Through Perplexing Ways
Disclaimers: The Highlander characters remain the property of Panzer-Davis productions. Written for pleasure, not profit.
Intended for adult readers only, please.
Notes: This is the fourth story in the Interlunation series, following “An Uncommon Want.” Previously published in Futures Without End III.
Comments are welcomed at JBonetoo@yahoo.com.
Special thanks go to Killa, for her excellent company and continuing inspiration, and for the gorgeous artwork.
Once again, I’ve pillaged Byron’s “Don Juan, Canto I” for a title:
“Few mortals know what end they would be at, but whether glory, power, or love, or treasure, the path is through perplexing ways.”
We are all mortal, Methos decided, surprised to find such a philosophical thought invading his mind at such an inopportune time. It wasn’t really the time for philosophy. Not when he had a sobbing Joe clinging to him, dampening his shoulder. Not when he could still hear the echo of MacLeod’s footsteps ringing in his ears. Not when he had a headless body to deal with and a police investigation to deter. And not when, apparently, either Mac had lost his mind or there was a thousand-year-old demon on the loose. Neither option sat easy.
Philosophy should have been low item on the agenda, and yet the thought came again: we are all mortal; it’s just a matter of degree. His own five thousand years didn’t make him any less susceptible than Joe’s fifty. One sword strike, one missed step, one fucked-up hallucination by the person you loved most, and pffffft. One life snuffed. One less Immortal roaming the earth. One more Immortal proving again there’s no such thing as Immortality.
Torn between holding up Joe and running after Duncan, the decision was taken from him when Joe buckled in his arms. The immediacy of Joe’s grief -- and the urgency of the need to move Richie’s body -- demanded that Methos set aside thought in favor of action, so that’s what he did. He gentled Joe to the ground, keeping his face turned away from Richie’s bloodied corpse. He wrapped his own coat around Joe’s shoulders, patted him, and said, “Stay here. I’ll take care of it.”
“Take care of him,” Joe whispered.
“I meant I’ll take care of everything,” Methos replied quietly. Easier, really, to dissociate, to tell himself that the body there had little to do with the boy Richie had been. Like a hermit crab searching out new digs, the shell remained, but the animal within moved on. Richard Ryan no longer lived in the skin, muscle and bone bleeding out onto the concrete floor. Now it…he… was something to be taken care of, before the damage multiplied by discovery. The night had already held so many risks, so much danger -- the lightshow of the Quickening, Joe’s noisy grief, Duncan’s insensate, undirected anguish. Methos felt sick at his own resentment towards Richie, knowing that placing blame wouldn’t fix any of the mess, but unable to stifle the urge completely. He struggled to focus, trying to decide what to do first; what the safest course of action would be. What he wanted to do was go after MacLeod, offer him his dry shoulder, offer whatever he would take. But other needs stood paramount, and so the philosopher stepped aside, allowing the pragmatist to take over.
In every family, one person must take responsibility for unpleasant tasks, like arranging funerals and calling loved ones. Though he still felt somewhat the black sheep of this particular family, Methos handled the details, made the calls, got Joe a prescription for sedatives, and managed to fill the next several days with the mundane chores death imposed. God knew he’d had enough practice, he thought very late one night, when Joe had dozed off and the leftover condolence food had once again been wrapped in aluminum foil and retired for the evening. For the first time in days, Methos could just stop, stand still in Joe’s living room, and think for a minute.
He took a deep breath, feeling cold tendrils drift over his arms and legs. Every time he let himself be still, he saw Duncan on his knees, holding his katana up in supplication. Kill Duncan? He’d rather drown in cold water, repeatedly. He’d refused him, but then hadn’t offered anything else. Not then, not in the critical moment. Beat yourself up some more, why don’t you, he chided himself. He’d done what he could, he told himself, for probably the twentieth time that day. What else could he have done? He’d had only hopeless choices in an impossible situation.
It had become patently clear in the few days since Richie’s death that no division existed between Richie’s friends and Duncan’s. Duncan’s friends were Richie’s friends, and so the grief among them doubled with one dead and the other disappeared. Even Amanda, who’d perfected the technique of leaving the scene of a crime, had moved from concerned to panicked when she realized Duncan wasn’t going to attend the funeral.
Methos had watched her eyes roam restlessly over the small crowd, even during the prayers, and finally, he’d made his way over to her, putting his palm on her back. She leaned on him for a minute, yet another person he’d held up with his own two hands more than once. She turned towards him, her face paler than usual, her mouth drawn.
“He’d be here if he could. I know he would,” she’d whispered insistently into Methos’ ear. “Something’s wrong.”
A man in front shushed them, and Methos tightened his lips, then whispered back, “Of course there’s something wrong, Amanda. But what do you expect me to do about it?”
“Well, go get him,” she said, giving him a look that said if he hadn’t figured that much out already, there was something wrong with him, too.
Methos had sighed, bracing himself to keep his balance when Amanda leaned more of her weight on him. The funeral, ostensibly to honor Richie, felt more and more like a memorial in absentia for Duncan MacLeod. Joe had stopped asking about him on the third day. Amanda had looked shocked when Methos first told her of Richie’s death, but had burst into tears at hearing how it happened. “Poor Duncan,” she’d said.
Poor Duncan, indeed. Poor Richie, too. Poor Joe. Poor Amanda, for having to worry so.
And poor Methos, for finding himself once again caught in the middle of a muddle, when all history and inclinations propelled him to bid farewell to the complication his life had become and simply become someone else. He thought it ironic that he’d now mastered the art of accepting a ham from a teary woman while Duncan MacLeod went walkabout.
Perhaps having time to think wasn’t the best thing. Perhaps it was better to be busy with tasks that had beginnings, middles, and ends than endanger his mind with wondering and worry. Had there been a map to follow, a clue, even an instinct, perhaps he could have delegated some of his familial responsibilities and done as Amanda suggested, but he didn’t know where to start. He couldn’t exactly file a missing persons report, and airports and train stations were notoriously fickle about giving out passenger information. Duncan could have rented a car, chartered a boat, or bought a motorcycle. Hell, he could be holed up at the Hotel D’Accord for all Methos knew. He could be anywhere. Methos didn’t know where to start looking, or what he’d do once he found him. He couldn’t even decide whether looking for him was the right thing to do. Maybe Duncan just needed time to come to terms with himself, and what he’d done. Maybe he didn’t need Methos in order to do that.
The thought rankled. For all his superficial protestations, Methos had basked in the love Duncan had offered at such volume in a stormlit room in Mississippi just a few short weeks before. They’d gone searching for Duncan’s old friend Warren Cochrane, following a trail that led from Normandy to North Carolina to Jackson, Mississippi, and in the process of finding him, found each other as well. Such different men finding such similar desires, and finding the courage to voice them. They’d fought their way towards each other, each making the other an exception to their own strictest rule.
And now this. They’d had to be discreet when they got back from the States. Richie and Joe seemed perfectly willing not to see the lingering glances, the not-so-casual touches between them. They’d curtailed the time they spent alone, teasing themselves, dragging out the anticipation, letting it build. They met late at night, usually at the barge, and they discarded the notion of sleep to lie wound together and naked, warm in the cold.
Methos closed his eyes. What he wouldn’t give to be back on the porch at the mountain inn, swaying in a rocking chair, his bare toes tangled with Duncan’s on the warm wood. What he wouldn’t give to be stretched out on a towel on the hot sands of a Florida beach, with Duncan’s hotter skin branding his from above. In a few meandering days, he’d found someone who knew all there was to know about him, and who managed to love him anyway. Someone who loved him in spite of himself, or maybe even because of himself. Someone who reached deep, struggled hard, put up a hell of a fight, then accepted him at face value.
Damn the demon anyway, whatever it was, for shattering the tentative peace he and Duncan had achieved. Peace… and love. Words that had rarely been matched in Methos’ long life, and certainly never with their third sister, happiness. He’d learned to be content with one, and sometimes with none. Sometimes solitude served as a solid replacement for peace. Sometimes knowledge satisfied the need for love. Sometimes other peoples’ happiness sufficed. It seemed a particularly cruel twist of fate for the love of a millennium to be so tested by an evil spirit that also apparently came along only once every thousand years. Some cosmic synergy at work, no doubt. Or another example of Murphy’s Law, which proclaimed that whatever could go wrong, would go wrong. In other words, the better things were going, the more likely it was you’d get fucked in the worst possible way.
Millennial demon or garden-variety psychosis, the cause no longer mattered to Methos. Someone, or something, had gotten to Duncan - assaulted his control, skewed his mind, turned him into a stranger, and worse. Remembering the look on Duncan’s face as he held his sword up, Methos decided he’d rather believe in demons. It didn’t matter now anyway. Whether the force came from without or within, Duncan would have the devil’s own time forgiving himself.
“’Where does the fault lie? What the core o’ the wound, since wound must be?’” Methos quoted aloud.
“Did you say something?” muttered a sleepy voice from the bedroom.
“Sorry, Joe, no; I’m just talking to myself,” Methos answered, moving to stand in the doorway, looking at his friend. “Do you want one of your pills?”
Joe turned towards him, and for the first time in days, he looked almost like himself. “No, thanks. I can’t think when I take them, and I think it’s time to start thinking.”
Methos smiled. “You think?”
A sad smile flitted briefly across Joe’s face, and Methos relaxed. If Joe could start to come out of his funk, then maybe Methos could give in a little, untie his own knots.
“Do you have any idea where he might go?” Joe asked.
Methos shook his head and moved to sit on the side of the bed. “I’m afraid not,” he said. “The island, maybe, but it seems unlikely.”
“What about the dojo?” Joe suggested.
Methos shook his head. “Too close, I think. Too many memories.”
“Yeah,” Joe said, nodding. “The whole thing… it’s just crazy.” Joe teared up again, stumbling on the words, and Methos put a gentle hand on his arm. The down side of not sedating grief - it choked you the first chance it got.
“Have you ever… Has something like this…” Joe could get no further with his questions, but Methos knew what he meant. “Ah, shit, I shouldn’t ask.”
“It’s okay, Joe,” Methos said, soothing him. He paused, then said, “I’ve killed people I loved, but not like this. Not by accident.”
“You mean if you did it, you meant to do it,” Joe pressed.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean. I don’t always have the best taste in lovers,” Methos said dryly.
“You’ve gotten better about that recently,” Joe said.
Methos turned to meet his eyes. “I did love Alexa, Joe…”
“That’s not who I meant,” Joe said gruffly.
Releasing Joe’s arm, Methos stood and crossed his arms, feeling Joe’s words slide in under his defenses. “I…I didn’t know you knew.”
“I have eyes in my head, don’t I?,” Joe said with a little laugh. “You glowed when you got back from Mississippi.”
Methos smiled, and Joe said, “See? There you go again.”
Methos looked over his shoulder into the mirror on the wall. The smile looked like none he could remember wearing before. Jesus. No wonder Joe had figured it out.
“I need to work on my poker face,” Methos said.
“You need to go find Mac,” Joe replied.
Methos dropped his head. “I don’t know where to start,” he confessed. “He’s not in his right mind, demon or no. I don’t know what he’ll do.”
Joe struggled to sit up, and Methos let him, knowing Joe would rather take longer and do it himself than ask for help. “Well, you can try, can’t you?”
“Try what? To put myself in his place? Try to think like him? Joe, he’s nothing like me,” Methos said. “We don’t think the same way.”
Joe muttered something derogatory under his breath, but Methos let it slide. “Someone else, then, someone who might know what it’s like.”
As if someone had slapped him on the back, Methos started. “Christ, of course. Warren. Warren Cochrane. Of course. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. They could be brothers, they’re so much alike. Both bloody Boy Scout Scots, they’re almost the same age, they both killed a stu -“
Methos stopped the rush of words, aghast. He felt the blood leave his head in a rush as the implications of what he’d said swept through him. Joe looked up at him with wide eyes. “Joe, I’ve got to go.”
“What? Why?” Joe asked, responding to the urgency in Methos’ tone by reaching for his artificial limbs and starting the laborious process of strapping them on.
“Fuck, Joe, think about it,” Methos said, impatiently reaching out to help Joe. “After Warren killed his student, he lost it. Mac had lost it before he even got to that stage. Warren didn’t remember anything about his life. He was totally vulnerable.”
“We don’t know that’s what’s going on with Mac,” Joe protested, holding tight to Methos’ arms as he fought for balance.
“No, we don’t,” Methos agreed. “Is that good enough for you?”
“No,” Joe snapped.
“And there’s something else I’ve managed not to think about too much the last few days,” Methos said.
Joe raised his eyebrows in a question.
“Mac left his sword.”
Methos supposed he could have called Warren. Should have, really. Etiquette would expect it from a neighbor down the street, let alone an overseas visitor appearing from the blue with god-awful news. But the thought of trying to explain monsters and madness and headless boys over the phone was daunting enough without the realization that the man on the other end of the line would be able to relate all too well to a story he’d not just heard before, but lived through.
So Methos just got on a plane and went.
From Paris to Atlanta, and from Atlanta to Jackson. The short way this time, instead of the long. No days on the highway, no afternoons by the pool. No heated body sharing a hotel bed. In the space of a day, he went from fog and chill to steamy streets and sunshine. From confusion and grief to seductive memories of good times. Methos hoped he’d managed to hide just how relieved he was to get away from it all, but by the knowing smile and rueful pat he got from Joe when he left, he knew he hadn’t fooled anyone.
Good thing he’d given up guilt all those centuries ago, or he might have felt bad about leaving Joe with only Amanda’s occasional company. Remembering the brave front Joe had put on, Methos clenched his jaw. Joe had wanted to come, but they’d agreed that time was of the essence, and speed a factor. And deep down, Methos had wanted to come on his own.
What he thought Warren could tell him, he didn’t know. Whether he’d be any help at all, Methos couldn’t predict. Still, it felt good to be doing something, anything. And he thought the theory was sound: like finds like. Duncan’s mind sometimes moved in convolutions too complex for Methos to translate, but Warren spoke his language. Warren was like him, in so many ways. And now Duncan had become like Warren -- a lost man, distilled by distress.
Nothing had changed in the month they’d been gone, Methos thought, looking out the window of his rented sedan. Well, that wasn’t quite true. The crepe myrtle were in full bloom, splashes of pink and white tipped at the end of green branches. The grass had gone from spring green to summer brown, and he could hear cicadas warming up for their evening concert in the trees. He felt a strange clench high in his chest and wondered how he could be homesick for a place he’d only stayed for a week. Another flaw of being human, being mortal - that tendency to sentimentalize. Every scent in the air reminded him of Duncan, even the bright afternoon light brought him to mind. They’d made this place their own, for however brief a time, and being here without him… hurt.
Just to turn the knife in the wound a little more, Methos drove past the garage apartment they’d rented. Someone else called the small space home already. A hatchback with rust stains sat sweltering in the driveway, and the plants in the windows looked withered and worn. Here a lot had changed in a month.
He and Duncan had sat at the table up there, after the big blow-up that resulted in declarations and acceptance speeches. The blow-up that had led to Duncan spreading him out on the hard wooden floor and adoring every inch of his body until he’d literally begged to be fucked. And then, when Duncan had filled his body, heart, and spirit, he’d begged him not to stop, to never stop. If he hadn’t heard it with his own ears, he’d never have believed the drivel he’d spouted in the heat of passion. He’d never put love and sex together the way he did with Duncan MacLeod, as if one necessarily led to the other, as if absorbing the blunt heat of Duncan’s body meant a stay of execution for his soul. Love and sex blended like a perfectly mutual orgasm in a tiny room filled with ozone and potted plants.
But now the windows were closed, the plants neglected. Oh yes; a lot had changed.
Shaking loose the memories, Methos pulled the car in at the curb in front of the big house where Warren rented an apartment. Again, Methos squashed the thought that he should have warned him that he was coming. Well, Warren hadn’t killed him the last time he showed up on his doorstep unannounced; he’d just have to hope Warren hadn’t changed in a month’s time, either.
Of course, an Immortal buzz is as good as a ringing doorbell, and before Methos even got to the top step of the porch, Warren’s door opened and he appeared in the doorway, dressed for comfort in shorts and a t-shirt. Over his shoulder, the room looked light and inviting, cool in contrast to the oppressive heat, stifling even at twilight. His hands were empty.
“Adam?” Warren asked, sounding surprised and pleased. “What on earth?”
“Hi… Curt,” Methos stuttered the name, remembering it just in time.
“Warren’s fine. Come in, get that coat off. What were you thinking, man? God, it’s 90 degrees,” Warren said, stepping back and putting his hand out.
Methos automatically put his hand in Warren’s, feeling the coolness of his skin and the warmth of his grip. Talk about things that had changed -- Warren had gone from Amnesiac Nutcase to The Sensible One in two short years, Methos thought as he stepped into the room. When he’d first heard about Warren, he’d given him zero chance for survival - Immortals who lost it as bad as Warren had rarely lived to tell the tale. And yet here he stood, solid on his own two feet, looking at Methos as if he were the one who’d lost his mind.
Warren seemed genuinely pleased to see him - a reception he’d learned never to expect. But here he had no history, nothing to speak for him except his own actions. That and his connection to Duncan, which apparently spoke well enough. Methos slid off his coat, and the sweater he’d worn underneath it, leaving him in only a plain white t-shirt.
“Something to drink?” Warren asked, already headed for the refrigerator.
“Just water,” Methos said. “Thanks.”
“Where’s Duncan?” Warren asked as he poured water into two glasses.
Caught off-guard, and irritated by that fact, because of course the first question Warren would ask would be where Duncan was, Methos just blinked at him.
“Did you have a row?” Warren asked, grinning as he handed over the glass. “I didn’t even know you were still here. Why haven’t you come around?”
Methos shook his head. Misconception on top of misunderstanding, and it all had to be nipped in the bud - now.
“Warren, please, can we sit?” Methos asked, already dropping onto the sofa.
Warren tilted his head, his smile fading. “Yeah, sure,” he said, bending to sit in a chair at a right angle to the couch. “What’s going on?”
“I flew in from Paris this afternoon. I’m hoping you can help me,” Methos started.
Before he could say anything more, Warren jumped in with, “Of course I will.”
Warren’s breezy acquiescence touched Methos. “You haven’t even heard what I have to say.”
“Duncan vouches for you; that’s good enough for me,” Warren said, and Methos wondered how in the world he’d ever survived for five hundred years. Naivete and trust like this could be excused in a pup like Richie, but in a grown man like Warren? In a warrior? Inexcusable.
Methos set his glass on the floor and leaned forward. Warren answered with his own lean, and Methos found himself just inches from the other man. Warren’s face still held lines of old grief, but his ocean eyes were bright, warm, full of concern. Concern directed at Methos. Methos felt his throat close. After a week of keeping a lid on his emotions, Warren’s gentle regard triggered a minor meltdown of sorts. Dropping his gaze so Warren couldn’t see the effect he’d had, Methos struggled to keep it together.
“Adam, whatever it is, we’ll sort it out,” Warren said, his voice confident. Methos shook his head. He’d met the man once, a month ago, for all of twenty minutes, ten of which he’d spent ogling the other man’s body, flirting but calling it something else. He was a friend of a friend, nothing more. And yet… God, Warren reminded him of MacLeod. He sounded like him, he acted like him. Mac would do something like that -- shoulder the problems of an acquaintance, just because he could, just because he should. Forcing his eyes up again, Methos met Warren’s calm gaze. In it he read only acceptance and curiosity.
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Warren urged.
In fits and starts, with pauses for water and to remove his shoes and socks, Methos told the sorry story. Throughout, Warren sat with his forearms braced on his thighs, listening intently. The part about the demon didn’t seem to rattle him, but his hands trembled when Methos told him about Richie, about his life and his death.
“God, what an awful thing,” Warren said softly when Methos had wound down. “Awful for all of you.”
Methos took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Talking about it, explaining everything he knew, had been more therapeutic than he’d expected. He could feel the knot in his chest start to unravel as he sat there on Warren’s lived-in couch. They were no closer to a solution to the problem at hand, but sharing it with someone who could not only sympathize, but empathize, made him feel better than he had since he’d walked toward the barge anticipating an evening of boat-rocking sex and found a raving madman instead.
Methos stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankle, deliberately trying to relax his body. He worried a bit about the relief he felt, when nothing concrete had been accomplished. He’d never considered himself a snob; well, all right, he’d often admitted to snobbery, but rarely regarding Immortality, or the lack thereof. But now, he had to confess he felt better having shared his concerns with another like him. Joe had his own crap to worry about; his own grief. Just now, Joe was a responsibility, while Warren already felt like an ally.
As if he’d heard his thoughts, Warren asked, “What can I do?”
Methos let his head drop to the back of the couch. “I hadn’t got that far,” he admitted. “Getting here seemed to be the most important thing. Beyond that, I’m not sure.”
He turned his head and found Warren staring at him steadily.
“I’m glad you came,” Warren said simply.
Methos laughed under his breath. “I haven’t any idea what I’m doing here. We could have talked about all this on the phone, but I have a penchant for jumping planes just to have a conversation, and I felt almost pulled here. It’s not that I think you can conjure him from a hat or anything. It’s just… you’re so much like him.”
“In all the worst ways,” Warren said with a grin, and Methos grinned back.
“Adam,” Warren said. “Look, it’s late. Why don’t you stay, get some sleep, and tomorrow we’ll see what we can come up with.”
Sleep sounded good. He’d just move from Joe’s couch to Warren’s, but at least he wouldn’t have to keep one ear cocked for nightmare noises from the next room. He thought about all the nights he’d spent on Duncan’s couch before they started sharing the bed. He seemed destined for sofa-sleeping.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll take you up on that,” he said, nodding.
Warren rose, stretching lithely. “There’s a spare toothbrush in the bathroom. Help yourself to a shower if you want.”
And just like that, Methos felt at home. He stripped his travel-weary clothes in the bathroom and stood under the shower for long minutes, washing away even more of his tension. He brushed his teeth, pulled on a pair of shorts to sleep in, and flicked off the light before settling onto the sheets Warren had put out for him.
“Adam?” Warren called from the bedroom.
“Yes?” he answered.
He’d try. He’d really try. The lusty crickets and frogs out in the night strummed a lulling tune in his ear. Somewhere nearby a clock ticked. From the bedroom, he could hear Warren settle into bed, and the click of a lamp being turned on. A rectangle of golden light stretched across the floor toward the couch, and Methos put his hand out, watching his fingers move from dark to light.
This room, so strangely familiar given how little time he’d spent there, made him feel safe. Being tucked in on Warren Cochrane’s couch felt a lot like his early days in the loft, and the times he’d crashed at the barge. God, he’d wanted Mac then. Wanted him with a passion he thought he’d left behind long ago in the pursuit of independence and solitude. All it had taken was one look at his eyes, at his mouth, at the strong, straight body towering over him, and he’d been lost.
Perhaps all Immortals suffered bouts of insanity, because he could attribute his own actions during those first days with Duncan to nothing else. He’d offered him his head, for God’s sake, hoping Duncan might understand that his heart also stood on offer. Having spent centuries choosing opacity over tenacity, Methos looked back on those early encounters with Duncan with disbelief. He’d not only allowed himself to be found, he’d pursued the famous Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod with purpose, convinced the endeavor was worth the price, intentionally putting himself into the spotlight he usually avoided so cautiously.
Caution. That was the word for what he lacked with Duncan. A sword at his throat became the most powerful aphrodisiac he’d ever known. A smile from him had more value than any object he’d ever owned. Time, which had always been something to pass, suddenly went too fast. He learned no distance was too great, no risk too high. He learned that after millennia of setting limits, with Duncan he had none.
And the bitch of it all was that he’d been right. Duncan MacLeod was worth it, worth it all. Worth the exposure, worth the heartache. Worth all those hours spent struggling to understand a moral code written in one of the few languages he couldn’t seem to master. Methos knew his life expectancy probably dropped an exponential amount in direct proportion to how much time he spent standing beside MacLeod, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He felt that, too, would be worth it.
Methos slid his fingers into the patch of light on the floor again. It held no warmth, but something about it lightened his heart. He’d taken the first step. Whether it turned out to be in the right direction only time would tell, but at least the journey had begun. Tucking his hand under his chin, Methos rubbed his head into the couch pillow until he’d made a comfortable dent, and dozed off to the symphony outside the window.
The relief he felt when he saw Duncan overwhelmed him. One minute he’d been standing on the beach alone, gazing out over the placid sea, and the next he’d looked up to see Duncan striding toward him, sword at his side.
“Jesus, MacLeod, you scared the shit out of us,” Methos said by way of greeting.
MacLeod walked by, as if he hadn’t seen him.
“Mac. MAC!” Methos turned to follow him, only to find that his feet had sunk deep in the sand, and it held him with a million jealous fingers. His relief bled into panic.
“Hey, shhhh, it’s okay, shhhhh,” Duncan said, in front of him, behind him, all around him. “Shhhhh…”
Methos jerked awake, his hand still reaching out for Duncan’s departing form. Instead, it hit warm flesh and was captured. Shaking off the dream, Methos looked up to see Warren bending over him, one hand on his shoulder, the other holding his flailing hand.
“Bugger,” Methos muttered, mortified. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Warren reassured him. “I wasn’t sleeping anyway. I read a lot at night.”
When Methos didn’t say anything, Warren let him go and plopped beside him on the couch. Methos moved over to give him room, disgusted with himself for being relieved that Warren hadn’t just turned and gone back to his reading. Pathetic old man, he derided. Pitiful.
“Bad dream?” Warren asked quietly, not looking at him.
Silhouetted against the light from the bedside lamp, Warren’s profile looked clean and strong. Methos cleared his throat. “Just a slap from the subconscious, that’s all. I’ve had worse.”
“We all have, I suppose,” Warren mused.
Maybe he found it easier to talk in the deep of night, in the gloom, but Methos found himself telling Warren what he’d seen in his dream. Warren managed to put it all in perspective with a few choice phrases about the likelihood of Duncan ever exposing his precious katana to the ills of salt water and sand, and before he knew it, Methos found himself smiling back at Warren, the dream’s shackles open if not forgotten.
Warren kept talking to him softly, but Methos found it hard to concentrate on the words, letting Warren’s voice, with its lilt so like Duncan’s, just wash over him. He drowsed again, his head dropping painfully toward his chest. He groaned, and Warren reached over and pushed him prone again.
“You’re all right now,” he said, and since it wasn’t a question, Methos agreed.
He dropped off again with Warren still taking up room at the end of the couch, the side of his hip a firm resting place for Methos’ bare feet.
When Methos woke again, sun streamed in the windows and he was alone. On the kitchen table, he found a note from Warren, saying he’d gone to the library at the University to do some internet research, and that he’d left breakfast stuff in the refrigerator, and to please leave him at least one beer.
Methos smiled at how much the tone of the note sounded like Duncan -- half care, half gibe. Somehow these ruddy Scots managed to make it seem the guest was doing the host the honor, just by being there.
He spent the day doing his own version of search-and-rescue, scouring the Watchers’ database for any clues, recent sightings, strange occurrences, hospital admissions and the like. Nothing. Duncan seemed to have disappeared into the mist. When Warren got home, Methos could tell by looking that he hadn’t found anything, either. Warren just shrugged and shook his head, forestalling any questions on Methos’ part. They prepared a quick supper of sandwiches and fruit, and retired to the long front porch to eat. Warren cut an apple into eight perfect slices and held out half to Methos. Nobody grows apples like the Americans, Methos thought, savoring each bite.
“All right, then, the big picture’s not helping, so let’s look at the small one, shall we?” Warren asked, wiping his hands on his shorts. “You’re sure there’s something wrong? Is it possible he just wants to be alone for awhile?”
“He didn’t come to the funeral,” Methos said dully, knowing Warren would understand the significance.
Warren sighed. “Did he say anything at all before he left?”
“Yeah, but my Lakota Sioux’s a little rusty,” Methos replied, licking the juice from his fingers, then wiping them on his own shorts.
“Lakota Sioux? He was speaking Lakota Sioux?” Warren asked.
“That doesn’t sound good,” Warren admitted.
“He wanted me to take his head,” Methos continued. “He offered me his sword.”
“Christ, that really doesn’t sound good,” Warren said.
“Why do you think I came all this way? It wasn’t to see the crepe myrtle,” Methos snapped.
“What do you think I can do?” Warren asked, reaching out to touch Methos’ shoulder. “I don’t see how I can help.”
“God, Warren, don’t you see? You’re just like him,” Methos said, agitated that he couldn’t put into words what he wanted, and Warren seemed unable to simply read his mind the way Duncan so often did. “You think the way he does, you have the same crazy ideals, and you did the same-“
“I did the same thing,” Warren finished for him. “I killed my student, too.”
Methos moved out from under Warren’s hand, too restless to sit anymore. “I just thought you might have some… insight.”
He looked down at Warren, sitting serenely on his front porch, and thought again about the man as he’d been a couple of years ago - strung out, stressed, a babe in the Immortal woods. Warren had come through his own tragedy intact; surely that meant something.
“No, no insights,” Warren said, leaning his elbows on his knees and cupping his face in his hands. “Just instincts. I just wanted to be left alone. I wanted to start over. I wanted to forget, but I couldn’t anymore, because Duncan wouldn’t let me.” Warren paused, took a deep breath, then continued. “Is that why you’re here? Because you think you’re supposed to go after him?”
Methos stood very still, struggling to capture errant thoughts as they flitted through his mind. “It’s what he did for you, and it’s what he did for me. He wouldn’t let me hole up after I lost someone. He made a bloody nuisance of himself, made me do things with him, for him. And we were friends then; I mean, just friends.”
Warren shook his head. “I doubt it. I heard him talk about you, Adam. I doubt there was ever a time when you were just friends.”
Methos acknowledged that with a slight nod. “So, yes, to answer your question, I think I’m supposed to go after him,” he finally said. “I just don’t know if I’m doing it for him or for myself.”
They sat in silence for a couple of minutes. Companionable silence, Methos realized. Sort of like the kind he shared with Duncan when they weren’t debating, snarling, laughing or screwing each other senseless. Although now that he stopped to think about it, for him and Duncan, companionable silence mostly accompanied sleep.
“I need a drink,” Warren announced.
“I’ll second that,” Methos said with a laugh, pleased to find yet one more thing Warren had in common with Duncan.
They talked until they were hoarse, drank until they stumbled back up the steps and into Warren’s shadowed apartment, and then they talked and drank some more. It’s a wake, Methos thought once, then refused the thought, banished it. They called it a night when the Scotch ran out, and not a drop before.
Between the jet lag and the drink, Methos had no trouble at all getting to sleep, and if he dreamed, he couldn’t remember it later. But he still awoke unexpectedly, disoriented, to find Warren occupying the end of couch as he had the night before.
“Warren?” he asked softly, propping himself up on his elbow. No golden rectangle lit the path tonight, so he had to rely on faulty moonlight and whatever his ears told him.
“D’you really think I’m like him?” Warren asked, his voice a little slurred from sleep and Scotch.
Perplexed, and still a bit confused by drink himself, Methos said, “Like Duncan? Yeah, I do. You’re a lot like him.”
“In all the worst ways?” Warren asked, and tried to smile, but Methos could see through the attempt to the insecurity beneath.
“And some of the best,” he told him, thinking how true it was. All the things that made Duncan such a loyal friend existed in Warren, too. The same passion for justice, the same deep emotional core. Frightening things, those could be, for an Immortal interested in staying in one piece, but on the whole, they could be counted as strengths, and Methos told him so.
Warren turned toward him, hitching a knee up on the couch.
“Am I enough like him?” he asked, and before Methos could ask what he meant, Warren picked up one of Methos’ bare feet and rubbed his thumb across the arch, sending electric pulses directly to his groin.
Ah. A message unadulterated by disorientation or confusion. The meaning of that particular gesture couldn’t be misinterpreted.
“Warren…” Methos began, but he couldn’t decide whether to protest or surrender. He’d been powerfully drawn to Warren from the first moment he’d seen him, propped up in the door in a pair of cut-off jeans, carrying a lazy sword. At this particular moment, though, he didn’t know whether the appeal came from Warren himself, or his likeness to Duncan. And it seemed terribly important to Methos that he know the difference.
“I understand if you can’t,” Warren whispered. “I just… I get lonely sometimes, too.”
Methos felt his heart kick. He knew that feeling well enough. He’d spent more lonely nights than he could begin to remember, and for far better reasons than the two-year-old mistake that Warren had made.
“See, it works both ways,” Warren continued softly. “I remind you of him, and you remind me of him.”
“I’m not much like him,” Methos felt compelled to point out, though the hand on his foot made it hard to think, let alone rally enough sense to pull away. Warren’s fingers were warm and skilled, his thumb finding pleasure points and applying perfect pressure.
“You’re here, aren’t you? You’re more like him than you might think,” Warren said, then he lifted Methos’ foot and traced his tongue down the arch.
Protest left the building, along with restraint, inklings of guilt and potential regret. Loneliness could be cured. Warren knew what he wanted, and Methos hadn’t the heart or the will to object. Not when the touch of Warren’s tongue made every hair on his body stand on end and his cock swell inside his loose gym shorts.
Methos dropped back, pulling off the sheet as he did so, letting Warren see what his touch had done to him. Eyeing him over the foot he still held to his mouth, Warren smiled. Too open, Methos thought dizzily. Warren’s smile held no secrets, just open need and an amazingly innocent lust. He couldn’t help but smile back.
Leaving the licked foot tingling, Warren leaned toward him and slid his hand up Methos’ calf, stopping briefly to massage his thigh muscles, making them quiver. Methos felt sweat break out on his belly and arms, and he closed his eyes when Warren’s hand moved under his shorts. The strong hand stroked him delicately, deliberately, the knowing thumb finding the spot at the base of his cock that made coherent thought almost impossible. Methos arched into the touch, his hands searching for an anchor and finding it in Warren’s broad shoulders. Warren turned, fitting himself between Methos’ legs on the couch, sliding up until his shoulders filled the notch, until Methos spread his legs wider to give him more room.
“Duncan loves you,” Warren mouthed against the soft cotton of his shorts.
“I know,” Methos grated out through clenched teeth, drawing a quick breath as Warren’s talented tongue started to map the length of him through his shorts. He moaned as Warren fitted his mouth over the bulk of his cock and blew hot air over him. In its cloth prison, his penis jerked, dampening his shorts from the inside while Warren’s mouth wetted down the outside. Methos let his hips lift, pressing hard against the teasing touch. His hands gripped Warren’s shoulders hard, pulling him closer, desperate for pressure. Warren made a sound deep in his throat and scrabbled at the waistband of Methos’ shorts, pulling them down just far enough to release the heavy cock and balls. Even the brush of the air against his naked skin made Methos shiver, and when Warren finally touched his mouth to him, Methos exhaled sharply, groaning.
Methos felt Warren’s hands slide under his back, lifting him to meet his mouth, holding him as he writhed against the torment of slick tongue and sharp teeth. The heat of Warren’s mouth eclipsed everything else in the room, leaving Methos feeling as if his whole world had become the wet cavern he plunged into so recklessly. Warren’s hums of approval vibrated against Methos’ length, the sound and feel spurring Methos to thrust harder, to tangle his hands in Warren’s hair and hold his head tight against him.
He opened his eyes once, reassuring himself that he knew who held him, that the pleasure and affection that spilled so easily from him were for Warren, not the shadow of Duncan between them. He needn’t have worried. Warren’s touch was his own, not a pale imitation, not a dream. Warren had his own strengths, his own beauty. His confident mouth spoke volumes as he lapped and sucked at Methos, his agile tongue searching out spots that had Methos twisting in his grip, gasping.
“Warren, Jesus,” Methos said, his hands clenching on Warren’s head. It was all the warning he could muster, but Warren wouldn’t be deterred. Setting his teeth hard on the head of Methos’ cock, Warren swiped his tongue down into the slit, and the tiny penetration made Methos see stars. Leaning back hard into Warren’s sheltering hold, Methos let himself go, let himself come hard in Warren’s mouth, shuddering as the nimble tongue continued to fuck the little hole even as pulse after pulse of slippery semen coated his cock, dripped onto his stomach, smeared Warren’s mouth.
When Warren finally released his spent cock, Methos cupped Warren’s chin in his hand and used it to draw the other man up and onto his body. He reached for Warren’s mouth, licking away the traces of his own come from the full lips before tilting Warren’s head and sealing their mouths together, strong tongues mating. Warren slid his hands down to Methos’ ass, cradling him as he tucked the heat of his own caged erection into the hollow of Methos’ hip. Methos smoothed his hands down Warren’s back, feeling the silk of his skin skim under his palms, the play of muscle as Warren lunged against him, driving his breath from his body.
Oh God, nothing felt better than this - this weight heavy on him, the smell of sweat and semen, the delicious frenzy of feeling a man lose control, lose restraint. Warren’s fingers dug deep in the cheeks of his ass, spreading them just enough that his fingertips could brush between them, sending sharp pleasure signals through Methos’ exhausted body. He forced his own post-orgasmic lassitude away, meeting Warren’s intensity with some semblance of his own, giving Warren an equal strength against which to buffet his body, giving him what he needed.
Warren tore his mouth from Methos’, and Methos heard him draw in a tight, deep breath. Then he ducked his head into Methos’ shoulder, shuddered from head to toe, and Methos could feel his cock convulse against his hip, a hot wet spot forming on Warren’s shorts. Methos held him through the fury of it, whispering to him under his breath, stroking the shaking body in his arms. Warren collapsed against him with a groan, pulling one hand away from Methos’ bottom long enough to run his fingers down Methos’ cheek.
“Thank you,” he whispered, and Methos held him tighter, certain that if anyone should be grateful, it shouldn’t be Warren.
Surprising, really, the lack of awkwardness the next morning, when Methos awoke to find his shorts still strangling the tops of his thighs, with Warren still pressed tight against him. The couch didn’t begin to be big enough for two men of their height, and Methos thanked God for Immortal healing as his cramped muscles first protested, then sorted themselves out.
Warren raised his head drowsily, blinked once or twice, then tapped Methos’ nose. “You’re a sight,” he said sleepily.
“You’re a fine one to talk,” Methos sniped, sliding his hand across the front of Warren’s shorts, pressing the soft bulge there into the sticky mess he’d made.
Warren smiled agreeably. “I needed that, you know,” he said, pressing his hand over Methos’, but Methos knew he wasn’t trying to arouse himself, just acknowledging a simple truth.
“Apparently you weren’t the only one,” Methos offered, and Warren nodded.
Part of Methos wondered how they’d come to be like this, tangled and comfortable on a bloody uncomfortable couch, but part of him understood it perfectly. Human life often took a path through perplexing ways. With the unpredictable tomorrow always in doubt, sometimes the present filled a future void, or recompensed a past one. Sometimes you took comfort in unexpected arms, meeting at a place you couldn’t anticipate.
“I’ve changed my mind,” Warren said, dropping his chin onto Methos’ chest. Methos cupped the back of his head lightly, stroking him.
“It’s a little late for that, isn’t it?” Methos asked.
Warren chuckled. “Not that, you sod. I meant that I think I do have some insight after all.”
Methos didn’t push him, content that he’d tell him when he was ready.
“I don’t suppose it does much good to tell you not to worry, but Duncan’s strong,” Warren said. “If he’s like me, and you say he is, he’ll want to be where he feels safe, some place away from anyone he might hurt.”
Methos grimaced at the image, which described Duncan all too perfectly.
“Some things a man has to do on his own,” Warren continued. He gestured to the room. “I went a long way to figure that out.”
It was true; Warren had come a long way. Methos took comfort from his solid warmth against him, his steady, thoughtful presence. Yes, if Warren could do it, so could Duncan.
“Duncan will come back when he’s ready,” Warren said into his breastbone. “He needs some time. You just need to be where he can find you.”
Methos looked down at Warren’s solemn, beautiful face. He’d mussed the man’s hair; he looked tousled, half-tamed. In the bare light, his eyes were bright, his mouth wet. Even here, even now, Warren’s first instinct was to soothe.
“I think I can do that,” Methos said, thinking of all the times he’d left a situation that got sticky, a person who became too clingy, a place that lost its luster. But he could go back to the fog and chill, back to Joe’s grief. If sticking around was the only cost to him, he’d gladly pay. To be there for Duncan, he’d have to stay away. Perverse, perplexing, but it made some sense.
Give him some time.
Give him some space.
Be where Duncan could find him.
He could do that.
Yet again, he could practice the technique perfected over the centuries - he could do nothing.
Writer’s Note: The line of poetry Methos quotes early on is from Robert Browning’s “Two in the Campagna”:
I would that you were all to me,
You that are just so much, no more
Nor yours, nor mine, nor slave nor free!
Where does the fault lie? What the core
O’ the wound, since wound must be?