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Highlander Holiday ShortCuts
Neutral Good, for dswdiane 
17th-Dec-2011 04:16 pm
my second highlander icon/serious one
Title: Neutral Good
Author: The Solstice Slayer aka marbleglove
Written for: diane (dswdiane)
Characters/Pairings: MacLeod/Methos
Rating: PG
Author's Note: I started this with the goal of humor and a plot, as per your request, but (wince) I think it kind of shed both as it went along. I hope you enjoy it anyway.
Summary: The day-to-day life of an Immortal has less to do with long life and challenges and more to do with fake identities and carrying concealed weapons.



==========
Neutral Good
==========

Duncan looked carefully through each of the three profiles set before him while Methos watched him.

Francisco was only twenty years old. He had taken a couple of years to travel before going to university. He was scheduled to start in the fall, a program at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid.

Paul was twenty-five years old. He was a free-lance weapons expert. His military file was blacked out as need-to-know and no one needed to know. Now he was a mercenary who occasionally took some government contracts.

The third one was approximately thirty years old and didn’t have a confirmed name. “Adam” was an information broker with an organized crime family out of Bulgaria. It was suspected that he had killed the original Adam Pierson and used his passport to assist in a smuggling operation. Has OCD tendencies.

The pictures were all of different people, but they were also all of Methos.

“What are these?”

“These are options. They’re all live identities. They can all pass background checks and be permanent identities – at least as permanent as any mortal identity is. I need to pick soon. I thought you might pick for me.”

“The lady or the tiger?” Duncan wondered if this was Methos’ way of breaking up with him.

“I’d actually prefer it if you picked one that you could live with, yourself. But, well, that’s the question isn’t it? Can you live with any of these? Adam Pierson was an anomaly, you know. He was more Watcher than Immortal. My next identity can’t be like that.”

Duncan nodded and looked down at the three profiles again. Really though, he thought over the last week.

Exactly seven days ago, to the minute really, he had nearly finished with being questioned by an FBI agent.

====

The federal agent slammed both hands down on the table with a resounding crack and stood. “Don’t try to play me for a fool!”

He sounded furious.

He wasn’t, though. There was too much watchful intelligence in his eyes. He was just testing to see what sort of reaction he could get. Some people were probably cowed into telling the truth while others probably felt smug satisfaction at being able to infuriate such a natural authority figure.

Duncan tried to look properly daunted. In truth, he was impressed.

If he had been in charge of interrogating Methos for three days and was now reduced to trying to get something out of the man’s ride home, he doubted he’d be faking the fury. “I’m not trying to do anything. I’m just Adam’s ride home. He called to say he was being released. I’m happy to help you if I can but I really don’t know anything at this point.”

His own refrain was probably testing the agent’s nerves as well.

Adam is a gun runner.” The agent leaned over the desk, attempting to loom. It wasn’t very successful but Duncan kept his face respectful.

“Adam’s an academic. He teaches Latin at the community college.”

“And running guns on the side. He managed to cover the escape of at least five people from our operation.”

Ah, Duncan thought. He’d wondered why Methos had failed to escape on his own.

“That’s at least five people selling guns to the gangs in Seacouver. Given your history I would have expected you to care about keeping guns off the streets.”

Duncan flinched at that. Years had passed since Tessa had died and he was happy with Methos now, but the reminder still hurt. He expected it would always hurt and he did not appreciate random federal agents using that fact.

He stood slowly and carefully buttoned his suit jacket, checked his cuffs, and made sure to exude a sense of disdain for the man in front of him. He was completely unwilling to give in to such heavy-handed emotional blackmail.

“Since I am neither a witness nor a suspect in this particular investigation, Special Agent Dover, I think it’s time for you to escort me to my friend so that I can drive him home.”

Instead, the agent sat back down. Now it was Duncan looking down at the agent. That was just fine with him.

“Do you know that you and Dr. Pierson both react the same way?”

The agent was pointedly unaffected by Duncan standing over him, which probably meant that he was a great actor. Which, in turn, apparently meant that he recognized good acting, too. “You both give textbook reactions in interrogations, textbook reactions as innocent people I might mention. But sometimes, sometimes there are these hints of amusement and arrogance. It tells me that Adam Pierson was more than just a messenger boy in that meeting and you are involved up to your eyebrows.”

Duncan did not outwardly respond, merely waited for the agent to get to the end of his monolog and escort him to Methos.

Still, he was back to being impressed by the agent and feeling more than a bit idiotic about it. Apparently flattery does work, because the agent thought he was like Methos.

Duncan had been in awe of Methos since before he had known the man actually existed as more than a myth. Getting to know him as a person had required a steep learning curve, but as much as he had learned, as many times as he had felt betrayed, and as personal and intimate as their relationship had grown, the awe had never quite gone away.

Five thousand years was a lot of experience, yes; a lot of stories and a lot of skills. But Methos was more than his experiences and his knowledge. He was the sort of person who had managed to survive long enough to acquire the experience and knowledge.

There had been a lot of other immortals born between then and now and most of them were dead, but Methos had somehow survived.

He reminded Duncan of when he had first worked with a group of special operations soldiers. They had been the best of the best, and a lot of that had been their training, of course, but more of it had been that these were the small number of soldiers who tried to do the impossible, who trained to do it, and who succeeded in doing it time and again.

The experience was just the glossy finish.

Duncan tried to hide that part of his feelings from Methos when they were together. Methos deserved to be seen as a man, to be loved as just a guy.

At times like these, it was really easy: when the agent finally led him to Methos, the other immortal was looking mostly young and tired.

He perked up a bit when he saw Duncan, though. “I feel sure that I called Joe to ask for a ride.”

“And Joe asked me to give you the ride.”

“Wonderful. Do I sense a lecture coming on?”

“Do I need to give you the talk about not breaking the law? Because I can, I mentor at-risk kids on the weekend.” Methos knew this perfectly well and complained about it bitterly, mostly because Duncan refused to let Methos anywhere near the kids. Who knew what the old man would suggest they do.

Case in point: he was bailing Methos out of jail having been swept up in a weapons smuggling sting.

“Having a criminal record is harmful to your future.” He was being only half facetious. If the Watcher’s found out about this, Adam Pierson would be in deep trouble. It might even be enough to clue them in that Adam was Methos.

“It’s not harmful to my future at all.” Methos joked, “I’ve made all sorts of interesting connections in the clink.”

“Oh God.” Duncan prayed for patience.

Sometimes Duncan wondered about Methos: There he was, five thousand years old, twelve times older than Duncan, and yet there were times when Duncan wondered if he should be giving his elder the same talk he’d once given his young student.

“It’s important to have enough criminal connections to allow you to get a new identity as often as you need one and to smuggle your sword past security check-points. But it’s just as important to avoid attracting too much attention from the authorities, as well as too much attention from other immortals who are making use of their own criminal connections. Being a high profile criminal is a good way to get permanently dead and also a good way to make sure that no one cares, except maybe to celebrate.”

“You’re telling me to keep some of my old contacts? I thought you hated them. And you have criminal contacts?” Richie had been even more dubious than he had been shocked.

Duncan wondered sometimes how he had acquired a reputation for lawfulness. He tried to be a good man, yes, but he didn’t try all that hard to be a lawful one. There was a difference. “The type of forgery that we need to keep our identities current is a victimless crime. Stealing from people is actively hurting them and the drug trade hurts all of society as well as the individuals.” Duncan had frowned at his young student. Then he added, more practically, “Plus, the connections you have aren’t useful and do attract attention that you can’t afford. There’s a careful balance that all immortals need to find, between being a monster and staying alive.”

“Yeah, you’ve told me, I should go cut off people’s heads, but only if they’re immortal and they’re doing something bad. No serial killing for me.” Richie had rolled his eyes and spoke easily enough although Duncan could still see the disturbed look in his eyes. He had tried to hide it with banter. “I think I need to ask this just to make certain I’m hearing you right: you’re going to introduce me to the criminal element?”

“It’s important to keep certain connections but not avoid falling any deeper. I change my identity about every two decades, but I look like an adult. You’ll have to change yours more often than that, although I’ll also show you ways to age yourself. I’ll also teach you some things you can do yourself, but for a lot of forged government documents, it’s better to go to the experts.”

Duncan had really hoped that Richie would be able to find the balance necessary to allow him to defend himself in mortal combat without coming to love it too much; to allow him to smuggle his own weapons across borders and security checkpoints without smuggling other people’s; to forge the documents necessary to survive without becoming a mere parasite on society.

Methos knew all of this.

Methos was also the type of manipulative strategist that was absolutely impossible to predict.

And, Duncan realized as they walked out of the building together, Methos was trying to run a con right this very moment.

From the time they had met up in the waiting room all the way out of the building with it’s marble tile floors and down the sidewalk with its cement segments to the car, Methos had been careful not to step on any cracks. He also pulled the handle on the car door three times before actually opening the door.

Duncan eyed him warily. Methos didn’t have ticks like that. He didn’t have tells, and the more unaware he appeared to be of a tell, the more intentional it was.

Duncan waited until they were on their way in traffic before saying anything, though. “Okay, what’s the role and who’s the audience?”

“Hmm?”

“Methos…” Duncan added a bit of whine to his voice to compensate for the humor he couldn’t keep out.

“I thought it might comfort some of the police officers who weren’t quite sure what to do with someone carrying a sword for no good reason.”

“And you think a bit of obsessive behavior will reassure them? Somehow I doubt a heavily armed man with a mental condition is going to reassure them.”

“Not reassure them that I’m a safe person, reassure them that there’s nothing more to look for than a dangerous person.”

“They’re going to look into your mob connections no matter how OCD you appear.”

Methos rolled his eyes. “Yes, but they’re not going to go looking for The Game or other Immortals.”

“You’re going to have to explain that to me.”

“The problem with swords is that there's just no good excuse for them.”

“Family heirloom.” Duncan was prompt with his standard excuse. It wasn’t always possible to hide a sword, but he had all sorts of documentation for his katana. The only reason it wasn’t insured as well was that he refused to keep it in a secured location like his insurance company wanted. They didn’t approve of him carrying it around on his person.

“And how has that worked for you?”

Duncan shrugged, refusing to concede the point entirely but, yeah, it generally got him more suspicious looks rather than fewer.

“Nobody carries family heirlooms around with them unless it’s jewelry. Why in the world would anyone still carry a sword? Especially one that's hidden in a specially tailored coat. Give me one good reason.”

“How about self-defense.” It was a statement rather than a question. After all, they did keep their swords on them for self-defense. At least the two of them did.

“Self-defense." Methos mocked him. "With a sword? No. The range is completely off for most self-defense. Too long for any in-close fight but too short for a gun.”

“It works for me. Even against guns.”

“Not in a fair fight it doesn’t.”

“Hey. I always fight fair." Mac was offended.

“When you have a quickening and the guy with a gun does not? How is that fair?”

“You're one to talk!”

“I've got nothing against cheating. I'm all for cheating, at least when it's me or mine doing it.”

“Am I yours?" Mac teased.

“Of course you’re mine. But still, there's no reasonable excuse for a sword. Even as just one weapon among a mini arsenal, it still stands out as being peculiar. A gun, a knife, a garrote, and a sword. Which of these things doesn't belong?" Methos actually sang the last bit.

"The garrote. It's an assassin's weapon."

"So are a gun and a knife. The sword doesn't belong because not even an assassin uses a sword. Nobody uses a sword."

"Except us."

"And that's the problem. If we don't want to be an "us", i.e. a defined group with our own rules, then a sword is a major problem.”

“That’s a point.” It was a point he thought about for the rest of the ride home as Methos dozed. Well, that and the situation that had Adam Pierson arrested on criminal charges and the Watchers suspicious.

When they got back to the loft, Methos crawled into bed and only rousted long enough to eat the dinner Duncan cooked.

When Duncan finally went to bed, Methos didn’t even wake up as he pulled him into his arms.

He found it very hard to go to sleep himself.

Despite his other questions, when Methos finally woke up the next morning, Duncan asked, “Did you sleep at all when you were in custody? If they didn’t let you, that’s a human rights violation.”

They were face to face and Duncan searched Methos’ face for clues, but Methos seemed perfectly relaxed now.

“No, no, nothing like that. They were perfectly fine, fed me three meals a day even. It was just the scenario. Being constantly observed and having to maintain multiple roles at once. Innocent Adam Pierson for the FBI – or at least enough shadow of a doubt to make them let me go; powerful knowledge broker for the other inmates; and young immortal caught up in learning how to maintain weapons for the Watchers. Trying to play multiple roles is always difficult especially when you can’t rely on them seeing what they want to see. They were pretty much all suspicious.”

“The Watchers, too?”

“Oh yes. Them especially. They’re not sure whether I’m a potential hunter or a new immortal and I’ve been trying to leave them in doubt for as long as possible.”

“So, what are you going to do now?”

“I haven’t decided yet. I’m going to see how it plays out for a few days before making any decisions though.”

“You’re thinking of starting your next life.” It wasn’t even a question. Adam Pierson was getting older than Methos could easily look. Duncan knew that the old man had put off the change in life for him. It was a recurring crisis in any relationship between two immortals, to see if a relationship could survive the transition between identities.

It was one of the reasons why Duncan kept his name. He wanted to keep his friends, his family.

But Duncan MacLeod was Adam Pierson’s lover. He wasn’t at all sure he was Methos’. He was scared that there wouldn’t be space for him in the life of whoever Methos turned into next.

He couldn’t allow fear to stop him.

“I’m getting old, too. It’s time for a change all round.”

Of course, bravery didn’t mean coming right out and asking. Methos would understand the question. The pause before Methos responded was not reassuring.

Duncan felt his gut clench and consciously kept his breathing even and his expression relaxed and open.

“Starting a new life is definitely one possibility. You would be more than welcome, if you wanted to come with me. After all, this would only be Adam Pierson’s second identity. The Watcher’s would expect his teacher to trail along.”

Somehow this response made him nervous even as it reassured him. “I’m charmed by such an invitation,” he responded a bit dryly. “And the other option?”

“The police are already half convinced that I’m a mob enforcer. Agent Dover thinks that I might have killed the original Adam Pierson and taken his place. It seems a shame to waste a burgeoning reputation like that.”

Duncan nearly choked on his own laughter, more from relief than real humor. “What sort of connections were those that you made?” He asked when he could spare the breath. “Get an offer you couldn’t refuse?”

“Excuse me,” Methos feigned indignation. “I refuse all such offers with extreme prejudice.”

“Just stay away from the horses.” Duncan was thinking about The Godfather.

It wasn’t until the laughter drained from Methos’ face that he thought of the other way that could be taken. “I wasn’t thinking of anything that extreme.”

“I didn’t mean…” Duncan started.

Methos waved away the blunder. “No, I’m sorry. I’m only extra sensitive since the new life might make use of few of the old skills. I don’t want to go full terrorist, but the ability to project that kind of reputation would be useful.”

Duncan was silent for a moment as he let that sink in. “You weren’t joking.”

“No.”

“You really are thinking of a life as a mob enforcer.”

“There are times when I'm not sure the lawful lifestyle is worth the hassle.”

“And you think being in organized crime wouldn’t be a worse hassle?”

“The perks are pretty awesome. Lots of weapons and no need to look innocent.” Methos tried to insert some humor.

Duncan refused to acknowledge it. “Everyone would be after you: the authorities and the competition as well as the Watchers, and other Immortals would have an easier time tracking you.”

He chose his words carefully to avoid saying what he would do. He wasn’t sure what he would do.

Methos shifted so that he lay on his back and spoke to the ceiling rather than directly to Duncan. He could tell that Methos was choosing his own words carefully in his reply. “Mac, you think me some great manipulator, someone who chooses what I want to have happen and then arranges for it to happen.”

Methos paused, likely to give him a chance to interject, but he remained silent and waiting.

“I’m not, you know. I don’t use people as pawns, not anymore. But I am very… experienced. I know how most people will react to most situations. I act based on that understanding. It’s not manipulation, I don’t control anything. If there’s one thing that history has taught me is that there’s very little that I can control. The best I can do is to be prepared and follow the path that is laid out for me. But there are multiple paths and I can often pick which one. Does that make any sense at all?” Methos laughed at himself.

Duncan pulled him close.

“Yes, it does. I wouldn’t be here with you if I been able to control, oh, a dozen different events, but I’m still glad that I am here with you now.”

====

The following week, Methos gave him three profiles to choose from.

Duncan thought about what it meant to be immortal. The Game was more than periodic challenges. It was preparing, constantly. It was the balance between what you needed and what you wanted.

Duncan tried his best to be a good man, but lawful had been a lost cause since the first time he woke up after dying.

Finally he picked one and handed it back. “This one. This is who you are.”

“Really?”

“Yes. But with a few caveats.”

“I’m listening.”

“Adam Pierson is still alive and well and traveling. His passport was stolen or given away or sold but he hardly misses it because he’s happily living out his days in the mountains of Tibet. And your name is Mathias.”

“You are an optimistic sap, you do realize this? Very well, Adam Pierson lives. I’m an information broker but not a killer.”

END
Comments 
17th-Dec-2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much. I really enjoyed

"A gun, a knife, a garrote, and a sword. Which of these things doesn't belong?" Methos actually sang the last bit."

and

“The perks are pretty awesome. Lots of weapons and no need to look innocent.” and

"Methos shifted so that he lay on his back and spoke to the ceiling rather than directly to Duncan. He could tell that Methos was choosing his own words carefully in his reply. “Mac, you think me some great manipulator, someone who chooses what I want to have happen and then arranges for it to happen.” and

"Duncan tried his best to be a good man, but lawful had been a lost cause since the first time he woke up after dying."

Love the ending. Glad Adam is alive in Tibet. Wonder what possibilities that opens.

Curious about the name 'Mathias.' Did Duncan choose it because of what it means?

Thank you again. I truly enjoyed the story.



And I loved the

a
29th-Dec-2011 03:21 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I hope you had a wonderful holiday of your choice.

And yeah, Duncan picked the name "Mathias" in part for the meaning and in part for the fact that it is as close to Methos phonetically as is reasonable.

I'm going to make a few additional edits before posting this on AO3 or FF.net so there will be a bit more explanation there.
18th-Dec-2011 12:56 am (UTC)
I loved it! I liked the handle you have on both of their characters. The insight on how Duncan looks at Methos, and how Methos views himself, is very interesting. It was amusing, watching Duncan put the FBI agent through his paces. And I liked that Methos wanted Duncan involved in his future. Very cute.
29th-Dec-2011 03:24 am (UTC)
Thanks! This was the first time I've written from Duncan's point of view so I am especially pleased it worked.
18th-Dec-2011 03:02 am (UTC)
I agree with everyone else. I love the ease and humor of this story. And it's just how I imagine Methos would be when preparing to change his identities. So easy to forget he isn't really Adam, but Methos.
29th-Dec-2011 03:27 am (UTC)
Thanks! It's always fun to work with characters with multiple identities since almost anything is possible.
18th-Dec-2011 10:11 am (UTC)
Loved this and the insight it gave into both their characters.
29th-Dec-2011 03:28 am (UTC)
Thanks! It was a lot of fun to figure out their interactions.
18th-Dec-2011 05:40 pm (UTC)
Very much enjoyed the layering of identities on this story! And I really liked your FBI agent too - a most intriguing character, and honestly, I'd have been happy to read more!
29th-Dec-2011 03:40 am (UTC)
Thanks! The FBI agent kept on trying to be a main character and I had to pull him back to avoid too much of an original character. I may need to do more with him later, though.

Edited at 2011-12-29 03:43 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
29th-Dec-2011 03:43 am (UTC)
Thanks!

And yeah, Adam Pierson can't even stay out of trouble when he's just an empty identity holder for Methos whose on the other side of the planet. Hee.
18th-Dec-2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
Very nice piece. I appreciate the look at the distinction between being good and being lawful for Mac, and the confusing world of multiple personalities for Methos. Enjoyable and throughtful stuff!
29th-Dec-2011 04:29 am (UTC)
Thanks! Mac clearly has a very well defined moral code but given his history with Amanda (and Cory!) it can't possibly have much to do with the law.

Edited at 2011-12-29 04:30 am (UTC)
18th-Dec-2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed this quite a lot. It was fun to read a story that engaged in some world building, which looks rare from the handful of stories I've read in this fandom (not a lot of world building left to do, I imagine).
29th-Dec-2011 04:33 am (UTC)
Thanks! The Highlander fandom is old enough that a lot of most obvious issues have been dealt with well and repeatedly, but there are always more implications to consider and I do love following some of the issues to their logical conclusions.
19th-Dec-2011 05:47 pm (UTC)
*Sings along* "Which of these things is not like the others..."

This is delightful. I love the humor and the seriousness interlaced, the reminder that Adam is a persona, not even a fraction of the whole of Methos, seeing Duncan clear on the difference between lawful and good.
29th-Dec-2011 04:41 am (UTC)
Thanks! In my conception, both Methos and Duncan have a sense of what they think is necessary to their survival and a sense of what they want, and then they just have to find the compromises they can each live with.
19th-Dec-2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
You know, I don't think this aspect of immortality snd immortal relationships is ever explores much in fan fiction. Very interesting. :)
29th-Dec-2011 04:42 am (UTC)
Thanks! It wasn't a concept that I can remember reading before, so I was glad to explore it for a bit.
20th-Dec-2011 11:28 pm (UTC)
*strange*, apparently I didn't comment on this one after the first time reading, which is odd because I loved it. Felt it gave a wonderful little snapshot insight into both their characters and the details of living as an immortal.
29th-Dec-2011 04:45 am (UTC)
Thanks! It was fun to consider: what type of trouble do immortals get into due to the Game that don't directly involve challenges.
21st-Dec-2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
Very good!
29th-Dec-2011 03:49 am (UTC)
Thanks!
21st-Dec-2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
Very insightful!
Nice read.
29th-Dec-2011 03:49 am (UTC)
Thanks!
22nd-Dec-2011 10:50 pm (UTC) - "Adam Pierson was an anomaly, you know."
Astute! I appreciate how you wind this little plot around the rarely-examined obstacles of exterior identity. The three roles Methos plays while in custody effectively explicate the challenge. The passing mentions of Tessa and Richie satisfy, and the very end makes me smile. Thank you for sharing.
29th-Dec-2011 04:47 am (UTC) - Re: "Adam Pierson was an anomaly, you know."
Thanks! I just wish I could have figured out how Methos managed to play to three different audiences at once. He must have been picking is words with care and I sure couldn't do it.
26th-Dec-2011 10:30 pm (UTC)
A very interesting and satisfying take on the difficulties of maintaining an artificial identity in the modern world, and passing on to another when the ID grows stale. The problem is compounded if one has set down roots. I'm glad Duncan was open to transplantation *g*.

Boy, the trouble those two could get into in Tibet. No wonder Methos is talking to arms smugglers.
29th-Dec-2011 04:54 am (UTC)
Thanks!

And yeah, having to abandon old friendships and attempt to establish new ones with each identity change must be pretty awful, but the problems involved in trying to maintain friendships across identities is almost insurmountable.
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