couldn't afford. I had to make Kronos think he'd learned all he needed to from you before he got the idea that there was more. I had to."
"You could have found a way to kill me," Bryan retorted, no longer fighting Methos' touch but not relaxing into it either. "Permanently, I mean."
Methos snorted. "I considered that, trust me. But I couldn't do it, anymore than I could kill Cassandra. If I could have, then Kronos would have been right about me still being a Horseman at heart."
"If you've really changed, why did you go back with him at all? I didn't see any collar around your neck."
"At first, my life literally depended on it, as Kronos had a rather basic 'you're with me or against me' mentality. Later though, well…" Methos sighed again. "Kronos was…persuasive. You don't understand because he never turned his charm on you, but he could make the most outrageous things seem desirable. If Mac hadn't killed him, who knows what would have happened?"
Bryan scowled. "Are you saying you might have actually helped him terrorize the world? That in your heart you think evil is something to be aspired to?" Methos was silent, and Bryan pulled away again. "Methos, please. Tell me you didn't want to go back. Tell me you aren't evil at heart."
"That," Methos said quietly, "depends on what you mean by evil."
"Evil is…evil. Killing for pleasure. That's evil."
Methos narrowed his eyes and studied Bryan. "And you've never taken pleasure in killing?"
"Not even after Culloden?"
Bryan stiffened. "That was different. That was revenge."
"So killing innocent mortals for revenge isn't evil?"
"The English weren't innocent!" Bryan snarled. "They were murdering bastards!"
"All of them?" Methos insisted. "Even the ones who were just following orders?"
Bryan got up and began pacing. "You're changing the subject."
"I prefer to think of it as defining the terms," Methos replied dryly. "You're accusing me of being evil. Well, all right, perhaps I am. But by that definition, so are you. So is Mac. He admits that he enjoyed killing the Englishmen while he was doing it. The guilt didn't set in until much later."
Bryan stopped pacing and studied Methos intently. "Did the guilt ever set in for you?"
Methos met his gaze and nodded. "Yes. There are many things in my past I regret, but I've accepted the fact that I can't change them."
"Regret isn't the same as guilt," Bryan replied flatly. "I regret not buying more Picassos when he was alive, but I don't feel guilty about it."
"Do you feel guilty about what you did after Culloden?"
Bryan hesitated. "Well…"
"But part of you regrets it, right?"
"We've been through this. I thought they deserved it at the time!"
Methos smiled. "And I thought the peasants deserved it too. More precisely, I thought I deserved to do anything I wanted to anyone I cared to do it to because I was a Horseman of the Apocalypse and because might absolutely made right. I know that's a concept you understand very well."
Bryan flinched a little, remembering Jim's earlier accusation. "The Roman army…" he began.
"Took what it wanted from whom it wanted whenever it wanted," Methos interrupted. "You weren't around for the really greedy years, but I was. Romans may have invented fabulous things and created a civilization that will never be forgotten, but they did it using slave labor and an unquenchable thirst for conquest." Methos paused and grinned wryly. "You might say they were the modern day Blockbuster to our Mom and Pop video store. There were four of us, and a whole hell of a lot more of them."
"You're saying the Roman army put you out of business?" Bryan demanded incredulously.
"Not directly, but they played a part in my decision to change careers, yes. So did the Greeks, only they offered me a chance to learn, and I desperately wanted to learn."
"I could see the world changing, and I wanted to change with it. Armies were growing, nations were spanning continents, East was meeting West with predictable conflicts but with some amazing cross-fertilization as well. We were becoming anachronisms. I tried to get Kronos to see that, but I failed. He thought the changes presented more opportunities for pillaging. I thought they added more obstacles to survival. You know me—I always choose survival."
Bryan shook his head. "How can you treat all of this so casually? You were a murdering, raping bastard, but you got bored and moved on. A killer one day then…" Bryan snapped his fingers, "a scholar the next. No big deal."
Methos laughed bitterly. "If I really thought you believed that, I'd disown you as my student because you'd clearly be too stupid to live." Buying himself a little time to think, Methos rose to his feet and stretched. When he looked back at Bryan, the bitterness in his voice was replaced by weariness. "I can treat it lightly because it's been over 2,000 years. Think about that, Bryan. I've been getting over my angry adolescence for longer than you've been alive."
Bryan resumed pacing as he let that thought simmer in his mind. "Still," he ventured finally, "I can't understand how anyone could enjoy the wanton destruction of innocent lives. Especially when you carried on for several thousand years."
Methos shrugged. "That's because no one ever offered you the world, Benito. Oh, you had money, and influence, and a nice little pond to be a big fish in. But you never had the world in your fist, never knew the sheer power that comes from invoking terror in everyone who sees you."
As Bryan paced by, Methos reached out and caught his arm, swinging him around. When they were face to face, he said softly. "But I have a hunch that you can imagine it. Think about our last battle against the Visigoths. We won when three other legions had been decimated. Remember how good it felt rounding up the defeated warriors and putting them in slave shackles? How some of them begged and pleaded for death, and we humiliated them for it? Made them crawl, wipe our asses, suck our cocks? All the while knowing we were just going to ship them off to the Coliseum no matter what they did? We held their sorry lives in our hands, Bryan, and they knew it. We reveled in their suffering. Do you remember that?"
Bryan swallowed noisily and slumped a little. "I remember," he mumbled, "but I regret that now."
"Ah, but did you regret it then?" Methos pressed. "I know damn well you didn't, because we celebrated together every night for a month. Now take that feeling and stretch it out over two millennia. That's what I was walking away from, Bryan. Not just the only family I could remember, but the most phenomenal power trip I'd ever been on. I didn't have enough morals left to know it was wrong, I just knew it was an incredible rush. I freely admit that I'm an addict. I always will be, even though I've kept it under control since I left the Horsemen. Kronos just brought the craving back, and it took me a while to remember why I'd given it up in the first place. But I remember now, Bryan, and I have no interest in ruling the world anymore. I swear it."
Bryan stared at Methos, trying to judge the truth behind his words. Methos met his gaze unflinchingly, letting his feelings show through his usual stoic expression.
Finally, Bryan relaxed and smiled, the suspicion in his eyes draining away. Methos closed his eyes for a second to breathe a silent prayer, only to find himself enveloped in Bryan's arms. He hugged back, but his touch made Bryan stiffen involuntarily.
Bryan started to pull away, but Methos caught his hand. "You, young man, need rape counseling," he admonished.
Bryan squeezed Methos' hand. "I've been a little busy, Methos." With a sigh, he withdrew his hand and turned back toward the villa. "See that hill way the hell over there, about half a mile beyond the house?"
"Jim's over there. It's gotten so miserable between us that he goes east and I go west. We've become experts at avoiding each other, even when we're both in the villa. When we do cross paths, all we do is fight."
"Over?" Methos asked cautiously.
Bryan sighed. "Jim and his fucking code of silence. He's told me enough details to fuel my nightmares for the rest of eternity, but there's a huge piece of the puzzle missing. I told him to tell me or I'd leave him, but even that's not working."
"He probably doesn't believe you'll do it."
"He'd better start," Bryan stated flatly, "because I'm fed up. I've put up with his rages for long enough. I'm not about to walk away one freaking piece shy of the whole puzzle. Not this time." Bryan paused and ran a hand through his tangled hair. "Do you know? I mean, what could be worse than being tortured by Kronos just to save your thick-headed, ungrateful lover?"
Methos barely managed to keep his face impassive. "I could probably guess," he hedged, "but it wouldn't be the same if I told you. He needs to admit it—whatever it is—out loud or it won't lose its power over him."
Bryan scowled, but he'd been a psychiatrist long enough to know that Methos was right. "So what do I do?" he asked.
Methos smiled like a cat that had just gotten locked in an aviary. "Trust me," he replied.
Bryan rolled his eyes dramatically, but Methos ignored him and settled a companionable arm around Bryan's shoulders. "Come on, Benito," he said. "I need a drink, then I'll go talk to Jim. Between you and me, I'm sure we can get him to open up. If not, we'll take turns using him for target practice."
"Deal," Bryan agreed, sliding an arm around Methos' waist and walking back to the villa feeling vaguely hopeful.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Jim leaned heavily against a tree and looked back across the hills at the villa. It should have called to him with feelings of warmth and security—it had always been both his and Bryan's spiritual center. At the moment, all it symbolized was a stubborn Roman idiot who refused to take "none of your damn business" for an answer. "What good is talking about this doing?" he muttered to himself. "Bryan is driving off cliffs, and I'm so goddamned tired that all I want to do is die. Permanently."
The breeze rustled the tree's leaves in answer, and Jim accepted the invitation. Pulling himself up on a comfortable branch, he settled in with his back to the trunk and stared out at the villa until the feeling of an approaching Immortal washed over him. He knew it wasn't Bryan because the footsteps were too light and the man's cologne didn't have the spicy smell Bryan preferred. A dark hope filled him, but there was no telltale whisper of a sword being drawn or the strident call of a Challenge. Well, he could ignore the intruder until he went away or decided to make the kill. Either one was fine with Jim.
Silence held sway for several minutes before he heard a soft swish and hiss as a blade was drawn and swung. Jim reacted automatically, leaping out of the tree and rolling so he ended up on his feet facing his attacker, his hand automatically going for his sword before he remembered that he'd left it in the villa. He was about to dive for a rock that might make a good missile when the identity of his assailant suddenly registered on his brain. "Methos," he hissed, folding his arms and glaring at his former teacher. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
"Proving that you don't want to die as much as you think you do, for one thing," Methos replied calmly, lowering his blade but not re-sheathing it.
"Definitely." Methos studied Jim for a minute, waiting for his student to either relax or attack. He knew from experience that when Jim was committed to a fight, being unarmed just made him meaner. Methos' sword gave him a slight advantage, but he didn't dare take it for granted. He'd been pulverized once today, and he didn't feel the need for a repeat performance.
Jim clenched his jaw as he regarded the stranger he'd known for almost two millennia. Rationally, he knew none of this was Methos' fault. Emotionally, all he could focus on was how good it would feel to make Methos hurt the way he'd been hurt. To make him pay for the crimes Kronos had committed. To find a way, whatever the cost, of making the nightmares stop.
Methos met Jim's gaze evenly, trying to appear confident that they could handle this without bloodshed. When Jim's muscles finally relaxed and he turned his back on Methos, the older man sighed with relief. Walking up to Jim, he studied the distant villa in silence for a few minutes before looking at his student. "I almost wish all this really was my fault, Julian," he admitted softly, "because then I'd have a chance of fixing it for you. But it's not."
"So you've said," Jim retorted, his body stiffening as the rational part of him was overcome yet again by his anger at the world. "I don't need to hear it again. Go away."
When Methos didn't move, Jim tossed his head and glared at him. "Or wait here and I'll go get my sword," he offered flatly.
"You'd really do that, wouldn't you?" Methos asked, his tone more curious than accusatory. "Challenge me?"
"I have every right to," Jim replied bitterly, fists clenched tightly enough to drive his nails into his palms, "and some would say every reason."
Methos considered his friend silently. Jim's defiance was almost palpable. For a moment, Methos was sure that, if he reached out his hand, he would actually feel Jim's unspoken "disagree, I dare you" hanging in the air between them. Despite his fury, Jim still seemed to be listening. Methos couldn't see any signs of drug use in his eyes. Maybe he really was clean, sober, and ready to face his past. Maybe this would send him over the edge for good. Either way, it was the best chance Methos was likely to get. He shifted his grip on his sword slightly and continued as calmly as he could, "You asked me once what I thought was wrong with you, why you hurt so much, why you lose control. Are you still interested in the answers?"
"Like I'd believe you," Jim snorted.
"You don't have to believe me," Methos replied, "because you already know the answers. You know why your year with Kronos changed you so much. You know what affected you most. You just won't listen to yourself."
"Really?" Jim scoffed. "Physician, heal thyself, is that it?"
"More like know thyself," Methos countered, daring to rest the tip of his sword on the ground so he could rest his hands on the hilt, hoping his casual body language would offset the harshness of his words. "You were raped many times before you met Kronos, remember? Didn't you tell me you were only nine years old the first time you got caught picking pockets and your victim gave you the choice of being his sex toy or going to jail? Nine years old, and that trauma didn't affect you this way. After Kronos, you lived through all manner of pain; you've fought in dozens of wars, were gutted on the field at Culloden, burned at the stake for being a homosexual during the Spanish Inquisition, and tortured by Aurelia when you tried to rescue me and Richie. None of that slowed you down at all." Methos paused, letting the passion drain out of his own voice. He might be certain of his conclusions, but he couldn't bully Jim into accepting them. "Nothing before or since," he finally continued gently, "has had the same affect on you that Kronos had. He was…unique." Methos rolled his eyes and muttered, "Thank the gods."
Jim swallowed and fought back memories of Kronos' hands and cock claiming his body. If Kronos had simply beaten him into submission the way Aurelia had tried to do, it would have been easy. "So?" he managed after a moment. "None of that lasted as long as Kronos. It's not the same."
"No, it's not. But the length of time has nothing to do with it, and you know it."
Jim squeezed his arms around himself in an effort to keep from shaking, but he couldn't meet Methos' gaze. He considered slamming his fists into Methos' face, but his teacher raised his sword and pointed it at him.
"Not this time, Julian," Methos warned. "I'm tired of you blaming me for all this. I'm not going to let you destroy Bryan because you're too selfish to care about how much he loves you. You're going to listen to me, if I have to kill you and tie you to that damn tree."
Jim glowered at him, but Methos didn't lower his guard. Unbidden, Jim's attention divided itself between Methos and memories of Kronos. He was afraid to blink, knowing that if he closed his eyes for so much as a split second, Kronos would be there. Every time he thought about the man, he could smell the mixture of sweat, blood, and leather that Kronos wore like fine cologne. He could almost see Kronos' hands reaching for him out of the corner of his eye. Those hands had been the center of his nightmares for centuries. Even now he could recall every vein, scar, and callus—the way they looked when they were clenched into a fist about to break his jaw or reaching out to caress his cheek late at night when they were truly alone.
He closed his eyes and dropped to the ground with a half-sob, drawing his knees up and resting his head in his hands. No. That hadn't happened. It just hadn't. That was his memory playing tricks on him. It had to be.
Jim felt Methos kneel beside him. He laughed bitterly, certain that if Methos really knew what was in his heart, he wouldn't be caught dead within a hundred miles of him. "So, teacher," he challenged, "show me what an open book I am. What is this earth-shattering fact that I know but won't admit?"
"That you liked part of it," Methos said simply.
Jim's head snapped up and he stared speechlessly at Methos. The first coherent thought he had made his eyes narrow in anger. I knew the bastard was holding out on me. All this time, he said he couldn't help me, said he couldn't fix my problems. But he was lying. He knew. The son of a bitch knew. He was about to lash out at Methos when another small voice piped up, But if he knew, why didn't he kill you? Or, at least, treat you like the monster you are? Why did he let his guard down around you? Spar with you? Get into bar fights with you? If he knew, why would he hold you in his arms and comfort you that time in New York when you thought Bryan was dead? Why didn't he just walk away and let you self-destruct? Why?
Methos watched Jim cycle between fury, indignation, and denial for a moment. In his own head, distant hoofbeats pounded along with his heartbeat. Hoofbeats that used to be his heartbeat. Jim had been right about one thing—Methos did know what was wrong. He had from the moment Jim had told him about infiltrating Kronos' camp. He hadn't needed the details then, and he didn't now. He knew exactly how Kronos would have played on Jim's weaknesses, because he'd been the one who taught Kronos how to do that in the first place. Subtlety. It was the one thing Kronos had never really mastered. But manipulation—that Kronos excelled at. With Jim's self-doubts and strong need for external validation, he would have been an easy target. Just as he'd been a relatively easy student for Methos to control once upon a time.
Shaking his head slightly, Methos banished his memories and forced himself to focus on Jim, who was clearly lost in his own thoughts. Knowing that the movement would attract Jim's attention, he wiped the dirt off the tip of his blade with exaggerated care before he resheathed it.
When he was certain that Jim was paying attention again, he spoke in a soft, reassuring voice. "I don't mean you liked the rape or the physical abuse, but you didn't just survive it, you triumphed. You beat Kronos at his own game, Julian. You lied to his face day after day and he believed you. You managed to lay a trap for him that he walked right into while you disappeared into the night with Bryan. You loved how powerful that made you feel."
Jim's face paled and he shook his head vigorously. "No," he half-whispered. "No. It was sick. All of it. I killed innocent people." Jim tried to curl into a ball, his shoulders shaking visibly.
Methos reached out a hand, but didn't actually touch his student as he strained to make out Jim's words through his sobs.
"He even…even made me rape boys for his amusement," Jim finally choked out, hoping Methos would be so disgusted he'd either kill him or quit talking.
Methos merely nodded. He could easily imagine Kronos' satisfaction as Jim "performed" for him. It would tell him that Jim was beginning to enjoy the power or else he wouldn't have been capable of raping anyone. Methos closed his eyes for a second as the hoofbeats sounded again, and he was suddenly looking down on a helpless tribeswoman, his sword raised to deliver a death blow or to knock her unconscious and take her captive at his whim. He looked into her eyes and felt the first stirrings of uncertainty. He was Death; to be feared, respected, and loathed as befitted a vengeful god. But he could tell by the disgust in her eyes that, to this woman, he wasn't a god. He was just an angry adolescent with the strength to inflict his tantrums on the world. Even as he swung, he knew the image of her head hitting the sand would forever mark the beginning of the end of his Horseman days. All the power in the world wouldn't make him human in her eyes—or in his own. But it had been one hell of a glorious run while it lasted.
Drawing a deep breath, Methos laid a hand on Jim's shoulder. Jim flinched, but Methos just squeezed slightly and left his hand resting there. "I'm sure it was hell, Julian," he said, "but that's not the part that's eating your soul. You're not ashamed of being hurt. You're not ashamed of rescuing Bryan. Believe me, I know what you're ashamed of. I rode with Kronos too. I reveled in the same feeling of power you did every time you lied to him and got away with it. Every time you felt him fall asleep next to you and knew you could kill him if you wanted to."
Jim shook his head and blew his nose on his handkerchief. "You're wrong," he whispered. "I couldn't have. I didn't have a sword unless we were raiding a village. And there was Caspian…"
"You could have used Kronos' sword," Methos insisted, "and you might have beaten Caspian if you managed to stay alive long enough to recover from Kronos' Quickening. Even if you'd lost, you would have at least taken Kronos with you. You didn't try, though, because you knew you were winning. No matter how many bones he broke or how much of your blood he shed, you knew you were going to get the upper hand in the end."
Jim just shook his head, and Methos smiled grimly. "Besides," he continued unrelentingly, "Kronos was too smart to hurt you all the time. He never could have slept at night if he did. I'm sure every once in a while he actually let you enjoy the experience too. He could be a very considerate lover when it suited his purposes. I saw him enchant many a girl just to see her face when he finally showed his true colors. He was a master at psychological torture."
"No," Jim whimpered, rocking slowly back and forth, "no."
"Look at me, Julian," Methos said, squeezing Jim's shoulder again. Jim shook his head, but Methos kept insisting until Jim finally looked up. Methos gently wiped the tears from Jim's cheeks, then cradled his face in both hands. "Listen to me," he said earnestly, "I understand being driven to find that feeling of personal power. I know how good it feels to look down on the bully who has to resort to physical violence to keep you in line because you can outthink him without effort. I could outthink Kronos too, Julian, and it felt damn good.
"But you did what I couldn't do. You lied to Kronos and got away with it. We both know how well he judged people. How easily he identified and exploited their weaknesses. But you—he slept with you and he still underestimated you. When you watched the battalion close around him and you knew your plan had worked, you must have felt more powerful than you ever had in your life. He couldn't break you, and he couldn't seduce you. You had a course, and you stayed with it until the bitter end."
Jim tried to look away, images of Kronos breaking his jaw and then forcing Jim to suck him off intermingling with Kronos' gentle touch the first time he'd decided to let Jim take some pleasure from their coupling. Kronos' kiss had been as warm and insistent as his hands had been when they'd caressed Jim's cock. He had fought Kronos harder that night than ever before, but Kronos had only laughed softly and chained him to the tent pole so he could concentrate on igniting every nerve in Jim's body without leaving so much as a bruise. Kronos had played with Jim's confusion for weeks before growing bored and returning to his abusive style, saving those moments of pleasure for when Jim was almost angry enough to attack him. If only he hadn't made those mistakes that had caused Kronos to begin hurting him again…Jim whimpered again and shook his head, refusing to even consider that.
Methos held him patiently but firmly, waiting until Jim finally looked at him again. "That feeling, Julian," Methos continued softly, "is what you've been looking for all these years. It's not guilt that drives you to instigate Challenges you wouldn't ordinarily fight and to take drugs when that gets old. It's a desire to feel that invincibility again—or to forget that you ever felt that way at all. To forget that, once upon a time, you had a lover who held the world in his fist and offered to share some of the crumbs with you. Deny it, Julian. Look into my eyes and deny it, and I'll leave without another word. Accept it, and you can start solving the real problem."
Jim gazed at Methos, looking for signs that his teacher was lying, but Methos regarded him steadily, his hazel eyes filled with an understanding that Bryan, for all his devotion to Jim and his centuries of psychological training, could never share. "It's true, isn't it?" Jim finally whispered. "You felt it too."
Methos nodded slowly. "I still feel it, Julian, and I always will. So will you. But I've learned to live with it. You can too, if you're ready to accept that you feel it."
Jim dropped his gaze and this time Methos let him pull away. Wrapping his arms around his knees, Jim rocked himself and tried to fight though the tangle of his emotions. "You…you'll help me?" he stammered.
"You don't need my help," Methos replied gently. "If you're strong enough to beat Kronos, you're strong enough to do this. Besides, part of your problem is that you've shut Bryan out of your life. You've convinced yourself that if he knows the truth, he'll think you're not worth loving. You won't be fully healed until you realize that it's not true."
"Isn't it?" Jim whispered.
"No. He forgave me, Julian, and he doesn't love me anywhere near as much as he loves you. All you need to do is give him the chance to prove that by letting him in."
Jim trembled and clutched himself tighter. "What if you're wrong? You know how judgmental Bryan can get. What if he decides that I'm a power-hungry monster who doesn't deserve to live?"
"He won't," Methos replied firmly, "and you know it as well as I. Bryan is no saint, remember. He's done things to regain a sense of personal power that he wasn't proud of afterwards. Remember what he did to those skinheads in Chicago? He'll understand. Now come on. Let's go home." Rising to his feet, Methos silently offered his hand to his student.
Jim looked up at him for a long moment, then nodded slowly and reached out to his teacher.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I'm one of those weird people who likes to weave song lyrics into my stories. Unfortunately, they're the first thing my editors rip out. So I'm hiding them here in the Afterward where they'll be safe from editorial eyes. If you don't want to know the song that inspired this story, bail now. Complete song lyrics follow. You have been warned. <grin>
I can't remember now if I had Billy Joel's Code of Silence in mind when I created Jim O'Leary, but the better I got to know him, the more I realized just how appropriate the lyrics are. I know that he had secrets from the very beginning, and, while he'd like me to believe that his life with Kronos is the only major one he's been hiding, I'm not so sure I believe him. Time, as they say, will tell.
Here are the complete lyrics to the song, which can be found on The Bridge, published in 1986 by Columbia Records. If you like it, you can buy the album from http://www.billyjoel.com. It's definitely one of my favorites.
Code of Silence
by Billy Joel
Lyrics from http://www.billyjoel.com/discography/silence.html
Everybody's got a million questions
Everybody wants to know the score
What you went through
It's something you
Should be over now
Everybody wants to hear the secrets
That you never told a soul before
And it's not that strange
Because it wouldn't change
What happened anyhow
But you swore to yourself a long time ago
There were some things that people never needed to know
This is one that you keep
That you bury so deep
No one can tear it out
And you can't talk about it
Because you're following a code of silence
You're never gonna lose the anger
You just deal with it a different way
And you can't talk about it
And isn't that a kind of madness
To be living by a code of silence
When you've really got a lot to say
You don't want to lose a friendship
There's nothing that you have to hide
And a little dirt couldn't hurt no one anyway
And you still have a rage inside you
That you carry with certain pride
In the only part of a broken heart
That you could never save
But you've been through it once, you know how it ends
You don't see the point of going through it again,
And this ain't the place, and this ain't the time,
And neither's any other day
So you can't talk about it
Because you're following a code of silence
You're never gonna lose the anger
You just deal within it a different way
So you can't talk about it
And isn't that a kind of madness
To be living by a code of silence
When you've really got a lot to say
I know you well enough to tell you've got your reasons
That's not the kind of code you're inclined to break
Some things unknown are best left alone forever
And if a vow is what it takes
Haven't you paid for your mistakes
After the moment passes
And the impulse disappears
You can still hold back
Because you don't crack very easily
It's a time honored resolution
Because the danger is always near
It's with you now
But that ain't how it was supposed to be
And it's hard to believe after all these years
That it still gives you pain and it still brings tears
And you feel like a fool, because in spite of your rules
You've got a memory
But you can't talk about it
Because you're following a code of silence
You're never gonna lose the anger
You just deal with it a different way
But you can't talk about it
And isn't that a kind of madness
To be living by a code of silence
When you've really got a lot to say