|Living the Dream
by Maxine Mayer
"Watch your head, Methos," Mac cautioned, handing me the electric screwdriver with the screw magnetically positioned just right. "Can you get at it?"
I was stretched out on the kitchen floor of Mac's loft at an awkward angle, my legs partly folded and my feet pushed up against the island behind me, my shoulders hunched so I could get them and my head and my hands inside the cabinet under the stove. My elbow hurt where it kept shifting on the bone and grinding into the linoleum because I was using it to brace myself.
The worst of it was that despite all the effort I was expending I wasn't at all certain I could fasten the screw even with the aid of electricity. I knew it'd be difficult from the position I was in to press hard enough to force the screw to bite into the wooden slat which was way at the back where it was dark, so I couldn't see it clearly. I could scarcely reach the spot I was trying to make a dent in, I'd squished myself into such a pretzel just to fit into the small space.
I fumbled around the surface of the screwdriver until I found the "On" button and pushed it and the buzzing began, which meant that at least the tool was working. I kept up a steady pressure but nothing happened. "The screw's not going in, Mac. Maybe there's something behind the wood that's preventing it - a strip of metal -"
"Give me that!" he muttered.
I sidled out and shifted my weight off my elbow onto my ass, handing him the screwdriver. I rubbed the offended elbow and told MacLeod, "I don't know much about these things. I told you we should've waited until morning when there's natural light. I can't see anything in there -"
"You've got it on 'Remove,' dummy," he told me, shifting the button back to its original position, from which I'd changed it thinking it had been set to "Off." "Here, try it now."
"Cripes, why aren't you doing this? I'm not that much shorter than you," I bitched, but forced my way into the cabinet again, found the spot for the screw and started the buzzing up again.
"Because you're narrower. I can't get my shoulders between those slats." After a minute he asked, "Is it working now?"
"Yeah, it's going in."
"Make sure you've got the plastic oval piece vertical."
"It's as vertical as I can make it - considering that I can't even see it! There! It's in as far as it'll go." I felt my handiwork with a fingertip and asked, "Where'd you get this screw? It's got a really big head. You sure the drawer will fit now?"
"Get out of there. Watch your head!" He waited until I'd removed my long torso from inside the cabinet, then slipped a flat metal bar onto the drawer frame and pressed it down. Finally, with an air of triumph, he slid the drawer into place smoothly.
Watching from the floor I remarked - after the fact - "Keep it straight, Mac!" I only said that to appear as if I cared what was going on. I didn't. For all I gave a damn there could be a hole where that drawer was - for the rest of eternity. We could keep the forks and knives in the drainboard - didn't need drawers at all. For that matter, we didn't need sixteen spoons and eight knives and eight dinner forks and eight butter knives and eight cake forks and five thousand cooking and serving utensils, either. At least, I didn't need them. MacLeod, of course, needed them. He was civilized. In a pinch, I could make do with just a sharp knife. A spoon was trendy but unnecessary. I could slurp along fine without one, thank you very much.
"There! It's in! Thank heaven! That gaping hole - you would've waited until morning to fix it!" he accused. Then he made a great show of brushing imaginary dirt off his hands. "Thanks for helping. I wouldn't have wanted to leave it that way until Amanda visited."
"My pleasure," I replied, brushing my hands off, too. After all, I was the one who'd been stretched out on the floor doing all the work. Of course, Mac's floors were immaculate - he even cleaned under the stove, inside the cabinets - how often, I didn't yet know, but it didn't bear thinking about - so I hadn't gotten dirty. But two can play the put-upon game. "You've heard from Amanda?"
"Not lately. Why? Jealous?" he asked with a grin, honing in on something in my voice he shouldn't have been able to hear. I was slipping. "She's not coming to visit - at least not for a while. So, you're safe."
"What are you talking about?" I asked indignantly, covering my ass fast. "You want her, take her. I don't own you."
"Methos, don't be absurd. You've known me for what - five years? Or is it six now? You know I'm monogamous. We're together. I won't look at another person until -" he stopped. The phrase that was about to come out - "until you're dead" - was stifled. "I won't look at another person - ever."
I was moved. So much so that I automatically went into protective mode. I retorted, "I hope you aren't expecting the same sort of consideration from me."
"I do expect it," he told me quickly. "But -" he shrugged, "if you can't manage it, that's okay too."
"I've managed so far," I assured him, relaxing again. "I suppose another couple hundred years won't hurt." Then I couldn't help grinning. "That is, if you limit my share of the household chores. I don't do Mary Poppins very well."
"Not to worry - it's my thing. You just keep on doing yours."
"What might that be?" I asked.
"I think you've mastered the 'sex' thing pretty well, don't you? You've got a real flair for it. We'll consider that your share of the chores."
"Yes, well, if I must -" I assumed an air of put-upon-ed-ness again. "But I thought they freed the slaves long ago. Perhaps that was some other place. Not Canada."
"Well, Methos, you've gotta do something to earn your keep. You don't cook. You don't clean. You don't do laundry. You don't do windows. You hate opera -"
"Now you're getting personal -"
"I think I've found the perfect chore for you. One you can do from a horizontal position. There are worse things than the sex chore, you know."
"Really? Whatever could those be?"
"Ah. Yes, well, you certainly know how to make a point, MacLeod." I got up from the floor, finally, and took a beer from the refrigerator. "Okay. I'll do sex. But don't say I didn't warn you."
"Warn me about what?"
"I've been known to do a chore so poorly that it was taken away from me."
Mac chuckled. "That's one chore you couldn't possibly do poorly, even with the best will in the world."
"We'll see," I remarked, letting a tinge of smugness edge my voice.
He grinned. "Yes, we will."
"Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Mac asked, after a particularly hard night of chores. It was morning and he was up and about doing his own share of our living responsibilities - making breakfast. It must've been close to ten o'clock, judging by the angle of the sunlight on the carpet.
"You let me sleep late again," I accused, just for something to say. It wasn't as if I had big plans for the day - a few beers and a good read would do me fine.
"You worked so hard, I couldn't bear to wake you up."
"Enough with the jokes, MacLeod. I don't like humor in the morning. Is breakfast ready?"
I went to the john, threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and joined him at the table. While I ate my eggs and toast - lightly toasted, lightly buttered, real butter, homemade bread, Mac's specialty, perfect toast - I thought about the few months we'd been lovers. We'd rented a flat together in Paris but here in Seacouver nothing had been said yet about doing the same. I'd settled into Mac's loft above the dojo like in the old days - bed not couch, of course - but he'd tried to carry over the 'schedule' and 'boundaries' we'd designed in Paris, attempting to keep the routine of our life going. I'd balked.
I didn't know exactly why I'd balked. Maybe I hadn't liked the routine in the first place. I'd gone along with it though, in Paris. Actually done the laundry faithfully, once a week. Changed the sheets. Washed the dishes when he cooked, which was often - we'd hardly ever eaten out in Paris. Mac seemed to like staying home with me. He'd cooked up a storm just about every night. Joe'd complained he never saw us any more.
Yes, I'd fallen in with Mac's routine, even helped create it - in Paris. Once, in a spurt of energy, while he was away for a few days in London, I'd actually washed windows. Only in the living room, but still....
Then we'd decided to move back to Seacouver and it was as if I'd reverted. I simply felt no enthusiasm for housekeeping. Which was nothing new. Myself, in my own flats, I'd 'got someone in' once a week or so - when I wasn't married - for centuries. Sometimes I could even afford live-in servants.
Mac pretended not to notice that I wasn't contributing my labor to our load but I knew he couldn't have missed it - I'd been pretty obviously falling down on the job since we'd come back. He'd said nothing about it, however, until the other night. And then, he'd made it into a joke.
I wondered what it meant to him - that I'd quit doing my share of the work. Did he think it was a prelude to my leaving him? Or that it meant I didn't love him as much as before? Clearly, he'd thought about it, else why the resigned acceptance that I'd never do chores again? Why the joke - resignation masking as humor - about sex? Which certainly wasn't a chore for either of us.
It wasn't as if I did the sex all by myself. Or even as if I did most of it. Duncan was as energetic, devoted and meticulously fair in bed as out of it. If I were a score-keeping sort of man I'd be forced to admit he did more than his share. To my delight.
So why wasn't I willing to work at this anymore? At what he clearly saw as a real partnership for lovers? What had changed? I didn't know.
"Good breakfast, Mac," I told him, wiping my mouth with one of the linen napkins he insisted on using even for snacks. They made for more laundry and ironing. He refused to send them out to be done. "Thanks."
"Don't bother with the dishes, Methos. I've got 'em," he said matter-of-factly, just as if I'd been about to leap up and wash them. Then he proceeded to clear the table and fill the sink with water and suds.
"I wasn't going to," I replied coldly. I was beginning to feel guilty - he'd cooked, it was only fair that I washed - so I shut down a bit. Guilt serves no purpose, I reminded myself, shoving the pinprick pain from my heart.
"It's okay. I don't mind."
"I know you don't. If you did, we wouldn't be together very long, would we?"
"That's right." He stopped washing up long enough to smile at me reassuringly. "And together's where I want us to be."
"Me, too," I let slip, then bit my lip.
"Glad to hear it."
"Glad to live it," I rejoined - in for a penny, in for a pound. "Mac?"
"Hmm?" He didn't look around. He was making a long business out of washing up one pan, one spatula, two plates and two forks. And bread crumbs on the counter. Mustn't forget the bread crumbs on the counter. I suppose something in my voice when I said his name told him he didn't want to hear what I was going to say.
"I appreciate what you're doing, Mac."
"Your - forebearance. I appreciate it." There - nearly an apology. That would have to do.
"Don't be silly. I washed up after myself for centuries before I met you. It doesn't matter."
"I just - can't anymore." When had I realized that this wasn't a temporary setback? That I couldn't do it any longer.
"Can't what?" Still standing with his back to me, not permitting this to be a serious conversation. Still, just small talk, post-breakfast muttering while he did the dishes.
"I can't show my love this way." I gestured, the movement lost on him, of course. His back was still to me.
He turned quickly, grabbing a dishcloth and wiping his hands. He stared at me. At last he said, "Do you hear me complaining?"
"Actually, yes. I do."
"I'm not complaining, Methos -"
"But you are. Not out loud. Not often. Not with the force of your true feelings behind it. But you're complaining. Yes, oh yes."
He came to me then, knelt by my chair and put his arms around me, burying his head against my chest. "Please - I can't help it. The picture - the fantasy - the perfect life -" He looked up into my eyes. "But it isn't real. I know that. And it doesn't matter. I just want you with me, that's all. The rest - I don't care about the trimmings."
"I'm talking about substance, not trimmings -"
"Call it anything you want - it doesn't matter to me -"
"I tried to tell you, Mac, in Paris. Tried to warn you. I didn't know how it would demonstrate itself in our case - I just knew it would come out somehow. I can't live with another person. I've tried. It's never worked. I'm not cut out for it."
"But you have lived with another person. With me. For months."
"It was easier with women," I went on dreamily, remembering. "They didn't seem to mind. In the old days, men never did much anyway. Nobody seemed to realize how - ornamental - men were, in the home. Like life-sized stuffed animals, propped up on a pile of furs, or a divan, or in an easy chair. The women didn't seem to mind at all -" I smoothed his hair while I talked, but I didn't look at him. Putting my finger on what I decided was a genuine "truth" helped assuage some of my pain. But I didn't imagine it would do a thing for Mac.
"Please, don't leave," he murmured, a cry from his heart spoken so low I could scarcely hear it, even though his mouth was only inches from my ears. "I don't want you to leave."
"You say that now. And you'll say it every morning, I suppose. After I've done my 'chores.' But by the late afternoon - or by the time we get to Joe's for a drink, latest - you won't really mean it."
"I'll always mean it, Methos. And you're wrong about the rest of it, too."
"What rest of it?"
"Being an ornament."
"I think that's what we were. Men. We fought the wars. Brought home the bacon. But once we were inside, we served no purpose. We were ornaments."
"No. At least, not to me."
I looked at him. His face seemed very young. Always did, just after he'd shaved. However, it was his expression that struck me. He looked as if he'd jumped off a cliff. The same mix of terror and courage. And the same sweet acceptance of his fate.
"What are we - what am I, to you?" I asked, unable to hold back the question.
"You're everything. Without you, there's nothing. No home, no bacon, no ornaments. Just - emptiness. A void."
"Oh," I managed, shocked.
"That's what we meant to them, too, Methos - to the women. For as far back as time went, until recently. We were everything to them. There was no meaning without us."
"Not ornaments?" I croaked out.
"Not ornaments. Gods. The givers of all good things, the fountain of bliss. The Answer to Question. Hope. The beginning and the end."
"That's pretty scary, Mac -"
He nodded. Then he kissed me quickly. "Why do you think women feared us so much?"
"Because we were bigger, stronger -"
He shook his head. "No. That wasn't why. Even a bigger, stronger enemy must sleep. Anyone can die."
"So - why?"
He thought for a moment. Then it seemed as if he was changing the subject. "You don't believe in anything, do you?"
"Not really," I agreed cautiously, wondering where he was going.
"You live without a god, Methos. Either you've abandoned your gods or your gods have abandoned you. So - you know."
"What are you getting at?"
"The one terror that can't be got rid of is the fear that your god will disappear. That's what women always feared in the past. Nothing their god could do, no cruelty he could inflict, compared with that fear. That their own personal god would simply - go. Leave. Disappear forever."
"I can't mean that to you -" I whispered, pushing him away. But he didn't move - he was strong as a bull - he just sat back on his heels.
"You do mean that to me. Everything. Without you - before you - there was a void. Since you, the void is filled. I don't want to think about how it would be to lose you. I've tasted that cold dish more than once, over the years. That kind of living death. It's terrifying. Please don't leave."
"I wasn't threatening -"
"You were. Just - who you are - threatens. We - we are what we are, Methos. You and me. To each other."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"When we started - when we met - it looked like it would be the other way around. That I'd be the - the god. That you'd be the - worshipper."
"Spit it out, Mac. A spade's a spade. It looked like I'd be the woman, you'd be the man."
"All right. All right," he answered quietly. "Yes. It looked that way. But it didn't work out that way."
"I must be some rotten lover, if you think you care more than I do," I remarked bitterly.
"I'm not saying that. I'm just a simpler person, that's all. I've got a layer or two, true, but I'm nothing compared to you. I love with all my heart. You love - with room to spare."
I managed to slide out from under his weight which was resting on my knees and stand. I managed to walk a few steps away from him. Without striking him dead.
I went to the fridge and got out a beer. I needed a bit of action to cover the time it took me to unsqueeze my heart and school my features. For a few moments more I just gripped the beer bottle for dear life and tried to breathe. I didn't say a word.
Neither did Mac. He didn't move from where he knelt - his knees must've been killing him but he had a lot of practice kneeling, what with his oriental meditation techniques, so he could take it. He simply turned a bit, rested back on his haunches, and waited.
"You've no idea how insulting you've been, do you, MacLeod?" I asked him finally.
"I didn't mean to insult you," he replied simply.
"I'm sure you didn't. How about you think on it some? You love me with all your heart. I'm a piker - I spare you only a fraction of what I've got. Insulting." I took a deep breath. "I don't do the dishes and suddenly that takes on mythic proportions. 'The God Who Leaves.' You're a whole other story, MacLeod."
"Methos, you don't love me the way I love you. It's not an insult. It's a fact. You're five thousand years old. I could live to that age and I'd still never attain a fraction of your complexity. That's a fact. You started with more. You started with - different. I'm - happy. Fortunate. That you care about me at all -"
"Turn around, MacLeod!" I ordered.
"I wanna look for your 'Off' switch. To shut you up." He looked hurt. But he shut up, so I was glad. I shook my head a few times. "How do you manage to turn my faults into 'perfections of the godhead'?" I asked.
"I'm not doing that."
"What would you call it? I'm a lazy, spoiled, reclusive, sarcastic, useless sonuvabitch. I won't do a thing around the house. I eat your food, sleep on your linens, bask in your warmth, shelter in the embrace of your protection, without doing the least thing to return the gifts - in kind or otherwise. And you make me out to be some kind of an ancient deity. Actually tell me that - in so many words - to my face. Bring me offerings on bended knee. Are you crazy? Or do you enjoy deluding yourself?"
"You may like to pretend you're just a guy, Methos. I know better."
"Don't you see what you're doing, Mac?" I was desperate to make him understand. "You're pushing me away!"
"Yes! Oh yes! If you get angry when I'm lazy, then we come closer, become - lovers. If you - forebear - when I'm lazy - if you pick up the slack, do my share as well as your own, we get farther apart."
"I don't understand -"
"Why not? How could you not understand? Think back, MacLeod! We were never closer than when you treated me like a jerk or a coward! Don't you remember?"
"I remember - I just don't understand -"
"At our most passionate moments, in bed, our sweat mingling with our semen, our bodies penetrating until we nearly come out the other side, we're not as close - our love isn't as real - as when you teased me about the 'Wheel of History' or wheedled me into helping Gina and Robert. Or painted my nose! No notion about my 'godliness' and your place as an 'unworthy worshipper' can bring us together the way your teasing and yes, your contempt for my flawed humanity and my 'coward's morality' did, when you believed I was Adam Pierson!"
"I'm not saying you're not human, Methos -"
"But you're acting as if I weren't! Every once in a while, you ought to try to lord it over me. I'm likely to lose my temper. That would be a good thing, Mac. Because I won't be an angry god. I'll be a pissed off human being. It's worth the world to me - that. It's why I still want to live. What I live for!"
I sighed. "Mac, I'm not trying to surpass myself. Move up to some higher level. Spiritualize myself out of this world. Haven't you noticed that I like it right here? In the mud? With the rest of the suckers? I want to survive as a human being, not as a god. That's good enough for me."
"How I feel about you -"
"Doesn't begin to compare with how I feel about you, Duncan MacLeod! Like you say, there's more room inside me. But I'm not renting you a wing. You've got the whole damn place. Every inch, dusty though it may be! It belongs to you. I love you with everything I've got, Mac -"
Now I realized how much of a bastard I'd been. I hadn't let Mac know how I really felt about him, except in bed. I'd been too busy protecting myself. From what, I wondered. From him? A man who'd never taken advantage of me - never hurt me. Never hurt me as I'd hurt him. On his worst day, when he'd thrown me out of his life, he'd shown me more love and trust than I'd ever shown anyone! What an asshole I'd been!
"What I'm offering isn't much," I went on quietly. "And it's not neat. And it's not very clean. You might get sick if you eat off the floors. But it's all mine. And it's all yours." I looked him in the eyes. "I'm not dreaming. The pain's real, when you don't accept me. The joy's real, when you do. The mix -" I smiled. "The mix is what's necessary to my survival. Necessary," I repeated, with emphasis. "That's a technical term, Mac. It means what it says. 'Without which there isn't anything.' I'm not kidding. Neither myself, nor you. No more kidding. And I'm not leaving. I know when it's time to disappear. This isn't it."
After a minute Duncan stood up. He said mildly, "I wish you'd make the bed sometimes."
I smiled. "Do you?"
"I wish you'd pick up your socks and underwear and throw them into the hamper."
"Is that so?" He nodded. "What else?"
"I wish you'd wash the dishes when I cook. No - I wish you'd cook, once in a while."
"You wouldn't, if you'd tasted my cooking." He smiled. I asked, "What else?"
He thought for another minute. "I wish you'd let me pretend, sometimes, that it's true."
"That what's true?"
"Mythic things. Gods and worshippers. Ancient darknesses and lights." He was crying freely now, tears running down his cheeks unheeded. He swallowed and went on. "Knights and their Squires. A Brotherhood of Warriors. Romantic love. Chivalry."
He's quite extraordinarily beautiful, I remarked to myself irrelevantly, for the first time since we'd met, splitting off the person he was from the way he looked. Usually I only saw - Mac. Looking at him objectively I thought - a little surprised - he's like a god.
"All right," I said.
"I meant no disrespect, Methos. You can't know how hard it is to believe you're - who you are. I've gotta work at it, sometimes."
I wasn't sure what he meant. Who I was? The five thousand year old Immortal? Or the thirty year old bookish guy? I took a guess. "I don't take offense when people only see what they see. Nothing more than what they see."
"I don't want to forget who you are. That you aren't Adam Pierson. That you're Methos -"
"Mac, don't make the distinction. Just - don't. I'm no different than I ever was. Five thousand years ago or five years ago. I didn't do dishes then and I still don't do them. I don't need to live in the past, or remember old times, because it's always here -" I rubbed my chest "- with me, inside me. The ways I've changed - it was so slow. Imperceptible, really."
"Not cataclysmic?" he asked.
"Oh no. It just seems that way, if you haven't lived through it. I discarded nothing. I incorporated everything. And even when I was a Horseman I never sat on a throne. Just a horse. Mac, I know you think because I'm very old I'm something special. But I'm no different than back then. I didn't change. I just - got older. Grew up. Some."
"You did change, Methos. You'd never do those things now."
"I dunno. Maybe not. I've still got a frightening temper. It scares me. But I summon all I was then when I fight now. And it all comes. It's still here, inside. All of it."
"I believe you, Methos."
"I was a truly evil man, Mac. But I was a man. I still am. If you must offer me respect, offer it as you would to your grandfather, not to a god."
"I wouldn't ask my grandfather to do the dishes -"
"No, but he'd do them without being asked, if you cooked, if he was fit. I'm fit."
"You offering?" he asked, with a sweet smile.
"Yes. If that's what it takes to convince you that I love you, then - yes." The man drove a hard bargain. Probably the Scottish upbringing.
"No, that won't do it," he replied quickly, surprising me.
"What will, then?" I asked, suddenly dreadfully weary. I should have known nothing could get through that hard head of his.
"The chore you do best."
"You can only believe I love you when I fuck you?" I asked, astonished.
I scratched my head. "If that's what it takes -"
"That's what it takes," he told me.
If anybody else but Mac tried that line on me, I'd know it was just a way to get me into bed. But that wasn't what it was for him. He meant it.
I didn't understand why but I didn't need to. I'm just a guy - and ordinary people like me don't know everything.
But I knew one thing. I wanted MacLeod to believe I love him. I sighed. "Then I'll prove it to you."
I nodded. And I did.