Authors Notes: May be inspired by the millenium. Anyway, Methos ain't mine, except in my dreams, and yes, he is there. First story I've actually finished outside of school, so let me know what I did right or wrong. My first HL fic. Not much plot or action.
by Katie Grogan
The hitchhiker stood at the onramp of the highway, a single bag at his feet as he leaned against the sign. It was early enough that it wasn't too hot, yet late enough that the morning rush had come and gone.
Robert and James were college roommates, looking for adventure during spring break. Against the advice of their parents, they had no plans, no hotel reservations. If necessary, they could sleep in the car. It was only fitting that they stopped for the man standing on the side of the road. Tall but skinny, he looked clean enough, and so they pulled over to let him in.
His name was Adam Pierson, and he was a grad student in Paris looking to see America. They thought he was cool, a laid back guy despite the fact that he was studying ancient civilizations and languages. They told jokes, agreed or disagreed about some of the new bands, and debated the merits of this or that drink. The man had stories about getting drunk that would rival any frat house.
Somehow, James let it out that he didn't know what he would do when he graduated in two years. It seemed natural to speak in front of their guest, and he listened to both of the men without comment. It turned out that James had majored in psychology because he'd heard that it was easy, and he wanted something where he knew he'd get good grades, or his parents would cut off his allowance. A few simple questions and James told Adam that he was far more interested in computers. Adam suggested taking a beginners course over the summer to see if the interest held, and if so, then switch majors.
"You may have to spend another year or two, or perhaps your summers in school, but that's far better than graduating with a degree you don't want and going back or forcing yourself to start farther back in your career than necessary. Or worse, get a job fitting to your degree rather than your interest. You're still young. It will be a lot harder to change your mind later when you're settled in a career, especially if you start a family. It's not uncommon to switch majors, and no education goes wasted. It may never show up in daily life, but whatever you learned has some affect on you, even if you don't see it. Besides, at least some of the classes you've taken should qualify for some of the general credits you'll need for any other degree."
They talked more about their relative youth, about taking advantage of the time that would never come again. James and Robert thought that he sounded kind of like their parents, then realized that it was because he spoke as if he had a perspective of time far beyond his apparent twenty some years.
The two were willing, almost eager, to have Adam with them for the rest of their trip, but he begged off, saying that meeting people was just as important as seeing the sites, so they left him at the station that evening when they stopped at a motel.
The next morning, the Robinsons at the same motel was having problems. The two sons and the daughter had an abundance of energy after spending the day before in the car with little chance for exercise, and their parents were having a hard time herding them while taking care of their luggage, checkout, and breakfast. In fact, they had completely lost their youngest, three year old Maggie, in the restaurant.
They were searching for her while trying not to lose the other two as well when a tall, dark-haired man came into view. He had their daughter in his arms, and was pointing at them while Maggie nodded. They met him as he walked over to their table, thanking him profusely even as he begged off. "It was nothing," he said in his English accent. They were still worried, he was a strange man who could have taken advantage of their child, but while Maggie was happy to see her family she also seemed to like Mr. Adam. When they saw him wandering the floor, looking for an open table, they insisted he eat with them.
He was quiet, though not quite shy, and got along with both the children and the adults. He told stories that fascinated them all, stories of long gone lands and people. He told them that he was hitchhiking across America, enjoying his vacation with the intention of meeting his friends in Washington. This alarmed Mrs. Robinson. By then, it was clear that his intentions with Maggie had been honorable, and she suggested to her husband in private that they give him a ride, at least a short way. He really didn't look like much, and she could easily see someone taking advantage of him. Mr. Robinson agreed, and half an hour later, Adam was in the middle seat of their minivan telling more stories.
The day went far better than the day before. Adam helped with the kids, coming up with some of the silliest games that had them enthralled and entertained for hours. He seemed to be a natural father, yet he always deferred to their parents. When asked if he had any kids, he seemed sad before saying that he couldn't have any. Then he started telling some absolutely ridiculous story about Ancient Egypt that had them all laughing.
He helped with Maggie again that day during lunch. They'd stopped off a rest stop for sandwiches when the girl decided to run off again. This time, there was someone with dangerous intentions. Her parents looked on, horrified, as a man scooped up the girl in his arms and started running to his car. The Robinsons tried to catch up when Adams long legs carried him past them to confront the kidnapper. They never saw the hard expression on his face as he confronted the man, only the fact that his fist hit the other's face hard, and that he neatly pulled the girl out of his arms as the man fell. Maggie was ok, if slightly bruised, but blissfully unaware of the danger. Again, they thanked Adam as they took their daughter out of his arms, and again he shrugged them off.
They reached their destination and said goodbye to the hitchhiker, exchanging email addresses and promising to write. The next to pick up the mysterious hitchhiker was a single man who had reached a point in his life where he didn't care if the man was looking to harm him. At first, he paid no attention to the thin Brit, but in the silence found himself talking about his experience in war. He'd been a part of Desert Storm, and was still disturbed by the night when they'd been attacked by their own troops. Communication breakdown, they'd said, as if no one had been hurt. Sure, no one died, but he'd seen men with injuries that they would live with for the rest of their life because of what they dismissed as an administrative error. He talked as if alone, and when he thought of his quiet companion he figured the man accepted listening to the rambling as the price for the ride.
But when he studied Adam when they stopped for gas, he saw his eyes, and the darkness there. He seemed to be lost in a memory, and not a happy one.
"A soldier's life is never easy, especially on the front," he said suddenly, the rich baritone full of barely contained emotion. "We use weapons that can level a city from miles away. Guns that fire hundreds of bullets in a few seconds. It's so easy to kill, because you can't see them, because you don't aim for one person. Yet you do kill, and you do it because you're told to, and you know your friends could be killed if you don't do your part. So you do, and you hope it's the right thing, as you trust your superiors. The thing is, the lieutenant giving you your order is trusting their captain, who is following a major, who in turn takes his orders from a colonel, and he hopes that the information the general is using is correct and up to date." Lids closed over the haunted eyes. "War isn't easy on anyone, especially those involved. One slip up can kill many. You know this, and either you let it get to you, let the stress get you, or you ignore it for the sake of sanity. But the truth is, one man, except perhaps the few in charge of starting the war, makes little difference. It is the army, or the navy, the country, that is fighting."
He looked like he had more to stay but stopped, and the weary veteran stared at the man now completely lost in memory. He knew what he was talking about, that much was clear as he spoke of war, and he was right. It wouldn't have mattered if he hadn't shot back, if he had questioned the orders. He had been taught to follow orders, might have been shot if he didn't, and the U.S. government knew that. They had taken responsibility when they sent him to Kuwait. His thoughts turned back to his memories, the horrors of when he'd found out that he'd been shooting young men, boys really, defending innocents and the scant supplies they'd hoarded, this time without the guilt. He had no illusions that the nightmares would simply disappear, but they already seemed to have lost their edge. Then the thin man continued. "Psychologists have a field day analyzing veterans of war, of men who ask why they killed. What most don't know, or won't acknowledge, is that every man has the potential to kill. One way to fulfill that is to put their life in danger. A better way is to put many others in danger as well. The best way is to do both and put him in a group with every man in the same boat. That is war. Only the ignorant want to kill the enemy. The rest just want to defend their lives and ideals. Armies prepare their soldiers by controlling even the small parts of their lives so that they're conditioned to following orders. The soldier still remains who he is, yet he's something else, something he needs to be to live. Often that is a killer."
They reached Washington and Adam left him, still considering his words. 'Remains who he is, yet becomes what he needs to survive' were echoing about and the world seemed bit brighter, like maybe it was time to leave that other self behind a resume being who he was before.
Methos let himself into his apartment and grabbed a beer before heading to his journal.
"A few days ago, my flight from Chicago was cancelled. Rather than wait for the next flight or rent a car, I hitchhiked back. It was a nice experience, actually. I met some good people, and I was glad for the reminder that there is a world out there besides the game, or the tragedy on the news. I met students, still figuring out their lives. They're so young, yet so full of potential, just starting to move out of the shelter of their parents and out on their own. There was a family, with loving parents who didn't even consider hitting their children when they misbehaved, and it wasn't because a stranger was around. The children were as well behaved as children can be and flourishing in their loving environment. They were entertained by more than the modern entertainment of violence-ridden smut. Then there was the soldier. A man who suffered because of the pain he'd caused others, though he was following others. I've seen too many come to like the violence as a coping mechanism, yet he did what he had to and still felt it was wrong. I didn't have time to say all I wished to, I only hope that I helped him in some small way. He may never be a so-called 'normal person', not after the horrors he's seen, but he does have a right to continue his life without war and it's past and live a normal life. In many ways, he is better than the 'normal' people who watch violence as a form of entertainment, for he understands it. He has lessons to teach, if he can let others get close enough.
"All in all, I'm glad I didn't fly. I feel better now, after having seen this part of the world as it is without the spin of the media. There's still a lot left to be desired, but this civilization isn't entirely on its way to its fall. No, there are still a lot of good people, raising good children. I hope I'll be around to see their efforts."