Of Bones and Love
Methos took a sip of hot black coffee and turned the page of his book without looking at it. He had picked a table close to the door, where the bright yellow lights of the cafe contrasted with the grey morning air outside. Here he could sit pretending to read, sampling everything with caffeine, and watching the couple at a table on the edge of the sidewalk. He studied them as one would read tea-leaves in a cup, or the cast of slender sticks on cloth, for an omen. For a sign.
He could tell they'd been together for a long time. He could tell they had once loved each other deeply. Now -- their love hadn't ended, but it had become a dry desert between them. He watched them speak without talking, exchanging glances at the coltish flirtation of a pair of students walking by -- then sharing a shadow that fell over both their faces. She sipped at her cappuccino, he bent over his espresso, drinking in its bitter darkness. They looked companionable, if you didn't look too closely, but Methos was looking closely, and he could see the knife's edge between them. He shivered a little. She looked good in black.
Methos turned his cup between his fingers for a moment, then poured a liberal swirl of cream into his own black coffee. He took a long sip, and exhaled slowly. Better. Absently, he ran his hand under his collar, remembering, feeling again the cold steel of Duncan's sword against his neck. Duncan, he thought, looked best in ivory. It didn't stop a knife's edge from being sharp. His eyes strayed to the corner of the cafe window, where he could just see the corner of Duncan's building, where Duncan would be preparing himself, warrior-like, for his contests of the morning -- a run perhaps, T'ai chi in the dojo, or even a round with the punching-bag, if he awoke to the same cold loneliness Methos did, and if his loneliness was still shot through with the hot anger Methos had seen in his eyes the night before, as Methos stood at the lift, his bags packed, the goodbye stuck in his throat.
Methos was too weary to feel anger, even at himself. He just felt lost. He'd walked most of the night, only to find he had circled back, and stood on the sidewalk in front of Duncan's building like a moth just out of reach of the flame. Warnings so deep and old as to be instinctual pulled him away, told him to run. A different instinct, equally as old but grating and rusty from disuse, whispered down his bones -- fall.
But the dawn was too gray, and Duncan's building was too dark. Methos had fled to the sanctuary of the cafe. For coffee, for warmth, and for answers from this chance pair of oracles.
How long did it take for love to run cold? Love ran on its own time; every love affair had its different way of winding out, or down, or too tight to bear. By objective reckoning, mortal lives and mortal loves were brief, when compared to his own long span. He'd had sixty eight wives, again as many common-law and lawless consorts, countless lovers and casual bedmates. Written down in a chronicle, their names, if he could remember them all, would be markers along his drawn-out centuries, with a pathetically short span of years between one and the next. But -- he opened his eyes and stared out at the street, the scene so different and yet so like every other street scene he'd ever watched -- he sometimes thought his life was one long string of forevers.
The woman in black leaned towards her companion, and for an instant they seemed joined in an affection as strong as it was dry. The bones of their love were still there; belly to belly they would scrape up against its hard relics.
The man laughed at something she whispered to him and Methos felt a sort of shock go through him. Suddenly Duncan stood before him in his mind's eye, with that grin on his face that warmed Methos clear to the bottoms of his feet and made him want to sink to his knees -- and he had, often enough, joyfully and gratefully. He -- but here the waiter intervened, placing a warm croissant on the table before him. Methos picked it up, and put it down. He licked his fingers. The buttery taste was too sweet for remembered salt, and he rested his chin in his hands and looked down at his book, turning over the pages of memory, reading Duncan in every line.
Sometimes, in the night, Methos would awaken next to Duncan. Sometimes he would hold himself still and listen to Duncan breathe. Sometimes he would stir a little, and Duncan would turn to him, awake after all, and sometimes they would fall asleep in each other's arms, as dawn turned the loft silver blue.
Or he might be reading, his ears attuned to the sounds of Duncan in the shower, and thoughts of steam and wetness and slick skin would get all mixed up with whatever he was reading, until Methos would run his hands through his hair and throw the book down in exasperated lust. Duncan seemed to know when this happened, because he'd emerge from the shower, drenched, naked, droplets clinging to the ends of his hair and sliding down his fine dark skin, and he'd dive at Methos, pulling at his clothes and tumbling them both to the floor before he got Methos stripped bare and almost as wet as he was.
Remembered pleasure twisted like pain in Methos's chest. But wasn't pain better than dry dust? Methos's unseeing gaze left the book and sharpened to focus on the couple near the sidewalk. The sun was higher now. Morning sunlight glinted off a tiny silver spoon as she stirred her coffee; he had put on a pair of sunglasses. Love didn't die, it just went dry, fading into the sunlight.
Methos nodded to the waiter, and his coffee was replenished. He sipped it slowly, and let it scald his tongue.
The man had finished his espresso, and was, Methos thought, wondering whether to get another to jangle his nerves enough to feel the blood in his heart. The woman was lighting a cigarette. She checked her makeup. He poked idly at some little instrument. They could have been on opposite shores of a summer-dry riverbed.
Living could be a fate worse than death, Methos thought, smiling sourly. The weak joke couldn't cover the chill he felt as he thought that these two could be in their graves, and their graves forgotten, and the city around them changed beyond recognition -- gone to dust as dry as the bones of their love -- and yet he and Duncan could still be standing.
In the darkest part of his heart, he envied them.
Once, long before they'd become lovers, he and Duncan been reading, companionably off in their different worlds -- and Duncan suddenly stood, threw his book down and stalked out of the loft, leaving Methos staring after him, astonished. After a while, he'd gone down to the dojo, expecting to find Duncan working out his feelings or performing katas to find his balance. Instead, he found him sitting in the middle of the dojo, cross-legged on the floor, in the dark. Methos had hesitated, and then dropped down to sit facing him, with their knees almost touching.
In the half-light, he could see Duncan's face lined with pain, and -- daringly -- he reached out to touch his cheek gently. It was wet. Methos drew his hand back quickly, folded his hands in his lap, and waited.
Finally Duncan spoke. "How do you do it? How have you--" He stopped.
Methos sighed. "Feeling the weight of your years, MacLeod?"
Duncan put his head in his hands, and rubbed his face. "Ach-- aye."
Methos knew this feeling, knew it like an old friendly enemy, and he knew this was hardly the first time Duncan had felt it. But he felt a twinge of guilt anyway, certain that his own years -- centuries -- millennia -- had spooked his friend.
So he took a deep breath and put on his best lecturer voice. "Look MacLeod, it gets to us all, but you have to keep standing. Because the alternative--"
"The alternative is unthinkable. I know," said Duncan. The irritation in his voice was encouraging. Methos forged ahead.
"The alternative, I was going to say, is a short sharp shock--" he ran his finger along the base of Duncan's throat swiftly -- "a bloody mess for the watchers to clean up, your body moldering under a tombstone and your quickening in the bastard who took your head."
Duncan blinked. He smiled briefly and the flash of his white teeth in the darkness gave Methos's heart a quick jolt. But then Duncan frowned again. "I've taken so many quickenings," he said softly. "I just -- I wonder what it's like-- from the other side."
"Don't be morbid," Methos said, putting as much grumpy elder statesman into his voice as he could. Duncan smiled again, and Methos marveled at the way the man could bounce in a moment from black despair to the more sanguine mood that made him stand and stretch, for all the world as if waking from a pleasant sleep. Methos watched Duncan's body arch and sway in the darkness, and felt himself grow hard. Duncan had stood up gracefully as a tiger and offered his hand. Methos took it and scrambled to his feet more awkwardly, feeling Duncan must see his confusion and desire. But Duncan had only smiled and walked to the lift, though Methos was sure he'd held onto his hand just a fraction of a second longer than he'd needed to.
Methos turned from these thoughts to the riddle of the couple at the cafe table. The man had ordered another espresso and lifted the tiny cup slowly to his lips. The woman watched him without a change of expression, but Methos could feel sex spark along some private wavelength between them, chill and chaste, but also deep, and as black and strong as the coffee that made the man's eyes close in pleasure.
The first time Duncan had said Methos's name, so unexpectedly and with such wonder, it had been like a quickening forking to his brain, heart and sex. It had taken them long enough to come to the point, true, and when they did, it had all the subtlety of a pair of bulls locking horns... Methos paused with his cup to his lips, amused despite his pain. Yes, Duncan -- a bull. And so easily led by red flags. Oh, yes. But sex was one thing. Love was something else again, and it had taken Methos, at least, even longer to come to that particularly double-edged point. Duncan was a lot quicker to love, he rushed towards intimacy like -- yes, like a bull towards a red flag. And he blundered around like the bull in the proverbial china shop. You just -- Methos set his cup down, his coffee forgotten -- you just wanted to hold him still, and then, holding him, you felt his heart beat so madly against yours, and you were lost.
The woman in black shook back her hair and smoothed it away from her face with blunt fingers that held Methos momentarily entranced. He squinted and tried to see if she wore a ring. Not that it mattered. Neither law nor custom could bind them together more tightly than their own cold passion.
"Never one of us," he'd told Duncan, as much to keep him at arm's length as anything else. He'd been close to other immortals, in friendship and more, but not many; and had never felt such a bone-deep desire to stay that he felt for Duncan. Cassandra -- no. If there had ever been anything between them worth salvaging, untouched by blood or death, it was far too late, and there was nothing left now but rage and regret. Byron had been -- Byron. He'd had a passion for passion, more than for people, and it had burned hot and brief. Methos had never expected to love Bryon "til death." He had never expected to love anyone to the end of his life.
Never, until now.
Duncan made friends and alliances and even deeper commitments with other immortals that lasted centuries. Amanda breezed in and out of Duncan's life at her own whim, and he accepted it with a "glad to see you coming and glad to see you go" philosophy, though he knew Duncan sometimes missed her more than he let on.
But he wasn't Amanda, and he had the stone-cold knowledge that his leaving Duncan would hurt him in a different and deeper way. He stared bleakly at the window. If he left, he left for good.
The couple at the curbside were standing, performing all the little awkward things you do when you leave a cafe, gathering themselves up to head off apart together. Methos wondered where they were going next. Home, perhaps, to sit in different rooms, or maybe they'd take a walk in the park and talk a little bit, have a conversation they've had too many times before, and will have many times again, until they had no more breath for words, for each other, at all. As he watched the woman leave a tip on the table and the man put on a hat with a low brim, Methos felt suddenly bereft, abandoned. He wondered if Duncan was back at the loft now, and whether he should go to him, or sit alone for a while longer, let the waiter take away the croissant he'd shredded on his plate and ask for something more bitter. His two oracles hadn't answered his questions, he'd cast the runes but got no certain reply. He didn't know if what he and Duncan had would fade to grey or end in blood or just... end. He didn't know whether to run or to stay.
He watched the couple disappear around the corner. He closed his book and then everything around him seemed to come into focus and sound as he felt it -- the familiar presence that jangled deep in his bones and pierced his defenses, setting off a sort of panicky pleasure, half pain and half --
The cafe, the coffee cup, the table, fell away and as the presence flowed over him Methos could almost feel the muscles in Duncan's back under the palms of his hands; he could see Duncan's brown eyes go dark with passion; he could taste him -- his tongue, his cock, the salt of his skin. Methos sat in a sort of synesthesia as he felt the warmth of Duncan's mouth in the gleam of a sugar bowl, and the bark of a dog in the street almost overwhelmed him with the remembered scent of Duncan's hair. A car horn honked, a girl behind him laughed, an unlikely pink truck trundled past the window, and all of them tasted of an exquisite joy that filled him with despair because he'd almost closed himself to it forever.
Methos stood slowly, leaning into the presence like a traveler leaning into the winds of home. He was ready to meet Duncan. Now, and every day for the rest of his life.
And there he was.
Bones of love
words: John Porter, music: John Porter
She's sipping a cappuccino
Like a cat sipping out of a bowl
He's black espresso
To start his heart when it gets cold
He's thinking 'cognac'
But afraid his hands might shake
She's checking her make-up
Her smile's giving nothing away
You better kill me before I kill you
You look good in black
Pay the bill and keep on walking
Get a hole in their back
Two faded tourists
Their visas have long expired
Two forgotten journalists
Whose headlines have retired
What's that in his pocket?
They aint Chinese banknotes
What's that in her handbag?
That's no bar of gold.
Two suntanned lovers
Love didn't die, it just went dry
Fading into the sunlight
Those bones of love passing by