Story six in the Configurations arc
Configurations is a multi-part story consisting of: Symmetry, Triangulation, Linear Perspective, Quaternity, Squaring Off, and Full Circle. (Stories still under construction... Thanks for your patience)
Disclaimer: Highlander and characters are owned by Rysher Entertainment and Panzer/Davis Productions. I make no claim to them, I make no money on them either. Any original characters are solely of my own invention. Do not copy, post, link or publish this material without the express permission of the author.
WARNING! Rating: NC-17 for adult situations including m/f, m/f/m, m/m situations. If you find this offensive or not to your taste, leave now.
For help with names and terms, see the separate Glossaries for both the Greek and the Sumerian words.
Thoughtful feedback gratefully received. Thanks for taking the time to write, it's appreciated.
Impolite feedback will be circularly filed. Life is too short. This body's not Immortal. :-)
'Tis the old secret of the gods that they come in low disguises. Ralph Waldo Emerson
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death. 1 Corinthians 15:26.
Treating your adversary with respect is giving him an advantage to which he is not entitled.
Sumer, the lower marshy delta between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, around 3000 B.C.
It had been a long and exhausting trip, Menes thought, but the caravan had made it once again. All of their trading goods had come through undamaged also. Tin gathered from the eastern mountains had been purchased at good price by Menes in the land of Elam at the great city of Susa. The amurru to the western mountains had traded copper and finished bronze goods for the caravan's tin, along with coupons of wool from the great cities of Sumer. Nedjer was currently pouring libations to thank the gods for a successful journey.
The route from the northwest down from the mountains wasn't a bad trip, Menes acknowledged. Only the occasional raider made the route troublesome. Their caravan was usually protected by the people of the land they passed through. Traders such as they did everyone good by bringing in new hard-to-find items while exporting local production. On the other hand, Menes knew that trade goods were coveted and valuable enough to be worth the lawless attacking and killing without compunction. But one good thing about having ready access to metals and metalworkers as they did... Nedjer made sure all his people were armed, trained and ready to use whatever means necessary should the godless decide to visit them.
Menes couldn't remember it being hotter. It was with relief that he saw Geshtar come to him, offering a jug of cool river water along with a smile. The smell of hot donkeys was pungent in the young man's nose as he paused to drink deeply. He smiled back, thinking it might be time to talk to her father. He knew Nedjer would look kindly on his suit. After all, it would be best for Nedjer to keep the caravan trade close in the family. It had been clear to Menes from the start the wily businessman, like all other traders, was a practical and cautious man. Menes still wondered what gods had directed him into Nedjer's path that fateful day long ago near Ebla. He had been wandering alone by then for so long. Whatever Nedjer had seen in him, Menes was not about to complain. He had worked hard and honestly for the trader, and in return had amassed a tidy fortune himself. Maybe, Menes had always thought, this fortune was the gods' way of making up for the loss of his people in the Land of the Two Crowns to conquering armies. How he had survived the massacre, he did not know. But after wandering for days on end up the coastline near the Great Water, he had approached the great city of Ebla. It was there after a time when Nedjer had taken him in.
It was many seasons now that Menes had been with Nedjer and his family. There had been many of their caravans which had traveled through the passes of the eastern rivers. The line of donkeys had followed the steep-sided swift waters of the Tigris to northern cities and the trader had braved the amurru in the mountains and coastal towns west of the Euphrates to secure the finished metal products for which the amurru cities were known. Menes had more than proved himself in trading capabilities and in his loyalties. Drinking deeply once more, he wiped his mouth clean of the liquid with the rough sleeve of his tunic while he watched Geshtar walk among the animals to the water jugs. Long black hair rippled sinuously in the slight, hot breeze in tandem with the sway of her hips. Menes felt a surge of lust. He had waited long enough. It was definitely time to talk with Nedjer.
With trade farthest from his mind, the younger man searched out Nedjer in the milling animals and people at the river's edge. "What do you want to do this evening? The city of Enkarish lies ahead approximately a half-day's journey for us. Should we continue or make camp here tonight?"
"Let's make camp here. In the dawn light, we can make the last steps into the great city and still have plenty of day left to conduct business. Of the evening, I will want to make offers of thanks at the Ekari. Enki has been a welcome protector for us."
Menes nodded. "Very well. I will have the two main tents erected here for the night. After the traveling fare we've had, I look forward to fresh fish for dinner, if Targu and Kushti can get off their lazy carcasses to go catch it." His voice carried over to Nedjer's two younger sons.
"You insult us, friend! I've been known to catch fish while never stirring from my lazy carcass." Kushti, the elder of the two, grinned from his perch on the banks where he'd stretched out in relaxation.
"Well stir yourself now and get moving." Menes moved near and took a foot, pushing the laughing boy into the water. "Else Enki may come and carry you off to Abzu, there to learn some wisdom at last."
"Menes," Nedjer's wife Ninasha chided as she walked up to the group, "never tease. The gods may get ideas from you, and then where would we be?"
"With a lot less fish for dinner!" Kushti laughed.
The adults looked indulgently on the boys and shook their heads. It was well known that Nedjer, for all his sternness, was wrapped around his children's fingers. Menes gave one last push with his foot before walking off to see to the flock. The family and its retainers herded a small amount of sheep for food while on caravan, along with the many donkeys used as pack animals. He needed to see that each was being taken care of properly for the evening.
An hour or so later, the entire group was gathering around a small fire built from dung. Decent wood was scarce and the troupe had little time to cut down date palm trees. The women had prepared a meal while men erected the tents. The fish the two boys had netted were gutted, cleaned and cooked. This was the time Menes liked best, as the sun traveled into the lands of the west and the earth darkened. All of his adopted family sat around the camp, prosperous, happy and content, with none more so than Menes. It was the last such gathering he would enjoy.
Clearing up from the meal, Nedjer sent everyone off to their pallets with the admonition of an early morning. Menes set sentries to watch the animals and their trading goods. The rest of the caravan retired for the night.
There was nothing but stillness when a strange feeling overtook Menes, wakening him from a sound sleep. It pressed in from all sides, without and within all at once. He had felt this once or twice before in the big cities and had always run in fear, thinking a local god was taking displeasure with him. Now, there was nowhere for him to run.
Cautiously, Menes peered outside the family tent. All seemed calm but the animals were slightly restive. Then the night erupted. Men came streaming out of the marshlands down from their camp, each one brandishing weapons of metal or stone. Menes gave a hoarse shout. "Raiders! Raiders! Wake up!" He turned and dived back into the tent to find his own sword, a present from Nedjer the first season he had been with the trader. It was a simple sword but effective enough for his tastes. The tent came alive as the family awakened, looking for their weapons carelessly discarded in the safety of the night before. Without warning, the rear wall of the tent caught flame, its woven flax and wool fabric burning quickly. Screams rent the air as everyone started to crowd out the front entrance.
It was a slaughter. As everyone pushed out of the tent, they were easily cut down by waiting ambushers. Screams were cut off and became strangled moans. As Menes came out behind the others, he saw his entire second family, Nedjer, Ninasha, Geshtar, Kushti and even little Targu, laying dead, cut down without mercy. Blood soaked into the damp earth under his feet, the sharp metallic smell of it heavy in the air. Menes stood looking at the still bodies in numbed shock. More shouting and yells had Menes looking up from the grisly, horrific scene below him. He saw foreign demons still attacking servants by the second tent. A brave young servant raised his sword to protect the woman at his side only to be cut down from behind. Both he and the woman fell lifeless to the ground.
Menes felt the strange feeling close by. The god which stalked him drew near. Whirling too late, the young trader felt the cold bite of a sword pierce his chest. His mouth opened and his voice erupted in a cry full of anguish and fear, but soon that too was cut off as the sound changed to a gurgling moan. The ground rushed up to meet him in a blaze of pain and the young trader from the Land of the Two Crowns knew no more.
Menes awakened with a start, pain from his wound still fresh and clear. He lay bound and thrown over a pack mule as its rolling gait jarred aches and pains in his body with every step. Raising his head, Menes saw it was dawn and he was approaching the city of Enkarish. The raiders were leading the entire caravan directly into the city as if they were the rightful owners.
Tears crowded into Menes eyes, blurring his vision. The grisly scene of the slaughter was burned forever into his mind. Geshtar, the beautiful young woman whom he wanted to marry, lay cut down from the hacking bite of a sword. He bit back a sob. Better she die then be taken into slavery as it appeared the raiders had chosen for his fate. The feeling of the god's presence still was with him and he did sob aloud this time, knowing it was all his fault. All his fault. Somehow a god was displeased with Menes. Had he done something to dishonor the god that was worthy of this vengeance? Once again, Menes alone had survived while all around him his loved ones were cut down, their life bleeding away before his eyes.
I am cursed. Everything I touch or love is cursed.
Shouts and voices heralded the arrival of the caravan into the walled city. Menes couldn't even muster much fear for what would become of him. Closing his eyes and resting his head against the bristly hide of the lumbering donkey, he hoped it would be a swift death. That was the only way no one else would suffer because of his curse.
The fearful god presence pushed close, filling his entire being. Suddenly a hand tangled in his hair, yanking up his head. "Wake up, boy." The raider's voice was rough, his Sumerian tinged with the sounds of a foreign tongue. "You're going to make me a powerful man in this town. A very powerful man. We're going to fight. And you're going to lose." His head was released and fell back against the donkey's hide.
The caravan stopped. Looking up, Menes saw they were in front of the Ekari, the huge temple of Enki, patron god of the city of Enkarish. The man who had growled to him strode off into the temple without another word.
He didn't know how much time passed. Unable to move, he struggled to uncramp muscles from awkward positions. No one bothered with him. The other raiders guarded the animals and trading goods. The sun moved up high in the sky then passed its zenith. Masses of people entered and exited the busy temple, some intent on business with the artisans in and around the temple grounds, others simply to worship at the noontime ritual. Still the caravan waited.
Finally a small entourage came from the Ekari. The raider was flanked by a richly robed man and two lesser personages.
"Untie him," the raider ordered and his bonds were soon released. Menes fell off the donkey to the dirt, his muscles unable to stand the sudden weight after being constricted all day. Rough hands pulled him up. The leader of the raiders stood pointing at Menes, his voice raised to the people watching.
"This man is the only one left of the infidels from beyond Elam. They tried to capture our caravan, killed some of our people. But we fought hard, and killed all of them except this one." Dark, hard eyes turned to him. "This one is special. He called upon their god of destruction to lend him power, and he did! He was cut down but you see him now standing before you. I ask for you to witness my act of vengeance against my people in a fair fight, more then this goodless one deserves. But I want to prove that Enki is mightier than his puny god!"
A crowd had gathered now, standing around and listening to the carrying words of the dark-visaged stranger. Menes recognized the robes of the temple priest as the High Priest of Enki. He could hardly think straight to understand what the raider was raving on about. Why would he want to fight Menes when he could simply kill him or sell him into bondage?
The elderly High Priest conferred with his fellow priests, and they turned and nodded to the raider. "We will witness this fight, with you as champion of Enki. You may proceed."
Menes found himself thrust into the middle of the courtyard with a rough bronze sword in his hand. Looking stupidly at it, he suddenly recognized it as one of Nedjer's own. Someone from the caravan, either servant or family, had carried this sword. In vain, this time. They had been cruelly tricked and slaughtered like animals. Menes began to feel some anger creep into the numbed sense of grief and guilt that had blanketed him since he had awakened.
The raider faced him, a satisfied look on his face. "Come, arm of the godless. Make this look good, but not too good. For in the end I'll have your head. Separate it right from your body. And then this city will be mine." He lunged.
Menes lurched around, his body ill prepared to fight with muscles tight and painful. Awkwardly he blocked blows from the larger sword as the raider tried to hack his way though Menes' meager defenses. The courtyard was alive with the sound of restive people and animals, all come to watch a battle between their own god's champion and that of a usurper from a far away land. The sun burned down brightly. Sweat beaded and rolled down his face and arms, mingling with the dirt in brown streaks. The slick wet trails down his arms threatened to loosen his grip on the sword.
Menes was tiring after only a half minute of the relentless attack, unrested as he was. But anger burned even more clearly in him now, and he began to desire the death of this killer of all he held dear. If it was Enki that had cursed him, then by all the rest of the gods, he would do his best to show Enki that he had chosen the wrong man to anger. If there had been a more godly family, Menes didn't know them. Nedjer made sure they honored all the gods religiously. Their deaths were cruel and unfair.
The attack went on, for attack it was, Menes unable to do more than defend. Then he lurched, falling to one knee. The raider took advantage by stabbing at him with a powerful extension of his arm. Menes cried out from the sudden pain. He looked up and saw the picture of arrogant satisfaction on the face of his executioner. Red swam before Menes' eyes. From somewhere within, he called on all the strength he could gather and swept out a sweeping blow with his sword toward the raider's legs. It was unexpected and the raider went down heavily, one leg nearly split open to the bone.
Blood pouring from the wound to his hip, Menes angled over and swung his own weapon, remembering what the foreign raider had said. "It'll be your head that rolls here today!" Menes gasped. He brought the sword down, nearly severing the raider's neck in two. In a fit of rage, he swung the sword again two more times until the head was completely hacked away from the raider's body. He fell back heaving and completely spent, looking at the mutilated corpse of his enemy.
"For you, Nedjer, Geshtar. There is justice."
Dizzy from loss of blood and feeling odd, Menes lay back. He wondered if this sensation heralded the coming afterlife as a white mist swirled around the courtyard. When the first bolts of lightening hit, he knew then he was dying and gave himself up to the dreariness of the afterlife. Vengeance had been achieved. His family awaited him. Menes was ready.
A gasping breath was heard around the courtyard. It echoed in the eerie, still and deserted space. The only moving things were a few brave souls who peered out from doorways or from behind the sheltering corners of buildings. Now a new movement was being added to the death-like stillness.
The gasp was followed by a groan, a deep, guttural sound. The watching people identified it as the sound one heard when men were on the brink of either ecstasy - or death. Hidden eyes never wavered as the body on the ground arched from something unknown, then rolled over onto its side.
The High Priest to Enki, his eyes large and anxious, watched as the scene in the courtyard unfolded. With each movement made by the man laying in the dirt, the High Priest pulled at the sleeves of his own robe with frantic movements. He had never felt so powerless in his entire long-lived life. The large life-sized statue of Enki standing behind him in the temple he ignored - for after all, this... stranger had proved his god more powerful by far than the patron god of Enkarish, one of the Supreme Beings of all Sumer.
The High Priest could not doubt the supremacy of this stranger's power. He had wielded it before the entire city. It was doubtful there was a person in all of Enkarish who was not aware of the ferocious display of storm and lightening that rained down around the slender figure moments ago. The lightening had actually struck the figure while an unearthly glow had surrounded him. He had lain like the dead, struck down by the caravan leader's own sword, while the terrifying display of godly rage crashed within the courtyard. The High Priest had stumbled to the temple, cowering behind its entranceway while the rest of the city's residents had fled in terror for their lives. Parts of surrounding buildings lay crumbled on the ground where the unknown god's power had destroyed the mud brick with his anger. Even now, when the storm had passed, the High Priest was still afraid to move from the temple's shelter.
The caravan leader lay dead on the ground, his blood soaking into the dirt in a sticky crimson pool. Dark hair a corona around it, his head lay a few paces away. Like the High Priest, the man who had been Enki's champion had displayed no doubt he would emerge victorious. Now his sightless eyes captured the shock he had felt at the moment of his death, shock that his god proved weaker. The High Priest shuddered. Was this to be his fate also, for being servant to a defeated god?
Eyes riveted, the High Priest stood in fear as the stranger sat up now. He was examining himself, looking at where the sword had bit deeply into his flesh. The tunic he wore was still damp with his own lifeblood. But even from the High Priest's hidden vantage point, it was clear to see that the stranger no longer had any kind of wound. It was gone, healed. The High Priest moaned now. Not only did the new god have power over death and destruction, he held the very power of Life itself. He had died, mortally wounded. Now he lived.
The High Priest had only one choice to save the city and to save the temple. Most specifically, to save himself.
Quickly he pushed himself out of the building before he might lose his courage. Approaching the stranger on the ground with eyes down, the High Priest flung himself in the dirt, prostrating himself before the slight, otherwise unremarkable figure before him. He could feel the eyes of the stranger boring into him. Sweat poured off the High Priest in the hot, still air. The only sound was that of his own frightened breathing, loud and ragged and fast.
The stranger spoke. "That man was an impostor." His voice was raw and angry. The High Priest quivered once then stilled. "He murdered my whole family. He murdered the whole caravan, except for me." There was a sob and the High Priest risked a quick look up. The stranger wasn't even looking at him, but staring off into the distance with unseeing eyes. "He stole our donkeys, our trade goods. He would have taken our very identity as his own. The usurper thought to kill me also and steal the power away from you and your leaders here in this city." When he risked a second look, the High Priest's body froze to find eyes of indeterminate color fixed upon his. Sweat dripped off his body onto the ground. The silence began to stretch out until it was painful.
In desperation, the High Priest began to make his plea. "Ensi, please tell me the god in whose name you have come to our city. Our entire city trembles before you and your god's power. We are at your mercy."
There was more silence and the elderly High Priest feared he had angered this unknown being somehow. His mind conjured up visions of his own beheading by this fearsome creature. A sharp noise of irritation brought him back to his immediate predicament. The stranger made an abrupt move and stood in front of the prone body of the High Priest, and the elderly man felt even smaller and less powerful before the tall, lean stranger.
"Please, ensi, have mercy, I beg of you...." The High Priest couldn't help himself, he was so scared. For the first time in his entire life, he saw himself as no grander or smarter than any of the other thousands of city inhabitants. And currently in a much less enviable position.
"Have you listened to nothing I said?" All that Menes had been through was finally catching up to him. "I am no barbarian from the outer lands... I have been with the trader Nedjer for years! That was the barbarian!" Menes pointed to the dead body as his voice thundered in the empty courtyard. "Nedjer and his family, and I too, have served Enki and Enlil and An and Ki loyally, always! I serve them still!" The High Priest's mouth fell open as he looked up out of wide eyes. "That was the servant of the false god! I fought for your god!" He reached down and fisted a hand in the High Priest's clothing, preparing to pull him up from the ground and to his feet. His movements halted when the High Priest fingered the tear in his tunic where the sword had carved into him. The old man's voice was filled with awe and wonder.
"Then....you are the one blessed by Enki. He gave you Divine Gifts. He has raised you up to be as he is, just as Dumuzi was raised by his marriage to Inanna." The High Priest's voice was gaining in strength as he realized now who this man was. He turned bright eyes onto the frowning countenance of the tall figure towering over him. "You are Mulu-izi, a son of Enki. You were tasked by Enki to win the battle against the evil that would have taken over our city. Without you, Enkarish would be lost, subjugated to the domination of a false god. For who else was there to say him nay?" The High Priest bowed his head to the hem of the new son of Enki as his voice took on a more formal cadence.
"You are Mulu-izi, First among men in Enkarish, last and newest among the Gods in the Temples. And I, Ulukan, High Priest in the Enkari, Temple and Abode of Enki, ask that you be merciful to the servants of Enki in his city, Enkarish... for as we worship and serve your father, no less will we serve his newly born son, Mulu-izi, the Immortal Man of Fire." He finished his speech and waited for acknowledgment, trembling against the new demi-god's feet.
It was a long time coming. Finally he chanced a glance upward and saw a startled, arrested expression on the face of the newly-christened dengir. He was staring at the temple behind the High Priest, pondering something. Ulukan risked rising. "Ensi," he pulled gently at the hem of the silent and still figure, "please, come into the temple. Let us clothe you in garments more suitable to your position and serve you wine and food." The still figure allowed the High Priest to pull him into action. He followed along behind Ulukan as the old man shuffled backwards to the temple entrance, crouched down to avoid awakening any deadly anger in Mulu-izi, and thus his thunder.
As they proceeded into the temple, the priests and priestesses who had been peering out at the courtyard fell back with fear draining the color from their faces. They made deep obeisance as the High Priest walked by with his catch. For catch it was: no other High Priest, in known history, had managed to find a real breathing god to dwell in the temple. The gods had to dwell within the forms their servants fashioned for them out of wood or clay or stone. The faithful worked diligently to create forms of beauty for their gods, but still, a body of breathing flesh was infinitely to be desired over a body of stone.
Ulukan had found one and now this living, breathing incarnation of a god was being taken into the inner chambers of the High Priest.
"Malaku, Ashernilbas, Garzinanna - run, ready a bath, food. Now!" The elderly priest's urgency pierced the fear that had laid a spell of immobility over the rest of the temple's workers. "We must honor Mulu-izi with cleanliness, the best food and drink." He waved his new god through the archway into the back of the temple structure.
The stranger still had not said a word. He sat where Ulukan indicated with a deep bow, allowing the elderly priest to help him out of his filthy, bloodstained garments. It seemed only moments later a young priestess was kneeling before him, offering up a cup made of beaten silver. He took it automatically, drinking the cooling liquid without tasting it. The scene before his mind's eye was of the carnage in the caravan camp a half day before, the lifeless, bloodied remnants of his life. He glanced down at his naked body, searching out the place where the sword had sliced deep.
Nothing. Not one mark.
When priests took his hand and led him from that chamber into another, he still followed without much awareness. A chill permeated him despite the heat of the air. It was with gladness he sank into the warmth of the water to which they led him. Gradually it seeped into his body, pushing back the chill bit by bit. While hands scrubbed gently at the gore and filth covering him, he thought back to what the High Priest had said to him in the courtyard.
"...you are the one blessed by Enki. He gave you Divine Gifts. He has raised you up
to be as he is... You are Mulu-izi, a son of Enki. You were tasked by Enki to win
the battle against the great Evil that would have taken over our city. Without you,
Enkarish would be lost, subjugated to the domination of a false god. For who else
was there to say him nay?"
Mulu-izi, immortal man born of fire.
For the first time in over twelve hours, Menes sat back and relaxed. Now his odd fate was finally clear to him. Now he finally knew what he was, why he had survived so many times when others had not, what his role was to be in his life. The gods had fashioned him so that one day he would be strong enough to win over an encroaching Evil, to stand up and enact vengeance. Strong enough to not only win, but to be raised up and to wield the powers of the Divine.
To become a god.
He closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of the careful washing. His heart still ached with the loss of his family, the future he had envisioned and dreamed of with Geshtar, the children they should have had. The ones that Nedjer should have dandled on his knee. But the gods had decreed a different fate for him. A grander one then he had ever been able to imagine.
One more time in his already-long life, Menes began to throw off the dead mantle of his past, pulling off one by one its tentacles from around his mind and heart and tossing them deep into the Abzu, the watery abyss. He would walk firmly into his new future, not weighted down by what the gods had taken from him. Because now, they would take no more. Now he was son of Enki, raised to godhood by Divine Will. From now into the future, he would exercise his own newly Divine Will, and ensure abundance and prosperity for himself and all the people of Enkarish. No more loss.
No more loss.
Mulu-izi, son of Enki, willed it so.
Methos struggled out of the morass of his past. He kept the light that emanated from Duncan in front of him as the goal toward which he swam. Up from the depths he came, finally breaking out into the present. He gasped, and his eyes opened.
Duncan's eyes were fixed on his own, the brown ones unfocused a little as the younger Immortal worked also at reorienting himself back in the present. Methos flexed his hand where Duncan had been grasping it.
Duncan thought about what he had seen, the masses that actually had worshipped the young Immortal as a god. "You weren't kidding."
Methos made a humorless noise. "No. No reason to." He sat up, stretching muscles and avoiding Duncan's gaze.
"Methos." Duncan waited until the elder turned wary eyes to him. The hazel gleamed green in the diffuse lighting. "I don't know where you kept finding your strength. One thing after another happened to you, and you were so young. You never lost your faith. And no wonder you honestly believed you were a god..."
Methos jumped up from the couch and began to pace. "Oh yeah, that was a handy scenario to claim."
A frown marred Duncan's expression. "Not handy at all. You honestly believed it. You would have believed it if it had happened to someone else. It was all you knew. My god... all that time as an Immortal and you didn't know what you were. How else would you have explained it? You had to use what you had. Your religion was the only thing to fill the gap."
Methos slowed his frantic burst of action. "You're right." He spoke abruptly, his discomfort obvious. "It's the memories... I haven't seen or felt them so clearly in..." he shrugged, "I couldn't say how long. Ever, possibly." A haunted look passed through his eyes. "I keep getting the feeling that fate has finally caught up with me. The dig, and unearthing my own past..." He shivered noticeably. "As if it's time for justice to be meted out."
Duncan raised both eyebrows. "I thought you didn't believe in justice."
"Karma? The universal equivalent of 'for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction' ?" He shook his head as he moved once more around the room restlessly. "I think it's inevitable."
Duncan thought about that while watching the lean figure flit around the salon. Narrowing his eyes at Methos, he leaned forward, elbows on taut knees. "Are you saying for two thousand years or so, you've been sitting around waiting for divine retribution?" Duncan sounded incredulous.
"Not exactly sitting around waiting. But if you're asking do I believe it's something I'll deal with sooner or later, then, yes. I do." Methos' calm words were belied by nervous movements as he paced, picked things up and put them down again.
A breath came out of Duncan in a rush. "That's why you've done everything possible since you've met me to get me to give up my guilt. You know how it feels and don't want me hanging on that same cross."
"I never said I felt guilty, MacLeod," Methos' voice sounded harsh. "Just that I believe in things eventually balancing out."
"When did you adopt this belief system? Or did you always have it?" Duncan's voice was soft.
"Ye-" Methos stopped himself and looked at the younger Immortal still sitting on the couch. "What difference does that make?" he asked in an irritated tone.
Duncan stood up and walked around the table toward Methos. "Every difference." It means that everything you've ever done was done with that as a foundation, he thought, advancing on the retreating Immortal. It means that during your entire sojourn with the Horseman brotherhood you believed you would not be able to run far enough or fast enough to avoid the hand of justice for your actions. It means you must have had one hell of a reason for being with them. For condemning yourself to that fate.
Duncan stopped, trapping Methos against the bulkhead. He could feel the tension in Methos, a tangible quivering through their link. Hazel eyes clashed with brown. "So tell me," he pushed, "I saw it all. The masses of your adoring worshippers. The slaves. The lifestyle. The excesses." Something flickered through Methos' eyes but he never lowered them. "The one thing I didn't see was how it ended. As soon as we approached it, you brought us out." Methos moved restively and Duncan placed a hand on either side of him on the bulkhead. "You trust me now, Methos. Tell me what you're hiding."
"I-" Duncan watched as confusion, struggle and fear moved swiftly across Methos' face. "There's nothing to hide! I'm not hiding anything."
"Then how did your 'reign' end in Enkarish, Methos?"
"I don't know!" he exploded. "Why does it matter? Dammit, MacLeod, haven't I bared my soul enough for you? Why the fuck does it matter?" Methos pushed against Duncan's arm heavily and moved past him into the open.
"Why does it make you so scared, Methos?" Duncan turned and faced the oldest Immortal calmly.
"I'm not scared! I'm bloody pissed! I don't even have any fucking privacy inside my own head anymore! I don't want or need your attempts at psychoanalysis, MacLeod. Just leave me the fuck alone. I'm going for a walk." He turned abruptly and grabbed his jacket from the hook by the door, opening and closing it behind him before Duncan could react.
Duncan's eye fell on their swords where they'd laid them earlier across the room. Goddammit! Methos had walked out without his sword. Grabbing it up, Duncan bounded up to the deck in a split second.
"What!" The eldest rounded on him from his position on the gangway, fire in his eye and breathing fast.
Duncan held out the sword mutely. For a second, he was afraid Methos might spit in his eye and walk off without it, but the mood shifted slightly and Methos reached for it with brusque motions. It disappeared quickly into his coat as if it had never existed. With one last burning look, the oldest Immortal whirled around in a swirl of coat and stalked off into the lamp-lit Paris night.
Duncan stood on the deck watching him walk down the quay to disappear down the river walk. He'd be back, he reassured himself. Methos was upset but not really angry with Duncan. He was more scared then anything else. Obviously they'd pushed some long-buried buttons, Duncan mused as he turned and walked back down into the cabin, shutting the door behind him. He thought of the long nights and weeks and months that stretched ahead, with Methos on site in the middle east, actively working to uncover his past. A past that seemed to have explosive effects on him.
Once more Duncan fought off a strong irrational desire to talk Methos out of this trip, to keep him safe next to him at all times. Not that it's exactly safe next to me, he grimaced ironically, recalling how Methos called him an "Immortal magnet". Still, his instinctive need to control the situation was strong.
Sighing, he poured himself another glass of brandy and sat down to wait out the ancient one. A man who used to be a god would not let go of his anger (or his fear) quickly, Duncan thought. Considering what he 'saw' during their memory trip, the young warrior realized he had gotten off lightly last night. The god Mulu-izi, son of Enki, had a temper. Multitudes had felt the fire of his anger over the years. The memory of the sword at his neck seemed crystal clear yet he also knew that it hadn't generated any lasting fear of Methos.
Love was a strange, amazing thing, Duncan thought. He found himself praying to the God of his own childhood as thoughts of the future scurried through his mind.
Love is all I have to give him. Let it be enough.
Ten days later
How many times had he watched someone pack to leave? Uncounted times. Duncan sighed, and Methos looked up from his duffle.
"Something wrong with your breathing, MacLeod? That's only the fiftieth time you've sighed in the last hour."
Duncan felt swamped by a multitude of emotions, not the least of which was an equal amount of annoyance and appreciation for the smart-ass remarks his lover was so very fond of employing. He gave up all pretense of reading, letting the book fall ignored onto the bed. "To be honest, I was thinking of all the things I wanted to do with you but now I've run out of time to do them." The dark Scot's expression was morose, the soft bottom lip stuck out noticeably. "That new play that's in town... the trip to Jacque's vineyards to watch the harvest... I wanted to surprise you with tickets to that charity rock concert in three weeks." The lip got larger.
Methos looked up as he pushed his duffle aside. "You were going to take me to that?" He knew Duncan would prefer to attend the opera. The desire to crawl up onto the bed and curl up in Duncan's arms was strong, but he didn't heed it.
"Yeah. Tickets are waiting at the box office for us."
"Take Richie, he'll have a great time. It'll make me feel better to know they're being used since you went to all that trouble."
Duncan wrinkled his face. "It just won't be the same without you there. Maybe I'll let Richie have them both. He can take a date."
Methos snorted. "God knows he's got enough women to choose from." He saw a pleased expression curl Duncan's mouth and accused, "You think it's great. Just a chip off the old block. Your student, in every way."
Duncan gave up holding back his grin. "Are you implying that in five thousand years you've never taken any kind of pride in a student who's been more like your child?"
Methos turned his back on Duncan, busying himself with a crate of books. "No. Hard to avoid that in five millennia."
Methos' motions stilled as his eyes unfocused. "It's also hard to avoid losing them. Or at least most of them."
Horror passed over Duncan's face, replacing the grin. "Methos. I'm sorry." Damn. "Get out the restraints again, if it'll help."
The elder Immortal looked up at the stricken Highlander, and his face took on a humorous cast. "Really? I'll have to remember to push your guilt buttons whenever I've got a yen for a little rough play." His levity didn't alleviate the worry in Duncan's eyes. Sitting on the bed next to Duncan, Methos folded his long legs into a lotus position. "Mac, I'm leaving in two day's time. Don't waste it in guilt. It's bad enough as it is-" He stopped and looked down.
"What's bad enough? That you're leaving? Or that we've spent the past ten days avoiding talking about things we should have talked about?" Guilt wasn't enough to stop Duncan from plunging ahead. It was a topic on which he'd been biting his tongue for over a week.
Methos simply ignored him.
Duncan sighed for the fifty-first time. "Never mind. We'll play it your way." With a smooth roll he stood on the floor and adjusted the belt to his robe. "Not that I have much choice," he said sotto voce, walking down to the liquor cabinet. A glaring light from a tour boat flooded the porthole in front of him. Annoyed, he moved to the side.
"All right. You want to talk about things? Fine. We can talk about things. But the talking goes two ways, MacLeod."
Duncan looked up in surprise to see Methos staring at him from his perch on the bed, eyes narrowed unsettlingly.
"I never said I wouldn't talk, Methos. I don't know what you're talking about." The Highland native looked impatient.
"You want to talk about my past. My five thousand year old past, to be exact. Right? Right. Now, we know you don't have a five thousand year old past to explore in great detail, of course. But, you do have a four hundred year old past worth looking into."
Duncan was completely lost about where Methos was heading, but he knew him well enough to know the ancient Immortal never headed down blind alleys. He replaced the whisky bottle and took a healthy swig from his glass, his own eyes narrowed as they contemplated his elusive bed mate. "I don't have anything to hide."
Damn, but he hated that shit-eating smirk the world's oldest could get when he had something going the way he wanted it to go. "No. I said I'd talk. You going to face what happened in Enkarish five thousand years ago?"
"If you tell me what happened three hundred and ninety-three years ago in Scotland."
This was Methos at his annoying worst. Duncan resisted an urge to go up to the bed and shake him. "Nothing happened then... you're just trying to avoid the subject, which is your past."
"Really? Interesting.... you, of course, couldn't be doing the same thing."
Duncan paced over to the steps and went up to stand in front of the sitting Immortal. "No I'm not doing the same thing. Three hundred and ninety-three years ago I was only thirteen, for god's sake. A child."
"Not in all ways."
Duncan stood silent and thinking. "Are you referring to Cassandra and my experience with her in Donan Woods?" He scoffed. "A kiss hardly is newsworthy."
"No, but what it awakened in you was."
"I hardly think the hormonal lust of an adolescent is newsworthy."
"How did you handle that passion Cassandra evoked in you?"
"How do you think I handled it!"
"Hmm. You told me I was your first male lover."
Duncan wanted to bang his head against the bulkhead in frustration. "So-?"
"So... who was Robert?"
"What do you mean, who was Robert? What Robert?" Angry momentum kept Duncan moving forward with an impatient voice.
"The Robert from three hundred ninety-three years ago."
"Robert- " Duncan was staring at Methos as he realized what Methos was driving towards. "Robert was-"
After a long pause, Methos said not ungently, "Yes, Duncan, just who was Robert to you?"
Duncan sat down abruptly on the edge of the bed and took a deep breath then expelled it heavily. "Robert." He kept his eyes away from the elder Immortal. "He was my cousin."
"Hmm." Methos murmured the non-committal noise, encouraging the Scot to continue in spite of his poleaxed appearance. I really can be a shit at times, he thought, observing the effects of his successful change of subject in this latest conversation.
"I had- forgotten." For good reason. Brown eyes slid sideways to encounter hazel ones. "How'd you... "
Methos shrugged slightly, eyes observant. "Works both ways."
"Ah. Well," Duncan shifted. "I think you've made your point. That was what this was about, wasn't it."
He didn't even bother to ask it as a question.
"Don't bother to lie about it, Methos. That's fruitless." Duncan's tone softened the harsh words.
Silence stretched on between the two men, broken only by the whisper of silk against silk as Duncan moved his arm to take a mouthful of whisky. When a warm hand touched him on his shoulder, he started, jerked back to the present.
The hand was followed by a body pressing close behind him, and a head laying against his. "Yes. I did it for that very reason. Hurts, doesn't it."
Duncan thought fleetingly how odd it was to hear such bare words spoken in such a loving tone, while the speaker was embracing him with care. But then, wasn't that Methos? A mass of contradictions and dichotomies, enough to drive anyone crazy. Or- enough to keep someone on their toes for a long, long, time. "Yes."
"Hmm," Methos murmured again. "Want to talk about it?"
What a sly, sly devil. "Not particularly."
"You have pain surrounding it," Methos probed.
Duncan let it pass without comment.
"If we're not going to talk now, would you rather... do something else?"
Duncan leaned back into the warm body behind him, appreciating the change of subject. "Maybe."
A large hand crept under his arm to slip past his robe in the front. Fingers teased through the hair sprinkled down his chest and found a nipple rapidly hardening. Duncan leaned his head to the side to accommodate the tonguing kisses being laid upon his neck. When he reached over and snapped off the bright bedside lamp, Duncan saw Methos' surprise in the light filtering in from outside. "I've no interest in being a tour boat attraction."
Methos pushed him back onto the bed with a smirk. "Bet we'd be popular."
"Oh, no doubt." The eldest lay down upon him, wrapping him in an embrace, their bodies pressed tightly together. Their lovemaking was unhurried, slow with a voluptuous edge, both wanting to savor every little touch and caress. Duncan reveled in the dual sensory play of soft, wet tongue surrounded by hard, bristly chin as Methos proceeded to trail his way down Duncan's face and neck, across shoulders and down arms, only to stop and suckle on his large, callused fingertips. The feeling of his suckling mouth and sweeping tongue was so evocative Duncan found himself thrusting lightly against Methos. He began to wish his lover's mouth surrounded him elsewhere but not yet quite enough to move him from his comfortable position.
Duncan slipped his hands down from wiry, strong shoulders, over Methos' soft-skinned, hard-muscled back, down to his goal. Twin gluts flexed then released as they both began a lazy motion designed to thrust the two lovers against each other, a teasing, pressing motion. Duncan dug his fingers gently into the pliant muscles, squeezing the firm globes. They stayed like that for long minutes, and Duncan enjoyed the simple feeling of the warm body under his hands and against his own.
Methos moved his mouth over Duncan's chest, trailing hot breath until he fastened on a small hard nipple. Teeth bit gently to the point of pain then released while a soft sweep of his tongue stimulated the throbbing bit of flesh. He repeated the pattern again and again, alternating sides until a soft moan was wrenched from his bed partner. He groaned himself as the hands kneading his backside moved, fingers sliding into the warm crevice and brushing up and down hot flesh. Head dropping heavily into the crease of Duncan's neck, Methos began thrusting more firmly as knowledgeable fingers enclosed his soft sac and rolled the flesh between them.
Long minutes more passed as the two teased each other with caresses. Finally Duncan groaned and pushed the slender body atop him to the side with a mighty heave, trapping him between two strong legs. "My turn now," he rumbled, while he held down Methos' wrists with strong hands. Duncan trailed his mouth wetly down the firm torso, not hesitating to capture his quarry between his lips. He smiled in satisfaction to hear Methos groan loudly as his hard length was encompassed in wet heat and set out to stoke the fire higher with stokes and flicks of his tongue around the hard flesh. Gently peeling back the foreskin, he swirled around the sensitive glans, suckling at the same time. Methos moved his freed hands into Duncan's hair, wrapping the strands around hard fingers as he urged the Highlander wordlessly onward.
Duncan could feel his lover's excitement, knew just when to stop to keep him from moving too quickly past the point of no return. Pulling back, he reached blindly toward the table and groped around until the plastic bottle tilted into his hand. One squirt and he was back between Methos' legs, warming the lube between his hands then applying it in long caresses between his lover's spread legs. Inquisitive fingers probed teasingly, dragging more moans from the ancient one's mouth, while Duncan's other lubed hand pulled slickly at the impressive length of Methos' erection.
Waiting until Methos was blindly responding to the dual stimulation of both hands, Duncan leaned down and murmured near his ear, "So were you jealous of Robert?"
"Yes...no," Methos gasped. His eyes opened and Duncan saw them blaze green in the flickering light through the shutters. "Don't ever tell me I don't play fair. You do your share of manipulation too, my young friend."
"Friend?" Duncan emphasized his murmur with more caresses.
Methos thrust helplessly into the hands that held him. "...friend...lover... You're both. I want both."
He pulled Duncan's body close. "I want you, now."
Duncan bent Methos' legs back and moved into the cradle of his body. As he leaned, he thrust oh so slowly into the waiting body under him, refusing to rush even when Methos tried to force the joining more quickly with gyrating movements. "Now who's being impatient," Duncan smiled, gratified to see such need expressed so openly. It enflamed him, caused the blood to pool even more in his already overflowing groin. Leaning on one arm, he used the other to capture again the rigid length of Methos' erection, pulling in one of Methos' hands to help. The feeling of being encased by tight, hot flesh, the feeling of his hand entwined with his lover's as they both caressed his slick hardness, combined in Duncan to create a sense of ecstasy well before his peak. Muscles strained, he leaned down and captured the open mouth below him, adding the stimulation of sucking on wet lips and tongue to the sensory overload. When Methos tightened already tight muscles around his cock, Duncan groaned and thrust heavily into the welcoming heat. The pace they had set picked up, urgency building now as they both felt their bodies shift toward the final ascent.
Duncan reached down with long fingers near where he thrust, pushing two fingers onto a spot Methos had shown him. He stroked the area once, twice. Methos groaned, flexing helplessly from the stimulation.
"Gods... Duncan...." he gasped, a free hand coming around hard on Duncan's neck as he pulled the Scot to him. When Duncan stroked it once more, Methos cried out and began convulsing, a hot wetness saturating their stomachs.
Duncan was so intent on watching the eldest reach his peak he hadn't gone over yet himself. He was memorizing the sight of Methos over the edge in ecstasy, head back and eyes closed tightly, swollen lips parted slightly. He could feel the physical evidence of Methos' climax as it shot out and coated them both with warmth, and knew a moment's regret that he couldn't position his mouth on Methos' cock at this moment. When the convulsions stopped, Methos dragged in a deep breath and opened his eyes, looking straight into Duncan's.
"I love you," Methos murmured.
His love seduced Duncan over the edge as the words and the look in Methos' luminous eyes sent Duncan far past the line, free-falling as his orgasm rippled over and over through him in endless waves.
It was the feeling of Methos stroking a hand through his tangled hair and whispering, "I'm sorry, Mac," that brought him back to the present some time later. Duncan realized he had collapsed on top of the older Immortal, pinning him in an awkward angle of bent legs. Slowly he withdrew, both men hearing the indrawn breath of the other as they lost that intimate contact. With languid movements, Duncan reached down and kissed Methos thoroughly then slid from the bed to pad to the bathroom.
In moments he returned with a warm cloth and a towel and cleaned up the Immortal laying sprawled unmoving. Patting them both dry, he slid them back next to the other Immortal and pulled a light sheet over them both. Turning onto his stomach, he lay with his head next to Methos' on the pillow, listening to the even breathing of his sleepy lover.
Duncan's hand crept over Methos' chest and curled around his side. "I killed Robert when we were in our twenties. Over a woman." His voice was a mere whisper but it brought Methos' eyes open immediately.
"I fell in love with the woman he was betrothed to, and she with me. My father even tried to have the betrothal changed, but the Campbell wouldna hear of it. I was going to walk away, do the honorable thing, and gave Debra a memento from me. A bracelet." Duncan shifted and pulled in a deep breath, his hand tightening unconsciously on Methos' body. His voice went flat as he recounted the next. "Robert went crazy when he saw Debra wearing it. He would have beat her in front of the whole clan. I stopped him. He challenged me to a fight and I refused, horrified. But m'father wouldna let me out o' it so easy, since the challenge was issued in front o' God and country. So.... we fought." The words thickened. "I didna want to kill him. But he was going for blood. I- I caught him low in the gut. He died in agony."
Methos turned and shifted so Duncan's head fell into the crook of his shoulder. With a lazy hand, he swept back dark curls away from the Scot's face. His very silence encouraged the revelation to continue.
"It was bad enough, losing Robert at ma own hands. I couldna live with it, with the memory everyday. I told Debra I had to leave, leave her behind. She ran, saying she didn't want to live without me. Finally I consented to staying and taking her as ma wife. I couldna take her tears and pain. I held out ma hand to her and... she disappeared. The cliff edge she'd been standing on collapsed. I went and got her broken body maself and buried her, since the holy church decided it'd been suicide, the bloody idiots."
The slow stroking hand crept from his hair and moved down to his shoulders and back as he finished the story. "So that's why the clan chieftain's son wasna married when he died at the ripe old age of 30. Before that, there'd been Debra. After, well..."
"What happened with Robert?" Methos' voice brought Duncan back from his memories to the barge.
"Robert. Aye. I'd put it out of ma head..." There was a long pause while Duncan gathered his thoughts. "We'd had a bit of an adventure together in Donan Woods. There was the great white wolf and I'd thought to save Robert from it's jaws and sent him away to face it myself. It turned out to be Cassandra. I'd never seen anything as beautiful before in my young life as she was, emerging from the water by the full moon, naked as a babe. And she teased me, kissed me. She knew what I was thinking. When the whole thing was over, it was like a dream, a long vivid dream.
"But ma adolescent body was awakened and, well, Robert caught me one day in the woods, having an active daydream. I was embarrassed, but Robert, he laughed and said it was about time I discovered sex. He was a little older than I, and I guess he'd considered me backwards until then." A small smile crept through. "When he touched me and showed me how pleasurable it was to have another's hand on me, it seemed as natural as breathing." A sigh slipped out past his lips. "It went on for about three years, until Robert got a girlfriend from a neighboring clan. Then, we just... drifted apart. Stopped meeting each other in the woods. We were growing up and changing." The smile fell away. "Changing too much, it seems, growing too far apart."
"That was inevitable, Duncan. What you describe happens to adolescents the world over. It's a part of growing up, exploring who you are, how you relate to others."
"Aye... I know. But how many people go on to face their adolescent lovers and kill them?"
"There is that." Methos shook his head. "Duncan, Duncan.... You managed to have more experiences designed to lay on the guilt in your four hundred years of existence than anyone I've ever met." He tightened his hold on the Scot. "Give it a rest tonight. Brother Methos absolves you of guilt." At Duncan's sideways glance, he smiled. "Yes, I was in the church about, oh, 1500 years ago. During my own guilt-ridden stage. I thought the hair shirts and purgings would absolve me of my sins." Duncan's head bobbed as Methos shrugged. "Live and learn. Life goes on. For some."
"The Great Wheel turns, one way or another, is that it?" Duncan felt Methos' "mmm-hmm" rumble in his chest. He lifted his head and looked at the slender face so close to his. "So what happened with you, Methos? What happened so long ago?"
The hazel eyes closed, his whole face tightening. Methos took a deep breath and expelled it slowly before looking once more at the Immortal who could see more of him than anyone else ever had before. He didn't realize his eyes looked haunted as he said starkly, "I don't know, Duncan. I don't know. Right now, I'm not sure I'm ready to know. There are many things in my life that are blanks, big dark holes in my memories. Sometimes when I've gone poking about in there, I've been bitten for my efforts. Best not to awaken the slumbering beast in the cave until it's necessary."
His words had been calm and reasonable enough, but Duncan had heard an underlying thread behind the words. Had felt the tension and... fear, coming through their link. Methos had hidden it well, hell, he'd have to, to have lived with it all so long. Just as Duncan had buried the memory of Robert after the tragedy that became of their relationship. As much as he might want to have Methos recall his past, it wasn't up to him to force it. He'd just have to wait. And pray that nothing unusual happened while Methos was far away from him, at the very site of his past.
"A slumbering beast. Aye, that's what our pasts are like at times." He pulled the ancient one closer as if to ward off demons. "When it's time, you'll be armed," he encouraged.
Silence fell as both men drifted toward sleep. Duncan did as he had promised to himself earlier and began sending prayers up to his childhood God to equip the man he held with adequate armor for the coming confrontation with the beast of his cave.
Methos was usually very sensitive when it came to Duncan and his moods. This time however he was falling short of the mark and missing the myriad clues being offered, not the least of which was the Lip, followed by a pursing of mouth. The narrowing of eyes should have alerted him even if the others were overlooked, but that too was ignored. But it was the silence, the fulsome, pregnant silence coming from the tall Scot which the ancient one had no business missing.
Or so Duncan thought.
But onward Methos chattered. Chattering, my god! He sounds like a bloody brainless bunny. The silence Duncan forced himself into had its own rewards- it gave him time to think and to feel what the elder was sending out through their link. Finally it hit him: Methos was nervous.
Well, damn, the two of us have no excuse not reading each other to this extent. No excuse at all.
The words falling out of Methos' mouth took on a new meaning in that light, and Duncan sat back amused now as he watched and listened to the world's oldest flit around the barge with last minute chores.
"Bloody hell... I hope I've brought all the texts I'll need. But then again, I can always link into the Universite's library database and use the books our department has there. You know where I keep my reference materials, don't you? You can always send me something if it's necessary." Methos nailed a crate of books shut. "This is way too much to fit into the car... one good reason why I arranged for Annalise to pick me up with the crew. They have a separate van coming for all the baggage. No sense in dragging this out any longer then necessary. I hate public good-byes anyway. Hell, I hate good-bye, period. I've had enough of them to last a thousand lifetimes." His grimace accompanying this pronouncement underscored his feelings.
The amusement on Duncan's face flowered into a full-blown grin. If Methos thought he was going to get out of public good-byes, he was sadly mistaken. Now more than ever, after having to put up with him all morning. And last night.
He thought back to last evening. Duncan had wanted to stay in, to have a quiet dinner at home away from crowds and noise. Their last night together in months.
But Methos had already made plans. Dinner plans. Plans for after. He requested that Duncan dress up for it. He'd dressed up himself, and Duncan's eyes went unfocused as he remembered how sexy Methos' lithe frame had looked in a casual designer suit and loosely knotted tie. Duncan's jaw had dropped at the sight and the humor hovering around Methos' mouth plus the smoldering look in his eyes had set the tone for the evening.
Duncan still couldn't understand how every little thing that they'd discussed had managed to have sexual overtones. Somehow the old guy had done it though, and nearly driven Duncan crazy in the process. After dinner at a pricey, upscale restaurant, after Methos had spent over two hours driving Duncan crazy with innuendo and covert, casual touches, they had left for, Duncan assumed, the barge.
But no. Methos took them to Joe's, where Joe and Richie waited for them as a farewell gathering of sorts. Richie had brought along his girlfriend Nicolette, and they'd sat and chatted for another hour or so while Duncan became more and more restless. It seemed Methos was taking more enjoyment than he ever had before in talking about his role in the dig, how the site would be run, answering any questions
the others threw out to him. It had been a great relief when Joe had eventually picked up on Duncan's less than chatty attitude and helped to bring an end to the small gathering. Leaving the club, all Duncan had been able to think was... alone at last.
Duncan wondered if the tour boats had gotten an eyeful last night.
Shaking himself out of his pleasant memories, Duncan forced himself to pay attention to his verbose partner. Methos was still talking. Duncan wondered if he had even taken a breath. He had to run down sooner or later.
Duncan felt the boat dip, signaling someone walking aboard. Not soon enough, he thought.
Methos had felt it also. "That should be them now. Good timing," he added, a pleased expression on his face as he moved the last of his luggage over by the stairs. In three steps he was up and opening the door before the knock sounded. "Etienne, come in. All the luggage is stacked right here."
A slight, dark-haired young man in worn jeans entered the barge. Duncan had moved to stand near the steps and now held out his hand. "Hi. Duncan MacLeod."
"Etienne Bruillet." He gave a hardy shake and a grin. Eyeing the load on the floor, his eyebrows raised high. "That is all you are bringing? Just the three duffles and one crate?"
"Yes. Well.... I've learned to travel light over the years." Methos exchanged a humorous look with Duncan.
"Okay. They will fit into the van easily enough." Etienne nodded thanks to Duncan when he helped heft the crate of books into his waiting arms. He staggered a bit under the weight. "Merde, Adam! You have gold bouillon in here?"
"Six month's worth of reading material," Duncan smiled, grabbing onto the handles of two of the duffles.
Without looking at Methos, he followed the young archeologist out the door.
Methos stood looking after him with an odd expression. Then with little fanfare, he glanced once around the barge, shouldered his laptop carrier, yanked on the handles of the last duffle, and closed the door as he left.
Etienne and Duncan were wrestling the crate into the back of the van as Methos descended the gangplank. "I've got everything here. Guess I'll see you in a few months."
Duncan slid a glance out of the corners of his eyes toward Methos as he pitched the duffles on top of the crate. Taking the last one from Methos and adding it to the pile, he stood back as Etienne slammed the rear doors of the van closed. "Merci, Etienne. Bon voyage et bonne chance." Duncan shook the Frenchman's hand again.
"My pleasure, Duncan. We'll see you at the airport."
Duncan grabbed Methos' arm as he went to open the passenger door of the van. "Sorry. But we're doing today my way. If you think you're walking out of my life for the next six months as if it were a walk around the block, think again. I don't have anything else to do at the moment, so I'm taking you to the airport." He saw the look on Methos' face. "You'll just have to grin and bear it. Life's tough sometimes."
Duncan gave a wicked grin and steered him over to the Citroen. "Hope you locked the door to the barge."
Doors slammed and the engine gunned to life. "Dammit, MacLeod, I didn't want big, soppy good-bye scenes."
"Really. I couldn't tell." Duncan shifted into traffic. "All I can say is, you should have never gotten involved with me if you wanted a mindless, painless, sterile relationship. Mine seem to get messy."
The eldest was not ready to give in. "You sound as if you're proud of that fact."
"Proud? No, don't think so." He accelerated into the fast lane and settled back for the long drive. Reaching over, he caught Methos' hand in his and clasped it firmly. "I've put a lot into this relationship, more than I've put into any other, including Tessa. I've had to reexamine the way I think about myself, and I've explored parts of myself that never before saw the light of day. So, yeah, I value this relationship. I value you. So you'll just have to put up with me and my big, soppy good-bye scenes. Besides, I didn't have anything else better to do today. You're the one leaving on a grand adventure, not me."
Methos sighed. "You sure you don't want to come with me? We can find something for you to do. There's always more work than workers on site."
Duncan laughed. "What an offer. Slave all day in the trenches and then slave all night in your tent."
Methos looked struck by that thought. "Sounds good to me."
"It would. No... I'll stay here and keep the home afloat. I was thinking about looking into some real estate outside the city, something I could work on and fix up. A country get-away. How's that sound?"
"Mmm, nice. I like a man who can support me in the manner to which I'm accustomed." Methos kissed the hand still clasped with his own.
"You're the one working now, the world expert on linguistics."
"Great title, piddling money. Penny-pinching universite budget."
"It's not about the money, at least not this time. This time, it's about you."
They fell silent for the rest of the trip in the relatively light traffic toward Charles de Gaulle. Duncan drove around to the proper terminal and found a space out front in the melee of cars. He stopped Methos as the oldest reached for his computer.
"Wait." Without another word, he put a large, callused hand on Methos' clean-shaven jaw. Brown eyes
warm and liquid enough to swim in searched every facet of his lover's face. A thumb reached out and stroked over Methos' mouth. "Take care of yourself out there. If you need me... call."
"You'd think I was going to the moon, MacLeod. For five years."
"It'll seem like it," Duncan's smile was wistful.
Methos shook his head. "You really are a romantic."
"You have no idea." Duncan didn't give him a chance to reply, but pulled him close the short distance as his hand buried itself in the spiky, silky hair. Mouths met in a kiss that went through them both, burning through their connection and warming them on all levels. Duncan gathered the eldest close, his mouth at his ear. "Don't try and make-believe you don't love it, either. I know better." Their mouths met one more time.
Methos pulled back reluctantly. "I know you do. I'm getting used to it. Slowly."
"Good. Call me or I'll worry."
"Not hardly," Duncan grinned. "Just someone who wants to know you're safe."
"It works both ways," Methos flicked a finger down his jaw. "Try to keep a low profile. If that's at all possible for you."
Methos gathered his computer case and Duncan pulled a small leather book out of his pocket and stuck it in Methos' jacket. "What's that?"
Duncan gave a crooked grin. "Just some reading material for your flight. Take care."
Methos opened the door and slid out. The door slammed shut, closing out the sounds of traffic and engines. He waved once then was swallowed up in the tangle of buses and cars delivering their passengers.
Duncan put the car into gear and pulled away.
Methos met up with the rest of his colleagues while checking in at the desk. Everyone seemed in great spirits, talking a mile a minute. Annalise noticed Methos' quietness.
"Everything okay, Adam?"
Methos looked surprised. "Yes. Fine."
"You just seemed so quiet," she explained.
Annalise shoved her carryon forward with her foot as the line moved. "I never thought I'd get you to come with us, you know. I didn't think you'd leave Duncan for this."
All the more reason to do this, he thought ruthlessly. I was getting too damn complaisant, too predictable. "It'll go fast. I'm excited about the possibilities."
"It's going to happen. I know it's going to happen." Annalise fairly bounced with tension.
"I just hope the site isn't buried too deeply under other layers. That'll slow down the time frame."
"Then we'll work around the clock. But I'm going to have discovery. Within the time frame set out by the Universite. I will."
The clerk called next and Annalise moved up to the desk, handing her identification and ticket over. She glanced back over her shoulder at Adam. "You have been a big support from the beginning. So it will be thanks to you."
She turned back around to talk to the clerk, and Methos smiled. In more ways than you think, Annalise.
They all eventually checked in. After a seemingly interminable wait at the gate while some mechanical delay was corrected, the intrepid dig crew boarded the flight to Baghdad. Settling down into his window seat, Methos chatted with the crew member next to him while the rest of the plane boarded. When the doors were closed and the flight crew started their safety talk as the plane taxied, Methos signaled his desire to be alone and turned away, pulling out the book that Mac had stuck in his pocket earlier.
It was of brown leather, a handsomely bound piece with gold stamped letters: Walt Whitman: A Collection from Leaves of Grass. Poetry.
Methos turned to the inscription on the inside.
To Methos- words from one individualist for another. I knew Walt in New York
City those long years ago. He would have loved to meet you. It's my luck that I
have. Love, Duncan.
A slip of paper was stuck into the first pages and his long elegant fingers pulled it from its paper prison. It was a list of pages. Methos smiled and turned to the first one listed as the plane began its take-off down the runway. Entitled For Him I Sing, he read-
For him I sing,
I raise the Present on the Past,
(As some perennial tree, out of its roots, the present on the past:)
With time and space I him dilate--and fuse the immortal laws,
To make himself, by them, the law unto himself.
The second page mark was for a piece entitled To You, and he found where Duncan had marked passages in the longer piece-
I whisper with my lips close to your ear,
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.
O I have been dilatory and dumb;
I should have made my way straight to you long ago;
I should have blabb'd nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing
I will leave all, and come and make the hymns of you;
None have understood you, but I understand you;
None have done justice to you--you have not done justice to yourself;
None but have found you imperfect--I only find no imperfection in
He read and reread that section then went back and read the whole piece from start to finish. Duncan, Duncan... I've never had anyone gift me with poetry like this. You truly are a romantic.
He turned to the third piece indicated, Recorders Ages Hence. Duncan had written on the piece of paper Ode to my Watcher.
RECORDERS ages hence!
Come, I will take you down underneath this impassive exterior--I will tell you what to say of me;
Publish my name and hang up my picture as that of the tenderest lover,
The friend, the lover's portrait, of whom his friend, his lover, was fondest,
Who was not proud of his songs, but of the measureless ocean of love
within him--and freely pour'd it forth,
Who often walk'd lonesome walks, thinking of his dear friends, his lovers,
Who pensive, away from one he lov'd, often lay sleepless and dissatisfied at night,
Who knew too well the sick, sick dread lest the one he lov'd might
secretly be indifferent to him,
Whose happiest days were far away, through fields, in woods, on
hills, he and another, wandering hand in hand, they twain,
apart from other men,
Who oft as he saunter'd the streets, curv'd with his arm the shoulder of his friend--
while the arm of his friend rested upon him also.
Smiling, he found the fourth one written, As Adam, Early in the Morning.
AS Adam, early in the morning,
Walking forth from the bower, refresh'd with sleep;
Behold me where I pass--hear my voice--approach,
Touch me--touch the palm of your hand to my Body as I pass;
Be not afraid of my Body.
Number five was next, Ages and Ages:
AGES and ages, returning at intervals,
Undestroy'd, wandering immortal,
Lusty, phallic, with the potent original loins, perfectly sweet,
I, chanter of Adamic songs,
Through the new garden, the West, the great cities calling,
Deliriate, thus prelude what is generated, offering these, offering
Bathing myself, bathing my songs in Sex,
Offspring of my loins.
Duncan had determined to make a point and make it memorable. Last but not least on his list was the sixth selection, I Sing the Body Electric. Next to that title, he had penned, "Apropos for us, don't you think?" Methos turned and read the indicated passage first:
The expression of the face balks account;
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face;
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of
his hips and wrists;
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist
and knees--dress does not hide him;
The strong, sweet, supple quality he has, strikes through the cotton
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more;
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-
In that page there was also another piece of paper. Taking it out, he read-
Are you sure Walt didn't know you? He's captured you so clearly.
If you ever want to know, this is how I see you.
These damn months are going to go slowly now, aren't they? Ha.
Methos placed the pieces of paper carefully back into the book and shut it, placing it on his lap and closed his eyes. Duncan, you are an unexpected delight in my life. After five thousand years, after everything, what have I done to deserve you? Link or no link, this makes me happy. He makes me happy. Scary thought that it is.
Richie Ryan raised his eyebrows as he entered into the open barge door. His teacher and mentor was no prude, but that particular expression wasn't one he uttered often. "What's up?"
"Oh, I just missed Methos' phone call. He left a message on the answering machine, told me not to call back until tomorrow. Something about a short trip out of camp." Duncan threw his gym bag on the counter and began unloading sweaty clothes.
"Why don't you fly out to the site again? It's been over two months since the first time."
Two months, two weeks and four days. Four months, three weeks and six days from the time he left. But certainly, Duncan wasn't counting. Much. "We talked about it, but things seem pretty intense at the moment... they've started to work around the clock trying to get beneath the overlying layers. They're running against the clock with their funding. Methos doesn't need the distraction, and I'd feel like a fifth wheel. Last time I was doing trench work to occupy my time, and they weren't even pushing things yet. I don't know if I want to get roped back into that again." He grinned. "Besides, I've started the replastering yesterday... and weren't you going to help?" Duncan narrowed his eyes at Richie.
"Oh, ah.... yeah. I did promise to help you, didn't I?
"Mmm-hmm. You did. I want to get at least the main rooms finished so they can be painted and furnished before another two months."
Richie gave a big sigh. "Okay. Guess I know what we'll be doing for the next week or two." Digging in the refrigerator, he pulled out the juice. "Can I have some time off for good behavior? Nicolette wants to go skiing soon. The slopes are starting to look good."
Duncan pulled the bottle away from Richie's lips. "Try a glass." He slapped one on the counter in front of his young friend. "And yes, I think we can arrange to spring you for a ski trip. Where are you headed?"
Juice sloshed into the glass. "Her family owns a place somewhere in Switzerland. Nice, huh?"
"I haven't been skiing in years. I'll have to plan a trip for when Methos gets back. Bet he'd like the cold and snow after all that heat and sand." Duncan gave a secret smile, imagining the ancient Immortal's comments on the trip ...
....Why in gods name do you think this is fun, MacLeod? It's damn hard work,
not some relaxing vacation...Couldn't we go to the Med, lie on the beach and
do nothing for a few weeks? Let's at least just stay in our room for a few days.
I can think of something to occupy our time in between sleeping and eating...
"Yo, Mac! Wake up!"
Duncan blinked. "Sorry, Rich. What'd you say?"
"I was asking you to help me out with dinner tomorrow night. Nicolette's challenged me to fix something from scratch, not bring it in from Maurice's place."
"Really? She's coming over to the apartment tomorrow night?" Duncan couldn't help it. His mind headed down the path entitled "Paybacks". "Well, by all means, come here and I'll go over it with you. I've got just the thing for you to make- chicken tarragon. It's easy, even you would have a hard time screwing it up."
Duncan's sudden and unexpected joviality had Richie pausing. "Uh.. thanks, Mac. I think."
The two sat at the kitchen counter while Duncan wrote down a recipe on an index card for Richie to take to the apartment with him. Each step was explained in detail until Richie felt comfortable with the process. "I think I got it. Thanks, Mac."
Gathering up the dirty laundry he'd flung out of the way, Duncan added the bundle to his small hamper. "So how's the job going? Everything still well between you and Nicolette's family?"
"Yeah." Richie leaned an elbow on the counter. "It's really been great. Robert, Niki's uncle, is a big marshmallow. All the employees know it. It's a good thing they love him or he'd have been robbed blind years ago."
"What have you been doing there lately?"
"They've got me doing all sorts of things... the size of their operation is unbelievable! I had no idea import/export businesses made that much money. Her family's not hurting at all. I don't know why they've been so nice to me. Especially about dating the family's only daughter."
Duncan frowned. "Rich, you've got much to offer. Don't denigrate yourself like that."
"Well, seriously, Mac, let's face facts. I don't own a thing other than my bike. Her family owns whole blocks of Paris. And I'm not Jewish. She is. So I don't think I'm being negative by wondering."
Padding back into the kitchen, Duncan poured himself a glass of juice. The similarities in Richie's situation to Methos' ancient past struck him suddenly. "Maybe they like the idea that you don't owe any other family allegiance. They can expect loyalty from you, make you one of them." He picked up the recipe card and held it out for Richie to take. "Or maybe they want nothing more than for their daughter to be happy, ever thought of that?"
"Yeah." Richie sounded gloomy. "Frequently. Niki's already hinted around about a family, kids. I don't know what to do."
A few years back, Duncan would have gone into lecture mode. Now, even though his heart ached for the young man, he simply stood back and commiserated. "That's rough. You'll have to do some heavy thinking."
"Yeah. But meanwhile, things are still cool between us. I mean, she's not talking about kids as if she wants them tomorrow, so it's not like I'm being given an ultimatum or anything. But..." Richie paused and looked down. "I like Niki. A lot."
Methos had commented to Duncan before he left that it looked like the smart Parisienne had stolen the young man's heart. Even Joe noticed that Richie was different, more settled, now that he was seeing Nicolette and working for her family. Duncan was happy for Richie, finding so many of the things he had never had all at once- a large family, a smart, beautiful woman who loved him. But the problems.. oh, the problems....
Duncan put his arm around the younger man's shoulders. "Just take your time. If you listen to your heart, you'll know the right thing to do, at the right time. It's not easy for us, Rich. It never is."
The Scot gave his student's shoulders a squeeze, trying to impart his caring and concern. "So, pick you up about seven o'clock tomorrow morning?"
"Seven? Slave driver." The red-head slid from the counter stool. "Guess I better go get my rest since you'll be chaining me to your house tomorrow." He pulled on his coat. "Think Adam'll sell me his ATV? That thing drives fantastic."
Duncan snorted. "Yeah, right. You know how much that vehicle costs? About forty thousand. It's not even a year old. Dream on, lover boy. I was surprised when he let you have it while he was gone."
Richie peered down from his stance by the door. "A bribe. He really wanted me to stay here and help keep you out of trouble while he wasn't around." White teeth flashed. "Worked, too. See ya tomorrow, Mac." The door slammed behind him.
So I'm worth risking his forty thousand dollar vehicle. Duncan grinned as he made himself a plate of fruit and cheese for dinner. Nice to know I'm worth it.
Settling down on the couch after pouring himself a glass of wine, Duncan keyed in the bar's telephone number.
"Le Blues Club." Dawson's gravely voice answered.
"Mac. What's up?"
"Not much. You okay?"
"Sure. Things have been quiet around here lately. Almost spooky."
"If it's all the same to you, I'd like to keep it that way." Duncan's dry tones spoke volumes.
"Hell yes. Suits me."
"That brunette that Richie used to date still work for you?"
"Odette? Yeah. Why?"
"She working tonight?"
"She's here now. What's up, MacLeod?" Joe could hear the imp in Mac's voice.
"Oh.... I've owed Richie a payback for a long time. I think it's about due."
Duncan lifted the lid to the pan on the stove and stuck a finger in, sucking off the juices he retrieved.
"Hey, he did pretty good."
"Mac, get your finger out of there!" Joe walked around the corner in time to see Duncan's taste test.
"I'm not hurting anything! My finger's clean," Richie's mentor said in his own defense, then stuck his finger in again.
The phone rang, interrupting them. It rang once and cut off.
"That's our signal. Come on, time for you to leave. They'll be here in a few minutes."
Duncan allowed Joe to push him out of the kitchen. "This isn't fair. You get to watch everything, while I have to slink around on the back stairs."
"Well it wouldn't work if he felt you, now would it?"
"What do you think, guys?" A husky feminine voice had their heads turning.
"Jesus!" Joe's jaw nearly hit the floor. He'd never seen his employee looking like this before. Odette was about thirty or so, and usually came to work without much make-up on, her long dark hair out of the way on top of her head. He nearly didn't recognize the woman standing in front of him now.
She'd left her hair down, and it curled seductively over shoulders covered only by a sheer black robe. Under the robe, clearly visable through the material, was nothing more than a demi bra and bikini pants, both black like the robe and highlighted with gold lace. Make-up had her eyes looking sultry and her mouth pouty and swollen, as if she'd just crawled from bed. Her lover's bed.
"Then you think it will work?"
Duncan watched with amusement as Joe had a hard time raising his eyes up past her neck. "Oh it'll work, no doubt about it."
Joe finally managed to look into the bright dark eyes full of mischief. "I, uh, I think Richie's gonna be in a hell of a lot of trouble."
There was a brief silence as Joe continued to ogle Odette until Duncan moved and broke the moment. "I'll be out on the back steps." He shook a finger at Joe. "You get good pictures. They're the only thing I'll have to let me see his face."
Joe's camera hung around his neck, waiting. "It's what I do best." His leer had Duncan rolling his eyes as the Immortal disappeared out the kitchen door to the rear staircase.
Odette and Joe walked back to the bedroom. "I'll be right here in the bathroom. He won't see me in here but I'll have a great shot of the action. You going to be okay?"
Odette gave Joe a mysterious smile. "Just fine. This is fun." She walked into the bedroom and sat on the bed.
Joe moved into the darkened bath, readying his camera and lens, unable to get the image of his waitress out of his mind. Who knew she was a veritable Venus under all those baggy clothes she liked to wear? He thought back to all the times they had sat and talked. He had enjoyed her quick wit, the soft-spoken but firm way she had with patrons. The way she seemed to listen with her whole being when they talked. He even liked her daughter, 6 year old Claire-Marie. He had always assumed that there was someone in her life, a boyfriend or lover, because she never prowled the clientele like all the other younger waitresses. Now he wondered. Wondered if there wasn't, and if she'd be interested in an old war horse like him.
Man oh man, of all the surprises, I'd never thought to have this one-
They heard the door open in the living room, then shut. Silence was broken by a murmur of voices and a giggle. He saw Odette lounge back on the bed, looking more like sin than she had a right to. Shuffling came down the hall, giggles and murmurs accompanying them, until two figures stood in the doorway to the bedroom.
Richie was facing the room as he backed Niki in, and it only took a split second for him to notice the woman on his bed. His mouth hung open and all the blood in his face drained away, leaving it as white as a ghost.
Odette spoke. "So this is how you treat me, eh Richard? Not only forget about our date, but make another behind my back?" Slowly she slid off the bed and stood up.
Richie opened the front door to shuttle Niki outside.
"Oh, wait please, Richard. I forgot something. Be right back." Nicolette disappeared into the other room and reappeared twenty seconds later. "Okay. Ready."
Opening the door, the young man helped his girl into the vehicle and was rewarded with a brilliant smile. Richie liked the way she made him feel all suave and sophisticated when he showed her small courtesies. She was such a contrast of opposites- seeming reserved and aloof at times, at others wild and carefree. He feared he had fallen in love deeply.
In the few minutes it took to drive to Adam's apartment, they chatted about their day, Richie recounting his experiences replastering at Mac's new country home. In no time they were pulling into the garage slot designated for Adam.
"Wait till you taste what I've made." Richie smacked his lips to his fingers. "Superbe!"
They walked up the three flights of stairs. "Aren't I supposed to determine if that's true or not?" Niki teased.
Richie grinned as he opened the door to his residence and pulled the young woman inside. As he shut the door, he pushed her up against it and plundered her mouth. "How about a little aperitif ....." he whispered in her ear while his hands started searching out her curves and valleys.
She sighed as her arms came around him, her body relaxing into his bonelessly. "Oh yes Richard... let's go into the bedroom."
He started walking her backwards across the room, never taking his mouth away from her softly scented skin as he maneuvered her to the bedroom door. Stopping, he kissed her deeply once more then raised his head to see where to put her on the bed.....
......and stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes wide and shocked. Niki saw his face and turned to see what had him frozen.
A barely dressed woman lounged on the bed, obviously at home. "So this is how you treat me, eh Richard? Not only forget about our date, but make another behind my back?"
Under the cover of all their noise, Joe started clicking shots, the aperture and timing set for low light.
Niki had turned and was facing the nearly naked Odette. "Richie! Who is this? What is this all about?"
She swung back to face a dumbfounded young man. Richie's jaw hung down to the floor as he stammered and sputtered. "I- I- This- It isn't- I don't-" His eyes were as large as saucers. Joe grinned, seeing Richie totally dumbfounded and without a ready comeback for the first time.
"My back is barely turned and you treat me like this! Two-timing me! Cochon! Canaille! Get your hands off me," Niki demanded as Richie reached out to her in appeal.
Odette joined the fray. "You! What about me? He tells me I'm the only one, talks about moving in together, and now this!" She gave a loud sound of frustration and anger and stamped the floor.
Richie wanted a huge hole to open up and swallow him. Immediately. He faced the two furious women who were yelling and screaming at him but he could barely understand a word of their fast and furious French. "But, but, Odette! I haven't seen you in months!"
"Ha! Lies! Everything that falls from your mouth is lies!" The two women started up again.
Richie stammered and stumbled some more, actually reaching up and pulling at his beautiful red hair from nerves. "Niki, please, you gotta believe me, I haven't seen her since we started dating! I don't know what she's doing here! Oh man, oh God, please, please listen to me.." He paused to take a breath and suddenly stiffened, his posture changing and eyes darting back out toward the living room. "Shit! Fuck! Stay here!" he ordered, shoving the two women back from the door with one move and reaching with the other hand into his coat as he turned and left the room.
The two women fell silent, their eyebrows raised as they looked toward the bathroom door. Joe came out a second later. "It's okay, just wait here," he urged.
They stood in silence, straining to hear what Richie was doing. There was nothing, not one sound, until thirty seconds later when a loud, "SHIT!" echoed over the whole apartment.
Joe grinned evilly. "Okay, we can come out now." He led the two smiling women out into the living room.
Joe heard the two Immortals talking, clashing was more like it, in the kitchen.
"I oughta use this on you where it'll do the most damage!"
Duncan chuckled out loud. "I just wish I could have seen your face, Romeo."
Joe peered around the corner at the two. "Is it safe?"
"Where the fuck did you come from? Is everybody I know here? Damn."
The silver-haired Watcher jerked his head back toward the women behind him, his eyes on Richie's waving sword.
"Oh. Uh.... yeah." Richie's sword disappeared in a flash into his leather coat.
Niki stepped around Joe. "Hello, Romeo." She grinned at him.
"You! I can't believe you conspired with this.... person," it sounded like an epithet as he shoved a thumb in Duncan's direction. "Against me! Me! How could you? Oh man..."
"Easily, it appears." Niki went over and kissed Richie's flushed cheek. "You are so easy to fool, mon cher."
Richie eyes widened as he spotted Joe's camera. "Don't tell me you used that!"
"Hey, Rich, how else am I going to appreciate the expression on your face? Huh?" Duncan hooked his arm around the younger Immortal's neck. "So... do you think we're even now, Romeo? Or should I ask the same questions of Niki and Odette that you asked of Methos and me?"
Richie's mouth fell open as he became aware of four female eyes watching this exchange. "God no! We're even!" He was grateful that Odette had covered herself with a coat, hiding the invitation to sin she had been almost wearing. "We're even. Let's call it quits, man, okay?"
Duncan rubbed his knuckles hard on Richie's shorn curls. He couldn't quit hide the victory smile peeking through. "Okay, tough guy."
"How did you get involved in this... scheme?" Richie looked at Odette as she looked around from behind Joe.
"Oh.... let's just say I like a good joke every now and again. When Duncan talked to me, well...." she shrugged, an impish grin lighting her eyes. "How could I say no?"
"Well I hope you all had a great laugh on me," Richie began huffing now as the initial scare began to wear off.
"I think it's about time we all left now," Joe hinted overtly, dragging Odette towards the door and gesturing to Duncan.
As Duncan followed, he turned around to the pair still standing in the kitchen. Richie was glaring and Niki was embracing him, laughter still brightening her features. "By the way, Rich.... dinner tastes good."
"Dammit. You been poking at my dinner, too?"
Laughter from the hallway came back through the door even after Duncan had closed it.
The trio were still laughing as they pulled away from the curb. "Treat that film like gold, Joe. I want to see prints as soon as you get them back." Duncan leaned forward between the two front seats. "I'm considering framing one for the barge."
"You're too bad!" Odette laughed. "Oh.. that was the most fun I have had in years! Thank you so much for including me in your scheming."
The Scot's eyes twinkled as he kissed her cheek. "We couldn't have done it without you. And that outfit you were nearly wearing. Right, Joe?" He nudged the Watcher's elbow.
Joe nodded, clearing his throat. "Yeah, it was, uh, very effective."
Duncan exchanged a look with Odette and spoke up. "Let me off here, Joe. I want to stop at the store before I go back to the barge. You can take Odette home so she can change. I know she's got to be half-frozen by now."
"Damn. Here," Joe fumbled with the heater controls on the dash. "Sorry, I didn't think of it."
"It is okay, Joe. I'm fine, I have my coat on."
Duncan liked the smile the two of them exchanged. Yes, my friend, go for it. Methos would chide me if he were here and say I'm interfering, but all I'm doing is giving one wee, little push.
The car rolled to a stop at the curb and Duncan hopped out. "Thanks, friend. That was a great night's work. I'm going to go home and savor the feeling."
"That look of abject terror on his face..." Joe shook his head and the three of them started laughing again.
"See you later, Mac." He pulled the vehicle back out into traffic.
Duncan was still laughing softly as he started walking the few blocks to the river. He'd had a lot of fun anticipating this evening all day long while Richie and he had worked at his country house. They had completed the replastering of the worst sections in the main rooms on the ground floor and even started in on the first floor rooms. It had been a great day spent with his young friend.
And an even better evening.
Duncan grinned again. He couldn't wait to tell Methos about this. Maybe he could even send a picture or two to the site to give his absent lover something to chuckle over. Even better, he wished he had a picture of Joe's face when the younger mortal had gotten an eyeful of Odette in... or maybe out of... her outfit. That had been nearly as priceless as Richie's reaction.
Striding faster as he fell into deep thinking, Duncan realized that the past four months had gone by fairly quickly. Shopping for property had taken up a good month or more at first, then he'd been occupied with renovations to the two centuries' old estate.
It was a surprise for Methos. When Duncan had visited him at the site two months ago, he'd been vague about the property hunt, intimating that nothing he had seen had suited him. He couldn't wait to get the older Immortal back home to Paris and take him out to surprise him with their newplace. He was designing a large study/sitting room/bedroom suite simply for Methos. If the old guy needed a place for peace and quiet and privacy, then Duncan was determined he would have that place available.. all without having to lose himself halfway around the world in some godforsaken wilderness to find it. There were also plenty of guest rooms in which the rest of his wayward 'clan' and friends could come and stay.
The river was in Duncan's sight and he picked up his speed again, wanting to get home and try to call Methos before it got too late in Iraq.
Damn but he was happy.
The next instant, Duncan silently cursed himself for tempting fate with that seductive thought. The feeling of Immortal Presence hit him like a wave of water, the solid feeling buffeting his senses then settling down into a pulse in the back of his head. Instantly he stopped, trying to gauge the direction of the Immortal who was close by. There... no, there... no...
There! He whirled around in time to see a figure step from the dark shadows between two buildings.
"Duncan MacLeod?" The accent was heavy, from somewhere in Eastern Europe or the old USSR.
"Who wants to know?" The Highlander automatically assumed a ready position, hand flexed and free to grab the hilt of his katana.
"Piotr Gurov." He pulled a huge broadsword out from his overcoat, his eyes glittering oddly in the faint light. His body seemed unable to stand still, nearly bouncing on his feet. His energy was abnormal.
Very abnormal. Drugs.
Duncan went very still. "Sorry, your name is not familiar. Do I know you?"
"No, and soon it will not matter, Highlander. Soon you will know nothing." He gave a strange laugh that he cut-off abruptly.
Slowly the carved white handle was pulled from its sheath inside the raincoat. Duncan recited the words almost by rote now, never expecting acquiescence from his challanger. "We don't have to do this. Let's just walk away." The brown eyes never left the man opposite him.
"I plan on it, MacLeod, I plan on it." The heavy, burly man attacked.
continued in part two....
Pardon my cliche-ness, but...I recently bought Elton John's latest CD, The Big Picture. I think it's the best he and Taupin have done in quite some time. The words to each and every song are just, well, they speak to me. You get to have some of the more notable lines thrust upon you here, since I think they fit so well. :-)
If the River Can Bend / Elton John & Barry Taupin
I don't know what to say / I don't know where the light shines / It's a grey dawn rising on a green hill / And there's so much behind us
I don't know where we go / I sure feel there's something out there / There's a great awakening and a new morning / And your spirits pounding loud and clear
If the river can bend / I'll find you waiting / Home at last from the wild sea / All the twists and turns / We've made together / All the boats you rocked / With your harmony / If the river can bend / If the river can bend / If the river can bend / If the river can bend
Come and embrace the struggle / But win or lose we live here / Build a new beginning on an old rock / Breathe deep of the sweet fresh air
If the river can bend / I'll find you waiting / Home at last from the wild sea / All the twists and turns / We've made together / All the boats you rocked / With your harmony / If the river can bend / If the river can bend / If the river can bend / If the river can bend
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