by arachne

DISCLAIMERS: You know the drill. No ownership claimed, no money made.


NOTES: This story was originally written as part of a lyric wheel challenge. Dana duly landed me with the task of writing a story inspired by - and including at least one line from - The Burning Babe by Robert Southwell. Plat du Jour is the result. The story owes a lot to those cheesey bonding moments Highlander is so fond of at the end of episodes and to the fact that I was reading The Go-Between at the time of writing.

Briony, SuperCat, Maz and whitecrow performed beta wonders. All errors left are spidery ones.

The Burning Babe is written in full at the end. I urge you all to read it, if only because it will make you feel a million times better about any teenage poems stuffed in the back of drawers.

FEEDBACK: Love some. Send, send, send...


Neither Amanda nor Methos mentioned rats when it came to the ‘R’ words, but Richie was definitely beginning to smell one. No, make that two, three or even a whole damned colony of the genus rattus. He was only glad they were playing word games and not poker.

 The three Immortals had been whiling away a sultry August evening in Seacouver, drinking beer and idly conversing. They were waiting for Duncan to return from an auction, along with what the Highlander had promised to be the best Chinese take-out outside of Beijing. An ordinary enough evening, unusual only in that it had been a long time since Richie had spent any time in the company of these two. Actually it’d had been a long time since he had been home at all.

But here he was. Home. Not his own, but Mac’s loft was as much home as he’d ever known.

Lulled by heat and alcohol and inspired by thoughts of dinner, Richie had described his first encounter with fruit de mer in a Parisian restaurant. Instead of the hoped for fruit salad, he’d been confronted with a plate of seafood. It was a sharing impulse he almost immediately regretted as his companions fell about with laughter. “Hey, cut it out,” he protested as they continued to snigger long after he considered the joke over. It wasn’t like it was *that* funny.

“You mean they don’t serve fruit de mer at the local Denny’s?” smirked Methos.

“Richie, dear, you really need to expand your culinary repertoire,” advised Amanda solicitously, slurring her words between drink and laughter.

And then, somehow, they had started playing a game of each naming a food they had eaten that was not likely to feature on the menu at Denny’s. A to Z and back to A again. Richie was seriously impressed and feeling *way* out of his depth. It seemed there was little in the way of animal, vegetable or mineral that Methos or Amanda had not ingested at some time.

They were on to S now and Methos and Amanda were waiting for his contribution. Salad, sandwiches, sausages...all too boring. Richie sorted and discarded items in his mind and wished Mac would return home. Salami, saur...OK. Yeah, that would do. “Sauerkraut!” he exclaimed triumphantly.

“Salamander,” contributed Amanda immediately, and licked her lips suggestively.

“Sea anemones.” Methos grinned and gestured with a flick of the hand to indicate that it was Richie’s turn again.




“Ew. Insects.” Amanda pursed her lips in a moue of distaste before asking curiously, “How?”


That was too much for Richie. He put two fingers in his open mouth and made a retching gesture. “God. You guys are sick, seriously, warped, d’you know that? Ticks, ick!”

“The youth of today,” sighed Methos in a tone calculated to make the only youth present want to hit him. Amanda leaned across and did so, sparing Richie the trouble, but then she straightened up in her chair and said seriously, “You know, Richie, you’ve been poor. Try being starving. You’ll eat anything when you’re hungry enough.”

“Yup. Like the lady said, starvation’s a great mo-” began Methos, then broke off as a wash of presence flooded through the room. All three turned and stared as the lift from the dojo opened and MacLeod swept into the loft.

“What’s a great motivator for what?” asked Mac, carefully putting down a small mountain of paper-covered parcels which he started to unwrap. Dinner for four.

“Starvation for eating ticks.” Methos reached for a spring roll and bit into it with relish.

“Ticks?” echoed Mac, sounding bemused. He lifted Methos’ beer from its perch on the arm of his chair and took a swig, at the same time lifting an eyebrow in an obvious request for enlightenment. Methos was still chewing but before Richie could speak, Amanda stepped in obligingly. “You guys are the limit,” Mac commented when she was done. “Any food item you have eaten that would not appear on the menu at Denny’s? I’m surprised it took so long to revolt you, Richie.”

“We were very careful not to mention Haggis,” explained Amanda. She and Methos dissolved into snickers again while Mac tried hard to look affronted.

“Hey,” stuttered Richie indignantly, stung by the slur on his worldliness. “We were on the second run through the alphabet.”

But for some reason, this not only made the other two laugh even louder but caused MacLeod to join in too. Blushing and feeling even younger than usual, Richie struggled to assert control and regain some sort of dignity. “So, old timer,” he said casually. “‘Fess up, when exactly did you first eat ticks?”

 Methos paused in contemplation of a stack of prawn crackers and fixed him with a less than friendly look, the bonhomie of just moments earlier totally gone. Richie sighed. So much for good intentions. His relationship with the oldest Immortal, always edgy, had skated an even finer line since the advent of the false Methos. Fake, but so much more appealing. Richie appreciated that he’d fallen for a line but, hell, there was only so much humble pie a guy could eat. Mac, when approached, had refused to intervene. “It’s something you’re going to have to sort out between you,” was all he said, without offering any guidance as to when and how. Left to himself Richie might have followed his first inclination to ignore the (real-old) problem completely and hope that it went away but he sensed that MacLeod wouldn’t allow that either. That Highland sense of clan loyalty could be a royal pain in the ass at times.

Caught by the sudden tension, Amanda and MacLeod sobered and silence spun out into the room. All it needed, thought Richie ruefully, was a few chords from a spaghetti western and the stage would really be set for a showdown.

Spaghetti western indeed. Just as he was wondering if Methos was going to suggest a little swordplay there was Mac riding to the rescue, diffusing the atmosphere with a few well-chosen words.

“Go on Methos,” prompted MacLeod. “Are you going tell us or just leave us feeling all ticked off?”

Methos glanced from Richie to MacLeod. Amusement visibly battled with indignation on his face. It won. Methos struggled and failed to hide a grin and instead settled on throwing a cushion at the Highlander.

“Ow!” Mac cowered in mock hurt, reaching for Amanda to use her as a shield and having to settle for the cushion as she nimbly dodged away.

“Stop over-acting,” rebuked Methos. “And don’t think for one minute I don’t know how you’re trying to manipulate me.”

MacLeod’s reply was soft and seemingly without sense. “Takes one to know one.”

Methos started, flushed, looked away and then back at MacLeod, a flash of hurt clearly visible before his face went impassive. “Not even close, Mac.”

Richie shifted about on the big sofa in discomfort. He’d obviously drunk more than he’d thought, which might account for the feeling that an entirely different conversation was going between these two. He looked at Amanda for enlightenment but she just shrugged and shook her head, before cutting in brightly with the ease of a natural socialite. “Food’s getting cold. Duncan, hand out a few of those packages. Richie, you get some plates and stuff. Methos, you stay here and have another sip of beer and when you’ve done that you can enlighten us about your encounter with the ticks and in return I’ll tell you all about the time I was hand-fed strips of salamander at a brothel in Trebizond.”

“A brothel? Hmmm.” Methos tsked once or twice while he considered the offer, before holding up his hands in the universal signal of acceptance. He took a preparatory chug of his beer and began to speak. “As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow -- Hey!” MacLeod threw an empty beer bottle at Methos’ head, then added the cushion the Oldest Immortal had used against him earlier for good measure. “Ow! Stop that. OK. It was Christmas Day, sometime in the 12th century I think, snow, wind, you name it, and I was cold as a brass monkey and starving.”

“Blah, blah, blah. Do you ever wonder why your nose is so big?” interrupted MacLeod rudely. “And no doubt the next thing you’re going to tell us is that the ghosts of Christmas came a-visiting and showed you the error of your ways.”

Amanda grinned. Richie simply stared, it had sounded like the start of a good story to him.

“All right, fine. Are you telling this story or am I?” Methos asked moodily. “You want the truth? Amanda told the truth earlier. I was starving. Ticks, lice, roaches, they were a bloody gourmet diet. We fought over them, we would have killed for them if we’d had the energy. Does that satisfy you, Richie? And you, MacLeod? How many times do you have to hear that the times were different then. I did whatever I could to survive. I’m sorry I’m not the fount of all human bloody-knowledge. No doubt you’d all like it if I sat meditating in a cave somewhere, dispensing droplets of wisdom to my devoted followers. I’m not that, and I won’t be that. Take it or leave it.”

At which point Methos made the choice for them, unfurling his limbs with swift economy of movement and stalking off, not waiting for the lift but heading instead towards the rarely-used stairs.

“Damn.” said MacLeod.

“Methos-” called Amanda.

“Mac?” questioned Richie.

The door slammed as they all looked at each other uncomfortably.

“Well,” said Amanda brightly, “I guess that lets me out of the salamander story.”

* *

Methos got over his snit. That is, he appeared the next day at Joe’s bar while Richie was there and was his usual snide and sarcastic self. Still Richie continued to feel guilty. Surface appearances, he was slowly learning, were just that. Who’d have thought the old-guy would still be sulking about his double after all this time?

Guilt was a relatively new emotion for him. Perhaps it was something to do with being an Immortal, or maybe just Duncan’s over-active conscience was rubbing off on him. Whatever, Richie found it impossible to put aside his misgivings in the way he once might have. He put his worries to Joe as the Watcher polished the wooden bar top prior to closing up for the night.

“Guilt?” mused Joe. “You gotta watch that, Richie. It’s all very well in moderation but Mac takes it to extremes.”

Richie gave a short rueful laugh in acknowledgment. Way too extreme, and it had got worse in the years since Tessa died and there was no one to seduce him out of his moods. He said as much to Joe, adding lightly, “Pity he can take a leaf out of the Methos book of no responsibilities, no regrets.”

Joe’s look could only be described as old-fashioned.

Richie reached across for the polishing cloth and started on a section of wood that was too far for the older man to reach without coming out from behind the bar. “What? You think Methos does regret? No way. The old guy’s got selfishness down to a fine art. Hasn’t he?”

“You’ve just said so.”

“But you haven’t agreed.”

“If you’re so sure you don’t need my agreement.”

Richie put down the cloth and sighed. “I am and then I’m not. After that whole fake Methos business I wanted to say something but there was never a right time and, well, you know how he is. I was so screwed over Mac, you know, working out where I stood with him, that Methos seemed kind of... irrelevant.”

“Sure. “Joe nodded.

“But you don’t think he’s selfish?”

Joe gave a shrug and met his gaze squarely, “What you see isn’t always what you get.”

Guilt once invoked stubbornly refused to give up and leave Richie alone. Not even a further meeting with Methos, at which the other Immortal was at his infuriating and sarcastic worst, was enough to banish the idea that in some way he owed the cranky old SOB some kind of apology. Words were impossible. Even if he imagined he could come up with something suitable - which he did not - he couldn’t see Methos hanging around for the speeches. Actions. It would have to be actions.

Something, big, dramatic, witty and tasteful.

Well, tasty at any rate.

“Christmas dinner?” questioned MacLeod, his face and voice suggesting that Richie might well have flipped. “You want to cook Methos a traditional turkey dinner in August?”

Richie signaled agreement. “Turkey and all the trimmings.”


Richie snickered. “To make up for the time he had to eat ticks.”

Mac couldn’t help grinning back, even as he remonstrated, “But that was nothing to do with you, Richie, you know that.”

“Yeah. But--” And here Richie hesitated, not quite sure how to go on, “But he did have to eat ticks, lice and probably all kinds of shit in his life. Being old doesn’t mean you know everything, just that you’ve lived longer. I, oh- you know, I wanted the real Methos to be perfect and blamed him when he wasn’t, when I should have been questioning my own expectations.”

Mac said nothing, his expression a study conflicting emotions. At last, just as Richie was concluding that Mac was working out how to tell him tactfully that his idea was completely dumb, the Highlander reached out and squeezed his student’s shoulder. “Yeah, Richie, what you said just about covers it. Cook him the dinner, I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”

Still Richie hesitated. “You don’t think he’ll laugh?”

“Oh, he’ll piss himself laughing, but I think he’ll appreciate it.”

* *

Laugh was an understatement. Methos howled, hollered, hiccuped and finally collapsed with mirth. Then he got up and offered to bring the wine.

In the end there were five of them, Richie, Methos, Duncan, Joe and Amanda all gathered in MacLeod’s loft wearing party hats and singing Auld Lang Syne. The smells of turkey and roasting vegetables drifted through the room and out of the high windows to linger in the still summer air as they drank wine, pulled paper crackers and indulged in a great deal of playful kissing and cuddling under a sprig of plastic mistletoe which Amanda swore she just happened to find lying around.

Everything but the turkey was perfect. The turkey would have been perfect too, if only it had been cooked.

“How big was that bird?” asked Duncan casually as afternoon rolled into evening and the vegetables sagged limply while the roast potatoes graduated from golden to crispy to burnt.

“Um, fifteen pounds but it’s been in three hours now.” answered Richie optimistically. “It should be done soon.”

“Soon, like tomorrow.” said Joe when it became apparent that no one else was going to offer an opinion.

“Tomorrow then.” Methos picked up a champagne bottle and offered it round, filling up their glasses before holding his own up for a toast. “Here’s to good intentions.”

  Methos turned his gaze around the room, tracking each of them briefly before resting an MacLeod. MacLeod stared back, equally intent, as if, thought, Richie, they were the only two in the room. Methos sounded sad, almost resigned, as he spoke, the words sounding almost as an epitaph. “Road to hell, huh, Mac?”

 “Not always” said Duncan, almost fiercely.

“You think not?” Methos’ face and voice both lacked conviction. Wheels within wheels and once again Richie found himself struggling to keep track of the conversation, although a quick glance to his side showed that both Joe and Amanda were following it intently.

MacLeod reached out briefly to touch their wine glasses, then gave a queer half-smile before raising his glass to the room in general. “Good Intentions.”

They drank. Methos put his glass down and stood up. “Only one thing for it then.”

Mac met his eyes. “Denny’s?”

“Bright boy. Denny’s it is.”

Dinner was a bust. His companions were talking riddles. Richie was confused. Was this a good thing or a prelude to disaster? Amanda crooked her arm companionably though his elbow and steered him towards the door. Joe was smiling. Behind him Mac and Methos were talking quietly. Richie decided not to worry as they emerged into the soft dark of the summer night.








Robert Southwell

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,

Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;

And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,

A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear;

Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed,

As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.

“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born in fiery heats I fry,

Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I.

My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns;

Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;

The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals;

The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls;

For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,

So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”

With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,

And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas Day.