by Maxine Mayer
"Looking for love in all the wrong places," Methos muttered, getting up from his chair next to Joe Dawson's bed in St. Vincent's Hospital and checking the old man's pulse again - manually. The Immortal Duncan MacLeod's former Watcher was sleeping now, reasonably comfortably, it seemed, and seemingly was out of mortal danger. The old Immortal did what he'd done fifty times already that evening. He smoothed Dawson's hand, then his brow, turned in place, ran his fingers through his short hair, took a deep breath, glanced at his friend MacLeod and sat down in his chair again.
"What did you say?" Duncan asked, lifting his head out of his hands and looking up. MacLeod's hair was long and loose and disheveled. His face was dark with two days' growth of stubble, which always made him look older than his age at First Death. He wore a heavy topcoat though the room was warm and close. MacLeod was always cold, especially when the younger Immortal hadn't slept his quota.
"Nothing. Just a passing thought." Methos stood again and told his friend, "Dawson's resting now. He'll sleep for some time. I'm for a bit of breakfast. Coffee. Come along."
"No. I'll not leave him."
"MacLeod, I need the company," Methos said bluntly. "Come with me."
"Methos -" Duncan's eyes were bright with unshed tears.
"He won't die while we go for a bite to eat, Mac. I promise you that. On my honor as a medical man. I've been a doctor for over a thousand years. These bozos agree with me," he added, gesturing at the modern medical equipment and then towards the hallway where doctors and nurses scurried, plying their trade. "Dawson will pull through. Please, Mac, don't let this get to you. Easy does it. It takes forever to come back when you pull away like this. I don't want to be alone."
"What are you talking about?" the younger Immortal asked his friend. "I'm not pulling away."
"Yes, you are. You're going it alone. Suffering all by yourself in a little spot that holds only one."
"I'm doing what I can to get through this, Methos. That's all." Duncan's voice replied angrily.
"So am I. It's a lot easier if we share." Methos held out a hand to his friend. "Breakfast?" he asked simply.
Duncan sighed. He inched forward in his chair and studied Joe Dawson's sleeping face for a moment. He brushed his hand along the Mortal's arm. Taking Methos' hand, he stood. "Okay, Methos. Breakfast."
Riding down in the elevator Methos remarked, "The cafeteria's closed, and so's the coffee shop. We'll need to leave the hospital. "
"At least in this neighborhood there'll be someplace open at two in the morning. I'm glad we didn't take him to a hospital uptown."
The men buttoned their overcoats and started to walk with no special direction in mind, except that they were headed farther downtown. Discovering an all-night diner they went in, momentarily startled by the brightness of the fluorescent lights. The place was nearly empty, only a few patrons sitting at the counter and in booths.
"This looks good," Duncan remarked.
The men selected a booth. A waitress took their order for eggs and coffee and left them alone. Duncan settled into the booth and laced his hands in front of him on the table. Methos covered Mac's hands with his own and squeezed gently.
Turning his friend's hands and clasping them loosely, Mac stroked the older Immortal's fingers. He murmured, "So cool. Not like mine."
"Yours always are dry and hot," Methos replied with a smile, "like stones in the desert."
MacLeod looked up. "What did you mean by it, Methos? 'Looking for love in all the wrong places?'"
"What I said. You know what I meant, Mac. Friendship of the kind you and I have with Dawson is asking for misery. Losing a Mortal is different from losing one of us to the Game. The dying's usually long and drawn out and painful for them. For us, watching them go, it's agony."
"It's not like we have a choice," Duncan replied earnestly. "You think he'd feel any less pain if one of us - if he lost one of us, to the Game? You think it's easier for them?"
"I didn't say that. I'm not talking about their pain, their loss, when we go. I'm talking about ours." When the waitress brought their food and coffee Methos pulled his hands away from Mac's. Taking a sip of coffee and toyed with his meal he added, "I'm only thinking what I always think, when one of them goes - that I shouldn't have let myself care."
"But it's different this time, isn't it? Because the two of us are together in this?"
"It could be. If you don't leave me alone."
"I won't leave you alone. I stayed with you when you lost Alexa -"
"As a friend, yes. Not as a co-mourner. This is different."
"Whatever happens to Dawson, we're together now, Methos. Our lives won't stop being shared. We're part of each other -"
"Mac, you withdraw. The pain hits you and that's what you do. Leave. Devil take the hindmost."
"I won't. I promise," Duncan said earnestly. "Now, eat your breakfast. That's what we're here for."
"You can't promise, Mac. It's what you do." The old Immortal shrugged. "I'll survive."
"Survive what?" Duncan asked intensely, his voice a low hiss so only his lover could hear him. "Dawson's eventual death?"
"Your defection, when he goes."
"Methos, what the hell are you doing? You trying to distract me? Make me angry? Entertain? What is this bullshit? I won't leave you, no matter what! I couldn't! How can you not know that?"
"I know the opposite, MacLeod. Look at your history. What you do when they die. You take your revenge - when it's appropriate and feasible - and then you sink into yourself, push everyone who loves you away. I don't blame you. I've always done pretty much the same thing. Making allowances for my temperament, maybe I've done it even more drastically than you. Until - you."
"Methos, listen to me. Joe Dawson's not going to die. Not now. You said so yourself -"
"Someday he will, Mac. And then you'll be gone, too." Methos took a deep breath. Distractedly he muttered, "You're already doing it. Maybe I should be preparing myself. I must have been out of my mind, to let myself become so attached to the two of you. I must be crazy."
"You're crazy, all right! I won't leave you, Methos! I'll drag you through the pain with me! I promise!"
Methos glanced at the younger Immortal. "You promise?"
"I promise. Cross my heart! Every step of the way! Now eat your breakfast so we can go back to the hospital. Maybe Joe's awake now. He'll start worrying about us, if we're not around when he wakes."
"Hey, guys, where the hell you been? The nurse told me you were here all day yesterday, then you left in the middle of the night. You got some lousy timing - I've been awake for an hour!" Joe Dawson said with a grin, greeting his friends.
"I dragged the kid out for something to eat, Joe. Feeling any better?" Methos asked, going to the hospital bed and taking his friend's hand.
"I've felt worse. But not in a long time. The doctor says I've gotta stay here a couple more days. Then, they're gonna move me to a convalescent home out on Long Island, till I can get on my feet - so to speak."
"Why, Joe?" Duncan asked. "Why don't they send you home?"
Methos retorted, "Because he's got no one to take care of him at home. It's standard practice."
"Why can't he come to our place? We can take care of him. Between the two of us, we've got more experience nursing and doctoring than the staff of any convalescent home."
Joe said, "Mac, that's real white of you, but I know you've got no time to look after an invalid. You've got your business to run. It's better if I go someplace where they're geared to handling bedpans and changing the sheets for an old fool."
"Methos?" Duncan asked, ignoring the old Mortal's remarks.
"Sure beats visiting him every day on Long Island," Methos remarked. "We can rent a hospital bed, any other equipment we need. Lou Cavanaugh - you remember him, Mac, the Immortal Irishman? He owns a hospital supplies chain. He'll give us a good deal."
"It's settled, then. Stay here with Joe, Methos. I'm gonna find the doctor and see how soon he can be moved."
After Duncan left the room Dawson looked at Methos. "You guys can't do this, Methos. It's not smart."
"I never claimed to be smart. And we both know Duncan's a fool."
"Only make things harder in the end."
"Probably." Methos grinned. "When have you known Duncan MacLeod to look for the easy way out?"
"The doc says it'll take a while. That's why I opted for a convalescent home instead of just home nursing care."
"We enjoy your company, Joe." The old Immortal smiled. "Mac needs to be doing something for you."
The Watcher shifted in bed, a grimace passing over his features. "Look, Methos, between the pair of you, you're the smart one. You gotta know what's ahead. I'm close to seventy-five years old. They tell me I'll pull through - this time. Great. I was glad to hear it. I'm not ready to go yet. But - shouldn't you two be pulling back? I'm not gonna live forever."
"I know you won't. So does Mac."
"So - why do you guys wanna do this? Set yourselves up for pain?"
Methos chuckled. "What makes you think we'll be so unhappy when you go? You fancy yourself. You're more trouble than you're worth, old man."
"Don't make jokes, Methos. I don't fancy myself. You two fancy me! You'd be better off if I was in another state, or another country, when I die. If you heard about my death from a long way off. You both gotta know that."
"We know. We don't care. Like I told Duncan, we're looking for love in all the wrong places. We've found it. We don't intend to give it up until the choice is taken out of our hands."
The Watcher closed his eyes. "Well, I won't say I'd prefer to be in a nursing home. I'd rather be with you two bozos. The entertainment level's a lot higher."
"We aim to please," Methos replied, a grin on his face. He took the Watcher's hand and felt for his pulse. It was nearly normal. He touched Joe's head. His temperature was down. "I think you should rest some more, Joe." The old Mortal didn't reply. He'd fallen asleep. "That's good. Sleep always works for me. A real pick-me-up. Heals all the ills that flesh is heir to. Almost."
Methos looked up when his Immortal companion returned to the room.
"Talk him around yet, Methos?"
"He's agreed to come to us when they discharge him."
"Good. The doctor said he can be moved at the weekend, if he's going where he'll get adequate care." MacLeod took off his overcoat and sat in a chair. He pulled it closer to the bed and took Dawson's hand. "I couldn't do without you, old man," he murmured. "Not yet. Please God, not yet."
"You got quite a place here," Dawson commented, after he'd been carried on a stretcher into MacLeod and Methos' condo and settled into a hospital bed in one of the spare rooms. "How you two gonna hear me in this barn, if I call out?"
"We've set up a buzzer system, Joe, just like in the hospital. You ring, we'll come," MacLeod replied seriously.
"I was just kidding, Mac. A joke. I know you guys got everything figured out."
"You hungry, Joe?" Methos asked. "Say you're hungry, so Mac will stop fussing over you and go cook us something."
"I'm hungry," the old Watcher replied. "Famished. It'll be great to eat something with a little taste, after all that hospital food."
"Mac, that's your cue. Go. Cook."
"You sure you'll be all right, Dawson, with this clown for company? Don't let him get your goat! He's got a way of saying something - just a casual remark - that's apt to raise your blood pressure!"
"I can handle Methos, Mac. Just feed me!"
The younger Immortal left the room and Methos went over to the window, looking out at the city. He didn't speak for a while. Then he said, "I'm glad you agreed to come, Joe. Mac needs to be able to do for you."
"And you need just to be."
Methos looked up. "What'd you mean?"
"You need to be. Be with."
"No maybe about it. That's who you are, Methos. You're 'being' and Mac's 'doing.' A match made in heaven."
"I doubt that."
"When'd you ever take care of him? Cook him a meal when he was blue? Change the wet sheets when he had a nightmare?"
Methos turned and stared at the Watcher. "I didn't know the Society videotapes Immortals nowadays, Dawson."
"I don't need a camera to know Duncan MacLeod. Or you." Joe shrugged, pushing himself into a better position in the bed. "Last time you 'did' anything for Mac, was his Dark Quickening."
"I don't hear him complaining," Methos answered curtly. "He seems pretty happy with our little arrangement."
"I'm a minimalist, Joe. I do the least I can. I try to do no harm. A technique perfected over centuries. It's always worked pretty well for me."
"What, you interviewed the beneficiaries of your 'technique?' You checked this out with all your lovers?"
"You're not dying, Joe. Deathbed advice is not in order."
"I'm Mortal. In your frame of reference, I started to die before you met me, the day I was born. I'm entitled to give deathbed advice, if I want to, at the drop of a hat."
Methos looked at Dawson. Finally, he said, "Okay. What's your advice?"
"Don't let Mac take the easy way out. Don't let him coddle you. 'Minimalist' is just a fancy word to cover you doing nothing. Try it the other way around for a change."
"I don't imagine Mac'd let me coddle him, Joe, even if I was so inclined."
"You'd be surprised. A little chicken soup can make all the difference in the world to a man when he's feeling bad."
"You're really morbid, Joe Dawson, you know that? There are actually two ways to kill Immortals. One is to cut off their heads. The other is to make them eat my cooking."
Dawson laughed. "You are one lazy sonuvabitch, Methos!"
"I'm not a nurse, Joe. If Mac wants to play Florence Nightingale to me when I'm blue, I let him. But that's not my style."
"You don't have a style, you've got a wall. Mac's gonna need you to come out from behind your wall, one of these days. He's gonna need you to take a chance, take care of him. Don't let him down. Don't make him take care of you."
Methos looked around at the Watcher, startled by his remarks. "You don't understand, Joe. That's his way out of pain - to take care of other people. By letting him do that for me, I help him out of the pain."
"No, you're the one who doesn't understand. He's been 'getting out of pain' for centuries. Pushing it away. He's gotta get through it. He's gonna need you, one day, to help him get through it. Forget about you, for once, Methos. Think about somebody else. You know the path. Help him through."
"This is quite a place you've got here, Duncan. It's beautiful. I'm impressed." The Mortal, Dr. Anne Lindsey, MacLeod's former lover, took a stroll around the living room while she spoke. "You must be doing quite well."
"Anne, thanks for coming. I'd like you to meet a good friend -"
Methos interrupted, offering his hand. "Methos Valerius, Dr. Lindsey. Good to meet you at last." He shook Anne's hand and smiled. "Joe's feeling pretty well this evening. He's sleeping now, quite comfortably. The doctor at St. Vincent's turned his back while I borrowed his charts and made copies. I also borrowed his x-rays. The stuff's in Joe's room, on the dresser. I hope I got you all the information you'll need."
"Joe's doctor agreed to let a layman have medical charts, x-rays?" Anne sounded surprised.
"What can I tell you? When I asked, I was very sincere."
"Yeah, Anne, Methos can be real sincere, when he wants to be. He explained that Joe has a doctor who makes house calls. I think the shock was enough to inspire the man to do whatever Methos asked him to do."
"I see." Anne put her valise and bag down by the couch and took off her coat. She smiled at Methos. "I see you can charm the birds out of the trees."
"I try," he replied.
"Would you like some coffee, Anne?" Duncan asked. "We can talk for a while."
"Sure. I'd like that. I wouldn't want to wake Joe, just to examine him. Coffee would be very welcome."
Duncan went into the kitchen and Anne and Methos looked at each other. After a moment, they laughed.
Methos said, "Sit down. Please. Anne." He sat on the sofa and Anne chose a chair opposite.
"Are you -" Anne hesitated to ask an intrusive question.
"Yes. I am. I'm like Duncan. Immortal."
"Right." Anne looked around. She frowned. "You two share this place? Duncan mentioned that you were in business with him, when he called."
"It always is, with your kind," Anne said grimly. "Always."
"Sharing our lives isn't always in the cards. It's not for everyone, Anne. Doesn't mean we don't care. Or you don't. It's just - life."
"You sound as if you know more about me than I do about you. How much did Duncan tell you about our relationship?"
"A little. Enough." Methos grinned. "Once upon a time, during a long hot summer, I helped him paint your house. He got a big kick out of giving it to you and your child. He's not one to forget. He loves you. Always will." The Immortal shrugged. "That's about it, all I know."
"And now? Who has he got now?" Anne asked. When Methos didn't respond, Anne rephrased her question. "Who's Duncan in love with now?"
"For a man who knows so much about Duncan's history, that's quite a gap in his present, an awfully big thing not to know."
Methos took a breath. "Anne, ask him. I'm sure he'll tell you."
Anne smiled. "I will."
"Tell me about Mary."
"There's not much to tell. She's twenty now - a big girl. Very independent."
"Like her mother?"
Anne nodded. "But she still loves Duncan the way she did when she was a child, though of course she hasn't seen him in years. And she still won't believe that he isn't her father. I've never been able to convince her, because I've never been able to tell her the truth about him. Of course, if she were ever to see him again - see that he hasn't aged - well, there wouldn't be any way to keep his secret from her."
"She's in school?"
"That's right. University. Back in Seacouver. When I moved to Cape Cod last year, Mary stayed behind. I've retired from medical practice, you know."
"Bit young for that, aren't you?" Methos inquired. "You can't be much more than fifty."
"Fifty-five, last April. I wanted to do other things. Not medicine."
"I've been writing, a little. Nothing very good. Just a few stories. Some poems." Anne grinned. "I'm still trying to take it all in - Duncan, you, the others - digest everything."
"Digest what?" MacLeod asked, coming into the room with a large tray. He put it on the coffee table and sat on the sofa at the far end from Methos, who suddenly stood and walked over to the window. "Help yourselves. Coffee, tea, beer," he said with emphasis. "Eclairs, napoleons, even Devil Dogs," he added in a louder voice, calling Methos back to the couch. "Enjoy."
"Thanks, Duncan." Anne poured herself some coffee.
"So, digest what?" MacLeod repeated, leaning back against the sofa and stretching his arm along the back.
"Immortality, I suppose," Anne replied. "I've been writing ever since I retired. Actually, for a couple years before that, when I had time. That's why I moved out here, near the ocean. I think it's all about that, about - your Immortality. Even the stories that don't seem to have anything to do with it. Even the poems."
"I'd like to read them, if you'd let me, Anne," Duncan said.
"So would I," Methos added sharply. "Should be quite instructional."
"No, Duncan, he's right. The musings of a Mortal who couldn't deal with Immortality. The woman who ran away. Maybe you two could make something of them. I can't. But then, I never could."
"You did what you had to do, Anne. I understood."
"Well, I didn't. Mary doesn't. She's never forgiven me for leaving you, Duncan. When I told her how close we once were, I couldn't make her understand why I didn't stay with you. She loves you so much."
"Why did you leave him, doctor? I've never quite grasped the reason, myself," Methos inquired.
"Methos - enough! It's none of your business."
"We were talking about just this subject when you came in, Mac," Methos responded. "The ways of Mortals and Immortals. Maybe it's something we should understand, under the circumstances."
"What circumstances, Methos? What the hell are you talking about?" Duncan spoke angrily. "I asked Anne to come here as a favor, to look after Dawson. I didn't invite her to an Inquisition. Or to be insulted."
"Duncan, it's all right. I know what your friend means."
"That's more than I can say!" Duncan retorted. "What does he mean?"
"He means, Joe Dawson's an old man. He's not going to live forever. And neither will I. You'll be left behind, God willing, to deal with it. He wants to know what makes me tick. What made 'us' tick. And why we didn't stay together. I wish I could give him an answer."
"You're wrong, doctor. I misspoke. Actually, I do know why you left MacLeod. You were dedicated to saving lives. His path forces him to take lives. You couldn't accept that. It's clear enough."
"So what is it you want to know, Methos?" MacLeod asked bluntly.
The older Immortal stood again and stared at Anne Lindsey. Then he turned to MacLeod. "I want to know how she could cause you so much pain. How a healer could justify giving so much pain, not as a by-product of healing, not as part of a cure. Just to save herself."
Anne didn't reply. Neither did Duncan.
Methos remarked, "I see I'll get no answers from either of you. I'll check on Joe, Dr. Lindsey. Maybe he's awake and you can examine him. I'll take your suitcase to your room."
MacLeod showed Anne into Dawson's room and left her with the Watcher. Then he went to the bedroom he shared with Methos. The older Immortal was sitting in an easy chair staring at the wall opposite. He didn't look up when MacLeod came in.
"You're really a terrible person, Methos. How could you speak to Anne that way? Hurt her so much? We're talking about something that happened over twenty years ago! Why rake it up?"
"Sorry, Mac. Twenty years isn't such a long time to me."
"Maybe not. But it is to me. It's over. Whatever Anne and I shared, whatever pain we caused each other, whatever suffering I went through, is over."
"Methos! It's over. It doesn't matter!" Duncan insisted.
"Everything matters, MacLeod. Didn't Sean teach you that? You loved Anne Lindsey, a woman who tore your heart out to save herself a bit of struggle with moral ambiguity. A coward. You still hurt from it. I can feel it, when you're with her. Even when you're not with her. Like now."
"That's not true," Duncan replied hotly. "But even if it was, I can handle it. Don't attack Anne, Methos -"
"You're gonna need to do better than that, better than just handling it. You're gonna need to live with it forever, when she dies. Without really understanding it, or going through it. Just - pushing it away."
"If I have to, I will," Duncan insisted.
"You don't understand. What you don't resolve with them - with Mortals - remains. For decades, centuries, millennia. Forever. You don't get any help with it. No answers. There'll be no Quickening. You won't get their spirits, memories. No meaning. You get nothing when they die except a body to shovel earth on and a slab of marble. Whatever's left for you to deal with, do it now, Mac. With Dawson. With Anne. You don't have much time. You won't get another chance."
"Sounds like the voice of experience talking, Methos," MacLeod replied softly. "A lot of regrets? Hmm? Unresolved questions? Lost lovers? We talking about me? Or you?"
For a moment, Methos was silent. Then he shook his head. "Okay. I dunno. Maybe we're talking about me, my life. My dealings with Mortals. Maybe you're right."
"I won't leave you alone when Dawson goes, Methos. I told you. You won't need to deal with it alone."
"Maybe it's not you leaving me I'm worried about, Mac. Maybe it's me."
MacLeod said with a frown, "You would never leave me - not when we lose Dawson -"
"I don't know for sure what I'd do. I've always made it my business to be alone with my grief, no matter who else around me mourned -"
"You came to me when Alexa died. You didn't want to be alone."
"Alexa." Methos licked his lips, then closed them tightly. Finally he said, "Alexa was an aberration. That I came to you, after she died - I can't explain it. I don't know why. I've never done anything like that before. I don't know if I'll do it again. Especially because -"
"Yeah, because what?"
"Because when Joe goes, you'll be a mess. I don't know if I'll feel like picking up the pieces for somebody else."
"Somebody else? Is that what I am? Somebody else?"
"Mac, what else could you be? You're not me. You're somebody else -"
MacLeod interrupted. "You're not somebody else to me. You're part of me -"
"You've put your finger on the troublespot, Mac. I can't even stand the tremor of your leftover pain from your parting with Anne. How will I deal with something like Joe's death, or Anne's? What that'll do to you?" Methos shook his head. "Dawson said I should look after you - not let you shoulder all the burden. Not make you take care of me."
"If you have to look after me, you will," MacLeod replied with conviction.
"I don't think so. I don't think I can. I know I don't want to."
"You'd rather be alone? Knowing I'm alone too? I can't believe that. You'd not leave me alone."
"Wouldn't I? I've never been heavily into the hurt/comfort syndrome."
MacLeod didn't reply.
After a while, Methos stood saying, "Well, we'll know soon enough, Mac. Nobody lives forever. I'm gonna see how Joe's doing. And your Anne probably could use some dinner. She didn't seem too keen on those Devil Dogs."
After dinner, when MacLeod left the dining room to spend some time with Joe, Methos took a deep breath and said, "Look, Anne, I'm sorry. I don't know what got into me, talking to you like that. Forgive me."
"What happened, Methos? You and I were doing fine. We were getting along. Then suddenly, you changed. I don't understand."
"This afternoon - Duncan told me about you two," Anne said with a small frown creasing her brow. "That you're - together."
"Shocked you, did it?" Methos asked.
"For about ten seconds. Then, I was just a little embarrassed. No. A lot embarrassed."
"Tell me what happened earlier. Why you turned on me."
"I don't know if I can explain it." Methos sighed. He stood and grabbed a beer from the fridge. "I'll try."
"Yes, please. Try."
"Immortals - we sense each other's presence."
"I know about that."
"Well, sometimes it's more than presence. It's - feelings, emotions."
"So - you're saying that you and Duncan know each other's feelings? Pain?"
"Bright girl. Yes. Pain. Joy. The big ones. Not always, or with everyone. And some of us can't sense those things at all."
"But you, Methos - you can."
"Yes. I can. Mac was all right, when you arrived. Guarded. Then, he went into the kitchen. When he came back with the coffee and pastry -" Methos hesitated, took a breath, then went on. "For a moment, when he looked at you, there was a - spiking - in his aura. Like a scream. Pain. For you. For the loss."
"More than a memory. It was now. Here."
"You felt that?"
"Like a knife in my heart," Methos replied.
"That explains it," Anne said quietly.
"But it doesn't excuse it. My behavior. What I said to you. Forgive me. For you, it's water under the bridge."
"I had no idea it still hurt him. No idea," Anne murmured distractedly. Then she smiled. "For such an emotional man, he's quite skilled at hiding his feelings."
"But he can't hide from you, Methos, can he? I'm surprised Immortals spend any time together, when they feel so much pain. Each other's pain."
"Your kind spend their lives seeking intimacy. We have it thrust upon us. Six of one, half a dozen of the other." Methos grinned. "I know it's got its upside - this intimacy. I'm still waiting to find out what that might be."
"How long have you been waiting?" Anne asked.
"What'd you mean?"
"Before, you asked me how old I was - guessed my age. I'm asking you."
"Believe me, you don't want to know!"
"Because I can't deal with Duncan's age?"
"Something like that." When Anne didn't retract her question, Methos sighed. "How old do I look?"
"That's no answer."
"I'm - I'm five thousand years old."
Anne put her hand to her mouth. "Oh my!"
"I know. It's absurd. Tell me I don't look it!"
"My God! How?"
"How what? How've I survived so long? Adapted?"
"I guess. I don't even know what question to ask! I know I should ask you something, the wisdom -"
"Don't go there, Anne!" Methos said with a smile. "I'm not wise. I'm just old. Very very old. Joe could tell you more about life than I could. Teach you more about how to be - human. Believe me."
"How he must love you!" Anne said.
"I suppose. He's pretty generous with his love."
Anne stared. "And you? Do you love him?"
Methos didn't answer for a long time. Finally, he said, "I think so. Maybe. It's not easy to love him."
"No, it isn't. He gives everything."
"A person feels - obligated - to give everything in return. I don't do that very well. Never have."
Anne smiled. "You blamed me for pulling back, leaving him. Maybe you see something of yourself in me. You don't want to make the commitment, because it hurts too much. It's dangerous. It's frightening. You might lose yourself -"
"You know, Anne, I think I do have a bit of wisdom to share, now you mention it," Methos said slowly.
"You can't make the choice once and for all. That's not how it works. You keep making it and making it and making it, until the day you die, or -"
"Or he does." Anne nodded. "That's right. And now, you're making it again. That's the problem, isn't it, Methos?"
"That's the problem, yes."
"Does Duncan know?"
"He knows something's on my mind. But he doesn't understand. If he'd any idea I was making choices, he'd die of fright. He's not too impressed with my past choices. Doesn't have a helluva lot of confidence in me."
"I hope you do better than I did, Methos. Part of me has regretted my choice pretty much all my life."
"Is that so?" Methos asked with a smile. "I'm glad to hear it. A wrong choice should always yield regret. And pain. Have you suffered for it?"
"Even better." Methos stood and went to Anne, lifting her up and holding her close. He whispered, "Don't die, Anne Lindsey. Stick around a while. Help me make my choice."
Anne smoothed his cheek saying, "I won't let Duncan read my stories and poems but if you like, you can read them."
"I'd like. Very much."
"I don't know if I've got anything new to teach a five thousand year old man, but you're welcome to know who I am."
"But Duncan's not welcome to know who you are?"
"Maybe when he's older...." Anne replied.
Methos jiggled MacLeod's foot. "Wake up, sleepy head. Time for breakfast!"
Mac turned over and opened his eyes, staring at the older Immortal. "What? What time is it?"
"Morning. Seven o'clock. Time for all good Immortals to eat breakfast. This is second shift - the Mortals have already eaten. Anne bundled Joe into his wheelchair and took him for a walk in the park. Said she'd shop for groceries on her way back. They'll be gone a couple hours, I think."
"What are you doing up?" Duncan asked, getting out of bed and throwing on sweats and a shirt.
"At the moment, I'm waiting for you to come with me to the kitchen and join me for breakfast. Then, I plan to work out with you in the gym in the basement. Then, I expect we'll go for a run in Central Park. Then -"
"Enough! What's going on, Methos? Where's all this energy coming from? You in love?" MacLeod joked, going into the bathroom.
Methos laughed. "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies! Come to the kitchen. It's a simple repast - orange juice, oatmeal with honey, coffee. Even I couldn't spoil it."
Duncan came into the kitchen and stared at the meal before him, and the dishes piled high in the drainboard. "You washed the dishes?" he asked, his voice rising in astonishment.
"Just - no reason. No reason." MacLeod shook his head and started in on the oatmeal.
Methos watched him eat. "Is it all right?" he asked anxiously.
"Like you said, even you can't spoil oatmeal." Duncan laughed. "It's fine. Sit down. Talk to me."
"No time. I've got about sixteen vidcalls to make."
"Who you calling?"
"The office. The branch offices. I've got a lot of work to do. Fortunately, most of it can be done from here by computer and vid." Methos smiled. "You're the boss - you can take time off whenever you like. I'm just a lowly peon who pushes a pencil. Sick friend or no, I've still got work to do."
"You planning on covering my workload too?" Duncan asked.
"Absolutely. Nothing you do I can't do, except lead."
"Oh, you can lead, when you want to, Methos."
"If you say so." The older Immortal smiled warmly. "So, wait for me in the gym. I've got dishes to do, calls to make."
"In the gym. But first you're gonna do more dishes. Right."
"Right. Now, scoot."
"MacLeod, we've gotta keep in shape. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Gotta be ready."
"What?" Methos replied with an exaggerated sigh.
"Why are you doing this?"
"I told you -"
"No, really. Cooking, washing dishes, workout, runs in the park. Why?"
"It's the new me."
"I liked the old you."
"You'll love the new me, I promise. Go."
MacLeod didn't budge. Finally, Methos said, "I'm practicing."
"Yeah. Practicing taking advice from Mortals."
"Like, what advice? From who?"
"From Joe and Anne. It's a conspiracy, Mac. Everyone seems to think I don't take good care of you."
"You take fine care of me, Methos. I don't want you to change. I like you just the way you are. I like us the way we are. That's why we're together. Because we like each other the way we are. For no earthly reason."
"Mac, I want us to be better. I want you to be able to lean on me. Take a vacation from holding up the world. From keeping me in good humor."
"You sound like a McDonald's commercial. I don't want a vacation. I like my work." MacLeod grinned. "I love my work."
Methos acknowledged the double entendre with a sigh. "You are such a pain in the ass. A man can't coddle you for a minute."
"When I need coddling, I'll ask for it. You'll be the first to know."
"What do you need, then, MacLeod? Doesn't seem to be anything I can do for you."
Duncan shook his head. "I really wish I had this on tape. Then nobody would doubt me when I tell them you're an idiot. I love you, Methos. You exist. You - are. There's nothing you've gotta do. Just - be. Preferably, forever."
Methos chuckled. "That's what Joe said. That I'm 'being' and you're 'doing.' He seemed to think I should reverse the roles, now and again."
"Who you gonna listen to, some old man who doesn't know anything about us? Or the kid who's been in love with you all his life?"
"All your life? Mac - please -"
"All my life," Mac repeated. "A hope. A yearning. An impossible dream come true. I think that rates me cooking a dinner or two. Methos, it's not you I'm coddling. Or cooking for. I'm not doing what I do for you. I've been making thanksgiving dinner every day of my life for whoever's out there. For every blessing whoever's out there has given me. You just happen to be the best of the blessings. I make thanksgiving dinner because I'm blessed with you. I'm coddling the universe, because I'm grateful for you."
"Don't say anything. Make your vidcalls, then we'll go for a run, just like you planned. If it's what you want, we'll run -"
"A run? A run? Are you out of your mind? The house is empty and you want to go for a run? I think I can come up with a better way to coddle you than taking you for a run, Duncan MacLeod! I may be lazy but I'm not a fool!"
"Well, you two seem to be in a good mood tonight," Dawson told his friends when the two Immortals and Anne Lindsey had finished eating dinner with him in his room.
"Yes, they do seem happy," Anne remarked, smiling. "The meal was delicious, Methos. You're quite a chef."
"I don't often get the chance to cook - Mac gets such a kick out of it. But I've been around, learned a few recipes. Glad you liked it."
"Yeah, that was quite a meal, Methos. I never tasted duck that wasn't greasy before," Joe said.
"My duck isn't greasy," Duncan protested.
"I've never eaten duck you cooked, Mac. Now, I don't want to. Methos is my duckman, from here on out!" the Watcher exclaimed with a grin.
Methos smiled. "You're on my invitation list, whenever I cook, Joe. That's a promise."
"Yeah, whenever he cooks. It's as good as a diet, what he's promised you. Don't expect too many invites, Dawson."
"That's not fair, MacLeod."
"Life's not fair, Methos," Duncan replied. "Why don't you tell our friends what we're celebrating."
"What'd you mean?" Methos asked, all innocence.
"Want me to tell them?"
"What are we celebrating, Methos?" Joe asked. "Inquiring minds wanna know."
The older Immortal said, "Your recovery. Anne's visit. Good things. That's what you meant, isn't it, Mac?"
"And that we're not glooming around, discussing death, for a change," MacLeod replied. "Let me get some champagne and we'll drink to life."
"I'll get it, Mac," Methos said, leaving Joe's room and going into the living room. He took out a bottle of champagne from the bar refrigerator. MacLeod followed him out and picked up the glasses.
"Hmm? What?" Methos replied, fussing with the cork. "Damn thing's stuck. Think you could get this, Mac?"
MacLeod put down the glasses, took the bottle and opened it. Then he turned to Methos. "You think I don't understand but I do."
"Understand what, Mac?"
"Understand what's been going on with you."
"Really, I'm not as complicated as I look. But I'll bite. What's been going on with me?" Methos asked.
MacLeod replied, "You've decided not to leave, when they die. And you've decided to dig me out, when I sink into a spot that's only big enough for one, when I mourn. To do whatever it takes to do that."
Methos shrugged. "It's not as if I really have a choice. Or make decisions. Or think about things, MacLeod."
"You have a choice, Methos. We all do."
"I have a life. Not a choice. You're it. My life. Nothing very complicated."
"That's a comfort. Never much cared for your choices."
Methos grinned. "That's what I told Anne. That you don't approve of my choices."
"What else did you tell her?"
"She guessed I was making a choice, and I agreed I was."
"But you weren't?"
Seriously, Methos replied, "I thought I was. I really did. Because even the breath of the possibility of Joe dying frightens the hell out of me. The fact of their Mortality scares me out of my wits, makes me re-examine everything. Makes me wonder why I'm here, why I've survived this long. Makes me think I've got a choice, decisions to make." The old Immortal shook his head, shuddered. "Their Mortality - disorients me."
"Always before, I couldn't find an answer. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to any of it, Mac. Them dying. Me living."
"But you kept choosing life, didn't you?"
The old Immortal nodded. "Yeah, always. Until I met you."
"So, what happened then?"
"I offered you my head."
Duncan exclaimed, "You chose death?"
"Oh no. I found a reason to live, someone worth living for. Or dying for. And I no longer had choices or questions or anything to wonder about."
"Never. Like I said, I'm not as complicated as I look. You keep on 'doing' and I'll keep on 'being,' Mac. Very simple. Choices aren't all they're cracked up to be."
"Easy does it, Methos. One step at a time. You should be very sure before you sign away your future."
Methos frowned. "I signed away my future a long time ago, MacLeod. And my past. I've got now. That's all. I'm trying to give that away, too, all the time. To you. Any chance you'll just take the damn gift? Or will you persist in saying, 'oh, you shouldn't have?'"
"I dunno. Maybe you shouldn't have," Duncan replied with a smile. "But I'll take the damn gift anyway."