Author's note: This story originally appeared in the zine Futures Without End I, published by Melina Clark & Maygra de Rhema, to whom I owe a tremendous debt for accepting it and helping me improve it. Thanks also to the lady of Shallott for her help. As always, thanks to Killashandra and Rachael, two women to whom I can never fully express my love and gratitude for the richness they've added to my life.
Writing this was like drawing blood in a particularly painful and nasty fashion, but at the same time it was like lancing an infected wound. It hurt, but it felt so good afterwards. It was an exorcism of sorts. Suffice it to say that I know exactly how Duncan feels.
This is dedicated to everyone who has ever felt a dream die.
This is pre-slash, set during the episode Timeless.
Summary: What do you do when something you didn't know you wanted has already slipped through your fingers? As if Duncan didn't already have enough to cope with, how did he feel when Methos fell for Alexa so hard and fast?
Please send feedback to: elynross.
Hold Fast to Dreams
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Have you ever felt a dream die? It happens when a dream you've cherished slips away from your heart. Sometimes the death is just a transition, and the dream rises like a phoenix from the ashes to be born into a new dream, even better than the first. Sometimes the dream grows into something more beautiful and more real. Sometimes you realize that the dream you hold to can't grow strong in your heart. Sometimes you're wise enough to let go.
Sometimes it starves to death, growing weaker and weaker from neglect and a lack of nourishment.
Sometimes you strangle it yourself when you realize the futility of its existence. Sometimes it's safer to kill a dream than to leave it where others can find it.
But have you ever felt a dream die that you didn't know lived inside you? So that the first you knew of its existence is when you feel it ripped out of your soul? The knife slides in so smoothly that you're only aware of the unthinkable pain when your heart drops at your feet, leaving a gaping, bloody wound where the dream was hiding. You can bleed to death from such a wound... but you don't. Not if you're strong. If you're strong, you smile, and no one knows that you're even bleeding.
I don't know if it makes it easier or harder that the murderer has no idea what he's done. How ironic to have a dream realized kill a dream not yet born.
"Alexa. You see, even her name is beautiful!"
He's been floating since he arrived at the loft, too absorbed in this new dream to see that he's wounded me in a place I hadn't even known was vulnerable. I'm torn between wanting to share in his obvious joy and wanting to crawl into a quiet, dark place to cradle the remains of the dream dying in my own heart before it ever had a chance to live. How had I not known that I loved him this way? How had I hidden the fact from myself so well that I only found out when it was too late?
Granted, "too late" is a relative term, I remind myself. Alexa is mortal. Fifty or sixty years tops, I'd have the opportunity to try to revive this dream. I could always hope that it wouldn't work out at all, that this isn't a death knell I feel ringing through me, but the cry of a newborn dream... except that I can't. Methos is like a teenager, his insecurity obvious, his fears and "what ifs" heartrendingly charming. I can no more wish for his heart to be broken than I would wish for--for my own to suffer the same fate.
And living how we live, who knows whether either of us will even outlive her? Now, that's a cheering thought. I feel better now.
He looks so happy. I want him to be happy. More than I want me to be happy. Even happy ever after.
"--I don't want to make a fool of myself. Did you ever feel like that?"
You mean including right now? "Couple of times."
Methos isn't really looking at me, which is a good thing, because I don't think I could hide how I'm feeling if my life depended on it. Talk about making a fool of yourself. Fool doesn't even begin to cover how I feel right now. How is it he has such power to make me feel the complete idiot? Even when he's not trying.
"What if she doesn't like me?"
Then maybe you'll need comforting--God, he looks so damn vulnerable! How can a man his age still be so insecure about his own worthiness? He's like a complete innocent. Already, she's given him something I never could.
"What if she does?"
How could she not? And then at least one of us won't have a broken heart. I swear, if she hurts him--I won't do anything. Except be there for him. Just those few words, and his face lights up at the possibility. Should I tell him she can't help but like him? Too close. He's oblivious, but he's not stupid. I don't think I can get through this if he has any clue how I'm feeling. Fortunately, this mess with Claudia and Walter is providing plenty of distractions. I didn't need this to happen right now. The universe seems determined to prove to me that it has a nasty sense of humor.
Hell. Maybe I can at least get Methos to stop mooning about and twisting the knife he doesn't know he's holding.
"What am I going to tell her?" I indicate the woman-child sitting on the couch, perusing her music.
Claudia's not paying any attention, as usual. No fear she's going to figure out what I'm feeling. Lovely child, brilliant musician... and all the sensitivity of a brick when it comes to other people. Another person so afraid of not being liked that she makes sure you have reason not to. We're just a roiling pot of insecurities around here. Methos is afraid of not being liked at all, Claudia's afraid of being liked only for her gifts, and me? Let's not think about me right now.
"What about the truth? Least then she'd know what she's facing."
Methos makes it sound so simple. Yet he knows that everything changes when you tell them, whether it's that they're Immortal, or that you're Immortal. Look what happened with Anne. There's a thought. Is he going to tell Alexa? Has he even thought about it? He'll have to eventually, if she does like him and they make a go of it.
You're doing it again, Mac. Leaping ahead to the worst... best?... possible scenario. And lurking there in the background is that ugly, exciting possibility that even if they do get together, she'll be driven off by what he is. And I twist the knife deeper into my own heart, knowing that anything that is in my favor might destroy him. At least for a while. I'm sure he's faced his share of rejections over the years, but I can't see that it ever gets easier to have someone you love reject you. I don't want that. Truly I don't, even if it means I'd get a shot at him. After all, I don't have any reason to think he might feel the same way. Rend. Tear. Twist. And when did you get to be such a masochist, Mac?
"Be nice if she had a semblance of a normal life. Once she finds out what she is that becomes impossible."
"You can't keep her here forever."
No, I can't, any more than I can keep you. Whoever wrote that idiotic cant about setting something free if you love it obviously wasn't in love at the time. It might be the right thing to do, but all you want to do is pin down the one you love, tie him up, and lock him away someplace where you can't lose him. Nobility is hell.
What do you suppose would happen if I told him how I felt? It's not as if he's had time enough to really fall for Alexa. No, he has. I can tell. He looks just like I felt when I met Tessa... like I'd been struck by lightning; she left me walking around in a blissful daze. God, I'm lonely. I miss Tessa.
Here comes the brat.
"Duncan. I'm tired, and I'm bored of being locked up in this dump. No offense."
"None taken!" Claudia, you are so spoiled. And how graciously you include my friend in your command invitation. You can't believe that he'd have anything better to do.
"Uh, no, thank you. I have--other plans."
There it goes again. You think your heart is on the floor, and a few words show you it's still got a ways to fall. I can hear the memory of Alexa in his voice even before I look at him. Damn that secret, smiling look, the one that tells anybody looking at him that he's in love, that he's not thinking about anything but the beloved. And damn Claudia for reminding him. Just as well she wants to go, because just being around him right now is painful, until I can come to grips with this whole mess.
Such a delicious pain.
Damn Walter, too! Now Claudia's an Immortal, but still a child. And now she thinks I've only supported her because of her future Immortality. Why can't life ever stay simple long enough to enjoy it? An all too-brief period of normality with Tessa, and nothing but trouble since then.
My, aren't we in a gloomy mood. And the juvenile, self-indulgent, mutual appreciation society going on between these two isn't helping. Doesn't anybody have a clue around here?
"This isn't funny! He murdered you!" I know it sounds stupid, but it's true. All she can think about is outliving her competition, never growing old. She has no idea how painful it is never growing old. Outliving everyone.
Aaaah, what the hell am I going to do? She's going to get herself killed! Spoiled as she is, I care about her. I could just kill Walter. Now, there's an idea. But I want to kill something too much right now and not just because he's an idiot. I'm the one having to be the adult when all I want to do is throw a bloody, screaming tantrum. I feel like somebody has stolen my favorite toy. I want to cry, and kick my heels, and tell everybody that he's Mine! But he's not.
Oh, Lord, Walter's spouting Browning. Maybe I will kill him, after all. I'd feel better, and the world would be a better place.
They couldn't stay at the dojo and play on Claudia's piano, could they? No, she had to have an audience to perform for. So, here we are at Joe's, and she can't play a thing. Oh, this is just brilliant. Her gift was the only thing she had that made her feel worthwhile, and Walter's possibly managed to destroy it. Killed the reason for killing her. Isn't it ironic? Dreams dying by the bucketful around here.
Claudia is not a patient person. Even if it's just a temporary thing, she may never recover from the shot to her confidence. And he's not making it any easier for me. "Thank you, Walter. You're a big help." Oooh, lemme kill him. Just once. I won't even take his head. Maybe twice. It's been a really, really bad day.
Oh, shit. Just what I need, it's Romeo. God, he's beautiful when he's in love. Great, he's twigged to the problem. One of them. I don't need an "I told you so." I may hurt him if he says anything. Or kiss him.
"Don't say a word."
And don't look so content; I don't think I can take any more right now.
Oh, you're so lucky I'm leaving--
So am I.
Things don't sound any better at the concert hall, and Walter's pushing her too hard. He can't accept his broken dream either, can he? And don't we make the thwarted pair?
"Leave her alone, Walter."
"You can't have her, MacLeod. She's mine!"
"She doesn't want you." Any more than my dream wants me. "Back off, Walter."
"We go back a long way, MacLeod. But it can be deadly to stand between a man and his dreams. I can kill you."
There's the universe again. I can hear it cackling. A man and his dreams? You have no idea, Walter. And as trite and stupid as it sounds, even to me, right this minute dying doesn't sound so bad. At least my heart would stop hurting. Fortunately for me, there's still Claudia to think about. And fifty or sixty years from now.
"You can always try."
Damn. He's leaving. Probably a good thing for him. I'm dangerous when I've got nothing to lose.
Sigh. Stopping to get the sword was a waste of time.
"It's very nice, Duncan." Her enthusiasm is underwhelming. But what did I expect? She's a spoiled brat and a drama queen. If she's going to be unhappy, nothing can be allowed to interfere with her misery. As if she were the only one with shattered dreams. I honestly don't think she gets it, that people are going to be after her head. That she could die.
"You're gonna have to learn how to use that." She is so damn frustrating! If I'm not going to let myself die, I'm certainly not going to let her.
"So you can keep on living." We've all got to keep on living, Claudia.
"It's too late. I'm already dead."
No, it's your dream that's dead; it just feels like you. There'll be more dreams, trust me. Dying dreams can only kill us if we let them take us over entirely. We have to have more to live for than just the dreams, Claudia. Otherwise, we die by pieces as they dissolve around us. You just have to hold on to see whether the dying dream is immortal or not. Whether it's reborn, like we are, or whether it's gone for good. Immortals with mortal dreams. Why am I not laughing?
It was a pointless dream anyway. Gina and Robert are the only Immortals I've ever heard of who managed to stay together without killing each other. But oh, the thought of having someone around who might not be gone so soon, who might last more than a single lifetime--
So, how to encourage her without giving her false hope?
"Through the years, I've found so many wonders, so many endless possibilities. I'm not telling you whatever gift you were given you'll ever get back. Things will never be the same; that's the way it is for us. But there's future upon future, lifetime upon lifetime out there for you."
Are you listening to what you're saying, Mac? There's always the future, always more dreams to nurture.
"But I'm nothing now."
"Claudia, talent is something that you have; it's not who you are."
You are so frail, child. So insecure, for good reason. And isn't it miraculous that Methos has retained some of the same innocence? Talent isn't who you are, and dreams aren't who you are. At least, not all of who you are.
I can do this. I can be happy for him, especially if he's happy. I can make a new dream, a dream for him, rather than of him. I was probably more in love with the dream of him than with him, anyway. Probably. After all, what do I really know of him?
And what wouldn't I give to know it all?
"But who will care about me if I can't play?"
There's still so much to care about, including him. I'm getting over the shock of it, I think. Wouldn't be the first time I've loved without anyone knowing about it. Once I accept it, I'll be able to appreciate what I feel for him without this aching need to tell him about it. Ah, the irony again. It will be kind of a chivalric love, no? For the man who doesn't believe in chivalry. A chaste love, a love unconsummated and unrecognized.
Okay, letting Walter go at the monastery was a mistake. I should have gone ahead and taken his head, regardless of his promises. Now I'll never get Claudia to protect herself.
Lucky her, her dream was a phoenix. Bigger and brighter than ever. Now she wants to live, but only if I'm willing to let her die.
"Claudia, you're not mortal, you--you're in the Game now. While you're out there chasing your dreams, someone else is gonna be chasing you. Don't do that." Don't make me watch another dream die.
But isn't it better to chase dreams than to let them die for lack of attention? Or simply wait for somebody to kill them? Sigh. It's not quite dead yet, is it? Some part of me is still trying to persuade me to chase my own particular dream. Would it be any use?
I wonder what's going on with Alexa. She'd be a fool, but she might not be interested. Wouldn't be the first woman who didn't realize what she had right in front of her.
"But I have to. Duncan, it's okay."
No, it's not okay. I lose too many people as it is without watching them put themselves in danger deliberately. But you never have listened to anybody, have you? At least your dream can be realized without destroying anyone else's.
I guess you're right. Why live at all, if you give up on your dreams? So, Alexa may have him for a lifetime... a lifetime isn't forever for some of us. So, I can't chase my own particular dream right now, does that mean I have to watch it die? Let go of it completely? I have time. I can wait. Who knows what will happen?
I need to check with Joe, make sure they get a Watcher assigned to Claudia. And maybe find out what's up with Methos.
What is Methos doing at Joe's? Figured he'd be off with his new lady-love. Instead, he looks as desperately unhappy as he'd looked happy before. Maybe she's turned him down flat? That would be such a bittersweet victory. Seeing him hurting is more painful than seeing him happy. It all hurts, but at least this feels like I'm reacting more reasonably. I don't feel glad that he's hurting for a single moment.
"She's dying, Mac. I just found her, and she's already dying."
Oh, Methos, I am so, so sorry. And appalled that I couldn't prevent that tiny flare of unholy glee from existing. It wasn't conscious; it certainly didn't last. But it was there, and I felt it. How can I be so upset for him and still feel this twisted happiness, this insidious flaring of life from my dying dream?
"What are you going to do?" I think I must be getting used to the pain, even enjoying it. I keep wiggling the knife in a bit deeper.
"We're going to travel. There's so much I want to show her, Mac, so little that she's seen."
So, he's leaving, taking Alexa off to live a little before she dies. I won't even have the masochistic pleasure of seeing him with her.
"Is there anything I can do?"
Oh, don't smile at me like that, I can't take it.
"No, I don't think so. We're leaving as soon as we make arrangements for her treatments along the way. Her doctor isn't very happy, but he understands."
"I'm sorry, Methos. It isn't fair."
"Never is, is it? They barely have any time at all under the best of circumstances. Sometimes I wonder if anything makes living forever worthwhile."
"Loving does." Even when you're not loved back.
I can see him visibly pulling himself together.
"At least I'll have a little time with her. Better than none at all."
And it is, isn't it? Even this small time with him is much, much better than never having known him would have been. There's a reason some of those trite sayings refuse to die.
I stop, too late. I won't think about the future right now. My punishment for the self-indulgence of having felt glad, no matter how briefly, that Alexa was dying. Now, that's a secret I'll take to my grave, no matter how long it takes me to dig it.
"How long does she have? They don't know. Not nearly long enough." That quickly, he's close to breaking down.
"None of us know how long we have, Methos. And most of us don't get to realize our dreams. At least you can help Alexa realize some of hers. And yours."
That got him. Fortunately, he has no idea what I'm really saying. Be loved, Methos. No matter how short the time, let her love you, and love her. Not that you seem to have any choice, any more than I do.
There's that smile again, that sweet, shy smile. "Guess that's true, Mac. Guess I've been surviving so long, I forget to remember that. Their briefness just makes me ache, though. I have so much to give her, if she'll let me."
"Give her everything." Can't help the rough note in my voice. Don't hold anything back, Methos. Don't waste any time. Oops, better watch myself, that's an odd look he's giving me.
"You okay, Mac? You sound a little strange."
"Just this whole mess with Claudia, but it seems to have worked out." Good, he's accepting that.
"What's she going to do?"
"Hopefully, try not to die, no thanks to her. She still refuses to learn how to use a sword. She's insisting that she has to fear death to be able to play."
"Maybe she's right." His voice is so quiet... what is he saying? "I think I stopped fearing death a long time ago and stopped living at the same time."
Are you saying that Alexa has given you your life back? Another thing I couldn't give you? Would I have even known how? We live with death all the time, Methos. It can be hard to fear someone who is a constant companion.
"You gave it back to me, Mac."
Well. I didn't expect that. Don't say anything more, Methos. You're ripping my heart out all over again.
"I was just existing when you found me. Something about you brought me back to life. You cared about me, about whether I lived or died. That meant a lot. It still does."
Don't look at me, I can't look back. Oh, God, does he know? Does he realize? Don't touch me, Methos. His hand is burning over my heart. My aching, bloody heart.
"You have such a big heart, Highlander. You care so much. I'd forgotten how, and you showed me again. Just a couple of years ago, Alexa's dying would have been enough to drive me off. It's so much harder to let yourself feel pain, rather than just escape it. I would have run and not slowed down until I couldn't feel her anymore."
I couldn't look away if I wanted to. Another twist of the knife and more gleeful chortling, because I provided him with the murder weapon myself.
"Thank you." The sincerity in his voice is the sweetest thrust.
"I don't know what to say." Oh, that smile.
"Don't say anything. Just be here?"
He knows. I don't know how, but he knows. I think I've stopped breathing. Does he know that his words and his touch are somehow managing to ease my hurting? What does he know? What does he mean?
"I can do that." Such a smile. God, I love him.
Here we are, sending off the happy, doomed couple. When she's not looking, he looks so desperately protective and so hurt. Do I look like that? Joe's given me a couple of looks. You're so strong, Methos. I'll miss that strength knocking me around.
"It's not long enough." He's close to tears again. No matter how much you tell yourself that a little bit is better than nothing at all, sometimes it's hard to believe it. But we're both strong. We'll survive; Alexa won't. Guess that makes me the lucky one, right? Then again, maybe surviving isn't all it's cracked up to be.
"It never is." Forever isn't long enough to prepare yourself to lose someone; to prepare yourself to be naked and alone again.
He's--they're gone. Be well, friend.
"They don't know if she'll make it to Egypt." Joe's choked up too.
"It doesn't matter. Even if she lives to be a hundred, he'll still have the pain of losing her." Part of me wishes I could spare him that... but that's part of being alive, and I want him to live. Forever. With me, or without me.
"Where's Claudia?" Joe wants to think about something else, too.
"Gone." What else can I say?
"On her own? Unprotected?" He shakes his head. "One of 'em trying to die and the other one trying to live. It's crazy."
"Not for her." Both of them living, Joe. For however long they have, both living their dreams. You have to have dreams. "Listen, Dawson, when you get a Watcher on Claudia--"
"Don't worry. We'll keep an eye on her."
And you, old man. I'll be here.