TANT QUE JE VIVE
DEDICATION: For arachne. Because without her I’d never have written this story.
DISCLAIMER: Mostly not my characters. Unfortunately.
Warning: This story involves sex between two men. If you don’t like the idea, I suggest that you bail out now. Rated NC17 for m/m sex and violence (although I don’t think that the violence necessarily deserves a NC17 rating but hopefully the sex does ... ).
Feedback: Please ... All comments are welcome. You can write to Mandragora at email@example.com
Notes: Explanatory historical references and translations are at the end.
This is my first HL story. I’ve been a fan of the series since the beginning and adored the Old Man from the first time I saw him. However, by the time I discovered fanfic I was too angry with Duncan for a long time regarding an incident that happened at the end of season 5 to be able to write anything that would do justice to the character. However, I’ve decided that that aberration is the fault of TPTB, not Duncan and have been able to warm to him again and this is the result.
The story started off as a little PWP to make arachne happy but it grew and grew.
Oh yeah, although in the interests of the story I write that Richie is dead, this is of course not true. He’s alive and well and happily ensconced in the loving embrace of Clan Denial.
Many thanks to everyone who provided any input on this saga, especially arachne, Smara and T’lyr for ‘doing the grammar thing’, together with all the flame-throwing betas of SaB.
Methos was hot. He pulled irritably at his shirt collar, attempting to fan colder air onto his sweat-streaked skin. One just did not expect it to be twenty-three degrees centigrade in mid March. Not in *London*.
He had been visiting a financier called Denbigh at his offices located in Swithin’s Lane in the heart of that part of London known as the Square Mile, or the City. Denbigh had been looking after some of Methos’ many investments for about eight years and Methos had been pleased to learn that most were performing well. He had declined the man’s offer of lunch, but consented to a quick beer in one of the numerous drinking holes located in the financial centre. As the day was unexpectedly pleasant for the time of year he had foregone a trip on the crowded, stuffy Underground and decided to walk back to his city centre flat a couple of miles away, in Covent Garden. However he had not anticipated it being quite so warm and the effect of woollen suit, shirt, tie and overcoat was taking its toll.
He walked slowly along Upper Thames Street, a road that shadowed the banks of the river along the south side of the City. He breathed shallowly to avoid inhaling more than necessary of the traffic fumes exuded by the four lanes of traffic backed up to and from the Blackfriars Tunnel. The cars' polluting effects could be seen in the haze at the edge of sight, misting slightly the otherwise clear blue sky. He had been contemplating hailing a taxi but seeing the traffic decided against it. It would be quicker to walk--or get the tube.
His already casual pace slowed as he passed the site of the old Roman baths. He had visited them a few times back in the second century AD, when the unimportant Roman province that was Britannia seemed like a good place to live for a few years to an Immortal who was trying his best to embrace obscurity. Nowadays a new, modern building belonging to the Royal Bank of Scotland stood on the site. But give credit where it was due. When the remains of the baths had been discovered lurking under the foundations of the eighteenth century building that had formerly occupied the site, the new building works had been halted. The baths had then been gently removed to some museum--he didn't know which one. After all London was full of museums including one of his favourites, the great British Museum, forerunner of all modern museums. One of his best pottery works was exhibited there, credited to the early Etruscan period.
Of course, his attempts at pottery had been undertaken when he had fancied himself as having some talent as a potter, before he had met Sylphenia. Compared to her he was the merest dabbler. Yet some of his works survived, he’d seen them in various museums scattered around the globe whilst the exquisite talent that was Sylphenia had disappeared without trace. Except for that wonderful piece of blue and white marbled artistry now known as the Portland Vase. It too was an exhibit in the British Museum.
Such were the ironies of life. All that effort and emotion she had poured into her work survived only as a museum piece. However, some people seemed to understand what the artist had been trying to convey proving, perhaps, that something endured even from mortals whose lives were transitory at best.
He shook his head impatiently. It was so difficult sometimes to avoid the flood of memory overtaking him, particularly in the older cities of the world. That was one reason why he enjoyed being in the American continent on occasion, both North and South. There the old cities situated in the Southern American continent were overgrown ruins and the new in the North were no more than a few hundred years old. Whereas here, in a living city that had existed for more than two thousand years, it was difficult to avoid the memories, not when every street corner seemed to summon up a different recollection.
Yet how could he avoid it? The world was old, even those parts of it most recently colonised by mankind in their present-day numbers. His intent of living in the here and now was easier to avow than achieve. Although it was the only way he knew to survive, he was wholly unable to prevent the chance awakening of an ancient memory, not when literally almost anything could start the flow. The turn of a woman’s ankle, the sun gleaming on a fall of hair, even the smell of honey. Anything.
Over the years he had learned to discipline himself, prevent the tides of recall from overwhelming him. It was the best way he knew to stay sane. Even if he didn’t quite know who he was anymore. Perhaps he’d never known.
He cut through a narrow alley, walking past a small garden as he did so and crossed over the wide boulevard that was Queen Victoria Street, to arrive on Cannon Street. St Paul's Cathedral loomed above him, its distinctive great-domed profile illuminating the City skyline. On an impulse he walked down the road known as St Paul’s Churchyard. He passed buildings of various styles. Some dated from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in accordance with the Square Mile's history as a financial centre. Others were more modern; their sleek windows reflected blankly the cloudless sky. The Cathedral's graceful form was to the right side of him as he sauntered past the information booth and crossed the road to join the tourists milling around on the steps framing the entrance to Christopher Wren's masterpiece.
Inside it was cool and there was that familiar intangible sense of being on holy ground. It was stronger at some places than others--here he doubted even the dullest, most insensitive mortal could fail to feel it. But then, that was common to all the world's great buildings of worship. Unbidden, there was a sudden rush of memory, as his mind scrolled through a series of dizzying images of some of the great holy places he had known and visited in the past, each one caught in his mind with perfect, crystal clarity.
The squat majesty of the Hagia Sophia, oldest of the great Christian cathedrals, red coloured dome contrasting with the more delicate lines of the glorious Blue Mosque situated opposite in the Sultanahmet, oldest quarter of that ancient city known as Byzantium... Constantinople... Istanbul. In a fleeting aside there was irritation that mortals persisted in constantly renaming their cities, towns and villages. No sooner had he become used to a name than it changed.
Then another mosque, that of the Cordoban Mezquita. Echoing in his skull was a familiar liquid sound; “Hayya ‘alas Saláh, Hayya ‘alas Saláh. Hayya ‘alal Faláh, Hayya ‘alal Faláh. Alláhu akbar, Alláhu akbar. La iláha Illalláh. Assalátu khayrum minan naum. Assalátu khayrum minan naum.” Although the last was of doubtful veracity, he thought wryly, having always preferred sleep to prayer, even when the dawn adhán had been less loud and had been called from the top of the minarets unadorned by the loud-speakers used nowadays. Coupled with the sound of the Mu’adhdhin’s voice was an image of the Mezquita’s interior; an endless procession of brown and white striped arches that meandered gracefully until broken by the Christian Cathedral nestling in jarring juxtaposition in the very centre of the mosque. He had been outraged when he had first seen it, that blot in the heart of a masterwork of architecture. Its existence was a fitting monument to the arrogance of the medieval Christians.
That thought sent his mind uncompromisingly in a direction he did not want to go, to Notre Dame, great lady that she was. Because near to Notre Dame was-- His thoughts shied away quickly. He did not want to think about who lived in close proximity to Notre Dame, boat moored close by along the banks of the Seine.
Whom he had left, while he still could. He struggled to turn his mind away but, inexorable as time, the memory rose unbidden. Of MacLeod’s face, stark, the bones delineated beneath the skin after Methos had-- No.
With Sisyphian effort he forced his mind to resume its journey, soaring to the towers of Gaudi's sublime Sagrada Familia, youngest of the great places of worship. Even unfinished, the towering edifice never failed to move him, for the beauty of the fretwork and the complexity of the design. Even he, for all his vast experience, could not help but admire the genius of its architect who had, alas, died too soon. As beautiful in its way was the Parthenon, the cool white marble of today contrasting with the vibrant colours that had adorned its exterior back when it was fresh and new, when he had first admired its finished splendour. Then it had represented the height of Greek achievement. In some ways it still did.
He recalled the immense complex of temples at Thebes--present day Luxor. The Karnak temples, intricate in design, satisfying in execution, their symmetry gorgeous to behold. He had been there when some of them had been constructed, pored over plans, discussed their details with his shaven headed friend Hapuseneb, the supervisor of the building works and the High Priest of Amen. The smell of the oils and incense that had habitually clung to Hapuseneb once more filled his nostrils, as the olfactory memory rose sharp within him. He was once again standing in the lung-searing dry heat--so different from the moist feel of the more temperate climate of the British Isles--dwarfed by the edifices around him, waiting for the ceremony to start so that he could escape inside into the blessed coolness of the temple.
He had been similarly dwarfed by the towering statues at the great temples of Abu Simbel, aeons before they were moved by the present day occupants of Egypt from what was now Lake Nasser to near Aswan, in order to preserve the past whilst accommodating the present. The Egyptians had always been an eminently practical people.
Hinduism too was one of the practical religions, giving rise to a memory of the great temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, its three central, honeycombed towers of the temple twisted up to the sky, towering over the flattened ground. His mind slid to a picture of the huge white mound of the Buddhist stupa at Bouddhanath, where painted eyes peered out from under gaily painted giant hats and to a memory of meeting that strangely happy, yet serene man after whom Buddhism was named. Buddha had so liked to giggle.
Further back in time he went, to the sight of the sun rising at Stonehenge, beautiful enough to take one’s breath away, as the precisely aligned monoliths ushered the sun into the centre of the temple, into a complex interweaving of light and shadow. Rough against his skin was the flax out of which the tunic he had worn had been fashioned, dyed with precious pigments into the colour of brightest vermilion. Back even earlier, to the dazzling image of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, the sun reflecting off the seemingly endless series of mirrors that covered the outside of the temple in effulgent splendour, dazzling the eyes so that they were no longer able to behold its splendour...
Aware that he was about to become completely lost in reverie, he forced his eyes to focus on the far side of the great dome of St Paul’s. Back to the present. He realised with a tinge of embarrassed amusement that a couple of small, flaxen-haired children were examining him with grave curiosity. They were no doubt wondering what the funny man was doing gazing at nothing with an expression that could probably only be described as vacant plastered across his face. He arched an eyebrow at them and with insouciance he was far from feeling walked towards the altar, examining it with ostensibly grave intent. From there he squinted up at the ceiling of the great dome, eyes following the viewing gallery ringing it near the top, presently occupied by tourists.
On the whole he rather approved of St Paul's. It was the best example of its type, more graceful than the Hagia Sophia, less gaudy than St Peter's in Rome. Here the cool lines of the stone were undisturbed, unlike the Catholic Church's habit of limning everything in gold, supremely demonstrated in the cathedral at the heart of the Vatican City. Although if he was honest--and sometimes even he was--he had gone through a gaudy period himself, where the glitter of gold had fascinated him. Of course, he thought with more than a hint of complacency, that had been several thousand years ago.
He moved towards the narrow entrance where the stairs to the viewing gallery were located, grimacing inwardly as he spied the verger waiting to take all visitors’ money before any of them would be permitted to climb the narrow stairs. The followers of the god of the Christians had long been known for their avarice, he thought sardonically, somewhat contrary to Christ's original teachings. A predictable path perhaps; certainly he could admit to no surprise at seeing how the centuries had perverted the ideals laid down by the religion's founders.
He had seen the same happen to other, older religions and the Christian cause had not been helped by some rather bad translations, back in the second and third centuries anno domini, of the original Greek the Gospels had been written in. He could have pointed this out of course when the Roman Christian church had been going through its worst excesses, in what was now known as the Middle Ages. But having no desire to be tortured and burnt as a heretic--which was at best immensely inconvenient not to mention painful--he had kept his mouth shut.
He handed over the entrance fee to the verger, supposing that he could be thankful that they weren't--yet--charging admission merely for walking in the cathedral. On an impulse he ran up the first few steps, until he caught up with a group of German tourists hauling themselves up ahead. He listened to their conversation without much interest. They were discussing where next to visit after St Paul's. The older woman, sturdy with hausfraulich respectability and obviously the mother of the three teenage children, suggested a trip to Harrods. Typical tourist fare, he thought rather scornfully, with the smug assurance of the long-term London resident. Really, Harrods. He wouldn't be caught headless in the place. He did *his* shopping in Selfridges.
He waited patiently until, at last, the German family reached the top. Moving away from them, he leaned over the balustrade to gaze down at the marbled interior below. He stiffened as the unmistakable feel of a fellow Immortal impinged upon his senses, the presence thrumming through him, a low drum beat travelling up his spine to the base of his skull, raising all the hairs on the nape of his neck. He leant over the side intently, eyes searching.
Below, dwarfed by the majestic interior of the cathedral, was a woman. He moved swiftly round the viewing gallery to the far side of the dome, aware that she in her turn would be searching for him.
He walked slowly down the stairs to the ground, caught behind another party of tourists, Japanese this time. Their conversation was no less banal than that of the Germans, although the father affected knowledge of Western culture that he didn’t really possess. Methos was amused at the man’s assurance and for a second was tempted to disabuse him of his fallacious belief. But he did not really want to get caught up in an explanation as to the true history of Christian church architectural design and thus resisted the impulse.
He followed them down, tempted to elbow his way past them. Before he could do so the mother obviously spied him behind them and pushed the family out of the way. He walked around them as they huddled to one side of the stairwell.
The father spoke. His intention, delivered as it was to a gaijin, plainly sarcastic; “Domo arigato goziemas.”
Four bewildered people stared after him, wondering how an obvious gaijin came to speak fluent Japanese and with such an aristocratic intonation.
Once on the floor of the cathedral Methos paused, eyes searching for the Immortal. Having spotted his quarry he sauntered across to her, hands thrust casually into the pockets of his overcoat. He saw her back stiffen, probably as a result of the strengthening of his Immortal signature, as he came towards her. She turned round, glossy brown hair swinging, to look him straight in the eyes. Recognition was swift. A myriad of expressions crossed her face, composed of pleasure, regret, uncertainty and dismay. In the end, pleasure won.
“Methos,” she exclaimed, grey eyes sparkling. “Or...whatever it is you’re calling yourself nowadays.”
She spoke in English. It was the first time Methos had ever heard her employ that language but as he would have expected her accent was flawless, distinctly upper class English. With fleeting approval he recalled that she always had been cautious about attempting to blend in with her surrounding habitat.
He chuckled, leaning over to kiss an elegant cheekbone. “Methos to you, Kallista, always.”
She smiled at him, moving to thread her arm through his with the ease of long familiarity, notwithstanding that it had been at least two hundred years since they had last seen one another. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Admiring the architecture,” he replied blandly.
She raised an eyebrow at this, but made no further comment. She knew him too well, Methos thought to attempt to pry--as yet anyway. And it might even be the truth.
“Are you busy?” he asked, realising that he really was glad to see her.
“Why?” she replied with suspicion that was no doubt inculcated by long acquaintance with the old Immortal.
“How about a drink, we could catch up perhaps?”
Kallista shook her head in mock despair, her tastes as Methos knew ran rather more towards fine wines, but she nodded her agreement nonetheless.
There was a brief, amicable wrangle about where they should go. Kallista maintained that the branch of Balls Brothers at the top of Cheapside was the nearest place (which it was) but Methos held out for Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, on the basis that there you could get a real beer rather than that designer rubbish out of a bottle. In the end, predictably, Methos won. They set off down Ludgate Hill, dodged the traffic at the busy intersection at Ludgate Circus and walked up Fleet Street, which had long since been vacated by the journalistic press who had moved away during the nineteen eighties, mostly to Docklands. Such was progress.
They threaded down the narrow side entrance to the pub, which was one of the few buildings left in this part of the city dating back prior to the sixteen hundreds, having escaped the Great Fire of London. Inside the uneven floor and low ceiling gave proof to the building’s antiquity. It was not crowded as lunchtime had long since finished; the city workers were back at their desks, at least until the fall of evening. The two Immortals chose a table in a secluded corner, in one of the furthest rooms from the entrance.
Methos got up briefly to obtain a pint of Old Peculiar for himself and a glass of Fleurie for Kallista. He sat down with a sigh of pleasure and removed his coat and suit jacket, rolling the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows. “So,” he began, a little cautiously, knowing that if she thought he was prying Kallista would not hesitate to return the favour. She knew him too well for him to feel comfortable at that thought. “What are you doing in London?”
“I’m here on business,” she answered readily enough. “Although until a few years ago, I used to live here. Now, I run a computer consultancy business in Seville. I’m here for the computer fair at Earls Court.”
“Computers,” Methos commented. “How very...modern of you.”
She smiled at him sardonically. “One must move with the times. Someone I know once told me that.”
Methos attempted to cover his wince, but suspected that her shrewd eyes saw it none the less. Hazel eyes met those of cool grey. “I remember,” he said evenly. It would have been difficult to forget.
They had first met at the end of the world.
Or, what had seemed to be the end of the world at the time. It had been the time of The Great Mortality, the Pestilence, bubonic plague.
In the year 1348 AD Methos had been residing in the provincial city of Pistoia. It was a place of approximately eleven thousand souls, located a few leagues north-west from the great city of Florence, in that part of those warring states that would later become Tuscany. Pistoia was an enjoyable place to live. It was near enough to the Republic of Florence, which at the time was the banking centre of the western world, to reap the benefits of the arts and culture that were starting to bloom there. But it was far enough away from the larger city that Methos could live there in pleasant obscurity--and keep a judicious eye on several of his investments at the same time.
The year before there had come rumours, brought back by sailors from the trading routes, of plague infesting China and other countries of the East, such as India, Syria and Mesopotamia. At the time Methos had wondered whether it was the same plague that had attacked mortal-kind at periodic intervals throughout his lifetime although he was secure in the knowledge that there had been no outbreak of the disease in Europe for almost a thousand years. The last had been in 542 AD, at the time of the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinian. Thus, apart from making a mental note to avoid the East for the next few decades, he had not thought much of it.
Then in March 1348 the people of Florence started dying. Inevitably, the disease quickly spread to neighbouring Pistoia. Methos was rather caught up in an affair he was having with a charming married woman named (inevitably) Maria and was slow to learn that plague was in the city.
It was not until Maria herself became sick that he realised the full extent of the situation. Maria caught the most virulent form of the disease, known to later generations as pneumonic plague and died, vomiting blood, within four hours of exhibiting the first symptoms. Methos stared bleakly down at her stinking corpse--an effect of the plague--his mouth covered with a scented handkerchief as a defence against the stench, wondering if it was too late to leave the city. He was all too aware of the likely effects of the plague on the local populace. Panic and violence would ensue, matters in which he had no desire to be caught up.
He discovered that the governors of the city, consisting of the Anziani and the Standard Bearer of Justice, had already issued a proclamation forbidding people to leave. It was being rigorously enforced by the Podesta, the city guards, none of whom were native to the region and thus open to pleading or bribery.
Methos promptly attempted to ascertain a method to avoid the edict, by attending at the offices of the notary, Simone Buonacorsi, who had written the proclamation at the behest of the Anziani. The notary informed him--after some slight ‘persuasion’ on Methos’ part--that if a licence was first obtained travel was permissible. Counting the large sum of ten pounds a small price to pay in the circumstances, Methos immediately handed over the money. He felt an unwanted pang of sympathy at the pinched face of the notary, waxen with fear, but as there was nothing he could do for the man made a polite farewell and departed the city, pausing only to attend Maria’s hasty burial. Lover stood next to husband, a man normally full of complaisant civility but now thin-lipped with fear, as Maria was interred in a grave all to herself. It had been purchased at vast expense by her merchant husband, who was determined even in these most dire of circumstances to make a good impression on his peers.
Once outside the city Methos discovered that the plague was now rife throughout the countryside and that no one was safe from the depredations of the malodorous gangs of thieves and murderers who lay in wait to trap unwary travellers. The necessity to avoid the bandits, knowing as he did that should he meet them his horse was sufficiently good to make him a tempting target, delayed his journeying considerably. Of course, he did not fear the effects of the plague on a personal level, but could not be sure that the gangs of thieves would not remove his head if they caught him and travelling alone not even he could hold off a large band of such predators indefinitely. The rapid breakdown in law and order was a cause for serious concern.
He knew from past experience that once the plague gained a foothold in the countryside it would likely spread, possibly even quicker than he could travel. Even if it did not the news of plague might precede him and if so strangers would be greeted at best with suspicion, at worst with murderous intent. And he was a devout believer in avoiding dying more often than he had to. He decided that perhaps it would be best to quickly find somewhere untouched by plague and wait until it burnt itself out, as it inevitably would do. This was a better proposition than forever attempting to avoid it by outrunning it and possibly experience the inevitable panic that came with the onset of each new outbreak in other towns and cities afresh.
He travelled swiftly, heading north, looking for somewhere suitably remote and out of the way to settle for a few months, or years, as necessary. Whenever he passed by human habitation, he was accompanied by the almost unceasing doleful sound of church bells, tolling out to mark the passing of the dead. He was irritated by the noise, muttering complaints to himself about the seeming need of the practitioners of the Christian faith to announce their presence at every available opportunity. He did not admit to himself that he used the sound as a gauge. Wherever the bells tolled, death was present.
Whilst he was still travelling along one of the main trading routes his horse threw a shoe at a village called Cirie, in the state of Piemonte, causing him to stop there. The farrier’s was closed, it being one of the numerous saint’s days prevalent in that part of the country and he was forced to remain overnight.
There was a boy, very beautiful, who worked in the clean, albeit old-fashioned inn Methos had reserved a room in for the night. It was the work of but a few moments to entice the boy--who was no doubt impressed by the exotic stranger who could afford a whole room to himself--to his bed. The young man was no more than seventeen years old, but he exuded a ripe sensuality that tickled even the jaded old Immortal’s palate. In fact the boy, whose name was Antonios, had proved to be an unpractised lover but was a ready learner none the less.
Methos had planned to move on the next day, not intending to take another lover so soon after Maria but found himself extending his stay. Antonios had a ready wit, a large appetite and unflagging stamina, all of which Methos enjoyed to the full. He toyed with the idea of taking Antonios with him when he left, deciding that so promising a young man was wasted in the village. But it was not to be. Methos woke up one morning to discover he was holding a muttering, writhing, sweating form in his arms. Antonios stank of the plague.
It took the boy five, excruciatingly painful, days to die.
At first Methos intended to leave immediately--having no desire to watch another lover die of the plague--after finding someone to look after the boy, but this proved to be impossible. Panic had set in and everyone but the morose innkeeper and his small, but domineering wife were avoiding the inn. The local apothecary, whose efficacy Methos very much doubted in any event, flatly refused to come anywhere near the place, although he did unbend enough to send over various noxious smelling potions and recommended bleeding the patient every two hours. Methos, assisted by the innkeeper’s wife Marialla, who proved herself to be a woman of courage in coming near Antonios at all, forced the potions down the young man’s throat. However they did not undertake to bleed him, Methos having persuaded Marialla that this would do little good. But neither did the potions.
Methos contemplated putting the boy out of his misery, reluctant to simply sit and watch such unceasing agony, but he knew from previous experience of the plague that people could survive it. Not many did it was true, but he chose to follow the maxim that where there was life there was hope and treated the boy as best he could, devising an antiseptic lotion of dog's mercury and the best of poultices; woundwort bruised with grease. But his efforts were in vain.
In spite of his resolve not to get overly involved, at the end of the five exhausting, dispiriting days Methos wept as he and Marialla laid out the body for burial. Antonios’ corpse was a disfigured, gruesome wreck, none of his former beauty having survived the ravages of the plague. There had been one moment of hope when the bulboe at Antonios’ groin had burst. The young man had seemed to rally slightly at that and Methos had attempted to lance one of the bulboes at his armpits, in the hope that this would let the poison out. But it was apparent that this caused Antonios immeasurable agony and all Methos had succeeded in doing was releasing a thin stream of foul smelling pus, which quickly slowed to a slow seepage as the hide of the bulboe turned out to be extraordinarily resistant to piercing. After that Antonios’ condition had continued to deteriorate.
In his torment, the boy called out to Maria, mother of God, to save him. Methos was unable to prevent an upwelling of cynicism. How many mortals had he heard call out to their gods as they lay dying? But none had been answered. Yet could this be all there was? Even after more than four thousand years, he still did not know. What he did know was that he was not in any hurry to find out.
He blinked away tears as he became aware of Marialla’s sympathetic gaze, not wanting the woman to see his vulnerability.
“Such a pity,” she sighed. “God gives and God takes away as he sees fit. Maybe this one was too good for this world.” The woman’s mouth twisted into a reluctant, tired grin as she caught Methos’ incredulous stare. Perhaps she too was remembering the spectacular shouting match she and Antonios had had just a few days previously, when the young man, secure--for the moment--in Methos’ attentions had begun to put on airs. “Or perhaps not,” she amended. “What will you do now, Signor?”
Methos shrugged. “Continue on with my journey.”
“Of course. And will you stay for the burial?”
He hesitated. “I... No, I believe not.” He reached for his purse and extracted a quantity of silver and a single gold coin. “You’ll see he’s properly buried?”
Marialla, whose eyes had widened at the amount proffered, nodded.
“Anything left over, please, do with as you see fit.”
She nodded again. “Thank you, Signor,” she said quietly, pocketing the money silently.
Methos turned and walked away. He packed quickly and left without bidding anyone farewell. He refused to acknowledge anything approximating guilt, Antonios’ religion was not his and he preferred the release of fire to rotting in the ground. As the boy was dead his presence would make no difference and he had buried another lover only a few weeks ago and did not want to experience that again so soon. Marialla was reasonably honest and would ensure that the corpse was decently disposed of. He could ask no more than that.
As he rode away, his mind was industriously fashioning plans. He had squandered enough time as it was; he had to find--and quickly--a place in which to wait out the plague. Then he winced, aware that he had dismissed his dalliance with Antonios as a waste of time. Even in the circumstances he was disturbed at the callousness of that dismissal. It was true that individual mortals were fragile as a butterfly’s wing, but time was when the death of a lover had meant more to him than this.
Spurring his horse, he set off at a fast canter in an attempt to clear his head. Soon, he would find somewhere to stop.
What he had not anticipated was the dreadful severity of the pandemic. He discovered with slow-dawning horror that there was nowhere that the plague had not already struck. Everywhere he travelled, from the start of his journey in Italy, up through the diverse kingdoms of the Rhine that would later be known as Germany and across to France, people were dying, in tens, hundreds, of thousands. The graveyards were by now full, saturated with bodies and he passed many gaping holes that had been dug to bury the multiplying corpses. These mass graves were open charnel pits, filled with twisted, blackened cadavers.
The scent of fear was ubiquitous as mortals scurried about their business, frantic to avoid the vile infection and the grave. Repeatedly he would be chased away from the towns and cities--even when plague was already present the climate of terror made strangers an unwelcome sight. At those times he shrugged his shoulders and passed on by, initially confident in his ability to hunt to keep himself fed and in supplies.
Yet as he travelled he noticed with dismay the worrying decrease in wild game. It became increasingly difficult to trap the smaller animals, such as rabbit and hare, tender foolish young deer, perhaps a suckling pig or two. Instead he was reduced to grubbing in the dirt, searching for edible roots and hairy caterpillars, which were tasty enough when peeled and roasted and when sufficiently hungry even eating other insects, such as maggots and weevils. They would at least sustain life and starvation was such an unpleasant way to die.
He had thought to perhaps supplement his diet by helping himself to meat from the tamed animals maintained by the peasants in the cultivated lands. But with increasing frequency the herds of cattle and sheep he saw were dead, or dying, reduced to swollen, stinking, decaying carcasses, tongues protruding and black with flies. He could no longer deny that the animals too were dying of the plague. Everything was dying.
Yet despite his need for supplies, he made it a practice not to stay anywhere long, often not even attempting to obtain a meal provided that the hunting was good enough to allow him to take the edge off his hunger. The countryside was cleaner by far than the towns and more importantly, there were no mortals attempting to gain his pity and his help. That he could not afford, not when the terrible frailty of mortals was so obviously apparent. What was the point in caring when they could die--any of them--in a moment? These mortals were too close to the plague and he could not bear watching them die in such stinking agony. Not again.
Everywhere there was the stench, the pervasive odour of plague. Once smelt it could never be forgotten. He knew that so long as he might live, be it another four thousand years, he would be forever haunted by the smell exuded by those infected. Used to the effects of mortality as he was, in the past having even revelled in dealing in death, this revolted him and sickened him to his stomach. He longed, just for an instant, to smell something that did not reek of decay. The fetor was less in the countryside, but omnipresent none the less. He never adapted to the stench; the odour was too sickening for that, even for his hardened stomach. It was so appalling that he thought that he might even sell his Immortality for a breath of untainted air.
Then there came a terrible week when he travelled without coming across a single living thing. The weather was hot and the humidity worried at his strength, sapping his stamina, the heat a hammer blow beating at him ceaselessly as though to forge him into some strange liquefied shape of its own devising. Unlike mortals he was unable to gain even the dubious protection of sun-darkened skin; no matter how the sun struck at him he remained always and forever winter-pale, Immortal skin ceaselessly healing itself, over and over. The ground was dry and barren, mud cracked into jagged curlicues and the leaves curled on their branches, living green withering into crumpled, desiccated brown. Water was scarce; the only stream he came across was reduced to a muddy trickle in the middle of wide banks, the merest shadow of its former vigorous flow.
As he rode, something puzzled him, worried at him. Then he realised what it was. Silence. The air was completely silent; the only sound was the patient clopping of his horse’s hooves against the ground and the jingle of its harness. With a chill of fear he realised that the ever-present faint sound of bells, tolling the dead, had stopped. He could not deny the dreadful truth. There was no one left to ring the bells.
Accomplished hunter though he was he caught no sign of any wild game, nor did a single animal call echo in his straining ears. The fields were filled with dead sheep and cattle, carcasses stinking in the sun. Everything was dead.
He decided that he would stop at the next human habitation he came to, some nameless village located in the Dukedom of Burgundy. He knew before he arrived there what he would find, a small conglomerate of houses, a mill, an inn, a smithy, the church, manned by a semi-literate priest, who would mumble the catechism in badly memorised peasant-accented Latin and would keep a mistress not-so-discreetly nearby. The village would be full of animals, pigs, ducks, chicken, geese, acting as watch-criers. The scent of the village would be redolent of burning wood, salted meat, unwashed humanity and animal waste. The squawks of indignant animals and children dodging the impatient feet of their elders would fill the air. It would be no different from hundreds of villages just like it.
But the village was eerily silent. From the height of horseback, he gazed around, seeking a sign that something lived--anything. But nothing stirred, not even the wind, the only movements were the ripples of heat haze in the distance.
He sat for a long moment, coaxing the horse to turn by subtle movements of his knees until they had traversed a full circle. Then, slowly, he dismounted and strode into the church, pretending to some sense of purpose by the certainty of his stride. The church was dark and sombre; windows too small to admit much light. No candles glowed within. It was deserted, empty, save for a bundle of crumpled cloth by the simple white-covered altar. He hesitated, then walked slowly towards it. As he drew nearer the altar, he was no longer able to deny what he had known from the first moment of entering the church, the bundle was the rotting corpse of the village priest, recognisable still by his robe. Perhaps he had been praying vainly to his god to save him.
Methos swallowed hard, parched throat yielding little by way of saliva and quietly turned away, leaving the body where it lay. He sought cleaner air outside. For a long moment he merely stood in the centre of the village by the wooden, dust encrusted cover over the well, before telling himself that he still required supplies.
Initially he hesitated to enter the wattle-daubed village houses, but eventually forced himself into the smithy, knowing that the blacksmith was likely to be one of the richer--and hence better provisioned--inhabitants of the village. Inside the house it was dim and cool and there was a continual low humming sound, discordant in his ears, that grew louder as he went towards the sleeping room. He gagged as he paused in the doorway. The noise he heard was of flies, black bodies crawling and flying within, busily laying their eggs on the four human corpses and two dead sows inside the room.
He whirled around and ran out of the house, then bent over, resting his hands on his knees, taking deep breaths as he did so in an attempt to calm the roiling of his stomach. It was not that he had not seen the effects of death vividly illustrated before, but coupled so terribly with the stench of the plague they threatened to overwhelm him. Even as he had that thought he lost the battle and the meagre contents of his stomach rose up in rebellion, to splatter noxiously on the ground.
He staggered to where he had tethered the horse, reached for his water skin and swilled his mouth out quickly, unwilling to risk wasting too much of the precious stuff until he could find out if the village well was as yet un-befouled. He remained leaning against the warm, sweating, but above all alive, form of his horse for a long moment, breathing deeply of the equine smell. With grim resolution he forced himself to straighten up and commenced a methodical search of the village, dreading all the while what he would find. As he had feared, in each of the houses was corpse after corpse, from infants to ancient looking grandmothers. As the search continued the faint hope that he would yet find someone alive flickered and died. They were all dead.
The most clear-thinking part of his mind, which was able to remain curiously detached from the wretched horror around him, concluded that here the disease had been particularly deadly in its efficacy. As he had noted on his way into the church, the graveyard was not yet full, suggesting that they had all died so quickly that those who resisted the illness longest had no chance to bury the earliest victims.
Even inured to death as he was, against his will Methos was profoundly affected by this realisation. Tendrils of fear tightened slowly around his heart, making it hard to breathe. What if they all died, all the mortals, leaving only Immortals? How would they live with only the company of others such as themselves? Would this mean the end if there were no mortals around to alleviate the strain that would inevitably occur in Immortals being in such close proximity all the time? Would they finally fight until there was only one of them left? And that Immortal’s reward for having won the Game would be to be the only person left alive. A fate worthy only of hell--whichever version you believed in.
He could not remember a time when he had been more afraid. Although on a personal level he was very fond of his own existence and intended to keep it for as long as he possibly could, the thought of being the only person left alive was not an inviting one. It would be a hollow experience at best, with eventual insanity as the inevitable result. His imagination summoned up a grim picture of himself wandering the silent, empty world; an uncaring spectre of vanished mankind.
With a palpable effort, he forced his mind away from this path calling upon the discipline of centuries to do so. He would *not* succumb to fear.
Searching for distraction he let his gaze wander round the silent village. Although his creed had long been 'react, don't act', he was moved by an impulse he did not attempt to analyse. Wondering at his sentimentality, he went into each house in turn and gathered up the corpses. In the cases of the largest he moved them one by one, dragging each in its turn into the church. The children he carried several at a time.
It was harsh, stinking labour. In some of the bodies decay had set in, the flesh swollen and overripe, whereas others were still stiff with rigour mortis, not long dead. But all without exception reeked of the plague, were sometimes covered in blackened, dried blood, a magnet for flies. Others were stained with pus, from the burst bulboes of the plague. He had to stop frequently to spit and clear his throat against the harsh, gagging stench, of plague, of voided bladder and bowels and the sickly sweet odour of decay. But at no point did he consider ending his self imposed task.
It took him most of the day but just when the sun was at the cusp of disappearing beyond the horizon, all of the corpses, from the oldest grandmother to the smallest baby, were laid out in neat lines in the church. He hunkered down in the dirt and painstakingly lit a fire. It caught swiftly, the millennia of practice paying off. As the flames roared, Methos fashioned a torch and thrust it into the fire. Once alight he set fire to the church. The blaze was sluggish was first, smouldering dully, the wood sodden with recent rain. However his long perfected skill in setting buildings alight told in the end.
He stood for a long time watching the fire burn. At the back of his mind he was even vaguely amused at the symbolism--the burning at the end of the day. Finally, he turned and washed, using water from the village well, which to his relief was sweet and clean. A change of clothes and he had completed his cleansing. He mounted his horse and rode away. He felt an odd sense of satisfaction. What he had done might be contrary to the villagers’ Christian beliefs, believing as they did that ultimately their bodies would be resurrected, but by his light he had given them a fit and proper end, far better than leaving them to rot where they lay.
He found that he was actively looking forward to meeting people again, aglow in a sense of charity towards the world. But the next village, a day’s ride away, was also full of nothing but corpses. The last live inhabitant had died only shortly before; the body, of a forty years old man was livid with morbidity and still warm. Methos felt panic grip him sharply by the throat, like a strangling noose. He clenched his fists, forcing himself to stand straight and not cower down in fear, whipped and whimpering as a cur.
It was not the end of the world. It could not be. It was just another plague and those he had seen before, times without number. But he had seen none before on this scale, over four millennium of experience notwithstanding.
He fumbled for his horse and mounted clumsily, his usual, careless grace deserting him in his terror. Sharply he spurred the animal and they shot out of the gates of the village. Somewhere there would be life.
There must be.
He rode almost non-stop for several days. In that time he passed other travellers but, after his initial relief that some mortals survived still, did not stop to talk to them. He wanted to escape to somewhere untouched by the plague--if such a place existed.
It was a grim faced, thin, haunted figure that arrived at the gates of a small town near Valence some days later. His horse, brave though it was had reached the end of its endurance and they had to stop, else the horse die. Methos had no desire even in the present circumstances to destroy such a faithful animal and Valence was, according to rumour, little touched by plague--as yet. The Catholic pope, Clement VI, had fled there from the papal capital of Avignon and the locals reckoned that his prayers were having an effect. Methos was rather less sure of this, noting with mordant humour that the Pope was attempting to bolster his prayers against the plague by spending his whole time between two huge blazing fires. Methos suspected that this would prove to be the Pope’s surety against the plague, rather than any calls to his god.
Guards manned the town walls, each armed with a crossbow. They challenged Methos; as a stranger in these times he was indeed suspect. However the substantial bribe that he offered worked its usual magic and before sunset he was comfortably settled in an inn. His poor, abused horse was well accommodated in the inn’s capacious stables and Methos washed thoroughly in the costly bath he had ordered, scrubbing away the grime he had accumulated as a result of his travels.
For the moment he felt at peace, hunger pangs assuaged by the platter of food that the innkeeper had brought to his room and by his side there was a glass of fine wine. Later, he would go down to the common room for a beer and some companionship. He felt slightly ashamed of his earlier panic, having decided that his fears were ridiculous. He had allowed himself to be carried away, that was all. Of course this was not the end. It was just another plague.
When he entered the common room several hours later, in clean, pressed tunic and hosen, his hat with its fine, curling feather placed at a jaunty angle atop his head, he grinned at the lively scene that met his eyes. The room was packed; a minstrel played a drinking song in a corner surrounded by several patrons, who were carolling the chorus lustily. Richly dressed men and women mingled with those dressed in clothes that were not so fine, although none were poor as the inn was located in a wealthy part of the town. Methos frowned, something was not quite right. The customers’ eyes were a little too bright, their voices pitched a bit too high, their spirits too frenetic.
Even as he watched, a portly merchant seized a comely young woman, her coif proclaiming her as married but probably not too long ago. Methos expected the fellow to be roundly rebuked for such scandalous behaviour, waited for the young wife to vigorously protest her virtue, perhaps the husband would challenge the man who mauled his wife. Instead, she returned his kiss, to a round of applause then gracefully extracted herself, curtseying prettily. Methos stared, hard put to contain his astonishment. Their behaviour seemed to be a signal. Many other people, both men and women, were seen to embrace, displaying little discrimination in the appearance or gender of their partner. Methos had not seen such unbridled scenes since the time of Nero.
Then he realised what all the frantic merrymaking was an attempt to cover up. It was fear. They were all afraid, of catching the plague, of dying. It could strike at any time, taking the strongest as well as the weakest. And all their entreaties to their god were in vain. No wonder they made merry, while they still could.
He turned and stumbled out of the door in search of fresher air, his own fear gripping him in a fist as strong as iron. He made his way, lit only by the half moon and a few, inadequate street lanterns to a main thoroughfare. He stopped in a pretty square and perched on the edge of a fountain where angels reached gracefully to the sky, eyes beseeching their god. He ran his hand absently through the water; it seemed to be clean and well kept. The town had not then as yet ceased its normal business.
He stiffened abruptly as he felt the unmistakable signature of an Immortal. In his travels from Pistoia to date he had not come across another of his kind. A couple of times he had caught the fading edge of an Immortal’s presence but at that, with his usual caution, he had changed his route slightly in order to avoid them.
But this Immortal was now too near; there was no possibility of avoidance. His eyes strained through the gloom. There on the edge of visibility stood a woman, hooded and cloaked against the night. She moved towards him, her pace was even and unhurried. As she came nearer he could see that her hand rested on the hilt of a sword, but she made no effort to draw it.
“Kallista,” she said in a low soprano voice.
“Marius,” Methos said in his turn, giving a pseudonym he had used for the past couple of centuries.
“I have no desire for your head.” As she spoke she shook back the hood of her cloak, baring her features to Methos’ admiring gaze. She was exquisite, a jewel polished to perfection. Her dress was elegant, coif indicating that she was a widow, a useful disguise for a female Immortal. He thought that her name, meaning as it did in ancient Greek ‘most beautiful’, was fitting indeed, suiting her perfectly.
Methos bowed. “Nor I for yours. I would not take the head of one so lovely.”
She arched a plucked eyebrow. “Flattery, Messier.”
Methos bowed again. “Not flattery, Madame--truth.”
She laughed, a lovely, musical sound. “Such a speech deserves its own reward. Will you have a drink with me, Messier Marius?”
Methos hesitated for barely a second, his usual caution deserting him for once. She was beautiful and alive and best of all guaranteed not to die from the plague. In this at least she was safe. “I would be honoured.”
For the first time, in a gesture that was to become familiar to him, she threaded an arm through his as they set off through the night together, talking animatedly.
Of course, they fell in love.
On Methos’ part it was with a speed and ease he had seldom experienced, either before or since. In fact the next person whom he had fallen for with such precipitate haste was Alexa. There was a connection between he and Kallista from the first; laughter was there aplenty, tempered with a healthy dose of lust on both their parts. And if, looking back, he thought that they had been a little too desperate to find someone to hold on to, someone who would not die horribly of a foul disease, who could blame them? At first perhaps their feelings were born largely of insecurity, but the attraction was real--and instantaneous, causing Methos to drop some of his habitual caution. Kallista was almost perfect, not only beautiful, but intelligent, witty and charming.
At the time Methos met her she was approximately two thousand six hundred years old. She was originally a warrior from Sparta and as such well-versed in taking care of herself. To spar with her was a delight. She presented a real challenge to him, the first he had met in a long while. In spite of her advanced age she lacked Methos’ cynicism although, perhaps inevitably, she was cautious in her interactions with others.
She was not, naturally, his first Immortal lover but she was the first with whom he actually thought he might have something that would not succumb to over-familiarity and boredom. Looking back he felt derision at this stupidly romantic notion. He wondered how he could still have been so naive, after more than four thousand years of life, as to entertain this notion even for a moment. But at the time he had hoped that this would be the one that lasted, a relationship that would survive and grow and change, even as they did, but that the love would never end. And in a sense it didn’t, because fondness--of a sort--remained, even when the lust and need to be together withered and died.
They lasted a hundred and seven years--more than a mortal lifetime. In retrospect they were both, he thought, bored after about eighty or so years together. Possibly because in some ways they were very alike, the passions of youth tempered by time. As a result although tenderness was there aplenty, passion soon cooled to a more temperate existence. The relationship limped on for another twenty or so years, perhaps because neither could quite bear to renege on the promises they’d made one another, flush with the giddy rapture of new love.
At the time of making those promises Methos for once had meant every word. He had opened more of himself to her than to almost any other lover he had had, certainly in recent centuries. She knew many of his secrets; the fact that he was Methos was only the first of many. He did not of course tell her everything, but the fact that he told her so much could only be explained upon reflection as a result of his passion for her.
He had hugged to himself happily the knowledge that, unlike a mortal lover, she would not inevitably in the fullness of time succumb to age and die. He would not have to endure the agony of watching her fade away, little by little, as she would remain as fresh and perfect as the first day they met.
He continued to hold fast to that thought during the next few years when the world changed. It became obvious that the plague was not, as he had feared, the end of everything but the after-effects were that the whole order of European society changed--literally almost overnight. He had lived through periods of upheaval before, but few that were quite so swift and far reaching.
When the plague finally burned itself out after four long years, between a third and one half of all the inhabitants of Europe and Asia lay dead. This was unprecedented, never had Methos seen death in such numbers. As a result the old serfdom, a system that had survived unchanged for almost a millennium, practically disappeared; too few peasants were left to till the fields and wages for labourers rocketed. Conversely the value of land plummeted and everywhere lay the shells of new building works, abandoned due to lack of labour and money. The old certainty in Europe as to the teachings of the Catholic Church disappeared. The seeds of further change were sown as people generally became less trusting, more questioning.
As Methos counted it his mission in life to survive he had, perforce, to adapt to the changes. However in spite of his determination he could not help but be uneasy and unsettled by the results. It became harder every year to adjust to the way the world altered. But it was a comfort to him to know that Kallista also shared his unease. And her cool beauty was one constant, fundamentally unaltered notwithstanding changes in fashion and hairstyle. He never ceased in his admiration of her prettiness or in his regard of her broad, white forehead, above fine grey eyes and coupled with the adorably short nose that lent a note of humanity to what otherwise might have been an almost unbearable perfection of feature.
They travelled together looking for somewhere to settle for a while, until they had to move on in order to preserve the secret of their immortality. Initially they tacitly decided not to leave Europe; knowing that Asia or Africa were places in which it was harder for two people of their appearance to blend in with suitable anonymity. However it had proved to be more difficult than anticipated to find somewhere that suited them both and they led a nomadic existence for a while, moving on every few months, settling nowhere for more than a couple of years. During this period both of them lived primarily off their existing wealth, realising their investments as necessary. At that time Methos discovered to his annoyance that Kallista had a better head for investments than he did.
Eventually they lived for almost fifteen years in the great trading city of Bruges, setting up as merchants in fine goods from the East, oils, spices, cinnabar and lapis, cloth woven of gold and silk, carvings of malachite and onyx and other jewels. When the time came to move on, lest the locals become suspicious of their lack of ageing, they did not move far away, remaining in Antwerp in Flanders for another couple of decades, before moving to Venice. From there they travelled East, spending some time in the wonder that was Trebizond, scion of beautiful Byzantium. However even then the seeds of decay were apparent, that would lead to the end of the Byzantine dynasty less than a few decades later.
After a few years the aura of decadence that lingered around Trebizond became too much, even for the two ancient Immortals. Methos found that his long dormant interest in medicine had revived, possibly as a result of the plague and suggested in the mid-fifteenth century that they make their way to Heidelberg. There he studied medicine--and gave duelling lessons. Kallista made several pithy comments about the absurdity of women not being allowed to study, then disguised herself as a man, studying alongside Methos. It was a grand joke and bound them together in delicious duplicity. But the truth was that by this time they were bored with each other. Kallista’s actions and their shared secret simply helped to disguise that.
Yet the end still came more swiftly than Methos anticipated. It was in 1455 AD. At that time they had been living in Heidelberg for a couple of years. Kallista had given up her pursuit of medicine, deciding that the manly guise was too cumbersome to maintain for a great length of time, but Methos continued with his studies.
They had been squabbling for a while, over everything and nothing. The latest had been over whether they adopt a new style of furnishings in their apartment. It was nothing too ostentatious, but enabled them to live together in reasonable comfort and was conveniently located near to the university. Methos, who was devout in his attempts to adapt to local custom, had been suggesting that adopting the latest style was the prudent thing to do. Kallista did not disagree per se, but maintained that the new style was hideous and offended her sensibilities. This was a statement for which he was unable to avoid mocking her mercilessly, much to her annoyance. The subject had been dropped but the after effects still lingered, affecting their every word and deed.
Methos recognised that the relationship they had could not continue. Part of him was reluctant to end it, he had grown used to her presence and he still cared for her, deeply. But he had been contemplating for the past few weeks how he could manipulate her into leaving him. His experience over the millennia had taught him that it was more comfortable if the lover one wished to discard thought that it was their idea to leave. This was particularly the case when one’s lover was a fellow Immortal, who one could not simply outlive--and thus solve the problem--and who was not only capable of bearing a grudge for a long time but was also most skilled with a sword. However he had not as yet put any of his nebulous schemes into effect. It was therefore a surprise to him when the end finally came.
It happened on a bright spring morning. The sky had been clear but there were the remnants of frost on the ground. Methos had been lounging at his ease at home. The two of them were alone, all the servants being at their devotions. Methos and Kallista were careful to attend the Church services sufficiently often as not to be suspected of impiety but no more than that and had remained behind. He had been re-familiarising himself with some ancient medical texts, Galen on trepanning and a book on obstetrics by Soranus, whilst Kallista had been composing a tune for the lute. He had found her attempts irritating, distracting him from his reading.
He looked up from the text. “Must you?”
She glanced at him with a cool expression. “I thought you enjoyed my compositions.”
“I do,” he replied shortly.
He hesitated. “This one seems to me to be a little derivative.”
She inhaled sharply and with a sinking heart he realised that he had succeeded in annoying her -- again.
“Derivative.” Her tone was not encouraging.
He sighed. “I meant merely that it is somewhat like that piece you wrote...seventy years ago, I think.” He attempted an encouraging smile. “I believe that it is a mistake to repeat oneself, that one should try to progress, change as mortals do.”
She stared at him. In spite of the fact that he knew her well he found her expression difficult to read. “I see,” she said slowly. “So what you are saying is that I do not change enough, that what is past matters too much to me.”
He frowned at her. “That is not what I said,” he said, trying not to let her know that he was annoyed with her.
“You did not have to.”
With that she turned and walked out of the room, closing the door quietly behind her. Methos contemplated going after her but decided to leave matters be as he was more interested at that moment in his medical text than in placating Kallista. He became so engrossed that he did not realise a couple of hours had passed until she came back into the room, dressed in travelling clothes.
He stared at her. “Where are you going?”
She shrugged. “I do not know.”
He blinked. What did she mean?
“I am leaving you,” she said quietly.
“What!” He sat bolt upright, his usual relaxed sprawl falling away.
She smiled at him wistfully. “I cannot stay, not now. One of us must leave and I think it must be me.”
She held up a silencing hand. “You know what I say is true. Whatever we once had...we have no longer, I think.”
He scrambled to his feet and crossed the room swiftly to take both her cold hands in his. “Kallista--“
“No,” she interrupted. “This is difficult enough.”
“I just wanted to say... I do love you.”
She looked at him sadly. “And I you. But it is not enough anymore, is it?”
He was silent for a long moment. In spite of his increasing boredom he had not--quite--been ready to say goodbye, but it appeared that she was ahead of him. Finally, reluctantly, “No.”
She rested her forehead against his chest for a moment. “You see. I think it better that we part now, before love turns to indifference--or hate.” She pulled back to look him in the eyes. “While we still care for each other.”
He swallowed heavily. “I will miss you.”
“And I you.” With that, she picked up her gloves and turned to go. As she opened the door she turned back to look at him. “We are still friends?”
He smiled at her, through the tears in his eyes, that he refused to let fall. “Always.”
She nodded, her own eyes suspiciously bright. “I will send to let you know where I am.”
And with one last look she was gone, leaving him staring at the closed door. He was not quite sure what he felt. Perhaps some relief but, perversely, he was also irritated that she was the one who finally ended it even though he had planned to induce her to do just that. The fact that she had anticipated his machinations was annoying. But underlying it all was the emptiness of loss; he was going to miss her. She, out of all of his lovers, had been one of those that he had loved the most dearly. But nothing lasted forever; any illusion he might have had in that respect was dispelled like the mist, being just as enduring.
They had kept in communication with one another, initially meeting fairly frequently. When they met their encounters often ended with them making love. However, comfortable and sweet though it was, of passion there was little. Gradually, as they met other, newer, friends, their contact waned. But Methos could never find it in him to regret that relationship and there was still a lingering affection, which refused to die. Even now, although they had not met for approximately two hundred years, he knew that should she die his grief would be heartfelt and intense.
He smiled at her, across the wooden table in the pub and took her hand in his, noting as he did so that she wore a wedding ring. Something to ask her about. “I’ve missed you, you know.”
She wrinkled her nose at him consideringly. “Perhaps you have at that.”
He grinned wryly, noting that she made no attempt to return the sentiment. But then she had always been honest in both words and deeds, unlike him.
She looked at her watch and frowned.
“You’re due somewhere,” Methos said, realising that he was reluctant to lose her company so soon.
“I was going to meet Ignacio in the West End... Excuse me a moment.” With that, she pulled a mobile phone out of her shoulderbag and punched in a number. The call was quickly answered. She spoke in rapid, idiomatic Spanish, arranging that Ignacio, whoever he was, should meet them at the Cheshire Cheese. When she finished the call, with a “Hasta luego, mi amor,” she put the mobile away and looked up to meet Methos’ enquiring gaze. “Ignacio’s my husband,” she explained, answering the unspoken question.
“Uh huh. And is he...?”
“He’s mortal, yes. And yes, he knows about me, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
There was silence for a moment. Methos knew that, unlike him, Kallista had not been married often, probably no more than four or five times in over three thousand years. This man, Ignacio, obviously meant a great deal to her. “So,” he said, in a cheery tone, “been married long?”
She smiled, her whole face lighting up. “Seventeen years. Seventeen wonderful years.”
Methos felt an obscure hurt. He could not remember her ever looking at him quite like that, even when their love had been young and at its strongest. But he also felt concern for her, his friend, because this love would inevitably die in a few short years and what would she do then? However he let no hint of his thoughts show on his face. “Wonderful,” he mimicked with gentle mockery.
She laughed, without even a tinge of embarrassment. “Well it is. *He* is.”
“Never a row in seventeen years.”
“Never,” she agreed solemnly, although her eyes were dancing with mirth.
“And he’s never forgotten your wedding anniversary.”
She looked shocked. “Perish the thought!”
“Sounds like perfection.”
She sobered abruptly. “No, nothing so...sterile. But I am happy, right here and now, I’m very happy.”
“Then I’m glad for you,” he said quietly.
But as usual she sensed what he didn’t say. “But you’re wondering how I’ll cope when he...leaves, yes?”
He noted that even she, in spite of her usual unflinching honesty, could not quite bear to use the word die. He nodded silently.
“Don’t you see, it doesn’t matter.” She laughed suddenly. “Tant que je vive and all that.” His expression must have shown his puzzlement, because she continued: “Tant que je vive, mon cueur ne changera/ Pour nulle vivante, tant soit elle bonne ou saige/ Forte et puissante--“
“I know the poem,” he interrupted, remembering it now. He stared at her in disbelief. “But you can’t possibly mean it! It’s one hell of a statement, particularly for an Immortal.”
She shrugged. “Maybe. But I know that it’s true.”
“How!” he demanded. “How can you know. What--are you saying you’ve met everyone you’ll ever meet that you could ever be attracted to, out of all the possible lovers there are. It’s not possible that you’ve met everyone in the world to *know*. I think you’ve been reading too much bad love poetry. Or perhaps that should be *good* love poetry! Or maybe you’ve been reading too many of those sickly romantic novels they’ve been brainwashing women with for the past few centuries. The idea’s absurd--and you know it!” His voice reflected his derision as he sat back and, knowing how much she had always hated to be ridiculed, awaited the inevitable explosion with anticipation.
But Kallista, somewhat to his discomfiture, refused to rise to the bait, meeting his mockery with a serene smile. “I know that I’ve never felt like this before Methos, not in all my life. Not even--“ She broke off abruptly.
He looked at her quizzically. “For me?” At her wordless nod, he asked, “Should I be flattered?”
“Or for any of my other loves,” she continued, ignoring his words. “Each love is different, you know that. And if they...die, you may hope that you will never love again, but, somehow, you know that you will. But with Ignacio... This time I *know*. He’s the last person I’ll love like this.”
She smiled at Methos’ sceptical expression. “I know you don’t believe me. But it’s only because you’ve never yet met anyone for whom you have this type of love. And in some ways maybe you’re better off not knowing. But in others...” Her voice trailed off, as she smiled. This time her expression was so radiant that it dimmed even the glory of her former smile. “I know, no matter how bad the pain is when he goes, that it’s worth it, even though whatever time we have will be much too short, that eternity wouldn’t be long enough.”
Methos shook his head, looking at her with a kind of tolerant clemency, such as one would offer to a small child who was good, if not clever. She noticed, of course, but merely rolled her eyes to the sky in a silent plea for forbearance.
She was being ridiculous, he thought. Even in the case of the last of his many loves, Alexa, who had died all too soon, much though he had loved her and brief though their time together had been, he could not imagine wanting to spend eternity with her. His time with Kallista had disabused him of any last romantic vestiges in that direction. In over five thousand years he had met no one who he knew would be the last love. Not Kallista, not Alexa, not-- He choked, as felt tendrils of pain wind their way around his heart and constrict, squeezing until he was unable to breathe, as he tried to prevent himself from thinking of the one person above all that he did not want to consider.
His expression must have escaped his control because he realised that Kallista was looking at him with some concern. “What is it?” she asked. Her shrewd gaze sharpened. “I was wrong, wasn’t I? There is--or was--someone you feel about like that.”
With a huge effort Methos smoothed out his expression to an acceptable blankness. “Don’t be so asinine.” He laughed, a pretty good effort all things considered he thought. “This is me you’re talking to. I didn’t survive for as long as I have done by putting anyone other than myself first, you know that.”
“Really? You could’ve fooled me.” At those words, delivered in the exact same tone that MacLeod had once used, Methos was unable to prevent the shiver that ran through him. And Kallista, damn her, noticed. “I was right,” she breathed, “wasn’t I?”
He just looked at her. Of course she wasn’t right. The whole idea was absurd.
The attraction had been immediate.
From the very first time he had seen Duncan MacLeod in the flesh, in the apartment rented by his Adam Pierson persona in Paris, Methos had wanted him. But as time passed he had come to believe that it would never happen.
Part of him felt relief, there was too much between MacLeod and him as it was. But the longing refused to die.
Initially, after Kalas had been safely disposed of in prison, Methos had left Paris intending not to come back for a while, several centuries at least. But he had been unable to resist the fascination he felt for this man and found himself, almost without conscious volition, back in Paris knowing that MacLeod was also there.
That set the pattern for the next few years, he left, then came back to wherever MacLeod was at the time, usually just in time to try and prevent MacLeod from doing something irretrievable that might cost him his head.
No matter how often he told himself that he would not see the Highlander again, he always did. He had thought several times that this was it; that their relationship could not possibly survive whatever blow was next inflicted on it. Whether it was the revelation that Methos was one of the Four Horsemen, MacLeod’s killing of Byron, or the tragedy that was the death of Richie Ryan and MacLeod’s subsequent withdrawal from the world. Yet somehow it had.
After MacLeod had disposed of O’Rourke he had delivered some sort of speech, which some might have taken as an epitaph. He had stated something about having learnt from Methos to accept who he was, both good and bad, to which Methos was wholly unable to prevent himself from thinking snidely that it’d taken him long enough. Then MacLeod had turned and walked away, leaving Methos, Amanda and Joe staring after him.
But Methos had known that this wasn’t the end. Whatever it was they had was still there, inescapable as fate.
He had resolved at that time not to give in to the fascination, for once to let MacLeod seek him out. This the younger Immortal had done more quickly than Methos had anticipated, turning up only a few days later at Methos’ apartment.
Methos had been playing around on his computer, experimenting with idle curiosity. Having just installed the latest pirated software, he was downloading images and morphing them into unrecognisable extremes of themselves. He was reflecting dryly that modern technology could subvert images with entirely too much ease and what had happened to the sweat and effort of yesteryear, when he felt MacLeod drawing near. His heart skipped a beat at the recognition as to just who it was coming to visit him. He took a deep breath. There was probably trouble and that was why MacLeod was darkening his doorstep. He snickered to himself at the melodramatic tone to his thoughts; he’d obviously been infected with the MacLeod penchant for dramatic gestures.
But when was the last time that MacLeod had actively sought him out? Years, it had been years. So, MacLeod must have a problem then, to come looking for him. Better prepare himself to deal with it.
Before MacLeod could knock, he opened the door, smiling with surface equanimity.
“May I come in?” MacLeod asked. There was a uncharacteristically hesitant note in his voice.
“Of course.” With that, Methos turned and went back into his apartment, leaving MacLeod to follow. “Drink?”
MacLeod grinned at him. “I wouldn’t expect anything else.”
Methos waited for MacLeod to say why he was here, but instead the Highlander busied himself with taking off his coat, throwing it across the back of a chair, with a grin at Methos, who ignored the unspoken challenge as he went to the fridge for the beer.
Out of the corner of his eye he watched MacLeod wander around the apartment, picking up and carefully replacing a piece of Shona sculpture that Methos had been given by the sculptor when he had purchased a few items from him on a trip to Zimbabwe. The smooth ebony curves of the sculpture contrasted with the light ash of a lovingly carved bowl that he had found a few years back at a ‘traditional’ English ‘Ye Olde Craft Faire’. The woodturner had been an artist, had brought out the veins in the wood beautifully. They were objects that Methos had only recently brought out of storage, of no very great worth in themselves, nor did they have any memories--good or bad--associated with them. That was why he chose to display them.
He realised with a feeling of slow-dawning incredulity that maybe Duncan hadn’t come to seek his help after all. Or at least not in respect of something that was potentially life threatening; the way MacLeod was acting precluded that. So, he’d come to visit him for some other reason.
As he sat down on the couch, MacLeod sitting in the straight-backed chair to the side, Methos obliquely raised the subject. “Amanda’s gone then, I take it?” he asked casually.
“Nope,” MacLeod shook his head then grinned ruefully. “She’s out shopping--with my credit card.”
Methos stared at him with disbelief. “Have you gone mad? You gave her your card!”
“I didn’t know she’d taken my card until after she’d gone.”
“Ah, because of course this is the very first time she’s done something like this.”
MacLeod winced. “Not exactly. But she always pays me back--somehow.” A reminiscent smile crossed his face as he spoke.
Irritation came unbidden and Methos spoke swiftly. “Well, this is all very nice MacLeod, but why did you come here?”
MacLeod had the gall to look hurt. “Do I need a reason?”
“I don’t know, do you?”
“I didn’t think so.”
“Well, there’s your answer, then.”
There was silence for a moment, charged with possibilities, then MacLeod shifted uneasily in his seat. “Methos, I--“
Methos cocked his head to one side and looked at MacLeod enquiringly, chiding himself for the feeling of clenched apprehension at what would be coming next.
“I just wanted to say...thank you, for what happened. You know, with O’Rourke.”
Oh, that was what it was. MacLeod was feeling guilty again. He sighed and prepared himself to deal with it, anticipating a long session of Highland breast beating ahead. He shrugged. “Think nothing of it, it’s no big deal.”
“No, no, that’s not true. I know I wasn’t exactly overflowing with gratitude afterwards.” MacLeod smiled sheepishly. “I’m not good at accepting help. But what I wanted to say, to let you know, is that I... well, I missed you,” he finished awkwardly. “You know, after...”
“You went away?” Methos asked quietly, not mentioning by name the events surrounding the coming of Ahriman.
Duncan nodded, then took a deep breath. “And I didn’t want you to think that you haven’t had any effect on my life, despite that fact that I don’t always take your advice.”
“Try not ever.” Methos said tartly, falling back on what was familiar with relief--and annoyance at himself for that relief.
MacLeod smiled ruefully but said nothing.
“Why do you think I don’t bother dispensing advice? Because it’s hardly ever taken,” Methos said, answering his own question.
“Let the children make their own mistakes?”
“Something like that.”
MacLeod nodded. “You’ve said that one before.”
“I was operating on the principle that if you say something often enough, maybe it’ll sink in.”
“Yes, well whatever. I just thought that I’d let you know that despite appearances, I do listen and that I...value what you have to say, greatly.” MacLeod spoke carefully.
Methos blinked in amazement. MacLeod was thanking him, *really* thanking him. He spoke without thought, revelling in the unaccustomed feeling of not having to measure carefully every word he said to the Highlander. “Who are you? And what have you done with MacLeod? The stubborn Scot, never listens to anyone other than himself. The one who never admits that I’m right.”
At that MacLeod grinned at him, white teeth flashing against the bronzed skin of his face. “I guess even you have to get lucky and be right occasionally.”
Methos sniffed. “What would I know about it. I’m only five thousand years old, after all.”
“So you keep saying. Is there any more beer?”
Methos looked at MacLeod suspiciously. “So, *that’s* why you came round. You want to drink all my beer.”
“Uh huh,” MacLeod murmured in agreement. “Thought I’d return the favour.”
Methos favoured him with one of his better admonishing looks and got up, returning with two beers. He settled back down on the couch, adopting a comfortable pose, long legs stretched out before him.
Outwardly he was a picture of relaxation, but inside he was trying not to let his feelings--a mixture of relief, joy, fear and apprehension--overwhelm him. It was dangerous to allow himself to be pulled back fully into the Highlander’s orbit, but he could not resist the attraction. That he’d tried and met with abject failure. Maybe it was going to be all right after all. What they now had couldn’t be what it had been, of course, and no one knew better than he that there was no going back. Or that it was better that way; let the past stay where it belonged. But it looked like Duncan was reaching out and really, it would be churlish to refuse him. Although he might have wished otherwise, Duncan’s friendship meant far too much to him to reject its apparent resumption now. Even though that made him horribly vulnerable.
“There’s an international rugby match on tomorrow,” MacLeod said, after taking a long swallow of beer. “France versus Scotland. I wondered if you’d like to go.”
“With you and Amanda?” As he spoke the childish refrain ‘three’s a crowd’, slithered through his head. Although, Amanda’s reactions at a rugby match might be very entertaining to watch.
But MacLeod shook his head. “It’s not her sort of thing. She doesn’t really like rugby, prefers Australian Rules football, says that the outfits are irresistible.” He grinned at Methos, who rolled his eyes. “So, what do you say?”
“Okay.” He was careful to inject just the right note into his voice, interested but not too eager. Not pathetically eager at all. “So long as you promise not to sulk when Scotland lose.”
“Oh, come on Mac, the way they’ve been playing lately they’ll be lucky if they don’t lose by seven tries and five goals.”
“They’re not that bad!”
“If you say so. And I suppose it could be worse,” Methos said, mock-resignation in his voice. “It could be the Scottish football team.”
“We’re in the final of the World Cup,” MacLeod snapped, affronted.
“Until the second round.”
“I suppose you’re supporting England.” Duncan said snidely, ignoring the slur on Scotland’s footballing abilities.
Methos shook his head, resisting the temptation to agree just to piss MacLeod off. “Brazil.” For one terrible second he almost said, ‘I go with the winner, remember,’ but ruthlessly squashed the impulse. Instead, he merely said, “They’ve got Renaldo, after all.”
MacLeod shrugged, wordlessly conceding the point, then grinned. “The match starts at fifteen hundred, so how about if we meet for lunch beforehand?”
It was apparently as simple as that--their friendship resumed, on the surface seemingly little changed from the days before the revelations about the Horsemen. But it had. Their relationship was ostensibly comfortable, even easy. But there were matters that were never discussed, issues too tender to expose to the harsh light of day.
Methos decided that he was content with what they had, that their friendship as it stood now was sufficient, perhaps a foundation upon which they could build. That it was fundamentally unaltered was actually a comfort--such constancy as the Highlander evidenced was rare indeed.
Then, with a suddenness that took him unawares, everything changed.
It happened one lazy afternoon, in early summer in Seacouver.
Amanda had not come to Seacouver with them. She had left Paris a few weeks after the O’Rourke incident, came back again for a few days, then left again, saying that she didn’t anticipate that she would be back for a while, as she had some business to take care of. MacLeod showed no sign of distress at her going--he was, Methos thought, used to it by now. He had to admit that it was fun when Amanda was there, she teased MacLeod unmercifully, flirted with Joe and gossiped with Methos, not to mention occasionally stirring him up by shameless use of her undeniable assets. It was a game he rather enjoyed, too much to stop her, although she was exhausting after a while. He had almost forgotten the obscene amount of energy she had, so much that she was capable of wearing even MacLeod out. Methos had enjoyed a few private snickers at that thought.
Methos and Duncan--and Joe--had left Paris a few days previously, MacLeod having decided that it was time he returned. Methos knew that Seacouver, even more than Paris, was full of memories for MacLeod, of those he had perhaps loved the most; Tessa and Richie. He guessed that MacLeod had not been able to bring himself to come back to the place where Richie had spent most of his short life before now. Methos admired MacLeod’s courage in seeking to face the past, even if he deplored his reasoning. Seacouver was a pleasant enough place, but so were many other cities. Why not leave it a few centuries and return only when time had blunted the edge of loss still further?
However he said nothing to MacLeod, simply volunteering to accompany him on the basis that the weather in Seacouver was better than in Paris. MacLeod had accepted the transparent excuse for what it was with a grateful smile. Methos had settled comfortably into the loft, playing shamelessly on MacLeod’s Highlander sense of hospitality.
That particular afternoon they had been sitting in MacLeod’s loft in Seacouver, keeping one another company. Conversation had been desultory; Methos was reading the latest best-seller, much to MacLeod’s disgust. The Highlander was listening to music, opera, much to Methos’ disgust. It was not the fact that operatic music was being played per se that he objected to, more the particular choice of opera. He had enquired acidly whether MacLeod was trying to depress him, as the strains of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra filled the air. MacLeod had pointed out that it was his loft and if Methos didn’t like his taste in music he could always leave. Methos had had to settle for grumpily stating, for the umpteenth time, that Mac needed to update his music collection.
MacLeod had been on edge, restlessly prowling around the loft, picking up objects from the shelves close to the bed and then putting them down again. Methos was attempting to concentrate on his book but every time he did so a movement from MacLeod would catch his attention, distracting him, infecting him with the younger man’s restlessness. Eventually, in a dangerously mild tone, he had enquired whether something was bothering the Highlander.
MacLeod shrugged. “Not really. I’m just...I don’t know, feel the need for exercise, that’s all.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” Methos said sardonically.
“How about a workout?”
Methos groaned. He was far too comfortable where he lay, taking up most of the space on the sofa, to want to move. Besides he had already run eight miles that day.
“C’mon, old man,” MacLeod challenged. “At this rate the next Immortal who comes along and challenges you won’t have a fight on his hands--you’ll be a walkover.”
Methos scowled at him. He had no intention of rising to the bait. “If you feel like some exercise, why don’t you go for a run.”
MacLeod cocked his head significantly towards the window. “Have you taken a look at the weather lately?”
The older Immortal turned his head a few inches, enough to see that it was drizzling outside. “So what. It’s not like you’re going to dissolve in the rain. You know, time was when the coming of the rain was considered to be a blessed event. I remember old Ashurbanipal and I, back in, oh it must have been about 640 BC--”
“Whatever,” MacLeod interjected hastily.
Methos snorted. The children of today had no respect for past learning and history. The fact that the older generations had been saying that for as long as he could remember made it no less true, now as then.
“Oh come on Methos, I don’t feel like a run. Please,” MacLeod wheedled.
Methos noted the movement of MacLeod’s powerful limbs. It seemed that Duncan was evidencing the type of physical restlessness that could be only assuaged by hard activity. Which was precisely why he was going to suggest some, then maybe he could get some peace. “Why don’t you go and practice a kata or something then?”
MacLeod’s expression could only be described as a pout. “I’ve already done that today.”
“I sometimes wonder about you. This impulse to violence you’re feeling is very adolescent, you know.”
“What? Because I like to practice against a live opponent every now and again? And talking of practice, when was the last time you put in any?”
Methos let his eyes grow mendaciously wide. “I practice every day,” he said virtuously.
MacLeod’s gaze was sceptical. “You do?”
Methos rose to his feet and strolled over to the fridge. “Uh huh,” he said, reaching inside to pull out a beer. “I practice drinking beer every day.”
MacLeod’s stare was not amused. “You can be so irritating at times.”
Methos grinned. “Part of my charm.” As he spoke, he flipped off the top of the beer, depositing it neatly in the bin by the fridge and took a pull from the bottle. He leant back against a work unit. “You know what your trouble is?”
“No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” MacLeod said dryly.
“You need to learn how to relax. All this rushing about keeping busy is okay, but only in moderation. Remember that, all things in moderation. Except beer,” he said reflectively.
He grinned inwardly at the Highlander’s incredulous stare. “You!” MacLeod hooted. “You’re lecturing me about moderation. I suppose you never overindulged--took part in any Roman orgies or anything like that.”
Methos made a moue of distaste. “Roman orgies are very overrated, I never cared much for them myself,” he said airily.
He nodded. “Much rather have a good book--and a beer,” he said, saluting MacLeod with the bottle held in one hand. “Besides, I’d rather got over my orgy period by the time the Romans came along.”
There was a brief silence, following this oblique reference to Methos’ violent past history. It was one of the games Methos sometimes could not resist playing, needle MacLeod and see how far he’d go. He knew that MacLeod hadn’t come to terms with the fact that Methos was one of the Four Horsemen, although to give him credit he seemed to be making an attempt to cope with it. An attempt that was probably doomed to failure, bearing in mind that MacLeod didn’t as yet seem to be able to accept his own past dark deeds committed after the Battle of Culloden and they paled into insignificance compared to those of Methos. He watched with almost dispassionate interest as the other man’s lips tightened. How would he react this time?
But MacLeod chose to ignore it. “I hardly think that asking you to join me in a practice session, after an afternoon spent lying around doing nothing, is overdoing it.”
“Ah, but you’ve already put in one exercise session today, two is overdoing it. Moderation, my child, moderation.”
MacLeod glared at him. “You sound like an old granny.”
Methos grinned. “Well, I *am* old enough to be your grandfather, several times over,” he said, refusing to take offence.
“You know what your trouble is, Methos?”
“No,” he replied, matching MacLeod’s earlier tone exactly. “But I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”
“You think you know everything.”
Methos laughed. “Funny. That’s what Richie said about you.”
There was silence.
Methos felt an unwanted pang of remorse. He hadn’t meant to remind Duncan of his dead student. But now he would have to do something to take MacLeod’s mind off Richie’s tragic death. “Oh, all right,” he sighed, pushing himself reluctantly away from the counter. “Let’s go for a workout then. Kids--no patience.”
MacLeod’s mouth quirked, probably, Methos thought, at the kid reference. After all, there weren’t that many people around who could call Duncan MacLeod a kid--and get away with it. He was relieved to see that Duncan wasn’t going to go off and brood, even if he could discern a shadow of pain in the fine, dark eyes, as MacLeod wordlessly held the entrance to the elevator open for Methos.
The dojo downstairs was closed at present to the public, ensuring that they would not be disturbed. Methos stripped off his sweater and kicked off his shoes, then peeled off his socks. He took a certain joy in feeling the wooden floor beneath his feet, a natural material with much the same feel now as it had had thousands of years ago when he was young. He noted that MacLeod too had removed a layer of clothing preparatory to their bout. Sparring was not something they had often done together, on Methos’ part because he was reluctant to give away any hint of his fighting abilities to anyone who did not already know them. Although since the shared quickening they had experienced, when MacLeod had taken Kronos’ head, whilst Methos took that of Silas, the Highlander probably had some idea.
In spite of his earlier reluctance Methos was becoming more enthusiastic about the idea. This might be fun and it was, after all, necessary to keep in good shape. Even if he wasn’t going to admit that to Duncan.
They started slowly, neither having warmed up, katana testing broadsword, but the blows lacked force. Each thrust was parried easily; neither man assayed--for the moment--any complicated moves. Then the pace quickened, the clash of steel against steel ringing faster and louder, until they were dancing around the dojo floor, making full use of the available space. Sinews strained and muscles bunched as the blows were now delivered with more force behind them. Thrust, parry, riposte. Both men were sweating freely now, T-shirts clinging to the long muscles of both backs, one powerfully muscled, the other longer, less broad but sleek in its elegance none the less.
Methos grinned fiercely, a grin echoed by that on the other man’s face. He was enjoying himself. MacLeod was a superb swordsman, subtle but powerful and it was a pleasure to spar against him. He ducked to avoid a swing from MacLeod’s katana, but not quite quickly enough as fire streaked along his ribs. First blood to MacLeod. Methos straightened, gasping a little as the pain faded as his Immortal body healed itself. Opposite him MacLeod waited, sword poised, for Methos to heal before resuming his offensive. The chivalrous gesture both touched and irritated Methos; didn’t the boy know that such actions could get him killed? This was something he needed to learn. And maybe Methos was the person to teach him.
Slowly but inexorably he felt the urge rising within him, a feeling that he hadn’t experienced in all its purity for a long while now. It was not an urge to kill, but to win, to beat his opponent to his knees and... He lifted his head, grin positively wolfish now, to meet its match spread across MacLeod’s darkly complected face. Wordlessly Methos sprang forward and battle was joined in earnest. Now it was no holds barred. Each blow, if it had landed, could be deadly--to anyone other than an Immortal.
Methos felt his sense of excitement grow, knowing that he was matched by the other, his adversary. He felt a fierce type of love for the man who joined him in the gavotte, a celebration of life. Because that was what it was. By balancing on the edge of danger Methos felt alive in a way he seldom experienced anymore, youth’s passions having long since passed him by. The clash and whirl of the striking blades was his whole world, everything had narrowed down to one thing, to take on the other--and win.
Steel slipped and screeched down steel as both blades met at the hilt, bringing the two men into close proximity, pressing chest to panting chest. Their breath met and mingled as they faced one another, close enough to kiss. For several seconds they held the pose, a frozen tableau, unmoving save for the gasps for breath. Methos could feel almost every inch of MacLeod’s body plastered against his and suddenly, astonishing him in its intensity, he was hard, achingly so. His arousal was matched by his opponent, who was in perfect sync with him as he had been throughout all of their sparring. Hazel eyes met dark, watching in fascination as MacLeod’s eyes grew huge, all the light in them seemingly swallowed up by the expanding pupil. Methos swallowed heavily and the movement was echoed by MacLeod.
Abruptly Methos moved, throwing the other man away from him to arm’s length but at no time did their eyes cease to meet. Dark eyes narrowed, laying down the challenge. Hazel eyes widened in acknowledgement, then blinked. Challenge accepted.
Warily Methos circled around MacLeod, who turned to face him; their swords were still touching at the tips. Methos cocked his head to one side then straightened and attacked. But the other Immortal was ready for him, meeting the attack with one of his own that immediately sent Methos on the defensive.
Backwards and forwards they danced, two master swordsmen. Methos’ usual cautious downplaying of his true fighting abilities was almost, but not quite, forgotten as he showed more of his real sword-skill to MacLeod than he had evidenced in centuries--save when fighting to the death. They were as yet evenly matched, neither getting the better of the other. Neither showed any sign of tiring.
Methos felt a mixture of competitiveness, a determination to win the bout and lust, pure in its intensity and uncomplicated for the moment by anything else, lust that he knew MacLeod--who was a match in so many ways--also felt. Methos’ expression was still set in a fierce, predatory grin, twin to the one opposite him. He knew that MacLeod wanted to win this bout--on all levels--but was determined, for once, to be the victor.
Sweat dripped unnoticed to the floor, both men glowed with it, their hair plastered to their heads. MacLeod’s hair, almost re-grown since he had destroyed Ahriman, straggled loose from its ponytail, strands escaping to fall around his flushed face.
Methos feinted, sending MacLeod to the right in order to avoid the blow that was aimed at his thigh, MacLeod skidding as Methos had intended on the damp floor. In a swift movement, beautiful in its grace, Methos sent MacLeod’s katana spinning from his hand to land on the other side of the dojo.
Perfect. Duncan would think that he had lost only because he had slipped. All motion then ceased, MacLeod frozen, not even breathing, with Methos’ sword held to his neck.
The next instant the sword fell, clattering unheeded to the floor as Methos--the victor--stepped close.
There were no words.
Methos ground his mouth on MacLeod’s, tasting for the first time those full, silkily inviting lips. MacLeod’s mouth parted defencelessly under the onslaught as Methos plunged dizzily within, tasting aching sweetness as MacLeod’s lips opened to him like a flower. What little breath he had left evaporated like mist as lightning scorched through his body to his achingly hard groin. He moaned, a low keening sound at the back of his throat, amazed at how empty his mouth felt when MacLeod’s lush mouth left his, tongue licking down the curve of his neck to the delicate hollow of the collar bone. Methos’ long fingered hands clutched convulsively at MacLeod’s beautiful back, lifting impatiently the T-shirt, needing to feel the smooth satiny brown skin under his fingertips. He gasped as MacLeod bit at an excitedly erect nipple, heat spiralling within.
For an instant, he was tempted to surrender, let MacLeod take control, feel what it would be like to succumb to his passionate fervour... But no, he was the victor, the champion, and the spoils of victory were his.
He gripped savagely at the long muscles of MacLeod’s sculpted torso and using his sinewy strength slammed the other, hard, against the wall. MacLeod exhaled explosively, a sound on the edge of pain, but did not resist, obviously content--for now--to let Methos take the initiative as the winner.
Methos crushed himself against MacLeod, straining against him, feeling with a helpless leap of his heart the other’s instant response as MacLeod’s arms went around him, clutching at him desperately. He kissed him again and again, savage kisses, diving into MacLeod’s sweetly yielding mouth and biting his lower lip, then leaving the swollen mouth to suck at MacLeod’s neck, drawing blood, branding him as his. His blood raced at the feel of the tingling lightning of MacLeod’s Immortal healing, mixed with the salty iron tang of his blood.
Still no words were spoken. With clumsy haste Methos fumbled at the T-shirt hiding MacLeod’s body from his gaze. When it refused to yield, he grasped it with both fists and tore, meeting the sable eyes opposite with more than a hint of a challenge. He sighed as with a swift, savage movement, MacLeod grabbed the front of Methos’ T-shirt and roughly yanked it over his head, uncaring as it scraped against his flushed face.
By unspoken accord, they pulled away momentarily to quickly divest themselves of the rest of their clothes, yanking impatiently at zips and fasteners, underwear flying across the polished wooden floor.
Finally both were naked. There was a second’s hesitation as their eyes met, knowing that there would be no going back.
Slowly, Methos stepped forward, fitting his body to MacLeod’s, chest to chest, groin to groin, feeling damp, hot skin, flushed bright. Pressing MacLeod against the wall, with a sudden, aggressive move he kicked his legs apart, inserting his own between them and trapping the other man in the circle of his arms. He rubbed his cheek against MacLeod’s, feeling the rough stubble against his more fine grained skin. At last, at last, he could touch Duncan as he had longed to do from the moment of their first meeting. He traced finely toned muscle and crisp hair with a single wandering finger, as MacLeod sighed and trembled against him, radiating heat.
Heat. So hot, he was burning, aching with need. And he was going to take what he wanted--he was done with waiting.
He pulled away slightly to look into huge dark eyes, then reached up to press lightly down on MacLeod’s broad shoulders. He did not need to say anything; MacLeod read his wordless signals perfectly and with a movement breathtaking in its graceful power dropped lightly to his knees, then took Methos in his mouth.
At the first touch--wet, heated velvet and silk--Methos staggered and nearly fell, clutching convulsively at MacLeod’s damp skin to steady himself. Now it was Methos’ turn to feel the plaster of the wall cool against his sweating back as he threw his head back and closed his eyes, lost in the sensation of the skilled mouth moving on him. White fire scorched through his veins, his whole universe narrowed down to this moment, this intensity of feeling, lost in the sensation of fucking Duncan MacLeod’s willing mouth, the silken glide of his throat, the smooth satin of his lips.
Methos’ hips moved helplessly, desperately, as he plunged greedily into the open throat, which gave and gave and gave without complaint. He shuddered and cried out at the moment of climax, which welled up in him inescapable, irresistible, as he spent himself in a series of pulses. Bones dissolved with pleasure, he swayed on his feet, holding desperately to the hot, smooth flesh of MacLeod’s strong shoulders. He bent down and kissed MacLeod in passionate gratitude, devouring his mouth, tasting his own bitter salt on the other’s tongue, mixed with the unmistakable flavour that was Duncan MacLeod.
As he calmed he drew slowly away from MacLeod’s inviting mouth, lips reddened and swollen from his kisses and opened heavy-lidded, satiated eyes, to meet a look of intense satisfaction on the face of MacLeod, mixed with a fine-tuned tension of unresolved lust. He smiled, meeting the look of panting anticipation with an aching tremor deep within. From some deep-sunk reserve of strength he straightened and pulled up the younger man’s heavier frame to his, placing MacLeod with his back to the wall, holding him there by his upper arms, savouring the honed muscles quivering underneath his hands. He tucked groin to groin and thrust, feeling MacLeod hot and hard against him, all strength and silken skin.
It did not take long, moments later MacLeod was shuddering, moaning and spilling himself hotly against Methos. Then the only sound was of panting breaths as both men held onto one another tightly, each equally reluctant to let the other go, basking in the fever-damp heat of the other. Eventually Methos’ grip loosened a fraction. At that MacLeod pulled away, leaving Methos feeling bereft, his arms achingly empty. But not for long, as the other Immortal pulled him down to sit hunkered next to him on the dojo floor. MacLeod rested his head next to that of Methos.
For a while there was silence. Methos’ mind was a whirl of mixed emotions.
Finally, it had happened.
After all that he and Duncan had been through together, having come close to consummating their attraction to each other on several occasions, flirting with one another at times quite desperately but never quite taking that final step, Methos had come to believe that they never would.
He had thought that it was probably safer that way. There was so much between them, the ghosts of anguish and regret shadowing their relationship, that it would at the very least complicate matters if they became lovers. Methos was aware that Duncan as a lover possessed a passionate intensity that could be difficult to live with. It was at times hard enough being MacLeod’s friend, he wondered whether he had the strength to be his lover as well. Even Amanda, tenacious though she was, could bear it only for short periods of time.
He stole a look at MacLeod, noting that the younger man was frowning slightly. Methos’ heart sank. Perhaps Duncan was regretting what they had done, or maybe he was as uncertain as Methos about the change in their relationship and where they would go from here. Methos sighed inwardly. He was annoyed at himself, both for feeling this way and also for setting aside so readily one of the guiding precepts of his life, no matter what the temptation and acting so rashly on impulse. He should never have risen to the bait like he had.
Suddenly MacLeod spoke. “Damn it!”
“What,” Methos said, almost certain now that he was in for a tedious bout of soul searching. Or maybe MacLeod was about to go off on one of his guilt trips. And he really didn’t think he could take that right now, not after a sexual experience that for all it had been hurried, maybe even rushed, was one of the best that he could remember in his inordinately lengthy life.
“I don’t believe it!”
“Oh?” Methos’ tone was carefully noncommittal.
“No. I figured it’d be good with you, but...”
“But,” Methos prompted, a clenched, sick feeling growing in his gut. Maybe he had hurt MacLeod after all.
MacLeod turned dark eyes to him. “It wasn’t just good, it was...it was...amazing,” he finished dreamily. “I can’t believe how much time we’ve wasted.”
Methos felt the huge weight pressing on his chest lift, as a very masculine pride took its place. Even if he knew how absurd that pride was. “Well, I *have* learned a few things in the past five thousand years, you know.”
MacLeod snorted. “You may have, but I couldn’t tell from that little encounter.”
Methos glared at him, but his realisation that the other man was grinning mollified him somewhat. And it was true that neither of them had shown much finesse so far. “What would you know,” he said loftily. “You’re just a kid!”
“Everyone’s just a kid to you, old man! I tell you what, why you don’t you come upstairs and show me a few of those things you claim you’ve learnt, because I don’t know about you but I’m getting too old for knee tremblers.” He lifted himself to his feet, reaching down to help Methos to his feet as he spoke.
“*You’re* getting too old,” Methos said as he allowed himself to be hauled up.
There was a moment of silence as both men stood side by side. Methos felt, for a second, oddly shy. Then he smiled. “Shower?”
“Definitely,” was the ready reply.
Methos stopped to gather up sword and the remnants of his torn clothing, as MacLeod did the same. Then still naked they strolled for the elevator, both shooting admiring glances at the other. As each intercepted the other’s glance they burst out laughing, ending tangled in the other’s arms, kissing.
That first night had been one that Methos knew he would always cherish, the memory of it like nectar on the tongue. It had been almost unbearably sweet. Duncan had been everything he had dreamt he would be, his love play evidencing a skill that spoke of centuries of practice. Methos had often wondered what it would be like to be the object of all that fervour and now that he knew he feared very much that even after a single taste he was addicted to it. He was aware that he could be overly sentimental at times, not even the weight of years had ever quite succeeded in burning that trait out of him. But he did not think that his thoughts of that first night were governed by sentimentality. Instead he prided himself that he recognised something precious and rare, something of value. Fleeting perhaps, but real none the less.
He had let MacLeod take him first; figuring that this was fair recompense for his dominance of the younger Immortal in the dojo. In contrast to their earlier encounter the next time was slow and gentle, both men calling on the patience learned over the centuries to prolong their interaction. But when it was Methos’ turn to take MacLeod, in yet another change of mood it was all laughter and teasing, until the passion between them could no longer be denied and they forgot everything except the other in the heat of their loving.
Afterwards they had lain in one another’s arms, in MacLeod’s bed, exchanging lazy kisses and unhurried caresses with an ease that bespoke of lovers of years, not just one night. Methos knew that whatever happened in the future this night would be a memory to treasure, laced with no regret.
Somewhat to his surprise the next morning had not brought what he had thought would be the inevitable post-coital conversation. Knowing Duncan as he did, he had been expecting it. Methos had as usual woken with the dawn but found to his annoyance that, contrary to his habit of the last few decades, he was unable to go back to sleep. Instead he had lain there, silently watching MacLeod. It was not an unfamiliar sight, he had trespassed on Duncan’s hospitality enough times to be well acquainted with the look of the sleeping MacLeod. But he had never observed him from a position of such intimacy before.
MacLeod, who was always warm as a result of his Highland upbringing, had thrown off most of the covers baring his magnificent torso as he lay on his back; his breathing was deep and even. Methos traced with his eyes the dark smattering of chest hair, down the beautifully sculpted muscles covered by honey dark skin, to the neat belly button, then followed the thin line of hair as it angled intriguingly down to the groin, which was covered by the silkily verdant sheet.
He swallowed dryly. Ridiculous to be so aroused merely at the sight of MacLeod. He was beautiful, true enough, but so were many others. But they did not have the power to affect him like this. A power that he was determined MacLeod should not suspect he had over him, not if he was to maintain any sense of equilibrium in this relationship. He shook his head in self-disgust. He knew better than to start thinking of what was between them as anything other than friendship. Who knew what would happen next? There were no guarantees and if nothing else, what they had done last night had changed its terms irrevocably.
As he had that thought, he realised that MacLeod was stirring and lay back, carefully feigning sleep, curious as to what Duncan would do next. For a few moments, nothing happened and Methos found that his nerves prickled with apprehension. He was irritated with himself for being foolishly childish, but was unable to wholly subdue the feeling. It shouldn’t matter how Duncan reacted to his presence here, in his bed. But it did, too much.
Then he felt a caressing finger trail along his chest, tracing the aureole of a nipple, which puckered in sudden, helpless arousal. Methos opened his eyes to the breathtaking sight of a heavy lidded, tousled Duncan MacLeod leaning over him, smiling at him with sleepy sensuality.
“I wondered what it’d take to wake you up,” MacLeod commented. “And it looks like not much. So all that stuff about you not doing mornings, thank you very much, was a crock, huh.”
Methos looked at him consideringly, through veiled lashes. How best to react? “MacLeod, for most of my life I’ve had no choice but to get up at dawn. So when I don’t have to, I don’t.” He started to turn away, but MacLeod wouldn’t let him, pouncing on him suddenly, like a playful great cat, the dark veil of his hair falling over Methos’ face, silken strands tickling his skin. Methos wriggled as MacLeod kissed the end of his nose. “What are you doing,” he growled.
“Kissing you,” MacLeod replied unabashed. “And what’s more I plan to do a lot more of it. You...don’t...have...any...objections...I...hope,” he remarked, between kisses that were as soft as satin, as strong as steel along Methos’ neck.
“What if I did?” Methos said, somewhat breathlessly, unaware that he was arching his head back to offer MacLeod full access to his neck.
“Tough!” With that MacLeod continued his trail of kisses down Methos’ body, lavishing his attention on his nipples, lapping at them like a cat, with delicate, swift tongue strokes, making Methos shudder and writhe. MacLeod’s hand slipped lower, to seize Methos’ erection in a firm, sword-callused hand, rubbing his forefinger over the weeping head. “Methos,” MacLeod spoke in a low, throaty, intimate voice. “Methos,” he said again, as he moved his hand up and down the shaft.
Methos reached out to seize MacLeod’s hand in his, to guide, to direct, but an instant later he felt strong fingers moving his hand away. “No, please. Just let me...I want to...Methos, let me.”
For an instant, Methos felt moved to protest, somewhere in the back of his mind an alarm bell was shrilling insistently. He really shouldn’t let Duncan have this much control, but...Oh! He shuddered, lips parted with delight, as MacLeod’s hand caressed his scrotum, carefully stroking him, causing waves of deliciously aching sensation to course through him.
Methos abandoned himself to MacLeod’s ministrations, vaguely aware of Duncan’s eyes upon him, all dark sensuality, smoky with desire. He luxuriated in the feel of MacLeod’s warrior hand, smooth satin juxtaposed with calluses rough as a cat’s tongue, pleasuring him in long firm strokes, with some empathic instinct knowing exactly how best to satisfy him.
Methos felt it build within him, leaving him shuddering, on the cusp of pleasure-pain. He cried out and quivered in orgasm, back arching, head flung back, in that moment his whole existence narrowed down to the intensity of pure feeling. Gradually, slowly, coherency returned as the room came back into focus around him and he met eyes of fevered dark brown, gaze avid upon him. “What?” he said, suddenly uneasy. What had he given away?
MacLeod shook his head. “You looked...you looked...” His voice trailed off into silence.
“What?” Methos said again, “Ridiculous?” His voice was tart.
“No.” MacLeod spoke in a low voice. “Not ridiculous.”
“Well, good.” With an indefinable, fluttering sense of apprehension, Methos realised that he could not read MacLeod’s expression. In a move to cover his trepidation, he rolled swiftly on top of MacLeod, propping his arms on the broad chest beneath him. “Your turn,” he said as he reached down, to encounter soft stickiness. “Oh.”
MacLeod grinned at him, clearly abashed, but just as clearly having decided to brazen it out. Methos blinked at him and met his eyes for a long moment, a wordless question etched in them. He was answered by the shining softness in the dark eyes opposite, but neither man spoke, until Methos shook himself slightly, breaking eye contact as he did so. “I don’t know about you, Mac, but I’m starving. Make me some breakfast, will you.”
MacLeod managed to look both wary and indignant. “And set some sort of precedent? I don’t think so. I am *not* going to wait on you hand and foot.”
“Is this the way you treat all your lovers?” Methos asked, propping himself up on an elbow. “Because if so, I’ve got to tell you that your post-coital technique could use a little work.”
MacLeod shook his head. “Nope. This is the way I treat five thousand year old men, who eat me out of hearth and home, not to mention pinch all my beer.”
“But just think of all the fringe benefits,” Methos suggested innocently.
“Oh, I am. But I’m still trying to decide if they’re worth it.”
Methos’ eyes narrowed dangerously at the grin on MacLeod’s face. In an instant, he pounced, pinning MacLeod under him, strong long-fingered hands seeking out vulnerable spots and tickling unmercifully. MacLeod attempted to retaliate, but was laughing with defenceless abandon, hooting helplessly, unable to inflict any real damage. His thrashing had the effect of heaving them both onto the floor in a tangle of arms and legs and bed linen. They both lay there giggling, powerless in the shared moment of insane hilarity, Methos’ aching ribs heaving, until MacLeod shook himself and scrambled to his feet.
“I’m going for a shower,” he announced.
“How come you get the shower first?” Methos demanded.
“Because this way, I make sure I get some hot water,” was the tart reply.
Methos stretched as seductively as he could, given that his legs were still encumbered with the bed-clothes. “We could shower together.”
MacLeod smiled at him, expression all regret-tinged lust, but a glint of mischief gleamed in his eyes. “But then, who’s going to get breakfast?” With that parting shot, he disappeared swiftly into the shower, leaving a very indignant Methos glaring after him.
Methos untangled himself from the bed-clothes swearing under his breath in satisfyingly guttural old Anglo-Saxon as he looked towards the bathroom door, hearing through the sound of running water MacLeod’s not unmelodious baritone singing an aria from La Traviata. He tried the bathroom door and discovered that it was locked, but grinned evilly. He might not be as good at breaking and entering as Amanda but he had picked up a few skills over the years.
Shortly afterwards, the bathroom door yielded to his direction and he slipped into the steamy bathroom, crept towards the shower stall, then leapt in and switched off the hot water with one swift, sudden movement. The ensuing yell of protest from MacLeod was very satisfactory, as was the revenge the outraged Highlander insisted in extracting from his lover--Methos discovering that he loved pleasing MacLeod with his undoubted expertise at oral sex.
Yet despite the amusing and thoroughly, well, at the very least, pleasing time they had had since Duncan had first woken, Methos was not able to subdue his alarm at the realisation that he hadn’t read the other Immortal as well as he thought he had. He wasn’t sure exactly how he had expected MacLeod to react, but this delightful playfulness was not something he would have predicted. Not to mention what had happened earlier, when MacLeod had brought him to dizzying, fevered orgasm by doing nothing more than what was, in crude terms, jerking him off. It had been centuries since Methos had obtained that degree of pleasure from what was a rather mundane act. Except that with Duncan it wasn’t.
He was far too old and jaded to react like this. He forcibly subdued the helpless mixture of arousal and alarm by concentrating his scattered intellect in considering what was likely to happen next, feeling his breathing calm as he did so. Curiosity stirred within him and rather than take the initiative himself, he decided to let the younger man set the mood and pace of their changed relationship, at least for today.
Over a late breakfast MacLeod suggested a trip to an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art in downtown Seacouver, which was the sort of thing that he would have asked Methos to accompany him on before they had become lovers.
They had spent an enjoyably lazy day together. Even the discovery that the paintings at the exhibition were mainly second rate, although there was a very fine early Millais--painted before he had succumbed to the Victorian penchant for sentimentality--included amongst them, could not dampen Methos’ feeling of nebulous happiness.
Outwardly there was nothing in MacLeod’s behaviour to suggest that they were intimate but he stood closer than usual to Methos at the exhibition, within the personal space of a lover rather than a friend. He touched Methos frequently, on the arm, the shoulder, once or twice in the small of his back. Even knowing as he did that MacLeod had had several male lovers in the past, Methos had not known what to expect from him. Duncan’s attitude pleased him; Methos approved of the younger man’s circumspection. It fitted in with his instincts not to draw attention to himself and in this city, this country, at this time, advertising that two men were lovers was still not something that was wholly accepted by the majority of the population. MacLeod who unlike Methos had never known a time in most parts of the world where it was acceptable for two men to be openly lovers probably adapted his behaviour as a matter of course. However the manner in which MacLeod acted discomforted him a little, although he wasn’t certain why.
It was only later that it occurred to him that he was being treated exactly the same as all MacLeod’s other lovers. He dismissed this thought impatiently. That was what he was, after all. Just one of Duncan’s lovers.
They decided to eat lunch at a restaurant near to the university where MacLeod had in the past lectured. But whilst half way through their meal, both had reached for the wine at the same time. Their hands met. Lust arose in Methos like a flash flood. He licked suddenly dry lips and looked into the intent eyes opposite his. No words were necessary. They hastily threw some money down onto the table, more than enough to cover the bill and strode out the door, Methos’ stride for once matching that of MacLeod for purpose and intensity. Methos toyed with the idea of pouncing on Duncan and dragging him into the nearest alley, but decided that the relationship was too new for that. It was definitely an idea to store for later though. As he met the glittering eyes of the other man, he wondered if MacLeod had had the same idea.
The journey back to the loft was a torment. MacLeod drove, his hand resting on Methos’ thigh leaving it only to change gear, while Methos’ hand, placed high on the other man’s leg near the groin, never stirred save to stroke MacLeod’s thigh, gently.
When after an eternity of anticipation they reached the loft Methos turned to MacLeod in an agony of longing, which seemed to be matched by Duncan judging by the look of unconcealed passion in his eyes. It was fast but intensely passionate. Their lovemaking was if anything even better than before as they came to know each other’s bodies--and what pleased the other--more clearly.
Afterwards, as they lay sprawled together in MacLeod’s bed, Methos was unable to resist the temptation to ask why, after all this time, MacLeod had given in to his fascination. Even as he did so he was reflecting wryly that curiosity was one of his weaknesses. It had come close to getting him killed on more than one occasion.
MacLeod laughed. “That’s funny. I was going to ask you the same thing.”
Methos’ mouth twitched. “You mean, you were waiting for me to make the first move.”
“Something like that,” the other man agreed with equanimity.
Methos moved abruptly, rolling on top of MacLeod, trapping him beneath him. “So, Duncan MacLeod, Immortal Highland warrior, lover of many, was waiting--“
“For the oldest man in the world, who *should* have all this experience to fall back on? That’s right. My mistake. If I’d waited for you, I’d still be waiting.”
“Patience,” Methos said smugly, “is a virtue. One which you obviously don’t possess.”
“So why did you wait so long?”
“Me? I thought we agreed that it was you who--“
“You let yourself act, don’t think I don’t know that Methos. Why now?”
Methos was silent. It was flattering to be taken as someone who had that much self-control but it wasn’t true. In reality he had precious little where Duncan was concerned. Finally he spoke, rewarding MacLeod’s patience, which gave the lie to his words of a few moments before. “It was the fight.”
He watched the light in Duncan’s eyes start to die and seized his head gently. “No, that’s not what I mean.” He answered the wordless question. “I just...I couldn’t help myself. I’ve wanted you so damn much--and for so long.” He was rewarded by the almost transcendental, luminous glow in his lover’s eyes in response to his words. “But we, what we are...it’s not easy.”
“No,” MacLeod agreed. He swallowed heavily. “I felt, feel, the same, you know that.”
“So, what are we going to do about it?”
“How about, exactly what we’re doing now?”
“Suits me,” MacLeod mumbled, pulling Methos down to lie on top of him then gently moving him to one side. The two men lay together, relaxed, satiated, for the moment at peace.
To outward appearances their relationship was little changed; they carried on much the same in public as they always had. But Methos was certain that Joe’s shrewd eyes had discerned their new status as lovers, as well as friends. However Joe said nothing at least not to him, showing wisdom and discretion that Methos thought was beyond his few mortal years. If Joe said anything to MacLeod Methos was not aware of it.
But then, notwithstanding the fact of their new physical intimacy, there remained several subjects that by unspoken accord he and MacLeod never really discussed. Methos’ past as one of the Four Horsemen, Richie’s death amongst them. Methos was of the view that it was preferable to let matters be, as he had told Duncan several years ago. The past was the past, over and done. Even if he still couldn’t resist needling MacLeod about it every now and again. But was it his fault that Duncan rose to the bait--usually--so beautifully?
The weeks passed. They travelled together to Egypt after Methos lost a bet as to who would win the World Cup to MacLeod. Methos was still smarting. Really, who would have figured that France, of all nations, would walk off with football’s greatest prize?
He had complained--vociferously--about MacLeod’s choice of Egypt, pointing out that both of them had been there before and that it would be excruciatingly hot this time of year. Unruffled, MacLeod had agreed that although it was correct that they had both been to Egypt before, they had not been there together. He dangled as bait the observation that he was sure there were many things Methos could tell him about ancient Egypt that weren’t in the guidebooks. He also observed that as Methos had lost the bet, their choice of destination was down to him. As for the heat, they could always get up early and later sleep the afternoon away--or entertain themselves in some other way...
Faced with this piece of uncompromising logic and recognising the signs of true Highland stubbornness, Methos had reluctantly agreed. He was annoyed that his lover had insisted on his returning to a place that he knew full well that Methos had last visited in the company of Alexa. He suspected that MacLeod was doing it out of some half thought-out idea that it would be good for him. Which rather proved that the Highlander didn’t know Methos as well as he no doubt thought he did. Methos had long ago come to terms with Alexa’s death, although the pain of it still lingered within him. But mortals died and nothing he could do changed that. Even if he had once been sufficiently desperate to try.
However the half feared, half anticipated ghost of Alexa did not haunt him. Instead there was only his enjoyment in MacLeod’s company, demanding though that could sometimes be, as they travelled from Cairo to Luxor by felucca and from there up the Nile again by boat. Methos had acquiesced to the idea of sailing on the Nile, knowing that as much as he usually disliked the water, travel by boat was preferable to travelling over land--and far less hassle than flying, with all the attendant problems of sword transportation.
Yet the memory of Alexa rose within him, irresistible as beauty, one sun-drenched morning in the place that Methos still thought of as Syene, but was known to modern man as Aswan. He was sitting on the balcony of his and MacLeod’s shared room in the Moorish style hotel called the Pullman Cataract. They had arrived there a couple of days before and had been exploring the old city, Methos having spent some time explaining to Duncan just what was truth and what was blurred by the effluxion of time into myth and legend.
He gazed at the lushly beautiful sight of the Nile on which several felucca sailed gracefully and across to the southern tip of Elephantine Island, where stood the domed granite and sandstone Mausoleum of the Aga Khan, a modern addition to this ancient land.
Unbidden a memory stirred, of how much Alexa had loved their trip to Elephantine Island. She had insisted on visiting the island, enchanted by the name. He could not help but smile as he remembered Alexa’s unfeigned joy in finally being in Egypt, a place she had always dreamed of visiting. She had been so honest and unaffected in her enjoyment and it had gladdened his heart to see her happiness, forgetting all else, at least for that particular moment.
A shadow fell across him and he looked up to see the sun gilding the bare shoulders of his current lover, who was watching him with a quizzical expression.
He smiled at MacLeod enquiringly. “What?”
“Nothing really. I was just wondering what put that soppy expression on your face.”
“Soppy!” Methos expostulated, revolted by the thought.
MacLeod laughed, probably at the utter distaste in Methos’ tone. “Well?”
Methos hesitated, then opted for the truth. It was what Duncan deserved. “I was thinking of Alexa.”
“Ah.” MacLeod’s expression closed in, as he spoke.
Methos reached out for his hand; MacLeod’s fingers were warm in his. “She loved Egypt,” he remarked conversationally. “I’d forgotten how much fun it is seeing the reactions of someone completely new to the place. It’s so familiar to me, you see. In the old days if you wanted the height of civilisation, Egypt was pretty much it. Or at least it was after the fall of Sumeria,” he said ruminatively. “Well, except for China of course.”
“Not really. Not until later.”
“You still miss her,” MacLeod said abruptly.
“Of course. Like you miss Tessa.”
MacLeod nodded, acknowledging the truth of Methos’ words.
Methos stretched, letting go of MacLeod’s hand as he did so, willing a change to a mood that he worried might turn maudlin. Let it be, Mac. “So, what ancient monument do you want to visit today?”
To his hidden relief MacLeod obligingly picked up his cue and ran with it. “Besides the one sitting in front of me?”
Methos let that crack pass with no more than a reproving frown.
“Well, seeing how much you love playing tour guide...”
“I,” Methos said with disdain, “am not playing tour guide. What I am doing is attempting--and it’s not easy--to educate you.”
“Education. And I thought it was just that you love to gossip.”
“I do not,” Methos protested, untruthfully.
“Uh huh.” MacLeod grinned. “So, all that stuff about Hatshepsut--“
“Khnumt Imn Hat-shepsut,” Methos murmured.
MacLeod ignored the interruption. “...and her Chief Treasurer--“
“The Chief Treasurer of Amen.”
MacLeod glared at Methos, who ignored his expression with a serene smile. “...what’s his name...?” His voice trailed off and he looked at Methos expectantly, who perversely refused to oblige. “Well?” MacLeod finally snapped.
“Senenmut. Their being lovers. That was all in the interests of education was it.”
“Absolutely. The rumours were rife. It was pretty scandalous, you know. Not only a female Pharaoh, but her taking a lover as well. If it had been proved she would have been in great danger. That’s one reason why I had to disappear.”
There was a brief pause. Then: “What! You mean, *you* were Senenmut. The man who did all that building at Karnak? I don’t believe you, you lying bastard!”
Methos flung back his head theatrically. “I’m wounded. Although actually Senenmut didn’t do that much building. He--“
Methos shrugged. “Fine. It’s your loss. Did you know that when his tombs were opened they never found his body?”
“Oh come on, Methos. There could be all sorts of explanations for that, grave robbers for one.”
“Ah, but Thutmose III went looking for it, shortly after Hatshepsut died. Both of Senenmut’s tombs were empty.”
He noted Duncan’s uncertain expression with amusement. The other man said nothing more but stumped inside, reappearing shortly afterwards, a book in his hand. It was one of several tomes on Egyptian history that MacLeod had insisted on bringing with him, ignoring Methos’ protests that they were a waste of time as there was nothing in them that he couldn’t tell Mac about--and better and more accurately at that. They would only weigh him down. To that MacLeod had snapped that he wasn’t asking Methos to carry them and had placed them in his suitcase with a definitive air of finality. Methos had sighed but said no more, suspecting that MacLeod wanted to take the books to be able to check on the veracity of Methos’ tales. Although why he bothered Methos wasn’t quite certain, MacLeod knew as well as he did that the history books were frequently wrong.
“Ah ha!” MacLeod said with an air of triumph. “It says here that Senenmut was a member of a large family, that he had at least five brothers *and* it lists his father and mother by name.”
Methos nodded. “Ramose and Hat-nefret.”
MacLeod looked at him suspiciously. “You weren’t Senenmut,” he said, although there was an underlying note of uncertainty in his voice.
Methos shrugged. “I never said I was.”
“Yes you did!”
“No. What I said was that there were rumours and I had to disappear.”
“You-- So you’re saying that you weren’t Senenmut?”
Methos grinned at him fondly. “I didn’t say that either.”
“Do you know, in four hundred years, you’re just about the most irritating...”
“Uh huh,” Methos agreed as he stood up and reached for MacLeod.
Methos pressed his body against that of the younger man, relishing the feel of the superbly muscled long frame against his. It was something he never tired of. He leaned over to kiss him, tasting coffee, toothpaste and MacLeod’s own indescribable flavour, musky-masculine sweetness.
“...annoying person I’ve ever met,” MacLeod mumbled against Methos’ mouth.
“I try,” Methos replied, pulling the other man even closer against him. He manoeuvred MacLeod into the shadowy confines of their room not letting go of him for an instant, their steps moving in harmony.
The younger Immortal pulled him down onto the unmade bed, kissing him urgently, long, fiery-wet kisses, sending arousal sharp as a dagger’s point surging through Methos’ body.
For a moment Methos spared a fond thought for Senenmut who had been a true friend, taking upon himself the rumours of being Hatshepsut’s lover and thus misdirecting attention away from Methos--who at the time had been known in Egypt as Nehesi. Despite Senenmut’s efforts the rumours that Hatshepsut had a lover had become too intense, necessitating that Methos leave Egypt, for a while at least. He had led an expedition of soldiers to Punt, bringing back incense, incense trees, ivory, gold, baboons and animal skins for his Pharaoh. Hatshepsut, his passionate, imperious, exciting lover had been gratifyingly glad to see him and had commemorated the journey by painting episodes from it on the walls of her own mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri. As for Senenmut, Methos alone, honouring his promise to his friend knew where he was buried. The corpse, so far as he knew, had rested there undisturbed for the past three and a half thousand years.
Later, he would tell Duncan the truth.
At that moment, he gasped and arched up as MacLeod seized him in a knowing hand. He ceased to think of very much at all.
It was not until late morning when they finally left their hotel room. They strolled slowly through the tiny, dusty streets off the Sharia as-Souq, doing their best to ignore the persistent cries of the hawkers and market stallholders as the sun beat down on their unprotected heads. A glimpse of a particular stall selling Egyptian ‘antiquities’, which were in reality modern copies, brought another memory of Alexa to Methos’ mind.
She had insisted on stopping at this stall, a small, delicately painted papyrus scroll having caught her eye.
“Look, Adam,” she had said, pointing to the scroll as the stall-holder smiled at her ingratiatingly.
He had glanced at it dismissively. “It’s a fake.”
She had grimaced at him, that particular expression she used when he was, as she put it being ‘depressingly cynical’. “I know that,” she had said impatiently. “But it’s a very *good* fake. It’s well done and pretty. And isn’t what matters in the end that I like it?”
He had taken a closer look at the scroll. She was right. It was well done; the scroll had been beautifully hand painted by someone with artistic ability and the papyrus was of good quality. If one ignored the truly horrendous grammar of the hieroglyphics and concentrated only on the overall picture, it wasn’t displeasing.
Alexa had turned to the stall-holder. “bikam da?” she had asked in brave, but mangled Arabic.
In response the man had named--in English--an outrageous price in Egyptian pounds, far more than the usual opening bargaining gambit. Methos had favoured the man with one of his best intimidating stares, then spoken to him in rapid, fluent, but formal Arabic. He was not familiar with modern colloquial Egyptian Arabic, as spoken by the less well-educated classes, his classic Arabic sufficing to make him understood by all the educated classes at least throughout the Arabic-speaking world. He had been too long away from Egypt to be conversant in the local dialect. But the stall-holder’s attitude had changed markedly at Methos’ words. He had bowed slightly, by way of apology, then named a lesser price that in Methos’ view was a reasonable opening gambit.
They had spent an amiable few minutes haggling over the price of the scroll, the stall-holder offering them tea, which Alexa accepted but Methos declined. It had never been a favourite of his. Finally, Methos and the stall-holder had reached a price that satisfied both of them. Alexa had insisted on paying for the scroll, despite Methos’ protestations.
“*No* Adam,” she had said firmly, “you’ve paid for more than enough as it is.”
Later, back in their hotel room, she had insisted on him translating the hieroglyphics for her, then had attempted to pronounce each one as he told her their Egyptian names, which had reduced them both to fits of helpless giggles. She had never known what a priceless gift he was giving her, the sound of authentic Ancient Egyptian. Scholars would have killed for that knowledge, which he gave to her for the very good reason that he loved to hear her laugh. The memory of her laughter he would cherish always.
He became aware that the stall-holder--the same man who had sold them the scroll--was looking at him quizzically. Methos suspected that the man might have a vague idea that he recognised him, after all how many Western tourists spoke fluent Arabic? However, the man probably was unable to place from where he recognised him. He did not stop at the stall, but continued on by, his thoughts on Alexa.
To his relief he found that the memory of her death had lost most of its sting although the ache was still there, possibly always would be. But now he could recall without pain, or a feeling of disloyalty, the memory that when he had met her he had been lusting fiercely for MacLeod. He had had no expectations of seeing his desire fulfilled, but was unable to resist the lure.
His longing for the other man had led him into making some very inane decisions. For example, his willingness to leave Tibet and rush to Seacouver just because he had heard that Kristin was there. After he had taken Kristin’s head no matter that he told himself that the sensible thing to do was to leave he had remained, paralysed in a paroxysm of indecision. Finally, when he had been on the verge of deciding that he would make his move, cost him MacLeod’s friendship though it might, he had found Alexa working in Joe’s bar of all places. She, he had seized on with a feeling akin to relief. She was blessedly uncomplicated, mortal, therefore not a potential threat. Best of all, she didn’t judge him.
He loved her deeply and his grief when she died, together with his desperation to save her, were both genuine. However he wondered whether he would have fallen in love with her so quickly if it had not been for the knowledge that he was on the verge of falling for MacLeod--and that that was dangerous. Even when he was with Alexa he had still sometimes thought about Duncan. He had even gone so far as to leave her in order to save the other Immortal, at no small personal risk to himself, when the Highlander was suffering from what was known as a Dark Quickening, causing an adverse personality change in MacLeod.
After Alexa had died MacLeod had been there for him, as had Amanda and Joe. Methos was grateful to them for that. The irony had not escaped him that he, who had spent the past few centuries diligently cutting himself off from personal ties, had found out without doubt in the aftermath of Alexa’s death that he had not succeeded. Yet he was glad of it.
It seemed as if his and Duncan’s friendship in the aftermath of her death became deeper and stronger, with the attraction remaining unspoken and unacknowledged underneath.
Then had come the revelation about Methos’ past as one of the Four Horsemen.
“What’re you scowling at?”
Methos started, so lost in his reverie that he had for a moment almost forgotten where he was. He thought quickly, not wanting to lose the mood of amity. “Oh, that building over there...” He pointed at a nondescript shack as he spoke. “There used to be a really great beer maker who carried on business just there.”
MacLeod’s brows drew together in disbelief. “You’re telling me that you remember, after God knows how many thousands of years, that there used to be a beer tent right here? After all the changes there’ve been to this place?”
“It was,” Methos said with immense dignity, “particularly good beer. And it wasn’t sold from a tent. I tell you, Mutnofret was known for her beer all over the city.” He sighed wistfully. “It was a bad day when she died and her son shut up shop. He went off to be a scribe I think.” He blessed the memory of the thin, energetic woman he had known. No need to tell Mac that in fact her business premises had been on the other side of town.
“Okay, okay,” MacLeod mock growled. “I can take a hint. I could do with a drink myself. So, oh knowledgeable one, where do you suggest?”
Methos shrugged. “Search me. My knowledge is thousands of years out of date, remember.”
“Ah, but you came here with Alexa.” MacLeod’s voice was gentle as he continued, “and I find it difficult to believe you didn’t have time to stop for a drink while you were here.”
Methos hesitated briefly. “You’re right. We did. Maybe... I think if we try over there.” He pointed down one of the narrow, nondescript side streets, hoping that for once his Immortal memory wouldn’t let him down and that there really was a small hotel selling alcoholic drinks located round the corner. Luckily he was right.
When they left Egypt a few days later Methos thought with a wry smile that maybe Mac had been right after all. Methos’ memories of Alexa were now less tainted by the thought of her death, in that he was able to remember the joy more than the sadness. He had to remember that although MacLeod was a child compared to him, he still had four hundred years of life--and love--to draw on. Nor was he stupid. Not that he was going to admit that to Duncan of course.
They set off for in Paris, familiar and much loved territory to MacLeod. Methos too often had a yen for the old city having spent several hundred years, on and off, living there. They both settled into MacLeod’s beloved barge, as Methos had given up his apartment near the Eiffel Tower the last time he had left Paris. Initially he had had some vague idea of finding his own place but found, somewhat to his surprise, that he was quite comfortable on the barge even though he disliked the water. Or, he was quite comfortable once he persuaded MacLeod to redecorate the sparse interior by adding a few home comforts--such as a long, overstuffed couch, an excellent stereo system and a TV.
Joe dutifully joined them in Paris, reopening his Blues Bar. Methos had his suspicions--which he didn’t share with MacLeod--that Joe had succeeded in having them watched even while they were in Egypt.
He supposed that by now the Watchers must have realised that he was Immortal, even though they probably didn’t know he was Methos. He sometimes amused himself by imagining the reactions of some of the more pompous Watchers he’d known to the news that the scholarly Adam Pierson was in fact an Immortal. However he was relieved that, unlike Nathan Stern, none of them had made any attempts to kill him.