Swords embrace like trains mating.
Outside. Someone laughs, high and staccato. It's not a voice he knows, and it has an edge of infantile madness that grates on his nerves. But what happens, outside, is nothing to do with him, although he recognises the language.
The year has turned, and in the glass the figures come and go, talking of nothing, The skin between his shoulder-blades is clammy, cold in the thick air of the bar, and in his clasped hands the glass weeps condensation. There is a mirror behind the bar twinned with one above the banquette, and in both the reflected screen of the television mouths silent and unthinking commentary.
He cannot remember his name, and there is something wrong with the sky.
By some alchemy of moulding the base of the glass reflects figures doubled. As the barman cleans, silent footed, his impish doppleganger waxes and wanes through the heavy distortion, a shirt-clad and moustouchio'd weather vane. On the green leather of elderly banquettes a woman bends her head over tea that lost its ice half an hour ago: in the mirror, her hair is flyspecked. He does not know the year, but the doors are mapped in his mind to an instant of motion and the bottle is near to his hand. Sometimes he thinks the bar grew around him and will fade in its own course, leaving him seated in entropy. He has no idea which of them came first, the man, the bar, the glass in his hands, the coins on the cracked marble of the bartop.
It's an art deco bar with etched glass and coffered ceiling, dull with ornament, The windows are frosted, but in the mirror the sky flushes uneasy with colour no sky would naturally own. He shivers, and takes his hands from the bar, drawing them into the pockets of his long coat, for that at least has the semblance of reality, even if his shoulders are tensed for a weight it does not bear.
Outside, someone screams. Deeper, darker, than that first cry, as if the street will suddenly become a battlefield, as if the brothers of a shieldwall will answer this single combatant. It is nothing to do with him, but nevertheless he gathers up coat and himself and walks out the door. In the dark he sees nothing, but as he turns his head the sound of steel echoes from the alley behind the bar. It is the foil and counterpoint to all his years, this song of steel, and he wants nothing more than to turn and walk away. Nevertheless, the sound draws him forward, past the windows, round the corner, into the alley.
Men fight, men die, and worms have eaten them. Neither of these two men are dead yet, although one of them will be, in time. Both of them are battered and breathing hard, one of them bleeding from the thigh and the other from his shoulder, flesh laid bare to the bone. One of them is tall and broad, with a tangle of dark hair and intent eyes, one of them is small and angular, with a helmet like an pilot's, aviator's goggles pushed to the back of his skull. It's the tall one who roars, at bay to a frenzied stabbing. Blood bleeding out through the gashed artery in his thigh, he stands under the shelter of his raised blade with one hand on the hilt and the other on the wound. The aviator chatters, incomprehensible, a child's toy with a broken off switch. It's the other man, though, who sees the witness: eyelashes flicker, a frame from a silent movie. The lunge he makes would be suicidal if not judged to an inch: the blade deflecting his own stroke could shave the hairs from his chin. But it's his own sword that flashes down once and rises red.
Sound ceases. The sky (The sky!) flushes, crimson-striped. The living man in the alley raises his head and allows his sword to fall back against his thigh. A rising wind tugs at his coat, his hair.
"Where have you been?" he says, above the sound of pipes chattering and the slam of a fire escape against brickwork. Debris forms small tornadoes around his feet.
"Where have you been?" he says again. His eyes have darkened, and unnatural light crackles once over the exposed blade of his sword.
It is without doubt at this point that the man from the bar should turn and walk away. He does not. He takes his hands out of his pockets and spreads them, obviously empty, at his sides, braces his shoulders and waits through all the violence of a quickening that is not his. At the end of it the man in the alley is on his knees, but his eyes still hold steady, until at the last, when they roll white up and under the curve of his eyelids and he falls, unconscious, over the body of his foe.
The man from the bar made his choice when he did not walk away from the sound of a fight that roused every instinct to flight. Now, although he hesitates, he does walk forward, eyes half-closed against the dust and his inclinations. His first action is to retrieve the dead man's sword, an odd weight in his hand but nevertheless reassuring: he finds himself sliding it into the straps of his coat as if it belongs there. Although he lies unconscious, the victor's katana lies still within his grasp: the man eases it out of that reflex grip, wipes it off, and with some difficulty fits it into the same strapping as his new acquisition. These fundamentals assured, he rolls the living body to its back and takes both wrists. The man is heavy but moveable: he pulls, leaving a trail of dust and blood. At the mouth of the alley a vehicle waits, humming gently admidst the steam of a broken pipe. Black and orange lights are a universal: he opens the door and heaves his burden onto the back seat.
Uninterested eyes meet his in the mirror.
Suddenly one purpose is overwhelmed by possibility. A thousand replies spring to mind in half a hundred languages: his mouth opens and no sound comes out. Finally he says,"The station." There must be a station. There is always a station.
It is the right language. The engine purrs into life, unexpectedly smooth, streetlights blur. He looks down and rifles his companion's pockets, finding a wallet curiously free of identification but reassuringly heavy with notes. Money buys him two tickets on the first train at the platform and uncaring hands to shift the unconscious, breathing body of the warrior beside him. The train is old. The door opens into an empty compartment, no corridor: tall leather seats with railing overhead like the hayracks of a Victorian stable. The air is muggy, tinged with tabacco and old sweat. His hands know what his mind does not, lowering the table and pulling on straps, folding out seats, until the end of the compartment forms a bed onto which he rolls the body of the man he has claimed. Under his feet wheels judder and stumble into syncopation: the windows are dark beyond the lights of the station.
The man on the bed wears clothes that are warm and well cut. His boots are clean, his nails manicured, although there is a swordsman's callous on the edge of his palm. Blood stains his left trouser leg to black, and there is a trace of it on his chin where the heavy growth of his beard shadows his skin. His face in its tangle of black curls is comely and well shaped. His eyelashes are heavy and distinct, his mouth full, but there is a frown line between his eyes and even in sleep his right hand twitches, grasping for the hilt of a sword which is not there.
His presence beats like a living drum.
It is for this reason alone that the man from the bar is sitting on this train, with a stranger, who is possibly dangerous, and who very probably knows his name.
It is scant moments before the man on the bed stirs. His head turns, his eyes open: he frowns, looking at the ceiling: his gaze slips sideways and down. His eyes are extraordinary, wide, lucent, brown. Shocked.
"Methos," says the man on the bed. "Methos. Where have you been?"
It fits parts of him, like a leather jacket laid aside ten years before. He shrugs it on. Bits of him fall into place: he remembers the taste of good whiskey, the smell of resin-rich smoke, the feel of steel guitar strings under his thumb.
He does not know where he has been, or even why it should matter, but when he looks up to says so the man on the bed has fallen into natural sleep. The line between his eyes has smoothed, and his right hand lies relaxed and open.
The man called Methos takes both swords from his coat and lies them down on the bed, within reach. He rearranges more seats, and lies himself down under the cover of his overcoat. He does not think he will sleep, but the rhythm of the wheels punctuates his dreams. He dreams of the eyes beyond the fire.
When he wakes he finds he has turned in his sleep to face the man who sleeps beside him. The face inclined to his is shadowed with stubble, and a single lock of dark hair tangles with eyelashes. It is a winsome image. He finds it deeply uncomfortable, for the man asleep by his shoulder is a killer. He knows this, sure as he knows the weight of steel in his own hands, although there is no why or wherefore he can discern.
Outside the sky has lightened to a sullen green-gray. Waves of colour band and cluster, moving abnormally fast. He kneels on the bed and looks out, but the sun, if sun there is, cannot be seen. They are passing through forest, acres of brittle and dying pine trees, pale trunks amid dirty green branches. Germany, perhaps, or one of the Eastern states: he frowns at the window.
"Methos," says the man at his knees.
He looks down. Awake, the man has not moved, as if he has a right to be in this space, too close, unthreatened. This is not the way it should be. The man from the bar moves, curling his legs up under his overcoat and leaning against the seat back. He'd be happier with his shoes on, although there is nowhere to run.
He can't think of anything to say, nothing that will not leave him open. I don't know who I am - although this is a lie: he is fully aware of himself as a distinct person, his own self, his arcane knowledge, his capacity for violence, his absurd and dry sense of humour: it's just that none of these pieces of himself fit into the situation he inhabits. I don't know who you are - but this too is a lie, for he does know this man, he is sure of it.
"Where have you been?" Asking, the man rolls to his stomach. He props his head on his hands, vulnerable, for although the hilts of both swords are within reach they lie nearer to Methos' hand than his own. There is an edge of vulnerability in his voice, too, as if he has been hurt, somewhere, sometime.
He supposes he must say something, but as he juggles appropriate response and language the silence goes on too long. The man lying on the bed moves, moves with a swift grace and economy of style that is fascinating to the eye. His hands come up: he cups Methos' face between fingers that are surprisingly warm. It is shockingly familiar. Methos flinches, once, before he can stop himself, and the fingers leave his face.
"What has happened to you?" says the man opposite him, breathing. He is so close Methos can see the way each individual hair on his face pushes through the skin, the little raise of flesh and the darkness under it.
"What is wrong with the sky?" Methos says.
Across the seat, the man's face pales. He blinks, once, slowly: the lines of his face firm and harden. He sits back, resting his hands on his thighs: Methos recognises a deliberate attempt to centre himself.
"Methos," the man says. "Methos."
It is as if the repetition of this single word will allow him understanding. He closes his eyes, breathes deeply. When he opens his eyes again, deep and knowing, Methos flinches. He is not ready for this. Under those eyes, he becomes something he is not, the image of a man he does not know, a man whose designs are alien to the person he is now.
"Connor..." the man from the alleyway says. "Connor...turned out the sky."
There is a level of ambiguity in the man's voice that would suggest something entirely other. Methos drags his eyes from the man opposite, and stares out the window, as if the words would hurt less, as if betrayal cuts less deep when it is only voice, and not the eyes that look to him as if he could unveil the sun. Outside, the trees have given way to great plains, grass matted and yellowed, pale, and the earth cracked underneath.
"He won't talk to me," the man from the alleyway said.
Methos remembers, then, the image of a man's face, drawn and grey, the glassy image of a face seen on a screen, talking of nothing. From the bar.
"That was the third time, the third quickening that is not a quickening...Methos. Methos. Can you tell me.."
Methos can tell him nothing.
"Where have you been?"
He does not know. He tunes out the voice, and the eyes, and the trust behind them, which is not meant for him but rather for some other man on some other battlefield. Outside, the trees thin. There is water, a great shining lake of it, sickly green and woven with algae. He has not yet seen the sun.
"Do you remember nothing?"
And the voice has nothing to do with him.
But, suddenly, force hits him sideways, carries him off the seat, flings him against the door. The latch catches on his hip: he would jackknife from the pain of it, if he could, but hands grasp and clump in the edges of his coat and hold him upright, knock his back against the glass. Drawn, intent, the face of his companion stares him down, refuses him entropy, pins him naked and splayed, storms his defences and makes an inferno of retreat. His voice blazes.
"I would write my name in blood across your skin, if it would call you back to me. Have you forgotten so easily? Time itself should shatter between you and I."
He has heard this voice before. He has faced these eyes before.
Breath hangs between them, shared.
Fingers loosen their grip on his coat. His own hands, he realises, lie lax, surrendered, against the glassy veneer of the door. Light as ash, other fingers leave the stain of their trail, his cheek, his nose, smear his lips.
you so blind?"
He is not blind. He is cracking, splitting open, becoming something else.
Space erodes. Slow as a glacier, the man holing him falls, folds, to kneel at his feet, presses his head against Methos' belly. His mouth is open, his eyes closed, an unseeing, overwhelming trust. It is not too late. It is not too late.
But his own hands move through the thickness of the air, settle on that sleek head and hold it close. It has been this way before. It will be this way again.
"Duncan," Methos says, and is, quite suddenly, himself again.
And all the gentle cold is gone.
Becomings has been translated into Russian by Alanor Ambre - you'll find it
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