Character(s): Methos, Methos, a little bit of Alexa, but mostly Methos
Prompt: a) to exist, b) relationships
Warnings: Spoilers for the Methos-centric bits of the Timeless/Deliverance/Methuselah's Gift/Through a Glass, Darkly arc in Season 4. But it should make sense without having seen them.
Word Count: 2834
Summary: After five thousand years of death, it takes a dying woman to remind him of life.
Author's Notes: Alex, I tried to incorporate both of your prompts while still keeping it gen-fic! I was intending to make this a light, snappy-dialogue, snarky Methos piece, but the old man had other ideas. He climbed into my head for a couple weeks, got all introspective on me, and this is what came out.
The title is, of course, a supposed quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer, upon seeing the first nuclear bomb tested. Oppenheimer himself was thinking of the Sanskrit Hindu epic Bhagavad Gita; most scholars believe that the translation should be "Time" rather than "Death". Quite frankly, either is appropriate for Methos.
Many thanks to my beta, E.
He had long ago perfected the act of becoming invisible. Not by true magic - although he had certainly seen enough of that in his day - but the art of fading into the background, of being so unremarkable that people's eyes simply slid right over him. He was a master of being average, of being competent but not outstanding. It was part of how he survived, fading into the background and not giving anyone, mortal or otherwise, a reason to look at him twice.
But then, suddenly, he longed to be noticed. There, sitting in Joe's bar, he no longer wanted to fade into the woodwork, drinking beer and making sarcastic comments. He wanted to be noticed, by one slight woman in particular (he had long ago given up the appellation "young" when referring to others. They were all young to him). And so he had summoned up five millenia of experience in courtship and his not-insignificant charm and commenced the hunt.
His quarry had a secret nearly as big as his own, and proved to be nearly as elusive. He was not horribly shocked, however, by Joe's grudging admission that Alexa was dying. And so he persisted, eventually persuading Alexa that she should spend her remaining time living not hiding. He refused to dwell on the irony of such advice coming out of his mouth. Instead, he packed them both up in a hideously ugly van and set off on what they called their "New World Tour," since it was all new to Alexa.
It was not, however, new to him. There were probably only a handful of places on the Earth that he hadn't been, and none of them were in the continental United States. He discovered, though, that through Alexa, he could see places freshly again, and suddenly he longed to tell her stories of his own experiences.
And so he did, couching the stories as though he had read them in history books. At least at first.
"Have you ever heard of the Slow Food movement?" he asked, as they drove through the endless vineyards of Napa Valley.
Alexa shook her head but her wide eyes sparkled. She was beginning to pick up on the cadences of his voice and knew a story was forthcoming.
"It really started in the early '70s," he began, keeping part of his mind on the road, while the rest drifted back a few decades - barely a blink of an eye for him, but a lifetime for the woman next to him. "Although I don't think anyone got around to coming up with a catchy name for quite a few years. It started with the radical notion that maybe we should stop with all this mass-produced, deep fried, instant crap and actually use real food that came from locally grown, fully identifiable plants and animals instead. Alice Waters was a young scholar in France when she took a trip away from the predictability of the Parisian restaurants of the time, and ventured forth to the wilds of Brittany. There, she was seduced by the idea of la cuisine du marché, market cooking, the idea that a chef might go to the local market in the morning and determine his menu by what was available that day. She brought the idea back home to Berkeley with her and began subjecting her friends to her experiments in the kitchen. After a few years, a few spectacular disasters, and even more successes, she opened a restaurant and began converting the rest of the world to her idea of local, sustainable foods."
He did not tell Alexa that a charming young French chef might have contributed to Alice's willingness to wake up at four in the morning each day for a week and walk the two miles to the market. He did not mention that he had been that chef. Instead, he took Alexa by the hand and led her into Chez Panisse.
He filled their trip south through California with tales of times and people past. He spoke of the golden age of Hollywood in the 1930s and '40s, telling her about undignified, and often hilarious, situations some of the biggest names found themselves in. He failed to mention that most of those stories could be verified in a search of the LA Times archives, and a careful researcher might notice that every one of them would have the byline of "Adam Peers."
He told her about the Franciscan friars in the mid-1700s, who founded one of the first missions in what would become SoCal and how Mission San Diego de Alcalá became an anchor point for the Spanish to settle in the region. As they stood in the dark of the Mission, cool even in the mid-day sun, he did not explain that he could remember helping to lay some of the stones that he now brushed with his fingertips, caressing them with the familiarity of a lover. He did not tell her that he had spent a peaceful half century within those sacred walls, alert and wary, yes, but more for possible attack from the local peoples than from another Immortal. But it was getting harder not to say that last part.
They turned eastwards, and he regaled her with stories of greed, heroics and derring-do in 19th century Arizona, which had its own Gold Rush, though not as famous as California's. After they viewed the natural wonder of the canyons, he took her to a small graveyard halfway between Phoenix and Tuscon and explained that while everyone thought of the Civil War as taking place in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas, it touched the people living in the West as well. He told her about the Battle of Picacho Pass, and how the Confederacy had hopes of opening up a route all the way to the Pacific Ocean; if she noticed his hands lingering over a tombstone bearing the name "Ben Adams," she didn't mention it.
They turned north, up Interstate 25, through the painted deserts and plateaus of New Mexico, to the rolling plains that rose into mountains in Colorado. They made it through that state without incident, admiring the views from the hairpin turns that dropped off a thousand feet on one side and rose an equally sheer thousand on the other, and cooing at the flocks of big horn sheep that dotted the alpine meadows. It wasn't until they reached Wyoming that he was betrayed by a loose tongue - something he thought he had curbed centuries before.
"I wonder what they were really like," Alexa wondered aloud, not looking up from yet another pamphlet about the Wild Wild West, "Butch Cassidy, and all the rest I mean."
"Cassidy was a whiny little boy who couldn't have planned a successful robbery if his life depended on it," he replied without thinking. "Longabaugh, though, was a damn good thief and had a wicked sense of humor. At least, that's what I've read," he amended hastily at her quizzical look. A raised eyebrow indicated her skepticism at this explanation, but she remained silent.
And then an impulse he thought he had buried with his fifth wife jumped up and bit him again. He wanted to tell her, tell her everything. The weight of five thousand years came crashing down on him and he longed to share it with the slight woman in front of him, as though his extra millennia could make up for the few months that she had left. Surely they could somehow average out.
It went against every carefully-honed self preservation instinct he had. It was stupid, insane, as impulsive as anything he'd ever accused Amanda of doing, as soft-hearted as he usually accused Mac of being. And he couldn't come up with a damned reason not to.
So he crouched down in the open door, where she sat in the passenger seat and took a deep breath.
"Alexa, there's something I have to tell you. I am not who I say I am. Or rather, I am exactly who I say I am, but I have not claimed all that am. Gah, I'm saying this badly." He ran a hand through his hair and started pacing quickly beside the car.
She just looked at him with a curious half smile and he tried again, crouching down beside her and staring intently. "You know me as Adam Pierson, a historian and researcher who sometimes hangs out with Joe. And I am. And I have been, for the last fifteen years or so. But I've been around a lot longer than that. A lot longer. You see, I'm Immortal. I can't die. Well, I can, and have, thousands of times, but I always come back to life. Now, look, I know this may be hard - "
"Adam, I know," Alexa tried to interrupt quietly.
" - to believe, but I really have been alive for almost five thousand years," he continued, not having heard her. He moved to take one of her hands in his own. "I've seen things you can't imagine - "
" - and all those stories are really things I was there to see, to witness and - "
" - the only way I can be killed is if someone cuts off my head. There are other Immortals around, too, and some of them probably would want to kill me if - "
"Methos." That name finally brought him up short and he nearly lost his balance.
Steadying himself on her knees, he looked at her askance. "Wha- what did you just call me?"
"Methos. That's your name, isn't it? Oldest living Immortal? I know."
"But- but - how?" Fear and wonder and a little bit of excitement flitted across his face.
She gave him an innocent smile. "You guys really should pay more attention to who's around when you start talking after the bar closes. Most of us who work clean-up after closing know, or have an idea. Your friend Mac really needs to learn to keep his mouth shut."
"Mac is a bloody motor mouth," he grumbled. "So you've really known all this time?"
"I have. I overheard just enough to make me curious, and believe me, when you've been told you're terminal, the word 'immortality' is going to make you very curious."
"Alexa, I can't - " he began, caressing her cheek regretfully.
"I know. I had sense enough to ask Joe about it. Once he saw that he wasn't going to be able to brush me off, he broke down and told me everything. The Watchers, the Game, the Quickening."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
She shrugged. "Not my secret to spill. And I know all about keeping secrets. I figured you'd either tell me when you were ready, or you wouldn't. Didn't see as how it made much difference. But now that you know I know. . ."
"I want the real stories. I want to know about your whole life. The good, the bad, the real." She moved to hold his hands and he could feel the fragility of the bones in hers.
"I - I haven't always been - that is to say, I'm not the nicest person. Some of the things I've done - "
"I don't care. You might say you're not a nice person, but you're doing all this for me. Tell me, would you ever hurt me?"
"Only if you were going to endanger my life by betraying me to another Immortal," he replied honestly. "I've done what I needed to to keep surviving for the last five thousand years, and I'll keep doing it."
"Then I don't see the problem. Please? I want the real stories, not fairy tales, Adam. You convinced me to live, instead of hide. I know I won't have time to do everything that I want to, so let me steal some of your experiences. Let me live through you."
There really wasn't anything he could say to that.
They were in DisneyWorld when Alexa calmly announced that they really ought to get married. Not because they were hopelessly in love, she explained. There wasn't time for that. Mostly, it was for the legal control it would give him, to make decisions for her when she was no longer able to. And besides, she added, almost as an afterthought, although her eyes were sparkling, they could simply tell people they were doing the grand tour for their honeymoon.
The logic of her suggestion could not be argued and her cool practicality struck a chord with his own, which was how he found himself wearing a tuxedo, standing in a gazebo in the middle of the Happiest Place On Earth, about to wed wife number 68.
As they danced to a waltz played by the string quartet, he was delighted to see Alexa's beaming face, for once unlined by pain or worry. Every woman should be allowed to have her dream wedding once in her life, and he was thrilled to be able to give Alexa hers. Both her parents had passed away years before, so they had flown in Joe to give her away.
Joe understood exactly what he was doing, once he had gotten over his paternal "protect Alexa" phase. Odd, that a mortal could understand him so much better than someone like Mac, who had lived almost ten times as long. But then, both he and Joe were historians of a kind, both watchers (with and without the capital W), so perhaps that explained it.
"Take care of her," Joe had requested that morning. It was phrased as a command, but there was a note of pleading in his voice.
"Until the end of her days," he had promised solemnly.
Arriving in Egypt was like coming home to him. In a way, it was. In the deepest recesses of his being he was still that young man who had been caught in a sandstorm. He often caught Alexa smiling fondly at him as he instinctively navigated his way around the area. There was more desert, and more tourists, than he felt there ought to be, but the quality of the light and the smell of the air resonated within him.
"What do they say?" she asked quietly, reverently, as they stood in one of the pyramids of Saqqara, admiring the texts engraved in the walls. Tourists weren't technically supposed to be there, but since he had both had this particular tomb built and helped to excavate it 4300 years later, he felt he had a certain right to be there.
He smiled. "They're mostly funerary prayers and panegyric verses for the occupant. Not very good poetry, really. Had to wait another couple hundred years for the Epic of Gilgamesh before anyone really understood what to do with verse."
"Read it to me?" she pleaded. "I want to know what ancient Egyptian sounded like."
He nodded and closed his eyes, summoning up the parts of himself which still remembered how to read the hieroglyphics. It was an odd process, submerging all the modern bits of his knowledge and bringing forth the ancient mentality, but it was one he had perfected over the centuries. He allowed himself to sink into guttural consonants and liquid vowels that made up the language. Centuries fell away as he read the lines and a great power seemed to fill him, transporting him to a time when he was Pharaoh. As he chanted the prayers Ra-Atum, a calm settled over him and his bearing changed. He was master of this land, his subjects lived and died at his pleasure. He finished the reading, his voice echoing in the stillness of the chamber, and he turned to Alexa with a steely look.
She looked up at him with awe. "I feel like I ought to genuflect or something," she said with a slight smile. "But it is good to see you so alive. Hey, if you could claim the throne of Egypt, doesn't that make me the royal consort or something?"
He blinked, and her laughter rang off the walls, breaking the spell.
He wrapped an arm around her and lead her out of the tomb. "Well, my royal consort, shall we go survey our kingdom?"
After she collapsed in Greece, they both knew that time was running out. They flew to Rome and he booked passage on a luxury train to Zurich. As coast and country-side slipped by, he told her about watching the small collection of tribes on the Italian peninsula coalesce and go one to form one of the greatest empires in the Mediterranean. Comfortably ensconced each day in the observation lounge, he told her about Julius Caesar's proclivity for all kinds of seafood and absolute hatred of pickles. He gave her snide, but true, descriptions of some of the less-than-holy Popes, and spoke with reverence and awe about the true sanctity of a handful of individuals he'd met over the years.
All too soon, she was admitted into University Hospital. He stayed by her side, knowing the doctors were doing everything they could; knowing that he had done everything he could – including a desperate race to Paris, chasing a near fairy tale.
"Remember me?" she asked before losing consciousness for the final time.
"Forever," he promised. "The alternative would be unthinkable."
He had survived for five thousand years. Now he would live for five thousand more.