Chapter 1: The Thing About Boats
What a strange creature you are ...
Ethan couldn't help but think it, sometimes, watching Methos move around him, watching the man ... creature ... man ... Watching the strange, quixotic thing that prowled through his life, peeling shreds of sticky paper off bottles of German beer, laughing and pricking at bubbles of conversation, this lounging, leonine, fragile being. Chaos, bound to static form, lightning in a bottle, but delicate, the lighter side of Chaos. The side Ripper had forgotten exists, the side Ethan himself had almost lost so many times. Whimsical. Delicate. Morose. Methos was often morose. Ethan almost found it charming. He's not sure why, when he's always hated that.
What a strange creature, then, to do this to him. An impossible being, dropped in his lap by pain, and fire, and blood. A gift from Chaos itself, thrown up from the flotsam of his shattered life, a burning phoenix flung into his path, searing him free of what had bound him. A wild, half-burned man, pale and furious, tearing through the soon-to-be ruins of the Initiative, catching Ethan up in his wake, tugging him free, and staring down at him in utter bewilderment when it was done. Blinking at him while lightnings stitched raw flesh back together, as if in all the madness and the whirl of Chaos around him, only Ethan had been unexpected. Only Ethan had been strange.
He still laughed at that, sometimes, half-choked and bright with fear. That of the two of them, he should be strange. That Methos, brought to him by Janus' mad fortune, by the liminal god himself as a doorway, as a beginning ... that Methos, poised between life and death, should look at him with that faint, creased bewilderment, and smile at the strangeness of him. But Methos did. Methos, ever-wondering, looked on him as some strange wonder that dropped in his lap, and Ethan couldn't help but be amused by that, couldn't help but let it tickle that part of him that delighted in the absurd.
What? Could he help it if he's easily amused?
Those first few weeks, he'd been almost too shattered to appreciate the absurdity, though. Those first few weeks, scarred inside and out, in some places and some ways still bleeding, he'd had little enough time for amusement. Not when he'd been waiting at every turn for this strange benefactor to abandon him, for this immortal creature to tire of his rather pressing mortal fragilities and cast him aside. For weeks, he had waited for that, while strength slowly returned to him, while Methos dragged them by secret ways far from that Nevada hellhole, and indeed out of America altogether. And travelling by illegal means only by the grace of someone who may abandon you at any turn was not a pleasant or anxiety-free experience, let him tell you.
But Methos hadn't abandoned him. And if Ethan still wasn't wholly sure why, when only the whim of fortune and Chaos had thrown them together in the first place, well. He'd never been one for looking gift horses in the mouth. Much, anyway. Maybe a peek or two, now and then. For caution's sake, and in the interests of preserving what's left of his skin ...
"It's all about boats, you see," Methos had explained once, when Ethan had managed to get him rat-arsed drunk. And then refused utterly to elaborate, which hadn't helped at all, and only cemented Ethan's opinion that Methos had taken the art of inscrutability to truly astounding levels. Not that that particular opinion had needed much cementing. If there was one thing he'd learned about his strange saviour ...
"The thing about boats," Methos had continued, two weeks later and with half a gallon of whiskey in him (either the man had a hollow leg, or immortality had an adverse affect on one's ability to get drunk), "is that you don't throw people out of them. And that they're horrible, horrible things, of course. 7th century. Monks. I don't like to talk about it."
Which wasn't true at all, as two hours and increasingly unintelligible mutterings proved, and at the end of it, Ethan still wasn't any the wiser about why the bastard hadn't dumped him off on the first charity they passed. He did, however, know a lot more about the toiletry habits of Irish monks on long sea voyages, and was beginning to think Methos had been as much curse as salvation, and sent as further proof of Chaos' wicked sense of humour. Which, admittedly, was an acceptable price and par for the course for a degenerate son of said power, but Methos had to be past limits. Even Janus himself would have to take a moment's pause faced with the immortal.
"What," he finally hissed, five days later when he finally had both legs back under him, and enough of his magic back to make a decent attempt to press the point, "does your helping me have to do with boats?" Not to put too fine a point on it, or anything.
Methos blinked at him, languid and secretive, silently laughing. A more perfect image of Chaos given form, Ethan had never seen, and despite himself, he couldn't help but appreciate it. Inscrutable, unbalanced, utterly untamed behind the calm facade. A creature capable of anything, spurred by whim. Looking at him now with amused eyes, stone-cold sober and softly, gently amused.
"The thing about boats," the immortal told him quietly, "is that when you're in the same one, you don't throw people out of it." He smiled wryly. "For a start, it might give other people ideas, about how much you weigh, and how much you eat, and how much faster the journey would go without you ... Trust me. I know. So ... you and me. Same Initiative boat. Not throwing people out. You follow?"
Ethan paused. Felt his shoulders slump, felt his magic drain faster than it ever had into the Initiatives machines. "I really, really, really hate good guys," he sighed. "The worst of the degenerate powers don't demands debts as heavy."
Methos laughed, uncoiling in one fluid motion and wrapping a companionable arm around him. "Don't I know it," he grinned, and shook his head. "Which is why I pointed to self-preservation as the prime motivation. Don't worry, Ethan. Between us aging villains ... we'll call it an open debt, to be repaid only if fortunes favour, and count it done, yes? Besides." He smiled a distant smile, Janus, looking forward and back in a single moment, as clear in either direction, a liminal god, and rested their foreheads together. "You're charming company, you know. Worth a little effort here and there."
Ethan quivered, an aging tremble, human frailty before Chaos and eternity, and tucked his face towards the smile. "Fair enough," he whispered, hoarsely. "Fair enough."
Chapter 2: Storm
Someone, Ethan thought dazedly, someone, a very long time ago, had taken a stone jar, something smooth and opaque, pale, alabaster maybe, and siphoned the heart of a storm into its confines. Siphoned out the thrill of lightning and the weight of ozone and the whiff of terror, poured it into something thin and pale and unbreakable, and stoppered it with translucent topaz, so that you could look through gold-brown depths and see the strength of it inside. Someone, so long ago that measures had no meaning, had poured a storm into a jar, and managed to make this creature ranged above him, this man, this chaos in pale flesh.
Someone, he thought, while he was still somewhat capable, with a great deal of taste. Someone, he thought, over the rising thunder of climax, that perhaps he would like to meet.
But in the meantime ... once his thoughts came back ... oh, in a moment, darling, please ... Yes. Ah. In the meantime, darling, dear one, there was the creature himself. And more precious and pleasing a meantime he was hard-pressed to think of.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Methos murmured in his ear, a slow, dark purr, while a fine, pale fingertip traced his jawline and curled its lazy way across his cheek and over the bridge of his nose. Pausing, perhaps, to investigate his crows feet with impossible tenderness, but Ethan didn't like to think about that too much. Time ravaged him enough without devoting even more to thinking of it.
"What ... makes you think ... I'm capable of thought?" he gasped, ribs aching. Age, dear ones, age did terrible things to a body. Made the joys in life that much more difficult to come back from. And soldier-boys with their little experiments had done no favours, either. "Selling yourself a little short, aren't you?"
The Immortal laughed, soft and low, and curled narrow arms around him. Unafraid of his aging frame, not disgusted by the thick ropes of scars that marked his time among America's finest. Ethan didn't like to be as grateful for that as he was, but it was early days yet. He was allowed to take the pleasures of freedom as they came. And this, right here, this was certainly a pleasure. Not exactly what he'd expected from a fellow inmate of that so sterile hell, but then, he rather thought few got exactly what they expected from this, of all creatures.
"Always thinking, Ethan," Methos murmured softly, lean and spare and volatile against him. Lightning in a jar. Chaos given form. "Always feeling. Always alive. Is it the price? I can pay more than a penny. In any currency you care to name. Could even rustle up some gold, at a push. Or spice. Or silk."
"Or a harem, while you're at it?" Ethan grumbled softly, but curled closer regardless, smiling into the hard line of Methos' shoulder.
"Let's start slow on that one," the man chuckled, resting the pale spread of his hand over Ethan's chest, measuring the still-frantic patter of breath. "Wait until you're up to it."
"Oi!" he growled, rolling over on top of the other man, using the weight of his sturdier frame to his advantage and glaring down into the grin. "Just because some of us don't have their own little reset button, doesn't mean we can't ... rise to the occasion, as required." He smiled his filthiest smile. "Some of us have never had trouble in that particular regard." And, alright, maybe that wasn't as true as it used to be, and maybe spending a while under Initiative care had given his libido something of a hit, but there was no call to be questioning his prowess after the morning's events ...
"I know," Methos said, quietly, and Ethan had the strangest impression he was answering the thoughts and not the words, but since to his knowledge the Immortal package did not come with telepathy, he let it go. Besides. That soft, knowing smile did things to him, things he'd thought he'd left behind a long time ago, with a savage, brash young man, and the thrill of magic with someone by his side. Something that wormed through his chest and made breathing a problem all over again, so he did his best to shove it away, and focus on something more important. Like breakfast.
"You could make it up to me?" he asked, grinning cheerfully. "With breakfast, for example?" Slightly more serious, there. Slightly more hopeful. Real food was a treasure, after the Initiative. Real food was a joy right up there with Methos' mouth, and a morning in bed. Somewhere below other things, but ...
Never mind. Never mind. And Methos frowned at him, that lazy, careful consideration, but the Immortal said nothing, and only smiled. And then grinned, wide and cheerful as the Cheshire Cat, and Ethan felt himself leaning into it all over again. Felt himself leaning into the storm inside Methos' opaque, unbreakable jar.
"I can do breakfast," the Immortal purred against him, surging up and breaking around him in a spill of pale, powerful limbs, catching Ethan and rolling him back over, cradling him beneath the storm with almost terrible gentleness. Chaos, given flesh, and oh, how so many sometimes forgot, that Chaos could be gentle too, the welling uprush through Order's cracks something to be savoured and tasted and sung. Something so many looked away from, but not him. Never him. Ethan had always known the gentler side of Chaos, and the darker, and the sweeter, and all the facets that people never looked to see.
And here, in his arms, holding tight above him, all of that, in muscle and bone and bright, topaz eyes that watched him lazily with all the patience of the universe. He looked up into it, into the maw of the storm, and felt himself shatter, felt himself fall, as he'd always known he would, as he'd always felt was coming.
"Ethan?" Methos asked, with the buzz of lightning under the words, and the sharp-smell of ozone from his skin. "What did you want for breakfast?" And Ethan laughed, soft and ruined and maybe, possibly, just a little, happy.
"Chaos," he said softly, mapping the edges of their world in his magic, touching as deep as possible into the well of the storm, and laughing. "You."
"Ah," said Methos, the storm in a jar, that aeons ago some clever someone had caught and formed, raw from the firmament, and one of these days, when Chaos swallowed him whole and tossed him up at the end of the stream, Ethan was going to meet that someone, and compliment them on their astounding taste. "That," said the Immortal, "we can do."
Such little things, the joys of life. For tasting when they fall.