Summary: Four processes of alchemy, as performed on the three primes by the element of fire: sublimation, calcination, fixation and solution.
Fandom: Highlander, House
Title, Author and URL of original story: The Curious Incident of the Doc in the Night Time and The Curious Incident of the Doc in the Night Time: Physician, Heel! by Taz tazlet
Duncan MacLeod was not often struck with intuition, but Celt that he was, when it did strike, he paid attention to it. Thus it was he had the television on with the news channel muttering low in the background when the phone rang. A distant disaster – orange flames and the sparkle of emergency vehicle lights – flickered on the screen as he picked the up the handset.
"Mac." One syllable was enough to have Duncan gripping the phone, almost curling around the instrument, belly and back tensed against what was sure to be very bad news. Joe was a performer, a singer; his voice didn't just break. And he must have heard Duncan's quick in-breath, because after the first sharp pause he went on. "Adam's plane. It's on the news. CNN."
Unwillingly, reflexively, Duncan looked over at the television. He could read the crawling words, the banner above the images of what was now an immediate horror.
"Trenton-Mercer Airport Catastrophe: Hundreds dead!" screamed the crawl. "Fog Causes Fatal Crash: Landing airbus hit by 727 in mid-runway collision. All flights in and out of Trenton-Mercer have been re-routed or cancelled. No foul play is suspected. Princeton University mourns the death of Dr. Aaron Gillespie, keynote speaker of the Pre-Iron Age Cultures conference scheduled to begin tomorrow. Several attendees and speakers are feared among the dead and injured."
The video looped back to the grainy image of the impact, fog dimming the outlines of the planes to wavering ghosts until the moment the fuel exploded. Words ran blurred and meaningless along the bottom of the screen.
Adam. Joe said Adam, not Methos, not Matthew. The Watchers knew he'd been on that plane. Duncan had driven him to the airport, grumbling at the early hour and the tiresome requirements of flying in a post-Sept 11 America, that very morning. He was to have given a paper at that conference.
"Mac?" Joe's voice brought him back to the present with a jolt.
"I'm here, Joe. You're sure that was his flight?" Images of flame and flying, sheering metal filled his eyes.
"We have a Watcher on the emergency crew going in from Trenton. They've confirmed the flight as American Airlines 4775 from Seattle. We'll find him, Duncan. We'll get him out of there."
Duncan closed his eyes briefly, blocking out the talking heads on the television, avid faces dissecting studio-projected images of the broken planes busily attended by emergency vehicles. "I'm going, Joe. I have to be there. I have to know." The remote was to hand; he hit the power button and the screen went black.
"Do you want me to come?" He needed no imagination to see the sympathy on Joe's face that he heard in his voice.
"No, Joe. I need you here." In case of news. In case he revives in safety and can make it to a phone. To hold the fort. Already Duncan was moving, pulling out an overnight bag, gathering a change of clothes for himself, and another for Methos. Making lists in his head – swords and sword-case, papers for the swords. Tickets. Cell phone. "I'll call you from the airport when I have a flight."
"Take care, Mac. I'll do what I can from this end."
Duncan was packed and on the road in minutes. Two hours and an unregarded amount of money later he was in the air.
Adam Pierson, impecunious post-grad-cum-Watcher, had flown coach. Dr. Matthew Talhaern, specialist in ancient languages, flew business class, if only for the legroom. (Methos occasionally found himself still marveling at the idea of flying at all.) He was stowing his coat in the overhead when a diffident voice sounded at his shoulder.
"Um, I know it's a lot to ask, but might I have the window? If you don't mind?"
The voice belonged to a young man with a shock of cornsilk for hair, and what was obviously a camera bag clutched in his hands. Matthew raised his eyebrows and considered. It was Business class, after all, and better the boy take pictures of the sky unimpeded than study Methos' face through his lens the entire flight. He could be generous.
"Be my guest."
A dazzling grin was his reward, and the boy settled happily into the corner, camera out before they left the gate.
All across the country the flight winged, uneventful, marked by the occasional announcement and the periodic appearance of flight attendants bearing sustenance (actual food in business class, another positive) and refreshment. He forwent more than the complementary wine with the meal and asked for ginger-ale. Immortal healing did not prevent dehydration, and he would need his wits about him for the tedious process of retrieving his luggage, especially the sword.
The ground came up to meet them; wheels touched, bounced once, gripped pavement as the flaps tilted and engines labored to slow their headlong pace. Wet grey air cloaked the windows. The boy had put his camera away, but his eyes stilled peered outward. Metal screamed, sharper than the people. Heat fountained, blood and fire engulfing him. The observer in him was wryly and distantly glad that he hadn't taken the window seat as he threw up his arms to protect his vulnerable neck. His seat-companion no longer had a head.
The first choking breath of returning life was always agonizing. This time it was bitter cold as well. And dark. He had died in fire and flying metal; now he seemed encased in it, chill and dry under hypersensitive skin. Every joint ached, every nerve on high alert, and even his Quickening felt bruised and sore. Static crackled as he moved, and he smelled char and ozone, the acrid sharpness of strong disinfectant.
He was in a morgue. In a cold-drawer. The icy shelf pressed up against his spine, and the darkness seemed a palpable thing. He had been dead long enough to be found, transported, processed in. Hours, likely. Moving carefully, he explored the surfaces with his fingers. No catches or latches or buttons. Good, solid construction, square corners, smooth walls. His scalp tingled and he could feel his pulse beating against his bones. A thorough, catastrophic death. A faint sound – a mere vibration – shivered the air, as of a drawer closing.
Methos held himself quite still, listening. Something scraped against the metal at his head. An attendant? A doctor? No help for it. He wasn't going to get out of this drawer without help. He let his head thump against the surface. Then he got his hand up and knocked, rather awkwardly. Let me out.
Another scrape and a click. He pressed his fingers against the angle overhead and his hope was rewarded with a thread of light. More pressure and the crack widened. He refused to think of either the confinement of the drawer or who might have opened it. Out first. Then deal with the consequences of living.
Duncan made himself smile patiently at the small, fussy man reading through the papers that let him reclaim the swordcase. The car was waiting for him. Methos was waiting for him. Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. He'd had that news from Joe before he reached the end of the jetway, but he wouldn't be happy until he saw the man. Held him, whole and entire.
"Your papers do seem to be in order, Mr. MacLeod. I need you to sign here, please."
Sign the release. Tip the porter. Tip the man with the car, waiting at the curb. Bring up the helpful gadget that would tell him the route, and he was on the road. The gadget estimated an hour and 26 minutes from La Guardia to Princeton. It was five in the morning; he'd push it.
The pre-dawn roads were quiet, chill and damp with fog. Leaves slapped and skittered, autumn reds and golds greyed in the halogen glare of headlamps. He drove with ferocious attention, back and belly tense as they had been for hours now, but hands light, eyes flicking from road to mirror to dash and back. Out of New York proper and into the civilized, settled outskirts.
Houses slept on well-kept lawns, colonial fieldstone and Federal brick occasionally alternating with Victorian curves and modern angles. The verges grew wider and the pavement narrower. It would be the height of enough to meet a deer or a dog. The sky was lightening behind and overhead, and with the approaching light, the nearing of his destination, his heart lightened too. The red flicker in his mind's eye subsided into coals, banked, not out, the burning tension that thrummed his nerves uncoiled into waiting. Methos was waiting for him.
Princeton appeared with the sun, old and young at once. The hospital was easily found, the parking lot not crowded. People were going and coming in tired, busy clumps. It would have been a busy night for them.
He scudded up the sidewalk to the main doors, early sunlight glittering on the windows of the façade. Nurses and orderlies and interns gave way to his coat and height and purposeful stride. He didn't often use his presence and wealth with intent these days, but he'd certainly never forgotten how.
There was a knot of suits in awkward conference just inside the door, lawyers and administrator-types being herded by an elegant woman who, despite a suit of her own, stood out from the rest like a true Damascus blade among expensive, showy replicas. She gave him a searching glance as he went by, steel recognizing steel, but did no more than nod when he met her eye.
Down the half-flight of stairs to the expanse of the main lobby. No hint of an immortal presence there. He moved to the bank of elevators at the far end, tension and anticipation and not a little fear stiffening his shoulders. Hospitals made him twitchy at the best of times.
Presence rang against his nerves, the distinctive weight and texture of Methos' Quickening against his own sending adrenaline and relief surging in his veins. The elevator on the end: the indicator showed it descending ponderously. The arrow blinked and the doors chimed as they opened.
Duncan's mind automatically catalogued the sword cane as the man wielding it stepped out: honey-gold finished walnut with silver head and ferrule. Early 19th Century. 27 inch Spanish steel blade and a twist-lock catch. He'd seen it in the catalogue. He'd seen its twin in Bond Street, when it was new-made. Even as his mind was estimating a value, his heart and throat were squeezing shut, ice freezing through him and all was razor, bitter sharp, his whole being one single, keening purpose.
The man was not Methos. Too tall, too grey, hair too grizzled, eyes too blue. Leaning on the cane like he meant it. Not Methos, but Methos' Quickening.
Duncan had been too slow. His jaw and hands clenched, and agony threatened to consume him. It was unsupportable, unthinkable that Methos should be lost. He would win him back. He would take this churl who had arrogated what was never meant to be his without pity or compunction. In that instant nothing else registered at all.
"Duncan MacLeod!" he gritted out "Of the Clan MacLeod!"
Expressive eyebrows crinkled the high forehead into a map. Too-blue eyes blinked and narrowed. "House," the man replied evenly, a thread of amusement coloring his tone. "Of the Levittown Houses." He seemed to be assessing Duncan in turn, but not as an opponent, more like a specimen.
Duncan's heart thudded painfully in his chest for a long, fraught moment. Then a long-fingered, familiar hand appeared, gripping the door-frame, stopping the door from trying to close. An unmistakable nose and ageless hazel eyes followed.
"Mac! You brought my things!"
Duncan's heart thudded again, even more painfully. An earthquake could not have rocked him more. Shock and relief made him roar:
"Ya gaummy lang-nebbed glaikit nyaff! I feart ye wor fey!"
He didn't care if heads were turning. He didn't care if the sky fell. Methos was alive, Quickening right where it ought to be, safe ensconced in that beloved frame, here and now and in front of him. The ice that had flooded his veins was fire in an instant, and he thought his heart would burst. His ears roared.
"For heaven's sake, why?" The wry, familiar tone began to anchor him, stem the flood of feelings and channel them back into their proper courses. The quirk of his lips and the glint in his eye said clearly "I'm fine, Duncan."
Methos. Looking at him properly was another shock. He was L'Age d'airain stepped from his pedestal and clothed in yellow and lavender scrubs. The Dr. Matthew Talhaern-Methos whom Duncan had seen off the morning before had been and looked modern, mid-thirties, professorial and mature. This Methos would not look out of place on an Akkadian frieze, his eyes dark in a face knife-sharp, hawk-wild. And he did not look a day over twenty. Less. Hands, feet, fingers, even the short, dark brush of hair, brows and lashes, all present and accounted for. Judging by his collarbones, Duncan would be able to count his ribs beneath the cloth. How had he un-aged?
"Does he speak English?" House's words barely registered, Duncan was so focused on Methos.
"No, but he's fluent in glower." Again, Methos' voice called him back to himself, grounding him, affection taking any sting out of the words. That Methos was both happy and relieved to see him was transparently obvious to Duncan. "Mac, please, this is Dr. House." Reluctantly, Duncan shifted his focus to the other man. "He's been helpful."
"Nice cane," Duncan managed. He wasn't quite ready to forgive the man for the fright, but Methos didn't use words carelessly. A doctor. Helpful. As in 'helpful in getting me out of the morgue helpful?' Probably.
Methos had possessed himself of the sword-case, and Dr. House was prodding them out and away from the elevator. Duncan let himself be prodded. House's stick might be a sword cane, and he quite apparently needed it to walk with, but dealing with Byron had reminded him that 'lame' was a very long way from 'helpless'. Without subtlety, Duncan put himself between Methos and the doctor's cane, but shortened his step, letting Methos set the pace. There was an unexpected effort in the Old Man's movement, and Duncan was almost tempted to take back the sword case, to spare him the weight. He knew better than to give in to that impulse, however, and the car was just around the corner now, in the patient pick-up zone.
Helpful. Thanks were owed. Due. Methos had twitched the duffle from his grip and was stowing both it and the swords in the boot. Duncan turned to the doctor. "Listen –"
"Don't." The man held the cane up, balancing with an effort. He'd kept it in beautiful condition. "A bit flashy. Were you the underbidder?"
"No. Saw it in the catalogue, though." Duncan recognized reserve and refusal to acknowledge anything that might be interpreted as altruism in blue eyes as easily as in hazel, but he did not let that stop him. "Listen –" He had to swallow the lump of feeling in his throat. "Thank you. For me."
"I have him, Joe. We're in room 1214 at the Princeton Hyatt." The Chrysanthemum suite, in fact, complete with whirl-pool bath, down comforters and a well-stocked mini-bar. "We'll be staying at least a day or two. I don't know how he wants to play this." The scotch at his hand was Lagavulin. He had plans for the bath, later, when Methos was up for it.
"Yeah, I hear that. I'm afraid 'Matthew' is dead, though. It's not as simple as it was before to say one missed the plane. I've got a line on the hospital records and we'll do what we can to obscure the anomalies."
Anomalies. Room service had come and gone; the cart stood by the door with the empty plates of two generous breakfasts in an untidy pile. The sugar-bowl was empty, the honey-pot licked clean. Duncan had had a single piece of toast. That was a lot of food, even for a bad death. How bad had it been, and did he really want to know?
"The news is reporting that the morgue has lost one of the bodies, and that could work to advantage, at least in confusing the issue. It helps that he hadn't been identified, and the fire was very hot and fast." Joe was going on, his voice a comfort now that he did have Methos safe.
"Let me give you some advice."
"House. Dr. House, from Levittown" Duncan said abruptly. "He was ... helpful." Helpful, observant and carried a sword-cane. But not a tattoo. Had struck him as a man with definite ideas on the subject of patient confidentiality and privacies. "You'll want to keep an ear out on him."
"Feed him" he'd said, and "Be gentle with him for a while."
"Thanks, Mac." There was a pause, and Joe asked almost hesitantly, "How is he? Really?"
"He'll be in pain for a long time"
Methos had eaten, stripped off the lavender cartoon-printed scrubs and crawled into the big bed, making a cocoon of the duvet. He moved with little of his accustomed grace. Seeing him shivering, Duncan had turned up the thermostat. When he'd made a move to close the curtains, though, Methos had protested, turning his face into the bar of watery sunlight lying on the pillow, pulling the comforter tighter around his shoulders.
"I don't know, Joe. Whole. Alive. Twenty pounds lighter." Twenty years younger looking, but that he couldn't say, couldn't explain. Joe would have to see that for himself. "I'll call you again when he wakes up. Keep me posted."
"I will. Take care, Mac."
Gently, Duncan closed the phone. He looked over at the bed, and the man in it. Twenty pounds lighter. Twenty years younger. How bad had it been? Was it age or strength or sheer cussedness that let him heal so fast? Asleep, Methos looked deceptively fragile, pale skin pulled tight over sharp bones, all hollows and knobs. His Quickening had stolen every ounce of fat and even muscle in healing him. He also looked terribly, appallingly young. How old had he been, at First Death? How old was he, really? Suddenly, five thousand years seemed not nearly enough.
Don't think about it.
Not thinking, Duncan put off his own clothes, the elegant silk and well-cut wool that had served so well to smooth the way here. Methos had moved invisibly in the halls of the hospital in cartoon-cotton, a glamourie of hiding in plain sight. But Duncan was inside that spell, could, since Kronos, since Byron, see past the image to the actual. Past Adam, and Matthew, and any other name to Methos. Methos, whom he loved.
He made sure the door was locked, the swords laid hidden but to hand, securing the croft. Then, like coming home, he climbed under the covers, fit himself into the cocoon. Methos turned into his arms with a murmur, as if Duncan were the sun, and was instantly asleep again.
"He's my oldest friend!"
"That's what I call mine, too."
Interesting, but not illuminating, House concluded when he got the test results. Pierson had been right. Perhaps urine-flasks and retorts would have been as informative. Or perhaps, in the long view, spectrum analyzers and electron imaging were mere modern equivalents. He didn't need a machine to tell him that Pierson was alive. Equipment never took the place of perception, and he knew life – the driving will to survive, to live and grow and fight for another day – when he saw it.
He wondered, briefly, what Pierson had seen when he looked at House.
"Were I your physician…."
There was a letter on his desk, a formal expression of professional gratitude, one laeceman to another, Dr. Benjamin A. Pearce (no doubt called 'Hawkeye – or Hawknose – by his friends) to Dr. Gregory House (of the Levittown houses). The name was the important element, not the rethorique, the polished words.
Wilson was waiting for him at the door with a sheaf of printouts and the light of battle in his eye. There were Scoobies to educate/humiliate, puzzles to solve, people to fix.
A rain-check, not a refusal.
Notes: This story would never have happened without the help, encouragement beta-reading and cheerleading of auberus. Thank you so, so much. Second pair of eyes duties carried out by linaerys. Many thanks to you also!
 Archiater: ancient Roman word, indicating the chief physician of a monarch
 The three primes are Sulfur (life), Mercury (interaction), and Salt (base matter). It is left as an exercise for the reader to match Our Heroes to the primes. The four processes are separation by sublimation, decomposition by calcinations, modification by fixation and union by solution. A useful Wikipedia article is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alchemical_symbol .
 L'Age d'airain or The Age of Bronze -- sculpture by Rodin. An image can be seen here: http://flickr.com/photos/gridjunky/1907640800/ . I am of the opinion that Methos posed for this.