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The Thought That Counts

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Absolutely not.

I told him months ago - if I judge him worthy to die, then I judge myself the same way. And I want to live, I still do. If the Highlander doesn't then I've misjudged him badly, and while that is a possibility, however remote, I know I have not misjudged the other player in this nightmare.

I never should have let it go so far; I should have stopped him - I could have. At the first sign I should have told, but... I couldn't. Now there are other factors involved and, despite my age, millennial demons are not something I've encountered before. I don't believe in demons, but I long ago learned that belief isn't a prerequisite for existence and I'm old enough to know that I don't know everything. But I've always known how to use what I have to get what I need - an ability that has been as much my salvation as my downfall.

I'm not sure of how much Mac is aware; some of the things I've said, I'm well aware were not meant for him alone, but I don't know if he knows that. I'm not sure that even now he is truly aware of what lurks within him; I suspect it has been lumped in with demons and hallucinations - all one in the madness. How much of it is inside his head and how much in reality, I don't know - I'm not in a position to tell, but I know who is.

I don't know when I first realised, when the connection was made between what I had lost and what I had found. The immediate aftermath of Bordeaux is much of a blur and most of me prefers it that way, but now I wish I'd taken the time to pick apart the ragged hours that followed. I would have known then and there, but I had problems enough of my own without looking for more. There were times though - offhand comments, odd gestures, and once or twice the absolute certainty that behind brown eyes I could see blue.

I wonder what Ahriman thought of his unexpected ally, certainly my brother chose his moment well, but then he was always gifted that way. I had been expecting something in recent weeks, almost anticipating it, truth be told. Too much had been said between Mac and I of late for him to leave it alone, but nothing could have prepared me for what he accomplished. The sense of pride in his achievement is entirely out of place, but I feel it nevertheless.

I don't know if this is what I deserve or what Duncan does. Take his head? Though there have been times I've been tempted, I won't. Partly because, in the darker recesses of my soul, I have to admit there was a certain satisfaction in seeing the noble Highlander cut down the closest thing he had to a son and a defenceless one at that. The guilt of what I did to Silas I will bear even after my head has been separated from my body, but I will not shoulder the blame alone. It's a petty and spiteful vengeance, but there's a cold, slick sense of satisfaction in it. Whether we speak of Silas or Richie, there's blame enough to go around with plenty to spare for the other player in our drama of a relationship. Our silent partner, so to speak. And here my fickle talent comes into its own once more, playing this time to undo the damage it has already done, my inadequate attempt to salvage the wreckage of a soul I bid fair to destroy, however unintentionally.

*****

Grief and madness are an exhausting combination and Mac doesn't stir at all as I pull the quilt over him. Joe is taking care of Richie while I do this and he's going to be severely pissed off when he finds out what I plan, but I'm still leaving. My presence can only make matters worse, whatever he might think; any great wisdom he expects is negated by the way my presence influences the players. It may be the height of egotism, but I don't want the world to end because of me and I don't trust myself not to twist the outcome to satisfy my own needs. Belatedly I realise that's why I left Mac in ignorance: to openly acknowledge my brother would mean I would again have to choose between them and I don't have the strength to do that a second time.

I press a kiss to the Highlander's brow and silently wish him the resilience to get over this. Then I step to the foot of the bed and do what I can to ensure it.

"I'm leaving; if you still want to lose your head, I won't be the one to take it. And I won't go looking for whoever does." I fall silent, contemplating my next words. As well as I know my brother, he knows me too, but I have to weigh the impact of what I want to say. The consequences of Mac hearing aren't something I want to think about, but equally staying silent comes with its own price. A gift such as I have been given, unwanted as it was, but not unappreciated, has to be acknowledged.

I pause, wet my lips a little anxiously, before straightening and deliberately bringing to mind the image of the Highlander, broken and sobbing on his knees next to the headless corpse of his precious student. The surge of malicious satisfaction almost brings me to my knees as I allow myself to feel it fully. Twisted fuck that I am, I allow the sense of gratitude and pleasure to swell - they say it's the thought that counts and what has been accomplished by thought alone... I know my expression is all too revealing as I speak, but it has to be genuine or it's worth nothing. "Thank you, brother. That was... special."

Mac's eyelids flutter open ever so briefly, but in time to catch sight of a Horseman who has been three thousand years dead. His lips curve into a faint, sleepy smile and my breath catches in my throat. When there is no further reaction, I let the past slide away and gather my coat and sword. I take a couple of steps towards the door, then stop and turn around. "I will be back," I promise and I know that to one of them at least, it means something. Rebuke in my departure, forgiveness in my return; I only hope I have someone to return to, whichever it is.

My decision is a risk, but I put as much expectation into my tone as I dared, knowing that it will make little difference to the outcome. Kronos has always done as he chooses, it only remains to be seen whether he still wants me more than he wants Mac dead. Now I only hope the Highlander doesn't wake to the truth of his situation because I fear he will never accept the desire to live if he recognises its source. But if anyone can push Mac into surviving his grief and coming out the stronger right now, then it is my most tenacious brother. Whether he does it through subtle manipulation or sheer strength of will, I don't care - after all, he has already ably demonstrated that, in this particular case, it really is the thought that counts.

FIN