by C.M. DecarninPart 3 (Work in Progress)
White snow on blue mountains. The roofs of the sprawling red-pink souk.
He had got a room near the Kutubiyya, but from his window he couldn't see its minaret. Instead his eyes were drawn again and again to the distance, the stillness and silence, and heavenly indifference, of the pristine Atlas range. Where nothing cared, and nothing moved.
He grabbed his keys and left the room, yet again unable to face the ghostly heights.
Since he'd set his foot on the ground at the airport, he'd known Marrakech had been a mistake.
What had he expected to find here that would ease the smart of his parting from MacLeod. Mac's disbelief, then outrage, and final bitter, sniping anger, when he'd realized Methos meant to split from him, wouldn't say where he was going, and completely refused to argue.
His own anger at Duncan still a white-hot knot in the center of his body, his need to run a compulsion that would barely let him wait till his identity was assembled.
False beards were always so bloody annoying.
Here, thank God, he would have time to grow back his own; and there was much less chance of anyone recognizing him here, anyway.
But other than that, why had he chosen this place...
So many memories...
They kept assaulting him, at every street corner, every vista, sound, scent -- demanding, eidetic, at odds with modern city traffic, fumes, hustle...
Though Marrakech was still culturally Berber, almost everyone here now spoke only Arabic and French. Outcome of tv and public schooling and the mosque. He kept running up against the changes when he tried to glide into his old persona for the region. Retailers looked at him oddly; few could understand his accent; all viewed him as a European, and without fuss or emphasis, simply did not accept him. He didn't dare push, for fear of being recognized.
But the bitterest discovery was that he could no longer accept them. He winced inwardly at every evidence of poverty. Those children at the mouth of that alley, embroiled in some screeching altercation, the thin animals, the smell. The children, he saw, looked to be tormenting some still younger child, scarcely more than a baby. They forced his hands open, took the money clutched there, pushed him down, and ran off. The toddler sat glaring after them, his face covered with enraged tears, but clearly knowing too well that giving chase would be futile. A few more tears fell, then he wiped his face on his filthy t-shirt. And sighed.
Something about the sigh cut straight through Methos's heart. It betokened knowledge and anguish no tiny child should have. He found himself striding forward, pulling bills from his pocket, bending, pressing a great deal of money into the little palm. He walked away, not seeing where he was going, seeing only huge startled brown eyes raised to him from a thin face of unbearable sweetness and tragedy.
He didn't have fun.
Marrakech was supposed to give him freedom from his responsibilities, cut him off from pain, return him to another world.
Instead it depressed the hell out of him.
Its wonders and beauties only made him stop himself from wanting to immediately share them with Duncan. There was no one to tell his memories to.
He tried to soak in the age of stone and adobe glowing red in the setting sun, remembering the palaces of Fez and fortress kasbahs of the mountains, to feel himself at one again with the elaborate decor and stark landscape. Instead, the old things made him feel old for remembering them, the heat and sun and bright designs and whirling music gave him a headache, and the dry hills seemed bleak after Seacouver's green. Nothing was as he remembered it -- especially the things that hadn't changed. The water vendors caparisoned in glittering brass bowls, the big rectangular leather water pouches slung on each hip; the smell of camels; the flutter of striped homespun market awnings in the wind; the women not infrequently veiled now -- none of it carried the same connotations and associations it would have a hundred years ago -- or a thousand. The women made him feel ashamed. The wonderful wool tent-cloths and djellabas were bloody stifling in this heat. The camels mostly came to the city for slaughter. And the long straight spouts of the water pouches reminded him of bagpipes, Scotland, and --
Whenever he passed that way he put inordinate amounts of cash into the
hands of the urchin baby. He saw that it was as he feared, the tot apparently
survived by toddling up and down the alleys of the souk begging tourists
for change. But he was so small that many did not even notice him, and
Methos again saw predatory boys sweep down on him, and take what he had
amassed. Methos made sure to be unobserved when he approached him. They
never spoke, and Methos never managed to return the brilliant smile that
Methos sat down wearily in the shade. He had come to the Majorelle Gardens to rest his eyes and perhaps his thoughts on green leaves. He leaned back, against one of the brilliant Morocco-blue walls, letting the relative coolness penetrate his back through the clinging white of his shirt. Cool to his skin, into tired muscles, cool, almost cold -- his body seized up, he started forward, gasping, clutched the bench and opened his eyes. Light, leaves, paths, tourists. He let his heart-rate steady itself.
He hadn't wanted to sleep since he had been... in the ocean. The sinking into darkness too like the moment of...
His horror. And his greatest horror the deaths that went on and on, a never-ending terror and suffering he was helpless to mitigate --
His decades in the temple. The horrors of his deaths set in the suffering of isolation, madness growing year by year in his terror of the humans who owned him to torment him. Keening silently, rocking in his chains. Sinking into refusal, until dragged out again, woken into the bright moment of death. Pain, fear, sex, and touch. Then thrown back alone into his cell.
He knew he needed sleep, but the deep had come into his soul, he struggled against it with everything he was.
He once had made a study of Immortal death. Asked all he met, or if they weren't there to discuss, observed. He couldn't know how it compared subjectively with mortal death, but there were physiological differences. Seldom, if nothing else, did slain Immortals loose their bowels. Never did they lose their memories to physiologic shock -- a blow on the head, or adrenalin overload. They did not die exactly the same way mortals died. Knowing that helped not at all. He had learned not to show most of his fear. But not how to stop feeling it.
It had fascinated him that Mac seemed not to feel it at all. Grief and anger flooded him. How could he do this to me?
How could he let me die?
The darkness seemed to penetrate everything he saw, everything he felt, like pain that did not heal.
That MacLeod had failed him the darkest pain of all.
He realized he was staring at a late rose, blood-red in its field of blue... that bleu de travail no worker wore, bright and deep at the same time, darker than the fabled blue walls of Chaouen, where to this day they still spoke ancient Moroccan Spanish; but so brilliant under the African sun it fooled the eye, like a color never seen before, that the mind slipped on and could not classify. Against it the rose so pure a red...
He wanted, he thought, a bit of wall this blue in his garden.
He wouldn't be able to go back to his garden.
The realization splintered slowly and painfully through him.
He hadn't had time to work in it the past few years.
But it had been there.
Death had taken everything.
He missed his team. He was too coldly furious at Duncan to come close
to missing him -- it was as if Duncan were still there, for him to continually
turn his back on.
The next time he saw the beggar baby, he tried asking his name. In Arabic, in local Tamazight, in Tashilit, in French. He only got an anxious smile. No attempt to answer back in a language of his own.
The child could not speak.
He'd seen him use a few words and had finally deciphered sounds of a garbled, parrot-learned phrase or two of tourist languages. The kid had learned them for begging, but didn't know what they meant. The fact that he could form words fairly well meant at some point he had started, at least, to learn to speak. Might be able, still, to learn a real language, if he survived. If someone spoke to him. Methos stood up from where he had squatted down to child-height.
Both, as he knew well, were doubtful points.
In the city of almost a million, ten thousand children laughing now would not grow up.
It was the way it had always been. Always would be.
A child alone had little chance. And without language, it was hard to
One night he saw the boy in the Djemaa-el-Fna when the big market was in full swing, dancers and acrobats and vendors and animal acts and musicians and storytellers crowding every foot of the place -- a good wide berth given to the cobra-charmers -- as money made its intricate rounds. The little child was watching a guedra, the dancer so authentic it made Methos's heart ache. The Blue Men seated with the guedra drum and other instruments showed no trace of the indigo that used to stain their skin and hair, but the music and movements took him straight back to the Tafilal't far south, and long ago. She lifted back the end of her long haik from over her face, symbolizing the coming of light and understanding.
The next dance changed styles, loaded with sinuous movements, a delight to the eyes. Chanting and clapping gave way to instrumental music. When the woman worked toward him around the circle he must have had some emotion in his eyes, for she reached toward him and invited him into the open space, beckoning repeatedly when he stepped back, until he felt that for politeness's sake he could no longer refuse. Something that would never have happened in the old days, but here and now the tourist dirham prevailed. Instinctively he spread his arms a little in his own invitation, and smiled, as he stepped out. The plonks and twangs and bops resolved to a music interpretable more easily by the body than the mind. He relaxed his shoulders, leaning back slightly, let his loins melt into the music, and danced.
He moved with subtlety, a fluidity that immediately drew hoots from the crowd and laughter from the other dancer, as she saw she had hooked no goofy, awkward, grinning foreigner but one skilled in the wiles of the desert's provocation himself.
He was careful to maintain an extremely discreet distance and limit seductiveness strictly within the conventions of the dance -- the musicians were beyond doubt the woman's male relations and though in the past unmarried women of the Kel Tagilmus were always sexually free and independent, with the incursions of Islam everywhere these days, you never knew; but he enjoyed himself, shook out a lot of ghosts and felt his body waking in strange ways, where he hadn't known it was so dormant. He had sudden awareness of his bare head. In his day, adult men went veiled in the indigo blue of the tribes. He felt slightly scandalous, naked-mouthed under all these eyes.
His life, so long.
He felt as if he danced, without fear, on a narrow band, the width of his feet, suspended in the deep, deep well of his life. Here, and there. Dancing in the present, remembering the dance out of a far past, and feeling the plunging depth of memory under... On which he danced, a miracle of times and places joining, guiding his body, unthought yet all-aware. He was free. He was free, in the midst of time...
He slowly turned in a circle, hitching with his following hipbone on the tambourine-like beat. He opened his eyes. The dancer, dancing, and her musicians, making his rhythm, all watching him with amazement and an open interest part professional, part friendly, happy at the novelty in their night. They did not know how much they were his people, but they knew from the tongues in which his body spoke they had found something familial in so much that was alien.
He knew that happiness, and wonder.
Music blessing him, movement expressing him. Indistinguishable one from the other. He let the music jerk him like a Quickening. Belly and loins hooked to the beat, shoulders dipped erotically, hips circled suavely and his waist turned and turned, as he faced the dancer and orbitted distantly around her, arms out, smiling and exultant. He made a gesture to his chest that showed he was breathing a little hard, before he slipped back into the crowd with a final shimmy, and looked around with a smile, finally, that could match that of the street-baby.
Now he knew why he had come here. He knew where he was going.
He quickly gave money to the little child, and headed back to his rented
room to pack.
He put thought into it. Folding all his European clothes into a suitcase to be stored reminded him of not so distant days when he always had his costume-changes squirrelled away along escape-routes. The gun he was carrying -- he'd been in no mood to duel, nor to suffocate in long clothes to hide his sword -- would go with him. A suitable supply of bullets. The few things he wasn't willing to say good-bye to forever.
His restless wanderings through the souk had shown him which bazaar had what he needed -- the only shop in town that still sold the authentic garb. In the morning he bought a proper djellaba, tunic and loose trousers, complex headgear, a dagger in a sheath. And off a pile of blue, picked out the long dark cotton veil.
He packed the veil in his duffel. No one wore it here. Or probably in any city.
He headed for the bus station.
Passing through the fruit market he bought a few dates and blood-oranges for his journey.
In the souk he saw the little child. He stopped. He could give him more money, but how to explain, or say good-bye?
He checked their surroundings, then stepped out into the boy's path. And saw that he would not have to explain. The brown eyes turned up to him, the smile opened out, with surprise at seeing him in the long djellaba, then the boy looked at the duffel-bag, and all the joy faded out of his face.
In his world of tourist comings and goings, clearly, luggage was its own farewell.
Methos was not prepared for the sadness and anguish that swept into the dark eyes.
Perilous trust, for someone so small. A few dirhams, a few words of kindness; all it took to make his going a disaster for one tiny soul.
Possibly the soul the most alone in all the human tide of the vast city, without words to protest or to plead.
Fearful, but with a great clarity suddenly, a very tall man looking down into the face of a very small boy, and hearing the sounds of another marketplace inexpressibly distant, slowly Methos reached out his hand.
A little hot palm wrapped around his long fingers.
And when he turned to go on his way, into the south, the silent child
walked sturdily beside him, without a single look back.
Duncan MacLeod was old enough to remember when you walked down a set of stairs onto the tarmac to get off a plane. He was old enough to remember when you could greet people as soon as they emerged through the Arrivals tunnel. And he was certainly old enough to remember when non-passengers still had access to the baggage-claim area.
Now you had to lurk at the very end of the labyrinth passengers exited through, hoping they were able to lug their bags this far alone.
On the plus side, airports had become essentially Holy Ground. Just try getting into one now wearing a sword...
When Joe had called him, he'd begun rehearsing his indifferent response even before Dawson finished. He was still framing and elaborating on it as he filled the car with petrol, and tore onto the A830. By the time he hit the Glasgow airport exit three hours later, his entire position had been refined down to a few succinct and dignified sentences, viz., that he had not left Methos, Methos had left him, that if Methos wanted to meet with a view to resuming a relationship now, Duncan would consider it and would let Joe know, in due course, the conditions under which he might be willing to arrange such a meeting. His brakes screeched as he spotted the only empty space in the airport car park.
Person after person emerged through the guarded doors, and none of them were Methos.
Methos was always first off a plane.
He would be in some kind of disguise, Duncan realized suddenly, and re-ran all the passengers on his mental viewscreen. No. Not yet. He would know him, no matter what he wore, after fifteen years in his bed and his heart, even if he were dressed, for example, like that tall bearded North African in a full-length indigo-black burnoose against the cold, open over a knee-length pale blue tunic and trousers, carrying his son in his arms. Duncan's feet took him forward while his brain still enumerated the obvious reasons to move on to the next candidate.
He hadn't meant to say that.
And he certainly hadn't meant to say it in that breathless, breaking, half-suffocated-sounding voice.
The man turned.
Eyes, the color of bronze shadows in green lakes, met his.
Cool, autocratic, do-I-know-you? eyes, over a particularly arrogant angle of the nose and a straight-line mouth.
He was beautiful.
His Presence filled Duncan like the note of a harp.
He waited till Duncan got close to say absently, "You couldn't think of anywhere more public to do this. Like centerfield at the World Cup."
Not asking where Methos had been; it was obvious where he had been. Not asking why he was here; there could be only one reason. Not touching him. Not saying any of the things he felt, which were all gridlocked just behind his tongue.
Not reacting, either, to the chilling tone of voice nor the air of things-to-do, the gimlet-eyed stares into the crowd to spot his own Watcher, now that it must be obvious to him he had one, the princely indifference. It was aimed at him, but the arrows that hit his heart were only tipped with the taste of Methos. Here. In reach. A heady injury. Pangs reaching into all his limbs. Six months. Six months since he had touched him, and then only as a cold, dead corpse. And now, still, not touching, not even another caress from his gold-green gaze...
One pair of eyes, though, was looking straight at Duncan.
The little boy on Methos's strong left arm could not possibly have been more than four years old, and looked younger. Dark eyes, dark hair slave-short, soft cheeks tea-brown, straight back and a confident gaze from utterly safe harbor. Who are you, his look said; and after a silent look back, MacLeod spoke in a totally other intonation.
The ancient's eyebrows raised, though he spared MacLeod not the merest glance.
To... accessorize his camouflage by using an innocent child... God it was so...
"The name is Kateb Mokdad, if you don't mind. This," he looked down a moment into the boy's face, "is my son Karidenna."
"Right. Where do we drop him off?"
The duffel had slid down and rested against Methos's leg. He bent to get something out of it.
"I'm taking him to a speech therapist at the University of Stirling."
Duncan glanced at the Tuareg-clad child. "Naturally."
"They happen to have a Tamachek speaker on their staff."
Dryly, glancing at the road-map Methos had dug out of his pack, MacLeod commented, "And they didn't happen to have any in Morocco or Algeria."
"Didn't really want a native speaker checking out my accent and antiquated vocabulary. I should think that would be obvious to the meanest intellect." He had shaken open the map one-handed and was making a business of finding the proper section.
MacLeod took the billowing sheet. "I'll drive you."
Methos plucked the map back acerbically. "I've hired a car."
"Cancel it." Mac grabbed the map back.
"You don't have a car-seat for Karidenna."
"He's big enough to ride without one." Irritation struck MacLeod again. "Whose is he, anyway?"
"Oh, from your extensive family connections." Immortals generally did not attack on the front of blood relations, but the ancient was beginning to get MacLeod's goat.
Methos grew even colder. "I found him. I took him. He's mine."
His near-rectangular eyes roamed the horizon with abstracted aloofness. He hoisted the duffel-bag to his shoulder.
"Took him? What do you mean you took him? You can't just -- He's somebody's kid!"
Still gazing afar, Methos said, "My kid now." And started for the exit.
The child's brown eyes gazed back over his shoulder at MacLeod in triumph.
Panicked, he folded up the map badly and hurried after.
"International kidnapping? Have you lost your mind?"
"Louder, MacLeod, I don't think airport security quite caught that."
Duncan stared at the striding North African-dressed man as if he had never seen him before. The haughty bearing so completely different from Adam Pierson's hands-in-the-pockets sarcasm and agitated sliding away to safety. Yet the results were the same. Methos withering all opposition. Methos leaving.
Whoever Marlon Brando played, you were still aware, first and foremost, of him being Marlon Brando.
Maybe the effect would not be noticeable to others, who did not know Methos as he did. Certainly in the airport there was no recognition; but up close? At a university? One on one? Despite the beard, the deep tan, a foreign tongue... it was a bizarre risk. The reason they had put him on tv in the first place that instant recognizability and charisma.
"Cancel the car," he said again.
"I need a car. I've hired it for the month."
"Then I'll come with you." It was said with finality, authority. Mac
held his breath. Methos said nothing. Duncan looked at Karidenna. Karidenna
looked back ferociously.
MacLeod retrieved his sword and bag from his car and hurried to the rental agency's car park, where Methos had finally gotten through the interminable line and was just emerging. He'd thought of following them in his own car, but he wanted -- needed -- to be with him, see him, touch...
Methos strapped Karidenna into the child-seat and MacLeod had to admit the little boy was small enough to still need it, despite his expressions that made him look older than a toddler. Malnourishment, he thought. The children of the poor who accommodated to lack of nutrients by staying small. Old Immortals, even himself, anomalies for their height. He had calmed down. Methos would not steal someone's child. And watching as Methos spoke frequently to the little boy, he detected the tones of kindness, intimacy. A few Arabic words here and there, otherwise the language was unknown to him, and Karidenna said nothing back, but it was crystal clear he regarded Methos as his personal property, and MacLeod with very heavy suspicion.
"How did you get a Tuareg child?"
"Don't call us Tuareg."
"Shluoch?" A term dredged from his olden Arabic.
Methos looked at him stonily.
"Imazighen, for Berbers in general. Instead of Tuareg you can say "Kel Tagilmus" -- the People of the Veil."
"Does he understand you?" Duncan asked quietly.
Methos tightened the final strap. "Yes." He extracted himself from the back door, and shut it. He flipped his fingers to brush MacLeod out of the open driver's door, and slid behind the wheel. Duncan went around to the passenger side and to his relief, Methos didn't prevent him from getting in. He stowed his gear on the floor in back.
"Does he talk at all?"
To his surprise, he saw Methos rest the hand that held the car keys on the steering wheel, and blink hard, while his mouth went straight and firm.
Methos started the car, then.
"A few words," he replied. He adjusted the mirrors and seat-belt.
Duncan said gently, "You can't raise a child."
"I've raised hundreds, MacLeod. You'd be absolutely astonished at the lack of marital fidelity in days of yore."
"It's different now."
"Keep telling yourself that."
"Different about children."
"A little attention and affection and they'll follow you anywhere. Same as always."
"I'm keeping him MacLeod." A dangerous brittle edge warned Duncan to shut up. The kind of warning he'd become adept at ignoring, but he looked over the back of the seat into Karidenna's attentive eyes and knew it was an argument to store for later.
"His hearing is okay, I take it?"
Methos craned around a concrete buttress and edged out into the airport traffic.
Duncan felt an overwhelming need to reach out and smother him in his embrace; to kiss him senseless. He had thought of simply hijacking the man into an airport hotel till they could have this out, and settle it, and be in bed together before you could say Jack Robinson, but the presence of the unforeseen child had thrown all his expectations out of kilter. Methos had plans, appointments. And Duncan had still, he reminded himself, every right to be angry with him for scampering off into the desert in a snit for six months.
Six months. It had been appalling. Awful. His palms were sweaty with the need not to lose him again.
Neutrally he observed, "You want the M80 east here to the A80."
"Yes," said Methos, looking in as many directions as he could, "but which is bloody east?"
Duncan spotted the unassuming sign effacing itself behind a shrub. "Here. Left lane. This exit." Swearing vividly, Methos negotiated the hurtling traffic. Duncan felt a sweet pang of familiarity. Methos had never loved freeways.
"I thought this was an A road?" Methos exclaimed, after a series of tense interchange maneuvres.
"Time passes," Duncan answered.
"There are six bloody lanes!"
Oh god. All the years of him. Settled into Duncan's cells like another self. He knew every turn of his wrist, every individual note of his voice, how every padded or bony spot felt against him, every serious, sweet, or sarcastic aspect of him. But he had never seen him as obdurate, as unreasoning, as when he had left Duncan and fled out into stone and sand, where Watchers could not follow him, but only wait on the outskirts of the tribe he chose, hearing of him in wisps of gossip, glimpsing him on a trip he made to the speck of a village, itself miles from Goulimime; deep in the Oued Draa where Methos had disappeared, no Watchers could hope to pass unnoticed. Or so Joe had explained to him, without naming the place. It was not their function to reveal his whereabouts when he did not want to be found; if they did, Methos would learn he had a Watcher and vanish completely. But, Joe added comfortingly, no other Immortal could get near the place unnoticed, either, unless born there. Methos had chosen safety, and chosen well. Joe had not mentioned anything about a kid.
Duncan could smell the desert on him. Goat-wool and smoke of dung fires, camel, sun, exotic leaves, pepper and saffron and mint and heat. He felt something stir in him that was other.
In his dreams, Kronos had bedeviled him to get the Eldest back. Once Duncan had woken to find himself packing his sword in its travel-case.
But there was too much to do, to hare off after Methos even if he had wanted to. He advised the Motherlove staff as best he could. Distributed Adam Pierson's personal effects and fortune among them; stored all Methos's real possessions with his own and thought through the heartbreaking sale of the loft and the dojo -- the one place they could never return to as a couple. He sold it, he told himself, because he could not live there with the memories, and needed to escape the attention of the media and the ecology community. Adam Pierson's funeral had been the biggest in Seacouver history. His film clips and barbed sound bytes were on every channel for days.
"Japan banned the sale of whale meat last week," he said suddenly.
He didn't expect the reaction.
Methos's hands tightened on the steering wheel. His whole body went rigid and jerked. Breath sucked into him, a shudder racked him. Then Mac could see him focus tensely on his driving, lest he lose control of the car.
It all took only a second. But MacLeod recognized it as intensely revisited trauma.
Uncharacteristic. No one kept his cool like Methos. Not much was news to him.
"I thought you might not have heard."
"I'm done with all that." Very controlled. But his eyes, MacLeod noticed, were wider. The old man's first sign of panic. He had seen it so many times, but always just as an accompaniment to Methos being about to disappear, as he looked around him, hoping not to spot the source of another Immortal's Presence.
"What's wrong?" he said quietly.
"No idea what you mean, MacLeod." The gold-green eyes flicked to his car mirrors and out over the traffic ahead. "It's just not my scene any more, and as I recall that was your decision."
Duncan contemplated him. He'd been sure Methos must have admitted to himself by now that Duncan had had no choice, would have far rather avoided all the consequences of Adam Pierson's passing. Whatever excuse he proposed, there could be no other reason for Methos to come to Scotland than to find MacLeod.
"What was so special about that death?"
Methos whirled on him, then spun, terrified, back to the road. MacLeod gasped. That had not been a good idea. As Methos signalled left and worked his way to the exit lane, he looked into the back seat. Karidenna had fallen fast asleep. He was probably exhausted by all the unfamiliar stresses of his journey from a pre-Medieval pastoral life to the technological madhouse of the twenty-first century. He felt the car veer onto an exit and looked back to Methos.
"Bloody agency didn't fill the tank." But MacLeod could hear his voice trembling, and didn't have to look at the gauge to know they had plenty of petrol. And when they arrived in the service area Methos didn't even try to keep up the charade. He just pulled into the furthest parking space behind the restaurant and put his head down on the backs of his hands on the steering wheel.
MacLeod loosed his seat-belt and slid over and took the old man in his arms. His body was stiff under the tremoring. The voice when he spoke was cracked with grief. "How could you do that to me."
MacLeod breathed softly, "Do what, Methos?"
"Leave me down there!" It was a piercing wail that cut to the heart. "You didn't come and I kept drowning and drowning --!"
Duncan whispered, "Merciful God."
"I thought I was going to be there forever! I couldn't breathe and the pain and the cold--" The hard body jerked in his arms.
"I didn't know." It had been his own great fear, those death-struck ages that Methos was out of his reach, under the freezing sea. "You were dead when we brought you up, I assumed the spear had killed you instantly. I was so glad, not only to get you back but that you hadn't suffered."
"I did." It was a squeezed, tiny voice. "I did. I did. I did. I did."
MacLeod dared hold him tighter. "I'm so sorry." He shuddered with his own horror. Oh God. If Methos had slipped away from them then... To live through nothing but death, for untold time -- the thought was enough to make you ask what deity, or even what blind nature, could be so cruel.
That it had been his Methos face to face with it...
"-- My love. My precious --"
He realized he was babbling the same moment he realized Methos was struggling to escape his grip.
Methos gasped air as he sat back against the seat.
"Christ, Highlander. Way to give a guy a flashback."
MacLeod heard with relief the normality under the tremble in his lover's voice.
"And incidentally I'm well aware it's idiotic to blame you," the old man added, shame mingling audibly through the attempted offhandedness. "I was just so..." He swallowed. "...frightened. It all turned to fury at the first outlet."
"Took you long enough to figure that out." He let his voice copy Methos's insouciance.
"About twenty seconds," he said awkwardly. "Once I let myself remember it all in living color." He shuddered again, still rose-faced with discomfort. "The rest was just working myself up to where I might be able to admit it to anyone else. But at first it was so much easier to be mad than to be that scared. And... to find out my life was gone..."
"It made it easy to run," MacLeod suggested quietly.
Methos shrugged. "It made it necessary. So it could become the only thing I had to think about. I just... I couldn't..."
MacLeod said slowly, "We had to go so carefully. I was so terrified the line would snap and I would lose all hope of you forever. I'm so sorry it had to take so long."
"You pulled me out of Hell, MacLeod."
"It was a team. Even the whalers -- they could have cut and run, but they didn't. All I could do was watch."
A slight smile curved Methos's lips. "I know you, MacLeod, and I'm quite sure it was you giving the orders."
Duncan stroked his upper arm, unable to keep from touching him. "Are you all right now?"
Methos said somewhat grumpily, "I'm fine. Except I've been flying for ten hours, most of which was sitting in connecting airports." He looked ashamed again. "There's nothing like a small kid to bring you back to earth." He glanced into the rear-view mirror at Karidenna sleeping. "Finally I realized the exact dimensions of what an ass I'd been." MacLeod let his big hand warm Methos's shoulder. The man was still shaken, he could feel it, by the onslaught of the memory of his six-months-gone ordeal.
"Where did you get him?" he asked softly.
"On the street in Marrakech. He was all alone." MacLeod slid his arms around Methos again and held him. He remembered... Methos kneeling before him, overlain with the memory of his shock and helpless pity at the vision he had been vouchsafed of Methos's childhood. Another child, five thousand years ago, who had not learned to talk.
"He's not like me, MacLeod. If he doesn't learn real speech before he's seven, he never will. He won't have hundreds of years to learn it the hard way."
Duncan was thinking. "Wouldn't English have been better?" Precious few people were left in the world who knew any of the Tuareg tongues.
Methos understood him immediately. "I was running. In fact I was heading for the desert when I ran into him again. I just -- took him. I wasn't thinking. But it was possible some Berber dialect was his parents' language, that he might have some dim remnant of. I thought if he had known Arabic or even Tamazight, he wouldn't have lost it -- he would have heard it all around him every day. So it seemed more likely it was a dialect from further out. Tamachek was as good a chance as any. And he had to be able to speak to the people around us. Only... he didn't. You... you could speak English to him. Kids learn two languages as easily as one, as long as they aren't jumbled together."
Duncan was quiet.
"I'm perfectly capable of raising a kid. It's no big divine mystery Duncan."
"It was different then. It wasn't the Gathering."
"He can't take another separation. He needs me to be there." Methos pulled back and sat up straight.
Mac smiled a little. "He looks pretty tough to me."
"He needs stability while he learns to talk."
Methos turned on the ignition. "I'm better than nothing, MacLeod."
Duncan put his warm hand on Methos's upper arm again. He knew Methos would understand the warm touch, reminder of Duncan's love, and awe, the many times he had told the old one how his brilliance, beauty, and depth affected him. "Better than nothing" had been a hard-won plateau in the oldest Immortal's sense of self-worth, but always far, far short of what Duncan had intended Methos should see in himself.
Methos reversed the car out of the parking space and headed back to the road. He must know the conversation wasn't over. But there would be time for it. First Duncan had to re-establish their own connection, and they had to find a way to live. Not where Duncan was known. He'd made no promises anywhere, knowing he would find Methos again, however long it took. Hard as he had worked to keep in the background, he was known to be associated with Adam Pierson; therefore wherever Duncan MacLeod was known, Methos could not be safe. All his mortal friends would have to be left behind for this lifetime, almost as if he himself had died, as with any Immortal mate's death; but in his case it would extend to strangers who might know of him; he would have to change his name, a thing he had stoutly avoided; another price of Immortal notoriety. They had both known it long before the necessity actually arose, and he knew it would all be passing through Methos's mind, again and again, reducing his sense of his own worth in Duncan's life, filling him with the guilt of a hopeless debt he could never repay.
His life, having Methos within reach of him again, had returned.
For six months MacLeod had constantly been turning to him, to find him gone; speaking to him, words dying on his lips as he realized Methos was not beside him; longing for him, his ancient knowledge, his mystery of understanding. His body's heat, ready for his touch always.
Here. Beside him. The lover who brought him wholly to life again, his Presence filling him; his nearness entered Duncan like an emotion. The desert waft off him, warmth he could almost feel three feet away, the barely audible brush of his clothes, his slight movements as he drove, a taste of his delicate sweat in the air, long elegant fingers there on the wheel, his hood thrown back, hawk features browned by the sun, eyes alert to the road. He looked different, smelled different, but he was Methos, and to Duncan he was life itself. And on that long left hand, still, against darker skin now, glowed the ring of white opal and silver he had given his beloved fifteen years before.
That the experiences of repetitive death had driven Methos apart from him... It was old with Methos, very old, it woke his deepest horrors. But that he turned away, instead of coming to Duncan for comfort, was disturbing on a very deep level. It was easier thinking they had had a fight over a decision Duncan had had no choice but to make. Easier to think Methos was just being petulant over the spoiling of his long-term plans, than to sink with him in thought through the depths of so many years, through centuries, millennia, and to find at the start of it all only torture and desolation in a forsaken soul... He had glimpsed that abyss of time once, in the double Quickening, and had not understood how anyone could live with that endlessness of years.
Methos. Methos lived with it easily, gracefully, elegantly. He spoke and moved through the world like a king incognito, casual, real, yet forever disengaged from the trivial.
It was a trait Immortals all came to have in different ways, but in Methos it had become so refined it was almost undetectable. It was what he was.
Secretly, Duncan sometimes thought it was what he had fallen in love with. That essence of royalty.
Other times he thought it was the imp that survived as little green flames in Methos's gold eyes.
He felt as if he were falling in love again from the beginning, having Methos return to him.
Not like the days when he used to cast up at Duncan's door. It had been left to MacLeod to intercept him.
As if he had only confidence enough to say, "I'm here, if you want me."
He realized he had been staring at the dark-robed Immortal absorbedly.
He wanted him so much he could taste it.
The drive to Stirling wasn't long, but Duncan felt as if he had gone through a hundred metamorphoses of feeling, memory, intent, in the course of it. Coming alive like a numb limb.
Shouldering in the hotel room door, Methos laid Karidenna down in the bed to finish his nap, and Duncan's body slowly did the math.
There was only one bed.
Duncan seized Methos gently by the waist and pulled him against him.
And with only the slight hesitation of his six-month absence, Methos's arms closed around his shoulders.
MacLeod's breath came out in a moan of pleasure, at the warmth in his arms, and of Methos's hold on him. He felt he hadn't been warm the whole six months. His arms were under Methos's burnoose, and the voluminous wool was somewhat scratchy and muffling. He made to push it off and Methos let him. But when he wanted to lower Methos down to the floor on top of it, steel set in Methos's bones, and he felt Methos's long hands on his face.
Liquid green and bronze, regarding him, regretful, kind. "I won't have Karidenna wake up and find you fucking me, Mac," he said bluntly.
Loyalty to this boy. And completely right of course, it would not do. Nor could Karidenna be left alone.
Perplexed, Duncan looked into Methos's eyes, loving that Methos was looking back at him, letting him in, sharing poignancy. After a few moments he suggested quietly, "Why don't I see if they have a suite available, or two adjoining rooms?"
And Methos answered, "Yes, why don't you?"
"Not even one pair of socks."
"Do the Kel Tagilmus wear socks?"
"In Scotland, in winter, we wear bloody socks."
The hotel delighted in providing a suite, at three times the price of Methos's single.
But Karidenna awoke from his nap during the move and that was that until bedtime. There was much to explain to him, particularly in the bathroom; it seemed he was reconciled to the concept of toilets from their travels, but harbored a distrust of their noise and depth, requiring Methos's attendance for any actual flushing. But he was a brave boy, MacLeod observed, non-neurotic and practical. When he found a bath was not to be averted, he resigned himself like any other child, though he could not have often seen so much water in one place. Watching him wave his hand through the clear water to create wakes, Mac instantly resolved to buy him some bath toys.
Things he could take with him when they found him a real home, he amended quickly, in his mental image of Karidenna playing baking-powder submarine while Methos scrubbed him with duck-shaped sponges.
They moved briskly since Karidenna's appointment was at three o'clock.
While they disppeared into the University building MacLeod located a toy-store on the car's Web guide. Shortly he was being amazed at how outmoded were his concepts of children's toys, and his concepts of their prices. He remembered both sensations from when Mary had been a toddler.
They had not thought it safe or fair to tell Mary about their Immortality. She had sobbed heartbrokenly at Adam Pierson's funeral, abandoning the dignity of sixteen and turning to her mother's arms.
Sadly, Duncan ran his mind's eye over all the huge crowd of other mourners, the hundreds, thousands of tears that had fallen. Perhaps they might as well cry, since Adam was gone from their lives as finally as though he really had died. But Duncan always left Immortal "funerals" heaped with guilt at the mortal suffering they left behind.
There had also been, in that crowd, a heavy buzz of Immortal Presence, and Duncan had met with many of them in a separate congregation to settle as best they could how to support and continue the work of the Motherlove organization through this crisis. If there was one thing they understood, it was the intricacies of continuity.
An orange and lime and yellow and pink family of sponge-toys, a fish-shaped net bag in similar colors to hang them in to dry, a rubber Nessie, a wooden paddle-boat powered by rubber bands, a gel octopus with stickable suckers, and a foot-long inflatable Titanic with inflatable iceberg were the lowest-tech items he could find. He bought them on the theory that kids had more fun with toys that weren't limited to one function but could be imagined into many games. On the same theory he bought a set of plain wooden blocks in different shapes, and a massive cloth ark whose twenty-six stuffed animals' names each began with the letter of the alphabet embroidered on their sides. With a written list for fauna-challenged parents. Last, a woolly lamb built to live through many years of bedtimes, and a floppy terry-cloth pup companion. These on the theory that Karidenna would be sleeping alone tonight.
He hurried back to the University, but they had not come out yet. He walked in the winter garden next to their building. This December had seen record cold for this far east and south. There were even one or two piles of unmelted snow, the stalks of flowers left to feed the birds, and black branches of shrubs, a drained fountain. At one end the submissive limbs of three weeping cherries. A few sparrows chirped in the leafless twigs, pursuing their own affairs obliviously.
He wished he could take Methos into the country. His beloved Loch Shiel. Skye, Dunvegan -- there least of all could he dare to take him, every tourist steeped in the clan's lore, possibly primed to recognize the only actual MacLeod they'd ever heard of outside a guidebook, and anyone with him.
And Glenfinnan, though he loved every frostbitten stone and frozen puddle, would not present its best face to Methos in the dead of winter. In this year's unprecedented cold, when even temperate Edinburgh had plunged below freezing, the Highlands had been arctic.
Another time... but to take his lover home at last...
Eilan Donan perched in Loch Duich, where he had plotted Jacobite attacks on the very throne of England -- madness it seemed now with the hindsight of history, but it certainly had looked plausible enough sitting down the table from James VIII, and thirty years later Bonnie Prince Charlie'd got almost within a hundred miles of London, and had the French kept their promises to him... The Hanoverian fleet had blown that bonnie castle down, though, long before that second attempt, and Eilan Donan, lovely now, was yet not the stones he'd paced...
Like almost everything. The clans had been ground to the dust, dispersed, Highland kinship culture crushed by making chiefs the owners of the land, turning them forever against their people. The glens had lain empty since, of all but profitable sheep.
The smell of gunsmoke away north in Glen Shiel in '19. The smell of death on Culloden moor in '46. Odd how the dates matched bigger, later wars... How had it taken him so long as that to see the wars were all the same, with the same end... It was seldom possible till after the smoke had cleared for an ordinary man to tell which wars had truly needed to be fought. Scotland had its own Parliament again, and things came round, as they always did. Without Immortal help. He gazed through the bare branches. Methos had looked on Himalayas; the Five Sisters would seem but meek hills to him. Karidenna though -- he would want the boy to see all that could be seen -- Loch Ard lay near Stirling, in the beautiful Trossachs, Linlithgow Palace only a hop, skip and a jump the other way; Stirling Castle was a little tame, but Tantallon now -- if he could rout Methos out of bed early enough for Karidenna to see it as it must be seen, luminous orange and peach and gold and salmon in the sunrise as if participating in the fire of dawn, by some enchantment of antiquity, alone upon its clifftop looking out to sea... seeming to call for some immortal spirit of the past to come and dwell in its cold stones for aye and evermore, undying ember of the heart and mind, calling the soul of Dalriada, Caledonia, Scotia, the Scottish land... Karidenna, of course, would never see all that in the gold and fire... In his heart it was his lover that he wanted to see and love the endless beauties of his homeland. If only they had come in spring... Duncan grinned to himself. Before the midges hatched.
Methos could endure anything... but much preferred not to.
So long he'd wanted to show Methos his home, but things had come up, there had always seemed to be plenty of time, and it had been put off...
Presence turned him, and he saw the long-robed figure coming toward him, a little copy walking by his side. Karidenna's attention was riveted by the white of the snow remnants, but Methos wisely wasn't letting him investigate. There would be cleaner snow before very long.
Snowsuit, Mac thought. Galoshes. Mittens.
They turned and walked back to the car, Karidenna between them, protected, had he but known it, by two of the strongest human forces on the planet; the very fact that, paradoxically, could put him in grave danger.
"They want to work with him, do some more testing and see more what he knows," Methos said in the car going back to the hotel, "but ultimately they think I need to take him to San Francisco."
"San Francisco?" Getting a Middle Easterner through U.S. Customs and Immigration nowadays... Plus San Francisco was a Motherlove stronghold... Well, the little boy would no doubt help with Customs, but fingerprints and the like...
Methos looked subdued as he said, "They have the leading experts there on working with feral children."
MacLeod made a sound of disbelief. "He's not feral!"
"No..." Methos still sounded depressed. "But he has a lot of the same problems with speech, for some of the same reasons."
MacLeod was silent. He knew that the communication problems of feral children were extreme.
Surely Karidenna was different. He knew what talking was for, to some extent. He was attached to Methos. Both had to be good signs. "How did you explain his condition?"
"I told them he was abducted as an infant and only recently recovered from the street. We recognized him by a tattoo."
"He has a tattoo?"
Methos glanced over at MacLeod. "He does now." He pulled up in front of the restaurant they'd agreed to dine at. "A small hand of Fatima above the ankle. Grand-dad's idea. Identity tattoos were common enough in Morocco a couple of centuries ago, it's a safe bet some people still do it."
"You've been planning this a long time."
"I was afraid it might come to it." He got Karidenna out of his car-seat and set him on the sidewalk next to MacLeod. "Take him in, will you, while I park the car." It was colder, as winter dark had fallen, and Karidenna wasn't dressed warmly enough for it. Methos said a few words to Karidenna and gestured to the restaurant door. Duncan took the small hand as Methos drove off.
"Hungry?" he asked. He made eating gestures toward his mouth. "Let's go eat." Karidenna let himself be led, but kept looking back over his shoulder.
The maitre d' seated them and Duncan could feel an increasing drag of reluctance in Karidenna's footsteps the further they got from the door. "Don't worry, Kateb will find us." But the dark eyes only looked behind, not up at him, till the business of getting him boosted up in a child seat at the table distracted his anxiety directly onto Duncan.
With another boy that age MacLeod would have thought he was clobbering up to cry. But Karidenna, somehow, didn't look like crying was something he would do.
What he looked like he would do, if fear came to a crisis, was run.
Duncan made a note of that while a waiter brought them menus, leaving one by Methos's empty place; he saw Karidenna notice that and take reassurance from it. Smart kid. He couldn't have been in very many restaurants, from Joe's brief account of Methos's life these six months. Duncan asked for wine, and when it came, poured Methos a glass. Another degree of relief permeated Karidenna's small body, the chalice of deep red by the empty plate promising his father.
When Methos came, bustling with cold, there were snowflakes clinging all over him, and he was rubbing his long fingers together.
Overcoat, MacLeod thought. Galoshes. Mittens.
"Parking is impossible in this area! And it's snowing!" He got himself and his robes seated. "Honestly MacLeod. I know you have winter, but this is carrying it a bit far."
"Sorry. I'll speak to the authorities."
Methos recollected his North African dignity and started discussing dinner to Karidenna, translating suggestions from the menu. Karidenna seemed amenable to whatever Methos selected. Handy, that. A far cry from Mary's very decided and narrow-minded opinions on what was edible, when she was that age.
Methos, of course, was another matter.
"Would I like skirlie?" he questioned Duncan.
"No," said Duncan firmly. "You would like the roast grouse."
"'Bread sauce'?" Methos pointed out dubiously.
"It's good. Or you could have the steak."
"Only a Scot could think bread is a sauce. What about cock-a-leekie soup? That's not what I think it is."
"It's not. Chicken, rice, leeks and prunes."
"This must be a misprint. 'Cullen skink'."
"I'm wondering where your fabled survival sense got you, if the first thing you do in a new place is make fun of the food."
"Green ginger wine? Is that from the panto?"
Seeing he would get no contrition out of the old man tonight, Duncan ordered for him, tearing his eyes from the offering of haggis and turnips his sense of justice goaded him toward, and settling nicely on the steak and stovies and braised carrots Methos would like, and poached salmon for himself. And a yummy bowl of skink, since they had it. Couscous with grouse and bread sauce for Karidenna. Seeing he wasn't using his teaspoon, Duncan was inspired to offer the boy a taste of his soup, so he wouldn't have to wait hungry for the main course. Karidenna observed the spoon, made up his mind, and opened his mouth for it. Duncan and Methos awaited the results while he judged. After a few moments he looked up at Duncan and opened his mouth again. Instead of feeding him, Duncan pushed the bowl over between them and gave Karidenna the spoon.
Karidenna looked at Methos, who signalled him it was okay. In his desert tribe it would likely have caused horror, but the boy's etiquette was skin-deep. He had no qualms about other lips touching his food, as long as he got some himself. He mastered the unfamiliar implement in a few tries, while Duncan ate out of his own side and commented, "Some people know fine cuisine when they taste it," to which Methos merely replied, "'Skink'," and sipped his cup of bouillon loftily.
Methos had lived in England entirely too long to throw stones about food names, Duncan reflected, and smiled. Not to mention the recipes of ancient Rome. Carping about weather and words was the first step of settling into his new niche, like an uneasy hen clucking and fluffing before slowly lowering into the nest, a weather eye out for nonexistent foxes. But from the sound of things, they might not be here long.
"These are excellent stovies," Methos commented innocently a few minutes later, after their main course arrived.
"When does Karidenna go for his next appointment? And incidentally, who and what are you?"
"Day after tomorrow. My mother was an Arab, my father a Berber, I'm a botanist, university educated, observant when I go home to the tribe, but in private life" -- he raised the wine glass -- "pretty much a freethinker. My wife died several years ago. My son was located by a child rescue organization and reunited with me about six months ago."
"How well will it stand up?"
"The paperwork is perfect. I wouldn't want the CIA checking my back-trail too closely, but the chance they'd have assets who could speak my tribe's dialect well enough to get anyone to talk to them is comfortably close to nil. My people don't cotton to strangers."
"Other than you," Duncan said ironically.
"That would be my innate charm," Methos explained. "Plus I recited my lineage. Everyone knew Great-Uncle Hassan whose wife's cousin-in-law had left him a market garden far north in verdant Tetuan." Duncan opened his mouth and Methos interjected, "Compared to the Sahara, MacLeod, everywhere else is verdant." Duncan subsided. "I am the great-grand-nephew of that same cousin-in-law. They clasped me to their bosom. I also presented many gifts of figs and goats, in my joy at being reunited with my long-lost relatives, told fascinating tales, threw parties, showed off my son, admired their camels, and just made myself generally beloved wherever I went." His eyes grew moist. "There's nothing like family, MacLeod."
"You unregenerate rogue."
"You wound me, Duncan. I had family there. It was just a bit too long ago for the current lot to have any recollection of."
Methos had never mentioned a word about that. He saw Methos hesitate, looking from Karidenna to MacLeod. "In a way..." He fiddled with the last of his stovetop potatoes. "...they were more my people than anyone else. At least, anyone else who'd survived. It was... a way I knew to live. I kept coming back. Not many Immortals turning up, especially after the Arabs kicked us off all the best land, and I liked the women."
"Do the men really veil their faces if there are women around?"
"Not just women, anyone. But, not really, anymore. Well -- I did, at first. They thought it was adorable. I gradually let them overcome my old-fashioned ways."
"Unrepentant, double-dyed --"
"Karidenna!" Methos stopped Karidenna from munching his grouse bones, and ordered him a slice of butterscotch tart to see if that would fill him up.
"He still has a tendency to eat literally everything you put in front of him."
Duncan said softly, "It's incredible that he survived." He had never been able to understand, despite the evidence of Methos in his arms, how a mere baby could make it on the street. But now there were two of them before his eyes. "How old is he?"
"No idea. I put just turned four on the passport, because he's so small and I wanted to avoid questions at Customs. He could be older, or younger."
Mary at three had been firm in informing people she was not a baby. And certainly this child looked at you with eyes that judged and classified and learned. More like the children in his past, he realized, who were working usefully at five, if they lived that long, and but rarely got their lessons from a book.
This child must learn English, he thought. They could not teach him to read some godforsaken alphabet no one would know in twenty years. The appallingness of the task -- he didn't even talk, and now he must learn another entire language so that he could then learn to read it -- No wonder Methos felt up against a deadline.
Karidenna was finding the butterscotch tart with meringue on top a culinary revelation.
Duncan pointed to it. "Butterscotch tart," he said slowly. Karidenna gave him his close attention. "Butterscotch tart. Butterscotch."
Methos watched. "Nice try, MacLeod. I've never yet been able to get him to ask for what he wants. He doesn't understand the relationship between wanting and getting, at least as it routes through language. I think he perceived even what he got by begging as a nearly random result -- which in a way it is. You reach up a hundred times before someone gives you anything -- and you may never know why one does and another doesn't, even if you're a lot older than Karidenna."
Karidenna suddenly held out a bite of his tart on his spoon to Methos. Methos raised his eyebrows, leaned down and sampled it, and closed his eyes and went, "Mmmm!" Then he said something in Tamachek, then to Duncan, "I suppose I might be persuaded to eat more of your native fare, if you really insist. You're paying, right?"
From long practice, Duncan recognized this as the closest Methos could come to asking for forgiveness, to be accepted back into the fold of Duncan's warm accommodation. His normal behavior with just the ghostliest increase of thorniness and boundary-testing.
"I seem to recall you offering to take me to dinner."
"Come come, Highlander, you mustn't take everything so literally. It's a figure of speech. Though if you want to get technical, I did drive you here, after all."
"It seems to me someone named Kateb would be more munificent and bountiful."
Methos's forever-young eyes narrowed, regarding him, clear and lovingly kind and with hidden thoughts of unimaginable depth always. Their eyes meeting, holding, Duncan felt himself dissolve into their mutual love, as if he held Methos in the most intimate embrace, there in public, the two of them as naked as jaybirds.
Reluctant, he finally dragged his gaze back from that coition, blinked,
straightened slightly, and Methos did the same and glanced at Karidenna
who was licking his spoon. Duncan had no idea what they had just been saying
and it didn't matter. His love had come home to him, and he would bring
him to bed and to ecstasy, to heights and depths simultaneous, incalculable,
Duncan rolled slowly over onto his back. The hotel room morning was dark, from the dense curtains pulled to over the windows, and there was a deep silence also. The covers were light on his strong body, for Methos had required, and of course got, a room temperature Duncan's revivified Scottish frugality thought scandalous. His eyes had fallen shut again immediately and he was drifting in the edge of dream when he felt movement, weight against him, and a sudden tongue-tip on his neck. His shoulder hunched reflexively at the tickle, he reached, and his arms were full of Methos.
"Good morning," he said, and his whole soul sang it, in full choir with Gloria in Excelsis understood. Who needed sunlight to proclaim the rising day, when the Eldest pushed warm and tough-muscled against him so welcomingly, gratefully, and satedly, and he felt so much the same. Last night -- last night had made up for a wealth of absence, as each of them had striven to translate love to purest touch, anguish to ecstasy, and loneliness to fulfillment. They had given all, and received a hundredfold.
Methos, he whispered to himself, and it echoed throughout his universe.
"MacLeod," Methos sighed contentedly.
That beard -- so soft, but such a pity, he longed to see his lover's face again, completely. But it could not be helped, everything that could disguise him must be used. They were stuck with it for a generation, possibly. And -- a tactile memory returned -- it could not be said to be wholly without advantages.
"Hungry?" he asked, smiling.
"What time is it?" Methos murmurred.
Methos sat up as if he had been stung on the butt. "Oh shit!" He flung the covers off. "Karidenna --!" He sprinted into the bathroom and after a frenzy of flushing and washing sounds sprinted out again. "He must have been up for hours, we put him to bed almost right after dinner!" He hopped, pulling on clean pantaloons. Duncan got up and wrapped a robe around himself while Methos whipped into a long tunic, and joined him as he went through the empty living-room area and opened Karidenna's bedroom door.
The entire floor was covered with small, colorful, sponge, wooden, cloth or plastic objects and their wrappings. Karidenna sat quietly in the midst of a wilderness of wooden blocks, making peculiar little sounds to himself as he manipulated a sponge duck and a stuffed jaguar along the top of a crenellated wall.
Duncan had given him his two bed-toys last night. He'd set the other sacks in the corner for the next day; clearly the move had not been lost on a sharp-eyed little boy, however sleepy.
"Good god," said Methos quietly, taking in the extent of the clean-up and possibly considering airline luggage limits.
Karidenna looked up and smiled. Then he saw Duncan and a series of guilty looks swept over his face.
"Tell him it's okay, they're his toys, he can do whatever he wants with them," Duncan said, with an encouraging smile at Karidenna. "Merry Christmas."
Karidenna looked around in amazement as Methos spoke, and then at Duncan.
"I think he thought they were your toys, MacLeod."
"My toys are in storage," MacLeod purred, touching Methos's neck. Startled, Methos shivered and looked wide-eyed a second, then recovered his dignity, outwardly, but found nothing whatever to say for some moments.
They helped Karidenna re-bag the toys -- some sort of travelling container,
Duncan saw, had been his crucial oversight -- and they went out to eat.
The days passed organized around Karidenna's appointments, but with plenty of time for side-trips. They even had time to take him to the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh, and though, having grown up without toys and very recently, the boy did not recognize much that he saw as pertaining to himself, he got the general idea from watching the other kids there, and MacLeod and Methos were fascinated and assaulted by memory after memory of children, mothers, schoolmasters they had known, games they had passed by, play they had glimpsed all across Europe and America.
Karidenna turned out to have no particular interest in castles. No one had ever told him the stories that would have set up magical associations in his imagination, and mere ancient stone was nothing special to him, having walked by it every day in Marrakech.
Lochs astonished him. The Firth and the sea simply dumbfounded him. Topiary scared him, until Methos convinced him it had no legs and no desire to eat him. Ancient trees awed him. But one morning they walked out to the car and found white flakes falling down from the sky all around them and the car park white and still. Karidenna looked around and looked up.
MacLeod and Methos watched him as he just stood and stared up into the shedding sky. So compelling was his discovery that they looked up themselves. Out of the bright gray expanse came the beautiful white snowflakes floating and dancing, silently falling, filling the entire sky, and up as far as vision reached still falling out of bright nothingness, so white and quiet, endless as a benediction, like looking up into the very touch of heaven, that landed cold and melted instantly on their cheeks, and continued to fall all around them onto everything, and lend to everything its silent beauty.
Karidenna looked down, and picked up some snow in his mittens. When they got him to move toward the car, he was entranced by the crunch sound their boots made. He wanted to take his snow with him, and there was quite a discussion, consisting presumably of explanations of melting and wet and cold and plenty more snow where they were going on Methos's part, interrupted by loud inarticulate cries of argument from Karidenna that were as near as Duncan had heard him come to either talking or crying.
Instinctually Duncan spoke up. "Let him take it."
"His mittens will get soaked!"
"He's speaking for it. Let it have an effect."
For just a moment Methos looked at Duncan stunned, then down at Karidenna. He said a couple of words to him, opening the car door and lifting him into his car seat. Karidenna treasured his double handful of snow carefully, but just before the door shut glanced at MacLeod. It was a very strange look, of awareness and understanding, and a reassessment. He knew Duncan had interceded for him with his father; he knew his father had given way to Duncan's intervention immediately. There were many mixed feelings in that look.
Luckily it stopped snowing early, for it was Hogmanay and that night was New Year's Eve; Duncan was adamant that they drive into Edinburgh for the fireworks. The roads were clear by the time they set out, and they managed to cram themselves into the Royal Mile with the other thousands of revelers. Thanks to their day-tours it wasn't Karidenna's first exposure to piping, and he bore the din with equanimity. Duncan even thought he had appreciation for the music. Crowds never bothered him, and he watched the dancing and ate the treats they bought him and seemed to think being out at night in the cold a fine idea, especially since in this multitude Methos carried him, not letting loose of him for a moment. When there was something good to be seen he sat on Methos's shoulders, and had an excellent view.
"Good god, Highlander," Methos said when they reached a somewhat quiet eddy.
"Ha," Duncan replied happily. "You should see it in August during the Festival. Like this, only for a month."
Some mimes who had gone overboard and painted their entire bodies and clothing white, pretended to be statues. People in masks waved streamers and the brays and squeals of noisemakers punctuated the flood.
They had reached a good spot in the middle of it all and the mass of excitement escalated and combined at the approach of midnight. At last the New Year came, the cannon high atop the castle was touched off, cheers deafened them, and into the sky rushed hundreds of rockets. To booms and pows and explosions the heavens lit. It seemed to be the wish of the planners to fill the entire sky over Edinburgh with umbrellas of light. Flame streamed behind points of falling fire, thistles of light exploded; Methos pointed things out to Karidenna, and both Immortals gazed upward raptly. Even if you'd seen hundreds of fireworks displays in a long life, they were still always rare enough and always different, evanescent enough, to hold their fascination. Mac could feel Karidenna shivering in his arms. He looked down, thinking maybe he could wrap him into the inside of his long overcoat. Karidenna was looking up obediently at the stars and flashes and fiery octopi of light, but he winced at every loud boom, his eyelids crimped fearfully. All the muscles in his little body were tense, Duncan realized. His trembling was from fear, not cold.
There was no way to take him out of this. The extent of the display, the close-packed throngs, meant they couldn't get away beyond range of the noise, until it would have been over anyway.
Duncan opened his coat and tucked Karidenna in against the warmth of his body, and held him closer. Karidenna looked up at him, then away quickly, ashamed to have anyone see his fear, but leaned in tight over Duncan's heart.
MacLeod wished he could stop the terror, communicate to the child that no harm would befall him, but he knew that even if he had the right language, no words could overcome this kind of fear. Time, experience, and the wider knowledge another year or two on earth would give Karidenna was the only possible cure.
He had a sudden vivid picture of this child alone, friendless, before Methos had found him, unable to talk, wandering from person to person silently trying to evoke the few coins he needed each day to survive. Only the most gossamer barrier between himself and death. Fears stoutly defeated, despair fought off, from scraps Methos had told him, even managing some times of joy, yet so alone. Miraculous that he had still been able to form his bond with Methos when the Ancient walked into his life; though MacLeod knew well the lure the green-gold eyes could have for the heart of a stranger.
The little body jumped in MacLeod's tight hold at a particularly loud bang, but when Karidenna looked up at the sky there was an expression of resentment, defiance even, on his face. From the fortress of Duncan's arms he seemed to bid the exploding sky to do its worst; he would not be beaten, and he had now two big friends between him and the fearsome wrath of the world.
At the end of the display, they walked out of the crowd and Duncan held
Karidenna close the whole way, feeling the imprint of a little arm clutched
around his chest.
Two days later Methos returned from the University with the news that it had been decided definitely that Karidenna should go to San Francisco. The Ancient was subdued and looked depressed.
"When?" Mac asked.
"As soon as we can get a plane." Methos watched the silent boy run to play with his toys.
MacLeod got on the phone and by dint of paying a prince's ransom for first-class tickets, got them on a flight the next afternoon. They had long since arranged Kateb Mokdad's visa against this day. "We should have a last real Scottish dinner before we leave," he declared, and coaxed Methos into agreeing. The lean Eldest was not happy, even at the prospect of another chance to try the delectable Cullen skink. To mark the occasion, they headed for the same restaurant where they'd had dinner their first night together in Stirling. It was still inexplicably cold, and Methos let them out while he went in quest of parking.
Duncan gave his name to the maitre d'. Their reservation was in order, and they were led into the main dining area.
At sight of the white tablecloths Karidenna's eyes lit up. He turned to Duncan and exclaimed, "Butt-tattoss!"
The sensation that shocked through MacLeod astounded him. It rushed as a wave of surprise, quickly flooded over with delight, gratitude, and a shock of affection that made his eyes sting. Amazement, pride -- so many feelings angled in he was choked for words, as he broke into a broad smile and knelt down and hugged Karidenna tightly.
Karidenna's brown eyes looked into his in surprise. "Yes! Butterscotch!" Duncan cried in elation, and Karidenna echoed "Butt-tattoss!", too excited at the great prospect of tart to wonder longer at MacLeod's behavior. He practically dragged Duncan to the table.
When Methos came in, throwing back the hood of his burnoose and looking
around for them, MacLeod caught his eye, the smile of hope and wonder radiant
on his face.
End of "The Deep", Part Three