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Phantom Pains

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The liquor burned his throat, blazing a path through his chilled body, and he hugged the bottle to his chest as if by keeping it safe, he could stop himself from flying apart. Methos tipped his head back to look at the stars, bright and sharp in the clear autumn night. Not cold enough to freeze a person to death, but cold enough that pain became instead a diffuse warmth. It was all the warmth he could hope for now.

Mournfully Methos took another mouthful from his liberated bottle. The stuff was foul, but he liked it - sort of like his dear, departed brother. Tears suddenly burned his eyes and blurred his vision; he blinked furiously and felt the salty liquid sear its way down his cold face like acid. Fuck! It should never have ended this way. It wasn't fucking fair! He'd closed that chapter of his life millennia ago, Kronos had no right to open it again.

Methos wove his way through the park, not caring about anything but the intense pain in his chest. It shouldn't hurt so much, damn it! He hadn't had a heart in centuries; it shouldn't be so painful now. Phantom pains - impossible to cure. The Highlander had come along and stripped him of his masks one by one and fool that he was, Methos had let him. He'd been tired of living without attachment to the world, tired of not feeling anything. But one mask too many had gone and Death had stood revealed in all his glory before a naïve Highlander, demonstrating all too easily just how young MacLeod really was. The bridges Methos had built back to the land of the living had become paths of pain direct to his heart. Kronos had enjoyed Methos' anguish; he'd found it funny that his so-clever brother had outsmarted himself. Well fuck Kronos too - he was dead because he'd outsmarted himself. He'd pushed Methos too far, relying on things that no longer held true. And what Methos wouldn't give for them to be true again...

Fuck! With a twisted grimace of pain and self-derision, Methos spun and hurled the near-empty bottle at a tree with all his strength, feeling no satisfaction as it shattered into a thousand rainbow shards.

"Had enough then?" the velvet rasp didn't so much break the silence as add another texture to it.

"No," he replied flatly, the emotional turmoil of his thoughts never making it into his voice as Alex stepped into view, his faithful shadow. Alex had refused to leave his side over the last few days, had followed at a respectful, unobtrusive distance as Methos had tried repeatedly to lose himself.

"Good thing I brought this then," Alex said with a small smile as he pulled a fresh bottle from the depths of the coat he had obviously appropriated from Methos' collection. Alex approached, bottle held out before him, from anyone else it might have been a peace offering, from Alex it was simple caution. Methos let his shoulders slump; he could no longer find the energy to try to drive the man away again, he'd always considered his lover's tenacity a good trait and he couldn't bring himself to reverse that opinion. Methos took the bottle when it got within reach and didn't object when Alex came to a stop at his side, not quite close enough to touch, but enough to feel the warmth radiating from his body. For all his mood, that simple, unintentional sensation warmed more than Methos' body. He twisted the bottle cap off and took a swallow, savouring the burn of the liquor, somehow lessened by Alex's warmth. Without a word or even a look he offered the bottle back, strangely relieved when Alex accepted it and took a respectable swig before handing it back, equally silent.

With the sixth sense that had ensured his survival for years as an assassin and infiltrator, Alex was better than anyone still living at judging Methos' moods. So few knew or were prepared to acknowledge that mild-mannered Adam Pierson could be as cold-bloodedly murderous as his absent brother could ever have wished. Alex not only knew it, but accepted it. Methos took another long swallow and closed his eyes, if Alex wanted to talk then now was the time.

"It's not far now is it?" Alex's voice barely disturbed the quiet and for the first time Methos turned to really look at him.

Alex's hair had grown out some in the months since he had faked his death and gone into hiding. The night that Walter Skinner, unimpeachable witness, had shot Alex Krycek, Adam Pierson eternal grad-student had been in two places at once - his apartment in Paris and a transatlantic flight from DC to Charles de Gaulle. Not bad for someone who'd never really existed in the first place. Alex had been slipping into Adam Pierson's life as the 'real' Adam Pierson withdrew from his old friends. Alex was as safe as he could be, the last 20 years of his 'life' meticulously accounted for, nothing to tie the student to the assassin. It wasn't long-term, just long enough to regroup, for the wounds to heal and for the right people to stop looking over their shoulders. It wasn't the first time Alex had taken Methos' shelter, but it was the first time it had been so premeditated.

If Methos had ever bothered to tally up the actual time they had spent in each other's company it would maybe make a year, maybe... Barely a blink in the span of an Immortal life, probably not even enough to say you knew someone if you were mortal and led a normal life. But then Methos had long ago realised that if, within the first hour of meeting, they didn't know each other, then they never would. The few who could change their perceptions, for whom time truly did equate with understanding, were far rarer than people liked to think.

He didn't reply to Alex's question but began to walk again, Alex silently keeping pace at his side. It was only a short walk once Methos decided to stop weaving and whining and get it over with. Alex's interruption, short as it had been, had been enough for his Quickening to eradicate the alcohol from his system. Sober now, his self-pity was already beginning to bore him. Joe had been the first of his current circle of friends to note that Methos had patience enough to shame saints except where he himself was concerned.

The ground beneath his feet was cracked and parched, the grass yellowed and dry, the desiccation of summer made brittle by autumnal death. It was only a matter of time before the rains came and the leaves and grass began the road to slow, damp rot. There were no headstones, he didn't need them, like he didn't need a date to remind him. He mourned as and when the mood took him, chaos theory at its best - a fitting tribute.

Alex stayed silent even when Methos came to a stop before a patch of ground no different than any other. The wind picked up again gusting dry leaves around them, a skeletal sound all too suited to their purpose here. Without a word Methos upended the nearly full bottle over his brothers' graves.

"Selfish bastard!" he spat as the bottle emptied and he let it fall. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Alex hunch a little, digging in a pocket for something he offered to Methos on an open palm. Methos' breath caught somewhere between a sob and a laugh as he took the offering - Alex knew him too well, even Kronos couldn't have failed to approve of the man, it was only a shame the two had never met. He was crying again, he could feel the hot trickle over his chilled skin, but he was smiling too, a genuine one for the first time in what seemed like far too long. He moved so quickly he even caught Alex by surprise, but it didn't matter, the man was nothing if not adaptable - his mouth opened beneath Methos' immediately and he gave as good as he got. A hot, hard, tear and vodka-flavoured kiss of sheer desperation; love and loss, anger and sorrow and perfect comprehension. If Methos could have climbed inside his lover's skin in that moment, he would have, but that could wait, for a little while at least.

He pulled away easily, aware of the returning chill, but strangely appreciative of it this time. Alex had never asked him for anything, but his quiet presence beside Methos then and there would have paid every debt he might have owed. With a quirk of an almost smile Methos took another step back, separating them fully, this was his alone to do. A rasping click and a small flame flickered into being, the golds and reds reflected and distorted in the silver casing of the old lighter, Alex's own souvenir of the last decade. With more clarity of thought than he had felt in the past few days, Methos spoke into the clear night air. No eulogy or epitaph, but a simple statement, an acknowledgement he made to himself.

"I suppose I should miss you, brother, but I don't. You're too much a part of me to ever be gone." And with a flick of his wrist he tossed the lighter into the alcohol-soaked grass. The tiny flame sputtered for a moment in the wind, then flared, consuming the ample fuel and growing exponentially as the wind gusted again and fanned the blaze.

Methos watched the flames leap and dance for a moment, visceral memories of ages long past crowding his mind for a few brief moments before settling back into their proper places. At ease again within his own soul Methos turned to Alex and smiled at the image his lover presented in the flickering light. A small smile played on the full lips and in the green eyes as fire and shadow painted familiar devastation on the landscape - a fallen angel indeed, as were they all. Alex turned then, a question in his eyes and Methos smiled before leaning in to place a soft kiss on his lover's lips, one hand resting on his lover's shoulder in simple reassurance, feeling the painful demarcation between warm, living flesh and cold, hard plastic. Alex understood phantom pains too.

They stared at the growing blaze for several long minutes, until Methos abruptly turned his back on the leaping flames; this would burn well into tomorrow, the entire tinder-dry park could go up if no-one spotted it in time. He began the walk back to town, knowing without a doubt that Alex would accompany him. He could feel the heat beating against his back and the softer warmth of his lover at his side. The assassin was unfazed by Methos' not so little act of arson - good, that was how it should be. In a different time, Alex could have been one of them, mortal or not. Despite the common perception, their brotherhood had had nothing to do with their Immortality, their allegiance to each other had been choice and choice alone, that was what had made it so strong. Alex had made his choice too; ages aside, species aside, Alex was one of them in every way that mattered and he always would be.

Flicking a sideways glance at Alex, Methos made his decision, "Tell me Alex, what could you do with controlling shares in the top three international pharmaceutical companies, isolated properties around the world and a floating cash base of several million?"

Alex turned to Methos at the oh-so-innocent tone of the query, knowing full well what he meant. His green eyes lit with slowly building malice and a wolfish grin. Methos returned the grin easily; Alex had been making do for years with what he could beg, borrow or mostly steal. A lone warrior that no side trusted in a secret and deadly war; his resources had been stretched pitifully thin, though he'd caused problems aplenty with just that, but the effort had worn him down until he had been forced to retreat and regroup - not ever to be confused with surrender. And it wasn't like Methos actually needed his brother's power base.

The Horsemen were gone and Methos knew better than anyone that the past was beyond anyone's reach. The future was still up for grabs by anyone with the will and the means. All that could ever be guaranteed was the present and that was ephemeral at best as each second ticked over into the next. But it was still good enough for him, good enough for both of them, because they both knew all too well how precious those seconds could be. It didn't mean they had set aside their own bid for the future though. Methos cast another glance over at Alex; firelight, starlight and darkness glittered in his lover's eyes echoing the fall of empires - this was the kind of memorial Kronos would truly appreciate.

 

FIN