Endure

A Methos fanfic by Hmpf MacSlow

Disclaimer: I didn't invent Methos, and hence do not own him. The idea of an execution in the desert comes from Steven Soderbergh's 'Traffic'. The weirdness and amnesia come from reading Samuel Delany's 'Dhalgren'. I make no profit.

Thanks to: my clansib Caz, for beta'ing.

Note: Weird and dark. You've been warned.

Feedback to: hmpf1998

For all my fic, please visit .com

_ This is how it ends.

A man on a desert plain, standing by a hole he has dug with his bare hands. He stands slumped yet proud, slack only with exhaustion and a hint of tired derision. His hands hang by his sides as if lifeless. His head is inclined the slightest bit, but not enough to signal submission - not to the people who have come to execute him.

(Flash back:) *Endure This is the last desert.

This is the last in a long line of wastelands, some obvious, some not - the last ground that his weary feet will tread. Burnt and calloused by the searing sand of the ages, his feet remember what he has long forgotten. He digs his toes into the dust, feels its finest particles enter every pore of his dry skin. The sensation reverberates, and suddenly he knows it for the feel of home.

His path has begun in a desert and now it ends in another. That much he knows, instinctively. That much, and not much else. Gone is the name he has carried most recently, gone the names that preceded it; gone even the name, legendary now, that has been his almost since the beginning. Gone the language he last spoke, and the ones that went before; gone, maybe, the capacity for language itself. Gone, long gone, any memory of the blue planet of his birth, except for a dead name. Gone the memory of beginnings, the faces of friends long dead, gone meanings and purposes. Gone, most importantly, the burning need to live, the need to feel - finally gone the need to understand.

Gone also the man he has killed here, an indeterminate time ago, the last in a long line of men, women and children who have died by his hand. The last.

His mind is as light as a feather.

* * *

Walking.

Nothingness surrounds him, an unbroken, mind-numbingly uniform prospect of pale grey stretching all around him, all the same, but he keeps walking. All his life he has run, but this is different. He is not running away now. There is nothing to run from, and nowhere to run. He walks with small steps, his feet stirring up tiny clouds of dust, his eyes fixed on nothing, and it is as if he does not move at all, for nothing changes; as if he does not see at all, for there is no horizon, the emptiness of the ground melting into the emptiness of the sky. He could be blind, and it would not make a difference. Behind him, the dust he has stirred up settles down again in his footprints, to lie undisturbed for another billion years.

* * *

Darkness falling.

Sun, monstrous smoldering ball of light, dropping fast, as if pulled by the gravity that some primal sense in him still identifies as unusually high. His shadow lengthens, stretches for miles to his left, then disappears. As the last light leaks away, a word flutters behind his eyes, a moth in his mind's night. He tries to catch it, clumsily holds it with his lips: "nightfall -, " lets it go. It drops to the ground, dead. He imagines a little dust cloud rising at the impact. Another word begins to stir its wings, a word belonging to another language, although he is not aware of different languages anymore - they are all equally incomprehensible to him now. The word lingers for a while, but he does not try to catch it, and it vanishes as suddenly as it appeared. He has spoken many languages in his time, forgotten many languages, even before the great forgetting, but he does not remember this now, and he does not remember Akkadian, or Latin, or English, or even Unified Earth Standard. The scattered beads of his thoughts are not threaded on the string of language anymore. There are no words, no memories - only dissociated images, glimpses without meaning, separated by vast expanses of nothing at all.

* * *

Desert night.

Black gravity pulling at his mind. Ground a solid negation, draining him - what little there is of him. Thought evaporating. Heat seeping from the ground up into the sky. His soft footfall; his breath; no sound of wind. Walking - walking - lost.

He wants to shout, but cannot remember how, or what. He raises his face to the stars - an ancient impulse? - but they are foreign, silent and cold and devoid of meaning.

He makes a sound and stops, surprised.

Then laughs again. Or maybe sobs. Flops down on his back in the cooling sand, rakes his fingers through it - rakes patterns in the starlight, and suddenly realizes he is praying.

He stops his raking and flattens his hands slowly against the ground. The planet is quiet, patient, and immense under his palms as he lies praying in a language he does not understand to gods he neither remembers nor believes in, while strange stars wander across the sky.

They are not listening.

He is alone, terrifyingly alone. Alone with endlessness of every kind. A vision of countless years stretches before him, indistinguishable days of dust and heat, of horizonless wandering. The boundless desert all his. More space than he can use. More time than he can handle. Too much nothingness, and no escape.

Panic shakes him, makes his teeth clatter.

* * *

Later. Calmer. Colder.

His fingers, splayed in the dust, cold as death. He is aware of the freezing temperature in a detached way. Frost is ringing his nostrils, white crystals sit in his eyebrows and in his hair, but he does not feel the cold. Time moves slowly towards morning, but he is not tired, and although he has walked all day, maybe many days, under scorching sun, he does not feel thirst.

The stars above him are huge. Not a single one of their constellations looks even remotely familiar. He lies looking up at them, feeling the cold gradually kill off the cells of his toes and fingers, but feels no discomfort. Intermittently, he falls asleep, and when he reawakes, the stars have moved a little further on their slow journey. To his mind, wiped of knowledge and experience, they are pinpricks in a solid fabric of night through which something greater than the emptiness can be glimpsed. An absolute, the opposite of nothingness.

It scares him.

He lies all night, feeling the cold numb his fingers and toes, feeling it numb his arms, his legs, feeling it creep into his lungs. Watching his breath rise to cloud the sky.

It is almost morning when he dies.

* * *

Returning to life.

Blinding sun in staring eyes. Sharp intake of breath into hurting lungs. He closes his eyes and waits for the burned retinas to repair themselves. When he opens them again, the sun is a bright white disk in the colourless sky above him. He covers his eyes with his hands and rubs them. They feel raw and dry, as if all moisture has been burned away, drunk up by the greedy sun. Animal instinct tells him that he needs water, but it does not register on any conscious level of his mind.

He gets up and walks.

Walks. And time passes. Or maybe not.

For maybe he is caught in a timeless nightmare, condemned to endure forever in a perfect nothingness. His depleted mind, unable of any but the most fragmentary thoughts, can still imagine eternity, eternal life, eternal nothing, movement going nowhere, seconds lasting millennia, millennia lasting seconds, it is all running into one now, and maybe he has been here forever because he cannot remember another life, another world, cannot remember what could take this terror away. Nothingness is all around him, inside him, and only one thing could liberate him: a greater nothingness - for what tortures him is awareness of nothingness, yet there is nothing left of him but awareness of nothingness, and if that would cease to be, so would he. . . but he cannot cease to be. . . he must not. He has to endure.

Endure.

* * *

Shimmer in the distance.

Reflected heat rippling the air. Dust before him virginal, almost completely even. Ground behind him riddled with the dotted line of steps. Step by step by step he is perforating the desert, his thoughts circling wordlessly around a diffuse dread.

Panic is a skulking shadow-beast at the back of his rudimentary thoughts, creeping up like night behind his shoulder. It would be easy to let go of the last shreds of his beleaguered sanity, let flooding madness fill all the empty spaces of his mind, fill them with unheard noise and wild colour, with scraps of that which may have been once and of that which never was. Imagine a language of insanity, replace the grey desert with a world of his making.

Infinity is closing in, pushing him towards surrender with overwhelming force. Oblivion beckons, and he wants, wants so much to give in to it. To keep fighting takes almost more strength than he has left. The constant battle, step by step by stumbling step, strips him of all defences, and he glances in bewilderment at the stranger the gradual unveiling reveals to him. Sees: much fear; some pride; some aimless love. And at the core: an indomitable will to survive, an imperative that determines who he is, and is determined by what he is.

Thus he resists.

Walks on.

Endures.

One step.
_No horizon.
Another step.
_No colour.
Another step.
_Dust. . .
Another -
_. . . muffling. . .
- step.
_. . . sound.
Another -
_No. . .
- step.
_escape.
step
_dry air
step
_hot ground
step
_sun
another
_beating
step
_down
another
_no escape
terror creeping up his spine - panic constricting his throat - heartbeat, breath quickening - quickening. . . no escape - no escape - no escape - He stumbles and falls, and lies, exhausted. Waiting, once again, for death. Yet knows, with his whole mind and body, that he has to endure. That is what he does, what he is. He is the one who survives. The one who observes, remembers.

Thus he walks on. Every step a little victory of his will. Every little victory ultimately pointless.

In the distance ahead, something catches the sun.

Something bright. Something shiny.

* * *

Site of disaster.

Quiet, incomprehensible, and dead.

Sleek shape of glinting metal, leaning at an angle, marked with signs he cannot read.

There are breaches in the hull of the impossible thing, tongues of soot flecking the once immaculate surface. He puts a hand against sun-heated metal, shape and material eerily familiar. There is a faint, sharp smell in the air around the thing, familiar, it, too. He walks around it, marvelling at its size. He touches it, runs his hand over the smooth, hot surface; steps back to look it up and down, then touches it again, almost compulsively. Brings his face close to it, sniffs it, sees puzzled eyes looking back at him out of the reflecting surface. Leans his head against it, eyes closed. Then steps back, and opens his eyes again to meet the reflection's unwavering gaze. Scared eyes under short, unkempt hair dusted grey. He runs a hand through the dusty mop and sees the mirror image ape his move. He stops. Lets the hand fall to his side, slowly. Watches, but does not understand the question in the eyes that regard him. Finally, after a time - minutes? days? - turns away, and trudges on, following a line of footprints leading away from the shiny thing.

Not wondering whose they are.

* * *

Walking - slowly, painfully.

Head down, tendons of his neck so slack his head bobs with every step he takes. Knees buckling, muscles of his legs unwilling to carry him. His body is running on the power of single minded will, the power of despair and deeply rooted determination. A determination without purpose now, but strong enough, old enough, to govern his being inescapably like a curse. His shoulders bowed. His whole body slumping, drawn irresistibly by the ground, wanting to sink down into the sand, be covered by the soft, soft sand. . . but he will not give in. He will resist.

Endure.

He walks, dragging his feet and the sand rewards him with a softly scraping sound, varying according to the length of his steps, that very faintly pleases him. When he turns back after a while, raising his head to follow the track of his steps with his eyes, the metal hull has dwindled to a shiny dot. Almost out of sight. He lets his gaze drop and turns away.

Uniformity wiping the slippery table of his memory clean.

* * *

Darkness comes. Passes.

He keeps walking. In the early morning, a star falls slowly, tearing a bright gash across the sky. As he watches it, a brief fire of memory is kindled in reply, leaving a residue of understanding. It is not a star he is watching. Not a star. It is an artifact, a man-made object. Memory suddenly, unexpectedly, provides an image: sleek, smooth, shiny.

It is a capsule for people to travel in.

He has seen one, he dimly remembers. . . seen one, when? Not so long ago. . . not long ago. Like an island appearing from a dense fog, the memory grows clearer, until he sees again the gently curving surface, and the man in the mirror. Thin frame, grey dusty skin. Eyes that asked a question he does not understand.

He closes his eyes to let the remembered image fill his mind, undiluted by night or morning. Sees the curved mirror.

The hazel eyes regard him without blinking, and he faces them, shuddering.

And then the emptiness in his mind screams, and shatters, and the face he is facing smiles a slow, slow smile - and changes. . .

Changes, permutations of a lifetime:

A narrow boy's face, sun-darkened, grave, with eyes that hide terror behind immutable glass.

A youth, grim, all but shaking with rage, whose eyes harbour inconsolable sadness.

A young man, exultant, in love, but his eyes bespeak a restlessness that is growing in him.

A man in shock, tears and blood on a face drawn with the pain of a horrible realization, eyes staring blindly.

A man drifting through centuries; a farmer, a craftsman, a merchant, a king. A priest, a hermit (facade of desperate calm).

A madman.

A murderer, a torturer (dead eyes in a mask of cold blue).

A hermit again (a naked face, anguish undisguised).

Faces and faces. . . a thousand of them, thousands of them, all different, yet all the same. The abyss of years yawning behind.

At last, the parade of years and faces draws to an end and fades into one last face and one last day. Mild golden afternoon lies languidly on wildly tangled grass. In a patch of gently swaying flowers that stand almost as high as his head, a man is sitting with a book on his knees. Although time has not left its telltale lines on his face, nor turned the dark hair to silver, there is no mistaking him for anything but what he is: a creature of immense age. Profoundly at ease, at home at any time, any place, he is as much a part of the garden as the grass, yet at the same time detached as the wind that moves the leaves. He is rooted, not in the soil of this garden, nor of this planet, but in life itself, a part of the unending stream of its manifold manifestations almost since the beginning of history - Shift of perspective: sitting on the ground, flowers nodding all around him in an asynchronous dance, strangely animate, bewildering and familiar at once. The leather-bound tome a heavy weight on his knees, the feeling of dreadful anticipation a heavy weight in the pit of his stomach. A momentous event has just occurred, but the world has not noticed. If he has any say in it, it never will.

He closes the book. Draws a breath, and finds, to his surprise, that the soft fragrance of the flowers calms the raw fear clawing at his insides. So he remains there, among the flowers, breathing very slowly and very deliberately with closed eyes, until a deep, resigned calm settles on him.

When he opens his eyes again, the desert is back, uncaring, infinitely patient. He walks. * * *

That day. That decision. Understanding eludes him, but the memory of fear is vivid. Fear, like a special kind of light throwing a single moment, every single moment, into sharp relief. Fear, and something else. Resignation, yes, and something else. . .

A pale sense of irony shudders through him and his mouth twitches with the sudden senseless memory of a grin. The nothingness retreats for the moment, and there are fragments, feelings. . . Fragments without context, unintelligible. Feelings, inexplicable as a stranger's. So, now, a fragment of bitter amusement; the ghost of a wolfish grimace; the prey - himself?

Puzzled, he stops. The grey plain loses reality again as he tries to focus on the beginnings of a thought. Hard, so hard to catch hold of it. Fleeting images fade in and out of his awareness, rise and dance and are blown away.

Fade into memory.

Watching from a distance as the silver capsule tumbles towards the ground, trailing a tail of fire. The impact is hard and final and the dust cloud rises high. A sense of fate is settling down deep inside him as he sees it, mixing with cold appreciation of the precision of his work. Then the dust begins to settle, and time, he knows, is running out. Fade. . . Shutting away the fear he moves with quiet determination. He takes a detached, surreal pleasure in the clean, simple lines of the ship even as he is tossing the chemical grenade. The ground shakes with the blast. He has plugged his ears, but he sees the ship shudder, lean drunkenly - keel over. Lazy flames are licking the edges of the ragged hull breach.

No way back now.

He hefts his sword.

Heads for the crash site.

No escape. The world reels. The image crumbles to sand. He finds himself on his knees in a desert of disintegrated memories. Shaking violently. Hot air slowly rasping in and out of his lungs.

The memory sifts away.

* * *

Walking.

Dragging his feet, slowly, slowly. Watching his feet, long dusty toes, grey-dusted trousers. Watching his feet disturbing the miniature hills and valleys of the trail. Someone's traces in the sand. Grey sand, dead, empty. Flat and unbroken beside the trail. Grey sand collecting under his toenails. Clinging to him, a thin grey shroud. The desert claiming him. The desert and his mind becoming interchangeable. Every grain of sand a broken memory. Every memory a grain of sand.

He walks in a stupor of exhaustion, soft sand caressing the soles of his feet. Hot sand burning the soles of his feet. Hot sun beating down on him, making his head throb . He walks with eyes half-closed, hanging his head. Lost, confused, tired. So tired. He has been tired for a long time.

Grey sand filling his mind.

* * *

Lost in emptiness, he does not notice the voices at first. They are building in the back of his head like a slowly rising wind, a low murmur moving above the desert. A whisper coming from all sides at once, too low to make any sense of. Voices. Speaking, but not speaking to him. Speaking, but not speaking to each other. Each voice is talking only to itself. They are talking in languages that have been dead for thousands of years. They are whispering weakly, the merest echoes of lives lived thousands of years ago. Echoing off the inside of his mind. He closes his eyes and listens, although there is nothing to understand. And maybe their murmur has indeed raised a wind in the ever-quiet desert, for he finds it easier to move as he listens, as if the voices are driving him now, gently pushing him onwards.

* * *

Unexpected. . . something.

He trips, falls, and lies unmoving, spread awkwardly across the thing that is lying in his path. Even with his eyes closed, he recognizes it as a human body. His stomach is resting on the corpse's back, the dead man's arm wedged under his chest. The stench of blood, several days old, is lingering in the air. He opens his eyes and pushes himself up, painfully, away from the blood-blackened ground. Crawls away from the corpse, and cuts his hand on a razor-sharp sword half-covered by sand. With great care, he climbs over the sword on all fours, then sits down, legs crossed, facing the corpse, sucking his bleeding hand. The body's head lays a way off. Another sword has been pushed into the ground, rising from the grey surface like a marker for buried treasure, the blade stained dark. Sand around it molten to glass.

Whispers.

This is where he died. This is where you died. This is where we died. This is where you made your sacrifice. This is where you condemned us all.

He does not understand the words, but he understands the message.

- Silly, silly. . . You ended up a hero, after all. Who would have thought? A single voice now.

He bites the heel of his hand, feels blood on his tongue, squeezes his eyes shut.

- Why didn't you let him kill you? Leave him to the madness. . . take the easy way out? Because you are a survivor, eh? It is what you do best. . . But was there a point. . . in surviving this?

- Was there ever a point?

- A good question, brother. A very good question.

His body is shaking as he begins to giggle, dry and hard.

- I've got to leave it to you, you built a perfect trap. Simple, yet effective. Brutal, but elegant all the same. It's quite a feat, building an inescapable trap for yourself. You should be proud of yourself.

He abandons all control and gives in to the fit. Releases his hand from his teeth and thrusts it deep into the soft dust. Thrusts both his hands into the dust, burrows deeper as he surrenders.

- So you saved humankind from a madman. That was noble, but it wasn't very bright, was it? You could have avoided the fight if you were afraid of the outcome. Any outcome. You could have shot him down and left, and lived another ten thousand years. He challenged you, but you were never one to take that too seriously. . . Why did you take his head, brother, when you were certain that it would overwhelm you?

He clenches handfuls of dust, sitting on all fours like an animal. His muscles cramping. His eyes too dry to tear up. The uncontrollable need to giggle subsides slowly.

- You knew this would happen, didn't you? Knew you'd lose it after the Quickening. The Quickening. So you took precautions.

He remembers the gash of light in the night sky, the craft streaking through the atmosphere. . .

Handful by handful, he begins to dig. And later, hours later, when the hole is as deep as the shifting sands will allow, simply sits. And waits. And is not surprised when he hears the crunch of feet behind him. Not surprised at the cold edge of the blade against his neck.

* * *

'Get up.' Dispassionate.

He rises, slowly and stiff as an old man.

'Turn around.'

He turns. Takes in the group of grey-suited men and women who have assembled in a semicircle around him. They look self-important and a little scared, and very young. They carry guns, except for the one holding the sword that is at his throat.

A woman steps forward and addresses him.

'Who are you?' There is a trembling in her voice, and in her hands that are holding her weapon. He does not reply, cannot reply, but watches her lower lip shake ever so slightly.

The tip of the sword still at his neck.

'Who cares what his name is? He's history.' A too tough voice, too loud, too harsh. Falling into an embarrassed silence. (The silence of conspirators sworn to commit a terrible sacrilege, now frightened by their own intentions.)

The woman turns her head, her eyes flaming. 'Yes, he is that. He is history incarnate.' Awe and terror lend force to her voice. 'We are about to delete the largest part of human memory. The least we can do is record his name.'

'What for?' A man, soft-spoken. His face, honest, innocent but coolly rational, betrays uneasiness subdued by righteousness. His eyes meet their captive's squarely as his voice grows bolder. 'What good will it do him if we record his name in a chronicle no one will ever read? What good will it do us? The days of the chronicles are over. And, human memory? Look at him - I don't think he even understands us. Whoever tipped us off probably did him a favour.'

Their captive makes a noise, a half-snort of laughter that turns into a wracking cough.

For what seems like a long while they watch him as he laughs, chokes, laughs painfully. Then one of them turns his gaze on the freshly dug hole.

'Were you trying to bury him?' A nod towards the headless corpse.

The woman, the speaker, is still watching the captive. She is deeply disturbed. Understanding drips down her spine like ice water, raising every hair on her body despite the dry heat. She has to clear her throat before she finds her voice again.

'I don't think he dug that. . . grave. . . for that one. . . I think I have an idea who. . . tipped us off. . .' Her voice trails off.

The ancient man stops laughing, or choking, his expression turning calm. Suddenly she can see age and the remnants of wisdom in his face. His eyes are deep, and for a second or two she feels dizzy.

He draws himself up a bit, straightens his back, and the man who is holding the sword steps back involuntarily, and grips the hilt tighter. This makes the captive smirk.

'Who is he?' someone whispers, hoarsely.

'Does it matter?' someone else replies.

The muzzles of the guns pointed at the enigma are shaking almost imperceptibly.

'Is this really the right thing. . .?'

'What else could we do?'

'Observe and record,' with a little despairing laugh.

'It's the merciful thing to do.'

'Mercy. . .'

He stands, an expression between calm amusement and disdain on his face. He does not look at the sword, but at their faces, young and frightened and naked before him. At last, his gaze comes to rest on the speaker's face, and the disdain fades from it, and some form of communication passes between them. A second stretches into eternity.

She gives the command.

The sword comes down in a gleaming arc, and the world

ends.