Hope Chest
by elynross

 

Author's note: No profit, no foul. This romantic comedy was inspired one day while I was looking around my room, noting how many things I keep because they remind me of the giver. Then I started pondering what types of things Mac might hold on to, to remind him of people he'd lost touch with, or lost completely. Then my head was suddenly filled with voices that wouldn't shut up. It was written in bits and pieces, and then languished on my computer for months, waiting for an ending.

Thanks to Killashandra, who cajoled and inspired and kept demanding 'wasabi kisses!' She also helped me get past whatever was keeping me from finishing it and helped with both the tone and final form of the ending; to Rachael for additional nudging, valuable commentary, and wistful mentions of how nice it would be to have a romantic first-time piece to read; Devo and Melina for final read-throughs, hopefully catching all those final errors and awkwardnesses that can be so embarrassing; and Methosgrrl for culinary support.

Ernest and Frank Shackleton are historical figures, and the details and incidents described are as accurate as I could make them. There are several wonderful websites about Ernest Shackleton, or just ask Killa, if you're interested: their inclusion in this story is entirely due to her and her enthusiasm for Shackleton and the Endurance's trip.

Feedback please, to: eeross@okstate.edu


Mac woke slowly, drifting up through layers of repose like heat rising. As the fog of sleep lifted, he gradually became mindful of the weight of his body and the drowsy edges of his mind. For long moments he lay still, eyes closed, luxuriating in the warmth and comfort of his bed, realizing that he was in an obscenely good mood. He yawned and stretched, rolling over to enjoy the mid-morning light dancing across the ceiling, contemplating a day that was completely unplanned. As he lay there, he realized that he was smiling at nothing more than the feeling of lazy satisfaction that pervaded him, along with a slight sense of anticipation. He tried to stop the grin, feeling foolish, but he couldn't prevent the corners of his mouth from curling back up; he just felt too good. Trying to find the source of this extraordinary sense of well-being, he thought about the current course of his life, but nothing in particular came to mind. Although now that he thought about it, life had been pretty fine lately. Methos had been hanging around for awhile and had provided his usual good company. They'd gone to movies, argued about books and ideas and food, hung out at Joe's, sparred at the dojo, and given Richie plenty of grief about his revolving-door relationships. It helped that unlike most times when Methos chose to appear, there hadn't been any major crises. Plenty of time to slow down and savor things a bit, time to just enjoy life and its pleasures. Things had been quiet and refreshingly normal, and maybe his mood was nothing more than a reflection of that. Concluding that this must be that case, he turned his mind to the day ahead. He stretched out, feeling the pull in sleepy muscles. Maybe he'd be decadent today and skip his run.

As he slid out of bed, scratching his chest, he caught sight of the chess board where they'd left it the night before. He smiled, thinking back over the evening. Quiet dinner, a movie, then a rousing game of chess, accompanied by the teasing banter that had become their staple form of conversation. He'd won the game, quite handily, in fact. Methos seemed to take it personally that Mac was able to compete on his level, as if his age should be sufficient to guarantee his superior tactics and knowledge, but Mac was a canny strategist, and their styles were different, sufficiently so that Mac won just about as often as not. And though Methos would never admit it, he preferred it that way. He could play full out, no holds barred, and when he did a victory dance around the living room, he knew he'd earned it. Each game was hard fought and hard won.

Apart from Darius, Methos was the most challenging partner Mac had ever had, and whether he intended to be or not, he was an excellent teacher. Mac had learned several new openings and how to defend them. Of course, Methos being Methos, he always kept a few strategic points to himself; nearly every time Mac thought he had Methos trapped with something he'd learned, he found Methos had left himself a back-door escape. And why should that surprise him? Very in keeping with the man's character. He smiled to himself as he pulled on a pair of sweats. It was really nice to have someone to just hang out with, somebody with no demands, no hidden agendas. A taste of a normal life. It had been awhile since he'd had a buddy with whom he felt as comfortable as he did with Methos. Fitz, maybe...but it was different, somehow.

He whistled as he gathered up their dirty glasses and bottles. It had been pretty late when Methos had finally left, so Mac hadn't bothered to tidy up, just crawled into bed. Dropping the detritus off in the kitchen, he thought about his day as he ground the coffee and set it to brew. He had no real plans; maybe it would be a good day to get the loft straightened around.

Opening the refrigerator to get the juice, he saw the red and white take-out containers on the top shelf. He grinned when he realized that Methos had forgotten his leftovers -- again. He'd made such a fuss about taking them in the first place, only to go off without them. The night before he'd been so busy giving Mac a hard time about some woman he'd claimed had been trying to get Mac's attention that he'd left them at the restaurant to start with. They'd made it all the way to the car before he realized that he was empty-handed, and he made Mac drive him back by the restaurant to pick them up. Guess five thousand years made you frugal -- and forgetful.

Grabbing the juice and a bagel, Mac made himself some breakfast and ate it at the kitchen bar, looking over the loft to see what needed doing. As he glanced around, a basket on one of the shelves caught his eye, and his mood shifted slightly towards the melancholy when he remembered its contents. He'd been thinking about Tessa quite a lot the last couple of weeks, ever since Methos had asked about her one evening. They'd been talking about Seacouver and what kept Mac there, and Tessa's name had come up in the course of the discussion. Methos' query had been very natural, and Mac had found that it didn't bother him to answer, even though he'd talked about Tessa very little since her death -- not even with Richie. He didn't know whether it had just been time, or what, but in retrospect he was kind of embarrassed about how long he'd talked about her that night, until quite late, stories and memories and regrets spilling out, one leading to another. Methos hadn't seemed to mind; he'd just listened, smiled, and made encouraging noises, asking questions as if he were genuinely interested, offering quiet sympathy without making Mac feel awkward. At the end of the evening, Mac felt as if he'd been purged of some lingering sadness.

He'd run across the letters the next day while looking for some pictures he'd wanted to show Methos. There weren't many. Most were from early on in their relationship, when they'd still been getting to know one another, during a time when he'd been in Seacouver while she was in Paris. He'd found the ones he'd sent to her among her things after her death, and at the time, he hadn't been able to look at them; he'd just tucked them in with the ones she'd written and put them all away. Looking at them now, he realized that he'd never gone back to read them.

Going and picking them up, he settled in to do so, smiling in wistful remembrance of the woman he'd loved so much, who'd loved him equally. They weren't your typical love-letters; at least, Tessa's weren't. They were funny, sarcastic, full of genuine affection, but not maudlin. She'd been hesitant about him at first, a bit stand-offish with the pushy Scotsman who'd jumped in her boat, but she'd responded to his teasing -- and his persistence.

Reading through the letters, he was pulled back to those early days, the freshness and anticipation of a new love affair, the slow learning about another person who gradually became more and more important. He'd never noticed how much her sense of humor had in common with Methos'. Both of them seemed to feel the need to tease Mac, to push him out of his tendency to get stuck in a rut. And both of them took it upon themselves to keep him from moping too much or taking himself too seriously. With that thought, Mac realized that he wasn't feeling morose, and he was surprised. Given his reading material, he would have thought that he'd be halfway into a full-fledged Gaelic brood, feeling lonely and restless, but his waking mood was too good to spoil. That, and maybe it was just time: time to let go and move on.

He'd loved Tessa desperately, had spent more time with her than anyone else in his long life, but he knew that the ache of losing even the deepest of loves waned with time, leaving the sweetness without the sting. So, maybe it was time to put her to rest. He felt as if he were starting something new, turning a corner of some sort. Tucking the last of the letters in the envelope, he checked the time. Nearly 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday; surely Methos would be awake by now.

He dialed the familiar number with a slight sense of anticipation, then laughed at himself. He must be in a rut if talking to Methos seemed like the highlight of his day. Even so, he was disappointed when the answering machine picked up. "This is Adam Pierson. At the tone, leave your name and number, I'll get back to you."

"Adam, this is Mac. I was hoping to put you to work, but since you're not in....Um, I'll be around the loft this afternoon--why don't you come over for dinner, maybe I'll let you beat me tonight." He hung up, feeling awkward, wondering if Methos was still asleep, or if he'd gone out someplace. He shrugged, picked up the phone, and called Richie.


"What's in this thing, Mac? Rocks?" Richie grunted as he helped Mac pull the old chest out of the corner where it had been tucked in the storage building.

"Wimp. No, they just made things a little sturdier way back when. It's an old piece, solid wood, just has odds and ends in it, stuff I wanted to go through."

Richie stood up and wiped the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve. "If you hadn't promised me lunch, I'd still be in bed, at least for another hour or so."

"I should have waited for Methos, at least he doesn't complain--" Mac stopped as Richie shot him a look that let him know his opinion of what Mac had been about to say.

"Are we talkin' about the same guy, here? Big nose, whines about the weather, the kind of beer you have, the--"

"Okay, so maybe he does, but--"

"No buts about it, Mac, the old man definitely wins in the whining category. It's all that practice. And he probably doesn't work as cheap as I do." Richie bent to heft his side of the chest.

"Sure he does, he just prefers his meals liquid. Which reminds me, I'm about out of beer, I need to stop on the way back."

"You guys have been spending a lot of time together lately." Richie's tone was pleasantly and pointedly non-inquisitive.

"I'm trying to beat a fifty-percent win rate in chess, and he's not making it easy." Mac grunted as they picked up the chest. "You're right, this is heavier than I remember it."

"Maybe you're just getting old." Richie coughed at the dust that floated up. "How long has it been since you've moved it?"

"Oh, I dunno." Mac thought about it on the way to the car. "Must have been right after Tessa moved to Seacouver with me."

Surprised, Richie watched Mac carefully as they loaded the chest in the back seat. "You...don't talk about her much, Mac." His voice was cautious, as if he wasn't sure that this was a permissible topic.

Mac looked at him seriously. "I know, Richie. It's...hard for me. I...did I ever tell you I was glad you were there after Tessa's death? I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been."

Richie flushed with embarrassment. "Thanks."

"I mean it; I blamed myself so much, it was good to have something else to focus on, to keep me sane." He paused, the brief melancholy of the morning returning. He looked off in the distance. "I'm sorry if I had trouble letting you know that. If I was too hard on you."

"I knew, Mac." Richie waited until Mac looked at him. "I missed her, too."

Mac's voice was gruff when he answered. "I know."

Richie hesitated again.

"What is it?"

"It's just...it's okay not to miss her anymore, as much as I did, isn't it?" Richie's voice was wistful.

Mac smiled. "Yeah, it's okay. It stops hurting as much after awhile, whether you want it to, or not. You still miss them, sometimes more than others, but you go on. And she'd want us to go on, you know that."

Richie had a faraway look, as if he were thinking about the woman who'd had so much influence on him. "Yeah, she would."

Richie stood over Mac as he opened the chest that they'd put down near the couch. "What's all that stuff?" His voice was muffled as he chewed on the massive sandwich he'd made.

Mac tried to look at the contents through Richie's eyes, seeing what it looked like to someone else: piles of letters, a framed picture, cloth-wrapped bundles, here and there a book or an item of clothing. A jumble. "My life, I guess. People I want to remember."

Richie motioned to a packet of letters, wrapped in what was obviously a lady's glove and tied with a red silk ribbon. "Those look like pretty personal tokens."

"Yeah, they all are, memories of people I've loved. I like to keep something that reminds me of them, go through it once in awhile, remember where I've been. It's too easy to forget sometimes." He opened a box and carefully picked up a fragile-looking piece of cloth that rested inside, opening it to reveal some simple embroidery. "Debra Campbell made this for me, a very long time ago." He traced a fingertip over the pattern, smiling at the good memories of his first love.

"What's that?"

Mac looked up. "What?"

Richie indicated the side of the chest.

Mac looked over to where a small metal hip flask stuck out. "That was Brian Cullen's." He picked up the flask and turned it, smiling sadly.

"You mean the maniac that tried to kill me?" Richie sounded personally offended.

"He wasn't always like that, Richie." He took a deep breath, reliving the memory. "We don't all deal with our Immortality, or our losses, very well. Brian was a good man, he was just...lost." He rubbed his thumb over the metal, remembering better times and a very good friend.

"Whatever. I thought you meant these were, you know, love letters and stuff like that." Richie reached to catch a bit of bread before it fell in the box.

Mac's mouth quirked mischievously. "It is 'stuff like that.' It was a gift from Brian, a pledge that he'd stop drinking. Unfortunately, it wasn't that easy." He picked up the bread from where it had fallen when Richie froze. "I have a few things from good friends, too, but Brian--" He looked up and laughed at the stunned look on Richie's face.

"But...I mean..." Richie was floundering. "He was..."

"Yeah, he was a guy, I noticed that too." Mac grinned up at Richie. "You got a problem with that?"

"But..." Richie sank down on the arm of the chair, obviously dumbfounded, the last of his sandwich momentarily forgotten.

Mac leaned back against the chest, still smiling at Richie. "You okay?"

"Oh, sure, my world's just rocked a little, but I'm fine." He looked a little dazed. "So, what you're saying is you're--" He floundered for something to say. "I've never known you to date guys." Richie still looked a little confused, but it obviously hadn't ruined his appetite as he remembered the rest of his lunch.

Mac's smile widened. "And since you've known me for, what, four to five years, tops, you've got me all figured out?"

"Well, no, but I woulda thought something would give it away."

"You just haven't seen my purple jumpsuit and my gay porn mags. I hide them under the bed and bring them out on special occasions."

Richie looked pained. "Mac, gimme a break, okay? I'm kinda freakin' here, and you're not helping. I mean, it's not a problem, it's just...I gotta adjust my ideas, okay? I would have called you the pinup boy for heterosexuality."

"Sorry, you were just too funny." Mac straightened up and thought about what to say, choosing his words carefully. "I'm four hundred years old, Richie. I'm not saying we all go both ways, but sooner or later, most of us realize that it's what's inside that matters, that love is too rare to worry about the packaging." He held up a hand when Richie started to protest. "I'm not saying that you don't know that, it's just.... Maybe it is something in me, not just how long I've lived. And I guess I am more likely to fall in love with a woman than a man, it's true. The few men I've been involved with, it's happened after fairly long friendships; sometimes it's just seemed a natural next step."

Richie mulled that over for a couple of minutes while he finished his sandwich. Mac continued to look through the chest while he waited for Richie's response, a faint, reminiscent smile on his face. It had taken awhile, but he'd eventually learned that after long enough, the memories stop hurting, leaving the good memories intact. And every time, he had to learn it all over again.

"How do you know?"

Mac looked up again to see Richie looking intent. "How do I know what?"

"How do you know when it's time? How do you know when you're falling in love?"

"You'll know, Richie."

"No, I'm just wondering what you think, how you know." He gestured at the chest. "That seems like a lot of love tokens, even for four centuries. You seem to have a knack." He grinned. "I just thought maybe you'd have some great insight, you Casanova, you."

Mac swung out at him, but Richie dodged easily. "If I did, I wouldn't share it with a child like you!"

Richie settled back on the couch and looked more serious. "No, really, Mac, all teasing aside, how do you know when you're falling in love? I mean, I've really liked some girls, but I've always wondered if I'll know...or if I'll miss the signs."

Mac looked up at the still-young man in front of him. "You'll have plenty of time to figure it out. And trust me, being Immortal means that the whole modern idea of 'one true love' doesn't have quite as much meaning." He clasped his arms around his legs and looked thoughtful. "When Debra died, I thought I'd never love anyone again -- but I did. It was different, because it was a different person. Each person I've loved, it's been different. There are a few I can honestly say I loved more; Tessa was one of those. So was Debra." He leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. "But each time I've loved someone, I've loved them for who they are; each person is different, has different things that I fall in love with."

He looked back at Richie. "As for knowing when you're falling...It's probably different for everybody, but I find myself thinking about someone a lot, looking forward to seeing them. Everything seems to remind me of them; everything is couched in terms of remembering to tell them about it. They kind of take up residence in your skull." He looked thoughtful. "You find yourself thinking about what having a life with them would be like, finding yourself being more comfortable with them than not, restless when they aren't around...that sort of thing." He grinned again. "So much for wisdom; nothing a good self-help book couldn't tell you." He smiled mischievously. "Maybe you should ask Methos. He's probably got it down to an art form." He turned back to the chest. "Do you know any more than you did?"

Richie shrugged. "I sure know more about you. Cullen, huh? Wild." There was a pause. "Oh man, Mac, that must have been hard for you--" He broke off.

Mac looked blindly at the wall; his voice was husky when he answered. "Yeah. It was. It always is. It was over between us a long time ago, Richie, but it was still hard." He breathed deeply. "He couldn't live like that anymore."

Richie was quiet for a few moments. "Maybe you did him a favor," he said gently. He let the words drop softly into the silence, then spoke more matter-of-factly. "So, what made you dig out the old chest? You aren't falling in love again, are you?"

Mac laughed. "No, Richie, I don't think so. I just ran across some old letters of Tessa's, and it reminded me. Just seemed a good day for it." He didn't see the speculative look on Richie's face.

"Yeah, well, whatever. I guess I better get going. I'm supposed to pick up Angie, head over to the Harley show. You wanna come?" Richie stood and stretched, heading for his jacket.

"No, but thanks. I think I'll finish up with these. I might give you a call tomorrow to help me take it back?" Mac looked up questioningly.

"Sure, but let's make it dinner tomorrow, okay?" Richie grinned and tipped a hand to him as he went out the door. "Say hello to the old man for me."


Mac was still browsing through the chest a couple of hours later when the phone rang, calling him back to the present. Each item awakened so many memories, each one filled with the sights, sounds, and feelings of another time, another life, it took a moment for the sound to register clearly.

"MacLeod." The mid-afternoon sunlight shining through the windows reminded him that he had yet to shop for dinner.

"Mac, it's me, Joe. How about giving an old man a break and sending the elevator down? I've got one of those books you asked me to look for."

"Great!" Mac looked over and saw that he had indeed left the elevator gate up. "Sorry, Joe, Richie and I picked something up out of storage this morning, guess I forgot to close the gate. I'll send it right down."

Closing the gate, he went into the kitchen and started a fresh pot of coffee, still musing on the memories stirred up by the chest. He'd dug out a couple of other things to go in or return -- Linda's picture, the tin cup from Darius' rectory, Fitzcairn's pipe -- and those memories, along with those of people like Sarah and Little Deer, had left him feeling a bit melancholy again, a bittersweet mood. This probing of old loves and sore spots wasn't something he did too often; it provided that same sort of pleasure-pain that came from stretching tight muscles or running just a bit harder and a bit faster than was entirely comfortable. However, as with those activities, there was an underlying satisfaction and sense of well-being even the more painful memories couldn't dampen.

He heard the elevator rising and got out a second cup before moving to lift the gate.

"Hello, Joe, how are you doing?" Mac raised the gate. "Thanks for bringing this over yourself. I'd have picked it up, you know."

"Yeah, but I was looking for an excuse to get out for awhile." Joe handed him a bulky, brown-paper parcel, walking into the loft with that oddly graceful rolling gait of his. "Odd reading material for you, Mac. More Methos' style, I'd think."

"Hmm?" Mac looked up from the package abstractedly. "Oh, yeah, it is for Methos, actually. He said something about having trouble finding a copy. I just thought I'd see if I had any better luck through my contacts. Want a cup of coffee? Just made a fresh pot."

"Sure." Joe moved to sit on one of the kitchen stools. "So, what, is it his birthday or something?"

Mac snorted as he set the parcel on the counter before pouring them each a cup of coffee. "Very funny. What is that, Watcher humor?" He handed Joe a cup. "No, he just mentioned that his usual sources hadn't panned out." He sipped his coffee before continuing. "I was surprised he hadn't talked to you."

"Well, he probably just thought I wasn't in the book trade anymore. Now, if he'd been looking for a nice aged whiskey--" He took another drink. "Aren't you going to open it?"

"No, I think I'll let Methos do it."

"Have you seen it? It's a strange one, heavy wooden covers." He paused before speaking again. "Who's Shackleton, anyway?"

"He was an explorer. Made a couple of trips to the Antarctic, I think."

"Huh. Think Methos knew him?"

"I have no idea, Joe. He doesn't talk about himself much." Mac leaned on the counter. "What have you been up to?"

"Amanda called."

"Really? How is she? And what did she want?" His tone was full of affectionate amusement. "Has she finally broken one?"

Joe laughed. He'd told MacLeod that ever since Mac had taken it upon himself to inform Amanda of the existence of the Watchers, every so often she'd get it in her head to lead hers on a merry chase; fortunately, there had been no permanent damage -- yet.

"No, but she wants a different one. Apparently her current one almost got her arrested." He peered at Mac. "If the Watchers knew we had Immortals requesting things like this..." He shook his head.

Mac looked at him wide-eyed, then grinned. "Knowing Amanda, she probably deserved it. What happened?"

"Not sure, her Watcher hasn't filed his report yet. He did get arrested, for trespassing. Amanda was fairly vague about the details, but translating, it sounds like she was casing a private estate, thought she'd lost him; he didn't have her luck evading the guards."

"Luck has very little to do with it, Joe. Amanda has spent a very long life perfecting her skills of evasion -- of all types, and among other things." He poured himself some more coffee. "She'll never learn," he said with a slight tone of regret.

"She's been stealing for nearly three times as long as you've been alive, MacLeod. What makes you think she's ever gonna change?" Joe eyed the man across from him. "Have to admit, given your own principles, it's kind of a surprise to me that you guys have hung out together so long." The tone of his voice turned the statement into a question.

Mac shrugged. "I don't know. She never steals from anybody who can't afford it, Joe. And can you imagine Amanda holding down a regular job?" They exchanged a smile at that. "She gives it up for a while, then she goes broke -- or gets bored. All her good intentions go out the window. Besides, maybe hope springs eternal?" Mac said. "You know Amanda, Joe, nobody tells her what to do. Besides, she's a lot of fun."

"I'll bet." The Watcher's voice and face were equally deadpan, and he sipped his coffee.

"You have a dirty mind, Dawson," Mac said in a mock-chiding tone.

"And this surprises you how? All Watchers are basically voyeurs at heart, you know." Joe gave Mac a wicked grin. "Yeah, Amanda's always struck me as quite a woman. Subtler than she's probably given credit for. I bet she's good for you, you morose bastard."

Mac looked more thoughtful. "Yeah, you're right. She...she keeps me from getting too serious, sometimes -- from taking myself too seriously. She and Fitz had that in common. So does Methos, come to think of it, in his own inestimable way. Full of mischief and annoying as hell, the lot of 'em. He plays a better game of chess, though."

"Yeah, but I bet she's more fun in..." Joe's voice trailed off self-consciously as Mac seemed to swallow wrong. "Um, anyway..."

Mac coughed for a few moments, trying to clear his mind of some surprising and distracting images, before making his way around the counter and changing the subject. "I wouldn't know enough to compare, Joe. Want to come sit on the couch? I was going through a few things over here."

Joe picked up his coffee and moved over to the couch, accepting the offer gratefully. "So, do you tell all your Immortal friends about the Watchers?"

"Nah, only those I'm pretty sure won't kill them -- without provocation." He sat back down on the floor, glancing over the objects scattered around him and on the lid of the chest.

"Thanks a bunch. I feel so much better now." Joe sighed. "You make my life a hell of a lot more difficult, you know that? If the Watchers knew..."

"Yeah, you said that. So, sue me. What do I owe the Watchers, anyway?" Mac looked at him, and Joe shrugged. "Think of it as mutual back-scratching, Joe. We've both benefited."

"Yeah, you're right." He looked off into the distance. "May have to rethink... " He trailed off as he saw Mac look up at him oddly. "What's that you're looking through, anyway?"

Unfortunately for Joe, Mac wasn't that easily distracted. "Oh, no, you don't, Joe, this sounds too good. Rethink what?" He turned his full attention on the squirming Watcher.

Joe looked embarrassed, but gave in without a real struggle. "Sometimes...there are recommendations in the journals as to what type of Watchers work best for a given Immortal." He sipped his coffee. "You know, who's less likely to be noticed, what type of person might have an edge if they are noticed... "

"And?" Mac's tone was somewhere between amused and ominous.

"And...Amanda's rec is for good-looking men. Somebody must have thought she'd be less suspicious of that sort following her, or maybe just more susceptible..."

"Amanda?" Mac laughed. "You don't do much for my respect for the Watchers' skills of observation, Joe. She doesn't trust anybody, especially if they pay too much attention to her."

Joe looked at him skeptically.

"Well, okay, she'd eat it up, but she wouldn't trust them."

"We've known her even longer than you have, MacLeod. Trust me on this. Boredom makes her steal; it also makes her careless."

Mac reluctantly conceded the point, remembering a time or two when he'd taken advantage of Amanda's susceptibility himself -- and vice-versa. He sipped his coffee, a devilish gleam in his eye. "And what about me, Joe? What kind of Watcher do they recommend for me? Beautiful young women to distract me?" He eyed the Watcher. "That's so you, Joe."

"Well, actually..." Joe looked even more uncomfortable.

"Yes?"

His tone let Joe know that he wasn't getting off this hook. "Um, I am the type they recommend. Older, male... " His voice trailed off at Mac's look. "You know, less susceptible, more suspicious," he grinned.

Mac snorted. "You make it sound like I go after every woman I see."

"Well, you have to admit, with your track record..." Joe waggled his eyebrows. "And believe me, we have your track record."

Mac flushed. "Yeah, right, and Amanda's a nun. I'd think your female Watchers could take care of themselves just fine." Mac gave Joe an amused look. "And you're just lucky you're not my type."

Joe paused with his cup halfway to his lips. "You're joking, right?"

Mac looked surprised. "You're my Watcher, Joe, haven't you read my Chronicles?"

"Well, yeah, but there's not anything about--" Joe seemed to be having trouble. "You mean--?"

"It might help if you'd finish your sentences, Joe." Mac smiled slyly. "You mean there's nothing in my Chronicles about having male lovers?" He grinned when Joe speechlessly shook his head, his discomfort at the thought of his escapades being recorded ameliorated by his amusement at Joe's reaction. "I think you should know that my respect for the Watchers' observational skills has really sunk to a new low."

Joe's voice was a bit testy. "Well, we can't exactly be everywhere, you know, we're bound to miss a few things. And we do have some sense of privacy." He reddened as Mac looked at him skeptically, then took a deep breath. "Okay, so somebody screwed up. So, you mean-?"

Mac rolled his eyes, wondering if there was something in the air that was bringing this particular issue into question today. "Seems to be my day for personal revelations." He eyed the Watcher who seemed to be lost in thought. "Don't worry, Joe, you're safe." He paused. "I try not to get involved with musicians." He laughed at the look on Joe's face before he turned back to sort through the chest again. "Besides, you already know too much about me."

Joe gave out a low whistle, still distracted. "Well, obviously not as much as I thought. There's sure nothing in your Chronicles about this. I think I would have remembered." He still sounded stunned.

Mac felt a flare of irritation. "What is it that makes you guys assume I'm so narrow?"

Joe raised an eyebrow. "Us guys? You mean the Watchers?"

"No." Mac looked a little uncomfortable. "Richie had some lunch after he helped me with the chest. We were talking, and he asked about one of the mementos that just so happened to belong to someone of the masculine persuasion."

"And?"

"It apparently took him by surprise, too."

"And?" Joe's face took on the look that indicated that the Watcher portion of his personality had subsumed Joe, the good friend.

"No, I'm not gonna tell you who or what or where or when, so don't ask! I don't care if you are my Watcher, it's none of your business, you nosy bastard." The tones were affectionate. "Not my fault your people were slackers."

Joe leaned back into the couch, content with this new snippet of information. "Guys, huh? Well. You never cease to amaze me."

"You're okay with it." Mac's voice made it more of a statement than a question.

"Oh, I think so. Just...yeah. After all, like you said, I'm a musician. I see all types." Joe grinned.

Mac shook his head and smiled, turning back to the chest.

Shaking his head, Joe the friend resurfaced. "How did Richie take it? Is this gonna cause any trouble between you guys?"

Mac looked thoughtful. "No, I don't think so. He was pretty surprised, seemed to think it was as unlikely as you did, but by the time he left I think he was okay with it." He shrugged. "You know Richie; he hasn't exactly lived a restricted life. May take him a bit of time to adjust his ideas, but once he does, he'll be fine. I think."

"I'm glad to hear it. It is the kind of thing that can completely change relationships when people find out." Joe tipped his cup to catch the last of his coffee. "Richie's a good kid, though. I'm glad he's not gonna let it affect things."

"I didn't say that, Joe. I'm just waiting to see what he decides to get me for Christmas. I have this vision of him presenting me with a subscription to Playgirl."

The next several minutes were occupied wiping down the surfaces that got sprayed when Joe tried to swallow and laugh at the same time. Fortunately, most of the mess ended up down Joe's front, and Mac's mementos were only lightly sprinkled. Joe was still telling Mac it was his own fault when the phone rang, and Mac's voice when he answered was full of laughter.

"Well. I hope I'm not interrupting anything important, MacLeod."

Mac was surprised at how welcome the warm, mellow tones were. "Methos! No, Joe was just leaving after having damped down the living room." He waved at Joe as the elevator started down.

"I'm sure that what you just said makes sense in context, but I have no idea what you're talking about."

Mac grinned, Joe's visit and Methos' call having eliminated the last of his moodiness. "I just caught Joe at a bad moment, and his mouthful of coffee went everywhere."

"Ah. I see. Well, I got your message, wondered if I was supposed to bring the whips and chains, or if they were going to be supplied."

It was Mac's turn to lose his place. "Context, Methos? I'm not getting one, here."

Methos sounded like he was finding himself very entertaining. "I was referring to your kind offer to have supper and beat you. I thought perhaps you felt I had some...aggression...I needed to work out and were volunteering."

Mac felt himself flush at the suggestive tone. Definitely something in the air. "Chess, Methos. You knew I meant chess."

"Well, one can always hope." The silence extended a bit too long on Mac's side, and this time, when Methos spoke, there was definite laughter in his voice. "You're too easy to torment, Mac. You'd think at your age you'd be a little less susceptible."

"Me! You're the one making unwarranted inferences!"

"Well, if you'd say what you mean-"

"Are you coming for dinner, or not? Because if you are, I need to go get a few things." There was a snort of repressed humor from the other end of the line, and Mac went over what he'd just said to see what he'd done this time. "Methos!"

"Yeah, Mac, what time?" He still sounded like he was having far too much fun, but fortunately for Mac's peace of mind, he seemed willing to let it go.

"I'll leave the door unlocked. I should be back by around 5:30, I think. I have a few things to pick up around here, first." He looked over the things scattered on and around the chest. "If you want to go ahead and come over, that'd be fine, otherwise, 6:30 or 7:00 would be great."

"Okay. Can I bring anything?"

"Why, yes, you can. You can bring the beer. I seem to be out. Some moocher drank it all."

"Should be more careful of the company you keep, Mac. Some people, you let them in, you never get rid of them."

"Yeah, I've noticed. Try some Sapporo or Yebisu; we're having Japanese. And since you'll probably drink most of it, you might as well buy it. Besides, the liquor store is right on your way."

"Isseki ni chou."

"Two birds, one stone. Exactly." Mac hung up the phone, feeling a bit disoriented, something he should be used to where Methos was concerned. He wasn't sure why, but nobody seemed to be able to needle him like Methos did. He thought of himself as a fairly worldly individual, but when Methos got into one of his moods, in no time at all Mac felt like a complete amateur. He supposed that five thousand years was bound to give a guy a skewed sense of humor and a knack for crawling under people's skins.


Asking Methos to bring the beer theoretically saved Mac time, but he found himself being much more particular about things than he usually was for just himself. It seemed ridiculous to put so much effort into what was just a casual meal with a friend, but he was in the mood to make a fuss. Methos was a man of very decided tastes, and Mac wanted to make sure he enjoyed the evening.

Sometimes Mac lost himself in contemplation of Methos' unimaginable age. The man almost never seemed to wear it, except for rare moments that made Mac ache to take some of the burden. Since there didn't seem to be any way to do that, sometimes he just wanted to spoil him a little bit. The end result was that he went to three different markets to find exactly what he wanted, and he ended up buying far more than two grown men could consume. He'd left the loft around 4:30, but didn't make it back until well after 6:00.

As he reached the top of the stairs, another Immortal presence reached out and settled into his head. He smiled at the simple pleasure he felt at the thought of Methos waiting for him, and it was only as he opened the door that he realized it hadn't even occurred to him that it might be anyone but Methos. It was a disturbing thought. Granted, it was unlikely that a hostile Immortal would appear on the scene at the same time as he was expecting his friend, but stranger things had happened in the past.

"It's me, Mac. It's about time you got here. I was thinking about eating my takeout."

"You read my mind." Mac kicked the door closed, moving into the loft.

"About my takeout?"

"No, I was just wondering what I was going to do if it wasn't you."

Methos eyed the bags that Mac was carrying. "I suppose you always could have held him off by pelting him with food until you could get to your sword."

"Very funny." Mac looked down at the sacks. "I guess I did get a little--extravagant." He dropped the groceries on the island, smiling to himself as he glanced at the book Joe had brought, still loosely wrapped in brown paper. He was looking forward to Methos' reaction when he saw it. He had the feeling that Methos wasn't given many gifts.

"Well, I've never been one to complain about self-indulgence, Mac, especially when I'm the beneficiary."

Mac looked to where the intended recipient was seated on the couch, studying the remains of their last game of chess, beer in hand. "You could get up and come give me a hand."

Methos gave a long-suffering sigh, then grinned when Mac frowned. "Like I said before. You're too susceptible. Teasing you is no challenge at all." He moved over to the island.

Mac set things out on the counter. "Trust me, I'm working on it. Probably a variation on aversion therapy. Pretty soon you won't bother me at all."

"I'm wounded!" Methos started taking things from him and putting them in the refrigerator. "You'd think you'd be less naïve, hanging out with characters like Fitzcairn and Amanda."

"You would, wouldn't you? Guess it's just part of my allure. Amanda seems to get a kick out of being able to lead me around by the nose, I'd hate to ruin it for her."

"Clever child. And how often are you just indulging her?"

Mac gave a small, secret half-smile and shrugged. "I'll never tell." His smile widened at the sound of Methos' uncurbed laughter. It was something he'd heard very rarely, and it pleased him to have evoked it.

They finished putting the groceries away in companionable silence. "So, you think you can entertain yourself if I grab a quick shower?"

Methos eyed him consideringly, a suppressed smile curling up the corner of his lips. "Go, get clean, I'm sure I can find something to do. I've been entertaining myself for a long time."

Mac looked at him suspiciously, but Methos made 'shooing' motions with his hands.

"Behave." Mac said warningly.

Methos looked injured. "When do I not behave?"

Mac rolled his eyes and declined to respond, but he kept his shower short. He trusted Methos, but the other man seemed in an odd mood. There was no telling what might happen if he were left unsupervised. Sure enough, Mac emerged from the shower to find Methos poking through his keepsake chest. "You are a snoop."

Methos looked up at him, running his eyes briefly over his robe and briefs ensemble, leaving Mac feeling rather vulnerable. "Everyone needs a hobby. What is all this stuff, anyway?"

Mac pulled clean clothes out of the wardrobe, turning his back on Methos as he slid on his jeans before taking off the robe, quickly buttoning his shirt and tucking it in. "Mementos, old memories -- surely you have some?"

Methos shrugged. "I hang on to a few things, but my journals are my main core-dump. Memories like these are short-term; they don't travel well."

"What did you use for metaphors before computers?"

"Clay tablets, but it wasn't as effective." He smiled as Mac rolled his eyes.

Mac moved into the kitchen, Methos close behind him. He opened the refrigerator to grab a bottle of Yebisu from the top shelf, noting that Methos had gone all out and bought Sapporo, as well; he also noted that one of each was already gone. He wondered how long Methos had been waiting at the loft. "Speaking of which, you ready for another?"

 "Yeah, please." Methos drained off the last of his latest and placed the empty on the counter with its mate. "Anything I can do?"

"I'm sure you can do a lot of things. You've had a lot of time to practice."

Methos sneered at him. "That's why I don't tell people how old I am, you know. They always go for the cheap shots."

"Maybe there's a reason for that, hmm?"

"Very funny," Methos said in imitation of Mac's earlier words. "Point to you."

"Oh, are we keeping score? I didn't know that. I'll have to try harder."

"No, if you're going to give me openings like that, there's no point. After all, as you say, I've had a lot of time to practice." His sarcasm wasn't just thick, it was tall and wide, as well. "You wouldn't stand a chance."

"I concede, in deference to your greater age and experience." Mac did a graceful flourish, crossing one arm in front and sweeping the other as if he had a feathered cap in hand. It was a movement his body performed as naturally as breathing, part and parcel of his history. He looked up to see Methos regarding him with no small amusement.

"Let's call it a draw. What you lack in years and practice you more than make up for in sheer cheek and pomposity."

"Pompous? Me?" Mac was slightly offended, straightening up to look down his nose at Methos.

"Yes, pompous, you." Methos made a flurried, rolling motion with his hand in mock imitation of Mac's reverence. Then he tilted his head and looked Mac slowly up and down, until Mac felt himself flush under the scrutiny. "I bet you were very pretty in lace and ruffles. And I bet you knew it, too." He grinned again at Mac's scowl.

"I know, I know -- susceptible," Mac growled.

"Very. But cute."

Mac felt a little tongue-tied and confused at the offhand compliment. "Thanks a lot. I bet you wore your share of frills and furbelows, too."

"Actually, I've always tended toward fairly plain dress. Anything else looks ridiculous with these features, and long hair has never suited me as well as it does you."

Mac eyed him suspiciously.

"What?"

"I'm just waiting for the thorn."

"No, no, I meant it when I called it a draw. No more."

Mac made a disbelieving sound. "Uh-huh."

"Well, okay. No more on this topic." Methos smiled and leaned on the island, watching Mac's preparations. "What's this, then?"

"You do sushi?" Mac asked as he laid out the sushi supplies and pulled out his sharpest fillet knife.

"I've been known to, yes."

"That's what this is."

Methos quietly watched as Mac quickly and expertly assembled the plate of nigiri sushi, cutting thin slices of fish, dabbing wasabi paste on the shari. "What, you didn't mix your own rice? What kind of host are you?"

"I knew it wouldn't last long. You're incapable of behaving yourself." Mac looked up. "Do you like a lot of wasabi?" At Methos' nod, he continued arranging smoked salmon and yellowtail on the store-bought rice after adding a healthy dollop of the green horseradish paste. "Anyway, you're not a guest; you're a friend." At Methos' snort, he looked up again and smiled. "Hey, I'm making you dinner. What have you done to deserve that much?"

"I figure after five thousand years I deserve something just for still being here. So, what's in the package?" Methos nonchalantly indicated the parcel on the counter as he opened his second beer.

"Oh, nothing much," Mac said pleasantly, smiling. "I'll show you later. Have some sushi?" He put the last pieces on the plate and pushed it over the counter. He watched as Methos picked up a piece of yellowtail sushi and took a bite.

"Pretty good." Methos drank his beer, eyeing the package, then looked back at Mac, returning his innocent look with interest. "What else are we having?"

Mac turned to the refrigerator and began pulling out beef, prawns, mushrooms, spinach, cabbage. "Shabu shabu. You have to work for your dinner tonight." He set the food on the counter, then got a cloth and scrubbed down the cutting board before beginning chopping again. When the silence continued, he looked up to see Methos staring down at Mac's hands, a very distracted look on his face. "That sound okay with you?"

Methos slowly looked up. "Yeah, that's fine. Anything I can do?"

"Actually, yes. There are some sauces on the top shelf of the refrigerator, if you want to get those ready." Mac went back to chopping. "Oh, and I need to get the electric wok out. It's--"

"In the bottom cupboard on the right, I know. You know, I'm shocked at your defiance of tradition. First store-bought rice and now an electric wok?" Methos moved around and started opening doors. "Where do you want it?"

"Well, it's not as if it's a special occasion, and I haven't bought that fire-pit for the living room yet," Mac said sarcastically. "I've got an extension cord that will reach to the table by the couch. D'you mind sitting on the floor?"

"I've spent decades without chairs, Mac. I think I can manage tonight." The wry tone was teasing.

Mac snorted. "Well, I wouldn't want to strain your aged bones, or anything."

"Cute. Very cute. You young whippersnappers could learn a thing or two about respect for your elders." Methos dragged the wok out and carried it into the living area before coming back to the kitchen to dig out the extension cord.

Mac watched in bemusement as Methos poked in cupboards and pulled out dishes, utensils, chopsticks. "I think you've been spending too much time over here."

Methos looked up, an odd look on his face. "What makes you say that?"

Mac pointed at the small saki pitcher on the counter. "I'd forgotten I even had that."

"Must be sad to have such a bad memory at such a young age."

Mac laughed. "Okay, point to you in the score we aren't keeping. I'll lay off the age jokes if you will, deal?"

"Sounds good to me." Methos smiled, gathered up the dishes on a tray, and took them out to the table.

Mac watched him for a moment before turning to gather up some of the bowls Methos had dug out. Placing them on the island, he began filling them with various vegetables before chopping more. "There's some broth on the counter, if you want to start it heating."

"Sure." After filling the wok, Methos wandered to the window and looked out, stretching, his sweatshirt riding up to expose his navel. Mac found himself absorbed in the view, noting the stretch of his shoulders, the tightness of his belly, the leanness of his thighs....He jerked back to his cutting board when Methos turned back to the room, hoping his face wasn't too flushed. He'd admired Methos' body before, but it hadn't seemed so...personal. Something about the earlier disclosures concerning his sexuality must have put him on edge.

Returning to the island, Methos picked up the package and turned it over, looking at it and at the string that held it together. "So, was this hand-delivered? Kind of old-fashioned, tying a package up with string like that." He knocked on the surface lightly, eliciting a hollow, wooden sound. "Some kind of pictures?"

Methos' voice was casual, but Mac looked up suspiciously anyway. Bland hazel eyes met his; he couldn't see even a twinkle of amusement, nothing but careless curiosity. "Joe brought it by earlier, something he got for me."

Methos put the package down and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Oh. Okay." He wandered around the counter, peering out the window before coming back to lean on the countertop across from where Mac was slicing the cabbage. "So...why wait? I can open it, if you're busy."

Mac saw that his eyes kept darting over to the paper-wrapped parcel, and he stopped chopping, pointing at the other man with the knife. "You looked."

Methos' eyes widened slightly under Mac's accusatory gaze, but he managed to look about five years old and completely innocent.

"Oh, no. That won't work. You have no shame, do you?"

Methos looked slightly sheepish -- but only very slightly. "Um, no, not really." He ate another piece of sushi. "This is really good, Mac." He finally looked up again when Mac refused to go back to his task. "Waste of time. Life's too short to squander it like that." He gave a cheeky grin.

"You're impossible." Mac sighed and went back to his chopping.

"Not at all. Just highly improbable."

Mac threw him a mock-glare. "You were probably the kind of child who'd have hunted out all his presents before Christmas, if they'd had Christmas when you were a child."

Methos smiled widely, looking even more like a little boy. "So, can I have my present now?"

"How do you know it's for you?"

Methos threw him an amused look. "Because I'm the one who said I was looking for Shackleton's book."

"No."

"Please?" Methos' tone was wheedling.

"Say you're sorry -- and mean it." Mac watched him carefully.

Methos stood up, put his hands behind his back, and put on a suitably serious face. "I'm sorry I opened my present early." He looked boyish again. "Can I have it now?"

Mac smiled sweetly. "No."

Methos stared at him. "No?"

"Nope. You have to wait until after dinner. That's your punishment for being insatiably nosy. Curiosity killed the cat, you know." He hummed lightly to himself as he placed the cabbage in its bowl, then scrubbed the board before beginning to slice the beef.

Methos sighed, sounding heavily put-upon, but he gave in, carrying the rest of the filled bowls to the table and changing the topic of conversation. "So, how's Joe?"

"He seemed to be fine while he was here, didn't stay long." Mac grinned. "He said Amanda is demanding a new Watcher."

Methos laughed. "What now?"

"Apparently this most recent one isn't as gifted a sneak-thief as our darling girl, got himself arrested and almost got her nabbed, as well." Mac shared a smile with the other man.

"You really made their job a lot harder when you ratted them out, you know."

Mac shrugged. "I figure that mutual knowledge is only fair. And I don't tell everybody."

Methos counted on his fingers: "Fitzcairn, Richie, Amanda, Robinson, Grace...Robert and Gina?" The last names were said questioningly, but the embarrassed look on Mac's face answered it.

"Not fair, Fitz found out on his own -- that was Horton's fault."

"Well, you would have told him anyway," Methos snorted. He reached down and ran a finger over the package. "What else did Joe have to say?"

Now it was Mac's turn to look sheepish. He could feel his face heat and hoped that Methos wouldn't notice.

"What? What could Joe have possibly had to say that would make you turn red, MacLeod?"

"Um..." Mac cleared his throat. "It wasn't what he said. Wasn't anything." For some reason he felt incredibly reluctant to talk about it with Methos, even though it had seemed funny with Richie and Joe. After all, he was fairly sure his sexual activities with men wouldn't shock Methos and probably wouldn't even surprise him.

"'Nothing' doesn't make you blush." Methos' gaze was calculating, and Mac found he couldn't meet his eyes.

"Your grammar is atrocious, you know that?" Mac finished slicing the beef, placed it in a bowl, and turned to get a tray, moving back to fill it with several of the bowls of meats and vegetables. "I told you, it's not important. We talked about Amanda, about Watchers' guidelines, stuff like that. Here, these need to go over on the table as well. Oh! And I forgot the broth." He turned to rummage in the refrigerator.

"Changing the subject won't work, and you didn't, it's already in the pan. Give, MacLeod. I'm not going to let go of it, so you might as well tell me."

Mac steeled himself and turned to look directly at Methos. "It really was nothing. Joe just...found out something about me he hadn't known."

This was clearly an unsatisfactory answer. "Which was?"

Mac turned back to his cutting area to clean it up. "Remember curiosity and the cat?"

"I think I have enough lives to spare, thank you. If I can't have my present, I want the scoop, and I'm not giving up on this one, so you might as well tell me now."

Mac sighed heavily. "Okay, fine, take your present. Might as well."

Methos beamed. "Okay!" He picked it up and very carefully removed the wrappings.

Mac smiled, watching him, relieved that Methos had allowed himself to be sidetracked.

"So, about this thing Joe found out..." Methos was turning the book around looking at the odd binding and lettering. He looked up and grinned at Mac. "I'm not letting go of that, either."

"Aren't you even going to say thank you?"

"Thank you. Now give."

"Ungrateful wretch. Here. Put these on the table." Mac finished cleaning up the counter and moved to get them each another beer from the refrigerator, pausing to open them and take several gulps of his own.

"Must be bad if you have to fortify yourself with alcohol."

"Not bad, just--awkward, for some reason." Mac looked over at Methos.

"Mac, I can't imagine anything you could tell me that would--"

Mac took a deep breath and spit it out before Methos could finish. "Apparently Joe was surprised to learn that I've had male lovers." He looked down at his bottle as he took another drink, confused as to why it had been so difficult to say that to Methos.

"Oh, that." Methos' tone was dismissive. "I'll just bet it surprised him." He moved to thump Mac on the back as he swallowed the wrong way.

"You say that as if you knew?" Mac said questioningly, once he caught his breath. Even though he'd assumed Methos would be okay with it, the casualness of his acceptance caught Mac off guard.

"We have friends in common, Mac. Old friends." He smiled at Mac's suspicious look. "Brian Cullen spent a lot of time in Switzerland at one point."

"And?"

"And I don't kiss and tell, Mac." With that, Methos picked up the tray of bowls and went to put them with the others.

Mac watched him, unsure whether to laugh or not, and simply shook his head before returning to his cleaning. "So, Ernest Shackleton. Any relation to the Frank Shackleton who stole the Irish Crown jewels?"

Methos gave him an odd look. "Yeah, I think that was his brother. Why, you knew him?"

Mac grimaced. "Only by reputation. Although Amanda would have let me get to know him a lot better."

Methos grinned. "You don't mean..."

Mac looked up to see the leer on the other man's face. "Oh, God, no! I mean, not that I haven't--" For a minute he wished he could just start the whole conversation over.

"Haven't what, Mac?" Methos tone was silky and insinuative.

"All I meant was that Amanda tried to bring me in on that stupid caper, and it was one of the times I didn't indulge her."

Methos let the teasing drop. "Amanda was in on that?" He sat down on the floor by the table, arranging his lanky limbs comfortably, tucking his stocking feet under the table.

Mac picked up his beer and moved over to join him. "No, I talked her out of it, fortunately."

"That must have been fun." The broth was gently bubbling as Methos dropped a piece of meat in and swirled it around with his chopsticks.

Mac flushed yet again, but smiled this time. "Yeah, it was." He started picking out pieces of meat and vegetable and putting them on his plate, waiting his turn.

"Did you know Ernest Shackleton?" Methos looked up at him as he dropped some mushrooms in before scooping his cooked meat out, dipping it in the sauce, and eating it. "Go ahead and drop stuff in, Mac."

"No, but I assume you did?" Mac wondered if somehow their lives had almost connected through the long dead brothers.

"Actually, no, I never did."

"Really? Why so much interest in the book, then? I just figured you'd known him." Mac carefully stirred the broth, checking the food.

"No, though I did know one of the men who served under him on the Endurance. You know that trip?" Methos scooped out some of the vegetables and dumped them on Mac's plate. "Here, eat something. Just because you're the host doesn't mean you have to wait until everyone else is served."

"Thanks." Mac grinned at him and ate a bit before answering. "That's the Antarctic trip that was almost a disaster, right?"

"Yeah, you can't get much closer to complete disaster than the entire ship locked in ice for nine months, then sunk, and everyone having to make their way home by foot and on sledges. The amazing thing is that he got all twenty-eight men out of the Antarctic in the middle of winter, the worst winter in decades, across two thousand miles of open ice and water, without a ship, and didn't lose a single man!" Methos punctuated his amazement with his chopsticks, flinging a loose piece of cabbage at Mac as he did so. "Um, sorry, got carried away." He grinned unrepentantly, popping another piece of mushroom in his mouth.

"It's okay, I'll wash." Mac peeled the cabbage off his arm. "You seem pretty impressed with the man."

"I have a soft spot for him. He never really achieved any of his goals, but he was a real survivor. I have an appreciation for that. You know, he got within ninety-seven miles of the pole before he had to stop on one of his trips? He was pretty amazing. Actually, I think you'd have liked him. By all accounts, he was a very forceful personality, very charming. A bit of a scoundrel." He grinned at Mac. "And you do have a habit of attracting scoundrels."

"Present company excepted, of course."

"Of course! I'm far too bland to be a scoundrel." He looked at Mac in mock concern as Mac swallowed the wrong way. "Need another pat on the back?"

"No, thanks, I think I'm fine, if you don't kill me."

"Haven't a clue what you mean." Methos went back to eating.

"What else about him?" As Mac watched, Methos settled into story-telling mode, and Mac was captivated. After awhile, the mellow baritone surrounding him, he found himself less listening to the details and more just watching the man across from him -- and keeping him fed. As he talked, Methos gesticulated and gestured with more and more intensity and enthusiasm, so Mac took over tending the pot while Methos spoke. Methos would pause to scoop up bits of beef and vegetable, dipping and munching briefly before moving on with his tale of a most amazing man.

"Duncan? You have the oddest smile on your face."

"Do I?" Mac realized he'd been sitting there with an indulgent smile on his face, enjoying the story, enjoying Methos' enthusiasm more. Then he stopped with his bit of cabbage halfway to his mouth and looked at Methos.

Methos dropped a bit of meat in the broth and looked up questioningly. "What is it?"

"You called me Duncan."

"And? That is your name, isn't it?"

"Yeah, but nobody's really used it much since Tessa died. Anne called me Duncan. Darius always did." He popped the cabbage in his mouth, watching Methos with a contemplative look on his face. "So, you like your book?"

Methos smiled. "Yeah, I do. I'm amazed you could find it. I think there were only about a hundred copies published. They published it themselves, you know, during one of the expeditions. The first book ever printed in the Polar regions. And each copy signed by all of the men."

"Ninety copies, actually."

Methos looked at him seriously. "It's quite a gift, Mac. I'm really touched by it, by your taking the effort to find one of the copies. I had one, but I lost track of it. I'm glad to have it, especially an original edition."

Mac looked at him. "I thought you'd already looked at it?"

"Yeah, and I already apologized. What's your point?"

"How closely did you look?"

Methos looked at him for a moment, then rose to fetch the book he'd left on the dining room table.

Mac saw his face go still as Methos opened the cover and turned the pages, knowing what he would find. It had been expensive, but he decided it was worth it.

"How did you find this?" Methos looked over at him. "Do you know what this is worth?"

"Yes, actually, probably better than you do," Mac grinned. "Don't worry, I got a good deal. You aren't going to say you can't accept it, are you?"

"Shackleton's own copy, dedicated to his mistress?" Methos snorted. "In your dreams." He paused. "I really don't know what to say."

Mac sat there, looking up at Methos, realizing why he'd gone to the trouble and expense of hunting down the book and prying it away from its previous owner. He'd wanted to see that look. A look that was part shyness, part surprise. He'd wanted to find some way to please Methos, and it looked as if he'd succeeded.

"Of course, he was an abysmal writer. Fortunately, he just edited this one." Quick as that, the elusive look was gone, and Methos was back to poring over his prize, bringing it with him to sit back down on the couch.

Mac moved up with him, leaning back in the opposite corner, watching him. "Are you through eating?"

"Mmm, yeah, I think so. Except for the sushi, you can leave that."

"Whatever you say, sir." Mac felt the warmth of the smile Methos flashed at him. Watching the reverence with which Methos handled his gift, Mac thought to himself that in spite of his words, the other man did have those things that he valued and wanted to keep. He thought over his own day, the sorting through of old memories, the almost ritual-like review of the memorabilia in the chest. And it really was a ritual, wasn't it? Not something he did often, but--

He broke off in mid-thought, his breath catching, looking over at the old, battered chest with its talismans and icons. A ritual, a going through of the old loves when--

"What would you put in there to remind you of me?" Methos' voice was soft behind him.

--when he was falling in love again. Richie had been right. His throat was suddenly tight with emotion as things fell into place. When he spoke, he had difficulty getting past the lump. "Oh, I dunno, a bottle cap, maybe? Or a henley shirt. Maybe Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness.'"

When Methos spoke, Mac could hear the smile in his voice. "That was your book."

Mac smiled himself, feeling the tightness of it. "Yeah, but it was the only thing you left behind. Always reminds me of you."

"What else?" There was a dark tone in his voice that sent a small shiver through Mac.

Mac didn't look around, but he could tell that Methos had moved closer. Mac thought some more. "Ah, that sweater of mine you keep borrowing...or maybe a chess piece? That's the problem; you're very hard to capture in things."

There was a pause. "Maybe I'll just have to stick around."

"I think I'd like that. Make things simpler all round." Mac turned his head to look at the other man and saw that he'd carefully set the book aside before leaning forward, forearms resting on his knees. His gaze was steady and warm, as welcoming as a shaft of sunlight in a dark room, and Mac just wanted to bask in the heat.

"What would you say," he asked a trifle unsteadily, "if I said that I might have to kiss you?"

Methos quirked a smile at him. "I'd say it was about time."

Mac smiled at that before leaning slowly forward, tilting his head to avoid bumping noses. The first kiss was soft; not tentative, merely exploratory, Mac ghosting his lips over Methos' mouth as if mapping the contours, learning its shape and form for later. Pulling back, he looked at Methos seriously, smiling again when he saw that Methos had closed his eyes. It took a couple of moments before they opened again.

"That's it?" In spite of his words, Methos sounded a bit breathless.

"You didn't like it?"

"Nice enough, I guess."

"You held your breath," Mac said mildly.

"I thought I might need it later."

"You might." Mac picked up another piece of sushi, taking a bite before offering it to Methos; he held his own breath as Methos cupped his hand around Mac's, guiding it to his lips and delicately taking the bit of rice and fish into his own mouth, lips brushing Mac's fingertips.

"So, d'you think you can do better?" Mac said unsteadily, licking his lips at the look Methos threw him from under his lashes.

"I can try." Methos took a swallow of his beer, still holding Mac's hand in his own, against his knee. Then, leaning forward, he framed Mac's face in his hands and settled his mouth against Mac's. His tongue slipped out to lightly trace Mac's lips as his forward momentum continued, pushing Mac back against the couch until Methos was half-lying on top of him.

Mac settled his hands on Methos' hips and opened his mouth, letting Methos' tongue move in and set up house, helping it measure for curtains and rearrange the furniture. He tasted the sweet-sourness of the beer and the sharp taste of wasabi, overlying a flavor that was new and unfamiliar, but inviting. It was a long, languorous kiss, one that took its time, making sure that everything was just as it wanted, that no corner was left uninvestigated.

When it was over, Mac found that one arm was wrapped around Methos' waist, pulling him in tighter, while the other was cupped around the back of Methos' head, fingers sliding through the soft, short hair.

He opened his eyes to see Methos watching him gravely.

"Well?"

Mac looked at him consideringly, sliding his tongue around inside a mouth that suddenly seemed empty. "You've had more practice."

"Natural talent." Methos slid his palms down Mac's throat, cupping his neck in those long-fingered hands to angle his head for another kiss. This one was less exploratory, deeper, though no less gentle. When Methos let him up for air, Mac could feel the blood pounding in his temples as it followed the path of heat that was shivering through him, racing to find room to swell and expand. Breathing deeply, he loosened the grip that had pulled Methos in, shifting his hands to slide and cup taut flesh, parting his legs to let Methos' hips sink more tightly against him. Even as he did so, he wondered at the speed with which things were happening.

"You don't think we're rushing things a bit? For a first date and all?"

"Oh, this isn't our first date." Methos took advantage of the loosened grip to lean up slightly, sliding his hands down Mac's chest to press warmly over rounded muscles.

"It's not?"

"No. We've been dating for awhile."

"We have?"

"Yeah, you just didn't notice. Actually, I kind of look at our whole history as a sort of extended courtship. I've just been waiting for you to figure it out."

"Ah. Well, then. You don't think you might have given me a hint?"

"What, and ruin the surprise?" Methos raised his eyebrows.

"I see. And here I thought you didn't care for surprises." Mac glanced over at the book.

"I'm not always very good at staying out of them." He stroked his thumbs across Mac's nipples, smiling at the slight groan this elicited. "Besides, I wasn't the one who was surprised. I knew what was going on. I mean, you make me dinner, I wear your clothes, you buy me expensive gifts -- what did you think was going on? Or have you just been leading me on?"

"I guess I thought we were just friends."

"Well, it's been awhile since I had one, but I think I remember what it felt like, and you definitely feel like more than 'just friends.'" Methos pressed his hips down, causing Mac to tighten his grip as his own hips arched up to meet answering hardness. "I figure it's time to pay up."

"Pay up?" Mac said breathlessly, his nipples tightening as they drew away from the circles Methos was now painting with his fingertips.

"Yeah." He leaned up and started unbuttoning Mac's shirt. "The question is--"

"Yes?"

"Who's going to be on top?"

"Good question. I'll have to think about it. Maybe we can just see what happens?"

"Spontaneity? Spontaneity is good." Suiting actions to words, Methos dipped his head and brushed aside the cloth so that his lips and tongue could settle in, bathing Mac's chest in a wetness that contrasted sharply with the heat of Methos' fingertips when he pulled back to blow lightly on the now-damp skin.

"Mmmm. So, if this isn't our first date, what about all those bases we've skipped? I mean, I may not have been paying attention, but I'm fairly sure I would have noticed those." Duncan concentrated on the fine texture of the skin under Methos' ear, stroking it lightly with his fingertips.

Methos arched his neck to the side and back, his eyes nearly closed. "Well...ten to fifteen minutes of increasingly insistent necking, then the same with heavy petting, moving on to clothes tossed off and the actual deed...I say we could be there by eight-thirty, nine o'clock at the outside."

"'The deed?'"

"Insert the euphemism of your choice."

Mac stared at him briefly, then burst out in laughter that quickly degenerated into hiccuping chuckles.

Methos stared at him blankly. "It wasn't that funny, Mac."

"No, you're probably right. Must have been a stress-reliever."

"Are you feeling stressed? Tense?" Methos tilted his head, lips pursed, while his fingertips continued tracing and exploring the muscles of Mac's chest.

"I don't know how I'm feeling, Methos."

That piercing gaze met his own uncertain one. "Maybe you should stop worrying about how you're feeling and just do something about what you're feeling."

Mac felt an odd hesitancy, as if he wasn't sure which way to go, what to do. "This has been a very strange day, Methos. Maybe we should--" He stopped as Methos kissed him again, all desultoriness gone, nothing but deep want and hunger in his mouth. It called to an answering need in Mac, slowly burning away the lassitude and quiescence that had held him still, transforming them into desire. No longer passive, his hands moved over Methos' body, learning his shape, molding him against Mac's own body. When Methos released his mouth to move downwards, softly biting and sucking at his chest, his belly, Mac pulled at Methos' sweatshirt, wanting to feel the heat of skin against his own.

Methos let him pull the shirt over his head, trailing his fingers back over Mac's stomach to card lightly through the hair that trailed downwards. When Mac tried to ease him back up, to taste him again, Methos resisted. Mac looked down to see heated green-gold eyes watching him; he groaned and let his head fall back at the feel of fingers opening his pants, spreading the cloth so that the mouth he'd been seeking could envelop him, a hot, moist warmth that shuddered through his bones, closing his eyes and stilling his hands in their hungry motions. He was barely aware of his slacks being stroked off his body, leaving him naked except for his shirt. His entire being was centered on that heat, feeling the strong pull as Methos sucked him in, the laving of the tip of his cock as Methos' tongue swirled over and under him, flicking strongly against the tender skin underneath, hands cupping and rolling the sensitive sac below. There was no hesitation or teasing in the enfolding warmth. There was nothing beyond a tremendous pleasure, given and received.

Mac luxuriated in the feeling, leaning up on his elbows to watch Methos' head slide against him, his flesh appearing and disappearing down that warm, wet tunnel, framed by those mobile lips. Methos' movements were slow-paced and deliberate, voluptuous rather than frenzied. Mac felt a slow-building pleasure rippling along his nerves and closed his eyes, focusing on the sensuality of the mouth moving around him. The intensity built so slowly and steadily that when he felt himself spill into Methos' mouth it almost caught him by surprise, pulling his climax from him with a sense of overflowing completion rather than explosive pleasure.

He lay with his eyes closed, feeling that elegant mouth kiss and nibble its way upward until it again rested on his own, this time seasoned with the salty, pungent taste of his release. He savored it while his hands made short work of Methos' jeans, freeing his swollen cock into Mac's eager hand. He stroked and fondled it, listening intently to discover what gave the most pleasure, rubbing the rough edge of his thumb over the slippery head as his hand slid back the loose skin, sighing as Methos' hands tightened on his hips, his head dropping to rest on Mac's chest. Feeling Methos move more urgently, he used his free hand to pull Methos against him once more, parting his legs to guide Methos' hardness between his own damp thighs before pressing them together tightly and urging Methos to seek his own release, helping him with rocking hips and urgent hands. Lifting Methos' mouth to his own, Mac swallowed the groans and sighs Methos made as he moved, feeling the contrasting textures of wiry hair and silky skin against his groin, the supple slide of hard flesh. The feel of that hard body moving against him, the not-quite sounds that escaped Methos' lips when they briefly left Mac's to take in air, were indescribable. He tried to convey this, his own eagerness for Methos' pleasure, with stroking hands and hungry mouth. Lost in a sensual maelstrom, he felt Methos tighten against him mere moments before he felt the wetness of release on his skin.

In the aftermath, he could feel the slight tremors shiver through them both as the intensity and rapidity of their love-making washed through them. He soothed with his arms and meaningless whispers in Methos' ear.

Methos rested his cheek against Mac's chest, pulling in hard-earned breaths as Mac stroked his hand over sweat-damp skin, his eyes closed as he concentrated on texture.

"I think I feel pretty good now, Methos. What do you think?" Mac raised his head far enough to press a kiss on Methos' temple.

"You feel pretty damn good to me. Taste good, too."

Mac shuddered lightly as he felt Methos' tongue curl around his nipple.

"This isn't exactly what I had planned for the evening, you know." Mac wrapped his arms more securely around Methos. "I figured a game of chess, maybe a movie...."

"I blame the wasabi, myself." Methos stretched lazily against him. "Heats the blood, gets the juices going."

"Is that what it was?"

"Absolutely. It's at least as good an excuse as any."

Mac looked down into semi-serious hazel eyes. "Do we need an excuse?"

Methos leaned over to snag his bottle of beer. "I thought maybe you might." He took a swallow before offering it to Mac.

"I had some unfinished business to take care of." He saw Methos' eyes go to the still-open wooden chest before they dropped back to his as he finished the last of the now-warm beer.

"Everything taken care of?"

"As much as it ever is. You know how it goes." Mac hooked his hand behind Methos' head, pulling him down for another long, slow kiss. "For now."

"It's all just for now, you know. Carpe diem."

Mac wondered if Methos was making a promise or trying to warn him of something. "I was thinking 'carpe Methos,' myself."

"As a philosophy, I've heard worse." Methos took the empty bottle. "Feel like another?"

Mac held onto him as Methos moved to get up. "In a minute. I'm pretty comfortable right now."

"Okay, but not too long. One of us has his bum hanging out in the air, here." He dropped the empty on the table before nestling back against Mac's chest.

Mac cupped his hands over Methos' buttocks, warming and stroking them. "Not too long."

 They lay there quietly for several minutes. Mac closed his eyes, remembering the anticipation with which he'd started the morning, realizing that there was nothing left but the lazy satisfaction, along with a sense of rightness that permeated him. Thinking back, he realized that Methos was right. They'd been working up to this all along, waiting for the right time, the right circumstances, whether he'd realized it or not. Waiting for him to be ready.

 "Methos?"

"Hmmm?" Methos sounded as if he might have drowsed slightly.

Mac paused, feeling foolish. "Nothing."

"I don't know, Mac. Don't worry about it."

"Don't worry about what?"

"A reminder. I don't need one, and I'm not going anywhere."

"I didn't-"

"You didn't have to." Methos leaned up and looked at him, resting his chin on crossed arms. "Wanna play a game of chess? I'll let you win again."

Mac snorted. "As if you let me win!"

The hazel eyes glinted. "You have to encourage the children. If they lost all the time, they'd stop playing."

Mac pulled him close, wrapping arms around his middle and kissing the tip of his nose.

Methos smiled at him. "Penny for your thoughts?"

"We kind of bypassed that issue of who's on top, you know."

"Ah, well, next time we'll plan better. Now that the surprise is over."

"Next time?"

Methos leaned up and kissed him. "Next time."

"I like the sound of that." Mac rubbed his cheek along Methos' chin. "Methos?"

"Yes, Duncan?"

"Thank you."

Methos didn't ask for what, just lightly touched him, fingertips brushing his brow. "You're welcome. Anytime." 

read the poem inspired by Hope Chest: Gospel

 


The End