Author: Ryenna/merriman aka Classified
Written for: Killa/killabeez
Characters: Methos, Duncan, OC baddie and some OC townsfolk for background.
Rating: PG13 for violence and language.
Author's Notes: I've had the setting for this story in my head for so long, I was thrilled to finally get to use it.
Summary: Methos has made himself a home in the middle of nowhere, safe from the sort of trouble that plagues Paris and Seacouver, until Duncan shows up.
It was a clear day when Duncan arrived at Methos' home. Only a few wisps of cloud could be seen in the distance over the flat expanse around the house. In a place like this, he could see for miles, and in all of those miles there were only a handful of things to be seen: The grass, the sky, the road, the fence along it and a trio of horses that milled around, grazing in the dry grass. And the house. He'd been driving towards it since it was a speck in the distance, then had to leave the car parked in a turn-off on the road when the road itself got too rough for a car meant for smooth city driving. Now he walked, the sounds of insects and wind in his ears, watching the house and barn grow on the horizon.
There was something odd about the house, but it took Duncan a bit to put his finger on it. Finally it struck him. The damn thing had a cupola sticking up off the far side. What farm house had a windowed cupola? The answer was that Methos' did. A cupola and a porch and a front yard full of weeds.
Methos met him at the door.
"I just knew you'd show up eventually. Joe tell you where I was?"
Duncan shook his head, stifling a laugh at the predictably unwelcoming greeting.
"No, I looked you up online."
"Ha. Very. Come on in." Methos stood aside, allowing Duncan to walk into the house without getting too close. "You know Joe called me after he talked to you," he added after shutting the door.
"Oh yeah? What did he tell you?"
"That I might soon be graced with your beatific presence and not to kill you."
Duncan looked over at Methos but Methos' back was to him as he walked past and out of the room. "Come on. I was busy when you arrived, you know. I wasn't twiddling my thumbs." Duncan bit back a sharp retort. It had been a few years since he'd seen the old man. Okay, more than a few years. Ten. He sighed and looked around the front room. It was sparsely furnished, with a few things he recognized from one of Methos' many past residences, but also with a couple of pieces Duncan would never have thought Methos would own: A floral-patterned sofa with a couple of embroidered pillows and a painting on the wall that might have been of a horse and might have been of a cat. It wasn't clear. The overall effect was patchwork, like five or six people had decorated the place.
"Who did the painting over the sofa?" Duncan asked when he followed Methos and found himself in a kitchen where the other man was standing at the stove, stirring something in a large pot.
"Oh, there's this guy in town. Abe Lawson. Retired rodeo wrangler. Horrible painter, but it was a housewarming gift. I think it adds charm to the place." Methos turned to smirk over his shoulder at Duncan. "What do you think?"
"I think he should have stuck to horses," Duncan admitted, a little regretful at the criticism but it wasn't as if the man was sitting at the table.
"Yeah, that's what everyone says," Methos agreed. "Here. We're having beef stew tonight. While it's cooking you can help me."
"Help you with what?" Duncan asked.
"The horses," Methos said, grinning. "Don't tell me you think I live out in the middle of nowhere because I like the view."
Duncan thought back to the long walk he'd just finished and the horses he'd passed along the way. Joe hadn't told him just what Methos was doing in the middle of Kentucky, but he'd said it was obviously something the old man enjoyed, since he'd been at it for several years now.
"You're raising horses?"
"What can I say?" Methos asked, wiping his hands off and putting the cover on the pot. "Once a horseman, always a horseman."
There were six horses and Methos took care of them all himself. Or so it seemed until Duncan asked about it while he took over the onerous task of mucking out one of the stalls in the stable.
"Oh, when I need a hand there's always someone in town looking to make a bit of cash. Abe comes out every once in a while, even though I told him not to bother. If you stick around, I think you'll find he's rather like someone else I know."
"Oh yeah?" Duncan asked, peering over the stall door at him. "How so?"
"You know. Stubborn. Set in his ways. Goes ahead and does stupid things even when everyone tells him not to." Methos gave Duncan a pointed glance. "That stall's not going to muck itself. Come on, MacLeod. Earn your supper."
Duncan laughed and set back to work. There was something comforting, if a little smelly, about this sort of thing. Methos was off at the other end of the small building, forking hay into the stalls there and, from what Duncan could make out, talking to the horses. It wasn't English, and it was too soft for Duncan to make out more than one word in ten, but he was definitely talking. The horses seemed to be the only option. Every so often Duncan looked up, thinking maybe he'd ask what Methos was saying. But then he'd decide it was pointless. Getting a straight answer out of Methos was like getting milk from a bull: A joke you weren't expected to laugh at.
They worked like that for two hours, Duncan cleaning stalls ahead of Methos restocking them, with only Methos' murmurs to the horses and the sounds of the horses themselves to break the quiet. Until a sharp beeping went off.
"Damn," Methos muttered. "Something's at one of the fences again. Keep an eye on things here? I'll be back."
And then he was gone.
Duncan kept on working, now doing Methos' job as well as the task he'd been set. Before long the horses were in clean stalls, fed and watered. There had to be more Methos needed done but Duncan found himself at a loss. He'd been about to start going through the tack to see what needed mending when he felt Methos returning.
"Just one of the kids from town," Methos muttered. "I tell them not to come out here but they're always poking around."
"Well," Duncan said, following Methos through the stable as the other man inspected what he'd done. "It's the lure of the unknown. You say 'Damn kids! Stay off my land!' and they know your land must be interesting."
Methos turned to look at Duncan, giving him one of those looks that said both 'You're right' and 'I hate you.' "There's nothing here," he said finally. "Nothing you can't find anywhere else. Just horses and grass and my home. Pretty boring."
"Pretty perfect?" Duncan ventured.
"Yeah, it is."
There wasn't really anything exciting in Methos' life now so far as Duncan could tell. There were the horses to take care of, and that took up a good part of the day. Otherwise Methos spent his time doing any of the myriad number of jobs that came up around the place, then reading in the evening after dinner. First there was fixing up a shed behind the house. Then there was a length of fence on one end of the property that looked like it had met the wrong end of a car and had to be fixed. They fell into an easy rhythm on these jobs, working together to get whatever needed doing done. It was relaxing, if Duncan was honest with himself. No distractions. No danger. Just the ranch and the company of a good friend.
"You know," Duncan said over breakfast one morning about a month after he'd arrived, "I wasn't sure if you'd let me stay or kick me back to Paris."
"Come now, MacLeod, if I was going to kick you anywhere it'd be into my compost heap."
Duncan laughed it off, having spent the previous day working on said heap. "So what's the plan for today?"
Methos got up from the table and started to clean off his plate at the sink. "Today, my dear Highlander, you get to take the pickup into town. We need groceries. You're eating me out of house and home."
It was true. Duncan had noticed the cupboards were growing noticeably barer and while there was a big bin freezer in the basement it mostly held frozen meat. You couldn't live on that alone. Not unless you wanted to feel pretty ill after a while. Duncan got up to start cleaning up from breakfast.
"Right, so, what do we need? Or should I just guess?"
"I'll make a list," Methos assured him.
An hour later, Duncan was driving towards town in Methos' battered pickup, his own car having been towed to Methos' ranch a few days after his arrival. It had been covered by a tarp and parked by the side of the house ever since. A fancy sportscar didn't have much use on a ranch. Not that Duncan disliked the ranch. It was a nice place to live.
The best part of life there, Duncan reflected as he drove into town and started looking for the local grocery store and feed lot, was how peaceful it was. Sure, there was always work to be done, but it wasn't full of tension and the ever-present threat of a challenge that had seemed to pervade life both in Seacouver and Paris as well as the travels he'd taken after leaving both cities. It had never really stopped. No matter where he'd gone, holy ground had been the only place he could really be assured that no one would challenge him. Even there, the challenges had come, demanding that he leave, or promising to wait until he did. The whole thing had left Duncan more restless than he'd been when he started, exactly the opposite of what he'd planned.
Then there was Methos, who seemed more relaxed than Duncan could ever remember him. Even in his usual sprawl there had always been something about him that, to a trained fighter, screamed that he would be ready to bolt in an instant if threatened. Duncan had long ago realized that the sprawl was a calculated pose, meant to give the impression that Methos was far far less dangerous than he actually was. It was a good act. It had certainly fooled Duncan himself for a while.
"Hey there," Duncan called to an older man sitting outside a barber shop. "Would you know where the grocery store is?"
"'Course I would!" the man replied, grinning widely at Duncan. "You must be stayin' with Matthews out there on his ranch. He show you the painting I gave him?"
Duncan nodded. So this was Abe. "He sure did."
"I'm more than a bit proud of that one," Abe told him. "It's about time he got some full time help out there. I've told him and told him, you can't raise them horses all by yourself, but he's young. He doesn't know. Me? I know. I do what I can, but my back hasn't been the same since I left the rodeo. Now you make sure and stock up well. He only gets supplies once a month or so. We all laugh about it here. But make no mistake, we like him here too. You run out on him, leave him shorthanded, you'd better not show your face in town on your way out."
Abe might have kept on rambling if Duncan hadn't stopped him. "I won't. I promise. So the grocery store? I really want to hurry and get back there so he doesn't do the horses on his own today."
"Good! Grocery's down that way. Can't miss it. They've got the pumpkins out front today. Good crop! Now I remember..."
"I've really got to go! Nice meeting you!" Duncan called as he pulled away and drove off down the road.
Even if old Abe had been a local nut, he seemed to be right about the town's attitude towards Methos. When Duncan walked into the grocery store and explained to one of the teenage girls staffing the counter that he was staying at the ranch and needed to get supplies he'd been treated to a lengthy monologue on the ranch, the horses, and not least of all, "Mr. Matthews" and how nice he was. Not to mention cute. Duncan very politely waited until the girl had gone off to get a sack of rice from a back storeroom before laughing out loud.
Then he stopped laughing. There was another Immortal nearby. Very nearby, and growing closer. Duncan abandoned the cart full of groceries in the middle of the aisle and peered around the end, trying to track the sensation of whoever had come into the store. It couldn't be Methos, unless he'd taken Duncan's car, and Methos hadn't mentioned anyone else being in the area. Duncan was quite sure that he would have mentioned it. Or he would have left. Or never settled here at all. Methos didn't really like Immortal company he didn't know and trust at least to some extent .
A young man with reddish-blond hair was standing near the counter, looking around with the kind of casual expectation that many Immortals cultured. He looked in Duncan's direction and smiled.
"Hello," Duncan said, walking over. "I'm Duncan MacLeod."
"Yes, hello," the man replied, still smiling. "I'm Albert Winston. It's a pleasure. I don't suppose you're from around here, are you?"
"I'm afraid not. I'm just here to relax a little."
"Relax?" The girl who'd been helping him was back with the rice. "I hope you're not spending all your time out at the ranch relaxing, Mr. MacLeod. I'd hate to have to tell Abe you're slacking off out there and leaving Mr. Matthews with all the work."
"Of course not," Duncan assured her as he took the rice. "But this is relaxing compared to what I was doing before. Thanks for all your help." He nodded to Winston before going to retrieve his cart and bringing it up to be tallied.
"So, you're working on a ranch," Winston said when Duncan returned.
Duncan nodded. "Yeah, helping a friend out. What brings you to town?"
"Oh, nothing in particular. I'm on my way through. Stopped to put some gas in the tank, buy some lunch, be on my way."
The girl ringing up Duncan's purchases was obviously listening in, so Duncan kept it light and casual.
"It's a nice little town," he remarked as the last of his things were tallied. "Very quiet," he added.
Winston nodded and leaned over to grab a bag of Duncan's things. "Here, let me give you a hand. No reason you should have to make two trips."
On the way out to the truck Duncan glanced over at Winston. "I don't want a fight. Like I said, it's quiet here. I'd like to keep it that way."
Winston set the bag he was carrying into the bed of the truck and nodded to Duncan. He didn't seem surprised, or disappointed in the least. "Of course. I really was just passing through."
Duncan might have been more suspicious, but as he got into the truck he could see Winston in his mirror, stopping to talk to Abe, who'd been on his way down the street. The old man said something that made Winston laugh, then Abe laughed, and it all seemed perfectly normal. Nothing but a coincidence.
Back at the ranch Methos was out with the horses, so Duncan took it upon himself to put away the supplies and get dinner started. While he sorted through the canned goods and made sure everything was where it belonged he considered the best way to broach the subject of the Immortal in town. He'd already decided to tell Methos about the man. If he didn't, and Methos found out, he'd be pissed. But then there was the issue of what Methos would do once he knew. It was possible that he'd consider the ranch defensible enough and remote enough to not be worried much at all. It was also possible, however, that Methos' old paranoia would make a reappearance and lead him to abandon the place entirely. Duncan couldn't bring himself to blame Methos for the impulse, not after he'd spent the past few years doing much the same thing, and Methos had done it enough before for it to be a likely choice.
There were the horses, though, and they made it difficult to predict what Methos would do. It seemed unlikely that he'd simply up and abandon them on the chance that this Winston might show up. This truly was the most permanent place Duncan could recall Methos ever settling. It was a little strange to realize it.
By the time Methos go back to the house there was a chicken in the oven and a pot of potatoes on the stove and Duncan had been about to go and find him. He'd figured it might be best to treat the whole subject of another Immortal in town as nonchalantly as possible.
"How was town?" Methos asked as he washed his hands. "Did you meet my dear friend Abe?"
"I did. He's very..." Duncan paused and searched for the right word.
"Verbose," Methos offered. "Yeah, I know. He'll talk your ear off if you let him. He almost got me when I first moved here."
"Almost got me too, but I got away. Town was fine. Pretty quiet. No trouble getting supplies. They all seem to know you," he added. "I think the girl at the grocery has a crush."
Methos groaned, drying off his hands before going to help Duncan with the last preparations for dinner. "I know. Kelly. Why do you think I sent you to go shopping? So it was quiet other than Abe and Kelly?"
"Well," Duncan sighed. "There was one other person. Not from around here." He turned around to look at Methos, try and gauge his reaction, and found the other man glaring at him. "Yes, Immortal," he continued in response to Methos' unspoken question. "But he wasn't looking for a fight. Just passing through."
Methos went silent, turning to look out the window for a few minutes that seemed to Duncan to stretch on forever. Duncan watched his friend, looking for minute changes in posture that might signal what Methos was thinking. But Methos was still as a statue.
"Fine," he said finally. "Let's eat."
Duncan might have been relieved at Methos' response if dinner hadn't turned out to be a somber affair with none of the casual conversation that had filled the past month he'd been there. Methos wasn't sullen and didn't seem bitter. He was just quiet. He ate quietly. He cleaned up the table and put away the leftovers quietly. And after dinner he quietly went into the living room and sat down with a book. And read quietly.
Duncan followed him, picking a book off the shelves at random and sitting down to read it. He'd made it through two chapters before growing restless, but if Methos wanted to sit in silence then so be it. He'd lived in monasteries. He could do silent. And it turned out to be a good thing he could, because when the sound of someone coming down the road reached the house he heard it as well as Methos did.
"You were saying?" Methos muttered, setting aside his book.
"It could just be someone passing by," Duncan pointed out, though he knew he was probably wrong. No one ever 'just passed by' the ranch. There wasn't anywhere else to go for miles. You wouldn't go using the road to the ranch if you were going anywhere else. Duncan was sure Methos had picked the spot because it was the epitome of out of the way. He felt foolish just for saying it and was rewarded with an exasperated look from Methos.
"Of course. Maybe they're just lost?" Methos suggested. "Or it's a neighbor needing a cup of sugar. Of course." He got up, going to a closet under the staircase and pulling out his coat.
"You're going to face him?" Duncan asked and was met with another look from Methos.
"Well, are you?"
Duncan hesitated. He hadn't taken a head since O'Rourke. The few challenges he'd been forced into since then had ended with his sword at his opponent's neck and then nothing. He'd walked away from all of them, admonishing the loser to leave him alone in the future.
"That's what I thought," Methos said as the sensation of another Immortal swept over both of them. Methos shook his head and pulled on the coat, then headed outside.
Duncan watched him go, then followed a few moments later. In the time it had taken to make his decision Winston had parked in front of the house and gotten out of the car. Methos was standing on the front steps, looking for all the world like he could take Winston's head with a glare alone. Winston was walking up to the house, a nastily assured grin on his face.
"Well. Here I was thinking I'd be getting the great Duncan MacLeod and instead I find a bonus. Who is this?" Winston asked, directing the question at Duncan. "A friend? Lover? Student? All of the above?"
He appeared to be prepared to continue with his no-doubt pointed verbal attack when Methos cut him off by the simple means of drawing a gun from his coat and shooting him in the chest. It was a good shot, taking Winston down quickly and easily. Of course, he hadn't been far from Methos, and he hadn't been expecting something like that. Everyone, even most of the nastier ones, expected challenges to go traditionally: Verbal challenge, maybe an introduction, draw swords, fight. Duncan stared at Winston's body in the front yard, sprawled on the dry grass while the blood from his wound no doubt soaked into the ground below him. It had to have been shock that kept Duncan standing on the front porch while Methos strode down the steps and added insult to injury by thrusting a knife into Winston's chest. To keep him dead, Duncan realized.
"You can't do it like that," Duncan protested.
"Oh?" Methos looked down at Winston. "I'm fairly certain that I can, since I am."
"It's not a fair fight!"
"Who said anything about fair?" Methos demanded, rounding on Duncan with the gun still drawn. "He came looking for us, didn't he? Or, rather, you. He followed you here and threatened you and me on my land. I don't see why he should get a fair anything from me. If you want to give him a fair fight," Methos stepped aside and gestured to Winston's body. "Be my guest."
"Right. That's what I thought. You know, I do still talk to Joe, and he does still keep an eye on you even if he can't go off traipsing around the world while you try and get your shit together. I know you don't take heads anymore, right?"
"Well," Duncan said, trying to come up with a response that could possibly explain what he'd been thinking in a way Methos would understand. He didn't want to kill anyone anymore. Ever. He didn't want the students and lovers and friends showing up on his doorstep to avenge someone Duncan had faced and won against. Duncan looked at Methos, taking in the gun and the body behind him with the knife in its chest. Then it hit him: Methos didn't want any of it either. He was simply more ruthless about it and less merciful.
Methos sighed, holstering the gun in one easy movement. "If you're here then the hunters will come," he told Duncan. "You haven't been out of the Game long enough. You haven't hidden far enough. Yet. So if you stay here there will be hunters. Not too many, but maybe one every few months. They'll come looking and they'll find us both. Either you deal with them in a way that makes certain they don't come back or I will. And if you don't like how I make certain then that's tough for you. You came to me, remember. I didn't take a head for two hundred years because I didn't put myself in a position to have to. Not because I was playing nice."
"I can't let you shoot people and take their heads while they're dead," Duncan warned.
"Fine! Don't! But then the onus is on you. Stay and take care of it, or go and let me do it. Or live in peace, since I doubt anyone's coming looking for me."
Now that Winston was dead and unlikely to revive any time soon, Methos seemed nonchalant about it all. He'd put his hands in his pockets and moved to lean against the rail at the bottom of the steps.
Well, he was right. Winston wasn't going anywhere. Duncan stood at the top of the steps and mulled it over. Methos took out another knife and started to clean it while he waited.
The irritating thing was that Methos was right. They would keep coming. Until anyone who might know where he'd gone had either forgotten or disappeared themselves, the hunters would keep coming. If he let them go then that was one more person out there who knew where they both were. But Methos' way of doing it just didn't sit right. It guaranteed a win, but it wasn't how Duncan did things. He knew that after a while it would make him sick.
"They'll stop coming eventually?" he asked Methos, who paused and looked up at him to nod.
"Eventually. Good thing too. Lightning spooks the horses."
Duncan sighed and walked down the steps and over to Winston. He pulled the knife out of the man's chest and wiped it off.
"I'll take him out the other direction," Duncan told him. "The horses should be fine."
Winston wasn't a bad fighter. His cockiness seemed at least somewhat justified as he parried Duncan's blows with only a hint of the effort the fight was taking. It helped, Duncan thought, that he himself was rusty. There were a few cuts in his clothing where he'd only narrowly missed more than a glancing blow.
It was dark out by the time Duncan saw an opening he couldn't ignore and thrust in to disarm Winston, sending his sword spinning off into the moonlit grass. Winston watched it go, clearly making the split-second decision of whether to dive for it and take his chances or give in to the inevitable.
He chose to dive, and Duncan chose to at least let him try before taking his final swing.
The quickening hit him like the engine of a train, catching him off guard after so long without one. Winston wasn't the worst he'd taken, not by far, but he was bad enough to leave Duncan reeling when it ended and there was nothing left but the man's body, head and the sword he'd lost at the end. And a slightly charred patch of ground around where Duncan had been standing.
"Nicely done," a familiar voice said as Duncan felt Methos approach. "Though I would have just lopped his head off once he was disarmed. Still, good technique."
"You watched the whole thing?" Duncan asked as he went to search through the grass for the sword.
"Of course. This is my land, you know. Can't have things going on here without my knowledge."
Duncan looked back at Methos who held up his gun. "And a little insurance never hurt."
"You're going to do that every time, aren't you," Duncan sighed.
Methos nodded. "Yup. Now, let's get the body taken care of and we can go to bed. Still plenty to do in the morning. If you're staying, that is?"
The sword was stuck into the ground a few feet away. Duncan grabbed it and brought it over to Methos and the body. He handed Methos the sword and crouched down to help him wrap up the body in a tarp Methos had brought out.