The River


Part Two: Angel with a Broken Wing


Joe was still in his office at five in the morning, checking the Watcher database. He couldn’t find a known Immortal who matched Ash’s description and the name wasn’t among those listed as active in the past fifty years. Joe wasn’t even sure Ash was an Immortal, MacLeod hadn’t reacted to her, but that could be easily explained. He’d checked all photos of female Immortals with no luck, but he’d expected that. He knew he hadn’t seen her before. All that was left was a search of the archives and that would take time. Those records hadn’t been computerized and would have to be searched by hand, if he decided it was worth the trouble. Joe sat back, rubbing his tired eyes.


He had found something disturbing. Over the last year there had been three Immortals taken in three locations by an unknown person. They knew it was the same person due to the unusual nature of the beheadings. Their necks had been cut with what could only be described as a kind of scissors effect, a cut on either side of the neck, one slightly higher than the other. They had thought that it was done in two separate cuts, but forensic examination showed it was done with two weapons simultaneously. Not swords, more like axes. The autopsies showed vertebra that were crushed, as well as cut. The Immortals had all been bad ones, one of them particularly, so it was no loss, but it was strange that no one knew who was responsible.

The last months had aged Joe; there were new lines around his eyes, and more gray in his hair and beard. He was getting old, and he knew it and felt it. He didn’t much like it, but he didn’t have a choice. Sometimes he was jealous of MacLeod, on a bad day, when his joints ached. But, oh God, the weight of time, just piling up! How much grief can you fit into four hundred years? How much loss? How much before it overwhelms you?

Joe swiveled his chair and looked at Duncan sprawled on the couch. Lately he spent more nights there than in his own bed. He was showing signs of coming to, shifting restlessly. He wondered how much longer Mac could keep going on a diet of whisky and air. His Immortal physiology enabled him to recover more quickly from the physical abuse, but he was losing weight, his face gaunt, the bones too close to the surface of the skin.

But it was his psychological state that worried Joe most. He knew MacLeod was no longer carrying his katana, and hadn’t for some time. His going unarmed meant he was passively suicidal, waiting for anyone to take his head. Joe was afraid that he would get tired of waiting and actively seek his death in some way. He didn’t think it would do any good, but he had to try to reach him.

Duncan tossed, groaned, opened his eyes, and sat up. He ran his hands through his hair then down his face, his beard rasping against his palms.

“God, I feel like hell.”

“Why am I not surprised to hear that?” Joe said dryly.

“Don’t give me a hard time, I don’t need it, Joe.” Duncan sounded weary.

MacLeod got up and went into the office’s small bathroom and closed the door. He leaned over the sink, fighting nausea. A large tarantula crawled out of the drain and looked at him with eight shiny green eyes. Mac closed his eyes and turned on the water, telling himself, ‘There are no tarantulas in Paris, much less ones with green eyes.’ It wasn’t the first time he’d hallucinated. He’d found the trick was to recognize them as hallucinations. The nausea hit again, much worse, and he doubled over, vomiting bloody fluid into the toilet. It went on until he felt close to fainting, then blessedly stopped. He flushed the mess away and splashed water on his face, his hands shaking. He realized he was about ten minutes away from a case of the screaming DT’s if he didn’t get a drink.

Joe heard the water running, but it didn’t cover the sound of MacLeod’s retching. After a while he stopped and the toilet flushed. The water went off, and Mac came out, his face damp and very pale. He sat back down on the couch, his elbows resting on his knees and his head in his hands.

“I need a drink.”

“Even an Immortal should know his limit. Maybe you should consider eating something once in a while, this liquid diet doesn’t look like it’s agreeing with you.”

“Now is not the time for a lecture, I really need a drink”

There was a desperate tone in his voice, and Joe was suddenly pissed off. “Damn it, MacLeod! You have eternity and all you can think of is drinking yourself into a coma. There are people who care about you, don’t you see that!”

“Yes, I see them all around me, I can hardly breathe, the room is so crowded!” Duncan’s tone was harshly sarcastic.

“They’d be here if you didn’t drive them all away! Why don’t you try and let someone in! Methos…”

MacLeod raised his head and looked at Joe, his dark eyes flashing, violent. “Don’t—Say—That—Name—!” His voice was a deep growl.

“What the hell happened, Mac? He was there for you, damn it! He loves you! It tore him apart to leave!

“STOP IT!”  Now Mac was shouting, the sound bouncing off the walls of the office, and he was up, almost running, out the door, slamming it behind him.

He could hear Joe calling him to come back, but he stopped in the bar only long enough to grab a bottle of Scotch. He had to lean his forehead against the club’s front door as a wave of dizziness hit him, then MacLeod stepped outside. It was still raining, streaming down from the black sky like endless, useless tears. His hands were shaking so badly he could hardly twist the top off of the bottle. He drank deeply, once, then again. The shakes began to ease off.

“Maybe it tore him apart worse to stay,” Duncan whispered softly to himself. Tears and rain mingled on his face. He took another long drink, wanting the pain to stop, wanting to fill the emptiness with the only anesthetic he had left. He made a bet with himself that he could finish the bottle before he got home. He took another swallow and headed toward the river.

An hour later Duncan was wandering and lost. In the dawn’s misty rain he looked like a derelict, the impression reinforced when he had to grab the nearest wall when he stumbled and almost fell. The street was spinning around in a slow dance, like a waltz, which made it difficult to focus. He took a drink from the nearly empty bottle. Oddly the spinning stopped, and he knew where he was. The barge was only two streets away. He was almost home.

A few minutes later he staggered up the ramp, stopping to toss the empty bottle in the river. He didn’t make it to the door. MacLeod’s legs buckled, he fell to his knees, then flat on his face, breaking his nose. He felt nothing, slammed into oblivion by a lethal amount of alcohol.

Ash saw him fall. She had followed him, stealthy at first, keeping her distance, trailing him by his Quickening. But soon such care was not necessary and she could keep him in sight. She was grateful to whatever gods there were that she had a very weak signature, she was always able to sense the others long before they knew she was there. She had no idea why that was, but it had been very useful over the centuries.

She went up the ramp, dropped her backpack to the deck, crouched down, and turned MacLeod over. The blood was washed off of his face by the rain. She snapped the broken cartilage of his nose back in place, to speed the healing. Ash then went through his pockets for his keys. Finding them, she stood and unlocked the door. She couldn’t lift him; he was too deeply unconscious, a dead weight. She wrapped her arms around his chest, dragged him down the stairs, and laid him on the floor. His clothes were drenched; he was wet to the skin from wandering in the rain. She undressed him; his body limp as a rag doll, and put him on his bed, stretched out on his back. Ash was shocked at the way Duncan looked, how terribly thin he was, his ribs standing out. She sat down on the side of the bed and touched his cheek.

It had been so long since she last touched him, almost sixty years. Her hands moved of their own will, brushing the wet hair off his forehead, tracing the black wings of his eyebrows, the fine lines around his eyes. Her hands remembered his beloved face. Ash kissed his soft, slightly open mouth. His lips tasted of Scotch and despair. She lifted him, held him in her arms. She knew he was dying, she could hear and feel his erratic breathing, shallow, slowing, then a long exhale, his heart fluttering, stopping. No breath, no heartbeat. He hung limp in her arms, a Pieta. ‘Is this the only way you can find peace?’ she thought. Even in death his face was set in lines of anguish, as if the pain would never leave him. Ash felt like she was bleeding to death, slowly, internally, and cursed herself for it. ‘Fifty years as a Buddhist nun, learning to banish all desire, learning to want nothing, and it all shattered the moment I saw you.’ She should have known it was hopeless. She loved him. She had loved him from the beginning; she would love him with her last dying breath, no matter how much she fought it, no matter what happened. Hopeless. Ash forced herself to release Duncan’s body, to lay him down, to let go.

She covered him with a blanket, touched his cheek once more, and left him, locking the door behind her.

After gasping his way back to life, but not consciousness, MacLeod twisted under the onslaught of nightmares. All those he’d loved and lost, the grief, the guilt, Tessa, dead in his arms, the shock in the eyes of Richie as he took his head, the betrayal on the face of Kate, her hands clutching his on the hilt of the dagger in her chest. His endless failures tormented him. He moaned and thrashed, trying to get away, but there was nowhere to go. Finally he found a different dream, a benediction that tore his heart out.

Soft lips kissing him, silken skin under his hands, stroking her hair, her face, her breasts, the nipples hard under his palms. Then lower, into the hot wetness between her legs, her opening for him, his fingers, his aching cock. Sliding slowly into her, into that wet heat, into joy, into ecstasy, her body moving beneath him, her arms and legs wrapped around him, enclosing him, engulfing him, taking him—all of him. Taking him to a place where there were only two together—forever.

“Oh Tessa,” he whispered, moving restlessly, throwing the blanket off, revealing his arousal, hips rocking, helpless, deep in the dream of love. He came, shooting hot on his stomach, his semen silver in the dimness.

“I love you, Duncan.”

He heard her voice once more, echoing inside his head as he awoke to desolation, his heart raw and screaming at the shock of loss all over again. The pain was huge and hideous, and he needed to drown it. He got up and pulled a bottle out of the case on the floor, opened it with fumbling hands, and drank until he had to come up for air, caught his breath, then drank again, downing almost half the bottle.

He looked down at himself in disgust, forced himself to put down the bottle, and went into the bathroom. He turned on the hot water and stood in the shower, scrubbing hard, not caring that the water was burning him, not really feeling it. Duncan started to cry, wrapping his arms around himself and sliding down the wall until he lay curled on the floor of the shower, crying as the water ran cold.

MacLeod was sitting on the couch, wrapped in a bathrobe. He didn’t remember getting out of the shower, or finding the half-empty bottle that was in his hand. Between graying out and blacking out he had lost several hours. He looked around him at the mess his life had become, the pile of dirty laundry he kept meaning to send out, the trash that consisted of empty bottles, the case of Scotch that was their source.

“Is this what you plan to do with the rest of your life, Duncan?”

Mac looked into the gray-blue eyes of Connor MacLeod. “Dead men shouldn’t talk, and as I recall you spent ten years wasted out of your mind on drugs.”

“That was Sanctuary, the drugs weren’t my choice.” Connor sat in the chair across from him looking just like he had the last time Mac had seen him, except his head was still attached.

“Sanctuary was your choice, what’s the difference? The drugs were part of it, I know, I was there. I prefer my own drug.” MacLeod lifted the bottle in a mocking toast and drank deeply.

“At least in Sanctuary you would be protected. How much longer do you think it will be before someone takes your head?”

“What the fuck do you care? You couldn’t come to me for help, why should I listen to you? You went to them, and they kept you drugged and helpless, and it would have gone on forever. You didn’t even have the decency to tell me! At least I’m not hiding. Anyone who wants my head can have it. They’re welcome to it. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“Then you don’t want to live.”

Duncan thought it was ironic that a dead man was telling him he didn’t want to live, and even more ironic that he was right.

MacLeod had blacked out again. He was now dressed and sitting in some sort of Industrial rock bar, and everything looked like a painting by H.R. Giger. He couldn’t remember how he got there. The last thing he could remember was the barge and a conversation with a dead man. He was in an odd state of drunkenness, his mind wandering, his emotions unstable. Things came through as if on short wave radio, fading in and out. Song lyrics bounced off the ionosphere, “Why can we not be sober, I just want to start this over, why can’t we sleep forever...”

‘I would love to sleep forever,’ Duncan thought, then drifted away, graying out, losing contact with his surroundings. He drifted back, and the song had changed, a song that hit him in the heart like that was its target.

“It’s been awhile since I can say that I wasn’t addicted, and
It’s been awhile since I can say I love myself as well,
It’s been awhile since I’ve gone and fucked things up just like I always do,
It’s been awhile but all that shit seems to disappear when I’m with you.
Why must I feel this way?
Just make this go away.
Just one more peaceful day.
It’s been awhile since I could look at myself straight,
It’s been awhile since I said I’m sorry,
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the way the candles light your face,
It’s been awhile but I can still remember just the way you taste...”

“Methos, I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you, but God, I hurt you so much.” MacLeod was unaware he had said it out loud, or that he was crying. He was answered by a voice no one else could hear. ‘No, Duncan, you meant to hurt him, that was the whole point, wasn’t it?’ He hated that voice in his head, tormenting him with the truth. It was his own voice.

A black hole had opened in MacLeod’s soul, and he didn’t have the least idea how to escape the dark gravity that pulled him down into a place where the light couldn’t reach. Everything was pointless, useless, and worst of all, endless. There was nothing that mattered, no one who cared, no one who would ever care again. That damn line kept on repeating in his head, “Why can’t we sleep forever...” He wanted to sleep forever, he wanted to die, he just couldn’t figure out how. He’d stopped carrying his katana, but no one challenged him. He could stick a shotgun in his mouth and blow his head off, but that repulsed him, so brutally bloody, and traumatic for whoever would find his body. Just at that moment another song came in clearly, in a weird coincidence, “I want to taste dirty, the stinging pistol in my mouth, on my tongue. I want you to scrape me from the walls and go crazy like you’ve made me...” He decided to get the hell out of this bar. Mac went outside, shocked by the daylight.

He found another bar, one where there was no music; just the television showing a movie he had seen before, a long time ago when there had been a reason for living. Women in Love, that was it’s title, he remembered, and he ordered a double Scotch, straight. His attention wavered between his drink and the screen, vaguely remembering some of the plot, two sisters in love with two men who were friends. One couple broke up, and the man took it badly. He half-strangled her, then walked away, up into snowy mountains. Suddenly, MacLeod sat up straight, looking at the screen with fixed attention, the expression on his face one of surprised revelation. He paid his tab, and walked out, leaving his drink unfinished.

Duncan MacLeod went home and cleaned up the barge, threw out the trash, and sent out the laundry, paid in advance. When everything was back in order, he showered, shaved, dressed, and left the barge, locking the door behind him. He walked away and never looked back.

MacLeod went to the train station and bought a ticket for Lyon-Le Fayet. He got on the train, blending in with the other passengers. He had dressed in clothes suitable for hiking, and he fit in with the early ski season crowd. There were reports of an expected snowstorm overnight, and they were cheerful about tomorrow’s skiing conditions. Mac was pleased too, for reasons that had nothing to do with tomorrow. He had several drinks in the club car, to prevent the severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms that would occur if he didn’t drink enough to keep them at bay. He admitted to himself that he was addicted and his body needed a certain level of alcohol to function normally, but he would not get drunk. He didn’t need to anymore. That was all over.

In Le Fayet he walked the short distance to the station for the Mont Blanc tramway. Duncan sat during the ninety-minute ride staring sightlessly out of the window at one of the most spectacular mountain views in the world. He got off at the Nid d’Aigle terminus and quietly slipped away from the rest of the passengers. MacLeod walked up along the Bionnassay glacier in the fast-fading evening light, up into the white mountains, far above the tree line, to where the snow never melts. He found a spot in a valley at the base of a cliff, where the snow was already deep, and began to dig a hole large enough to lay down in.

MacLeod buried himself in the snow, covering his body carefully, knowing it would be over soon. The storm had come, and the new snow would fill in his tracks. No one would find him, no traumatic death scene. He would just disappear. The snow melted from his body heat, trickling down, pooling under him and wetting his clothes. Hypothermia set in very quickly. He curled into a fetal position, instinctively trying to conserve energy. At first he shivered violently, teeth chattering, muscles tense in a mindless effort to warm his freezing body. Then he relaxed, he was very sleepy and his thoughts drifted. He wondered what it would be like when he became part of the glacier, pulled downhill, his body slowly ripped apart by the enormous forces that moved it. He didn’t think he would feel it when it happened in ten thousand years.

Duncan felt as if arms were wrapped around him, holding him, warm all over, and he knew in some far corner of his mind that this was the final stage and he was very close to death. It didn’t matter. It was so welcome. He reached what he longed for. Peace. The tears froze on his face, and the snow fell, silently.

   
 

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