Hammer and Anvil

MacNair

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Archivist's notes: This was one of the Mid-Week Challenges that are issued on the Holyground Forum. The piece was to have these elements in it: write a SHORT surprise alternative ending to the movie HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME. The further your concept comes from out in left field, the better.

The only requirement: You MUST use at least 2 lines from the lyrics of the popular song below (they don't have to appear together within your narrative). So, there you have it and now, enjoy the story!

**********

He shouldn't have felt the cold. The long sleeve shirt was made of silk and the night's lovemaking was fresh in his blood. So where did this chill that permeated his heart come from? The glimmer of Christmas tree lights winked in his peripheral vision and the JVC sign glared behind him.

Connor MacLeod was on the roof, illuminated by orange neon and drawing the younger man's focus as if he stood in a tunnel. He looked terrible; hair awry, his eyes black-rimmed and weary.

I knew it had something to do with you, Duncan thought. All of the events of the week revolved around his elder clansman. Why is he waiting up here for me? There was a sinking feeling of dread coiling in the pit of his stomach before even a word had been spoken. He drew close, boots scraping and shifting on the rolled roofing of the building, until he could see his kinsman's face. Exhaust mist drifted around them.

"We've lived many lives, you and I. We've seen things most people could never understand," Connor said. His voice sounded hollow, devoid of emotion and brittle as birds wings. He was hunched, pinched in both expression and body language, as if cringing back from something terrible. "But now ... what do you see?"

"I see someone who would never kill an unarmed man." Duncan paused, knowing he needed to speak the truth plainly. Always the truth between Clan. "I also see someone who has lost hope."

"Life brings hope and pain ... but revenge never brings redemption."

Duncan felt the first stir of alarm, sensed his own soul shrinking back from the unimaginable and knew he had not moved. The ivory handle of the katana felt as solid as ever ... fraught with untold peril and unshed blood. Not this, his mind spoke. Not ever this.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On another rooftop, leaning against the waist-high perimeter wall, the Watcher shifted his position and adjusted the lenses over his eyes. Night vision scopes from 250 yards away were handy for fieldwork and even better when modified into a headset that left his hands free to write.

Yeah, so my penmanship is lacking. He could decipher his own scrawl and that was all that mattered until he typed up the notes to be filed as a report. Besides, he didn't want his notebook to fall into anyone else's hands and be sifted for clues.

The Highlanders were squaring off? Unbelievable! This would be quite the sight to watch: the younger Scot with all of his martial arts skill against the street fighter in the elder man. And how would the older immortal fare when he had been drugged into oblivion for the last ten years?

The pose of the immortals, their different styles of Chinese and Japanese, were strong. A yin and yang balance. The Watcher felt a thrill run up his back as the clash of swords began.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This wasn't happening.

"I won't fight you! I'll never fight you!"

Could not be happening.

"Are you out of your mind?!"

To slay his mentor and kinsman?

The sword hilt that dislocated his jaw and the cut of steel across his chest kept Duncan moving, pressing him unwillingly into the fray. And Connor kept coming, eyes burning, features closed to all but his goal. Duncan countered and parried and back-pedaled to no avail, scrambling away across the rooftop from a friend turned foe. This could not be happening. This was not the brother he knew.

Two days ago the older Scot could not lift a blade, but tonight he was powered by superhuman might. It was only Duncan's lightning speed that finally brought him down, cut across flank and spine. The dark immortal spun for the killing blow and drew a breath before the act ... and in the pause, he considered again this wretched course.

"I can't." A beat of his heart. "Our bonds are all that hold us in this world, Connor. Don't break this one. Please - don't break this one." Please, please, for the love of God, don't break this one. He turned to leave the field of combat, heard the hoarse cry behind him and then, terrifyingly, the steel was around his neck, trapping his blade.

"No, Connor! Not like this! Stop! Connor, stop! Not like this!" Pleading, shouting, whispering, begging, demanding - all at once - with all of his heart in his words.

"DUNCAN!" The elder man's voice cut through his struggle and his pain, the voice of command, of solidity. A voice he had listened to for almost a decade in the Highlands. A voice on the phone in times of trouble. A voice he had missed the last ten years. Authority. The mentor. A friend. A clansman, beloved. It reached through all of Duncan's confusion and struggle and stopped him, held him.

Lubb-dupp. The beat of his heart. They faced each other, inches away, in the trap of swords.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"My God, they're deadlocked!" whispered the Watcher on the roof. He reached by habit of years and adjusted the focus on the headset, peering through the eerie green of night vision to examine the faces of the two immortals. "What the devil is that crisscross?"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Duncan." His voice was gentle, leading, supporting, just as he had used it hundreds of years ago. The gray eyes were dark in the dimness, but Duncan could see the weight of nearly 500 years of living in them. Six lifetimes of life. "One of us has to die tonight..."

No, no, no, no, no-

"...And you know it."

No, the barest whisper in his mind. Don't ask me to do this. If you've ever loved me, ever cared for me, don't ask this of me...

"Goodbye, Duncan, my true brother."

Duncan sensed the strength shift in the hand that held the blade, recognized it somewhere deep in his bones where the training as an immortal rested. The decision had been made and there was nothing he could do. Without discussion, without debate, without preamble, Connor had chosen.

Only a second left before the action was set into motion. Barely enough time for Duncan to speak the only words he had left to give. A first gift and a last gift. The only one that counted at the threshold between life and death. "I love you, Connor."

Connor smiled, the briefest quirk of his lips, and then the dragon swords were in motion...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The man on the rooftop did not have time for the expletive he would have used.

He shoved the headset off and threw the .308 rifle to his shoulder, mentally calculating the windage, trajectory, and bullet drop in an instant. The eyepiece had already been calibrated for a precise fast-focus and the night-vision sight caught his target in the cross hairs. He chose his point of impact and squeezed the trigger without altering the sight picture.

Pwifft! The rifle kicked, choked by the silencer. He didn't even need to look to see if he had hit the mark.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The bullet took its target hard and high in the upper thoracic region, shattering through the ribs. True of most high-caliber weaponry, the entrance wound was almost undetectable, but the exit wound tore a hole the size of a man's hand. Connor coughed blood convulsively and with both lungs torn open, he was unable to draw the next breath. Dying on his feet, his hand reflexively opened on the sword hilt and he sank into the darkness reaching for him.

Duncan, fully in his sweeping turn, came around and felt the sword bite into flesh and bone, then skip into the clear. The body spun, broken, and went down in a heap at his feet. Duncan stared, horrified, at the crumpled Scot. He was still staring when the roof door slammed an instant later and the familiar odd gait of Joseph Dawson drew near.

"Cripes, Duncan!" the Watcher barked. "What were you going to do? Kill him?"

Yes, I was, his brain admitted, still seconds behind with the ability to think, let alone speak.

"You clipped his skull!? You know how long those wounds take to heal?" Dawson turned to take in the shaken demeanor of his friend and changed his tone. "It's okay, Mac. We found out about the drugs and came right after him. I'm glad you got him cornered for us. He would have been hard to take down otherwise."

"What?" Duncan said slowly.

"The medications they used on them in that illegal Sanctuary? Well, they're nasty and that's an understatement. We couldn't figure out what the heck was going on until his Watcher tipped us that he wasn't using his usual MO. There's nothing like using experimental drugs on people who can't die of anything you shove in them. He needs some serious detox in a safe place." He grumbled almost to himself: "Geez, we'll have to patch both the inside and the outside of his head now. Can you carry him?" Dawson was all business, bending over to examine the downed immortal. "He looks bad. We won't even need to sedate him before we transport him." The bearded man looked up at the stricken expression on Duncan's face. "Mac? You okay?"

"I almost killed him." His blood was draining straight to his feet.

"Yeah, well, we warned his Watcher to make sure he didn't get whacked because of Lliam's meddling interference in the game. Pick him up - we have to haul out of here before he revives." Dawson watched the younger Scot bend to grip his clansman, praising every God that existed that Connor's Watcher had been swift enough to put him down in time. He led the way to the door, still talking. "We have an idea on how to deal with Kell since he's gone awol from the rules. Adam has a plan, but wanted to run it by you first before revealing the whole thing. He said the Watchers will have to break a few rules, but, you know ... what's good for the goose and all that."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Watcher on the rooftop sighed and put away the rifle, fitting it carefully into the padded case. Another successful job. He balanced the long package across his back as he made his way down the fire escape and jumped the last ten feet.

Dawson has both Highlanders in tow. For a man with no legs, the old Watcher sure managed to get where he was suppose to be and on time. The slender man in the dark clothing stretched, popping his shoulders and swinging his arms in circles to loosen up before scanning the empty street.

Midnight.

The hunting hour. He smiled, a fierce glint of teeth in an otherwise placid face. Kell was sequestered ten blocks away with a couple of girls and unaware of the near miss on the rooftop and what portent it held. Sightless of anything but his own injured ego, he had never learned to look beyond himself to something larger.

For all of his vengeance and bluster, it had never dawned on Kell that he had been allowed to be a plague for the last 400 years.

Oppression made immortals stronger or they died. Iron sharpened iron. For all the pounding upon an anvil, a solid piece did not swerve from its purpose. The game needed strong stubborn immortals to hold a protective line around the mortals and the MacLeods had a very specific placement in the grand game. Champions amongst their own kind.

Jacob Kell failed to see that he had been merely the hammer. A common tool, like a sharpening stone or uchiko ball, honing a blade for 400 years. His purpose was fulfilled. It was time he was retired.

Connor MacLeod had proven himself willing and capable of martyrdom in order to save all the rest. And Duncan, though tricked and badgered into it, was able to slay a kinsman and stand as the last line of defense against a presence that seemingly could not be stopped.

The Watcher walked the distance to compose himself and slipped catlike and silent into the building. It was fitting that the massive structure reminded him of a sepulcher. The women were awake and waiting in the foyer. He nodded to them in good humor as he passed off the bills with one hand.

"Jacob Kell," he called as he entered the room, flipping open the long case and retrieving what he needed.

"You know me?" Kell demanded imperiously. "How do you know me?"

"Serendipitous for me," the advancing man spoke congenially, "I knew of the Watchers long before you did."

"You're my Watcher?" he sneered. "Now that is a pity! Who are you?" He drew his sword melodramatically and strode forward. "I should at least know your name before I kill you," he called arrogantly.

The dark eyes changed to mere slits and the smile turned menacing. A persona, as if a body lying somewhere in the sands of time, awoke. "Oh, they call me lots of names. But for you," he added with gentleness usually reserved for potent words, "I'm Death."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The report was sparse and typed as usual. Connor MacLeod underwent an extensive period of drug rehabilitation including, but not limited to, a heavy regime of tranylcypromine to overturn ten years of medication abuse. When it was concluded, he retreated to holy ground. The head priest held a doctorate in psychotherapy and thought nothing of the fact that several of his flock had ornate swords in their rooms. Headquarters sent Connor's Watcher on an extended vacation until his immortal was ready to rejoin the game. They couldn't predict when the elder Highlander would feel emotionally ready to leave his chosen refuge and take his place in the line of defense.

Kell's Watcher reported that there had been a tremendous fight and explosion that brought down the entire building. No description of the immortal involved was available, as he had not seen anyone enter the building. The report failed to mention the scantily clad women who had "helped" him watch that evening. All they recovered of Jacob Kell were his head and shoes. They were placed outside a collapsed wall as if a gift to prying eyes. The organization pulled their ranks a little tighter, launched some internal investigations and wondered how much the immortals really knew about the Watchers.

Dawson was cranky because he never got to hear the full of Methos' plan to take out Jacob Kell ... not that he was complaining too much. He just wanted to hear it.

Duncan spent extravagant hours of labor in NYC rebuilding a blasted hulk of a building so it would be ready when an old ghost reappeared to claim it. Adam Pierson assisted a little, but mostly told funny stories and critiqued the work. He chided Duncan about his worry for his kinsman.

"Your clansman would understand, MacLeod," he twitted at the dirt begrimed Scot. "He was a blacksmith. Can you imagine that skinny boy was a smith? You trotted about being a Clanleader's son, but he actually did some work."

"Methos..." Duncan said warningly from the scaffolding. He swore as the pane of glass he was leveraging into place pinched his hand.

"The hammer is what gives out first in the working of iron, not the anvil. The anvil wears the hammers out, don't you know? Your kinsman took a pounding over hundreds of years and never lost sight of the goal, his goal."

"I almost killed him!"

"He would still tell you he was right. Even though he had lost himself, his cause was still right."

"Shut up! Just shut up! I don't want to hear any more about how I would be justified to have killed Connor! You just ran off to your grand digs and left us to deal with Kell!"

Adam eyed the stormy face of the Scot above him. You think so? You took for granted all the times I never let you down, he thought.

Duncan glared down from the height. For a moment, they locked gazes: one very old and one only feeling that way. Duncan's voice was weary when he finally spoke again. "I know." He put the glass block down on the scaffold. "I know he would make the same choice again if it came down to the two of us. And I know where he would choose to have his quickening be held forever - with me. I just want to get there intelligently. Not in desperation and trickery. In the end, it isn't just to die ... it's to die well."

There was no arguing that point. Methos hoisted his beer. "To dying well, although I prefer not dying at all."

"So I've noticed," came the chuckle from high above.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

MacNair

March 15, 2001

Thanks to lynnann for punctuation and editing assistance.

KRYPTONITE by Three Doors Down

I took a walk around the world to

ease my troubled mind.

I left my body lying somewhere

in the sands of time.

I watched the world float to the dark

side of the moon

I feel there is nothing I can do, yeah.

I watched the world float to the

dark side of the moon.

After all I knew it had to be something

to do with you.

I don't really mind what happens now and then

As long as you'll be my friend at the end.

[Chorus] If I go crazy then will you still

call me Superman.

If I'm alive and well, will you be

there holding my hand.

I'll keep you be my side with

my superhuman might.

Kryptonite

You called me strong, you called me weak,

but still your secrets I will keep.

You took for granted all the times I

never let you down.

You stumbled in and bumped your head, if

not for me then you would be dead.

I picked you up and put you back

on solid ground.

[repeat chorus]

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