|Sore of Heart
by Maxine Mayer
Seacouver - 1998 AD
"Well, that's that!" I said as I threw my duffelbag and sleeping roll by the side of Mac's couch and pulled my backpack off. I rested it in one corner of an easy chair and unzipped it, looking for some clean underwear and a sweater to change into, then hefted it down to the floor. I planned on taking a long hot shower - right away.
"Yeah, we're home," Mac echoed on a sigh. He hung up his jacket and went to the kitchen. "Fridge is on, but there's nothing in it," he added, after a quick inspection. "No beer. I guess it'll have to be the hard stuff, Methos. Want a drink?"
"Sure. No. Mind if I shower first? Maybe we can go out to eat afterwards. A late lunch. Or shop for supplies - beer, for starters."
"Go ahead, shower. I'm gonna run out and pick up some food in the meantime. Do me a favor, call Dawson and let him know we're back."
"Cripes, MacLeod, can't that wait? We can stop by the bar later, if you like. Soon enough for him to know, isn't it? Tonight?"
"I suppose. Whatever." Mac looked at me and then at the windows opposite. He didn't move for a while and I wondered whether he'd changed his mind about going shopping. At last he muttered, "Back to the old stand, right?"
There was enough of a strangeness in his voice and that remark to make me put off taking my shower. I walked over to the kitchen island, grabbed the bottle of scotch he'd unearthed and poured myself a drink. I hesitated, then brought my glass over to his easy chair rather than to the couch. Settling down comfortably I asked, "What is it, Mac? Sorry we came home?"
"Is it home?"
"Seacouver's home to me. I thought you felt the same way. More so than Paris, I always figured." The first leg of our trip had been a flight from Paris to the states, to southern California. Then we'd slowly made our way on foot north to Seacouver.
"You still got your old apartment here, Methos?" Mac asked, instead of answering my remarks directly. He'd never shown any interest in seeing where I lived, neither here nor in Paris, so the question came as a bit of a surprise.
"Actually, no. I gave it up when I moved to Europe last time around. My lawyer made all the arrangements. Storage and so forth. Why'd you ask?" I queried with a squint. "Tired of my company?"
"No, of course not. I was hoping you'd stay with me here in the loft."
"That's the plan, Mac, for the moment," I remarked, too tired from our trip to joke. "On the couch, like always."
"What'd you mean, 'no?' I'm not sleeping on the floor," I told him, rather seriously. "Enough's enough. Now that there's a soft spot available, I intend to take advantage of it." We'd roughed it on our walking tour. Slept outdoors in sleeping bags most nights, for the past three months. By the side of the road. While it was going on I hadn't minded. But the trip was over. "I've been looking forward to all the amenities of home."
"That's not what I meant," Mac said, still staring at the opposite side of the room. I noticed a sort of tension in his stance and a funny hollow sound in his voice. I wasn't alarmed - Mac's moods were no novelty to me. I'd never met a moodier person - male, female, Mortal or Immortal. Compared to him, I have an even disposition. Hell, compared to him, Byron had an even disposition! "Not what I meant at all," he repeated.
"'Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,' T.S. Eliot," I muttered automatically, the reference surfacing effortlessly. "Quoting poetry now, MacLeod? If you weren't talking about the couch, what were you talking about?"
"I'd hoped you'd share the bed," he replied evenly, then turned quickly to check my reaction.
He wanted a reaction, so I gave him one. I frowned. I squinted. I grimaced for him. "Yeah, if you like," I said, wondering what brought this on. "It's big enough for two, Lord knows." When he didn't say anything more, I figured I'd missed something and ventured, "Feeling some kind of lonely, Duncan? We haven't been separated for a while but you'll accustom yourself soon enough. We can take it in stages." Then again, "If you like." I downed the rest of the scotch and waited. He didn't notice that my glass was empty or offer me a refill. I swung one leg over the arm of the easy chair and waited some more.
"You remember when Ahriman came for me?" he asked out of nowhere.
"You told me I was in trouble. That I needed help."
"I remember." What was he getting at? He'd seemed okay on our trip. Better than usual, actually. We'd had a lot of fun. I found it hard to believe he was in some kind of big trouble that I hadn't noticed. We really hadn't been separated for the past three months - not for longer than it took to take a leak or a crap. Sometimes we'd be silent for hours but we'd been together every minute - waking and sleeping.
"I'm in trouble, Methos," he told me. He sighed. Looked at me again, and I thought he'd come over and sit on the sofa so he could get comfortable while we talked about whatever was bothering him. But he didn't. He went over to the window and stared at it some more from up close. Without opening the shades. Apparently, he found the view that was no view endlessly fascinating.
"What sort of trouble?" I kept concern out of my voice. I asked matter-of-factly, as if there were no trouble he could be in that we couldn't fix together. I put a large dose of 'nothing to worry about' into the question.
"I'll ask again. Some kind of lonely? You feel disoriented, Mac? Coming home after a time away can do that to you. Especially after a long walk. You feel as if you've changed but the world you left behind's stayed the same. Common reaction."
"Methos - emotional trouble," he repeated heavily.
"I think you're gonna need to be more specific, Mac. I'm lost."
He replied roughly, "You're fine. I'm lost."
"Mac - you're not saying anything."
"I'm in trouble."
"Mac!" I ran my fingers through my hair and sat up straighter. It wasn't like Duncan not to spit it out, when he had something on his mind. If he didn't intend to speak, he wouldn't have let on that anything was bothering him. Now, I was alarmed.
"When's the last time you were with a woman, Methos?" he asked in a harsh voice.
"None of your business," I shot back. It wasn't. I didn't have time to register the odd question or analyze what it could mean, either, before he spoke again.
"Ask me when was the last time I was with a woman."
"Why should I ask that, when I already know the answer? You were with Amanda after our fiasco with that Irish chap. Just before we left on our trip."
"And when's the last time you were with a man?" he asked quietly, again not looking at me.
I bridled. "What kind of a question is that?"
"Also, none of my business?"
If his first question, about women, wasn't his business, this one was even less so. Nevertheless, I answered it. "It's not. But if you must know, about fifty years ago. I can give you chapter and verse, if you're interested. It was in New York City. I was living in the Village, working in a small club. We had a studio apartment close by. It was small but we didn't mind -"
"Methos!" His cry was strong and he'd turned, finally, to look at me. Clearly, he hadn't really meant for me to answer, or expected the answer he got. I'd figured it was a rhetorical question but the conversation hadn't been going anywhere. I'd been determined to move it along.
"So - when's the last time you were with a man, MacLeod?" I asked, trying not to grin at the absurd idea.
"You think I never have been, don't you?"
I made a gesture. "Who knows? Four hundred years is a long time. You may have been. Never struck me as your kind of thing but - then again - I'm just a guy. What do I know?" I smiled. "So. Answer the question. When's the last time you were with a man?"
He licked his lips. I held my breath. I've been around for five thousand years and almost nothing surprises me any more. But if Duncan MacLeod gave me chapter and verse of when he'd last been with a man, I knew I'd be shocked.
Very low - I could scarcely hear him - he told me, "Three times. Three different men. Not one night stands. A few times each." He glanced over. "I could tell you their names but I'd rather not."
"Well, you've definitely surprised me! No question! But no - I don't need to hear names and places. If you say it's so, I believe you. You've had sex with three men. I can't imagine who'd even attempt it - with you - but I believe you."
"It's the truth. And it wasn't the men who started it. It was me."
"It wasn't love. It was more like - attraction. Not really lust." He thought for a moment. Not like he was trying to figure it out for himself, just what to say about it. "It was more - aesthetic - I think."
"Mac, why are we having this talk? How are you in trouble? Have you met someone? If so, when? We've been joined at the hip for three months -"
"We're having this talk because I'm in trouble, like I said. Because -"
"Don't stop now - I can't wait to hear!" I was no longer tired. It had begun to sink in - MacLeod and a man - it boggled the mind. I was sorry I hadn't asked for the names of his past male lovers. I assumed they were Immortals and I was itching to look up the faces in the Watcher database! Aesthetic, indeed!
"I'm in love, Methos."
"Anybody I know?" I quipped, my heart plummeting as the implications for me started to roll over me, like a logistic avalanche. How long could I expect him to hang around with me if he'd fallen in love? I'd be the one with 'a lonely sort of feeling,' soon enough. I took a deep breath and began an automatic shut-down of my emotions, unhesitatingly preparing for the great pain to come by shielding myself from it in advance. It was never an easy thing, abandonment. The way I felt about MacLeod - I knew it'd be more difficult than usual. But - it had to be done. I'd never be able to live with the pain, if I didn't dampen at least some of it, until time did its thing. Besides, Mac needed my acceptance, not my anguish. This had to be awful for him, even if it'd happened before.
"I'm in trouble."
"You already said that. Who is it? Maybe it isn't so bad. Is he one of us? If he is, I'll check him out in Joe's database. If you've got a history with men, then there's no telling who else in the world might be amenable." I wasn't teasing. I was perfectly serious. If I could find out something about the guy, maybe I could make things easier for Duncan. Maybe he wouldn't need to be afraid to approach the man, afraid the fellow would recoil in horror. He could just come on to him. Mac was attractive enough that anyone with any homo-erotic tendencies at all would be unlikely to turn him down.
"I'm in big trouble, Methos."
"Who?" I asked, finally beginning to get frightened. It must have come across in my voice.
"You don't want to know."
"It is someone I know, then."
"Promise you won't be angry. Promise you'll stay in the loft. That you won't disappear."
"Just tell me," I replied flatly. "I don't make promises in the dark. Well - I promise I won't be angry. The rest - why would you want me around, if you've fallen in love with somebody?"
"Just promise. That you won't take off."
Bewildered, I shrugged. "Okay. I promise. Now - who?"
He didn't speak for a moment. Then he said, "You."
"I said, you." When I didn't respond, Mac added, "I told you I was in trouble."
"Oh, yes, yes, indeed. You told me." I stood and circled the loft. Then went to the kitchen island and refilled my glass. I held it in my hand for a minute without drinking, absolutely at a loss. For the life of me, I couldn't think of a word to say.
"Now what?" Mac asked. "I've screwed it up, haven't I?"
"Screwed what up?" I replied, definitely stalling for time.
"Our friendship. We've had enough trouble keeping it going as is, between my crap and yours. Now -" he gestured. "Now, what?"
"You say you're in love with me?" I asked, almost simply curious. It was so odd, so unexpected. I'd never let my own feelings free. Never spent time examining them or letting them blossom. I'd been attracted to Mac when we met. I'd registered that immediately, and put it aside. But I knew there was more. I felt a bond with him, a desperation to be with him and a need to keep him safe that was unlike anything I'd experienced in centuries. It had little to do with sex. That much I'd acknowledged to myself. What it did have to do with, I didn't think about. Hadn't thought about. Waste of time, I'd decided, instantaneously, when I met him, putting sex and all my other feelings in one basket, in my mind. Mac was straight. I was - very old. No point mixing the two, or pushing for something I could easily do without. I'd dismissed any consideration of sex with him at the moment the urge first arose - when I met him. I seemed to have done the same with love.
"That's what I said. I'm in love with you. How much trouble am I in? I know I mean a lot to you. You wouldn't put up with me otherwise. Is there anything more here, for you? More than friendship?"
My silence must have made him feel as if he was pulling teeth. That wasn't fair, so I answered him. "Of course there's more than friendship. I wouldn't risk my life for just anybody - even a good friend. You're more like - a brother - to me. I think. I dunno. It's like - like with Kronos," I added, searching for an analogy, surprised to discover that the memory of my life with Kronos struck me as apt. "Kind of a love-hate relationship." I smiled then, sure he'd find the comparison horrible.
But he said, "That's good," and I was astonished. "You rode with Kronos for a long time. A thousand years, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. That's about right."
"Well, so, it's not so bad. You might stick around with me for a while if you feel about me the way you did about him."
I chuckled. "We weren't lovers - Kronos and me - you know. Maybe we loved each other but sex wasn't in the mix."
"He loved you, Methos. I took his Quickening. He loved you."
"But we weren't lovers," I repeated. "So even if you and he have a lot in common - and even if I feel something for you like what I felt for him - you're still in trouble. Because Kronos and I weren't lovers. And that's what you're talking about, isn't it?" I'd got over my initial shock. Now, I could direct the conversation.
He walked to his easy chair and sat heavily. He put his head in his hands. Finally, he muttered, "I think so. I just want to hold you. That's what's been eating at me. The last couple weeks - on the walk - I wanted to hold you while you slept."
"So why didn't you?" I asked. Now, not simply curious. I really wanted to know.
"Because I think it's linked in my mind with the other - with sex. And I was afraid to start something you wouldn't want."
"Mac, you rarely lie to yourself. Or me. Why start now? You've gotta know that even if I didn't love you, I wouldn't object to sleeping with you. You've gotta know I find you attractive."
"I'm in love with you. I think I want more than sex. Or - nothing but friendship. I don't want - just sex."
"What if that's all I want? Just sex. Or - just sex and friendship. You'd refuse?"
"No. But I'd be - sore of heart -"
"It's what you have with Amanda. Sex and friendship."
"Other women, too. And men, according to you."
"That's right. It might seem as if I fall in love a lot but I don't. Not really."
"More than most of us, I suspect."
"Probably. More than you, I guess." He looked up and grinned.
"You know, Mac," I said thoughtfully, "I think it is your business, after all."
"What?" he asked, a frown quickly replacing the grin.
"Your original question. How long since I've been with a woman."
"After Alexa, you mean? That's what I meant -"
"I wasn't 'with' Alexa that way. She was - very sick, MacLeod -"
"I'm sorry -"
"No need to be. I loved her. I'd have given my life for her." I paused. "But we didn't sleep together. Actually, I didn't - well, nevermind."
"I haven't been with a woman for a very long time, Mac. Since I met you." I went out on a limb. "I think I stopped looking at them, when I met you. As a matter of fact, I don't know how I managed to 'see' Alexa, after I met you."
He asked a question that surprised me. I didn't think he could distance himself enough to be curious rather than concerned. "Your taste runs towards men?"
"Not really. Actually, as far as I've been able to discern, my sexual appetite runs towards women. For the most part. But I tend to fall in love with men. On the rare occasions when I fall in love." I smiled. "It's usually disastrous. Like bulls colliding. But that's the way my pattern runs."
"You fell in love with me?"
"I didn't give myself a chance to - feel - what I felt. But looking back, I suppose - yes."
He smiled. "No accounting for taste, is there?"
"None whatever," I agreed quickly. Aesthetics couldn't possibly enter in to what he felt for me, at any rate.
"So. So we're both in trouble?" But the tension had left his body and he radiated happiness.
"I don't know about you, MacLeod, but I've always considered falling in love a good thing. Even better, when it's reciprocated. I don't see a problem here."
"Okay. That's good." He put down his glass and grabbed his jacket. His relief was almost comical - he was energized, the old Mac was back. "I'm gonna go out now and pick up some supplies. Food, lots of beer. Do me a favor, call Joe and let him know we're home. Okay?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Thought we decided to wait until we see him tonight."
"I don't think so. That's what the food and beer are for," he replied, opening the back door.
"What'd you mean?"
"So we don't need to leave the loft for a while."
"That way, I'll have plenty of time to hold you, if you've got no objection." Flirting. Unbelievable!
"I've got no objection. I'll call Joe and take a shower. Don't be long."
"Not a chance." Then he stopped by the door. "You'll be here when I get back, Methos?" he asked, all pretense at nonchalance abandoned. This wasn't casual for him - but then, for Mac, nothing ever was.
"Absolutely. Wouldn't want you to be 'sore of heart,' now, would I?"
"Wouldn't want to be missing your head, now, would you?"
"Nope." He started to leave again but I called him back. "Mac -"
"What?" he asked, opening the door wide so he could lean in.
"Come here. For a minute."
He came. I put my hands on his shoulders. "When did you know?"
"I told you. While we were on the road I found myself wanting to hold you -"
"No. Really. The truth. When did you know?"
He closed his eyes. "When you went off with Alexa. Before that, I thought it was just - sex. But when you and Alexa - it happened so fast. Suddenly, you were gone. I didn't analyze it too closely, either. Tried not to let myself - feel - what I was feeling. But I knew something wasn't right - how I was when you left. It wasn't - it made no sense. I was - sore of heart."
"For what?" He'd opened his eyes again.
"I did something - and I've never been able to forgive myself for doing it. Now, I can."
"I left Alexa when she was almost at the end of her strength - to go to you. When Joe told me about your Dark Quickening. I couldn't stop myself, once I'd learned you were in trouble. Just - I had to try to help you. Thanks for telling me the truth about - when."
"You couldn't forgive yourself? You felt guilty?" Mac smiled.
"I know. I know. I'm not supposed to experience guilt. We're none of us perfect, Mac." I squeezed his shoulder. "Go. Get food and beer. Come back soon. I've got the notion that being 'held' by Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod is a rare and wondrous thing. I'd prefer not to wait very long."
"Instant gratification, Methos?" he quipped.
"Absolutely not. While you're gone, time will stand still. Don't keep me waiting."
"I won't go then -"
"Go on. Just come back soon."
He made record time.