Of Sound Mind and Body...
by Lillian Wolfe & Taselby
This story is rated PG-13 to R, depending on where you draw the line for UST and completely Over The Top humor and character abuse. We make no apologies for this, or for the apparently random acts of bloody violence that will crop up from time to time in the story. So be warned, and consider your thresholds before continuing.
The characters of Methos/Adam Pierson, Duncan MacLeod, and Joe are the property of large corporate entities with more lawyers than us. We're only here to have fun, and for damn sure are not making a crying dime at this. And we're just impoverished starving-artist types anyway, so even if they sue us, all they're gonna get is a Visa bill and an old piano, and a bunch of "Soldier Soldier" episodes I got from RuaMor. Ha.
No Betas were employed for the writing of this story. Our apologies to the Beta-Readers union local 418.
Apologies also to the Prolific Slashers union local 269. This story was written independent of Taselby's contract with them.
Ok, here's the story. Well, the story behind it anyway. Lillian and I were chatting and generally farting around last fall when we stumbled across the idea for this story. Both of us have been working on other projects in the meantime, but we trot this one out whenever we feel peckish and need to inflict a little abuse and general mayhem on the characters. Hope you have as much fun reading it as we have writing it.
This story takes place after Lillian's Demons Trilogy. You may recognize Dr. Miles Montgomery from there.
It was a glorious autumn day in the countryside north of Paris, crisp and sunny, the trees swathed in red and gold leaves like society matrons dressing up in their finery for one last grand ball before the ravages of old age settled in to steal the last traces of their beauty. The two men strolled along a crowded avenue in the small town, enjoying the festival atmosphere and basking in the warm glow of friendship and rich wine as they made their way from one sampling booth to the next. The street was packed with people who had come to sample the new wines and cheeses, or to peddle their own wares in the open-air market, or to simply get out for the day and savor the beautiful weather.
Methos chuckled and excused himself to a young woman he had accidentally jostled, surprising her with his command of her language, a much-softened dialect of German. He inclined his head to her and flashed a charming smile before weaving his way through the crowd to rejoin MacLeod.
"Show off," Mac teased him.
"Served her right. Did you hear what she called me?" Duncan shook his head. "She called me an unstuffed sausage!" His outrage was palpable.
Duncan laughed. "So?"
"You don't understand. These German types take their sausages very seriously."
"I'm sure your dignity will survive the insult. Come on, there's a winery up here that has an 86 Cabernet Sauvignon that you have to taste to believe. I tried it last month at a gallery show, but it wasn't available for order yet. I want to get a case or two."
Methos groaned and put a hand to his head in mock-distress. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to get me drunk."
"And what? Take advantage of you? If this is all it takes, then you, my friend, are a cheap date."
They both laughed at that, and proceeded to work their way to the end of the lane.
Mac's Cabernet was indeed located ahead of them, far ahead. By the time they had arrived at the proper booth, they had already visited four more wineries and stopped at an outdoor cafe for lunch, where they shared another two bottles of wine. Methos had bravely taken it upon himself to consume the bulk of the two bottles, nobly sparing his friend who had the responsibility of driving them back to Paris at the end of the day.
As a result, he was more than a little tipsy. Methos knew this, knew he was in a rare, giddy, whimsical mood, but just couldn't find it in himself to care. He suddenly wanted to go find the rude Austrian lady from earlier and recite bad Indian poetry to her, or something equally cruel. Like Philippino narrative ballads. He leaned over to whisper to MacLeod. Maybe they could go find her together. Mac had to know some awful Gaelic song about sheep or whatever Scots felt moved to compose about. Then again, he'd heard Mac sing. That alone should be enough.
Duncan looked at him strangely. "What?"
Methos repeated what he'd said, a bit louder.
Very patiently, Mac drew a breath and spoke. "Methos, I can't understand you. I don't speak Farsi. Have you been sampling behind my back?"
Methos shook himself and started to laugh. "It's not important." They strolled slowly back toward the car, Duncan extolling the virtues of that last Cabernet.
Street vendors were still conducting a lively trade in the late afternoon sun, hawking everything from spices to rugs, from silks to scented oils to candles and other handcrafts. They passed a garishly decorated booth filled with incenses, small vials of oils, crystal balls both genuine quartz and the leaded glass sold to the unknowledgeable. A very elderly gypsy woman, dressed in flamboyant layers of fluttering fabric and make-up only one step removed from that of a circus clown rattled a tambourine at them, chanting some nonsense that was probably supposed to sound mystical.
Methos ignored her, stepping in front of MacLeod to examine a display of Native American flutes and drums.
Just at that moment, the gypsy produced an atomizer and sprayed a large cloud of something directly in his face. Methos pulled up, shocked, and reflexively sucked in a large lungful of the cloyingly sweet potion.
"Gah!" was about as intelligent a response as he could manage at the moment, coughing and sneezing at the foul fragrance. "Crazy old bat!" he shouted at her as Mac snagged his arm.
"Come on, it's not worth it. You've been sprayed with worse in department stores. Remember the time we were Christmas shopping for Joe and that girl hosed you with 'Black Orchid'?" Mac chuckled as Methos still sniffled and sneezed, scrubbing at his face with both hands.
"Gods, this is horrible! What the hell is in this stuff?"
Duncan wrinkled his nose. "I don't know, but you smell like a 6th grade girl who's been into her mother's perfume."
Methos glared at him. "Thank you so much. It tastes like... ear wax or something... Very bitter. Burns my eyes."
"Probably just a potion to increase your virility or something," Mac grinned wickedly. "I mean, just think of how the women will flock to you with a scent like that."
"Oh, yeah, you're a riot. Real funny, that. Let's go home."
"Are you all right?" Mac had been watching Methos rub at his temples and neck for the past twenty miles or so.
"Yeah, I've just got a raging headache. Listen, why don't you stop at a gas station and let me get a bottle of water, or soda or something to get this awful taste out of my mouth."
"Hangover?" Duncan teased.
"No, I don't have a hangover," Methos snapped. "I've just got a headache and would like to get something to drink that doesn't require a corkscrew."
"You look a little pale, you sure you don't want to just go home?"
"What part of this is difficult for you to understand? I. Have. A. Headache. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever died from a headache, and even if they have, I am Immortal. Therefore, I'm fine. My skin knows exactly two colors: pale, and sunburned, and I would like to stop and get a beverage. Shall I use smaller words?"
Duncan stared at his friend like he'd suddenly sprouted horns. Something was wrong. Even if Methos had single-handedly consumed every bottle at the fair, he shouldn't have a headache like this. "Sure, we can stop. You don't have to be snippy about it."
Nearly thirty minutes later, Duncan followed Methos up the narrow flight of stairs to his flat, the older man still clutching his one liter bottle of Sprite against his chest like a life preserver.
"Methos, are you sure you don't want to come stay at the barge with me tonight?"
"Mac, you still don't have any decent furniture at your place, and besides, it moves. Being on a boat is not my idea of fun right now. I just want to stay home."
"All right," he replied, as Methos fumbled with his keys. "Do you mind if I come in for a while? I thought we could order some take out and see if there's a good movie on." Mac was reaching, and wondered if his excuses for wanting to come inside were as transparent as they sounded to him. He knew Methos well enough to know that any overt display of concern would land him flat on his butt in the hallway, but he was worried about the old Immortal. Even if it was only to soothe his own paranoia, he couldn't leave until he was sure Methos would be fine.
The door swung open with the distinctive cracking sound of new weatherstripping, and Methos gestured for him to follow. Keys and coat were hung by the door, and Methos moved slowly across the room, peeling off his bulky sweater. "Fine, come in," he yielded tiredly. "Make yourself happy, I'm going to get a shower and scrub this unholy spray off. Maybe it will clear this headache if I don't have to smell it anymore."
Mac gazed around the flat, realizing that he hadn't been here since Methos had moved in. He located the small kitchen, and headed directly to the 'fridge. //Must be something I can whip together,// he thought until he opened it and studied the contents with dismay. A dozen or so bottles of beer and a few condiments. All it needed was a cobweb or two stretched across the lightbulb. Obviously Methos wasn't into home cooking-- at least not his own. He spotted a takeout carton at the back, opened it and nearly gagged. Dead Chinese food.
"Growing your own penicillin," Mac muttered and tossed the offensive carton into the garbage. With a defeated sigh, he snatched a beer, twisted the top off and grabbed the phone to order a pizza. In a twinge of sympathy for Methos, he ordered half with anchovies. //I guess after 5000 years you can learn to like anything,// Duncan mused silently, //even oily, salty, hairy little fish. Ugh.//
Settling comfortably on the sofa, he picked up one of the books lying on the coffee table and raised his eyebrows in appreciation-- "A Brief History of Time." Then he started looking at the other titles and his eyebrows shot even higher-- Hollywood Wives, The Captive Soul, The Wolf and the Dove, and Jailbait Brides. Eclectic was the kindest word he could find to describe it.
Mac leaned back to enjoy his beer when he heard a heavy, solid-sounding thunk from the bathroom. He frowned, disturbed by the sound. Methos might have just dropped a container of shampoo. //Yeah, a gallon jug of Pert Plus...// "Methos? You okay?" he called. No answer. Still uneasy, he moved to the bathroom door and called out again. When he still didn't get an answer, he opened the door. "Methos?"
The soft hiss of the water was the only sound. His heart lurched at the sight of a pale hand hooked loosely over the edge of the tub.
"Methos!" Duncan tore back the curtain, revealing the old Immortal sprawled face down in the bottom of the tub, unconscious. A long gash ran across his forehead from eyebrow to hairline, still seeping tiny scarlet ribbons that were rinsed away down the drain. Duncan quickly turned off the hot spray and reached for a cloth to press against the already-healing wound.
The remainder of the wet, slippery, surprisingly heavy Immortal lying there was less simply dealt with. Mac studied him for a moment before deciding that any possible head or neck injury wasn't dangerous enough to consider not moving him. A cold, naked, angry Methos was infinitely more dangerous than an injured, but warm and covered one. He finally settled for grasping Methos under the arms and dragging him out on to a hastily spread bath sheet, carefully wrapping the nude, leggy body. The limp form was hefted with a low grunt of effort, carried to the bed and covered with a blanket.
Of more pressing concern, now that the immediate physical situation had been resolved, was why Methos had apparently fainted. He may have just lost his footing and fallen, but after taking his uncharacteristic headache into account, Mac didn't think so. It was crazy to think about, impossible. Immortals didn't get sick.
His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. Mac was startled, then recalled the pizza order. He cast a quick glance at Methos before hurrying to accept the delivery. He thrust a bundle of francs at the delivery boy without bothering to count it, grabbed the box and shut the door in the startled teen's face. Across the room Methos was slowly sitting up, rubbing at his head.
"How do you feel?" Mac asked as he set the pizza on the table.
"Like my head is splitting open," he winced and probed at his forehead with careful fingers. There was a long pause as he looked around the sleeping space as if he'd never seen it before. "I don't recall getting into bed." He reached for his robe, a look of confusion on his face.
"I put you to bed. You fainted in the shower," Mac replied casually as he headed for the kitchen to get plates. He tried not to seem too concerned. "Pizza's here."
Methos frowned. "Faint? I didn't faint. I must have passed out."
"Looked like a faint to me," Mac baited, amused at the reaction in his friend.
The frown deepened to a scowl. "I am not some bloodless, overdressed, fainting girl. I. Passed. Out." He yanked his robe on.
"Whatever you say. I mean, you should know, being the one who was lying there stark naked in the bottom of the tub. Want a beer?"
Methos shot him a glare. "Yeah. That ought to top off all that wine just fine. No wonder I passed out." He swung his legs out of bed, got to his feet and started toward the coffee table. He'd barely taken a few steps when he swayed unsteadily. Squeezing his eyes shut, he planted his feet and groped blindly for the back of a chair, struggling for balance.
The amusement on Mac's face quickly faded as he saw the color drain from his friend's face and watched him clutch at the chair with white knuckles. Methos swayed like a sapling in a high wind. Mac set the beer on the counter and covered the distance to him in three long strides. Catching Methos' arm, he slid his shoulder under him for support. "Methos! Come on. Get back into bed. You don't look too well."
For once, Methos didn't argue. He leaned heavily on MacLeod as Mac steered him unresistingly back to the low bed. He swallowed thickly, panting for breath. "I can't be hung over. Gods, I've never gotten ill from drinking and I've certainly put away more at various times in my life. On the other hand, I sort of felt like this when I was poisoned..."
"You want something?" Mac asked with concern as he slid the robe off Methos' shoulders and tucked him under the covers. One hand brushed soothingly against the pale face. "There's still some of that Sprite left."
Methos groaned, shook his head, abruptly stopping the motion and clenching his eyes again. "I think I was poisoned, Mac. Maybe food poisoning. It could have been the cheese... or maybe the pork." Eyes still tightly closed, he drifted off to sleep, murmuring plans for dark revenge on whoever had done this to him.
Satisfied that Methos was asleep, Mac sat down and nibbled at the non-anchovy side of the pizza and considered the situation. Methos had felt warm to his touch. It couldn't be a fever, he told himself. Did he really get food poisoning from something? What did Methos eat that he didn't? With no clear answer and a lot of disturbing questions gnawing at him, he decided to stay until he was certain the old Immortal was okay.
A minimal amount of searching yielded a spare blanket and pillow in the closet and Mac soon settled down on the sofa for the night. He drifted off to sleep reading The Wolf and the Dove.
Day Two (3:48 am):
A dull thud, followed by the slam of a door woke MacLeod. Blearily, he sat up on the sofa, gradually piecing together where he was. "Methos?" he muttered and glanced toward the bed. The soft light from the street illuminated the room enough for Mac to see. Methos was not in bed. His gaze tracked toward the bathroom and a thin wedge of light from under the door. //When you gotta go...// Mac started to close his eyes again when the deep sound of someone retching registered on his brain. Throwing up? He really didn't like this.
Mac waited a few minutes, figuring Methos would be out shortly. But the gagging and coughing sounds from the bathroom didn't stop. There were brief pauses, some as long as a minute, then they would resume. After ten minutes, Mac pushed back the covers, pulled on his jeans and approached the bathroom. His hand lingered on the doorknob a moment, reluctant to interfere in this personal moment, then another round of vomiting started and Mac decided he couldn't wait any longer. He pulled the door open.
Methos was sitting on the floor, naked, his head braced against an arm across the open toilet and his back and shoulders heaved with the furious spasms that rocked his body. A fading bruise on his left shoulder told Mac the "thud" he'd heard was Methos crashing into the door frame. Quickly reaching for a bath sheet, he draped it across the other man's back, unsurprised when Methos' free hand grabbed at the edge and pulled it tighter around him. Mac wondered if it was an uncharacteristic modesty, a chill, or just a feeling of vulnerability that made his friend clutch so desperately at the oversize towel. He wet a wash cloth and knelt beside Methos, waiting.
There was a pause in the vomiting again, and Methos let his head drop onto his arm to rest. Mac lifted the tired face, wiping the cool cloth gently over the sharp contours. Methos panted, taking quick, shallow gulps of air trying to catch his breath. High on his cheeks, twin spots of bright crimson stood out against the pasty white pallor he had faded to. Mac smoothed the wash cloth over the face and mouth again, and pulled his own lips into what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "You are having one bad night here."
Methos forced his eyes open, trying to focus them on the Highlander. "Mac, just go--" He never completed the sentence, abruptly pulling back and dropping his head over the toilet bowl again as another wave of nausea hit.
Mac recalled one occasion when Tessa had been ill and had spent part of a night in a similar position. The feeling of helplessness, the urge to hold and comfort was as familiar now as it was then. He'd spent that night long ago cradling Tessa like a child, rocking and humming to her in between attacks of nausea. He smiled more genuinely at the image of trying to fit Methos into his lap, hugging and singing to him. Methos would kill him. He could offer Methos some of the same comfort he'd offered Tessa, if the old Immortal didn't reject it. Gently, he shifted to lift Methos' head, positioning his hand to cradle his forehead and take the strain off the older man's neck and shoulders. He pressed the cool wash cloth against the back of Methos' neck and stroked the tight muscles bunched there in his shoulders, waiting until the heaving stopped.
As he held Methos, Mac realized his friend felt very hot. His forehead was tight and dry, and felt like it had been facing an open flame for too long. Fever? This wasn't possible. It could be poisoning, there were a few plants that could produce the symptoms Methos had been experiencing--spindle tree or bryony came to mind, but he couldn't imagine where either of those would have been ingested.
Methos leaned back, eyes closed and Mac helped him to his feet, lowered the toilet seat and sat Methos on it while he ran fresh water over the cloth and bathed his face again. Suddenly, the old Immortal's hand shot up and caught the cloth, tugging it away from MacLeod. "I can do it, Mac. Leave me alone."
Duncan gazed into the weary-looking hazel eyes that seemed a bit too bright in contrast to the deep shadows underneath them, but he nodded. "You might want to wash your mouth out. I could heat some milk--that might help your stomach."
Methos glared at him, then stood carefully and reached to pick up the pair of boxers he'd brought in hours ago when he'd showered. "Out, MacLeod." The voice didn't harbor any more arguments.
Even though Mac backed off, he still waited outside the bathroom as he heard the water running. Eventually, Methos opened the door, staggered out and leaned against the doorway for support. Mac raised an eyebrow. "Need help?"
Methos took a couple of unsteady steps on wobbly legs. Not waiting for an answer, Mac got an arm around him and helped him towards the bed.
"I'm not an invalid, MacLeod. Just a little dizzy." He made a sudden grab for Mac's other arm. "All right, a lot dizzy. This has to be a poison..."
For the third time in less than ten hours, Mac eased him back into bed. He pressed his hand against the old guy's forehead. He still felt hot; this was definitely a fever. "You need to drink something. You're getting dehydrated."
Methos shook his head weakly. "Throat hurts... head feels... like it's full of cotton." With obvious effort, he focused his eyes on Mac and tried to smile gamely. "'S'all right, Mac. I was poisoned; I'll die; I'll come back better. Really." He punctuated the statement with a cough, then rolled over on his side, curling painfully around his abdomen.
Mac went back into the bathroom and searched the cabinet-- toothpaste, shaving cream, an old fashioned straight razor-- all the usual stuff except aspirin, or any kind of medicines. Just like his own. Immortals didn't need medicines. What the hell do you do for a fever? Cold compress? He picked up the wash cloth, wet it again and went back to Methos. He was almost asleep as Mac sat on the floor beside the bed and laid the cool cloth against his hot forehead.
The explosive sound of a sneeze penetrated Mac's light sleep and he opened his eyes as he wondered if he'd dreamed it. Then another sneeze followed by a round of deep, wet-sounding coughs brought him fully awake. He rubbed his eyes as he followed the coughing to the bed. Methos looked terrible-- his eyes were puffy and red-rimmed, and his nose was swollen and chapped. Methos sniffed loudly and wiped at it with his hand. "No tissue?" Mac asked, barely caught the slight shake of the old Immortal's head. Probably no handkerchiefs either. Well, he needed something to blow his nose. A memory flitted across Duncan's mind of Richie, back in his pre-Immortal days trailing long white streamers of toilet paper, snuffling and honking with a headcold.
"Hang on," he told Methos and disappeared to the bathroom. In less than a minute, he'd returned with a roll of the not-so-gentle French toilet paper and handed Methos a handful. The old guy barely managed to cover his nose before he sneezed again...and again. Mac pressed his hand against his forehead, felt the fever that seemed to be about the same as it had been earlier. "I don't think this is poisoning. I think you're really ill."
Blearily, Methos looked at him through watery eyes. "Can't be."
"All right," Mac agreed cheerfully. "How about a little breakfast then? Coffee and scrambled eggs sound okay? Or how about lox and bagels? You love smoked salmon."
Methos went from very pale to a light green at the mere mention of food. "I don't tink so, Magh. Stomag's queasy."
//That's it,// Mac decided. He picked up the phone and dialed the number for Joe Dawson. It took several rings before the Watcher answered, and he was not a happy man.
"Someone better be dead," Joe managed to snarl and slur at the same time. If circumstances were less urgent, Mac would have taken the time to marvel at that feat.
"Joe..." he began, uncertain of how to start explaining this. Joe cut him off, his voice moving from a sleep-drugged stupor to clipped irritation in a heartbeat.
"Christ, MacLeod, it's barely nine. I didn't get to bed until four. You know better than this."
"I know, Joe, but it's important. I think Methos is sick, really sick. And I really need some advice."
There was a background clatter followed by a muffled curse and a creak of springs. "Come again? I gotta be groggy still. I don't think I quite caught that."
MacLeod repeated it, then went on to describe the symptoms-- runny nose, nausea, fever, coughing. Joe listened silently to the inventory of complaints. "You're joking. Did Methos put you up to this? You tell that sorry, beer-swilling, debt-dodging sponge that I don't care what his excuses are this time. He still has to pay his bar tab."
There was a long pause. "Maybe an Immortal's immune system begins breaking down when he reaches a certain age," he quipped.
"Do you think so?" MacLeod asked.
"Yes, I'm serious. He's currently going through a roll of toilet paper with sneezes. Joe, I've never seen an Immortal like this."
"It sounds like a cold or a flu, but that's not possible..." Joe mused. "Okay, Mac. Give me about an hour. I'll get a few things."
MacLeod hung up the phone feeling a little better. At least Joe was familiar with this kind of thing. He glanced back at Methos who had snuggled a little deeper into the bed, pulled the blanket up as close to his chin as he could and kept a wad of the rough paper near his head. He looked completely miserable. "Help's coming," he mumbled, certain that Methos didn't hear a word.
Joe arrived over an hour later, a large shopping bag balanced in his free arm. Mac hurried to take it from him as soon as he came through the door.
"This is crazy, MacLeod," Joe muttered. "There's no way he can be sick. Immortals can't get sick. Your bodies won't allow it."
"I know, Joe. But what would you call that?" He gestured toward the bed and the pale, blanket-shrouded form sunken deep into the pillows. "It started with a headache, then he fainted in the shower and it's all gone downhill from there."
"I dibn't faint. I. Passed. Out." Methos objected weakly, following the conversation even though he couldn't open his eyes. His words were thick and heavy, distorted by his stuffy nose and clogged sinuses.
Joe moved closer to peer more intently at Methos. "Well, I wouldn't believe it if I weren't staring at it. Definitely looks like a flu bug. There's a bottle of cold medicine in the bag, Mac. Also a jar of mentholated rub. We'll need those. Oh yeah, and a heating pad at the bottom. Bring that too."
Mac began digging in the bag and removing the requested items, along with a jar of apple juice, facial tissues, two cans of chicken broth, a box of tea, ginger soda and a bottle of aspirin. Meanwhile, Joe pulled a chair up beside the bed, reached over and pressed his hand against the old Immortal's forehead. "You're really hot. How the hell did you manage this one, Methos?"
Methos opened puffy, bruised eyes to attempt an annoyed glare at Dawson. "I dibn't manage. 'S'godda be a poison."
Mac came over with the cold medicine and rub and glanced at Dawson as he read the instructions. "Should I give him a little cup of this green stuff?"
Joe eyed the bottle speculatively. "Better make it two. I suspect the Immortal immune system will try to neutralize it. In fact, I don't know if it will do any good at all, but it won't hurt him any."
Saying it was easier than doing it. Methos was not a willing participant in Joe and Mac's plan. After Mac helped him sit up and handed him the tiny plastic cup, Methos made a face at the cold medicine, took one tentative sip, grimaced and handed it back to MacLeod. Who promptly handed it back to him again with a warning glare. "Drink it, Methos. Don't you want to feel better?"
"Thad will mabe me sigger. Tastes awbul."
Joe chuckled. "That's for sure, but my granny told me once that medicine is supposed to taste bad. Worse it tastes, the faster it works. Just hold your breath and swallow it in one big gulp. It'll go down quicker."
Reluctantly, Methos tossed it back like a jigger of cheap gin, making another face as the thick green syrup went down. A tiny squeak of protest escaped him as Mac refilled the little cup and a further objection almost rolled off his lips. Instead his expression shifted to resignation and he drank the rest unhappily.
"I don't bedieve dis is happening." He flopped back bonelessly into the pillows and tried to focus in Mac and Joe's direction. "Pleadse..." he moaned, "pleadse just go away and let me die."
Mac could see the misery swimming behind the watery, puffy hazel eyes as they stared off again at the ceiling. He took the little green jar of salve from Joe and gave it an experimental whiff. Ugh! Why was all the medication green and horrible? If Joe's granny was right, this stuff should have Methos up in no time. "We're not going to let you die," he said in his most reasonable tone. "Methos, it's just a cold. Mortals do this twice a year or so."
A bit of the old fire sparked in the pale face. "YOU bloody try it!! I'd radder be bled wid leeches!" Out of breath, he sank further back, coughing.
Duncan tugged back the blankets and slung a cold glob of the green unguent in the middle of Methos' chest and started to smear it around.
The fire was suddenly back, pure chemical burn. "Whad the hell ids dat?? Id burnds!!"
"It's to help you breathe. Quit whining and lay down." Mac quickly dragged one gooey finger across Methos' upper lip.
"Ngah!!" Methos wrenched his head away and scrubbed at his abused lip. He focused a bleary glare at Mac, who was stifling a smile. "Whad'd I ever do to you?"
Duncan's eyes narrowed, and he drew a breath.
"Mac!" Joe snapped, "don't even think about answering that."
Mac tossed a look at Joe. He wasn't seriously thinking about answering. Well... no. Not seriously.
His nose wrinkled as he liberally rubbed the smelly ointment over Methos' chest. God, this stuff stank! Probably take rust off of a fender, who knew what it might to do skin, especially skin as soft as Methos' was. Methos' skin was soft, he realized, supple and pliant under his hands, slick from the salve. Sure, he'd seen him without a shirt before, but this was the first time he'd really noticed the texture of his skin, easily as fine as Amanda's, and as hairless. The resemblance ended there, he noted, smoothing the quickly-liquefying goo over the wide, solid chest and low swells of muscle. The white flesh was pinking nicely under his hands, warming in a way that had nothing to do with fever...
Duncan started at the sound of Joe's voice, pulling him out of his meandering thoughts. Joe was looking at him curiously, holding out a towel for him to wipe his hands.
His hands that were still resting on Methos' chest.
Mac jerked his hands away as if he'd been burned, and pulled up the sheet. As he cleaned the pungent slime off his hands with the towel, Joe motioned to the heating pad. "Now, put the heating pad on top. It's the standby cure of mothers everywhere-- sweating it out. The medicine will work on the coughing and sneezing so he can sleep and that stuff will help his breathing."
Mac nodded, finished settling the pad and noted Methos was asleep again. "He'll be better when he wakes up, right?"
Joe pursed his lips and bobbed his head in what might be generously called a nod. Mac wasn't entirely reassured. "He should be. But it may be a couple of days before he's totally well. That is, if this is a cold."
"You can't tell?"
"Well, it acts like a cold or the flu, but I can't be sure. And I don't know what effect this could have on him. His immune system might kick in and he'll be fine this afternoon. Mac, we're both in the dark on this." He stood up. "Look, I'm going to check the chronicles, see if I can get any clues. Let me know how he's doing."
The desert sun was bright and punishing, searing his skin to a parched, leathery red. It stretched tightly across his bones, pulling painfully with every breath of dry, sun-blasted air he sucked into his aching lungs. He was crushed, helpless between the hammering heat of the late afternoon and the tearing, abrasive sand that bit into his back. Was he bleeding? It felt like he should be... Anything that hurt so much should draw blood. He couldn't afford the lost fluid, but couldn't find it in himself to care much. Already dizzy with dehydration, he needed to find shade, find something to drink before he died again...
Methos forced his gummy eyes open, expecting to see the yellow globe blazing over his head, not the ceiling of his bedroom. Wheezing for air, he clawed his way to a seated position and shoved the heavy blankets away, knocking the heating pad to the floor. His head was pounding; he reflexively brought a hand up to check for seams in his skull. It felt like it had been busted open, and his brains were being forced out of the cracks with every throb of his heart. He groaned and reached for a tissue, blowing his nose into it. Pain ripped through his sinuses, leaving him feeling like he'd torn his nasal passages wide open. Horrible thoughts of being permanently inflicted with this misery went through his mind. He swiveled his too-heavy head unsteadily on his neck, and saw Mac approaching the bed. Fear and desperation mingled, congealing into a terrible urge.
"Do me a favor, Mac. Take my head."
Confusion and concern softening his face, MacLeod sat carefully on the edge of the bed. "What?"
"Please, Mac, just do it. It feels like it's exploding anyway. I'm Immortal. What if this is some Immortal virus that will live forever?" Methos pleaded, punctuating the request with a sneeze. Mac *had* to do this for him, there was no other way. Just the thought of going on like this... No. This was the answer.
Duncan's hand was a cold slab against his face. He remembered those hands, cool and soothing. Right now they made him think of green things, trees and ferns, mossy rivers he'd caught fish in. Did Duncan like to fish? Maybe they'd find that river again, cold and fast from mountain run-off, and fish it together. The fish... the fish were good.
"Please kill me." The cool hand was placed on another part of his face, and then on his neck. So cool... Duncan must have been hanging it in the water. Maybe he was checking the lines to see if there were any fish yet.
"You're burning up!"
His head spun and the world tilted crazily. "We burned the catch?" Methos was sorry Mac was so upset, he hadn't meant to burn it, but maybe Mac was hungry. He smiled. Still, it meant they could stay here longer. He liked this place. "The fire was too hot, I'm sorry. There'll be more soon... and blackberries upriver..."
Duncan bit off a curse. "Blackberries? Methos, shut up. You're delirious." He got an arm under his shoulders and lifted him. "Come on. Let's get you into a cold shower."
"No berries? I thought it was summer..." Methos looked around the room without really seeing it. "'S okay, we'll have the fish..." He grinned and began to chuckle at some private joke. "Hot fish. You like fish, Mac?"
"Yeah, fish is fine," he agreed distractedly.
Methos' raspy laughter took on a manic, hysterical quality, making the hair on Mac's neck rise. He'd rarely ever heard Methos laugh, and never like this. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what was so funny.
The older Immortal wasn't very cooperative, whether from stubbornness or just an inability to think clearly, still babbling and snickering about giving Mac "hot fish." MacLeod struggled to get him to the bathroom, strip his shorts off and get him into the tub. The safest plan was to get him to sit and just turn the cold water on him. Gritting his teeth, Duncan gave the cold water handle a firm twist.
Methos shouted incoherently and tried to climb out of the tub. Mac had to physically restrain him until he relaxed under the icy spray, ultimately soaking them both.
Standing back, he had to admit Methos looked pretty pathetic hunched into the bathtub with water pouring over his head and pooling in the bottom of the tub. Several minutes passed before the fever-bright gleam in Methos' eyes faded.
"Joe said you should be okay in a couple of days." Mac tried to sound reassuring, like he hadn't just manhandled a delirious, manic, semi-suicidal Immortal into a tub of cold water. Gathering his dignity, he wiped at the water dripping off his nose. "Usually a flu just has to run its course."
Methos raised his head, squinted through the water at Mac. With his sharp features highlighted by the hair plastered to his head, he looked like a drowned rat, but most importantly, a lucid rat. "I don't know how the hell people can endure this year after year, Mac. I just want to die."
Mac nodded in sympathy, then it dawned on him. Die. If Methos died, his body should heal any injuries and illness in the recovery process. But then, he shouldn't be ill anyway, Mac reasoned. Still, it was worth a try. To be sure, he pulled a pocket knife, casually reached over, caught Methos' hand and cut his arm open a couple of inches.
Methos jerked his arm back. "What are you doing? Blood-letting? I think we know that doesn't work."
"Sorry," Mac said softly, with real apology, watching the small wound seal itself up in seconds. He was glad that Methos was apparently healing normally. The thought of anything that could strip them of their Immortality was frightening on many levels, and Methos was farther from his first death than any of them. He doubted Methos even remembered being mortal, much less be able to cope with being suddenly thrust back into that state. "It's ok, I wanted to check something. You stay put; I'll be back in a couple of minutes." He clapped Methos' wet, chilled shoulder in gruff assurance and stepped out into the main room.
Mac returned a moment later to find Methos hunched over, shivering and digging in the linen closet. //Can't even follow directions for five minutes...// Mac sighed regretfully and looked down at the large dagger in his hand. The weapon was heavy and ornate, one of Methos' own, a favorite kept on display as much to show off the artistry of it as to keep it close to hand. True to the Old Man's nature, it was sharpened to a razor edge. It was never easy killing a friend. Adjusting his grip, Duncan stepped behind him and laid a steadying hand on Methos' chest.
"Mac, what..?" Just as Methos stood and began to turn, Mac forced the dagger through his left lung and into his heart.
Methos stiffened with pain and shock, twisting around to face MacLeod. An expression of disbelief and surprise transformed his face as he coughed, breathed a foul-sounding oath in a language Mac didn't understand, and sank slowly to the floor in front of the open closet. Blood filled his mouth. Methos twitched violently for a minute or so before falling still. Shakily, Mac knelt to remove the dagger. For a moment, he thought he was going to be sick as the blood poured down Methos' pale, naked back and pooled on the white tile floor.
He clenched his jaw against the threatening nausea and pulled himself together. This was for Methos' own good. And anyway, he reasoned, he owed Methos after he shot him in the back over the Keane situation. That hadn't been pleasant either.
The "murder" was messier than Mac had planned. Blood had spattered on the walls and floor, making a grotesque parody of polka-dots, as well as spreading in a dark, sticky pool under the unmoving body. He hadn't realized the Old Man would bleed so much; heart shots were usually cleaner. With a sigh, he selected a burgundy colored towel, wet it and began wiping up the blood. Only after the walls and floor were clean, and the towel rinsed did he turn his attention to Methos, examining him with a clinical detachment. The wound was almost healed, just the faintest pink line remaining after he'd scrubbed off some of the blood. At least the fever was gone; Methos felt cool...//all right,// Mac corrected himself, //cold//...to his touch.
As Mac finished drying him off, Methos gasped for air, choked, coughed, then sneezed. Dismayed that the symptoms appeared to still be with him, Mac reached to help the older man sit up and with a choked cough, Methos threw up blood and bile all over Mac. "Sorry," he murmured weakly, then quickly amended it, scowling up at the Scot. "No, I'm not. You son of bitch! What the hell was that for? You killed me!!" He kept talking, but the words got distorted in the ensuing coughing and sneezing.
Scraping a towel against his shirt with all the violence that he refused to vent on Methos, Mac snarled back. "Yes, and if you throw up on me again, I just might make it permanent!" As he removed his ruined shirt and began cleaning himself up, he looked at the miserable, still-sick man on the floor and tried to explain. "I thought you would heal while you were reviving. You know, your body should have taken care of this."
"Well, maybe...(cough)...a Quickening...(cough, cough)...would (cough)...work," Methos muttered between coughs. "You want...(cough) to...(cough, cough, cough)... to volunteer, MacLeod?...(sneeze)!"
Mac shook his head, uncertain what the next step should be. If anything Methos appeared to be getting worse instead of better. With a grunt, he got the old Immortal to his feet and guided him back to the bed-- again. Mac chuckled as he eased him down and adjusted the covers. "I never would have thought I'd be working so hard at getting you into bed."
"I may be a cheabp date, but I'm not that eadsy, MacLeod," he managed to quip through the returning congestion, then a violent round of coughing interrupted anything else he was going to say. Sucking a desperate breath he wheezed out, "Please, Magh... take my head."
Mac shook his head. "I thought we'd already been through that. " He strode purposefully into the kitchen, returning a few moments later with a glass of juice and a handful of cold tablets. "Take these," he ordered, extending his hand in front of the pitiful face.
Blearily, Methos eyed the yellow capsules. "Either I'm seeging multibles or thad's more than regomended."
MacLeod narrowed his eyes, rapidly losing patience. "Just take them, Methos. The worst that can happen is they'll kill you. At least you'll get some rest."
A hurt look on his face, Methos grabbed the pills and swallowed them, dutifully tossing the juice back to wash them down. He flung a wounded look over his shoulder, slid deeper under the blankets and turned his back on the Scot. The attempt at sulking was short lived as he quickly succumbed to the overdose and slipped away into sleep or unconsciousness, snoring roughly through the congestion.
Mac pressed his hand against the damp forehead and noted the fever was back. Whatever this was, it wasn't going away. What if Methos was right and they couldn't cure it? Would it even be safe to take his head? That might just spread the illness to another Immortal. //Dammit!// That line of thought would do no one any good. He couldn't believe he was actually considering it!
MacLeod walked away from the sleeping area and picked up the phone, dialing a familiar number, fidgeting impatiently until the receiver picked up. "Joe, I don't know what to do," he said without preamble. "He's started begging for me to just take his head and be done with it. Truthfully, he's on my nerves so bad that I'm starting to think about it."
"Well, not very seriously." He then went on to tell Joe everything that had happened, including him killing Methos.
"I haven't got a clue, Mac," Joe muttered. "I can't find any precedence for this kind of thing. Being as old as he is, and with no other Immortal even remotely close to his age, I may not have been wrong about his immune system breaking down. Maybe you guys aren't really Immortal-- just extremely long-lived. Is he starting to do any sudden aging?"
Mac glanced across the room at the sleeping figure. If anything, he looked younger, in spite of the puffy eyes and nose. In fact, the puffiness of his face almost added a certain youthfulness to the normally sharp planes. "No, Joe. He still looks about thirty. But he just keeps getting sicker. I don't know what to do."
There was silence on the line for a few moments, then Joe spoke slowly. "I have an idea, Mac. I know a doctor-- no, wait!" he quickly interjected as he heard the sharp intake of MacLeod's breath. "This doctor is a friend of 'Adam's' and he's Immortal. Methos has got to have help and I can't think of a better option."
For a moment or two, Mac thought about it, then agreed. Joe was right.
MacLeod gazed suspiciously at the blonde-haired man on the other side of the door, noting the absolute averageness of his appearance. About Amanda's height, he was as slender as Methos, and handsome, though not in any memorable way save the earnestness of his eyes. Here was a man who could make an art of disappearing in a crowd, or of gaining people's trust. With a face like that, he should have been selling used cars. Vague recognition made Mac's scalp tingle. He'd met this man before; a momentary flash of his last visit to Sean Burns' grave supplied the when.
"Miles Montgomery," the blonde said conspiratorially. "Joe sent me. Sounds like a secret password or something."
Almost reluctantly, Mac stepped aside to let him in. The honest, puppyish lines of his face hardened momentarily as their eyes met and held. Carefully checked anger smoldered behind them, anger and challenge. MacLeod bristled slightly at the flinty observation, his hand twitching as if craving the sure weight of his katana. The intense mutual regard lingered for a few more moments, then, challenge set aside, Miles' eyes shifted to the bed and all his attention followed. Crossing the room, he sat comfortably on the edge of the mattress and pressed his hand against Methos' forehead. The old Immortal's eyes flickered open, focused blearily on his face.
"Well, you're really sick, aren't you? Leave it to you to manage something no other Immortal has done, Adam." He reached into the case he'd brought with him and extracted a shiny white electronic thermometer, which he stuck in his patient's ear. "Tell me what happened."
"It started with a headache yesterday afternoon," Mac volunteered as he leaned against the support beam. "Then he fainted in the shower--"
"I dibn't faint. I passed out." Methos objected automatically.
Mac nodded indulgently, eyes leaving the blonde doctor only briefly, then continued. "After that, it was straight down hill. Dizzy, nauseous, vomiting, high fever." He shrugged. "I even tried killing him."
Miles nodded, with a slight frown and compressing of lips that seemed to indicate that he didn't exactly approve of Mac's nursing technique. He extracted the thermometer and checked the reading. "Pretty high."
"How high?" Methos asked hoarsely.
"Hundred and three." Miles tucked the instrument away, then withdrew a stethoscope and shifted it around Methos' chest as the miserable Immortal complied with the request for deep breaths, adding in a few associated coughs for good measure. As the doctor sat back, the frown deepened. "You are majorly congested, sounds like you've been breathing pea soup. Wait," he leaned forward and listened again. "No, no... definitely cream of mushroom." He smiled and hung the stethoscope around his neck like Mac had always seen doctors do in movies. "Okay, I'm going to take some blood for testing. I have no idea what this is or why your immune system isn't handling it. For now, I'm going to give you antibiotics. Your system will most likely neutralize most of the medicine, but if I give you enough, it might help."
"And if it doesn't?" Methos asked as Miles prepared his right arm to extract blood.
"That's the easy part. We fall back on plan two," Miles replied with an easy laugh.
Miles' grin was wicked. "Standard response to unforeseen dilemmas, perfected over many centuries."
"Nothing," both voices chorused simultaneously. It was a light moment to ease the tension, but Methos' smile was half-hearted.
"Seriously, then we try something else," Miles assured him, picking up on the real nervousness Methos was radiating. Duncan could sense Methos' anxiety from across the room, fresh and metallic. "I'll get you through this, Adam." Miles gently pushed Methos' damp hair away from his forehead. A few feet away, Mac felt suddenly isolated, and embarrassed. A voyeuristic thrill raced through him, coupled shockingly with jealousy as he witnessed the tender exchange and unexpectedly intimate gesture. He shouldn't be watching this, but confusion and curiosity rooted him to the spot. What the hell was going on here? Methos had never even mentioned this guy and now he was practically holding his hand?
Mac's mood, and his gaze darkened as Methos permitted the contact, actually leaning into the gentle touch. There was way too much bedside manner here. They were friends, Joe had said. He watched the blonde man a little closer, noting how cautiously he was inserting the needle into the vein, how careful he was not to hurt Methos.
"Let's hope these tell us something," Miles mumbled as he flicked the two vials of blood firmly with a fingernail and tucked them into the case. Next he extracted a pair of hypodermics that to Mac's inexperienced eyes looked like horse needles. Methos didn't look too enthused, but he wasn't arguing either. "Okay," Miles continued cheerfully, "these need to go into large muscle groups, so--" He indicated "roll over" by flipping his hand.
Clearly not amused, Methos cast a dark glare at him, then rolled onto his stomach. Mac shifted uneasily, then retreated to the kitchen to make coffee. As he measured the grounds, he heard a sharp "Ow!" uttered by the world's oldest Immortal.
"Don't be such a baby!" Miles' voice admonished. "You take a sword through your gut with barely a whimper and a needle is a big deal?"
"It's not the needle," Methos muttered. "It's your technique."
Mac could hear the grin. "You didn't complain about my technique last time."
"Well, jeez, I'm not exactly up to speed, you know. I haven't actually practiced medicine in over five decades."
Mac added water to the pot, muffling the sounds from the other room. As the pot cheerfully gurgled out the new brew, Mac returned to the room. Miles was urging Methos to sit up. He glanced up at MacLeod. "Do you have any of that mentholated rub left? It really is good to help clear congestion."
Nodding, Mac located the jar of the smelly goo and handed it to the blonde. As Montgomery smeared a handful of the unguent on Methos' chest and began smoothing it across his pale skin, he added, "Can you get me a clean t-shirt, MacLeod? Adam keeps 'em in the second drawer-right hand side."
Mac felt the hair at the back of his neck bristle. //How the hell does he know where Methos keeps his tee shirts? I don't even know!// Mac thought irritably. Annoyed, he checked the dresser and, much to his dismay, found the garment right where the doctor said it would be. Pulling out the top one of the neatly stacked shirts, he shoved the drawer closed and forced himself to walk calmly back to the bed to toss the shirt next to Miles. Stalking would not be good. Neither would breaking the good doctor's fingers, smelly green slime and all.
By now Miles had moved on to applying the unguent to the ill man's back, rubbing it in below the shoulder blades. Methos looked like he could barely sit up, his chest heaving unevenly with raspy, painful sounding breaths. Whether Mac liked the annoying blonde or not, he hoped Montgomery could do something for Methos. The old Immortal seemed to be getting steadily sicker no matter what they did... and dying wasn't a solution.
Finishing up, Miles wiped his hands on the bath towel lying near the bed, then picked up the clean t-shirt and spread the neck opening over his hand. "Come on. Sit up," Miles urged, shifting an arm behind Methos' shoulder, then sliding the tee shirt over his head and easing his right arm through the sleeve. "I can do it," Methos objected halfheartedly.
Miles gave him a fond smile. "I know. But you don't feel like it and there's no need. Let's have your other arm."
Methos let the doctor dress him, allowing him to pull the shirt on as if he was a small child. "Smells mediciny," he mumbled, as his head dropped against Miles' shoulder. "Shit, I feel lousy, Rory."
Reaching behind him, Miles propped up the two pillows, glanced around and spotted a fat throw pillow on the sofa. He motioned to it. "Could you get me that one, MacLeod?"
MacLeod bristled at the command, finding himself more and more irritated at the familiarity between Montgomery and Methos. The fact that Methos was so-- so cooperative made him absolutely fume. As tight and hot as his head felt, there should have been smoke wafting from his ears like a cartoon bull's. As Mac lobbed the pillow to him, more than a hint of annoyance in the move, Miles cast a curious glance his way and stifled a small smile, then added the pillow to the bottom of the stack before settling Methos back against them. "You'll find it easier to breathe if you're not lying flat," he explained, then adjusted the covers up to his chin.
As Mac started to hand him the heating pad, Miles looked appalled. "God, no! This stuff creates enough heat without burning him!"
Mac glanced foolishly down at the pad in his hand, ready to invoke Joe's name as a medical expert, then realized he had no argument. He tossed the heating pad aside and dropped onto the sofa again. Breaking bones was seeming like a better idea all the time. But fingers would no longer be enough.
Meanwhile, Miles stroked the damp head reassuringly as Methos drifted off. "You are a mess, Adam. What am I going to do with you?"
"So, now what?" Mac asked, fighting to keep the edge from his voice and not succeeding very well. The closeness between Methos and the doctor grated on him in some inexplicable way. Maybe somehow he just didn't like to think of Methos having a close friendship with someone outside his own circle. Not that he was possessive or territorial about the old Immortal, it was just... just... Well, all right, so he didn't know what it was. He could find a thesaurus later and look for the appropriate word. It was enough that he didn't like it. And he certainly didn't like Montgomery. And on top of it all, Methos wasn't even giving the man a hard time, docilely going along with everything the blonde said, where he had bickered and sniped and fought Mac at every turn. That rankled.
Miles straightened, began gathering all his things up, then pulled two bottles out of the depths of his satchel, one of pills, another of reddish syrup and began blithely giving orders again. "Now I run some tests. See if I can identify what this is and why he isn't fighting it. In the meantime, keep him in bed-- not that I think he's feeling up to a stroll along the river. I'm leaving some decongestant tablets and cough syrup. Give them to him as needed. And see if you can get him to drink something. You know, fruit juice, warm tea. That kind of thing. Oh-- and no beer." He was most emphatic on this point.
"You're joking! He'll kill someone."
"Then let's hope his aim is bad, and you recover. No beer." Montgomery sauntered out the door leaving Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod the job of enforcing his commands.
Mac sighed. Keeping Methos from beer right now wasn't a problem. Just getting him to drink anything at the moment was difficult. But when he started feeling better, well... Mac honestly didn't know if he could keep Methos from the beer -- unless he put a lock on the refrigerator door. Or... A dangerous thought began to surface... he could just get rid of the stuff. No. He dismissed the notion quickly. Methos would really kill him then.
A devilish grin blossomed on Mac's face. Keeping Methos from beer-- this might almost make up for the mooching. It might even be worth getting killed for. As long as Methos didn't take his head, that is. Whether or not a Quickening might drive the illness from his body, Mac had no intention of volunteering to be the "donor." He checked the bag Joe brought and found a box of chamomile tea. This was perfect.
Day Three (5:52 am):
As luck would have it, Methos sleep solidly through the evening and well into the early morning hours until a coughing spell woke him up. Mac raised his head blearily as he heard the wet, rasping sound. His first thought was to just ignore it and go back to sleep, until the sound seemed to be moving across the room. "Methos?" he mumbled. "You up?"
"Go bacg to slepb, Mac," a hoarse, rough-sounding voice replied, several steps deeper than the usual smooth baritone. The door to the bathroom creaked open and shut, the latch clicking home, shutting him out. MacLeod slowly sat up, ran a hand through his tousled hair and turned on the light next to the couch.
Blinking owlishly, he stumbled into the kitchen, and debated whether to make tea or just pour a glass of juice. The latter won out. Never mind that it was easier, Methos needed the vitamins and room temperature apple juice would probably go down easier than hot tea. As Mac poured a small glass, he heard flushing from the bathroom and relaxed as the door opened again.
He returned just as Methos crawled back into the bed and tugged at the covers. "How are you feeling?"
"Maybe a liddle bedder," the older man replied, sounding just as congested as he had for the past forty hours.
Coming up next to the bed, Mac spotted the pills Montgomery had left and poured a double dose into his hand, then offered them to Methos along with the juice. "Here take these. They seem to be helping."
"Magh--" Methos started.
Irritation flared, and Mac cut him off before he could protest further. "No. No arguments. Just take them. And drink all the juice." Yes, Miles. Of course, Miles. Thank you, Miles. Anything you want, Miles. Mac thought that Methos would argue with him if he said the sky was blue.
Stony-faced, Methos sat up and took the pills, tossed them down and tried to chug the juice. He nearly choked on it as the liquid and pills hit his sore throat, but somehow he managed to swallow everything before the coughing started.
"I didn't mean all at once," MacLeod stated sarcastically and handed him a tissue. "I think the juice would have gone down easier in several sips."
Through watery eyes, Methos glared at the Highlander. As Mac picked up the bottle of cough syrup, his face grew stubborn.
Mac sighed. "Look, I know this is tough for you. I know you don't feel good. I'm doing the best I can here, Methos."
"I never asked you to stay," the irascible old man snarled.
"Fine! Have it your way!" MacLeod snapped back at him. Angered all out of proportion to Methos' resistance to his care, he tossed the bottle back on the end table, got to his feet and stomped out the door, slamming it behind him. The sound and vibration rang in his ears.
Methos flinched, and slid a little deeper into the bed, nursing his wounded feelings and generally feeling sorry for himself. He knew he was acting like a child, //a stubborn, spoiled child// he amended, he just couldn't seem to help it when Mac was here. It certainly didn't make him feel any better that the Highlander had stormed out. Snuffling and honking into a tissue, Methos admitted to himself that he was just as miserable, only now he was alone and miserable. Not necessarily an improvement.
He hated this! It wasn't even like an agonizing, lingering injury that took a couple of hours to heal. Pain he could deal with, sure in the knowledge that even the worst injury would heal in hours. This was the total feeling of not having any energy, of aching every time he moved, of feeling like he couldn't breathe from moment to moment. Fatigue covered him like a blanket, smothering him. And MacLeod wasn't any help, always there, hovering over him, mothering him as it were. Take these, drink this, lay down. Are you all right, Methos? Get in the shower, Methos. Here, let me stab you in the back, Methos! It made him want to scream! He couldn't even explain why it was it annoyed him when MacLeod did it, yet having Rory being equally as concerned didn't bother him that much. Maybe it was the difference in their relationship that made it easier to accept from the doctor. Or it was less painful to show this kind of weakness to Rory than to Mac.
That thought cut a little too close to home. Why did he need to be so strong around Mac? He and the Highlander had certainly seen each other at their worst already. //Not strong,// he corrected himself bitterly, //Impervious. Unassailable. Invulnerable... Independent.// Weakness was perfectly fine to display. Dependence was not. He coughed and snorted into another in a long series of tissues and added it to the graveyard of pastel lumps accumulating by his bed. Much more coughing and he'd likely hack up a lung.
Whatever, he thought. He was too tired, too sick to think about it any more. His head ached fiercely and the pills he'd taken were beginning to make him drowsy. He rolled his face into the pillow to sleep.
Duncan MacLeod fumed half the way back to his barge, his nerves past the breaking point. He wished that was walking so that he could have stomped satisfyingly on the paving-stones, but instead he settled for shifting gears with a vengeance, wrenching the stick like he would have liked to twist Montgomery's neck. Not the same, but it would have to do. He was not a good nurse and Methos was possibly the most cantankerous, uncooperative, most exasperating patient in the world. True enough, the old man hadn't asked him to stay and take care of him, in fact, had told him more than once to leave him alone. So why did he feel so bad about doing what he'd asked?
No matter, Mac decided. Methos would be fine for the night and he needed to get a good night's sleep in his own bed, clean clothes and a decent meal. He was tired of ordering take out and feeling cooped up in Methos' flat, and damn tired of taking orders from Montgomery. For all he cared at the moment, the annoying blonde man could take care of his beloved "Adam." Let him fetch and step for a while.
By the time he'd reached the barge, Mac was ready for a shower, a whisky and a long sleep.
MacLeod fumbled blindly for the phone, half-tangled in blankets and dreams of cleaning fish, cutting off their heads and the slitting their cold, scaly bellies open. Fish with blonde hair. He dragged the receiver to his ear.
"H'lo?" He mumbled, his tongue thick with exhaustion.
"Hey, Mac! I wasn't expecting to find you there. There's no answer at Methos' place so I gather he must be feeling okay now?" Joe was entirely too chipper for the unholy hour. God, what time was it? Mac squinted at the clock, apprehension seeping through him. 4:18 pm.
A sharp pang of guilt stabbed at him. "Actually, he was still pretty bad off when I left. I just needed to get away for a bit. He's not answering?"
"No." There was a loaded pause. "Look, it's probably nothing. Maybe he's sleeping, or in the shower. Or just not answering the phone. You know how he can be."
"Yeah, I know." Mac kicked the covers back and wiped at his eyes, fear and guilt lending haste to his movements. "I'm heading back over there in a few minutes. I'm sure he's okay." Mac didn't know if he was reassuring Joe or himself. Methos was fine. That was all there was to it. Fine. Still, the reproach in Joe's silence was as intense as if he'd been shouting. Methos was not in any condition to defend himself against another Immortal. And Mac had left him alone.
Mac cursed himself and his stupidity all the way back to the flat, driving with a reckless disregard of his own safety. //What was it Richie had called it that time? Low-level flying.// Bounding up the stairs two and three at a time, he renewed his swearing, fear clutching at him with icy fingers as he realized he'd left Methos' door unlocked. The sweeping signature of another Immortal nearby was only partly reassuring. It might have been anyone. Montgomery, or Amanda popping by, or... or... //Or some cold-hearted headhunter lingering in the post-Quickening afterglow to clean the blood off his sword.//
He flew up the stairs, that image lingering, burned onto his brain. He didn't know what he'd do if Methos had been killed, and it was his fault for leaving him. He laid a hand on the doorknob, almost reluctant to open it. A horrible, deep, droning wail issued from inside the apartment. Mac gritted his teeth and gripped the knob with a shaking hand, expecting the worst. //God! What is that noise?// Then it dawned on him: Methos was singing again, something slow and sad accompanied by a hiccup every third or fourth word. Mac didn't recognize either the melody or the language. It sounded somewhat like a dirge, although deeper and darker than any of the Scottish ones he knew. Duncan groaned to himself and covered his ears. Even the Russian bar songs yesterday were better than this.
He pushed the door open and peered into the darkened room. Candlelight shone from every available surface, bathing Methos in a golden glow. The eldest Immortal sat in the middle of the bed, waving the now-empty bottle of cough medicine around as if he were conducting an orchestra, and singing at the top of his lungs. He was ringed in candles and empty beer bottles.
"Shit, Methos! What have you done?" Mac asked sternly as he snatched the bottle out of his hand, irritation quickly replacing his fear.
The singing abruptly stopped, mid-word as far as Mac could tell. Methos grinned up at him from the nest of sheets he'd made. "Hey, Highlander! Have a beer." He eyed the empty bottle Mac had taken from him. "You know, that stuff's not so bad if you've got a good lager to chase it with." He hiccuped, as if punctuating his point.
Unamused, Mac reached for the bottle of pills on the low table and found it, too, was empty. "When did you take these?"
Methos shrugged, still smiling, ridiculously happy. Perversely, this just made Mac more angry. Methos shouldn't be this... giddy when Mac was so upset. "I dunno. Over the last couple of hours, I guess. Come on. Sing along with me. It's an Egyptian funeral song." He hesitated, swallowing another hiccup. "From Egypt," he added. The deep baritone drone started again with words that were totally alien to MacLeod. If it was Egyptian, it was ancient Egyptian-- none of it sounded remotely familiar to him.
Muttering curses under his breath, Mac hoped the overdose wouldn't do anything more drastic than make the old Immortal sleepy, although at the moment, it seemed to have had the reverse effect. Methos was putting entirely too much energy into it for a "funeral song." Even the Irish didn't have wakes this festive. He headed for the small kitchen, ran water into a tea kettle then turned the burner on under it. He checked through the cupboards, found most of them empty, and sighed. Methos didn't have a teapot in the place. The abrasive off-key singing continued on as he waited for the pot to boil.
What the hell did Methos think he was doing? Worse yet, he might have to explain this little episode to the annoying blonde doctor and, frankly speaking, that was not something he was willing to do. The very thought of having to explain anything to Montgomery set his teeth on edge. Anything. At this point the blonde would be lucky to get directions to the nearest lake he could jump into. He glared over the counter at Methos. What on earth did he think he was accomplishing with this little stunt? A whole bottle of antibiotics, decongestants, cough medicine and a six pack of beer? Methos should have been totally knocked out, if not dead, instead of cheerily singing dirges off-key.
"Come on, MacLeod. You're not singing!" Methos complained loudly. "Hey, get another beer while you're in there. All these bottles are empty."
Shaking his head in disbelief, he called back, "I don't know that song, Methos. Isn't that a little rough on your sore throat?"
"Naah." He scratched the end of his nose, then poked at it experimentally. "Can't feel a thing, really." He lapsed into a thoughtful silence. "Hey, I know a Scottish dirge... although my Scots Gaelic isn't the best. You Scots murdered the language, you know. If I sing it in Irish, can you follow along?"
"We didn't murder the language!"
"Sure you did. Sounds like you're speaking Klingon. All consonants and phlegm. Makes Russian look easy. Come on, sing with me."
//Please,// Mac flung the prayer heavenward with all his strength, //please don't let him sing in Russian any more.//
Methos started solemnly intoning a morose Irish tune in three minors that had Mac cringing. //Be careful what you ask for... Damn!// If he kept this up, Mac feared he'd be forced to kill him again just to shut him up for a while. At least he didn't sound as congested as he had, Mac thought as he poured the hot water over a tea bag in a large mug. No dainty teacups in these cupboards. As Mac swished the bag in the cup, he gazed at the anemic-looking tea that didn't seem to be getting any stronger, then added a teaspoon of honey for sweetener. He suspected the chamomile tea would be nowhere near adequate to dilute the medicine and alcohol Methos had consumed. He really needed to pour a pot or two of coffee down his throat, but that might make matters worse... at least from the standpoint of a having a wide awake and wired ancient Immortal.
He returned to his patient, mug of hot tea in hand. "Here. Drink this down."
Methos eyed the drink warily. "What sort of unholy witch-doctor brew is this?"
"It's tea, drink it."
"Tea is supposed to be black. This looks like urine," he sniffed suspiciously at the cup. "Smells like it too."
"Quit your whining and drink up. It's chamomile." Mac was beginning to lose patience, again.
"You boiled weeds to give me? Weed-broth? Mac, I thought we were friends. If you want me to drink something, get me a beer."
"Sorry, Old Man. I think you've had enough beer... against the doctor's orders. He said no beer. Drink the tea." He was entirely too happy to lay the blame for the beer restriction squarely in Montgomery's lap. //Only fair, since it's his idea.//
"You're listening to that kid?! Miles is not my doctor! I want a beer."
Mac folded his arms and stood his ground. "No. This will help the congestion and won't upset your stomach. Drink."
"You give me a steaming hot cup of piss-scented weed-water to make me better?" The hazel eyes narrowed dangerously and his fingers tightened on the mug. He suddenly seemed very sober.
"Don't." Mac warned.
"Don't even think about throwing that cup ."
Methos scowled at him and locked his lips into a thin line. Mac wondered if Methos realized how absurdly like a three-year-old he was acting.
"If you don't drink that, I'll just find something worse. Come on, you won't even taste it with your nose stuffed up."
"How the hell would you know? I don't see you blowing your nose." He paused, eyes turning thoughtful. "If I drink this, can I have a beer?" Methos bartered shamelessly.
"Hell, what's the worst another beer can do? Kill me? Been there. Done that."
"No. Beer. But if you drink the tea, I'll turn on the TV for you."
"I think your soap opera is on..." Mac teased, offering the carrot.
Methos squirmed, eying the mug unhappily. "All right, but only the one cup."
Methos treated the cup of tea the same as he treated the cough syrup... try to get it all down in one or two swallows. Although in this case, it took several big gulps to make it and he screwed his face into a sign of his absolute displeasure in being forced to drink it. "God, that's awful. I've tasted poison with a better flavor," he complained as handed the mug back.
Living up to his end of the bargain, Mac pulled the small television around and turned it to the proper channel. The French soap operas were sexy but overly melodramatic, Mac decided as he settled down with his book while Methos leaned against the stack of pillows to watch the program. "How can you stand those things?"
"I'm easily amused. Besides, they're like those penny-dreadful novels back in the 1800's. All mood and sex, no substance. If I want substance I'll go read Plato. And the French aren't concerned about R ratings..." Methos flashed a quick grin at Mac. "Easy to watch."
Mac smiled at that, glad to see the renewed amusement showing in the old man's spirit. He was seeming more like himself than he had in the past three days. Yep, he definitely seemed on the mend. Mac relaxed and devoted his attention to the book.
He wasn't sure at what point the loud, steady wheeze of snoring registered, but there it was suddenly. He glanced over at the old Immortal and noted Methos had slipped off into a deep slumber. "Looks like the pills finally caught up, old man," Mac mumbled softly as he turned the TV off and adjusted the covers. And none too soon, he added. He was about ready to go for his sword if Methos had started singing again.
Where was he? It was too dark and quiet, and hot. Methos kicked at the heavy blankets weighing him down, pulled at the thin shirt that clung stickily to his chest. Ugh! What was that smell? Eucalyptus? No... Menthol. Wretched stuff, why was he covered in it? Pale orange light glowed steadily outside the window. Fire? Sunrise? He mopped at the sweat on his face, and rubbed at his pounding head. Must have been a hell of a party. He remembered once when he'd died from bad ouzo... It felt a little like this, but without the menthol.
"Tulipalo? Aegre mihi est."
There was a stirring across the room, a familiar humming in his ears declaring the presence of an Immortal. It never occurred to him to be afraid, or go for his sword. If the other Immortal had brought him here, he could just as easily have killed him as put him to bed. Why was it so hot in here?
"Methos? Are you all right?"
"On kuuma. Kesä on? Anteeksi missä ollaan? Bhí mé sa teach tabhairne..."
"What? What about a tavern?" The man was beside him in an instant, familiar hands feeling his face and neck.
"Mitä olet tekemässä? En ymmärrä." We're they friends? Lovers? Methos didn't know how he could have forgotten something like that, nor did he know why this man didn't understand him. Had the dark man been hit in the head? He was Immortal, but maybe he'd been hit very hard. Head injuries were hard to recover from. It was so hot... He pushed the covers away, tugging off the thin clothes that clung to him. Anything against his skin seemed like too much. He felt so heavy, so tired.
Alarm rose in the other man's eyes, and his hand pressed against Methos' stomach. He swore an oath in a vaguely familiar language. One strong arm came under Methos' back, supporting him. He smiled at the innocence of the seduction. So they were lovers. Strange that they had no language in common, but Methos had known odder things. The man was beautiful in a wild way. What was his name?
"Mikä sinun nimesi on? Tá thu kaunis..."
"I'm what? Methos, I don't speak that language. At least I knew what Farsi sounded like. Come on, what are you talking about? You're mixing stuff up." Such wonderful eyes to look so afraid. Maybe he was young still, and new to this kind of relationship. Methos raised a hand in a gentle caress down the side of the man's face.
"Pericoloso... Onko tel shúile dorcha kaunis. Kaikki on hyvin..."
"Shh... Ole hyvä... Trés kaunis..." //Please...// He leaned up, catching the man's mouth in a sudden kiss.
Duncan was caught off-balance by the kiss. Unexpected, and not guarded against, Methos' mouth was moist and hot against his own, coaxing with gentle insistence. And for the barest moment, he felt himself responding.
Until he realized what he was doing, who he was doing it with, and most importantly, that this was all part of some fever-induced hallucination. He grabbed Methos' shoulders, firmly pushing him back. Nude and obviously aroused, the old Immortal was burning hot to the touch, but given his state, it probably wasn't ...safe to wrestle him into the tub again.
"Si placet, oui."
"No," he shook his head. Duncan's hands were shaking, but from what, he didn't know.
"Ní hea? Miksei?" Methos reached for him again.
"No, Methos. Come on, please, go back to sleep." He eased the lean form back down on the mattress and tossed a sheet over him. The thin fabric did nothing to obscure Methos' body. Duncan focused intently on the fever-bright eyes. Whatever Methos thought he was doing, Duncan was reasonably certain he wasn't doing it with him.
"Iamne abis? Che peccato." Methos looked at him intently, hazel eyes shining with amused regret in the darkness. Something akin to recognition dawned in his face. He sat up quickly and stole another quick kiss before lying back down and turning into the pillow with a sigh.
"Kyllä, Miles. Oíche mhaith duit."
Shaking violently, Duncan suddenly wanted nothing more than to find the blonde and kill him. Slowly.
Day Four (7:21 am)
It was early, the sounds of traffic just picking up, the streetlamps winking out like stragglers from an all-night party. In the wee hours, a couple in the adjoining apartment had been arguing loudly, and was now "making up" with just as much vocal abandon. Eyes burning from lack of sleep, Duncan shifted uncomfortably and tried not to listen, then gave up the pretense of stillness and got up to check on Methos. Pressing a hand to the damp forehead, he noted that the fever was still there even as he tried to convince himself the sleeping man felt a bit cooler. Methos had slept solidly for the past few hours. Whether it was the illness or the effects of too much medicine, Mac couldn't be sure, but for whatever reason, he was grateful. For both their sakes.
The sharp rap at the door startled him, and he cast a quick glance at Methos to see if the noise woke him, but he didn't stir. That was worrying in itself; Methos was usually a very light sleeper, waking at any disturbance. Rising to answer the knock, Mac felt the surge of an Immortal presence. Probably Montgomery, he surmised, although he moved cautiously toward the door, sword held at the ready. A quick check reassured him that it was indeed the blonde, and the sword was quickly put away as he unbolted and opened the door.
Stepping inside, the psychologist removed his coat and smiled perfunctorily at MacLeod. //Not rudeness,// Mac noted, //just exhaustion.//
"How's he doing?"
Mac detected the gravelly note of weariness in the voice and the faint tinge of blue under his eyes. Montgomery had put in some long hours. "He's sleeping. The fever seems to be down a bit."
"Really? That's good." Miles moved past MacLeod to approach Methos.
Mac followed him over as the blonde sat on the edge of the bed and laid a hand against Methos' cheek. Methos sighed, but didn't wake. Alarm bells rang in Duncan's head. There were two Immortals in the room, both of whom had touched him, and Methos still slept. He should not be sleeping through this. Guilt twisted in his gut again that he had ever left Methos alone. He was luckier than he deserved that nothing had happened.
"Adam? Adam, wake up." Miles gently shook his shoulder.
Methos half-opened his eyes. "You're back. D'ja bring any beer?"
Mac gritted his teeth. Back from the day before yesterday, or back from last night? There was no way he could bring himself to ask Methos. The incident, and the startling kiss that left him lying awake and confused long into the night, already felt fuzzy and dreamlike.
Miles chuckled. "You hang on to that sense of humor. You're gonna need it."
"Why?" Suddenly alert, Methos levered himself up on an elbow, focusing intently on the doctor.
"Okay, here's the story. I worked with some friends of mine on running tests on those blood samples. What you've got is a generally harmless little element floating through your blood stream along with something that looks like a flu bug, but doesn't act like it. The element is combining with your white blood cells to inhibit the trigger mechanism that would normally fight off this nasty little bug. One of my friends tried it with her blood and it did nothing, sat there like a lump. We put it with mine and we get fireworks. Just like yours. So my guess is that this only affects Immortals."
"Terrific," Methos mumbled, then asked carefully. "So how do we get rid of it?"
"That's the tricky part." Miles hesitated, the kind of pregnant pause people use before imparting bad news. Mac shifted uneasily, his scalp creeping at what the silence implied. "Your body isn't healing because your white blood cells aren't recognizing the illness. We need to make you sick enough with something your body will recognize so it'll produce enough unmodified white cells to combat this."
"How do you know that will work? Are you sure that this... element is only making his body ignore the flu?" Mac asked as Methos somehow managed to blanch to a new, heretofore unrealized shade of white. Any less color to his skin and he'd be clear.
"It did in the lab. We tried it with Adam's blood and with mine. All five times I tried it, it worked." Montgomery gazed up at the Highlander with utter sincerity. Trust me, the soft lines of his face said plainly. MacLeod reminded himself never to buy a used car from this man. "I think it's worth a try anyway, MacLeod."
"I agree," Methos said, a slight break in his voice. "I'm tired of feeling like this."
"Then, let's do it!" Miles said with inflated cheer and opened the case he'd brought with him. He extracted a filled hypodermic.
Methos locked his eyes on the ominous syringe, and swallowed audibly. "Just like that?"
Duncan would have sworn that the temperature in the room suddenly dropped ten degrees.
"Just like that. You just lie back, relax, and with any luck, your body will take care of this nasty little virus and kill the other one along with it." He looked at Methos for permission before carefully sliding the needle into the prominent vein at his elbow and pressing the syringe.
"What are you giving me?" Methos asked, glimmering hazel eyes showing a flash of anxiety as the disease entered his blood.
"Believe me, you don't want to know."
"It's okay, Adam. Trust me on this," the blonde said reassuringly, withdrawing the needle and pressing firmly against his arm. "Okay, this is going to act quickly. In a few minutes, you're going to begin feeling like death..."
In the background, MacLeod began to choke.
Montgomery looked at him strangely before continuing. "It's going to be a little rough, but this should only last a half-hour or so-if all goes well."
Methos glared at MacLeod, who was still struggling for breath, before he turned back to the doctor. "And if it doesn't?" he asked, his voice reflecting his concern.
Miles shrugged, answered a little nervously. "Then you're infected with two viruses and I keep looking for a way to kill 'em."
MacLeod reacted with a loud, exasperated oath. "You've given him something to make it worse!?"
"It's not a high risk," Miles replied sharply, his eyes narrowing. "I'm about eight-five percent sure it will work, otherwise I wouldn't be doing this. But if you have a better idea, MacLeod, I'll listen."
"A little late for that now isn't it?" He cast a significant glance at the empty syringe. "It still seems irresponsible and--"
"Mac!" Methos' voice cut in sharply. "It's okay. I trust Rory. I have to take the risk, okay?"
Still angry and uncertain, Mac nodded. It wasn't like Methos to just blindly lay his life in the hands of this... this used car salesman with a medical degree, but it was his call. And he'd made it. There was nothing to do now but wait for the fallout of that choice. Mac fervently hoped they wouldn't all be sorry.
"This isn't going to be pretty, MacLeod," Miles said, his voice flat and cold. "If you'd like to leave for an hour--?"
"I'll stay." MacLeod flopped down in a nearby chair to wait, silently daring the blonde to try and evict him. He'd been here from the beginning, and he'd stay to see the end of it. Montgomery would have to kill him to get him away from Methos now. He would be here for Methos this time, and Mac resolved to sing as many tasteless bar songs, in as many throat-straining languages as it took to prove it to him.
"Suit yourself," the blonde replied.
MacLeod studied Montgomery as he took Methos' temperature again and checked his pulse. Three times now, Methos had referred to the other man as "Rory," yet Montgomery consistently called him "Adam." So obviously the two men were close enough that at least Montgomery had confided a different name. It would have to be enough that Methos trusted him. Had Methos told him his true name as well? Was Montgomery being careful to call him Adam in the belief that he was protecting Methos from MacLeod?
It hurt as MacLeod realized that he and Methos had that kind of trust... before Kronos. Playful, sharing confidences, unafraid to be vulnerable. Methos had come to warn him about Kristin, and had turned to him after Alexa died. Had come to the loft first after he returned from Tibet. The joy of each other's company had been enough of an excuse then. Now they needed reasons to get together. A Shakespeare production in the park, the wine festival, a concert. Things to distract them, other things to talk about besides...
Besides the things that needed talking about. Curious, he wondered how Montgomery would react to Methos' brutal past. Despite the smooth trust me facade of his car salesman charm, MacLeod suspected the good doctor was more innocent than he would care to admit.
"MacLeod, make yourself useful and get a bowl of cold water and a wash cloth." Montgomery said it nonchalantly, almost an order. Mac gritted his teeth, bristling at the command. He tried to tell himself that Montgomery, Rory, wasn't being deliberately rude, he was just distracted and as concerned for Methos as Mac was. He sighed, pushing away the dark irritation as he rose to fetch the requested water. This was for Methos, not the blonde. But like it or not, this man was their only option at the moment. Methos trusted him. That would have to be enough.
Methos tried to stay calm, forcing his breathing into a regular pattern even as his thoughts raced haphazardly in all directions. Anticipation was the worst part of any ordeal, and he just wished whatever miserable disease Rory had injected would get on with it. How well did he really know this guy? Trust had never been never one of Methos' strong traits and he had no reason at all to hand over his life into the doctor's care. But here he was, veins full of gods-only-knew what kind of poison. Real fear twisted coldly in his gut as he realized that this could quite possibly kill him, really kill him. Suddenly a thousand years of nose-blowing didn't seem so bad. He clenched his jaw against the panic, and focused on Mac, walking across the room with a bowl of water, face like a thundercloud. As much as he hated to admit it, even to himself, he was glad Mac had stayed. Despite what they'd been through, he always felt safe around Mac, in a way that no Immortal should ever feel safe with another. Mac wouldn't hurt him, and while he was there, nothing else could. Not even Rory's unnamed horror, surging through his body.
He breathed. In, out. In, out, concentrating on the raspy whistle of wind through his swollen sinuses. Focus, focus... He'd count his heartbeats if necessary to stay calm. //This won't kill me. I've endured worse than anything Rory can hope to pull out of that cursed bag. Anything.// Of course right now it looked like this little end-run around his illness wasn't going to work-- either to make him more sick or trigger the cure. He felt about the same as he had earlier, even a bit less congested. Ha. That would be a good joke if he would've gotten better on his own, and Rory's super disease went and killed him. Yeah, funny.
So why wasn't he laughing?
Rory leaned toward him, and pressed a cool hand against his forehead. "How are you doing, Adam?"
"Fine... I don't think it's working."
"It is," Rory reassured him. "Just a little slower than I thought it would. Your temperature's gone up a degree already." He said it like a proud father announcing his son's touchdown record in varsity football.
"Couldn't prove it by --" Methos paused, gasping for breath as sudden pain lanced through his gut. "Oh, gods..." Then he began to feel it, really feel it. His stomach rolled with nausea, his insides twisting hot and cold and frighteningly liquid feeling. Limbs trembling, he curled defensively around his belly. It hurt, everything hurt... The world was suddenly, shockingly defined by pain. Cogito, ergo sum? No... Noceo, ergo sum. //I hurt, therefore I am.// His head hammered, threatening to burst with each erratic heartbeat, his joints protesting every motion. He knew he still breathed only because of the agony that ripped through him with every gasp. Death was suddenly a comfort he both feared and craved. "This... better not... be... ebola," he wheezed between the spasms and shallow gulps of air.
"It's not. I wouldn't do that to you."
Within a frighteningly short time, Methos was beyond understanding anything that was said to him. He felt that he was made of fire, and everything in the world was ice. A crushing weight on his chest pinned him to the bed, and he finally quit struggling against it, his lungs fluttering minimally with every effort to breathe. It was so much work, and he was so tired... Would it be so terrible if he just quit for a while, just to rest? It hurt so bad... Everything was pain.
Something cold rested against his forehead and cheeks. With tremendous effort he forced his eyes open, trying to focus on the face behind the hand touching him. Mac. He gulped for air, needing to fill his lungs, to talk... There was something important he had to tell Mac, the urgency scrabbling at him with tiny, sharp claws like the world might end if he couldn't form the words. Hollow desperation filled his chest in place of the air that wouldn't come, bringing with it a new kind of pain. The pain, and need, and an odd longing consumed him. He couldn't think, couldn't think of the words! Panic flared, and hopelessness. He needed the words!! There was a tingling numbness spreading up from his fingertips and toes, taking the pain away... And a steady pressure against his wrist, light at first, then biting into him, feeling like fire sweeping up his arm. He wished the tingly numbness would hurry up and reach his head... Maybe if it didn't hurt any more, he could find the words he needed.
The room spun...
"Shit!" MacLeod exclaimed, every inch of him singing with the need for motion, for the application of force to correct this. "Is he going to die, Montgomery?"
Miles checked his patient's pulse for the third time in the last ten minutes. He exhaled sharply. "It's a distinct possibility, MacLeod. He's not fighting it at all yet and I don't know if his immune system is going to kick in before it kills him. And when it does kick in, it will heal the virus I just gave him before he revives. It should beat the other one at the same time."
"I'm tired of your shoulds. It should heal him. It should beat this--"
Miles abruptly swung around, shouting. "Would you shut up! This little tantrum of yours isn't helping anyone. Immortal medicine isn't exactly a science! We're not supposed to get sick, remember? None of this should be happening!" He visibly restrained himself, speaking again only after he'd calmed down. "No matter what you might think, I want Adam alive and well. He's my friend and I'm not trying to hurt him. I'm just as concerned as you are."
Realizing the truth of that last statement, MacLeod bit off the sharp words he was going to say and dipped the washcloth back into the bowl. Knuckles tightened on the washcloth as he wrung it with more force than was really necessary, imagining it was the blonde's neck. //He was my friend first,// he thought irrationally, then realized that was the source of all the resentment he felt for the doctor. Montgomery had replaced him.
A sharp noise from the bed pulled his attention away from his own feelings. Methos was so pale that the blue veins networking his chest were visible through the skin, and blood ran freely from his nose. Duncan reached out a hand to stroke the damp head, offering what comfort he could. He suddenly wished that he could bear this for his friend, that the pain could be his.
Methos was clammy to the touch, cold and moist like he was already dead, and just too stubborn to give up breathing. //Breathe, fight... Just a little longer...// Duncan was dreadfully afraid that if Methos stopped breathing, he might never start again.
Strong, cold fingers gripped his wrist, and Methos stared up at him, reddened eyes flicking briefly to Montgomery, before settling back on Duncan. The intensity of the gaze made him flush. Methos had never looked at him like that before.
"M-- Muh--" a shallow gasp and grimace of pain. "Muh-- I-- M--"
"Shh... It's all right..." Even as he tried to soothe, a bitter thought surfaced in Duncan's mind. //Is he trying to say Mac, or Miles?//
A minimal shake of his head, that clearly cost him in pain. Methos' lips and the side of his face were covered in blood that still flowed from his nose.
"Muh-- M--" The grip on Duncan's wrist was loosening, and the fierce gaze began to glaze over. "I-- I-- M--"
Duncan's heart began to pound. What was so important? Methos sagged back into the mattress, panting for air like a beached fish. His lips, where the blood didn't obscure them, faded to a dusky blue. Still, he kept trying to mouth words.
What was so important? A terrible sense of loss swept over Mac at the thought that he might never know. He was very aware of Montgomery standing beside him, silently observing.
Methos' eyes glazed over and lost their focus. One last tiny exhalation, that might have been a sigh of relief, or release, and the lean chest fell still. Cold fingers dropped limply from his wrist, and Duncan imagined that he could hear Methos' heart stop beating.
Very calmly, Duncan straightened the fallen hand and tenderly brushed the damp strands of hair back from Methos' forehead.. His hands shook. Why were his hands shaking so badly? It was cold in here, cold and stale, the air stinking of menthol and plastic. Methos' old apartment had smelled like sandalwood and patchouli. Patchouli... Duncan gripped the edge of the mattress in a vain attempt to steady his hands. Herb-witches called patchouli "graveyard dust." He'd have to tell Methos that one, but knowing the old man, he'd just smile and say that he'd coined the term. He'd smile...
Methos' face was already turning greenish and waxy, the blue lips still covered in drying blood. His eyes were open, staring sightlessly, their surfaces dry and filmy...
There was a light touch on his shoulder. "MacLeod..."
MacLeod rounded on Montgomery in a sudden explosion of anger and grief. "YOU KILLED HIM!!" Hands found the blonde man's shoulders and propelled him backwards, slamming him against the wall with enough force to crack the plaster, rattling a shelf several feet away.
Montgomery was yanked from the wall and slammed into it again. And again. A china bowl danced off of the shelf and shattered on the tile floor. Tiny shards of pottery bounced off Mac's shoe.
"Damn you, you killed him!!" Hands abandoned the shoulders in favor of a better grip on the neck. Montgomery struggled ineffectually, his face turning red.
Slam! There was never even any thought to get his sword. This required contact. His rage and grief demanded nothing less. Methos was dead, and this man had killed him.
SLAM!! Bits of plaster joined the shards of pottery on the floor. Mac's fingers tightened. His eyes burned... the only part of him that seemed real at the moment. His eyes and his hands. The rest of him was weightless, superfluous, floating numbly in a void. Methos was dead.
"What the hell kind of doctor are you!! You killed him!!"
Montgomery was flung to the floor. Choking, he scrabbled backwards, away from MacLeod. There was a brief hesitation as the word rolled over the Highlander.
"You're a psychologist? You're not even a real doctor?"
Montgomery rubbed at the dark bruises erupting on his neck. His voice was rough and low. "Psychiatrist... just practice as a psych--"
"Damn you! I don't care what you want to call yourself. He trusted you, and you killed him!" It was getting hard for Mac to focus his eyes through all the burning. "Damn you..."
"Stay away from me, Montgomery. Just stay away." His anger suddenly gone, Mac made no further move toward the man.
"Fine, but I'm going to stay for a while. If you don't like it, well, I guess you can always kill me, or finish pounding me through the wall if it makes you feel better." They stared at each other for a long moment, the challenge acknowledged and then set aside. Miles disappeared silently into the bathroom.
It had been too long. Duncan sat beside the bed in a kind of vigil over the body of his friend, grieving quietly. After his outburst against Montgomery, there seemed to be no more strong emotion left in him. A great emptiness filled him at the thought that Methos would never again mock his sense of honor, or drink his beer, or drag him off to bad movies. He couldn't even care that Methos' Quickening was lost, the essence of him vanished from the earth. That was a small thing in the shadow of losing the man himself.
Duncan took it upon himself to wash the blood from the face and take away the stained pillow, replacing it with a clean one. Like the dead man would care. He almost smiled. Methos probably would care; he hated to be dirty.
It had been too long. Montgomery moved about the kitchen with a careful silence, making no move to intrude upon the rituals of Mac's grief. MacLeod might have wondered if that was a sign of respect, or self-preservation on the blonde's part. That is, if he'd have had any thoughts to spare for the other man at all.
//Tonight,// Duncan promised the pale, cold shape of his friend's corpse, //tonight we'll have a right proper Scottish wake. We'll get Joe, and enough good Scotch to tie one on in style. And beer...// His throat tightened, and he looked down at his hands, unable to stand the sight of the dry, half-open eyes that refused to stay closed. If Montgomery had dared to suggest that they drape Methos' face, Mac would have killed him right there.
It had been too long. Duncan's eyes burned, and his focus blurred again. It was hard to breathe when Methos did not, hard to see his own dark hands and not feel the icy touch of those pale, slender fingers falling away... He picked up that hand again, gripping it in mute apology.
And the fingers tightened against his own.
Methos convulsed and rolled, sucking great, heaving lungfuls of air, face twisting at the pain of dormant nerves flaring back to life, of cold blood sluggishly flowing. Duncan knew the feeling too well, could read the progress of the recovery by the amount of tension in the long body. Something inside him burst ecstatically as he watched the skin flush with warmth and blood, the dry eyes moisten, the lean chest rise and fall with each breath.
"Welcome back." He tried to be calm, casual about this most delightful resurrection, but felt his voice catch. He wanted to sing, to run around the room screaming for joy, wanted to crush Methos to his chest and never let go. Instead he sat very still, and didn't let go of the hand in his own.
Methos blinked, squinting up at him. "Hey... for me?" He reached up and wiped a shaking hand across Mac's cheek. The fingers came away wet with tears.
"You scared me. Thought I was going to have to pay your bar tab." Mac smiled, swallowing more tears as they threatened. His throat was very tight.
Their eyes locked and held. Methos spoke very quietly. "Is that all it takes?"
Mac nodded slowly. "Joe showed me the books. Looks like the gross national product of some countries I could name." The words were teasing, but the tone was low and intimate.
"Pardon me..." Montgomery was suddenly there at the bedside, setting a large glass of apple juice on the table, and catching Methos' wrist to check his pulse. "As much as I hate to break up this cozy little scene... How are you feeling, Adam?"
Methos arched an eyebrow at the doctor. "Fine, really. Sore, tired, thirsty, craving bananas and fish sandwiches, but nothing terribly unusual. Looks like it worked." Methos wormed his other hand free of Mac's to reach for the juice, applying the same drinking technique he'd been using for everything the past few days: Trying to get it all down in as few swallows as possible. Mac wondered if Methos just treated all beverages but beer the same way, like a little kid holding his nose to eat his vegetables so he'd be allowed to have dessert.
Miles nodded as he counted the beats, then pressed his hand across Methos' forehead. "You feel pretty cool. Let me get a couple of samples to be sure." He reached into his ever-present case and extracted a syringe and several vials. Methos obediently held out an arm. "Bananas and fish, eh? Potassium and iodine most likely."
"Whatever." He came up for air halfway through the glass. "When will you know the results?"
"Tomorrow, probably. I'll light a fire under Stella's butt down at the lab." He flicked the vials of blood and smiled. "That's got it. I'm going to run these off to the lab. Call me if you need anything, or if anything weirder than fish sandwiches crops up. I'll see you in the morning."
"Sure, Miles. Thank you."
"It's nothing. You two kids be good." And he was gone.
There was a long moment of silence that followed the closing of the door. The two friends looked at each other, Duncan feeling the easy intimacy slipping away from them. Why was it always so difficult to say the things that needed to be said? The distance between them seemed uncrossable, the moment for tenderness and comfort vanished, shattered beyond repair. There was a sudden, light feeling in his chest as he considered saying those dangerous words anyway, flinging his heart into the void, reaching for the friendship that didn't need excuses, regardless that the time for saying such things was gone. Who knew if he would ever have another chance?
//Please don't...// Methos' eyes seemed to plead.
So he took refuge in the easy things, meaningless chatter. Methos' relief was palpable, as was his own. Inside, a tiny part of him grieved for what they might have said, given the chance.
Mac shook off the feeling and looked at the elder Immortal with close scrutiny, openly scoffing. "Bananas? I've never seen you eat a banana."
Methos shrugged and pulled off his t-shirt. "First time for everything. Actually, I used to pick them in Brazil. Oh, just after the turn of the century or so."
"Really?" Mac was surprised. Somehow he just never thought of Methos doing physical labor if he could avoid it.
"Yeah, how many other jobs can you think of where no one thinks it odd if you carry a machete?" Methos wadded up the t-shirt and scrubbed at the remaining film of menthol rub and sweat on his neck and chest. "But still, horrible work. Hot, humid, no one to really talk to. And the spiders!" He shuddered in real reaction.
"You're scared of spiders?"
Methos wrinkled his nose. "No, I'm not scared of spiders. I just got tired of getting bitten by them. Hairy little monsters actually killed me once. Quit laughing!"
"Yeah, I can tell. I'm going to get a shower, by myself for a change. I feel like you've seen me naked more than my last wife. Go... Go do something useful and find some food. I'm starving."
Mac was only too happy to obey. "Yes, Methos."
Methos fidgeted uneasily as Miles pushed up the sleeve of his blue henley, tied the tourniquet, and tapped his arm, coaxing a vein to the surface. Again. "I don't see why you're doing this, Miles. I'm fine." Obediently, he held his left arm still, but the remainder of him was bonelessly restless, squirming against the sofa cushions. He picked at a loose thread on the knee of his jeans.
Miles scowled at him with mock-severity. "Right now, you're still my patient and I'll tell you when you're fine. Now, hold still." Miles eased the needle into his vein and snapped on vial after vial with smooth motions of his hands until four large ones and two small were filled.
Methos watched the dark blood pour into the last glass tube, and frowned, accentuating the fresh gauntness of his features. He knew he looked terrible, Mac had told him as much this morning, he just didn't really care. It wasn't anything that a little sun and few good meals wouldn't cure. And Mac seemed more than willing to cook for him. With a bit of work, he could get mileage out of this for the next month.
"Hey!! Leave a little for me in there! You sure you're not from the Carpathians? Do you have to have so much?"
"Sorry, but yeah, I do." Miles inspected the last of the vials, and made an obscure mark on the label with a black pen before tucking it away in his case with the others.
The coffee pot gurgled and hissed as the pot finished brewing. MacLeod emerged from the kitchen moments later bearing a tray laden with the carafe, three cups, cream and sugar. Setting the tray on the coffee table, he handed one empty cup to Miles, then filled another, adding generous amounts of cream and sugar before passing it to Methos.
With a marginally polite stretching of lips that fell somewhat short of a true smile, Miles took his cup and filled it, settling into the wooden throne chair. Mac glowered at the mildly territorial move, but said nothing.
Methos disguised his smile by taking a sip of his coffee. Gods, what had he missed these past few days? The memory was already a little fuzzy, but if this was any indication, it had been a hell of a show, on all sides.
"Good coffee, Mac." Methos set his cup aside and relaxed, unfolding his legs and sprawling deeper into the couch. He rubbed absently at his arm, grateful that Miles hadn't insisted on putting tape over the puncture. Worthless gesture anyway, since he healed as soon as the needle was removed. "So, doctor, am I going to live? Disease free?" he quipped.
"For the moment," Miles said cheerfully, the sarcasm rolling over him like water off a duck. Methos tensed, dark possibilities brewing in his imagination. Miles saw this and sighed, waving a hand in negation. "You're fine, Adam. But you do need to get a little more nourishment. The last few days took a lot out of you. I could give you a vitamin shot--" He stopped short as Methos shot a fiery glare his way. "I thought not."
"So what caused this?" Mac asked. "You said his blood was almost normal. That means the virus is still there?"
Miles shook his head. "Not the virus, the inhibitor. That might break down naturally. Which is why the blood sample. As to what caused it, that's the real question, isn't it?" He paused, took another sip of the coffee, then leaned forward, addressing Mac. "Somehow Adam had to have been exposed to it. Think back to when he first got sick. What happened?"
The Highlander sat down next to Methos, pushing the long legs out of the way, asserting his own proprietorial move. He sipped his coffee thoughtfully. "Was it just a few days ago? Seems like weeks... We were driving back from a wine festival when Adam started rubbing at his neck and temples. I thought he'd just had too much to drink."
Methos cocked his head and cast a disparaging glance at Mac. "It wasn't the wine. We went over this that night."
"What did you eat that MacLeod didn't?" Montgomery asked, shifting his full attention to the slender man.
"Believe me, I thought about that a lot-- especially that first day or two when I was sure I was poisoned. But I honestly can't think of anything I ate that he didn't. We sampled all the same booths, even had the same thing for lunch."
"Yeah, because you ordered for us..."
"It was a Greek restaurant. Been to Greece recently? No? It's good to try new things..."
"I'll remind you of that the next time I cook a haggis."
"For centuries soothsayers divine the future by gutting a goat. Only the Scots want to cook it afterward."
"It's sheep, not goat..."
"Oh, yeah. That sounds much more appetizing. Sheep guts. You drink red or white with that?"
"Hey, hey!" Miles interrupted. "All right. Let's work our way backwards. You had a headache in the car. When did it start?"
Methos frowned, trying to pinpoint the exact moment. "I'd say it was shortly after we started back to Paris. Umm, the car seemed stuffy, so I rolled the window down and it was about that time that it started bothering me... or at least that I became aware of it."
"Okay. What happened before that?" Miles had moved into his analyst mode, and Methos let him guide him through the memories. Miles sat up on the edge of his chair and listened intently as Methos recalled each event backward from getting into the car.
"...and there was batty old excuse for a gypsy who hosed me with a wretched-smelling perfume. It was sickening! Sweet and cloying, the smell alone would turn your stomach." Just thinking about it, Methos could almost smell it again.
"It wasn't that bad," Mac interjected, an amused smile on his face. "It was a little strong, but--"
"You didn't get sprayed in the face with it."
"Wait a minute!" Miles interrupted. "You were sprayed with a perfume? Are you sure that's what it was?"
"Well, it smelled like perfume. Cheap perfume. Stank like rotting lilies and tasted like ear wax!"
"You swallowed it?"
"I didn't have a lot of choice, Rory. It was a mist right in my face and I choked on it. I was crossing in front of Mac to look at--" He stopped, turning that idea over in his mind. "I was crossing in front of Mac," he repeated more forcefully, turning his head to look directly at the subject of this statement.
MacLeod apparently had discovered a new fascination with the pattern of the throw rug. Methos was unswayed by this display of innocence. His eyes bored into the Highlander's skull until Mac was forced to meet his gaze. Asked about it later, MacLeod would only say that now at last he knew what all those childhood stories of basilisks were about.
"It should have been you. That repulsive spray was meant for you."
"You can't know that," Mac defended innocently, a boyish smile on his face. "Most likely it was chance."
The 'sad puppy look' bounced ineffectually off of Methos' hardened irritation. Duncan could have stripped naked, waved a top hat and begun singing the theme from "Shaft," and Methos would not have been moved. Nothing would distract him now. "No. No. She was chanting something like an incantation just before she sprayed it, and she was looking at you. If I hadn't decided to look at the flutes, she would have doused you."
"Okay! So she sprayed you with a smelly potion. What does that prove?"
"That's it! That's where this virus came from!" Thoughts raced through Methos' mind, too fast to follow each one to its own conclusion, but the pattern of evidence wove a convincing tapestry of indictment against Duncan MacLeod. So what if Mac hadn't set this up; it was enough that he was the intended victim. "Just after that happened, I started sneezing, then it stopped and I felt kind of nauseous. I thought it was just the smell..."
"Aren't you clutching at straws here?" Mac cut in, looking very uncomfortable. The more Methos followed this train of thought, the more Mac squirmed.
"No, I don't think so. This is the source; this is when I started to get sick. Where did you get the tickets to that festival, Mac?" Each word was clipped and precise. Methos leaned forward, all of his considerable focus bearing down on MacLeod. Appropriately, Mac fidgeted some more.
"They were sent to me. I made a contribution to the festival committee a few months ago, and they sent me the tickets in appreciation."
"I think maybe you'd better investigate a little, MacLeod. Like find out who's on the board of this committee. Somebody wanted you at that festival."
"Oh, come on! How would anyone know that we'd walk by that gypsy?" MacLeod asked, applying logic to the situation. "Or do you think she was following us around, waiting for an ideal moment?"
Methos gave him an indulgent look and patiently explained. "It was the most direct route to the parking area. Unless you wanted to walk three times the distance, the most likely path was the one we took. Simple law of averages. I can tell you, I'm sorry I stepped in front of you."
Mac shuddered. Methos squinted, stretching his lips in a dark parody of a smile. "Yeah, not so much fun to think about it being you heaving your guts up at 3 am, being forcibly stripped and tossed into freezing showers at every hour of the day and night, is it?"
He opened his mouth to say something, but Methos gave him no chance. "Don't you even dare tell me that you wished it could have been you, or some patronizing crap like that."
"Wouldn't think of it." He shifted uneasily, the cushions creaking faintly in protest.
"It should have been you puking your guts out. Not me. I just went through a nightmare because someone has it in for you." Methos heard his voice rising, and was getting angrier by the moment. It was absurd, it was enraging, it was... Well, as soon as he could think of exactly what it was he'd be sure to tell Mac. Gods! He'd just become collateral damage, a civilian casualty in some maniac's one-man war with Duncan MacLeod. He sprang to his feet and began pacing the area in front of the sofa.
"You're jumping to conclusions," Mac said reasonably.
"Am I? Did anyone know I would be there? No. You're the lucky recipient of the tickets. I was invited at the last minute, remember? And this-- this gypsy just happens to have an atomizer of plague that only affects Immortals? How many Immortals do you think were there, Mac? I only counted two -- me and you. So, I'm jumping to conclusions?"
"Adam, calm down," Miles said softly. "It's done."
Methos halted mid-stride, drew in a short breath and opened his mouth, ready to retort with a biting comment. The brief pause wasn't to search for words acid enough to suit his mood, but rather to choose between all the scathing comments that immediately sprang to mind. Miles looked at him earnestly, unaffected by the outburst and just calmly waiting for it to subside. Methos swallowed his anger and inhaled deeply, reaching for control. Turning on a heel, headed toward the small kitchen "I'm getting a beer. Anyone else want one?"
"Adam, I don't think--" Miles started.
"Don't!" Methos shot a warning glance at him. Miles nodded and shut up.
Mac shrugged. "Yeah. Bring me one, too."
Much more in command of himself, and reciting internal mantras to help maintain that level of personal mastery, Methos returned with the beer. It wasn't even that he'd particularly wanted a beer just now. It was a tool, an excuse to get some distance both literally and figuratively from the center of the conflict. He passed one to Mac.
Duncan looked up at him ruefully. "I hate to admit this, but you might be right. I know a few people on the festival board personally, but none of them are Immortals. I'll see if I can get a complete list of the membership."
"You do that."
"You know I can't guarantee that we'll learn anything."
"Yes, I know that," Methos sniped, then took another sip of his beer. He sighed, "Even negative information is still valid." There was a moment of silence as he dropped down onto the sofa and sank back against the cushions. "I may go looking for that gypsy," Methos muttered darkly, nipping at his beer again.
Mac snorted. "Oh, yeah, like she's going to be sitting out in that village waiting for you."
Methos lipped at the top of his bottle and smiled slyly. Inside, he was like the surface of a lake, a perfect black mirror. Nothing disturbed his calm, nothing revealed his depths. "You might be surprised, Mac."