by C.M. DecarninPart 2 (Work in Progress)
Sometimes Duncan MacLeod felt as if he'd spent four hundred years working out.
Sweat ran in his eyes and down under his hair and he kept having to swipe his hands on his pants to keep his grip from getting slippery. Methos always pushed him hard and he never objected, knowing this was the only practice the ancient got in, and how crucial it was to keep it real, strenuous, unforgiving. They used their second-best swords and Duncan had had to find constant new moves to force Methos out of rote responses -- and to survive the bludgeoning of the heavy old weapon he insisted on keeping. Sometimes, like today, Duncan fought him with a massive two-hander of his own, and after an hour it made him sweat rivers.
It was then that the years of kata, weightlifting, running and sparring seemed to stretch back unbroken, wearing him out as they built him up. He knew he was a very physical animal and for the most part he loved the stretch of his own muscles and the exhilaration and freedom of his strength in motion. But, just once in a while when he looked ahead, to never being able to simply rest, to having to be in peak form for hundreds -- when he thought of Methos, maybe thousands -- of more years...
The swords clanged as they fought on, and finally, both gasping, lowered the weapons' points to the floor, calling a stop for the day with no victor. There rarely was a winner anymore in their spars, they were too well-matched and too keen-honed.
Methos pulled up the front of his T-shirt one-handed to wipe sweat off his face. Duncan had sparred shirtless. ("No fair," Methos had whined, and MacLeod had explained in some detail why Methos constituted a distraction in and of himself, shirt or no shirt. They started late.)
The hot sweaty ancient asked, "Do you want to come on the cruise with me?"
"Cruise?" He stared at Methos incredulously. Methos looked winning. "This is the one where you chase whales and get shot at? On the ocean?"
"You make that sound like a bad thing."
MacLeod just shook his head, eyes raised to the ceiling.
"The bracing sea air; majestic leviathans; magnificent scenery..."
"Didn't I hear you mention something about the Arctic feeding grounds?"
"And have you ever actually smelled a whale's breath?"
"White nights alone together in our cabin --"
"Bunk beds," MacLeod said bleakly.
"Where's your sense of adventure? Not to mention your devotion to the cause?"
"I'm not getting out of this, am I?"
Methos smiled fondly. "They're not getting me out on that godforsaken boat by myself. I'm not suffering alone."
Duncan gazed at his lover curiously. Fifteen -- even ten -- years ago, they wouldn't have got Methos onto a boat by himself, with Duncan, or accompanied by the cast and crew of Ben Hur. He would have faded like the dew off the rose. Poof.
"You really have to?"
"Japan has been buying pirated whale catches for the last forty years. It's got to stop."
"One prime-time tv ad..."
"They won't let us air it. Just like you couldn't bitch about the tobacco industry till the 90s."
"So we're after shocking footage for the evening news."
Methos gazed sorrowfully. "And to think I married you for your innocence and purity."
"As long as I'm not in the shot."
"We leave next week. Fly up and meet the ship."
MacLeod walked toward the elevator. "How long will we be gone?"
"Depends on how long it takes us to find the factory ship and how long it takes their catchers to find whales. It could be a while, that whole area is prohibited because the whales are so scarce." He pulled down the elevator gate and MacLeod started them upward.
"I'd have thought you'd have hacked into some Pentagon satellite tracker."
Methos smiled sweetly at MacLeod.
MacLeod bagged the first shower, because he was meeting Joe, and Methos, on one of his rare days off, only had plans involving the couch, many snacks, and a sybaritically good book.
Joe was waiting at the cafe, having chosen one of the outdoor tables. They luxuriated in the delectable omelets the place specialized in, Mac ordering about twice what Joe ate. He looked always the same, but MacLeod knew his hair was a paler gray than it used to be, his eyes looked out from among more wrinkles, and it was much harder now for him to get around on his prostheses than it had been when they first met, despite improved technology. His friend was aging, a fact he didn't particularly like to face. He knew Joe would be awfully uncomfortable if forced to deal with the compassion that washed through MacLeod at such moments.
Instead he brought up the topic that was bothering him. "Have you ever heard of a guy named Eric Draven?"
Joe raised a semi-interested eyebrow. "Heard of him. Why?"
"Then he's in contact with Immortals?" Duncan's countenance darkened.
"That's the odd thing. In all the years we've had a Watcher on him, he's never taken a challenge, and as far as we can tell, never had a Teacher. Doesn't own a sword."
MacLeod stared. "A Watcher? Joe, Draven's not Immortal."
Joe shook his head. "Sorry, Mac, we've had Watchers on him almost since his First Death. Somehow or other, he got buried, it apparently took him about a year to dig his way out, stories started flying, we've had someone on him ever since. He's been observed coming back dozens of times. Guy's got a penchant for stepping in front of bullets."
"Joe... Adam met him yesterday."
He saw the mortal considering it. "And..." he said at last.
"Draven isn't Immortal."
Joe shook his head. "He's Immortal, Mac, I promise you. I trust these guys. What you're saying is, he has no detectable Presence." Joe nodded to himself. "That would explain a hell of a lot. Draven's been one of our weirder birds, really exposed, it seemed incredible no one had whacked him in all that time. Now we know. Damn," he said softly. "I wonder if he's the only one?"
Emotions churning in MacLeod included a high percentage of denial. "It can't be, Joe. The Watchers must have made a mistake."
"Dozens of returns, Mac. Documented, witnessed by non-Watchers, cops, you name it. He hasn't aged a day in the last fifteen years. He's Immortal."
He spoke again gently as MacLeod stared down at his empty plate. "He's one of the good guys, if that's any comfort."
"He knows about Adam." The one fact that mattered. Joe's near-white eyebrows contracted inquiringly. "He -- knows Adam is -- old."
"How?" Joe asked, puzzled. "Mac, Draven doesn't even know Immortals exist. He thinks he's some kind of flesh and blood ghost."
Mac repeated Methos's story almost word for word. Then he sat looking stubbornly at the Watcher Chief while Joe mulled it over. Finally Joe sighed.
"I'll look through his chronicle. Maybe I can pick up something. But try and take it easy, okay? All this kid wants to do is play a little git-tar, and kick the bejesus out of the occasional bad guy. Don't bother him and he won't bother you."
"That's what Adam said," MacLeod growled.
"There, you see, listen to your elders and betters --" Joe cut off abruptly. Mac's head had come up in that seeking, listening posture that meant only one thing. Joe joined him in scanning passersby, cars, the windows opposite. He saw no one he recognized. MacLeod sat back into his chair. The contact had faded.
Mac glanced at Joe. Joe shrugged. He had long ago given up any pretense of impartial observation when it came to MacLeod, and the Watchers, desperate for stability after the upheavals of the 90s, tacitly allowed it. Certain lines Joe still would not cross, but information on whatever might threaten his two friends he made available to them. In his view, the Watchers owed Duncan MacLeod, bigtime. And Adam already knew everything anyway, organizationally speaking, and had never blown their cover. He held the Watchers' very existence in his ancient, capable hands, and together with Duncan could have wiped them out. It was no feat to persuade the Council that the safest MacLeod was a happy MacLeod -- and even, when it could no longer be hidden, that an ex-Watcher was the best of all possible lovers for the Immortal they needed on their side. Joe kept Adam's secret as carefully as Adam had always kept Joe's.
Dawson had overseen the rooting out and dispatching of the last Hunters. Then, despite decimated ranks, Watcher recruitment and training had been tightened, refined, to reject any candidates with traces of Horton's Hitleresque mania, and probe for it in old hands.
They'd done what they could. Openness, save for the exceptional Dawson situation, had still been overruled. For the best, he'd finally admitted. The Watchers had their safety, Immortals their illusion of the privacy so essential to their predicament. How long it could all last, before the Information Highway levelled their quaint old neighborhood, he had no idea. But for now, it was working again, and he had a jealous, secret pride that he had helped pilot the Watchers safe through the most perilous straits of their history.
And just when he thought he'd seen it all, he was being privileged to witness a strange new twist in the the Immortal mystery. An Immortal who could not be detected. It could change the Game forever.
Duncan watched his old friend, knowing what he was thinking by the light in his blue eyes, the slightly parted lips. A discovery -- one Watchers might never have made but for their Watcher-Immortal friendship. Saw Joe realize how careful he would have to be in reporting it. But other Immortals besides Methos had been at the fundraiser, more than near enough to be the source of this new knowledge about Eric Draven. Their Watchers might even have noticed independently how unaware the other Immortals seemed of the Immortal nature of this newcomer in their midst. Joe would think of some story to keep Methos out of the chain of evidence. Duncan wondered who Draven's Watcher was, and if he or she had made it into the posh affair. He hoped not, hoped no Watcher had been close enough to overhear what Draven had said about Methos's age. With so many Immortals there, it would have set the Watchers back a pretty penny to get all their people in -- maybe they'd just sent one or two to watch the whole lot interact. He'd never asked where the Watchers got their money, but was familiar enough with inheritance laws and the mathematics of long-term interest accrual to assume their financial base, like his own, was founded on simple longevity.
He smiled a little remembering how his eyes had widened the first time someone had sat down with him and showed him that math.
Being with Joe these days always seemed to set him reminiscing.
Underneath, though, uneasiness nibbled. An Immortal had passed without stopping to be acknowledged. Methos was alone...
He pushed his coffee cup away. "I should get going."
Joe looked at him with depths of understanding in his eyes. "I'll let you know if there are any clues about the Draven thing."
"Thanks." He hesitated. "If Immortals find out about him..."
"Not from us," Joe answered, firmly, positively.
After a second, Duncan nodded. Then, as he walked away, he wondered if someone should be feeling morally bound to sit down with Eric Draven and have a talk -- one that included the mathematics of long-term interest.
It would be handing over an advantage to this undetectable unknown that MacLeod was far from sure anyone should be entrusted with. On the other hand Draven would operate under the disadvantage of not being able to detect other Immortals, except apparently by actually touching them. He was walking around not even knowing how to use a sword...
...Draven knew about Methos.
It might be just as well if Draven never learned to use a sword...
With various levels of guilt contending within him at the selfishness of the thought, he drove home, and found Methos tranquilly making lists of what to pack. He was lying propped up on the arm of the couch, amid a wreckage of candy wrappers, beer bottles, empty chip bags and crumpled drafts, and as he looked up calmly, slowly pushing aside his earphones, Duncan was catapulted back in time, eighteen years, to the day they first met. The ghost of a smile was as sweet on the sardonic lips, the big eyes as clear, innocent, mysterious, and challenging, as on that incredible day when he had pushed through an unlocked door, felt the unexpected Presence, and in the person of a lanky, sprawling grad student listening to rock music and drinking canned beer, had discovered the world's oldest living human mind. Though he had long since convinced himself he had fallen in love at first sight, the sensation as he realized who and what he was looking at had actually been more like amazement; awe; veneration, even, twined through with a startling appreciation of the antique, highly original beauty of the man, the long body, his faintly mocking mouth and kind, loving hazel eyes.
Of course Methos would ritually scorn the idea that his eyes had showed anything but perhaps a little well-earned lordliness, and curiosity. Intellectual curiosity.
And Duncan himself had not known what it was he was seeing in the glimmering green-gold. Not then. Or why he had placed himself, immediately and immovably, into the stranger's life.
He went and sat on the floor with his back against the couch, and leaned his head back against Methos's haunch. Methos's body continued making little jotting motions for a while, then his hand came down and ran gently over Duncan's hair.
Duncan said, "You're not." And rolled his head lazily to the side to look up at his lover.
"You're not a monster. And you didn't turn me into a beast to pander to your warped carnality."
But he could tell by a slightly awkward turn of the long neck that he'd hit home exactly.
It needed to be said every year or so. He reached up and pulled Methos's hand down along his face. Methos didn't bewail his own sexuality, but sometimes quailed at what he had made of Duncan's. The guilt hit him when MacLeod would bring him his cruelest gifts. Despite the toll of heads taken by the swift katana, the Oldest had an ineradicable image of Duncan as young, innocent, and pure, so strongly held that sometimes Duncan saw himself that way. Instead of steeped in blood and battle-weary.
He pulled down Methos's hand and kissed it. It was a strong hand, but with a softness to the skin that never failed to enchant him, in the areas not calloused with sword-wielding. He'd often wondered how their Immortal bodies knew the difference between useful wear and damage, but clearly, they did know. Muscles could break down in order to build more mass from exercise, hands, feet, and, in the days when they rode, spots like the inside of the knees could become calloused from use. It was a pity, really, no one could study these factors, learn how it all worked... not that, with hordes of scientists working the past hundred years, they'd more than begun to know the infinite complexities of how even a normal mortal body worked... The hand in his curved up and softly cradled his cheek. Nor would any science ever explain his Ancient's love for him, or how they had blended almost into a single man, in some hidden place within them both, yet kept the separateness that let them love. He hauled gently hand over hand up the long arm and pulled Methos down where he could kiss him. Methos made a small sound of pleased contentment, adjusting his sprawl to the new requirements, holding the back of Duncan's head, lazing his lips over Duncan's, shivering as the tip of Duncan's warm tongue parted him.
"Highlander," he gasped when MacLeod released him to breathe, and clasped both arms across Duncan's back. MacLeod reached up and pulled him onto the floor. It was a measure of his arousal that Methos made no plaint; he hated sex on the floor, grumbled it hurt his elderly bones, that he didn't have the padding Duncan had, carped at the thinness of the rugs, until Duncan usually picked him up and thrilled him by flinging him into his bed bodily. Methos loved being manhandled a little to set the mood, it was usually all that was required to rouse up the unwilling-victim responses that put him on the path to orgasm. But now he was squirming under Duncan like a cat in heat, holding on so they could not even get off their clothes, and Duncan knew the signs; one of the rare times when Methos's sexuality turned direct, demanding, undeterred; do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars, just fuck me, fuck me, fuck me and when he moved his weight on him Methos's lean loins began a clutching, rubbing rhythm under him that pulled him in, to instinctive matching, pressing and thrusting, and Methos's body went berserk, arms and long legs strapping him tight so all he could do was rock harder on Methos's erection, gasping at the sensations of the roiling body under him, thrusting his hard cock into the motion, groaning as Methos's hard breath turned into cries as his rocking accelerated, and the cries unfolded, long, open, agonizedly rich with pleasure, his swift rhythm jolting to slow, pleading halts and rolls, that Duncan matched with fevered love, until he too opened in cries and fulfillment, holding the long body to him with bliss, need, gratitude.
"Jesus... Jesus... Jesus... Methos..."
When he could assemble more than a single brain cell, he lifted to move off him, but Methos clung on with one leg and both arms so they lay still fused, on their sides. Damn, Duncan mused half-wakingly, he must have seriously charged his sweet Immortal's batteries yesterday. Sleepy fingertips felt the delicate gold chain through the shirt, still attached to the rings he had punched through his lover's flesh. No wonder he didn't need any warm-up.
Drifting in the warmth of Methos's hold, he let awareness fade to black.
In his dreams, he never let Kronos anywhere near Methos. It was as if he feared that dream-proximity could waken hunger in his lover he'd never satisfy himself. A thousand years... compared to it the fifteen years he'd had with Methos were as nothing. But he also knew dimly that it was in his own mind he had to keep what Kronos was apart, distinct from what his Methos had become, Duncan the line that divided them finally and forever.
The dark Horseman never seemed discomposed, indeed never had lost his postmortem fascination with MacLeod himself. Waking, Duncan had often uneasily wondered: was it his own ruthless incursions into Methos, soul and body, that kept the murderer so content?
Did Kronos even exist?
Other than in Duncan's dreams...
But no ghost, of all the eidetic centuries, had ever haunted him in sleep, for other than the first short days of Quickening absorption. Even then, the visions were more likely to be of things the vanquished soul had seen, or loved, or feared, and not these personal appearances and conversations.
He felt if he let his guard down this Kronos could charm him, perhaps as he had charmed the savage Methos, and that the empire the Horseman would conquer then would be MacLeod's own soul. That the ghost in black watched him as raptly as he would an unclaimed realm.
Methos was puttering industriously in his garden, the roof-garden that had long since been turned over to the care of a gardener in waking life. MacLeod stood in the leafy aisle that would have led to him, blocking him from the line of sight of the lounging Kronos who, in the big wicker throne, was polishing off a box of take-out ribs with barbarian fastidiousness.
It was true he'd made himself much more at home in Duncan's dreams.
Around him hung the long lilac-colored drupes of the wisteria Methos had trained into a tree form. Settling a quarter-sideways in the chair, Kronos plunked his boots up on an urn of lily-of-the-valley and tossed the last rib-bone into the goldfish pool, scattering the fish away in lightning glints of orange and yellow. He wore no face-paint today, and his hazel regard, so much paler than Methos's, drifted an inch to Duncan's left. MacLeod moved to cut off his view.
"You're going to lose him if you let this go on much longer," Kronos pronounced casually, lacing his fingers over his stomach.
Kronos shrugged, the leather joints of his black and silver regalia creaking faintly. "I know him, MacLeod." He pulled a loose cone of blossom against his face and respired the intoxicant of its fragrant exhalation deep throughout his solid, hard, dream-flesh. MacLeod could feel the shiver of its deliciousness penetrate his own cells: after all, Kronos had no other body but Duncan's. Annoyance rode after on the same nerve-endings, and MacLeod's muscles twitched. Kronos knew he hated the reminder of how one they were.
"Knewhim," he said as quietly as he could.
Kronos's lazy eyes reflected the slight amusement of his barely perceptible smile. "Nothing's changed. This... devotion... to a man with a cause -- does that remind you of anything? It does me. A man with a purpose and a very heavy hand... If you'd let him, he'd have made you a king by now. He's learned a lot about the world since the old days."
MacLeod regarded Kronos steadily, meeting eyes that never wavered in their searching of him. He controlled his voice. "You make a common egocentric mistake. You confuse the big and the true. Some critics said Jane Austen would have been a greater writer if she had written about the Napoleonic Wars and political upheavals she lived through instead of the petty details of a woman's everyday life. Who but a few scholars knows or cares what battles Napoleon caused any more, or how the maps were redrawn? What hasn't changed, what is eternal, what matters, is those very day-to-day relationships and personalities she did write about. Methos understands that. He's understood that for a long time."
"Ah, but wouldn't it be fascinating to see how those daily details in Napoleon's life became translated into such huge events?"
"That never changes either. Megalomania rises, and it falls. Overreaching itself."
"In a mortal. Think how an Immortal might take a longer view."
"Like wiping out whole populations so the very infrastructure that could provide you with an empire, or for that matter with food and weapons, is destroyed? How were you planning on keeping your virus in cold storage when the electricity and gasoline supply in Bordeaux failed, Kronos? How were you planning to issue your demands when communications systems in Paris all went down? What world were you planning to rule that had no people in it? You've learned nothing. Nothing since the days when you left no human soul alive behind your Horsemen."
"Methos might not agree with you there." Kronos looked up from a contemplation of his nails. "He knows the real threat to us all is just... too many people living." He pretended to look away, but kept entirely aware of MacLeod. "And speaking of Parisians... wasn't it the French government that sank the Rainbow Warrior? Thanks to you they and their Secret Service are all still alive, Highlander. Let's hope they don't have any interest in Arctic whaling."
The anger that rose MacLeod instantly knew was a danger sign. Don't engage with him, don't grant him that reality. He'd never even seen Kronos in Horseman gear in life, only in his dreams and visions and that spectacular subterranean Quickening with fire and sea exploding around them and the arcs of eternity joining him to Methos forever.
"Look at you," he said quietly. "What do you think that means, Koren, that you still wear the clothes you were born to?"
Kronos looked startled, then -- tickled. "Highlander!" he cried merrily. "Haven't you looked in a mirror lately?"
Alarmed, Duncan looked down, to the suddenly shining reflective surface
of the pool. He saw standing, helpless against time, in wild long
curls and kilt and tartan blue-green across his breast, the warrior he
was and had been born, broadsword in hand, blurring Clansmen at his back.
"Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean -- roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin; his control
Stops with the shore."
Methos was looking out over wide swells that had stopped making him seasick only a couple of hours before. He added, in the same drily bitter tone, "Of course he never dreamed back then we'd find a way to pollute and overwarm the oceans too, geniuses that we are." The look of complex and constrained love and suffering Methos had whenever he spoke of the poet was not, MacLeod realized suddenly, too different from the expression with which he spoke of all the environmental self-destruction he could no longer watch in silence. The things of beauty that went down to dust and memories through man's, or a man's, insanity. How he could read this man now, the face and voice that had so baffled him when they first met. The most intricate of men, so layered, and so shielded, unknowable in the immensity of his experience, but knowable, exquisitely, in the deep and subtle, sometimes paper-thin, stratifications of his feelings.
The Eldest gave the ocean a last dour glance, expressing as well as one look could the idea that just because the vast wet thing was necessary to the earth's well-being didn't mean he had to likeit, and turned to the only object worth looking at in all the blue expanse. Duncan smiled back at him. He could see Methos might even forgive him -- eventually -- for not getting seasick himself their whole two days at sea.
"Anything from Joe?" Methos asked, firmly rejecting seagoing topics. Joe had promised to contact them if he learned the identity of the elusive Immortal Duncan had sensed in Seacouver, if there seemed any threat posed.
Duncan shook his head. "Probably just passing through." He smiled again, aware he wasn't fooling Methos. An Immortal with no Watcher was never something he took lightly. It could be an unknown, but it could also be one of the ones so deadly the Watchers would not risk an operative following them, keeping track as best they could by means of credit card and other transactions, and occasional long-distance surveillance.
"Good time to be away," Methos said with satisfaction.
"He retreated as soon as he felt me. He probably wasn't hunting."
Methos didn't waste a comment on this optimism.
Duncan drew in a deep breath of the startlingly clean air, so fresh and laden with sea-riches you could taste it. "God, this takes me back." The ocean was blue and white, the sky a different blue and white, nothing to be seen in three hundred and sixty degrees of horizon except their own little ship Asushunamir, the waves, and the clouds. He wouldn't kiss Methos in so public a place, but if he did he knew the skin would taste salty to his tongue, from the infinitesimally fine mists of spray that occasionally ghosted by.
"Ohyes," Methos agreed, succinct and bleak. Duncan knew that Methos, if you didn't count the near-prehistoric trip with the Irish monks, had made the journey to and from the New World only once, before the advent of air travel, having seen little on his first trip to the United States to make him long for the place, misliking the confined weeks on the suspect ocean too strongly to make him venture back again, even for the luxury of an easy new identity in a Caucasian population. Whereas MacLeod had gypsied to and fro incessantly, drawn from old friends to new lands, from new friends to old haunts, forging still more warm links with mortals in those weeks at sea, whether working his passage with the sailors belowdecks or travelling well-heeled above as the age of the great liners gradually cut the journey down to days. There were memories good and bad, but one thing you learned as you grew older was that almost any memory took on a patina of preciousness over time, just from being your own. The rare, relaxing isolation from all danger of a Challenge, the roll of the ship, so different from the motion of a train or a carriage, the intoxicating savor of the breeze, the sense of adventure once again, adamantly as he'd sworn to stay out of it -- the past was plucking and tugging at him from all directions, making him smile, to be sharing this part of his being at last with the great love of his life.
Who'd spent an awful lot of time on ship-to-shore radio, and vainly trying to make his cell phone work, settling details of projects now three thousand miles away, and throwing up; but who at last seemed to be actually there with him, possibly even forgiving him for some of the most gruesome of the laws of physics and physiology. Perhaps tonight he could pet and tease him to some small, quiet orgasm that would leave them happy in each other's arms, cooing and cuddling, making memories both could keep, for the future. The smile MacLeod felt on his face was starting to even thaw Methos, who interpreted it enough to look actually a bit shy, out here on deck where one of the crew might see them.
But he wished they really were alone, so he could take that lean, long body in his arms, stroke it to its greatest point of response, then force Methos over by the ruthless rut that ignored his fears, annihilated his barriers and forced open the heat at the heart of the man, the want too cautious, too stubborn, and finally too terrified to let itself be known, that had to be dragged from its hiding and ravaged every time. Their join so hot, so fierce Duncan had never known he could be kept so long, so deep, so burning hard in anyone, untiring till all of Methos had been wrung clean and sweet by the shaking climaxes of their passion.
His breath was coming a little faster and Methos's green-gold eyes had tiny sparkles of amusement. "Penny for your thoughts," the Eldest said suavely.
Duncan answered with the slightest, breathiest, unintended growl.
Methos stepped away from the railing, put his hands in his pockets, and only glanced back once over his shoulder at MacLeod as he walked -- toward the companionway leading down to their tiny private cabin.
Duncan was descending the stairs before he realized he was moving after him, like an automaton set on "Fuck".
Locking their cabin door behind him, he grabbed Methos and pressed him to the wall. He felt the arms go around his neck and the whole length of the body left open to him, and he groaned and pushed, his cock a hard-grown limb of need, the movements against him orchestrating lust, symphonics moving him, mouth opening Methos's, knees and thighs working between his, hips grinding, torso swaying, hands feeling, pulling, unclothing. He scraped his foot down a heel to get Methos's shoe off, let the jeans fall off that ankle for what he knew he wanted, and his own pants pushed down one-handed, he bent his knees.
"Get on it," he panted, and Methos, sensing no room for denial, slid his leg up around Duncan's hip, arched forward, and took the plunging entry bitten-lipped, writhing, clutching Duncan for succor from the pain. Duncan thrust mercilessly five times, until he was buried completely, hot flesh wrapping his cock too tight to move. Gripping the face with one hand he pressed in between the jaws, forcing the mouth open, occupying it with his heavy tongue, wriggling in the stifled cries from Methos's throat, licking juice and sound and pain and taste and heat only he could know, in possession of what was his.
"Duncan --!" Methos cried, low, agonized, when he drew back for breath. He could hear pleading, betrayal, that was one step before loss of pride, loss of fear, submission, expression, truth, and triumph, but for now Mac's whole strong body ignited to the hurt, to own it, bring it, thrill in it. He swung Methos around down onto the bunk-bed pillow, always left precisely in the middle per his fifteen years of orders, dropped them both roughly onto the bed, and pulled himself half out of Methos's flesh, making Methos whimper hard and arch his belly up into him like a big fighting fish, till Duncan thrust back down into his heat like a deathstroke.
He had to tear Methos's shirt off then and stuff it in his mouth to keep him from screaming loud as he started fucking strong, luxurious, against the rolling fight, deeper, deeper into the hot struggling being until he suddenly felt the stiffening; the shuddering began and he could settle in, and rode and rode, and rode till he could lash his long Horseman into the stretch and over the finish line, fountaining as he heard the desperate muffled wail of need and love and ecstasy and felt Methos coming beneath him. He breezed him on, into slow throes of more and more unbearable pleasures, until Immortal strength left him and he begged Duncan with hands pushing at his chest to stop, so he pushed him to three more convulsions of glory, to keep him aware who was the master. He drew out slowly, feeling like he could do it all over again if Methos gave him any lip, and knew that dark in him whip-like Kronos, too, had felt the luring call of olden days, the hunt, and piracy. All that was left to him of that, unchanged, his fighting, coming, masochistic lover.
He loathed it when he thought of Kronos during sex.
He rolled off, letting Methos breathe, and kissed him.
After a few panting breaths, Methos lolled his head in Duncan's direction, the rest of his body limp. "Okay?" he asked.
"Oh, yeah," he assured him back. They were crushed together in the narrow bed, but had no problem fitting curve to curve and angle to angle. It was the psychic fit Methos sometimes sensed askew, a faint whiff of cold-bloodedness through MacLeod's passion. Duncan was sure his strategist lover had long since laid his plans for what he would do if Kronos ever made a move on MacLeod's mind, but MacLeod was equally sure it would never be necessary. The presence -- if it really was anything more than an illusion -- always approached through Duncan's least worthy impulses, thus giving itself away, time and again. Kronos knew no other pattern. MacLeod looked back at Methos's rectangular, gold-centered eyes, and worship cascaded through him. Methos, seeing it, relaxed.
Duncan coaxed, "You see, the ocean's not so bad."
"Huh." It was the most unconvinced sound MacLeod had ever heard.
"You seemed to think it was okay a minute ago."
"I'm just hot as a two-dollar pistol from the reverberations of your anniversary gift." Methos's breath on Duncan's ear was warm, straight from his soft, hot mouth, the voice laden down with lust. Almost enough to get him hard again. Methos smiled, knowing his reaction. He settled back on the bed sedately. "I still can't believe you set back the clocks and I didn't even notice."
"I did not set back the clocks."
Methos's fingers arranged some strands of Duncan's hair back out of his face. "Nowyou're attempting to deny it?"
"I set the clocks forward."
"Pedantry doesn't become you, Duncan MacLeod."
"Just because some people have never been able to grasp the concept of the International Date Line --"
"An invention of the airline industry," Methos said crossly. "It was never thought necessary in my day to arbitrarily alter the date just because of what latitude you happen to be at --"
"There, you see? It's all part of the global mathematical conspiracy, part and parcel with the Gregorian Calendar robbing days out of our lives and Daylight Saving Time chipping away an hour here, an hour there -- when you're as old as I am you'll see, it adds up to serioustime. You can't tell me someone isn't stockpiling it all somewhere."
"Ah, but you get it back every leap year."
"That just proves my point. Where were they keepingthat day for four years?"
"Think of it like a 401-K. Maybe you get it all back with interest when you die, and that's where eternity comes from."
Methos looked at him haughtily. "Oh right, always pie in the sky for the poor working classes, and meantime the rich swill champagne and set back my clocks on me."
"Poverino." Duncan pulled Methos's head down onto his chest. "All your scrimping and saving and only five thousand years to show for it. I seem to recall you once telling me you had more than a hand in devising and implementing the Gregorian Calendar, old rogue."
Methos snickered darkly. "See? If you want to live a long life, Highlander, make sure you're in charge of how they count the time."
"Tell me a story about the sixteenth century."
"Shall I tell you how I discovered the laws of the motion of falling bodies?"
"Claiming the angle of the Leaning Tower of Pisa was the same as the angle of your dick does not constitute discovering the laws of the motion of falling bodies."
"If I hadn't drawn his attention to it he might never have thought of dropping things off it."
"Pooh, old man."
"De Motu is widely acknowledged to be aseminal work."
"Story," Duncan commanded.
"Well let's see. 'Twas right about that time we first started hearing of a new theater and a playwright who was all the rage in London... Though of course the plays wouldn't be published till thirty years later, we managed to get hold of an underground copy of one that was circulating around, a horrific thing called "Titus Andronicus". The company thought it was hot stuff and we decided to steal it. Did I mention I was in a theater company in Sienna?"
"What part did you play?"
"Tamora, Queen of the Goths. We had only the one boy, to play
Lavinia. And Tamora was an older woman."
Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow:
Such as creation's dawn beheld, thou rollest now...
Dark-heaving -- boundless, endless, and sublime,
The image of eternity...
...thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.
George Gordon, Lord
Byron,Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto
IV, Stanza 182-3
The rock of the ocean woke them, as it had sent them to sleep. Methos's sharp angles poked him as they untangled, groaning and stretching the stiffness of the confined space out of their joints. Weak and hungry after his two days of mal-de-mer, Methos was pleased to find they were just in time for dinner. He kept it down, and they strolled back on deck, idle supercargo that they were, and drifted back to their post by the rail to gaze out into the long light of the arctic summer, the sky hazed with gold to the west, but serene and blue and high everywhere else, with no sign of succumbing to the night. The freshness was everywhere, and thrilled through them with every breath, every breeze against their skin, every slap and rush of water beneath the bow. Above the thrum of the engine came the high cry of a seabird. No sooner had Duncan looked up than a bell jangled, a repeating peal; Asushunamir's radar had found the factory ship.
The lead photographer dashed up from below-decks, her second hot on her heels, and craned around the horizon. But nothing was yet within eyeshot, and they tumbled back down to ready their watertight cameras and packs of gear.
The flock of birds was about the only thing that distinguished the factory. It just looked like a ship, to Duncan's eyes, though with peculiarities at the stern and some superstructures for big cranes. But as they got closer there was a smell.
It whiffed over the ocean turning the whole empty wilderness of waves unclean. In memory he was sailing near whaling ships out of New Bedford, vessels that had been slaughtering, butchering, and trying blubber into whale oil for years at sea, and could never get rid of the stench.
"Whose ship is it?" Duncan asked.
Methos shrugged. "Doesn't really matter. It probably has a registry out of some obscure island country, but it's a pirate. It'll maybe sell at a Korean port or somewhere like Shanghai, but the meat will end up in Japanese supermarkets and the money in Mitsubishi's bank account. They own the fleet and back the trade. Look." He pointed. A smaller ship, a whale catcher, hove into view, bringing its kill to be processed. The photographers had come back up and were focussing, and Duncan felt their ship come around a little so they would get a better line of sight on the factory's stern. "The pirates are the worst, they'll kill anything that moves."
Methos's eyes gleamed. Clearly this was exactly
what he was after.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over
John Masefield, "Sea Fever"
They had followed the catcher for two days. There had been angry communications from it, but those were none of Duncan's concern; still he could feel the building excitement from the moment the smaller ship had brought its prey to the factory. They'd filmed the Minke whale being hauled up the stern and out of sight, but it was already dead and of a less rare species. Not the damning indictment they were after. When the catcher pulled away, Asushunamir went with it, and had stuck like a burr, while the catcher tried to make up its mind whether to run, or to pretend it was doing nothing illegal, or to threaten. Finally it huffed off about its business, but massively annoyed and harassed by the presence of the little Motherlove vessel. Methos stood taut as if expecting a Challenge, glimmering excitement in his eyes though the rest of him stayed calm, letting the experienced crew decide all their moves. The chase went on, the catcher helpless to escape their keen eyes in the Arctic lack of darkness. But finally it was in the theoretical night-time, while Duncan and Methos were both asleep, that the alarm sounded.
Duncan remembered being woken for night watches. Methos whimpered pitifully. He hadn't gotten his requisite nine hours a night since they'd started this jaunt, and it was telling on him. He managed to make himself businesslike by the time they got on deck, but his eyes were still cloudy with the secret yearning for oblivion. Seeing him transition between his simple, infantile desires and the adult persona he used for Motherlove affairs had never failed to fascinate Duncan, nor had he ever really decided which was the true Methos. Both, he thought, and a myriad other faces and impulses and attitudes, expressed different aspects of the complexity of those five thousand years lived by one mind and one heart. As he watched his lean lover quietly listen to the first mate's explanations, he knew again how grateful he was that Methos had come to him, intact and wondrous, down all those unimaginable reaches of time. To him, of all the souls in the world.
They were readying the little Zodiac boats to go over the side to buzz hornetlike and harassing between the catcher and its prey, the lead photographer with them. The other camera would stay on the ship for a higher perspective, and Methos, Duncan was relieved to see, would stay also; he did not fancy the idea of the tall, unseamanly Immortal in a tiny, flat, fast inflated boat that could and would make screeching turns in the line of fire and under the very bow of the catcher.
Methos came to him. "They're chasing something a lot bigger than a Minke, we don't know what it is yet, only that there's more than one, and they aren't staying under very long, so it may be a female with a calf." Methos shuttled back to the second camera crew immediately to strategize.
Duncan could see very little. They were trying to come between the catcher and whatever it was chasing, but the catcher was fast and they had to be careful not to endanger either ship. This ocean would be utterly unforgiving of any error. Placid as the waters looked, they were icy, and a little swell had come up. They settled on racing along to port of the other ship, cramping its ability to maneuvre. Finally Duncan caught a glimpse of the fleeing whales, spouting and sounding again immediately, but the bit of curved back gave him no clue as to what they were. The steamy mist of their spouts was high and slender. They seemed to be a lighter gray color than he expected, and there were at least two, but that was all he could tell. Methos and the others, further forward, had binoculars glued to their eyes. He heard a cry of what sounded like outrage go up from one of the watchers, and someone ran toward the wheelhouse. A moment later Duncan felt a surge under his feet and Asushunamir put on more speed and began easing starboard as soon as it got the slightest lead, but the catcher plowed straight on and they were forced to veer away again.
Suddenly the quarry broke left, and a little cheer went up from the Motherlove watchers. Clearly the whales were tiring, their soundings were brief and their speed slower, but now Asushunamir was between the whales and the catcher. Even Duncan could now tell that one of the distressed animals, though huge, was much smaller than the other, undoubtedly the reason for their slow progress. They didn't seem to have dorsal fins, and in the glimpse he now caught they looked mottled, the opened double blow-holes enormous. Though he'd studied pictures with Methos, it was uncannily difficult to tell much from glimpses of a part of a moving whale-back among waves and spray. He finally caught sight of a dorsal fin, very tiny and far back toward the tail. A memory nipped at the back of his mind but just then he heard Methos's voice shouting and looked foward.
The catcher had turned its harpoon gun and was readying it, apparently to fire directly across their deck if necessary. The impudence ignited hot anger in Duncan's breast. If they fired, the cable dragging on the deck could cause untold damage, even kill someone. It wouldn't be weighty enough to capsize them... unless the harpoon caught the larger whale perhaps -- he didn't know what that great mass would be capable of doing to their stability. The cameras were filming madly.
It happened so fast he might have missed it if he hadn't been looking directly at Methos.
The whale surfaced, the harpoon gun swung its barrel. Methos's face contorted with rage, he shouted furiously, looked back at the whale, then at the gun and stepped directly into the path of the gun's aim.
The harpoon took him through the middle, blood and pink
matter and the cable shot out of his back and he was whipped overboard
and down under the dark water as the steel cable screamed over their deck
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffin'd, and unknown.
Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto IV, Stanza 179
Weight, an agony, dragging at him. Down, down, through
freezing dense resistances that bent him in half, his muscles thrashed
and flopped insensate, dying --
Freezing cold like fire.
Before his lungs sucked in the huge gasp of icewater he remembered.
He tried to make his limbs take him to the surface but
the agony through his body held him down, weight, metal, through him, dragging
further and further into the deep, frozen, endless darkness.
Cold. Cold. Colder than pain, icy steel in
his veins, killing him even as he woke, all he could know the terror, agony
for eternity, that Hell had come for him since he had fled his death so
long, that death in the terror of the deep would be his only life forever
now. His body gasped frantically for life, and it was death.
Insanity screamed through him -- How many times
had he revived, how many eons would he die, buried far deeper than any
earthen grave, rolled by currents that burned his skin with their cold,
ravaged by animals of the depths, till some huge creature might in nature's
mercy someday snap his head from the living corpse, healed now except for
the exact thin tunnel of agony through him where the steel cable dragged
him this way and that in unending torment. Death blotted him out,
and life opened him in torture like a flower of knives.
He could not have reached the bottom yet, he dimly thought,
because he was not being crushed to death under infinite pressure, he drowned
and drowned and drowned, there were worse deaths, but the coming back was
horrible, and the fear, the horror, of the eternal sightless deep --
He tried to grasp the line, to pull his body up it, even an inch, but his
hands were weak in death and frozen numb, and he didn't even know if he
had touched anything, before he died.
Where great whales come sailing by,
Sail and sail, with unshut eye,
Round the world forever and aye.
Matthew Arnold, "The Forsaken Merman"
When Duncan saw Methos shot into the sea, ancient reflexes made him scream, "Man overboard!" He heard screams also from the catcher's deck, and the Asushunamir crew. Knowledge flashed through his mind of the drag forces, that could wrest Methos's flesh off the steel cable or worse, snap the line, let it weight Methos down to the bottom of the ocean, somewhere in their wake and forever out of reach. If both ships did not stop now, Methos could be gone beyond recall; and yet the vessels were so close together they could not afford to lose all way entirely, for fear of being smashed together by the swell.
It was their luck that the captains of both ships were adept at tricky maneuvres of following and the chase, for they both immediately understood what had to be done. They slowed with matched speeds, so the cable wouldn't slide off the bow of the Motherlove ship and be cut by it. The Motherlove crew ducked and scrambled to keep out of the cable's way as it sawed across the deck. The catcher's gunner tried slowly winding it in, Duncan could hear the whine of the cable engine. Asushunamir dropped its Zodiacs over the side, the two-man crew tried to keep Duncan out but he snarled insanely and they gave way. They circled to port of the barely moving ship, while the cable hauled over the deckrail, no one daring to get too close to its unpredictable sliding.
This was the death that Methos had most feared, Duncan's soul cried to him. Lost for eternity in the untraversable black deep. Duncan's eyes ached from searching for the first sight of anything pale where the steel line cut into the water. A dozen times foam or the light on a wave raised hope falsely. Methos. Methos. Every beat of his heart seemed to tear something out of him, screaming at him to lay hands on the shining metal and haul Methos bodily back to him. Impossible in the madly weaving and bobbing Zodiac. Methos. Methos. Drenched with spray, salt flooding tears from his eyes unnoticed, he clung on the rope handholds, one living, frozen prayer. Dreading the sight of an empty spear dragged out of the ocean. Screaming internally at the time that had gone by since the monstrous water had swallowed down his lover, screaming against horrific spectres of the future, but poised for whatever practical action could be called for. Thank god he had been a seaman in his day, and understood the ways and reasons of ocean ships and gear. He saw again in his mind the moment when Methos stepped into the path of the harpoon, felt again the shock and horror of the irrevocable impact, of the steel ripping through his body horribly, and snatching him over the side, far from the convulsive reach of Duncan's hands.
He did not remember hearing any explosion. He had some idea that harpoons for large whales carried explosive charges, the better to kill or disable quickly. Had they been aiming at the calf? Some of the hugest whale species were known to sink rather than float when dead, was the adult too huge for them to deal with? He didn't know. But he hadn't heard an explosion. Oh god don't let there be a live charge still on this cable down to hell... He couldn't remember seeing anything so bulky on the harpoon as it flashed past. Were they detonated by impact? Had Methos's body not made enough of an impression to trigger it? Or were they simply on a timer, something that might have exploded unheard below the water...
His stomach heaved, at the images or in response to the Zodiac on the waves, he didn't know. He leaned out far and vomited, to be rid of it, and try to stay readier to act. For a moment it left him weak, but from hard lessons on the battlefield he knew that would pass. He would be lighter, to run or to pursue, in this case, just to wait...
How much line had they allowed to pay out? It hadn't needed much, no whale had dragged it deep or run with it, only its own weight and Methos's. The firing velocity would be great, though, and no solid bulk to stop it.
The line cut circles and slashes in the dark water, and
revealed to him nothing, still, of his dead lover's fate, and of his own.
Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee --
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto IV, stanza 182
Methos woke drowning, and convulsed and thrashed and screamed
liquid through his lungs and throat, before his body could remember it
was only death, one more in a long, long chain of deaths retreating thousands
of years into the past, deep into this freezing, lightless sea. He
tried to control the horror, remember his lover's name, but he was already
dying, the light of consciousness following the light of the world into
He woke and drowned, and screamed...
He woke and struggled not to breathe, not to gasp for
life that wasn't there. Duncan, Duncan -- Agony arrowing through
him at the center, salt in his blind eyes, burning his sinuses, chill flesh
painfully resisting the flow of cold, cold blood. Duncan --
His muscles screamed with pain, not having had time nor oxygen to heal
from their convulsions. There had been life -- the light -- the sun
-- oh Duncan -- His body won again, inhaling the death that had replaced
life all around him, then fighting feebly a moment against the enemy his
universe had become, till the darkness within rose over even the darkness
No -- no -- the sea -- He fought unthinkingly to
keep separate from what was around him, a self, sovereign only so long
as he could hold, from the black cold, this shred of flesh consciousness
was born in -- but the violent body yet again betrayed him, seized all
it could of the poisonous treasure of the world, lungs that had expelled
the intruder to reawaken let the blackness in, so desperate for all that
should have been there and was not -- the other self, that world, that
had so kindly held, supported him, with breath, with warmth, with sight,
with everything, the precious place that he, in turn, had tried to hold
and save -- his body gave him back again to death.
He woke to a searing pain, and felt something inside give
way to a force of tearing metal, and consciousness seemed to melt forth,
joining him forever to the black water.
Soaked and shivering, MacLeod clung to the handholds of the Zodiac, desperate for the thin endless cable to bring Methos to him out of the depths, but it never changed. It didn't even look as if it were moving except when a certain angle of the waterdrops shaken off it would suddenly show the upward hauling of the line. The line, the side of the ship, and senseless water; freezing with cold, eyes crimped against stinging spray, hearing the shouting of the two men in the boat with him about how they might handle whatever came up from below.
There was an instant when he thought he saw a lighter shadow in the water, and then the dead body of his beloved was being hauled through the surface of the dark, moving deep. Shouts rang out from above, and the line stopped moving, as they zoomed in close to the cable and another pair of hands joined his in heaving Methos's ice-cold corpse in over the side of the inflatable. Even as they pulled he saw the weight of the body suddenly unsupported by water inch further down on the cable. It would definitely not be safe to simply haul the body up the side of the ship that way.
The Zodiac listed as they struggled with the heavy, wet treasure of Methos. Duncan clasped him to his breast as they finally flailed the last limb in over the side, and the other crewman checked to make sure the harpoon wasn't right behind him, to endanger their craft with its steel points. Against him, Methos's cold lifelessness wrenched at him, even as he rocked in only half-believing thankfulness to have him back. Something in him still feared that at any moment the vast forces around them might tear Methos from his arms, separate them forever.
He supported the lolling, heavy head against his shoulder, while the crewman took huge cutters to the cable.
The cable drew up and away from them, being wound back up over the ship when they signalled it was cut free. Tackle was being lowered to lift the body. They strapped the sodden weight with difficulty into the seat of the rescue apparatus and Duncan insisted on riding up with it, to hold fast and guard against further accident in the perilous rise. If the waves claimed it again, the iron weight in it would make the body sink like a stone.
And he had to think what he should do.
Methos had been underwater twenty minutes if not longer.
Out of the water, he had been publicly dead for almost ten minutes longer, without a sign of reviving. A vital organ must be irreparably damaged by the metal in him, so that he could not wake until the steel was removed. Giving thanks that Methos had been spared an underwater agony, MacLeod nonetheless tried to find some way out. Hypothermia -- bodies had been recovered from ice-water and brought to life before -- But if he pulled out the steel and pretended to do CPR on deck, everyone would see Methos heal...
Oh god. He couldn't care. He was just so glad
to have him back, at any price. He gripped him tighter and pressed
his lips against the freezing cheek, tears of gratitude and relief streaming
down his face.
Dying is a wild night and a new road.
Methos gasped awake and flailed wildly. Instinctively Duncan ducked back.
A cry broke from Methos's lips, a horror in it that was deep and bloodcurdling.
"Methos," MacLeod tried to say. "It's all right." But he saw even when the green-gold eyes hit him there was no understanding, no comfort.
He knew the stress of waking far from where you had died, from the last scene you remembered. It took time to orient, and comprehend. Immortal death was more like anesthesia than like sleep; there were no dreams, no sense of interval; only a jump-cut to another place, another time. Methos probably didn't even remember going over the side of the ship, and now -- he was not going to be happy when he found out where he was now.
But the look on Methos's face was one of memory. His body jerked. Senses registering, mind not grasping. He gasped air in desperately.
"Methos," Duncan tried again. "You're back. You're safe. You're here with me." And he tried to put his arms around him.
Methos lashed out with all four limbs, ejecting Duncan backward and catching him a good slosh on the side of the face that flushed annoyance through MacLeod's whole system.
He controlled the angry response. It wasn't Methos's fault. He wasn't "there" yet, clearly. His body was tense and he was still looking around wildly.
The last four days and nights had been sheer hell. Steaming to the nearest harbor with an airport while keeping constant watch over the body, alerting Ann in the middle of the night so she could have the right person here, dealing with bureaucracies, the sealed coffin, a thousand arrangements... Now this. And the worst of it still to be got through.
"You're safe," he said. "Take it easy. It's okay."
Gradually Methos seemed to be actually seeing what was around him. Why he should be so unusually freaked out Duncan didn't know -- it had been a clean death... the paramedic's attempt at CPR on deck had gushed blood over Methos's soaking shirt, and she had diagnosed a torn aorta. Duncan's years as a medic in several wars had led him to agree.
Methos sat stiff and still. Looked down. He was on an autopsy table. Looked around. A morgue.
Saw Duncan. Stared with wide, strained eyes.
"Duncan...?" he said tentatively.
MacLeod smiled wrily. "Welcome back."
Methos looked as if he still didn't trust his own perceptions; as if, any moment, another reality might crush him. His head came up suddenly: he'd have detected the buzz in the next room.
"It's Dennis Prescott," Duncan soothed. "No one to worry about."
"Dennis Prescott?" Methos seemed to connect with the idea more than with what his senses told him. "What the hell is he doing here?" It was a mild curiosity, not the instant understanding Duncan expected.
Prescott was who you called when an Immortal needed a pathologist. No one in their right mind would ever take his head. He was far too useful.
Duncan said steadily, "He's just performed your autopsy."
Just for a second, as if he couldn't keep it from bursting out.
Then he seemed to be getting back more gigabytes of self. Awareness.
"What are you talking about?"
As if it were absurd. Non sequitur.
"Methos... You died."
Methos winced, seeming to feel pain in his waist as he moved. "Tell me something I don't know."
"You died in public."
Methos still looked puzzled.
"There were witnesses. There was nothing I could do. Adam Pierson died."
Bit by bit the information seemed to reach him, as if through some thick filter. A look of astonishment.
"But I can't die now!" he protested, aghast.
How Duncan knew that feeling!
Cut off from all you had been, a life you had built, having to just walk away from all you'd left undone -- each time he'd tried to squirm for some way back, a loophole -- but there weren't any. You had to go. Voted off the island, he thought ironically, a phrase from a tv genre so passé most people didn't remember its source.
And now more than ever before was dying a hardship. Lives blanketted in consumer surveillance, identities tied by a thousand electronic threads to the economic network. This century more than any other seemed determined to keep the dead firmly in their graves -- and if possible, build a shopping mall over their bones. In Methos's case the problems would multiply a hundredfold.
"Duncan --!" Methos still objected. "What the hell?"
"It's going to be hard, I know --"
Methos still didn't seem to have strength to get off the autopsy table, but his eyes were fierce. "You let me die?"
His voice was shaking and shrill.
"Methos... all your blood was running out over the deck. It looked like gallons. You were drowned, you were ice-cold, you were dead on deck for an hour -- I tried to convince the paramedic you were hypothermic and could be revived, tried to get you out of sight, but --"
Methos's force came back in a rush. He jumped up and cried, "How could you let this happen?"
"I had no choice! I couldn't let them pull that thing out of your chest and watch you heal -- there were twenty people there!"
Every instant seemed to be bringing fresh realizations to Methos's expression -- he swung away, strode to the other end of the room, swung back and raised his arms. "This -- can't -- happen!" Fury flashed in his eyes. He looked wild and un-ancient, hot as some baby Immortal fresh off a battlefield and flushed with bloodlust for a fight he couldn't accept was his no longer. MacLeod, who had been waiting days to see life flow beautifully into Methos's cold body once again, stepped back, at the vision of his old one he had never seen -- young, heedless, hotblooded.
"I can't die now! I need another five years at least! What the hell were you thinking?"
A crack of anger opened deep in MacLeod, but he kept his voice soothing. "I know, it's really bad, but --"
"Bad? Have you lost your fucking mind? This isn't some stupid Clan war, this is the whole earth we're talking about! This is turning around two centuries of devastation and it's not done yet, it's not begun yet -- Don't you understand that?"
Duncan felt acid surface in his voice. "It would have been a little easier if you weren't surrounded by cameras and film crews at the time."
"You had no right to make that decision for me!"
"There was no decision! You were dead!" Surges of grief rose in his throat. "I was lucky to have you back at all -- god!" The crack inside split open into fiery rage. "How could you do that to me!"
"Do that to you? I'm the one who's dead here!"
"You stepped in front of that harpoon! I thought I'd never see you again! That I'd have to live the rest of my life --" He stopped on a gasp, unable to express the horror's grasp on him at what might happen, might have already happened, to the one he loved more than any other in his life, below the clashing waves, in that other world that Duncan could not get to, as he waited helpless in the heaving Zodiac. The thoughts that had crossed his mind, unutterable tortures that Methos would be lost to, how Duncan would have to live, knowing his beloved damned in agony --
"I didn't do it on purpose!" Methos shot back.
"You did! You deliberately stepped in front of it. I saw you!"
"It was a reflex! I didn't plan to get killed!"
"You didn't think! You didn't think about anything but your precious whales and your --"
"They were blue whales!" Methos cried. "They're practically extinct!"
"Well I'm glad you think they're worth dying for because that's just what you did and you're now the late Adam Pierson! And you'll be happy to know you certainly got your spot on the six o'clock news."
And, maddeningly, he could see Methos stop, internally, and take that in and calculate with it, though the Eldest was far too canny to admit being a smidgen brightened. Duncan turned away, exasperated and bitter, suddenly shaking with anger. He hadn't known how furious he was at all he'd been forced to deal with -- and after almost two decades of Methos's cautionary homilies on Duncan's recklessness! -- The pain and terror he'd been made to feel, because Methos put something else first...
He muttered, "I knew this whole thing was insane from the beginning, and this is how it ends."
Silence behind him. He looked around, and saw Methos white with anger.
MacLeod's jaw set stubbornly. "Are you going to argue with me, that an Immortal in the international spotlight is a bad idea?" he demanded. "Do you know what I'm going to have to go through now, to leave everything and go into hiding with you?"
MacLeod was struck silent.
The meaning, the coldness, were a slap in the face.
Unless he meant -- "If you think you can undo this, and magically come back to life, you're going to have to forget it."
"No, you've seen to that. Motherlove is finished."
Of course. For Methos the last four days' nightmare tension and anxiety didn't exist. All he thought of was his organization, the last thing he remembered was being in command of his team.
"Well maybe you should have thought of that before your grandstand play in front of the cameras."
He saw Methos go even whiter. His voice was trembling and tight. "You dare to talk to me about stepping into danger? You have the gall, after the past fifteen years of putting yourself in the path of every psycho and tin-pot genocidal jihad on the face of the planet, to go ballistic at me for putting you through a few bad moments?"
"That's different!" Duncan said hotly. "That's the Game. At least it's clean, it's final, you know how it ends! It doesn't drag on for years, maybe decades, never knowing if it's-" He choked on the thought, and turned away angrily to hide the weakness that prickled his eyes and distorted his lips.
"Is that why you did this? To get back at me and get me out of public life at the same time? Wait till I'm lying dead and helpless and take me out of the spotlight?"
Indignation supplanted all other feelings. He swung back incredulously. "You have no idea what you're talking about! I told you I had no choice! What is so hard to understand about that? You died in front of witnesses, end of story!"
He saw Methos ball his hands into fists and shudder.
He had never watched Methos kill off a persona, but had heard him speak of it offhandedly, as something one did as unconcernedly as donning new clothes. He hadn't expected him to be happy about this one. But he hadn't expected hot turmoil and resistance either. And there was something in his eyes -- a deep, wounded shock his words didn't acknowledge.
MacLeod took a step toward him, lowering his voice. "Methos. I'm sorry. I don't like it any more than you do. We'll just... have to do the best we can. Find somewhere no one ever heard of you..."
"Kiss and make up?" Duncan was stopped by the tang of cool steel in that voice, that look. Methos's long hands, he saw, were trembling, but his face was hard and set, and his eyes... cold. Almost vicious. "Planning my new life for me?" He looked away, as if Duncan had become irrelevant. "How have you got planned for me to get out of here?"
Out of the morgue, perhaps Methos would calm.
"We can't go home, there are reporters."
"I need to call --" and he saw Methos stop, up against the cutting off, where his reflexes no longer applied, where however needed he might be, he could intervene no more. His staff, without whom he had scarcely made a move for the past five years, no longer pertained to him. Their crises now not his. He looked at Duncan, and Duncan could see him realizing that MacLeod was now his only link to his past life, to Motherlove, to all that was undone.
MacLeod's mouth set, and he slowly shook his head. "We talked about this at the start," he said steadily. "I don't do high profile. Your funeral is the day after tomorrow. After that I'll be leaving town till this all blows over. Anyway," he went on, trying to soften the return of the helpless rage he saw building in Methos's eyes, "your staff hardly knows me, they certainly wouldn't take orders from me. You've laid a good foundation --"
Methos spun and slammed the side of his fist into a metal locker.
"Get me out of here," Methos coldly demanded, not turning back to look at him.
End of Part Two, "The Deep"