The Book of Lost Days
This story is rated R for language, adult themes and the suggestion of M/M sex.
Methos/Adam Pierson, Duncan MacLeod, Joe Dawson, Amanda, Caspian and Joe's Bar are all the property of some faceless corporate goons with more lawyers than me, and I can only beg their indulgence for this little endeavor. I mean no harm, and no money changed hands. Just for fun, eh?
This story is completely unrelated to any of my other series or storylines.
Many thanks to my gracious and tolerant Beta-readers, Elynross, Killa and Bone. I could probably have done it without them, but not half so well.
Both of my grandmothers are named Wanda. This is for the one that left us in November 1998. I miss you.
Questions, comments and silly remarks are appreciated at <email@example.com>.
O lost days of delight, that are wasted in doubting and waiting!
O lost hours and days in which we might have been happy!
--Longfellow, from "Tales of a Wayside Inn"
The hard truth is that life goes on. We breathe, we eat, we sleep. We make love, gasping and straining like beached fish that can see the tide, inches beyond their reach. Inches that might as well be miles, because they will never reach that perfect haven. So it is for all of us, reaching for that final connection, the perfect union of mind and soul and body. Trying desperately to not feel so alone.
And we are all alone. That's another hard truth. Whatever solace there is to be found in the arms of a lover is fleeting, the sense-memory of orgasm fading with the body's tremors, leaving one exhausted and drained... empty. Even at the pinnacle of physical pleasure, the most total union that two bodies can enjoy, we are alone. Don't believe me? Ask someone to describe an orgasm to you without poetic metaphor or clinical definitions. Just ask them what it feels like. For that matter, ask them what love feels like, or grief. They can't tell you. You either know the feelings or you don't, and no mere words will ever bridge that gap. It's like trying to tell a blind man what blue is or waxing on about Beethoven to a deaf girl. Sure, Beethoven was deaf, but not from birth. He remembered the music.
Sometimes memory is all we have. No, that's not true. Ultimately, memory is all we have left.
I remember too much: the cry of birds under a forest canopy, the birds extinct and the forest gone; the color of a sky that never knew smog, or electric lights to compete with the velvet black of night... The stars. The stars aren't the constant, immutable things that mortals take them to be, fixed and unchanging. Over the millennia I've seen them drift little by little until even the pole star is different. When I was a young man... That sounds strange. Days like this I feel as if I've always been old. When I was young, the pole star was Thuban, in the constellation Draco. It had a different name then, I'm sure, but I can't recall if I ever knew it. Stars die. I've seen them.
Stars explode, empires collapse, cities crumble to the ground. Mortals die. Immortals... die.
I remember too much: the scent of river valleys that are deserts now; the liquid syllables of forgotten languages; strains of music long since lost to time. I remember how to cook Lampreys in Galytyne.
"You want to cook me what?" MacLeod sits up a little straighter in his chair, bristling with humor and guarded curiosity.
I said once, in passing, that I'd make that Roman lentils and chestnuts dish, but things being the way they are, we'd never gotten around to it. I'd meant it sincerely at the time. More than sincerely, actually. Still grieving Alexa, so fresh in the grave, and sorting my poor soggy manuscripts, it was as close as I'd ever come to actively begging MacLeod's company. Let me cook for you, I'd wanted to say. Just... stay with me. I don't want to be alone.
But I was too afraid he'd say no-- or laugh. The wound of her loss was too fresh for me to expose another tender place and risk the sting of rejection. So the words never came.
Tonight it's easier. Not that there's no risk, just that the exposed places aren't so sore and carefully guarded. Cushioned by the music, the beer, and the familiar smoky air of the bar that feels like home, as safe as holy ground, I can ask him. I don't ask straight out, of course. I couch it in a story, a happy memory that's easy to share.
I feel so young just now, yielding easily to the smile that comes at remembering... What was his name? I can see him as clear as day, a boy, fourteen or so but slender and small for his age, struggling to drag a half-dead lamprey across a huge kitchen... Myself, lifting the creature to hang on a hook so I can make the slit and drain the blood into a bowl... Owen, that was his name. Poor Owen, so sick. He never could stand to clean fish. I take a breath and enunciate clearly over the music. "Lampreys in Galytyne."
"Lampreys." Mac isn't sure if I'm serious or not. I know that with me it's sometimes difficult to tell, especially times like this, when the joke's at his expense.
It's no joke, but still... it's hard not to laugh at him, staring at me like I've offered to refinish his floors or change the oil in his car. I've missed days like this, the two of us quietly sharing time at Joe's, relaxed enough to joke, comfortable enough to let go, just a little. I've missed him. The lampreys are a good memory for me. "Yes, are your ears stopped up? Lampreys. You know, related to eels, round mouth, nasty teeth...?"
He twists his beer absently between his hands, friendly suspicion dancing in his eyes, waiting for the punchline. "I know what they are, Methos. I'm just not sure why anyone would want to eat one."
"Just chalk it up to medieval comfort-food. The recipe's just too big..." The words slam into his skepticism like bugs into a windshield, splattering with messy ineffectiveness. I heave an overdramatic sigh and drag out my weapon of last resort. "I didn't want it to come to this. One word, Mac: Haggis."
That brings the threatening laughter to the surface, both his and mine.
"All right, all right, we can eat your eels. But what's the Galytyne part?"
I arch an eyebrow at him, daring him to balk after he got all nostalgic and homesick and made me eat a haggis last Christmas. "It's a sauce... or kind of a pudding... Vinegar, raisins, bread crumbs, ginger..." He's relaxing a bit, so I continue, "Rose petals, lamprey fat, and blood."
The smile evaporates right on cue. "Blood?"
"Haggis..." Truthfully, haggis isn't even in the running for the strangest thing I've ever eaten, and he knows it. Mac's recipe was even a good one. And he didn't exactly have to hold a sword to my throat to get me to eat it, but it's ammunition, and we both know it. Leverage enough to get him over to eat the lampreys. He'd probably come without the playful arm-twisting, if I'd just come out and ask him. I'd say something like, Mac, please come to dinner, and he'd look at me, look through me the way he does, and he'd know. He'd know how I've missed him, and how I crave his company, and how I...
Shying violently away from that line of thinking, I sip at my beer, focusing intently on the ripe bitter taste of it, the chemical heat of the alcohol as it hits my stomach. How many beers is this? Clearly not enough if I'm still feeling this transparent. He looks at me and smiles that god-damned tolerant smile, the one that says he knows what I'm thinking and that he's willing to indulge me in the game. Damn him.
So I don't ask. I coerce. I manipulate. I settle my masks firmly in place and tease him mercilessly about haggis. The weight of the facade is almost enough to distract me from how very much I want him to come. I want to do this, want him to let me cook this for him.
Perhaps sensing impending defeat in the air, he yields more or less gracefully, tossing back the last of his beer like he wishes it was whisky. "All right, I said I'll try the eels."
"Good." Smug in my victory, I grin and finish off the last swallow of my beer in a conscious echo of his motion.
Mac's empty glass joins mine on the table with a solid thump. "Fine."
"You're really serious about this, aren't you?"
"Yup." Serious as a heart attack, happy as a cow in clover.
Heaving a sigh straight out of the Highland heather, he looks at me, really looks, with that combination of tolerance and affection that makes my insides warm and cold at once. "What time is dinner? And what goes with eel, red or white?"
"How about 8:00 tomorrow, and... red. Maybe a nice paisano?"
MacLeod is staring at the food on his plate as if it will literally rise up in fishy retribution and attack him where he sits. Across the table, sipping on the promised paisano, I watch the play of thoughts and emotions flickering across the expressive face. Uncertainty, faint horror, determination, resignation.
"Oh, for heaven's sake. It's not going to kill you; just eat it." I spear a chunk of the pale meat and pop it into my mouth, chewing dramatically, unaccountably pleased at the slight greenish tinge to his complexion. He makes it too easy sometimes, as if he went out of his way to clearly label all of his buttons for my convenience. There's almost no challenge in it. No, Mac, I won't touch your slimy basil-and-pignoli pesto, but let's get together soon for some fire-roasted grasshoppers. We can even dip them in chocolate if you like. Chocolate makes everything better. Quirking one eyebrow, I waggle the denuded fork at MacLeod, encouraging. "Go on."
Mac starts guiltily and eats a forkful of broccoli.
That's it. I drop my fork with a clatter and glare across the elegantly set table. "Mac, you have faced down men half again your own size and many times your experience in mortal combat without flinching, suffered wounds that would cripple most men from pain and shock, and still emerged triumphant. Hell, you've even taken Amanda shopping and lived to tell the tale. If you truly don't like the food, you needn't feel constrained to eat it, but..." I pause for a breath, letting the drama build in the silence, the sense of impending hurt feelings reaching its natural peak before I continue, "I'd appreciate it if you'd at least try it first."
Predictably, Mac picks at his plate and grins self-consciously, caught red-handed being a poor guest. "I'm sorry. You're right, the blood part is just a little off-putting, that's all." He sighs and visibly steels himself before scooping up a small piece of the smooth meat, determined to make the effort, perhaps sensing how important this is to me. More than dinner, I'm offering him the chance to share a memory with me. Give and take. Compromise. I don't care if he actually likes the food or not, the important thing is his willingness to try, to embrace something new. It's not something that should be so difficult for him. He holds it in his mouth for a moment, considering, and then begins to chew. The strong jaw works slowly at first, and then with increasing enthusiasm, the pained expression on his face thawing to surprise and finally to wary acceptance.
"You know, I hate to say this..."
"What?" My turn to be suspicious.
He glances around, openly admiring the setting. "This table is really beautiful. Are those candles hand dipped?"
Mac laughs and sips at his wine. "Seriously, it's very good. My compliments to the chef. But if I'd known it was going to be this sweet, I might have brought a different wine. Actually, it... Well, it tastes kind of like chicken."
"It is chicken," I reply absently, suddenly cold and too distracted to laugh at the joke as I realize how the apartment looks, how it must seem. Candlelight and soft music, the good plates and crystal... Hell, I even have fresh flowers set out by the stereo. My stomach sinks, heart thudding loudly in the resulting void. At least they're carnations from a street vendor and not roses from a florist. Only white carnations. Anybody would buy a bundle of carnations from a girl on the corner... Sure. Just any man having his best estranged guy-friend over for a casual candlelight dinner of a fucking thousand-year-old recipe. What am I doing? Too easy to let myself off the hook and say that it's been a long time since I've cooked for anyone but myself, and in a fit of enthused preparation, I just went a bit overboard on the atmosphere.
A bit overboard? It looks like a dinner-date, or worse, a seduction. Might as well feed him oysters and champagne, or mandrake and Spanish fly. It's not that I have any objection to taking MacLeod as a lover... That's rich. To say that I have no objection to MacLeod is like saying that the sea is a trifle damp or that death by impalement stings a bit. The frustrating, irritating, honorable, beautiful, sensual, heterosexual Scot has been the subject of dreams and masturbatory fantasies for years now.
Fantasies that I never intended to act upon.
And I'm not going to scare him off by acting on them now.
"Methos? Are you all right?" The concern in Mac's voice snaps me back from my rising paranoia. Gods, it is freezing in here. Right. That's why my face is hot. I give a moment's thought to turning up the heat, wishing I'd invested in an apartment that had a fireplace. One more piece of set-dressing for the seduction.
Shut up, no one is staging a seduction.
Then why the good plates? Why not melmac and water glasses?
A steadying breath, and I reach for the twin social and alcoholic comforts of my wine glass, insanely grateful that my hand doesn't shake. "I'm fine, Mac," I lie blandly.
MacLeod nods, reluctantly accepting my lie at face value. He'd like to push, but the burdens of being a good guest and, possibly, awareness of the delicate state of our friendship conspire to keep him silent. "Chicken? I thought you were cooking eels tonight?"
So we again take refuge in the little things. We talk about the food. It gives me time to find my balance, to feel my cheeks cooling. Damn my fair skin. Maybe I should grow a beard again. Yeah, Adam Pierson with a set of scraggly whiskers. I'd look like a mental patient, scare little children, and have people offering me rides to homeless shelters. Mac is staring at me again. The food, talk about the food. That's safe. "Lampreys. And I looked, but couldn't find any fresh ones. The fish market over on the quay had eels, but not lampreys, and they were already killed and cleaned." I sigh in real disappointment. I'd really wanted to cook the lampreys. "It's just not the same without the blood."
Mac swallows audibly. "I'll bet. So what's this? Chicken, rice, and...?"
"It's called Blackmanger. Chicken, rice, sweetened almond milk and anise."
"You might have told me."
I grin at that. Well, that and watching him try to look irritated when all he really feels is relief that I'm not feeding him some dark medieval version of fish-gut pudding. "When it was so much fun to watch you struggle over the idea of blood sauce?"
"Glad I'm so entertaining." Mac makes a face, still pretending to be angry, and for an instant, I think he's actually going to stick out his tongue at me.
"Oh, you're always that, MacLeod, always that." My heart skips wildly, giving one huge, painful throb before settling down to a more mundane rhythm. I drain the last of his paisano into our glasses, briefly admiring the soft play of candlelight over Mac's features.
Time tonight seems to be measured in bottles, rather than hours. The remnants of dinner are cleared away in companionable silence, the plates carefully stacked in the sink, and the music changed to another CD of Mac's choice. He surprises me by not going straight for the few classical selections on the shelf, instead picking something as soft and moody as the one that was just on. Maybe... No, he's just catering to my mood, warped and unfocused as it is. He thinks this is what I want to hear tonight, so he plays it. As long as I'm sitting here with him, I could listen to anything from speed metal to Yablo, Master of the Ocarina, and be perfectly content, but... The music is lush and dark, mournful without being maudlin. It has a vaguely Celtic flavor, and... I don't remember it being in my collection. Maybe it just sounds different through all the wine...
Wine, yes. We need more wine. So I open more, filling both glasses and handing him one before settling down on the opposite side of the chessboard.
The smoke from the extinguished candles hangs in the air, pleasantly bitter. I miss the gentle intimacy of the candlelight, the sensual way the glow slides across bare skin, but the one carefully shaded lamp on the far side of the room is almost as good. It lacks the... aliveness of the fire though. Electric light is cheap and reliable, infinitely convenient, but soulless. Something about living flame transforms people. It inspires closeness, conjures beauty, transports us to places we might never have otherwise gone... It makes it easy to believe in the impossible. Even a plain person can be lovely in the ruddy glow of torchlight. MacLeod would be otherworldly.
Enough of that. The game is underway, and my responses to the attack have been largely reflex, but MacLeod is about to capture my bishop, and if I let him beat me in less than an hour there will be some explaining to do. I lift the endangered piece from harm's way and try to focus more intently on the game.
Another bottle and a half later, the board has been stripped of all but the essential pieces: kings and queens, a knight here, a bishop there, and one black rook lurking on the fringes of the action. It's my turn, and I peer at the board, considering Mac's impending defeat with no real sense of urgency. I'm warm and happy, slightly muzzy from the wine and music, and caring less about the game than about the easy companionship MacLeod and I seem to be recapturing.
I want to tell him, to let him know how much tonight and all the other nights of beer and chess have meant to me, but the words choke in my throat. It's more depth than either of us is ready for, more... vulnerability. Too much risk. Some of those old wounds aren't quite ready to be exposed yet. Swallowing the words and the feelings that brought them hurts, too, but it's a familiar, warm kind of ache. It belongs to me, and I can cherish it, for all that it's self-inflicted. I have few enough in this life that I consider true friends, and the loss of any of them... it grieves me more than I like to admit.
But tonight... tonight isn't about loss, or pain, or grief. It's a celebration, no matter that Mac seems unaware of the nature or true meaning of it. So, it's a party.
A party of two.
The idea is funnier than it should be, and I swallow the laugh with a painful gulp of air, the room swaying slightly. Oh, I've had far too much wine for one night.
"Are you all right?"
He keeps asking me that... Why does he keep asking me that? Aren't I as entitled to be drunk and happy as the next man? Well, the next man being MacLeod, I'm probably more drunk and happy. Oh, I've missed him more than I'd admit to anyone, even myself, in more sober moments. "I'm fine, Mac, really." I gesture at the board with his last rook, now my prisoner. "Your move."
He looks at me with that patented, too-serious Scottish scowl, and I firmly stifle another grin as he turns his attention to the game. I will not laugh. I think I'm losing, but I don't care.
The pieces move in a slow dance of advance and retreat, the kings gradually being herded into vulnerable positions, trapped behind fortifications that once sheltered them. The bottle of wine is empty, and I think, ostensibly studying the attack options of my queen, really more preoccupied with the chances of getting Mac to stay for another bottle. Probably slim, I know. The friendship is resuming the old patterns of banter, invitations to dinner, and games of chess. We play, we drink, we talk.
And we never seem to say the things that matter.
That's too serious a thought for tonight, far too sobering. What would I say to him, given the chance? Could I say it, find the breath for those dangerous, powerful, damning words? To look him in the face, in those expressive eyes, and just say it: you matter to me... I missed this, missed you.
Don't go... Stay and have another bottle of wine... Stay...
Stay with me tonight.
Oh, gods. There's suddenly no air in here. It's hot and close, my heart throbbing with slow intensity as the blood congeals in my veins, flowing away from my hands and feet. I feel like I'm breathing pudding, like Mac can see the thoughts written on my face.
I've had far too much to drink, or not nearly enough.
Not willing to let him see my secrets, I stare at the game without really seeing it, the black and white blurring together in a shapeless mass of gray light as I grope for my wineglass. The cool stem comes faithfully to my fingers, and I pause there, craving the solid feel of the glass more than the wine itself. Besides, if I pick it up, I'm not sure that I won't spill it all over the board. My hands are shaking.
I didn't intend this... I didn't. Dinner, and wine, and a friendly game. That was all. Damn it! Damn me and my misplaced romantic urges. We should have eaten pizza off of paper towels, played Yahtzee on the floor. Tough to be... distracted like this over the clatter of dice. Yahtzee doesn't give you the time to linger and think that chess does. Now look at me, coward and fool that I am, clinging to a wine glass for support, unable to take my turn, afraid to look up.
Afraid to see the knowing in his eyes. And he knows... he has to know. My barriers weakened by the wine and the atmosphere, I can feel the yearning rolling off of my skin in waves, feel that hollow ache of grief and desire swelling...
The finest evening of my life, when I should be basking in the warmth of friendship renewed, and what am I doing? Choking on the sour mix of fear and stubborn pride, grieving the loss of MacLeod's companionship before he even says good night. The past years, I've leaned heavily on my faith in this man, always knowing that whatever our differences, whatever adversity or trouble or misunderstandings lay between us, we were friends. We've never been so angry or hurt that we weren't there when it counted. Kristin, Kronos, Keane, O'Rourke... Alexa. Mac and I were there for each other.
Faith. That's what it comes down to. I believe in him.
Unconsciously, my grip on the fragile stem of the glass tightens, and I look up.
We don't say anything, either of us. I just sit here, breathing, feeling more naked than I ever have, trembling and cold in every limb, waiting for his reaction. I know he can see how I feel. Even when I try to hide it, he can still see it. I've only been fooling myself.
Just now, I'm not even attempting that.
It's a painful sort of awakening, like fresh blood flowing into a numb foot, all sparks and tingles. He's watching me, still quiet and slightly pale, so utterly motionless I can't even see him breathe. If it weren't for the intensity of his eyes, the care and confusion there, I might have to check his pulse. I'd think the shock must have killed him.
I don't want him to speak and ruin it. As long as we sit here on opposite sides of the game and just... share the moment, I can, for once, not hide. No masks, no deception. I can just... love him, letting the feeling flow through me and over my skin, sharp and alive and painful like that first breath in stagnant lungs... cold air on an exposed wound... It hurts, it heals... It burns.
He swallows thickly, his eyes never leaving my face. "It's your move."
My relief is palpable, happiness rushing in to soothe the places left flayed by anxiety. Glancing briefly at the board, I lift my queen in a sudden, sure move. "Checkmate."
"Well, I guess that's it, then."
"That's all of it," I agree.
"Good game," he says and starts helping me sort the pieces back into the velvet-lined box. There is the slightest tremor in his hands. "I wasn't expecting that move at the end."
"No?" Maybe my masks are firmer than I thought.
"No, but it's good to be surprised sometimes."
We're moving around each other with a kind of forced casualness, putting the game away, clearing the wineglasses, anything to keep our hands busy. I stop, fidgeting with a heavy ceramic bowl, centering and recentering it on the table. "Mac... Are you sure about this? I don't want to do anything you're uncomfortable with."
He looks like a man tiptoeing through a minefield. Caution and fear. Motion might not be life, but hesitation is surely death. "That depends. What are you asking for?"
"Not asking, offering." There is a difference, Mac. Gifts can be refused. So can requests, but... that's more exposure than I care to embrace tonight. Please see the difference. A breath and one more painful confession, like tearing off a loose piece of skin. "It's been... a long time for me."
"A long time since what?" Another step deeper and no explosions. Committed now, the only way out is through.
My turn to take a step. "Take your pick. A long time since I've had a serious lover, longer since I've been with a man..." The words falter and die with my courage. This is harder than I thought it would be. Fantasy is so much simpler than the reality. I wish he would touch me... This would be easier if he'd touch me.
"What else? You can tell me, Methos."
The leap of faith. Please understand, Mac... Hear what I'm saying, because I don't know if I'll ever be able to say it again. "It's been a long, long time since I wanted anything this badly. But..." Again the words falter.
And again he prompts me as if he knows the script. "What?"
I grip the edge of the table for support as if I could sink my fingers into the wood. Even having faith, it's a scary drop. Come over here and touch me! Do something, anything, don't just stand there staring at me like I confessed to... to secretly hosting Tupperware parties, or some other nonsense. There is only so far I can take this by myself. "I want your friendship first, Mac. The rest can wait... will wait, if you aren't sure."
He licks his lips slowly, probably not even thinking about how beautiful he is when he does that, so casually sensual. There's a faint crease between the dark brows as he takes a long moment to think about what I've said. "This isn't a casual fling you're talking about."
I want to cheer, or cry, relief and apprehension flooding me in equal measure. He understands that much at least. "No. I can't... I don't want that."
He relaxes and smiles that warm, affectionate smile that makes my insides twist and my grip weak. "I think we can agree that it hasn't been casual between us for... well, ever. I don't expect that this will be different."
I'm grinning back before I know it, a stupid, happy, lopsided grin. "No, I don't suppose so."
"So... What wine should I bring for dinner tomorrow?"
He nods slowly, the grin never wavering, uncountable thoughts and emotions swirling behind his gaze. "Tomorrow. There's time, Methos. Nothing casual. I want to do this right. Now, what wine?"
"Red... What? What's so goddamn funny?" Fine. Here I am, half-drunk, confused, relieved, frustrated and irritated, and he picks now to laugh at me. Kick 'em while they're down, Mac.
He glances down and then up again, almost shy, still smiling, and suddenly I'm ready to forgive him anything. "I just never knew you liked red wine so much."
"Well, back in the good old days, it was red or white, and the white always tasted like grass to me."
"What about the beer?" MacLeod moves toward the door, not really smiling anymore, but with the promise of tomorrow still written in his face.
"Open kegs in some of those taverns? Even if the beer wasn't stale, and it usually was, it had at best a few roaches at the bottom, and at worst a drowned rat. No, thank you. Sometimes the security of a sealed bottle was very welcome, though the wine in those poor taverns wasn't always very good." He's pulling on his coat, and all I can think about is how stupid it is to stand here talking about wine when all I want to do is put my mouth on his, my skin on his... Here I am babbling inanities about beer when I really just want to beg him not to go. Let's not wait. Delayed gratification is always overrated.
My mouth is aching with the need to taste him, to lick his throat and feel the heat and the pulse of that big artery and the salt sizzling on my tongue...
"I'll see if I can't find something nice, then. Since it's a special occasion and all."
Special occasion? Oh gods, oh gods... I'm spinning in neutral, going nowhere insanely fast, mouth dry, chest pounding. "Is it?"
"Yes." He says it like an endearment, like a promise.
"Mac..." I swallow the words as they're about leave my mouth, awful, alien things that I don't really believe I almost said. My legs are trembling. I don't want him to go, don't want this night to be over yet. Tomorrow is too long to wait... Don't go.
He looks at me, all-knowing again. Strangely, this time I don't mind being so transparent. "Shh... I know. Tomorrow."
And he's reaching for the door, mere steps from leaving, when I lay one strong hand on his shoulder and spin him to face me, pressing him back against the dark wood. There is surprise and heat in his eyes, and the barest trace of fear. Good. I want him to fear me, just the tiniest bit, just enough to know that I'm an equal here. I want him to know that I... I'm not sure what, exactly. I just want him to know.
So I shed the last vestiges of Adam Pierson and pull myself up to my full height and breadth, nearly as big as him, and consciously put away the last of my masks, lowering my defenses, showing him me. Showing him Methos. And he sees, his eyes full with the unrestricted view of what he'd only glimpsed before. All my age and loneliness, the love and the fear and the sadness and joy... I want him to have it. Not all of my secrets, not yet, maybe not ever, but the core of me... I want him to know.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, casual.
I can see it in his reaction, the excitement, the fear, the absolute knowledge of what I'm offering him. Slowly, giving him every chance to react, to refuse me, I lean in close enough for him to know my intention. Close enough to feel the heat rolling off of him, close enough to smell the musk under his cologne. And he doesn't flinch. So I do it.
I kiss him.
It's no soft, romantic kiss, no sweetly yielding passion or swooning, butter-kneed token of surrender. It's claiming, marking territory, defining hunger. I'm already his, and he knows it. I've given that, whether he decides to accept all of it or not. But now he's mine, and he knows that too.
The kiss isn't quite brutal, though there is an edge of violence to it. I don't want to hurt or frighten him, but it's hard to hold back... All the years alone, the years of wanting him distilled to this one burning contact, this single point of need. His mouth is hot and sweet, rich with the traces of wine on his breath, dizzying with the tiny noises of approval and pleasure he's making in his chest... No other contact but this. Touching, biting, licking, savaging each other's mouths... It goes on and on, wet and harsh, long after the air in my lungs is gone and darkness nibbles at the edge of my vision.
"Methos..." he says in a small voice, gasping for breath, pushing on my shoulders to pry his mouth away from mine.
I press a few more quick kisses to the column of his throat, tasting the salt there before resting my head on his shoulder. "I know... I know. Tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," he agrees, panting and trembling. He wants this as much as I do. I know that if I reach down and touch him (oh, gods, I want to touch him), he'll be as hard and ready as me, craving the touch, needing it. But I let him go.
"Don't be late."
He smiles at me. Perfect and knowing and unreserved... He won't be late.
MacLeod and I are intent over the chess board, just as we were tonight, sipping wine and contemplating the nuances of the game. Chess is like war, like love, demanding concentration, commitment to a chosen course, and unhesitating devastation when you strike. No terms, no quarter. It's a good match, the board pared down to the few key players, each of us with a tidy collection of the other's pieces. I can smell the wine and the light incense, the spices from dinner, and the faint traces of some sharp, yellow scent that drifts from him. Probably his soap. It's a comfortable scene, warm and hazy, softened by the music and the cabernet...
I reach for my glass, anticipating the capture of MacLeod's bishop in three moves... Slowly, it happens so slowly, the way things do in dreams. His fingers close over mine, warm and strong, so vital I can almost feel the electric Presence thrumming through them.
And we look up, our eyes meeting in a gaze so heavy with knowledge and intent that I'm surprised it can hang in the air the way it does. A look this loaded should crash to the table, scattering the carved pieces of the game.
"I want this," I say, hearing my own voice as though from a distance.
"I know. Say it to me." Mac is smiling, but his eyes are serious.
"I want you..."
A small shake of his head. "Not that, the other thing. Say it to me."
My heart hammers in the void, too loud, and the fear is a sudden, metallic taste in my mouth. "I'm afraid to."
He nods, understanding, comforting. "I know. Say it anyway."
The leap of faith, flinging myself off the precipice, trusting that he will be there to catch me. "I love you..."
And he reaches for me, sweeping the game away, pushing the small table aside as if merely stepping around it would be too much trouble. Gods, we're on the floor... rolling and kissing, touching...
He's touching me with those hands, those powerful hands, whispering things I can't quite hear... The wet heat of his mouth, the strength of his hands, they're everywhere, making love to me...
His body, hot and strong and alive... Oh... moving, pressing, pushing... again, and again...
It's all the more painful, because I know it's only a dream.
I'm humming in tune with the radio and slicing scallions for the salad when the phone rings. A quick glance at the clock and a swipe of a towel over my hands. It's early yet, just after 4:00.
The voice is tinny, crackling with static. "Adam?"
"Hey, Joe! Are you in Paris?" And even if you are, talking on the worst cellular connection ever made, don't expect an invite to dinner.
"No, Adam... Listen." That's my first clue that something is wrong. He hasn't called me Adam in months, certainly not since the Watchers came clean about knowing who I am.
"What's got you up at this hour? It's... Gods, what time is it there?" Just after 8:00 in Seacouver. The Watchers must be in meltdown over something to get him up at this hour on a Thursday, but why call me? Not like I have any more influence in research.
Suddenly I don't want to know what's got him up this early. I want to hang up the phone and pretend I never heard of Joe Dawson.
"Would you shut up for a minute? There was no one I trusted to send..." There is a long, long pause while static crackles in the empty air. Long enough for my heart to start hammering like it's going to burst, long enough for me to think that maybe the line was cut off, and I'm just listening to the static. That's all. Just static. Then he's back, breathing with a tinny rasp. "There's no easy way to say it."
My mouth is dry, my hands cold and weak. I refuse to sit down. "Then just say it, Joe."
Another echoing wheeze. "It's Mac..."
I don't let him finish. "No." Utter, absolute denial. No. Whatever he has to say in that bleak, staticky tone, I don't want to hear it.
"Yes. Mac was killed a few hours ago."
The words barely register; I already knew what he was going to say. There is no room for Joe in my thoughts, everything else squeezed out by the sweeping, pounding pressure in my head. All that's left is the cold knot of dread in my gut. "No. You're wrong." We... we have a date.
"I'm not wrong, Methos. God, I wish I was wrong..."
I think Joe might be crying, but I can't spare any concern for him right now. There are all sorts of very good, reasonable things to say, questions that need to be asked, sources to confirm, but only one word comes to my lips.
"Who?" Come on. Damn your much-abused oath of non-interference one more time, Joe. The Watchers surely know by now that you are on the line to me. Just tell me the name of the arrogant little prick that's claiming he... he...
I can't think that yet. It's a lie; a very good, convincing lie or else Joe wouldn't be making this call. I'll find the little prick that told it and kill him for it. Slowly.
I know ways of inflicting pain that Caspian only dreamed of.
"Tell me!" I snarl into the phone. Don't push me, Joe. You have no idea what I'm capable of.
He hesitates another beat, then speaks. He knew that he'd end up telling me, or else he wouldn't have called. "Davis Basserman."
With the name there comes a skin of calm like thin ice over the surface of a turbulent river. "All right. I have to go now, Joe."
"Are you all right?"
"I have to go..." Dimly, I hear the click of the handset as I set it gently in the cradle, but there's no feeling in my hands. He's supposed to be here at six.
Half-chopped scallions languish wilting on the wooden block, the meat marinates serenely in the refrigerator, and the rest of the vegetables calmly wait their turn at cleaning and slicing. I retrieve the heavy chef's knife and begin to cut the delicate green stems, a thousand tiny, inconsequential details clamoring for my attention.
Last night's plates are still in the sink where we left them, waiting to be washed, the empty wine bottles needing to be carried out, half-burned candles in the holders...
His glass still on the bar, a sticky red spot of dried wine in the bottom, his lip print still visible on the rim...
And he's dead.
He's not dead. I would know if he were really dead. I would know.
The knife falls from cold, nerveless fingers, clattering on the wooden block, scattering the pieces of scallions onto the counter and floor. There are dishes in the sink that need washing, and some idiot song is playing on the radio for the tenth time today with the same over-cheery refrain...
And Duncan is dead.
And the little radio is flying across the room, shattering against the door where I kissed Duncan only last night and stopped myself from asking him again not to go, and there is a single instant of blistering hatred for Joseph Dawson and his Watchers and all Immortals everywhere and the Game and Davis Basserman in particular who took MacLeod from me.
Because he was mine.
And he's dead.
And I can see the image of his lips on the glass and taste their sweetness, their heat, in my memory. I can still feel the throbbing afterburn of that kiss.
And Joe is wrong. He has to be wrong.
He has to be.
Six o'clock comes and goes, and there's no knock at the door, no sweep of heralding Presence, no over-bright ring of the phone. The radio's electronic entrails are still scattered over the floor.
At ten I rake the dinner into the garbage, untasted. The wine... well, Mac was supposed to bring that special red.
At midnight the candles sputter and die, plunging the room into darkness.
MacLeod never comes.
Basserman is easy enough to find. A small man of mixed heritage and indeterminate accent, he's a competent swordsman, but nowhere in MacLeod's league, or mine, for that matter. He carries a pistol, but that, along with his right hand, the lower third of his forearm, and the contents of both his bladder and stomach are lost down a sewer grate.
I'm not in a mood to be generous.
By the time I'm finished with him, he's denied killing MacLeod, and confessed to it, several times each. He'll say anything I want him to. He'll happily admit to being Marilyn Monroe, Augustus Caesar, or Bruce Wayne, if he thinks that's enough to make me stop. Worthless, spineless piece of garbage. By the time I take his miserable head, he's begging me for it.
If Basserman does carry MacLeod's Quickening, there is no sign of it in the flavor of his own. But then, I've no way of knowing if there would be some traces left. I've never searched for anyone this way before.
After the... leavings are disposed of, I make one last call to Dawson. It's a courtesy, in memory of his friendship to Adam Pierson. I call to say goodbye.
"You're not coming back, are you?"
"Not in your lifetime, no."
"Look, just don't... don't do anything stupid, all right?"
Something cold and humorless escapes me, masquerading as a laugh. Dawson is instantly silent. I much doubt he's ever heard this tone from me. "You have a good life, Joe."
So, I'm back in the Game, playing for keeps. One thing about my old friend, Death on a Horse, he never gave a damn about other Immortals. I'm about to make him look like a children's story, remind them all why Methos should have stayed a myth.
Maybe, just maybe there will be enough blood to wash away the pain, enough violence to fill the place he left empty when...
When he died.
Or maybe I'll lose. That's all right, too.
It's one of those things that sneaks up on you, a stealthy ambush in the middle of a song. A startling lyric, a mournful chord, a sudden silence where none is expected; that's all it takes sometimes to rip the old wounds open and make them bleed like the day they were new. I'd always expected that if... when it came down to the wire for either of us, it would be the other that did it. Performed the act.
Sorry, I'm speaking in generalities. I always believed, in my heart, that if one of us had to die that it would be the other that did the killing. It just seemed... right, somehow. Like coming home. Full circle. Not that I could ever really imagine that, either. My sword at his throat, the pause and then the swing... powering through the tough muscles, shearing through bone. That sickening melon-ripe thump of his head hitting the ground...
And the Quickening.
I can't imagine his Quickening.
I guess I never really thought it would come to this. I thought it would be forever, that we'd find a way out, circumvent the Game. As much as we fought, and reconciled, and fought some more, I thought we'd be friends forever. I thought it would never end.
But, like Alexa said, never is a really long time.