|A Fine Horseman
by Maxine Mayer
We walked away from the cemetery, MacLeod and I, and from each other, in the same action, as night fell finally in Bordeaux.
I'd kept myself together during the time it took for us to dispose of Kronos and Silas' bodies, carefully sifting through their pockets and their belongings for any traces of identification. I'd taken the heads myself, to drop into the sea. I hadn't wanted Mac to do it. They were my brothers, after all, not his.
Finally, we'd gone to the cemetery and walked about - I don't really know why, maybe to say a prayer, for them and for Caspian. I knew I needed to get away from Mac now but didn't know how to go about it without upsetting him. Always, I worried that I might upset him. The one time I didn't give a damn, look what happened....
When we'd parted I immediately went to the bridge where Mac had killed Caspian, to check the body for i.d. too. And something else.
In their pockets my three brothers carried the same trinket I did, each of us exhibiting the same lack of originality - we'd had them made into key ornaments. Once we'd worn these baubles openly, on leather thongs. Now each of us wore something else around our necks and carried the tiny bronze horses in our pockets. Strange.
I'd been frantic to find them all, all three, and I had. When I clutched Caspian's in my fist I breathed a sigh of relief and unclenched my teeth. I had them!
"Quen?" I spoke into the phone at the railway station. It wasn't crowded or noisy there, at ten in the evening. Only a few people milled about, waiting for the next train to somewhere. And a station attendant or two.
"Quen? Is it you?"
"Methos?" I could hear the surprise and question in his voice. I hadn't called him in three years.
"Yeah, it's me." I paused. "Look, there's been a little trouble. I - I'd like to get away for a bit. I think I shouldn't be alone."
"I'll send Lamartin to pick you up, bring you here, if you like. Where are you calling from?"
"No. I mean, I'm in Bordeaux. But - I don't want to come to your place. I need to get right away from civilization."
"Then I'll send Lamartin to accompany you. It is him you wish for, not me?"
"Absolutely. I don't think I could spend another minute with anybody who's likely to rub one brain cell against another and come out with a question."
"Well, then, Lamartin's your man! He'll wash you in emotion and bathe you in sweat and never let a thought pass his lips, once he senses what you need."
"Don't I know it!" I stopped, my store of energy already depleted by the short exchange, the effort at humor. I cleared my throat. "Quentin - maybe he should fly in, and then come here. I'll wait in the train station for him."
"He'll be a couple hours, by private jet and taxi from the airport. Can you hold out?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"You have a point. Let me end this now and get him. Be strong, friend."
"Aren't I always?"
"Don't skimp this time." He hung up.
I felt ghastly. The Quickenings - mine from Silas, Mac's from Kronos - had left me utterly wiped out. I needed to be surrounded by loving protective arms. Lamartin's were the closest to it.
I chose a bench far from the entranceway to the station and sat down. The next thing I knew, it was dawn and Lamartin hadn't yet arrived. I'd fallen asleep and wakened with a stiff neck and dried spittle on my chin. Like an old man. I chuckled mirthlessly at the thought.
I went to the men's lavatory to wash up. I was frightened by my face in the mirror. Except for my hair, I looked like a skull with skin. If not for the power within me - no part of me - I'd be dead, and it would have been my skull tossed into the sea....
The railroad station offered a small cafe which opened fairly early. I ordered a coffee and a sweet roll and took them to a seat facing the window. I sat and waited some more for Lamartin. I'd already lost all the force behind my asking Quen for him. I was too tired for Lamartin, too old. Ridiculous, of course, but true. He'd never be his full age and I'd never really be younger than him. It was just the way we were.
The man heedlessly crossing the tracks in a skipping run didn't move like Mac. But my heart stopped anyway. The resemblance was uncanny from a distance, particularly before the buzz kicked in. Same coloring, same build, same height. For whatever reason, possibly simply to conceal his sword, Lamartin was wearing a bulky ungainly white tweed coat. What a day for him to decide to dress casually!
His buzz kicked in, ancient and sweet, and my heart began to beat again. Now I was sure it wasn't Mac.
Lamartin tracked my own aura unerringly into the cafe and looked at me with soulful brown eyes. When I stood he clasped me to his breast as if I were his son.
"Mon amour," he said at last. "I am honored you asked for me."
"Don't be. It was for all the wrong reasons." My cheek twitched. I'd attempted a grin, unsuccessfully.
"You need heat. You need love. You need passion. What can be wrong?" he asked, always the realist, and the sensualist. "Must I take offense if you want me for the only gifts I offer?"
Perhaps I'd misspoken to Quentin when I described Lamartin. I hadn't meant to imply he didn't have brain cells - the lovely fellow was a genius - only that he didn't use them when he could avoid it. Apparently, one look at me and he felt he couldn't avoid drawing conclusions. Poor Lamartin. Poor Methos.
"I think I need to rest very soon. Someplace warm."
"I can take you someplace very warm." A caressing double entendre in his voice reminded me by the starkness of the contrast, of Mac, who didn't deal in double entendres. Lamartin went on. "Come south with me, mon amour, Spain, Morocco, Portugal? What is your pleasure?"
I snorted. "Pleasure? My pleasure is pleasure. As much as I can get, to wipe away the taste -"
He didn't bother asking what I meant. He nodded once, paid the bill, and took my elbow. "Let's go."
To do him justice, Lamartin can be very restful, and just then I needed double doses of rest and quiet. He drove to the airport and bundled me into his private plane.
"Where we going, Lamartin?"
"Is that an answer?"
"I think so. A fine answer. All right, all right," he said, when a glance told him I really wanted information. "To an island off the toe of Italy. Private. Sun and sand and food and drink."
"And a bed?" I asked hopefully.
"You have known me for so long, mon amour. Millennia. Would I set foot in a place where there is no bed?" He smiled, and the warmth was uncanny. It seemed to rise from his skin. Settle for a moment on his mouth. Linger in his eyes. Then envelop me.
I grinned then. "I admit it. I've lost my mind! Of course there'd be a bed, wherever you go. If one weren't there, it'd materialize like a replicator effect, when you arrived."
"Please, Methos, no science fiction. Try to relax. Let me do what I do. Sleep while we travel. Sleep when we get to the island. Don't try to be Methos the Humorist, for just this one time."
"In other words - let you do your job."
"Not other words. Those words, mi figlio." Then he surprised me. "I have missed you of late. The Chronicles have been full of your exploits, your adventures with the Highlander. I could almost taste your flesh, when I read about your anguish. I remembered your love. I had forgotten."
"So had I."
Yes, indeed, I'd forgotten. Which is probably why these last couple years shocked me so. I'd forgotten all I'd known of love - physical, emotional, spiritual. Particularly, love's simplicity. Everything. Made it difficult to cope in these times, with my - very different - cohorts.
He landed his plane at an airport in Italy while I slept. I woke long enough to get into a limousine - without a driver, Lamartin drove - then slept some more on the road to the coast. I think he carried me to the small motor boat which finally brought us to his island. I only woke again when the motor ceased purring.
"Yes. Welcome, Methos, we're home."
I got out of the boat with a bit of difficulty, nearly falling onto the sand. Lamartin caught me up in his arms again and carried me effortlessly to the house. I didn't protest. I'd asked for babying and I was getting it. I was grateful.
"Are you hungry?" Lamartin asked. "Quen phoned ahead. Our man has a meal ready, if you want it."
"He brought in supplies. He'll be leaving soon. But he cooks, if you're hungry. When he goes, I will cook."
Lamartin was serious, I supposed. He would cook. And they say a person can't change.
"I think I'd like to see that bed now," I told him. "I'll eat later, when you cook."
"Methos, try not to do that."
"Try not to shoot the arrows. You are safe. You are loved more than you can dream. By Quentin - who is here in spirit - and by me. You do not need to protect yourself any longer. You belong."
"Talk about getting more than I bargained for!"
"I'd forgotten much about you, Methos. Perhaps you'd forgotten me too." He smiled. How could one person smile shyly and wisely at the same time? "We will renew old acquaintance."
"It'll be my pleasure." Then I grinned. "Okay - I'll skip the double entendres along with the arrows."
"If you can, mon amour. If you can."
When I woke it was dark and I was nude. Someone'd undressed me while I slept. Lamartin lay beside me on the bed, curled up in a ball like an infant, only the toe of one foot touching me - my foot.
He woke instantly at the rise of my aura.
"You're awake at last, mon amour. You must be very hungry. You've slept through the day and one night."
"I am a bit peckish, yes." My eyes roved over his form. He wasn't nude. He wore a sleeveless white t-shirt and dark slacks, like Stanley Kowalski - God, I'm awful - and he filled them perfectly.
He got out of bed. "There are slacks and shirts in the closet. Shorts in the dresser." He pointed. "Sun screen, sun glasses, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, so forth, in the bathroom, through there."
He nodded and left the room.
While I showered, shaved and dressed in shorts and a t-shirt - one with sleeves - I thought about something he'd said. He'd read of my anguish in the Chronicles. What Chronicles?
In the kitchen, when I'd joined him there, I asked. "What Chronicles?"
"The Watcher's, and ours. About your friend, MacLeod, mostly. I read between the lines."
"Knowing I was Adam Pierson must have helped."
"A little. Knowing your taste helped more."
"What'd you mean?"
"Methos, once upon a time, you loved me. One look at his photograph and I knew you loved him now."
He just smiled. "Here, eat some soup. Mother's best." He brought a full bowl to the table and set it before me. It smelled lovely.
"Soup? I'm not really ill, you know, Lamartin, simply -"
"You are ill, Methos. Been ill for several years. Eat the soup. It is good for you. Bread too. Come on, eat up."
I was hungry. I lit into the soup and demolished the loaf of bread, huge chunks at a time. Suddenly I noticed he was watching me from the sink, an indulgent smile on his lips.
"They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
"Is that where you're going - to my heart?"
"No, that's where he went. I'm simply tracking."
"I've never known you to be jealous, Lamartin. Only confident. Believe me, you've got what it takes - you don't need to cook."
"Oh, I know." He paused. "What's happened, mon amour?" he asked, quickly joining me at the table and covering my now idle hand with his own. My stomach lurched at the contact, and the look of his hands, just like Mac's.
"What can I tell you? I fell in love with a Green Boy. Never happened before. He adored my latest incarnation, but balked when he discovered who I'd been. That - blow - coupled with my latest adventures on the Game, drained me. I'll be okay. Give me a couple days. Play nice, and I'll return the favor soon enough."
"Lamartin, don't 'ah' me. And take your hand off mine. I'm too old to make love in the kitchen. Too conventional to start anything involving sharp-edged surfaces."
"You wish to go to bed now, Methos?" he asked. "You are not sleepy, I am sure."
"Who said anything about sleep?"
"Your enthusiasm is underwhelming, old sod."
"Methos, I dread everything about this encounter - all of it. You look at my hand and see his. My body and see his. It is - not pleasant - to contemplate. But it will pass. I will make it so."
"I've every faith in you. I asked for you. Quentin offered to come himself, but I wanted you."
"You cannot exorcise him by loving me, you know. Your MacLeod. You add to your confusion, only."
"There's no confusion at all. I need a warm body. You're it." I stood. "You've contracted. You reneging?"
"No, no. Never that. Much too late for that!"
"Then, what? Why are you still sitting here, in the kitchen?"
"The bronze horses weighed your coat down. More than your sword."
"You have them - they're safe?" I'd grown very anxious about those trinkets. Very anxious.
"What do you plan to do with them, Methos, now that you've got them all?"
I turned away. "I don't know. I just had to have them." I shrugged. "Maybe I'll give them to the Watchers, to my friend Joe, as souvenirs."
"You will not do that, my beloved," he said quietly.
He shook his head. "Never. Those horses are from the time before Watchers. You will not break the Prime Directive."
"Now who's doing science fiction, Lamartin," I said angrily. "I'll do as I please with them. They're mine now."
"He will not want them, Methos."
"Your Highland friend. He will not understand or wish to know. He cannot make the leap, either backwards or forwards. He is mired in his nature."
"He does love me, Lamartin. Don't think he doesn't."
"Despite that. Despite it, mon amour. Because of it. He is who he is. You cannot change him, only yourself."
"Look how far that got me, changing myself! Damn near destroyed - everyone."
"Only him. You survive. You always survive."
I slumped by the door. "I might as well have asked for Quentin and been done with it, Lamartin! Is this the best you can do, to show a guy a good time? Theorize about a man you've never met?"
"Why do you think I haven't met him?"
"What, you know MacLeod?"
"Not as your friend. As a business associate only. But I've known him for decades. Occasionally, we buy something from him. Something - special. Old. From our pasts, all our pasts."
"Well, he can't know he's selling anything valuable, or he wouldn't. He's got a warehouse full of our pasts."
"But the living embodiment -?"
"Let it be, Lamartin, let it be."
We left the light on in my room - our room - while he made love to me. I say, he made love to me, because I was - too wiped to care. My body responded well enough to his touch but I closed my eyes so I couldn't see him. I'd made a mistake. This was impossible. Whatever I'd imagined the effect would be, of intimacy with someone who resembled Mac so closely, I'd never have dreamed what did happen, never.
"You cannot let go, Methos? You are trying?"
I shook my head. "It's impossible. Like he's in the room right now." I was always honest with Lamartin. What I told him went nowhere - he'd forget in an hour.
"Of course he is in the room. He is inside you, mi figlio! Do not let that stop you from taking what offers. That way lies madness."
"Point well taken."
I rolled over and tried.
I did everything I knew so well how to do. And Lamartin is the most relaxing and willing lover one can imagine. When he breathes, one smells gardenias. When he sighs, one hears cellos. When he smiles, one smiles with him. His kiss is the kiss of a woman for her infant, a man for his son. Pure adoration. Lamartin's an aphrodiasiac that cannot be bottled - he's like the sea.
But he's not Mac.
One can only marvel at the tenacity of my insanity. To continue to remember phrases carelessly uttered, upon subjects diverse, random, and purposely without meaning, in the face of Lamartin's onslaught on my senses! Incredible!
~ ~ ~ Don't you want Gina and Robert to be happy? ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ You know how to stop her. ~ ~ ~ No. I don't. ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ Why did you lie to me? ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ Try three letters. ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ Somebody had to. ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ Death before dishonor. ~ ~ ~ For some of us. ~ ~ ~
"Methos! Don't do this to yourself!"
"It's not by choice, believe me!" I said bitterly. "Forgive me, Lamartin. No blame lies at your doorstep. You've done more than anyone else could. It simply cannot work."
"No. Not yet. Give me a decade or two, then it'll be - easier."
He raised an eyebrow. "Easier? No, mon amour. Then it will be harder."
"More double entendres? I thought we agreed to skip them for the duration."
"Before you decided to give up," he replied. "Now, I am freed of my promises and can say and do as I please."
There was a dangerous edge to his voice, and his words were disquieting. "What'd you mean?"
"There is no substitute for the real thing."
"No. But sometimes we can't have the real thing. So we make do, or do without. I tried to make do. Now I see I must do without. I'll survive."
"Hmm. Perhaps." He stood and dressed.
Finally, I asked him, "And - perhaps not? What'd you have in mind?"
"Me? Mon amour, I have no mind, only a body, what you see before you. Go back to sleep. In the morning I'll take you back to the mainland and you can make your way home."
"Yes. Paris. Seacouver. Wherever. To your home."
I breathed deeply. "There's a thought. Home. I think I'll need to find a new one, now."
"Do not rush into anything, beloved. Wounds must heal. Best to remain where you know the territory, while they do. Later is soon enough to do anything, for us."
"As always, you're right, Lamartin. Nobody knows wounds the way you do."
"Except you, mon amour, except you."
In the morning I dressed and went looking for Lamartin. He wasn't in the house. I went to the kitchen and poured myself some juice and ate a roll quickly, then went down to the beach. I scanned for his aura, but he wasn't around. Nobody was. The island was deserted, it seemed. I assumed he'd gone someplace to buy supplies.
At loose ends, I sat on the porch for a bit, enjoying the sun. It was early and relatively cool. I felt a little better than the day before. The decision not to bother trying to drown my sorrows in sex was a relief. I no longer felt guilty because I hadn't tried everything to get rid of my insane attachment to the Green Boy. I had tried everything. Lamartin was everything. Nothing would work but time. It's always best to let time do its work. Time won't be pushed around. It creeps as it will.
Finally, I went for a walk on the beach. I stopped often and stretched, getting the kinks out of my back and arms. I thought I'd do some exercises, a la Mac. Probably make me feel worse, but then, I couldn't feel much worse. Better than yesterday, worse than tomorrow. The missing him just sat there in my throat, like a lump I couldn't swallow. I knew it would pass, fade to ache, with time. Time. I had more than enough of that, if I stayed out of the Game. Separate from Mac, my chances of doing that increased tenfold.
Down the shore, a man was doing kata. I squinted. It couldn't be Mac, of course. Must be Lamartin. Somehow, I couldn't conceive of Lamartin doing anything so strenuous that didn't have to do with sex. Maybe kata does have to do with sex, I thought to myself. What do I know? I live by my wits, not my body.
I closed in on the man until the aura of an Immortal assaulted my senses. Ah, it was Lamartin. Amazing. He moved so much like Mac. That, and his body type, his coloring - it was uncanny. I'd loved Lamartin first, after all.
I stopped and watched for a bit. Within moments I realized that - of course - it wasn't Lamartin at all. Green Boy aura was written all over the guy. I moved in a bit, until he turned and spoke.
"You're awake, sleepy head! From what your friend told me, I was ready to settle in for the duration."
"What are you doing here, MacLeod?" I asked quietly, moving a few steps closer to where he stood on the sand.
"You're not glad to see me?" He grinned.
I turned away. "Not particularly."
"Whatever happened to 'mi casa es su casa,' Methos?" he asked. "Once upon a time, you meant that."
"Well, we're none of us perfect. Besides, this isn't 'mi casa,' it's Lamartin's."
"I didn't track you, Methos. I was invited. They told me where you were." He was all seriousness. "Your friends thought we needed to talk."
"Talk? What's there to say, MacLeod? I've forgotten us already. It's only a matter of time till my body follows suit."
"What are you talking about?"
"You don't know?"
"I'm here because I don't want to lose you. I want us to be friends again. I'm here to apologize. I - I should have trusted you. I made a mistake. Thank God, you pulled it out."
"You're the one who saved my head, not I yours. Cassandra would have killed me."
"No, I don't really think so. But - I'm glad I was there to do what I could."
"More than sufficient, 'what you could,' MacLeod. You and she must have something marvelous going for you, to stop her from taking my head."
"She knew me when I was a boy. She stopped for the sake of the boy I was. Not the man I am."
"Well, we can't all live in the present. A fortunate thing for me, that."
"And for me. I want you to live, Methos. More than ever. But I don't know what's wrong."
"Don't you?" I squinted at him. I felt nauseated by his proximity. He had to go.
"No, I don't."
Echoes. "Shall I tell you? Sure you want to hear?"
He frowned. "More ugly past, Methos? Maybe I should sit. Maybe I should have a drink in my hand, when you tell me."
"Not ugly past. Ugly present. But a drink might help. Both of us. Let's go back to the house."
I turned my back on him - I didn't suppose he'd kill me now - and walked back to the cottage slowly. He followed slowly, as well, but didn't seek to walk alongside me. That was strange.
I was glad when I got to the kitchen. I felt very weak. I sat immediately.
"There are drinks in the fridge, and the cabinets, I suppose. If you want something stronger, try the living room."
"A beer for you?" he asked, opening the refrigerator and bending to look inside. Then squatting to see the bottom shelves. When I didn't answer, he looked over his shoulder at me. "Methos? A beer for you?"
I couldn't speak. I'd begun to cry, small sobs, like a child's. He was wearing a white t-shirt. His back moved me to tears. This wasn't working for me at all.
He stood quickly when he saw I was crying and sat down at the kitchen table across from me, as Lamartin had done the day before. But he didn't cover my hand with his the way Lamartin had done. I was grateful for that.
"What is it? What's wrong, Methos?"
I didn't answer. Shook my head. I couldn't speak.
"What is it? Is it - something about the Horsemen? What happened in Bordeaux?"
I clamped my lips together and tried to still my sobs. Succeeded. "No."
He reached out, then, touched my forearm. "Then, what?"
"It's not worth it, MacLeod. Just make you miserable and help me not at all."
"Let me be the judge of that."
"I'm the judge of that," I replied, more sternly than I'd intended. I'd lost control of myself. Damn.
He flinched. "The more you say, the more I see, the worse it looks. Am I supposed to just walk out of here and leave you with whatever's bothering you? You know me better than that."
"You've done it before."
"Not when there wasn't a sword at my throat."
"There's a sword at your throat now, MacLeod, you just don't know it."
"You thinking of taking my head? Because there's only us here."
He came around the table and squatted by my chair, looking up at me with those goddawful eyes, so sincere, so innocent. I actually bit my lip to prevent myself from touching his face.
I closed my eyes.
"Methos? Your friend Quentin only told me that you were wounded by the engagement with the Horsemen. But Lamartin said something else."
"He said that you love me. He seemed to imagine I'd be surprised to hear that."
I opened my eyes. But the hearty innocence was still there in Mac's eyes. He equated love with friendship, and couldn't imagine the truth, even when someone told it to him.
I didn't reply.
Finally, he said, "I wasn't surprised."
"No. Should I have been? You've gone through hell for me. Risked your life for me. Several times. I didn't think it was because somebody had you at gunpoint. I knew you loved me."
"Why are we talking about this, MacLeod?" I said wearily, shoving back my chair so I could stand without pushing him over. I went to the refrigerator and got a beer for myself, automatically. I needed the distance from him. From his innocence.
He swivelled so he could see me. "Because I love you, too. And I don't like seeing you so unhappy. The Horsemen are dead, all of them, Methos. Won't you come back to Paris with me? Or to Seacouver? Put this behind us?"
"I can't put this behind us, MacLeod. You don't understand."
He heaved a big sigh and stood up, then sat in the chair I'd vacated, his legs sprawl out in front of him, in the sort of position I'd ordinarily take. He rested one arm on the table. Then he squinted and rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. "I'm afraid I do understand, Methos. Better than you think. It seemed - wise - not to talk about it, or let on in any way. At the time."
"What are you talking about?"
"What you have with Lamartin - probably had with Kronos - it's old-fashioned stuff. The kind of thing men had, who were born long before the age of chivalry." He grimaced. "In these times, that kind of closeness between men has been - lost - to almost all of us. I understand."
"You understand. Right."
He nodded. "I do. I did all along, but I wasn't sure, until I saw Lamartin."
"And now you're sure."
"Oh yes. One look at him, and I knew for sure. I'd met him before, you know, Methos. At the time, he was just another Immortal businessman. Never made the connection. But now, with you - it's pretty clear. You and Lamartin were probably lovers, before my time."
"Long before, MacLeod." I think I blushed. Fortunately, I'd been looking out the window over the sink for some time, before he'd said the last thing he'd said. I was having trouble even thinking the words, in Mac's presence.
"He's an incredibly beautiful man, your Lamartin. Much better looking than me." When I didn't reply, he went on. "But I see the resemblance. He's - your type."
"That's an interesting way to put it."
"You've got a better way?"
I tapped my fingernails on the edge of the counter, took a swig of my beer. Didn't answer.
"Have I made it worse, Methos? That I know - does it make it worse?"
"Only if I need to look at you, MacLeod."
"Well, I think you're gonna need to look at me again, some time." He chuckled softly. "Unless you're planning on disappearing for good."
"Funny you should mention it."
"You'd desert Joe, Amanda, me - everything - rather than face me? I'd like to try. If you'll let me."
I didn't quite follow. "Try what?"
He opened his hands in a gesture of defeat, then rested them again, one on his knees, the other on the table. "Try - us."
"Don't be daft, man, there's no point!" I said explosively. "It'll pass, MacLeod. Won't take long. Have patience. I'll be back."
"You prefer your friend Lamartin?"
I think he knew better. He was goading me. I didn't dignify the remark with an answer.
He didn't speak for a while. Then he repeated softly. "I'd like to try."
I refused absolutely to make this into a discussion. I maintained silence with everything in me.
I didn't answer.
"Methos. We're on an island. Nobody around. Your friend went to Rome. He said he wouldn't return for a week."
"So, I'd like to try. Away from everything familiar. Away from Joe's watchful eyes. Away from Amanda. From everyone we know."
"You forget, MacLeod," I said, drawn into the talk despite my best intentions, "there are two people we know who are here. We can't get away from them, no matter how far we go."
"I think it'll be all right, Methos."
"I don't." I turned and faced him, then. "I really don't. That's why -"
"That's why you asked for Lamartin. Because you don't think we'd be all right?"
"It's just a little more of the same thing, old man. It's not really different from what we had before the Horsemen."
"Trust me, MacLeod, it's different. Way different."
"If it is, it'll be better."
"It's not more of the same, MacLeod! Therefore - it won't be better, it'll be worse!"
"How much worse can it get, than you disappearing for decades?" He'd hunched over now, left the casual pose behind. Leaned his elbows on the table. Earnest. Frightened.
"Don't be afraid, Mac. You'll survive."
"Oh, I'll survive. I always survive. But who I'll be - that's the part I don't much like. I miss you when you aren't around, Methos. More than you think."
"Get used to it."
"I don't want to get used to it." He stood and joined me by the counter in front of the kitchen window. He put his hand on my back and I jumped as if he'd touched me with a cattle prod. He didn't take his hand away.
He moved his hand up to my shoulder and turned me around. He put both hands on my shoulders and looked at me, but I'd turned my head away. I stared out the window at the sand and the sea.
He moved his hands up my neck and turned my head, cupped my face. His hands smelled funny, like medicine, or ointment. The tips of his fingers touched my ears and I swallowed. I closed my eyes.
He'd always been a lover, of course. Always of women. But he was too smart not to realize that nothing was different with a man, except a couple of body parts. He kissed my mouth. The suddenness of the kiss surprised me. I'd expected some such attempt, eventually, steeled myself against it. But so quickly! I stepped back.
"Don't! Please don't, MacLeod! I beg of you!"
"I want to."
"I know you want to. That's lovely. Just - don't."
"I want to."
"We can't always have what we want, MacLeod."
"No. Not always. Just this time. I want to."
His insistence and repetition of the phrase had become love-play. Irresistible, potent. He kissed me again.
I opened my eyes. "Very well."
Now everything was in reverse. The same bed, the same naked figures on the bed. The same motions. I mean, I made the same moves, the same caresses. All that was the same.
Save for one thing. Now it was Lamartin who stood in the room, in my mind, and wouldn't leave.
"I can't do this."
Mac stopped what he was doing, which was stroking my back. He didn't speak.
I got out of bed and grabbed my shorts. I put them on with my back to him. Then I sat in an easy chair in the corner of the room.
"What's wrong?" he asked, sitting up slowly and covering himself with an edge of the sheet.
"My sex drive's a bit off. Two of you guys in the space of twenty-four hours - I'm too old for this."
"You're making jokes? I don't believe this!"
"Didn't mean to tease. I can do it, if it's necessary. I just - can't - feel it."
He shook his head. "No. It's not necessary. The cold water works fine. The fire's out."
"Sure you are."
"I know this was hard for you to start." I breathed deeply, feeling pain in my ribs. I didn't know what from, except that I felt like I had asthma or some kind of breathing disorder. "I appreciate the gesture."
"It was no gesture. But - it's all right."
"Great." I wished somebody would smash me hard, I felt so bad. Nobody would, of course. Least of all, MacLeod, when he wasn't out of his gourd.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Dunno. I think I fell in love with Lamartin a bit. Feel almost unfaithful." I shrugged. "I've never been an easy lay."
"No one ever said anything about you was easy, Methos." He looked down at his hands on the sheet. My eyes were drawn to those hands. Very square, very battered. A prizefighter's mitts. Uncannily like Lamartin's. My beautiful Lamartin.
"It's funny, Mac," I said, standing and walking to the window. "I can think such wonderful things about him. Think about his body, his eyes, his hair, his glance. Even his smell. Without any - hesitation or distress whatever. He smells like gardenias, you know. I can even talk about him. We were lovers for nearly a century, on and off, once upon a time."
"Yeah, I gathered that much." He'd looked up when I started to talk. He was still looking at me.
"Even thinking about you that way makes me blush."
"You don't know why, do you?"
"I assume it's some kind of unconscious reaction to what I've imagined would be your reaction, if you knew."
"So you do know why."
"Yes. Oh yes. I know. Doesn't make it easier. I can't do this, Mac. I'll never feel right about it. This isn't the Golden Age of Greece and Rome. This isn't the Bronze Age. This is now. Today. It's not done today, between heterosexual men. It's not acceptable. Not for you. Not for me. I try to live in the present. If we were homosexuals, fine. It's just not the way men - cement friendship - in these times. The times are different, and I'm different. I don't want to harken back to the old days. I want to live in today."
"Even at the price you're paying."
"Absolutely. No price is too great to pay for a clean conscience."
He laughed. "A clean conscience. Death before dishonor, for some of us."
"It's not a theory, Mac. It's a fact. For me."
"I never dreamed you were so conventional, Methos."
"Neither did I. Imagine this, I didn't want to make love on the kitchen table!"
"It's not the most comfortable setting, I agree," he said.
"Duncan, I've made love on the edge of a cliff, with rocks biting into my body that left bloody gashes! Now I'm too old to make love on a table! Unbelievable!"
He smiled. "How'd Lamartin react?"
"How do you think? I imagine my Chronicles - the ones we keep for ourselves - will be full of his petulant disappointment."
"I'd like to make an entry. Is that permitted?"
"Write your own, MacLeod! Keep out of ours!"
"I'll do better. I'll tell Joe you're an old foggy who sticks by the rules, even in the face of temptation!"
"You do, and I'll take your head!"
"You can try." Suddenly, he was serious.
"Ah, you're angry."
"Disappointed. That's the word I'd use. I was counting on you."
"For what? To take your virginity?"
"To jolt me out of my complacency. I thought I was the conventional one."
"You're a hero, MacLeod. Heroes are unconventional by definition."
"No, that's anti-heroes, of which you are the best. I'm disappointed."
"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, I'm no anti-hero! I'm just a guy."
"Sure. Whatever. Just a guy. As Joe would say, you gotta love it."
I stopped bantering then, and so did he. He stared at his hands again. So did I. Such wonderful hands. I must be out of my skull, I thought. I should be taken out and shot! Not that it would help. I'd just revive and be me again.
"I'm hungry, Mac. Up to cooking something for us? Or shall I?"
"You can cook?"
"Under duress." I grinned. "If there's nobody else around."
He sighed. "I'll cook. I wouldn't want to eat what you'd prepare in the mood you're in. Probably give me food poisoning." He got out of bed and walked out of the bedroom without putting on a stitch of clothing.
I didn't follow him. I couldn't. I was rooted to the spot.
He called from the stairs, "You coming, Methos? If you want me to cook, you've gotta keep me company."
"Yeah, I'll be along."
"Well, hurry up. I didn't come here to be by myself, you know."
I muttered, "Why the hell did you come, MacLeod?"
"I heard that!" he shouted from the kitchen. "I came to be with you."
I finally unstuck my feet and grabbed his shorts. I brought them down to the kitchen with me. I held them out to him. "Put these on. You're depressing me."
He stopped chopping onions long enough to stare at me. "I'm depressing you?"
"Yeah. But don't worry. Depression's just a pitstop between highs."
"For me," I said, shrugging. "But then, for me, time has a funny way of behaving."
He returned to the onions. "Gonna give me an old man's philosophy of time, Methos? Love to hear it."
"Sure. It'll pass the time while I watch you cook."
"Watching me cook isn't enough for you?"
"Not while you're not wearing clothes, it isn't."
"Think of yourself as a sculptor, and me as an artist's model. You're not gonna tell me you're embarrassed."
"I already told you. I'm depressed."
"By what?" he asked, seriously this time.
I squeezed the bridge of my nose. Shut my eyes. Opened them. "The two of you - it's not really fair, you know."
"What are you talking about? The two of who?"
"Lamartin and you. It's not fair."
"I don't get it."
"No, I don't suppose you do."
"Well - tell me, then." He got some kind of meat out of the refrigerator. His muscles moved in incredible ways when he worked. I closed my eyes again.
"Your women haven't told you?" I asked.
"How well you're - put together?"
He stopped fiddling with the food. "You think you're not?"
"I've been described as scrawny, skinny, fragile, a toothpick. Not particularly confidence-building terms."
"When'd you hear this?"
"A while back. Why?"
"I disagree. I'm sure Lamartin does too."
"Well, horse races and so forth."
"Methos, you're -"
"Yeah, Mac? What am I?"
He shook his head. "Nevermind."
"Okay. You're beautiful. Not just well-built. Beautiful. I think Lamartin would agree."
"That's not funny, MacLeod."
"I'm not joking."
"I'll be back when you've got dinner made. Just shout from the porch." I left the kitchen quickly, without glancing at Mac when I threw him his shorts. "Put these on. That's an order."
When he called me to come to dinner, he was wearing the shorts. He didn't walk around without clothes again that week.
We didn't discuss sex again, either.
We swam, drank, ate, ran hard, threw a ball back and forth for exercise. Only we used fruit, instead of a ball. It seemed Lamartin wasn't into sports. There was no sporting equipment in the house. We looked.
In the evenings we made a fire on the beach and sat staring into it, talking about people we'd known over the years. When we were too tired to talk, we went back to the house and went to sleep. I stayed in the room I'd used with Lamartin. Mac found another bedroom to sleep in. He'd left his duffelbag on the beach the first day he'd come but we'd fetched it. He'd brought a few changes of clothes, along with his books. When he ran out of clean shirts, we did a laundry together, in the bathtub, and hung things to dry on the porch rail, in the sun.
On the third night, when it was too windy for a fire, we sat on the porch with just the dim light through the screen door holding back the dark. I recited poetry in English, French and German. Mac recited "Macbeth" - the entire play, word for word. He also knew most of the lines to several of Shakespeare's other plays. It was quite relaxing to listen to him. I faced the fact that I'd miss his voice, come week's end. Along with everything else.
Lamartin arrived back after a week, in the late afternoon. He embraced me with tears in his eyes.
"I wish you wouldn't do that in public, Lamartin," I told him. I was serious.
"Public? We're not in public."
"We're not alone, either," I retorted.
"Methos is feeling embarrassed," Mac said. "I guess he doesn't like to see double."
"Let him choose, then. I will take my chances."
"Now that's an interesting notion," Mac replied. "How about it, Methos, want to choose?"
"And I thought I was crazy! I didn't have a clue!" I walked away from both of them, down to the shore.
They followed me.
"That's enough!" I shouted, turning on them. "Two against one - it's not in the Rules!"
"This isn't the Game, Methos," Mac said. He smiled. "There are no rules."
"Listen to your friend, Methos," Lamartin said. "He is wise beyond his years." He grinned his most sensual grin. "Beauty and brains - I suppose you will choose him."
There was nothing for it but to go on the offensive. "Modesty doesn't become you, Lamartin." I turned to Mac. "And you'd be itching for a fight, if I chose him, wouldn't you?"
"Do you?" Mac's voice cracked. "Choose him?"
"Enough! I'm five thousand years old - you make me feel like an adolescent! The two of you are insane! What on earth do you want with me, either of you? You'd be better off with each other!"
They each raised one eyebrow. As if on cue, they said simultaneously, "Wanna watch?"
I exploded. "Watch what? The two of you make fools of yourselves? I think I've had enough of watching that! You forget who I am! I don't live by my body, I live by my wits! You won't like it, if I lose my wits, believe me!"
"I think he wants to watch, Lamartin," Mac said, nodding several times.
"I know it," Lamartin replied.
"I assume you know the ropes, Elder Brother."
"You will forget you did not know them yourself, Younger Brother, after we begin."
They both stripped and grabbed each other in a fierce embrace, mouths meeting in a passionate kiss. I stared for a second, absolutely dumbfounded. My stomach turned. I became dizzy, then faint. I lost consciousness, collapsing as I blacked out.
"Methos - we were only joking!"
"Methos - get up! Wake up! Methos!"
I heard them yelling at me. Felt the water being thrown in my face. I gasped, tasting salt water on my tongue. I kept my eyes closed but they felt my aura rise and knew I'd regained consciousness - at least, Lamartin did.
"He is all right, now, MacLeod."
"You sure?" Mac's voice was full of anxiety. "Methos - I was just kidding. I'm sorry!"
I opened my eyes. I sighed. "You don't understand. Either of you. You think I'm playing hard to get?"
"Are you?" Mac asked.
"No, I'm not." I tried to get up but I couldn't. There wasn't enough strength left in me to move my limbs. I rolled onto my belly to get away from them somehow. I needed distance. Between their buzz and their bodies, I was ready to die.
"You all right, mon amour?"
"Methos - what is it?"
Wearily, I mumbled, "They don't understand."
"Who are you talking to, mi figlio? Are you talking to God?"
"No, damn you! I'm talking to myself!"
"It is true, you are right, we do not understand," Lamartin said solemnly. "We are of the flesh, of the earth, your friend MacLeod and I. We do not understand. What you make difficult - it is simple for us. What has happened to you? Even the love between man and man is easier for your Highland friend than it is for you. We cannot understand. Forgive us."
"A long speech, Lamartin. But you needn't go to the trouble. I'll survive." I got up on my hands and knees and then stood. I was facing away from them and intended to continue to do that, until they got dressed. "Put some clothes on, you two. Then we'll talk."
The promise that I'd talk to them was like a carrot held out to a couple of rabbits. Irresistible. In that, as well as other things, they were alike, my Lamartin, and MacLeod. They both loved a good story, and they sensed I'd come up with one. Like children, they dressed hurriedly, so they could hear what I'd say.
I made them wait until nightfall, until after we'd eaten and I'd drunk quite a bit of very good wine. I had to be sure.
During dinner I watched them carefully out of hooded eyes, tiny glances when they weren't looking at me. They'd both dressed in black t-shirts and slacks. They moved like panthers, their shoulders under their shirts appeared to me to be animals' haunches. It was like watching a dance team, or commandos. While we ate, I dampened all affect, and felt as if I were at the movies. But when I'd open up, even for an instant - lift the iron lid, like a heavy manhole cover, I kept on myself - I grew dizzy again, nauseated, faint. Lamartin noticed; Mac didn't, of course.
Now, I was sure.
We took our drinks out to the porch and I excused myself for a moment. When I returned I stood before them naked. Neither said a word.
I took a deep breath and began to talk.
"What you see before you is a mirage. It is the body of a young man. I achieved First Death when I was a young man, still. Only thirty.
"I used this body - without misgivings - for centuries, just as you do still, Lamartin, Mac. Without thought for anything but love, beauty, passion. The unabated needs of a man of thirty.
"Without conscience and without reflection. Who I was didn't matter to anyone. Neither my partners nor I cared. They, because they didn't know, I, because I didn't wish to know.
"Immortals were few and far between. Kronos and the others. You and Quen, Lamartin. Occasionally, a woman Immortal - but rarely. It was easier to hide from myself among Mortals, because they didn't know who and what I was."
I paused, waited for a question, a reaction. But they were silent, my beloved Boys. Their auras thumped like lions' hearts, terrified and awed. But they didn't ask me anything. I'd need to go on alone, so I did.
"Others like myself - those who survived - chose obscurity, like Quentin. Or the Game. Every last one of us was forced into celibacy - or rape - in the end. Our age wouldn't sustain normal sexual love, however willing and eager our bodies remained.
"As I said, I chose Mortal love, and celibacy. It worked well enough."
I cleared my throat. They were watching me with round eyes. So far, only fear and awe, no pity at all. Good.
"At last, I decided to be sensible. I turned to things of the mind, abandoning my body entirely. Before the Christian era, many would have considered the choice I made insane. But those times came, and I took advantage of the philosophy they brought. And I was at peace, for the moment."
Lamartin interrupted me. "But why, mi figlio? Your body did not fail you. You simply - left it behind. Why?"
"Dear Lamartin, how can you not understand, you who did the same?"
"I did not. Quentin and I - we were lovers. We are still lovers," Lamartin insisted.
"No. You are not. I know. Quentin and I - we've talked, over the centuries. He believes you've sought sex elsewhere. But he's told me, no longer with him."
"I have - I have sought sex elsewhere," he said urgently.
"Sought it, yes. Oh yes. Have you found it?"
He dropped his eyes.
Mac bit his lips. Spoke, I think, only to ease the burden on Lamartin. "You still love, Methos. And your body still speaks. What's the problem?"
"The problem, MacLeod, is there's no connection between my body and my mind any longer. They've achieved independence from each other. I cannot bridge the two, in the sack. One turns away the other."
Mac frowned. "Even when you - care - for your partner?"
"Especially when I care. I go so far outside my body, when I care, that I might as well be on another planet. You cannot imagine how unsatisfying that is. How sick it makes me. I hadn't tried it for centuries, until the other night with Lamartin. I will not do it again. I cannot survive it."
"And the Game," my clever Mac asked. "It's the same, isn't it? The Quickenings affect you the same way?"
"I have no taste for Quickenings, Duncan. They make me sick," I said flatly. "Not dismayed, not upset, not anything manageable. Sick. As in, a sickness unto death."
"No wonder you hadn't faced anybody in two hundred years."
"I wouldn't have faced anybody again, until the End, if I'd had my way," I retorted.
"If not for me -"
"Don't blame yourself, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. It's my choice. I'll willingly endure anything - to save your head! But it's not my choice to endure a sickness unto death, for the sake of a roll in the hay!"
"I see." Perhaps he did. I knew Lamartin did, though he'd never been willing to articulate it, or accept it, in himself. Never would be. His sensuality alone bridged the gap - and love never mattered as much to him, as it did to me. Sometimes, I knew, he could mistake lust for love. That permitted him to hide the truth from himself in a way I never could.
Lamartin got up. He came to me and lightly ran his hand down my arm. He kissed me. "I will leave you with your friend, now, mi figlio. Thank you for telling me."
I nodded, and didn't speak until he'd gone into the house and I felt his aura fade as he went up to a room above stairs.
I turned to Mac.
"What I've told you - won't mean too much in your life, for a long time to come, Duncan. By the time it does, you'll have whatever it takes to handle it, too. Don't fear it. Accept it. Then it won't make you unhappy."
"It makes you unhappy," he said quietly, his voice sad and low. "Terribly unhappy."
"For your sake, Mac, not my own."
"So you don't really believe love will find a way, do you, Methos?"
"Not always possible."
"Was it - this way - with Alexa?" he asked, surprising me by the question, and by the leap he took in our friendship, to ask it.
"It never came up," I replied. "She was - very ill, Duncan. More than any of us knew, even Joe. She kept it a secret. Her pain was -" I breathed deeply, "her pain was enormous. By the time we'd met."
"So am I. I'd have liked to try."
Mac took a shirt and shorts from the railing where we'd set them out to dry. With a smile he told me, "Put these on, Methos. You've made your point."
"I think so. Love hurts. Why try? That's your point, isn't it?" he said quietly, watching me dress from his chair on the porch.
I started to laugh. "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod - you're impossible!"
"No, you only thought I was impossible. When you thought that, you were happy. It's the possibility that frightens you."
"You don't give up, do you? Have you any idea how bloody annoying that is?"
"You don't want me to give up. You wanted Lamartin to give up. And he did."
"Why the hell won't you?"
"Because I'm not Lamartin. I'm too young to give up!"
I turned away from him and took hold of one of the porch supports, leaning into it. I stared into the darkness which hid the sand but not the sea. Lights from the mainland twinkled in the distance. I longed to be where I was - an impossible longing. I couldn't be where I was. That was the problem.
"You still here, Methos?" Mac asked. "Or are you outta here?"
"I'm still here, Duncan. I wish I were here."
"I'm beginning to worry about myself, old man. I almost understood what you said, just now."
"You're right to be afraid. That's about the most frightening thing I've ever heard," I joked. How could he be so - open? How could he be so - content with himself? I'd never been like that, even as a Boy. And now, I'd never be that way again.
"You know you'll try, Methos. For my sake, you'll try."
I turned quickly and stared at Mac. "For your sake?"
"Because you love me, and it's something I want. You'll try." His assurance was total.
I breathed in the hot night air. Expelled a breath. "You're right. I will. One day, I will try."
Mac smiled. "I can wait."
"It may be a long time," I warned.
He moved out of his chair quickly, startling me. I thought he'd attack and I took a step back.
But he didn't attack. He just stood in front of me and smiled. "I can wait," he repeated. "And I will."
In the morning Mac made breakfast for the three of us. Lamartin had brought his packed suitcase down and put it on the porch. He told me he'd leave after we'd eaten.
"The house is yours for as long as you wish, mon amour. Yours and your friend's. Please - use it well."
"Thank you, Lamartin. For everything."
Mac and I walked Lamartin to the motorboat waiting for him at the shore.
"I have something for you and Quentin," I told him, slipping one of the tiny bronze horses into each of his hands. "Trinkets from the past."
"You are sure, mi figlio? These are priceless -"
"So are you. Keep them. Remember."
"We will." He left in a hurry, after a quick embrace, holding back tears. So emotional, my Lamartin. So like Mac.
We watched until the boat was out of sight. Then Mac asked me, "What did you give him, Methos?"
"One of these," I replied, holding up Kronos' little horse. It absorbed the sunlight.
"What is it?"
"My past. This one belonged to Kronos, once. Now -" I closed his hand around it.
"This belonged to Kronos?" he repeated with wonder. "From - before?"
I nodded. "Long before." I took mine out of my pocket. I hadn't removed the keys, as I had with the others. I held it up for him to see.
"You want me to have one, too?" His voice shook.
"You're a little young, but you'd have made a fine Horseman, if you'd been around."
The irony didn't escape him. "Probably," he said. He grinned ruefully. "We're none of us perfect."
"I want you to have it, Mac."
"A piece of your past?"
"A piece of me. My past is me."
He looked at me. A hardness came into his eyes. "Your past isn't all you are, Methos. Your present is you, too. And your future."
"There's no 'maybe' about it!"
"All right," I conceded. "All right."
"Good." He gripped the bronze horse more tightly and started to walk away.
"Where you off to, Mac?"
"Up to the house. I want to put this away - you should do the same with yours. Then we can go for a run."
"Afraid you'll lose my past, MacLeod?" I teased.
"Do you want to spend the rest of your life sifting through the sand, looking for it?" he retorted.
"Ah, Duncan, when you're right, you're right!"