An actual G-rated story (if beheadings aren't rated PG-13 at least). Who knew I could write one? Thanks to Jason for the lyric, which follows the story. For those who care about time line stuff, this story takes place in May 1998, just over a year after Richie's death, and roughly four months before "Indiscretions."

Half Empty
by Laura Mason

Sometimes you want to go where no one knows your name.

For Methos, Chicago fit the bill. He'd never lived here before, only spent time in rail and then air terminals as necessary. It was modern and comfortable, but most importantly, big enough that he could remain anonymous.

Well, New York would have been better for that, really. In Chicago there were still people trying to connect, to say hello and learn a name. Cyndi, the waitress here who'd tried to learn his name and favorite drink, was proof of that. But New York had too many immortals enjoying its amenities. Methos wasn't looking for challenges -- or, God forbid, a run-in with anyone named MacLeod.

So Chicago was his newest home, and despite Cyndi's disapproving glances, Monk's was his new bar -- occasionally. It was cool as he entered the always-dark room, though the air was already smoky. He moved to sit at the bar rather than a table, choosing the far corner where he was less likely to have a talkative neighbor. Friendly, nosy patrons or waitresses he didn't need -- but good beer and a good cheeseburger were worth a monthly visit to Monk's. A dollar fifty for the el -- even Adam Pierson could have afforded that. And Robert Rice, his new, short-term persona, didn't struggle for money at all.

Methos ordered a Sam Adams and asked for a menu. The bartender handed over the single-sheet listing detailing the various types of cheeseburger accouterments. Oh, there was a chicken sandwich, too, some attempt at healthier fare. But he'd never seen anyone order it in the past year.

A whole year since he'd seen MacLeod, since he'd left Joe to deal with Ryan's death and fled Paris. Yet it seemed like just a few weeks since he filled out Rice's rent application, stating that he worked out of his home on a computer testing job. That was simple enough to fake, and then no one would question when he slept all day, or drank all day. Though he doubted that in his building, anyone cared. There weren't any families or elderly people. It was a building of busy, self-absorbed yuppies. Perfect for staying anonymous. So much easier than in the past. Methos could remember so many times he'd been trying to avoid all villages as he traveled -- in those times any stranger was cause for general curiosity, celebration, sharing of stories and hospitality...

He didn't miss that kind of casual hospitality, he told himself as his beer came and he ordered his bacon cheeseburger, Swiss tonight. In modern cities immortal life was easier. Most people had no time for strangers, and that was just fine. Oh, he missed Joe a little, he supposed, but it was much safer here. Certainly it was better to be far from the immortals who came seeking Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, and who usually were just as happy to challenge anyone else who happened to be hanging around.

So he had an ideal life now, here in the Midwest. His rare burger arrived, and he tucked in, nodding when the bartender held up another bottle and glanced at him. American food. He supposed he should cook at home more, try again to find someplace to buy good produce. He'd increased his daily run, even worked out regularly in the last few months, but he still didn't fit his clothes and he just felt slow. It just seemed too hard here. He missed the street corner markets in Paris, where he could find good bread, a chicken, fresh fruit. Even the summer farmer's markets here weren't terribly varied. There was a grocery delivery service on the Internet, but he didn't want to see pictures of something similar to his food -- he wanted to be able to touch it, smell it, check for ripeness.

He could go to the immense supermarket in his neighborhood, but the food didn't seem worth the effort. The chore involved in shopping such a huge store explained why most people here made food selection into a once-a-week task, something he couldn't accept. If you bought fruit for a week, it would be far from ripe the first days, and spoiled for the last days. And this was a civilized place to live! It was enough to make him wish he'd set up Rice's identity as filthy rich, with a staff that included a cook.

But that was no way to remain anonymous. And that was the most important thing, that no one was part of his life and no one cared. Especially Methos.

MacLeod was off, somewhere -- possibly still trying to find a worthy recipient for his quickening. No, he'd actually offered his head to Methos. Mac obviously didn't care who took his head.

But maybe by now the millennial champion had gone to ground, realizing that his pivotal role in history wouldn't allow him an easy way out of his pain. If it took such delusions to keep Mac alive, Methos would give three cheers for poor mental health.

He looked at the bar and realized he'd barely touched his now-cold burger, though he'd finished his second and third beers. Time to stop drinking until he got home. He let the bartender clear the basket of food and had him bring an iced tea. Methos just sat, sipping his drink, listening to people around him talking, flirting, arguing. There were couples, groups of friends, coworkers out to relax before heading home... Friday night in the loop, the best night to be here. Crowded enough that he could remain unnoticed. Crowded enough to feel relatively safe.

But he wasn't afraid any more. Not since he stopped drinking so much. Stopped staying holed up in his apartment for weeks at a time, too drunk to leave -- or even to order food. The dreams had stopped, so there was no reason to continue with such an unhealthy lifestyle. But Methos could still vividly remember all of them, dreams of power and dreams of death. He didn't understand why seeing Mac kill Ryan had affected him so much. But that had to be the reason for the nightly dreams where Kronos tempted him with the joy of lawlessness. And for the nightmares of MacLeod coming after his head, while Kronos shouted for him to kill the Highlander, to just do what he asked and save himself. He no longer woke every few hours, dry heaving from the horrors in his mind.

With a start Methos realized that while he'd lost himself in memories, the crowd had thinned; the after-work contingent had finished their drinks and gone home. Time to catch his own train, so he stood, pulled out his wallet, settled the bill, and left.

An el train rumbled past as he opened the front door, and he headed in the direction of the Clark Street station. But the night was beautiful, clear and mild with the glow of sunset still in the clouds behind him. So instead he kept walking, getting out from under the shadow of the tracks and heading east on Wacker, following the river. There were still plenty of other pedestrians out, tourists and businesspeople alike. Which made it only slightly less obnoxious when he felt the flickering of immortal presence.

A chance meeting, probably. He still took off at a much faster pace, headed for the Hyatt's lobby and the guaranteed crowds there. The presence didn't fade; in fact it seemed to be getting closer. Shit! No time to get to the hotel, then. He was at State Street, but still too far north to duck into an open store. There, on his left across the street were the steps down to the Wendella boats. He dashed across against the traffic, and saw that a boat was just finishing loading passengers. Methos flew down the steps and onto the boat, which took off moments later, headed up the river. The guide gave her spiel about Chicago architecture as Methos sat, catching his breath and wondering if the length of this cruise would discourage the unknown immortal.

Whether it did or not was out of his control. Methos sat back and tried to relax. Of course, this wasn't what he'd come out for tonight. He was simply sick of his neat, barren apartment. He'd only carried a few books with him when he left Paris, and despite the branch library in his neighborhood and a number of excellent bookstores, he had nothing to read. He was bored. Restless. Spring fever, he supposed.

Trust the feel of another of his kind to make life suddenly seem sweeter, more precious than ever. That never changed.

The boat turned back, north, and headed to the lake, and Methos forced himself to relax for the remainder of the cruise. The twilight was complete now, and the view of the buildings was merely a view of lights. Few of his fellow passengers seemed to care. Some youngsters were necking, some people were merely pulling their lightweight coats closer in reaction to the chill of the Lake and the evening. Others looked happy just to have a seat and be able to set down their shopping bags for a few hours. This was almost as interesting as going to see a movie, Methos thought, and indulged fully in people-watching and inventing stories about his fellow passengers. It wasn't something he'd done much recently, but in other centuries such speculation had been a favorite pastime while in cafes all over the known world.

In fact, he'd done this before the Horsemen formed, and had used his observations to plan their raids in many of the villages he'd known. But Methos didn't want to be thinking about the Horsemen right now, either. It was too soon to revisit those days, too close to the temptation Kronos had placed in front of him. Not that ill-conceived plan to use his virus. But the dreams had reminded him that dictatorship was easy, and there were plenty of places in the world where an unscrupulous immortal could be that combination of God and King even today, for a time. The two of them could have managed quite a reign of terror...

He realized with a start that the boat was docking, and that the presence was there, close and strong. He scanned the crowd waiting to board, then saw her standing off to one side, watching him. Of course she'd had the patience to wait for a two-hour boat ride to end, after waiting over a year to track him down, far from MacLeod.

Had he somehow known it was Cassandra from the first sense of her? His thoughts didn't normally linger in the Bronze Age, after all. As he stepped off the gangplank she moved forward, and he nodded to her, inclining his head to direct her up the steps. There was too much light along the river bank; there had to be a more private place to fight.

She stalked ahead of him silently, crossing Michigan Avenue and heading for the park. A beach would be better, Methos thought, but there was plenty of darkness under the trees at this northern end, away from the fountain and the band shell. But Cassandra led him on, down into the parking garage below Grant Park instead. They moved past areas full of cars and into an area closed off for reconstruction before she stopped, turned to him and spoke.

"Now, Horseman, I will see you dead at last." She drew her blade and stood ready for an attack.

"MacLeod asked you to leave it alone." He, too, bared his sword but made no other move.

"Duncan is not here tonight to save your miserable head."

"How did you find me?" he asked, delaying, not really needing an answer. He circled her, watching her reaction, checking the terrain. She'd probably planned some traps here. At the very least she was more familiar with the ground. He took his time, annoying her in the process.

"I never stopped watching you. When you left Paris, I followed you."

"Took you long enough," he taunted, striking at last.

They engaged and he noted that she seemed better prepared than she'd been with Kronos. That explained the wait before her challenge, he supposed. She must have realized she needed to improve her fighting skills. He laid back, deflecting her blows, trying to tire her. Stamina would count in this fight.

"Too bad you waited until I began training again, Cassandra. You'd have done better catching me crawling into a bottle." He went on the attack, forcing her back, trying to tire her with rapid blows from his much-heavier blade.

"Shut up," she hissed, then called up the power of her Voice. "You can't go on. No, you can't even talk," she intoned. He realized this was her last resort defense -- she was evidently more tired than he'd guessed. It was a great tool -- the compulsion was there, he could feel it. But nothing she said could make him stop fighting. He'd already loosed something much stronger than her Voice -- his own survival instinct.

He continued his attack, not as fast but more deadly. She was bleeding from several wounds, parrying with desperation. She tried the Voice again. "Your sword is heavy, Methos."

It was, indeed. He was used to it.

He backed her into a wall and delivered the killing blow, a twisting stab to the gut as she impacted with the concrete. She screamed, but it was abruptly cut off as her head went flying across the garage. Then there was a moment when Methos' breath and heartbeat sounded loud in his ears without the ringing of steel, followed by the screaming power of three thousand years entering him, making his blood boil and his skin crawl.

When it ended, he was on his knees beside her still-warm body, exhausted but recovering nicely. When he stood he realized there was blood on his shirt, and a slash from a wound she'd given him that he'd never felt. He cleaned his sword on her clothing before re-sheathing it, then carefully buttoned his coat to hide the stain. It was cool enough by this hour that he wouldn't look suspicious.

He removed all her identification, carrying it with him to dispose of in another neighborhood. He was grateful there was no Watcher along this evening. Mac was too chatty about the organization with his friends, but tonight that had worked to his advantage. Cassandra obviously managed to avoid being followed since she'd learned of the Watchers. It made everything much easier.

He walked to the closest CTA station and realized his Brown Line trains actually stopped here. In about ten minutes there was a train, nearly empty, and he sat down, grateful for the peace and quiet, and for continued life. He hoped MacLeod was out there somewhere, feeling the same. He could find out if he called Joe. He supposed that conversation was long overdue. Maybe he should just head back to Paris. Not right now, but in a month or two. Or when Chicago's unpleasant winter came again.

Methos wished MacLeod sanity, a recovery from his delusions. And he wished to be MacLeod's friend again, which is why he would never mention what had happened tonight.

 

FUTURE SAYS RUN
by Tonic, from the album "Sugar"

Holding lightly
Words that make you aware
Your head's spinning
No one knows you're not there
Blankly staring
Strangers call you a friend
The power you hold
Is a power that mends
You can't go on
No you can't even talk
Your future says run
But you can't even walk

So you harbor
Standing idly by
Indiscretions, slowly turn into lies
You're half empty
They don't know how it feels
The power inside
Is a power that heals
But you can't go on
No you can't even talk
Your future says run
But you can't even walk

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