Warnings: No major character death, but there is death of a violent nature in what follows.
Notes: hlh_shortcuts story, written for lferion. This came to me after reading Lferion's 'Dear Authour' post, so I hope it meets her expectations. This story also gave me an opportunity to utilize my head canon for Methos' birthplace, which makes me happy. Special thanks to ninjababe for helping me in a pinch when I ended up needing to find another beta at the final hour.
Summary: When Methos uttered the words 'just a shakedown cruise' he should have realized that almost certain disaster was inevitable.
Added Note: This is absolutely not a crossover, except, maybe, in my brain. I have a sneaking suspicion that this might end up being a future event for Methos in the Avengers crossovers I'm currently writing. If you've read White As Snow, Red As Blood, and Loki's prophecies therein, you'll probably see where this might be going. We'll see, won't we?
Melting snow, dripping from the roof of the stone walled cot, was what woke Methos from an unsettled sleep. Spring. He hated spring, well in this place at least. Here, spring reminded him of death, the screams of the tortured as they died. No, the coming season was not something he welcomed, and never would, be it twenty five years or twenty five centuries.
Pushing away the sleeping fur and the worn scrim blanket, he rolled off the bed and got to his feet, his breath fogging in the cold of the room. Pulling the blanket off the bed, he wrapped it around himself, sliding his feet into the slippers he'd made last winter. Walking the short distance to the clay brick stove, he picked up a stick, stirring up the embers from last night's banked fire. Adding a few pieces of kindling, and then a brick of peat, he huddled over the hearth, using the blanket like a shield to keep the heat on him. Maybe this would be the year he'd move on to the warmer climes he knew existed a mere few thousand miles away. Shouldn't take more than a decade to reach, give or take.
The snow was nearly gone, mud taking its place, mud that got into everything, caking his skin. Yeah, he hated spring. He missed indoor plumbing, especially a long hot shower. His choices now were bathing in the still icy cold stream, or a sponge bath in the cot with a bucket of warm water. There was a vague memory from childhood of hot rocks in water, a stone lined hole in the ground, and being totally submersed in warmth. He would have to ponder that; a good project for the long days that were coming.
This place, it had triggered a wave of memories from the mists of his past. Not just the half-remembered wisps of dreams upon waking, but fully formed windows allowing him a view to the shores of his birth. Part of it was the landscape here: the low windswept coastline, with its copses of trees, and the long sandy beach that went on as far as the eye could see. The ocean was teaming with life, and the fertile soil supported a variety of vegetation and small animals. While he might be stranded here, he wouldn't starve – one small blessing, at least. Then there were the years of solitude, thirteen long years, with no end in sight. He'd rather remember the far distant past; it hurt less than the more recent. Those memories still tore at him, haunted his nightmares.
Another summer of nearly endless daylight, too late now to pick up stakes and move on. This place, at least, was familiar. Not to mention, he'd made his little croft fairly comfortable. Leaving would mean weeks of walking and camping, finding new shelter before winter came. Sitting on the beach, in the middle of the night, in what passed for twilight, as dark as it would get till summer waned into autumn. That also was comfortable, the passing of the seasons, not much different than those of Earth. But the stars, now those were totally different. He wondered where home was amongst the blazing firmament above him. Even in daylight, a swatch of stars was visible to the naked eye. That sight, if nothing else, sharply reminded him that he was not home.
Methos took a long swallow, and smacked his lips in satisfaction. This was it, the perfect batch of beer. After years of experimenting, it was the best so far. And he had more than enough to last through the swiftly approaching winter. Refilling his wooden tankard, he walked barefoot down the path to the beach, sitting on his usual chunk of driftwood, looking out at the ocean. The vampire dolphins seemed more numerous this year, dozens of the lavender coloured creatures leaping in the waves. They weren’t really dolphins, of course, but close enough, and dolphin was a perfectly good word, wasn't it? But that was where the similarity ended – these ones had a taste for blood, something he had learned from painful personal experience.
Slowly drinking his homebrew, Methos let his mind wander. A flock of seabirds swooped over him, out towards the water, their chatter similar to chickens, as opposed to gulls. They didn't taste like chicken though, more like fish. Bird and chips; he wondered if it would be popular back home. He could have a chain of restaurants serving it. The thought made him laugh aloud, the sound startling him. He'd done his best to not start talking to himself, though he did allow an occasional song to break the silence. It was always something of a surprise what tune came out of his mouth—the subconscious as jukebox. There was probably a paper in there somewhere. Not that there was much chance of him ever being anywhere ever again where there'd be anyone to read it.
Stop! Not acceptable, Methos. That was rule number one; no thinking about the possibility that he might be here, alone, for centuries, if not longer. Think about something else. Music, he'd think of music. Unbidden, a tune came to mind, a tune…and a memory.
"How long will you be gone?" Duncan MacLeod asked.
Methos shrugged. "A few days, a week tops." He signaled the bartender for two more beers. "Just a shakedown cruise, working out any kinks in the infirmary design before I turn it over to the chief medical officer."
"I'm surprised they didn't offer that position to you."
"Who says they didn't?" Methos replied with a wave of his hand. "Truth is I don't like spaceships much more than the seafaring kind. I prefer to keep my feet planted on terra firma."
Duncan just shook his head, thanking the server for the beers as she set them down on the table. In the far corner of the bar, music began, a guitarist playing 'Lone Wolf Blues', and both men fell silent, listening.
"Dawson would have liked this place," Methos said.
Smiling softly, Duncan nodded. "Yeah, he would have."
"Let's all get together here when I'm back on Earth."
Raising his glass, Duncan tapped it against Methos'. "It's a date. To safe voyages."
"Safe voyages," Methos whispered. "Sorry I stood you up, Mac."
Methos lay on a pile of debris, gasping for breath, choking on sea water. He managed to get himself up onto hands and knees, coughing up the water in his lungs until he once more collapsed.
There had been no warning, the tsunami striking in the midst of a violent winter storm, in the dead of night. He'd been swept out to sea, along with everything else in the wave's path, dying over and over; of cold, drowning, those damned vampire dolphins, and other means, which thankfully, he couldn't remember. Now he began to crawl, as far as he could from the water's touch, before he could go no further, falling spent, into the sand. Yet again, he'd lost everything…
Remains of the SS Lincoln, Location Unknown ~ Day 8
Methos shook his head, closing the eyes of the dead woman lying on a makeshift cot at his feet. "I'm sorry, Ryan."
Ensign Ryan, crouched next to Methos, swallowed hard. "I know you did everything you could." He shivered, placing a palm against her cheek. "May God keep your soul safe, Katie," he whispered. Then to Methos he said, "I thought… she'd made it through the first week..."
Clasping the young man on the shoulder, Methos stood up. "I'd hoped so too, but her injuries…I'm sorry," he repeated.
In the few minutes he'd had to evacuate the ship before it had exploded, he'd stuffed as many medical supplies as he could into his duffel. But that, along with what had been on the escape shuttles, hadn't been nearly enough to treat the horrific battle injuries once they'd reached the relative safety of the planet. Ensign Katie Yokada had been one more casualty to add to the nearly two hundred who had already died.
The battered laminate skrim blanket made a poor shelter, but it would do for now. At least it was warm here, one of those tropical climes he'd pondered walking to over the last seventeen years. The blanket, along with a few other of his belongings, he'd found amongst the debris pile on the beach. A knife he'd had strapped to his ankle, his only tool.
Sitting on the sand, he looked up at the sky, a pure sharp amethyst, not a cloud in the sky. Now he needed to decide: did he stay here, or move on? Not that he was sure where here was exactly. He didn't know how far the ocean had carried him before spitting him out. Well, he could do reconnaissance for a few days before deciding. It wasn't as if he didn't have time.
Rain came down in torrents that obscured the view more than a few feet from the cave entrance. Yes, the decision to use the cave he had discovered a few days ago as a shelter had been the right one. No hut he could build would be as protected from the elements as this was. It was about a two hour walk to the beach, but that was a highlight to his way of thinking. He didn't really fancy getting washed out to sea by a tsunami again. And the freshwater spring just up the hill was an added bonus. There was a lot that needed doing over the next few weeks, but today was to be a day of rest, watching the storm and trying not to remember.
Remains of the SS Lincoln, Location Unknown ~ Day 25
Gods, it was cold. Just one more perfect bit of torment for the survivors of the Lincoln—they'd been marooned at the beginning of bloody winter. It had been sleeting for days, the temperature dropping more each night. Their one undamaged shuttle was being used as an infirmary, shelter for the injured, but the power cells were almost drained. They needed to get a more permanent shelter built, and soon.
He rubbed his hands over the flames of the peat fire that burned at one end of their second shuttle. This one hadn't come through the landing unscathed. It had been a miracle it had landed at all, considering the damage it had sustained aboard ship before it had even launched. But desperation calls for like measures. The eighty-six ambulatory survivors of what had been a ship's compliment of nearly three hundred, huddled together in the dubious shelter of the shuttle's buckled bulkhead, through the long winter nights, waking to the bleak future that awaited them, shipwrecked on an unknown planet, somewhere in the vastness of space.
"This place makes me even miss the sixth century," he muttered to himself.
"That bad?" The reply was amused, even under the weariness of the voice.
Turning, he said, "Plague of Justinian, Constantinople; very messy. But at least it was warm."
"That's a plus in their favour." The woman shook her head. "Sometimes, I don't if you're kidding or not."
He pointed at himself. "Me? Kid? You should know better than that, Ferguson," he drawled.
"Uh huh." Lieutenant Commander Matilde Ferguson joined him at the fire, holding hands, blistered and red with the cold and manual labour, over the fire. She had been the Lincoln's engineer; one of the few senior officers to survive. "The longhouse is coming along—though I think it's more like a shorthouse," she observed with a snort.
"Start small and build, Matilde. At least we can all fit inside, out of the elements, as we make it larger."
"Have I mentioned how glad I am that you're here? I know, I'm a selfish bitch, but without your knowledge, so many more of us would have died before the spring."
Methos put an arm around her shoulder, drawing her against him. "We'll make it to spring."
"And then…we'll see."
The water of the falls poured over his head, cool, but not cold. Sighing in contentment, he ducked under the water, swimming to the center of the pool. This place was worth the nearly three hour walk from his cave. He'd spend the night and then head back in the morning—after another swim. He liked it enough here that he was considering building a tree house to live in part of the year, utilizing the cave for monsoon season.
Movement caught his eye as he broke the surface of the water. "What the…?" He shook his head, not sure if he was hallucinating. There was a cat…no, make that a monkey…wait, cat. Never mind. Whatever it was, it had his gourd canteen and was drinking his beer! "Hey, you, creature! Put that down!"
The creature cocked its head, looking for all the world like it was smiling. It set the canteen down, almost as if it were following Methos' instructions. No, that would be insane. Wouldn't it? You've been alone too long, old man. The cat-monkey sat there, like he was waiting for Methos to do… what?
Slowly swimming to the shore, Methos considered the thing. Sitting upright, it was nearly two feet tall and really did look like something feline, but with little fingers, like a monkey. It had large, round green eyes, eyes that were contemplating him right back. He wondered what it saw. Coming to the edge of the water, they locked gazes. "You aren't going to rip my throat out, are you?"
It made a soft sound, and once more Methos could swear it was smiling. "Okay, I'll take that as a 'no'," he said, climbing out of the pool. The creature once more picked up the canteen, this time, handing it to Methos. It certainly was polite. He took a swallow, and then, for no good reason he could think of, handed it back to the new arrival. It made a different sound…approval? It raised the canteen to its lips, drinking from it in turn.
"Ah, Gilligan, you are a credit to cat-monkeys everywhere!" Methos took the fish that Gilligan offered him. The little guy had proved quite handy to have around, using his prehensile tail to swing through the tallest tree tops, bringing back fruit that would have been unreachable to Methos. He'd also proved to be an adept fisher, nimbly snatching fish from the stream, sharing his catch. The first time it happened, it had totally surprised him, waking up to find two fish neatly laid out next to the fire.
Gilligan bobbed his head, rubbing the silky cinnamon coloured fur of his chest with a palm, as if to say, 'I'm just that good." Hell, for all Methos knew, maybe he was. The creature was incredibly intelligent, and he suspected, maybe even a bit psychic.
"I wish I knew why you stay with me. Not that I'm not happy about it," he rushed to add. "Did you get marooned here too? I've never seen another of your kind in the months I've been in this jungle."
What Methos could only call a mournful sound came from his furry friend. He closed his big green eyes, and when he opened them again, they held a deep sadness.
Sighing, Methos laid a hand on his shoulder. "I guess we're both castaways."
SS Lincoln Settlement ~ Day 84
"They're never going to find us, are they, sir?" Ensign Ryan asked from his seat next to Methos in the cockpit of the infirmary shuttle. There was just enough energy left in the energy cells to make weekly voice records, maybe for the next year. Then, he'd have to have created some sort of paper to keep a journal for posterity.
Sighing, Methos switched off the recorder, having finished his latest log entry. "I don't know, Brendan. Whatever energy that alien ship hit us with fried our instruments, threw us to space unknown, and with no idea how far." The attack had come within their own solar system, just as the Lincoln had been preparing to engage the starlight engines. It had all happened so fast—one minute they'd been alone in space, and the next an alien ship was firing on them.
"But you keep making those entries."
"It's important! Even if we're not around when the log is found, someone needs to know what happened here, to remember."
"And if no one ever finds it?" Ryan insisted stubbornly.
"Then the stones and the stars will remember," Matilde Ferguson said quietly from behind, having entered the cockpit unheard.
"Ma'am." Ryan jumped to his feet.
"Woo needs your help bringing in the fishing nets," she told him. Ryan nodded, vacating the shuttle, Matilde taking his seat. She handed Methos a Cornucopia fruit. "You didn't eat breakfast again," she chided.
"My new diet," he said glibly, waving away her protest. It had been a frequent argument between them once Ferguson had realized that Methos had cut his rations so the rest of them would have more to eat.
"You may be immortal—" she pointed at him "—but you still need to eat. What good will you be to us if someone needs emergency surgery and you're faint from hunger?"
Methos split open the fruit she'd given him, removing one of the large pomegranate- like seeds, and eating it obediently. These were what had helped keep them alive. Both the seeds and the fleshy interior were edible, the pale pink insides tasting somewhat like bread. "Point taken," he conceded. "Have I ever mentioned how much I hate the logic of engineers?"
"Once or twice." She laughed. "You know, that explosion, throwing us into uncharted space, is probably the only thing that saved our lives. We wouldn't have lasted five minutes in battle with that alien vessel."
"The dependable irony of a cold universe."
Kneeling next to what remained of the escape pod and the bodies within, Methos closed his eyes, shaking his head sadly. "So this is what happened to you." No trace had been found of three of the little pods that had launched from the Lincoln that cataclysmic day. Now the fate of one, at least, was confirmed.
He heard the soft rumble that he now understood to be Gilligan's sad voice, and looked down at the little alien. He curled warm fingers around Methos' wrist, looking up at him with sympathetic eyes. "Those were my people, from the ship." He sat down in the sand. "After it was all over, only ninety-three of us survived. I think I always hoped that a half more dozen of us were somewhere out there."
Gilligan reached out, touching a gold ring on a boney finger of the corpse nearest them, and then reached over to Methos' left hand, touching a similar ring there. The question was obvious. "We exchange tokens, very often rings," Methos explained. "Sometimes they symbolize a commitment, sometimes, the promise of one." He fell silent, Gilligan's sad voice once more welling up. Methos put a hand on his shoulder, stroking the silky fur, before saying, "The one I gave my promise to is a galaxy away, lost, I think, forever."
SS Lincoln Settlement ~ Day 102
Spring had finally won its victory over winter, and was making the most of it. Everywhere flowers and trees were blooming, the hillsides a carpet of green as grasses shook off their winter coats. If he weren't marooned here against his will, Methos would have found it a genuinely lovely place. Picking up a stone, he threw it out over the waters of the small lake whose shore he was walking along, making it skip three times before it sank out of sight.
His companion picked up a stone of her own. "I can make it four," Matilde declared.
"I accept your challenge, Commander." Methos waved an arm at the lake. "Let's see what you got."
She shot him a saucy grin before launching her stone out across the lake. Holding her hands up, fists clenched, she silently counted the skips. "Four!"
"Oh, come on, that was more like three and a bit," Methos protested good naturedly.
"As I'm a gentleman, I couldn't possibly argue with a lady, so four it is," he conceded grandly with a bow and a flourish of his hand, which sent Matilde into a fit of giggles.
Gathering herself, she cocked her head, looking at him. "I'm trying to imagine what you'd have looked like in some eighteenth century get up, with tights and buckled shoes."
"Extremely dashing," he replied with no hesitation, and a wink.
"I just bet." Changing the subject, she asked, "Have you named the lake yet?"
"To go along with Lakes Huey and Louie, of course."
"Of course." His grin widened.
"I'm sure Mickey Falls is a foregone conclusion." She rolled her eyes dramatically. "We should probably name this place, the settlement, I mean."
"I was thinking Port Despair."
"Well now, that's cheery," she drawled.
"Never read Robinson Crusoe, I'm assuming."
"I saw the movie, does that count?"
"Barely. Despair was what Crusoe named the island he was marooned on."
"I suppose it's fitting, though not a morale booster." She shrugged, beginning to twist the diamond band on her left ring finger. "Do you think Catriona will wait for me?" Before Methos could answer, she shook her head sharply. "Who am I kidding? They think we're dead, she thinks I'm dead." She spun on her heel, looking up at him, anguish etched into every line of her face. "Have you ever thought that they might be dead? That ship that attacked us, the weapons it had, what if it was part of a fleet, what if they attacked Earth? Have you thought of that, Ben?"
"Every day, Matilde, every day."
Methos watched the tree burn, the bitter cold of death twisting his gut. It the first one he'd found in this part of the world, and while destroying it wouldn't bring back what was lost, at least he wouldn't have to look at it anymore.
SS Lincoln Settlement ~ Day 117
The stones and the stars will remember, Methos heard Matilde's voice whispering in the wind. "I'll never forget, Matilde," he said, voice breaking. Briefly, he rested his hand against her cold cheek, not allowing himself to look down at the ruin that was her abdomen. Her face was peaceful, with no sign of the horrific nature of her death.
Two days ago, the survivors had begun to complain of stomach pain, by nightfall nearly half the settlement was incapacitated, with the rest close to it. When Methos began to feel that same pain, he knew something was terribly wrong. Whatever was happening, he was helpless to stop it. The reality was beyond even what his nightmares could conjure: the tormented screams as parasites erupted from the stricken, almost simultaneously, as if triggered by some silent signal. He'd died in an agony rarely experienced during the long ages of his life.
When he'd come back, he was alone, the last remaining survivor of the SS Lincoln. The utter desolation that overcame him in that moment, seeing the contorted bodies of the dead, men and women who had survived so much, so far away from home…his friends, left him numb. He lay back down upon the grass, as day turned to night, the vast expanse of the starry heavens wheeling above, filling eyes he never closed. Together, they remembered and mourned the dead.
The cursed tree was now little more than ash, but still, Methos stood guard. On the ground at his feet, Gilligan placed yet another item of food. It seemed that his cat-monkey friend had decided he could tempt Methos from his fey mood by procuring tasty treats. He'd been bringing things for Methos to eat for the last several hours, making a disappointed sound when his most recent offering failed to snap Methos out of it.
This time though, was different. When Methos ignored him yet again, he sat up, keeping vigil with his friend. He began to hum – there was no other way to describe it. Gilligan hummed, the sound rising till it was a keening.
Methos blinked, shaking his head, looking down at his small companion. "Thank you for mourning them with me."
Gilligan reached up small fingers, brushing Methos' hand, and he felt as if he were being asked a question. "I took care of the dead, bearing the ones who had died outside into the longhouse, to join the rest. On the floor, strewn all around, were what remained of the Cornucopia fruits that we'd harvested after we were marooned, that which had sustained our lives through the winter. They were broken apart, and all around them, the remains of something shriveled in the dirt. That was when I realized what had happened—we'd been hosts for whatever it was dead on the ground around me. Those ones hadn't had a host to sustain them, transform them into the horror that had murdered us all."
Twenty years; not an anniversary he had any intention of celebrating. The only thing he would allow himself was wondering what was happening on the world he'd lost, if it even still survived. His friends, those he loved; did they think of him still? Maybe it was time to move on once more, though this time by his choice, not a wave from hell. The distraction of exploration was what he needed to keep him from maudlin thoughts of Earth. Maybe he could find Gilligan's people – he had kept Methos sane these last years, and repaying him would help balance the scales.
It reminded him of the Central Coast of California. At first, he hadn't wanted to linger here in a place that brought constant reminders of love, friendship, and all he'd lost. But after more than twenty years of trying not to remember, he wasn't able to keep the memories at bay. And oddly enough, they were a comfort to him in those darkest hours. So he'd stayed. Wood was plentiful, and he'd built a snug log cabin on a bluff, high above the ocean. And at the edge of that bluff, he'd put a bench, the better for visiting the shades of a life lost. Where the horizon met the sea, he found some small measure of peace.
The sand was cool between his toes, shuffling along the beach below his cabin, Gilligan almost out of sight ahead of him, as he searched for mussels in the abundant tide pools. They would have a fine dinner tonight.
Gazing out across the water, he saw tendrils of fog working their way up the coast, making him glad for his snug home and large hearth. Since he'd settled here, his life could almost be deemed civilized. He had roof, fire, food, and drink, and the companionship of Gilligan. While short on conversation, his little friend was not lacking in empathy or communication.
His lazy thoughts were wrenched from idle musings of hearth and home by a sensation he'd consigned to dream and memory. A feeling he'd not felt since boarding the Lincoln, before all that followed. Afraid he was dreaming, and afraid he was not, Methos slowly turned, drawing the machete that had been part of the survival gear on the doomed escape pod he'd stumbled across nearly four years ago.
It was a hallucination. He'd had them before, during his bleakest moments. They were never rescue, only cruel tricks played by a forsaken soul. But this one, this one seemed almost real. No! It was the loneliness, the memories that this place kept close.
Then the phantasm spoke, a voice Methos remembered so well. "Doctor Adams, I presume?"
The machete slipped from his fingers to the sand. He took a step closer, then another, searching the face of a memory. "Mac?" Reaching out a hand, his fingers traced a familiar visage. Could it really be?
"I'm here, Methos, this is not a dream."
"And I should believe you?"
"Yes, you should." Arms reached out, clasping him in a hard embrace. "Yes, you should," he repeated, his voice breaking.
Pulling back, Methos placed his hands on either side of Duncan's face, long abandoned hope welling up. "You came for me."
Duncan's eyes were bright with unshed tears. "Of course I did. A planet, or a galaxy away, I will always find you, Methos."
End Notes: I latched onto Lferion's mention of 'Immortals in space' in her Dear Authour post on her LJ. The idea took hold, and I ran with it.
If this story were a movie and had a song, it would probably be this one, Audience of Souls, by Emily Smith. No, I don't know what’s with the pic of Legolas attached to it, but it was the only version I could find on YouTube.
Methos' birthplace, for me, has always been Skara Brae, Orkney . This story gave me the opportunity to have him remember that place.
Link at AO3