"It's always raining."
Mac looked over at his couch, at his friend draped across his couch, a couch he'd never actually spent any time on until Methos had decided to put a television in front of it. The theory, which had been explained to him in a detailed monologue with blocking and gesture to highlight, involved Methos having something animated to talk to. Mac had answered the sideways accusation with a determined silence that only proved Methos' point and got the remote control thrown at his head for his troubles.
The device hadn't worked right since. Yet another discussion topic of which Methos had grown quite fond. Mac's theory, which he hadn't yet explained but was slowly gearing up to, involved Methos either getting up to change the bloody channel or finding himself a nice, well-appointed hotel. There were any number of things in the world MacLeod couldn't fix; the remote control was the very least of them.
The couch was ceded territory. There wasn't much of it not covered with a gangling layer of Methos. He'd been camped there for weeks, ever since O'Rourke died, an impromptu stakeout unimpeded by lack of invitation or, apparently, any intent to leave. He bought his own beer, he did half of the shopping, and he watched The X Files every time it came on. He complained bitterly that it lost something vital in translation to the French.
He complained a very great deal.
Fresh from running in a sweatshirt and cut-off shorts, eyebrows drawn together in eloquent disgust, Methos looked every inch the grad student he pretended to be. He was miles away from a dark man in dark leather with his sword at the throat of a friend. One leg lined the back of the couch; the other was curled in so the oldest man in the world could get at his toes.
The clippers opened and closed relentlessly, a series of grating metallic clicks.
"You do know you're cleaning up after yourself, I hope," Mac said.
Methos didn't even spare him a glance. "Hey, it's not my fault they grow back."
The snip and click of the clippers never paused.
Mac stood up. He couldn't read with all that determined industry going on across the room, and his eyes were starting to cross, anyway. The lighting in the barge, as Richie had told him on his last visit, sucked. Great atmosphere, Mac, but hell on the old 20/20.
Mac blinked, and looked around him. He'd heard the voice as if Richie were right there in the room, smelled the cologne-and-motor-oil smell Rich always brought in with him. The flesh at the back of his neck tingled and broke into a sweat.
He put his hands into his pockets to stop the shaking. "It's not always raining," he said, impressed with his own calm. "And anyway, you didn't have to go out running in it if you hate it so much."
"I didn't say I hated it, I said I was bored with it."
"You did not."
Methos paused, and looked up. His eyes held a look of eternal, utter patience. "Okay," he said with potent condescension. "I meant to say I was bored with it. Your keen insight into my complex personality is failing you, Highlander."
"Thank God. It's like a John Carpenter movie in there."
"You're not a very nice man, Duncan MacLeod," Methos said, and went back to his clipping.
Mac waved a dismissive hand and didn't bother answering. He stood in front of his chair and looked around the room, considering and discarding a number of projects based on no criteria whatsoever. Except for the little bits of Methos that kept flying over the back of the couch, everything was spotless, everything was in good repair, everything was in place. He was on a boat in a classy harbor in Paris with the most interesting person alive (as Methos assured him daily), and he couldn't think of anything to do.
Maybe it was the rain.
"You know where it's nice this time of year?" Methos said idly, hunching over his foot. "Seacouver. I spoke to Joe on the phone just the other day, and he was telling me how nice the weather is there. He said the sun was shining. I remember the last time the sun was shining in Paris. It was the year 1654, and --"
"Oh, save it."
"Sorree." He waved an extravagant, distracted apology with the clippers. "You don't want to hear about my life, fine. I sit through all of your little excursions into the thrilling tapestry of Gaelic history, but the minute I have something to share--"
"I don't want to go back to Seacouver," Mac said. "I don't care what the temperature's like, I don't care how sunny it is, and I don't care about the weather in 17th century Paris. I like it here, okay? Let's leave it at that."
For a moment, Methos was silent. He scratched at the top of his foot, folded his clippers closed. Then he opened them again, as if he couldn't remember why he'd closed them in the first place. He examined his progress with a critical eye, and set back to work. "I don't recall saying anything about you," he said. He never even bothered to look up.
Mac blinked, looked hard at Methos. His focus was given over completely to podiatric hygiene.
"Good," Mac said experimentally, harshly. "Well then, you have a nice time." It was getting easier to be vicious as he went along. "Tell Joe I said hi." The last word was at least half growled. He felt ridiculously offended at the thought of Methos in Seacouver without him, as if a law of nature had just been broken while the propriety police weren't looking.
He grabbed his jacket and his sword, and headed for the door without a word. Methos was leaning against it when he got there. He'd moved so fast he almost blurred, but now he looked like part of the original architecture.
"Off for another day at the racetrack?" Methos asked. His voice was casual. He was looking at his fingernails as if he thought they might need a trimming.
"That's not where I'm going."
"Of course it's not."
"I'm going to the book shop. That one with all the stuff about the Y2K bug and the end of the world as we know it."
"Oh, god. We're not having another one of those, are we? I've just now sobered up after the last one."
"You should try looking at the news for once."
Methos waved a hand in the air, dismissing current events in general. "More wars, low employment, high crime, and the rampant degeneration of morality among the young."
Mac tried to push past him; a wiry arm shot out across the threshold, blocking his path. "Methos--"
"Last time it was a five-minute trip to the market. The time before that, you were going out to get us some dinner. If not for the grace of take-out Chinese I'd have starved to death, and let me tell you, my friend, the French know absolutely nothing about sesame chicken. You're a pretty feeble liar, Highlander. I think you're out of practice."
A pressure in Mac's chest overrode speech; he imagined his voice coming out choked, broken. He couldn't think of anything worse than that, than opening a space in the armor. So he didn't say he had to go to the racetrack, he didn't say he felt like he couldn't breathe, he didn't say there was something wrong and brittle and manic inside him that would come out if he didn't get away, right then, before another word was spoken. He didn't say anything at first, just took a breath and looked back at the room behind him.
Then he said, "You got toenails all over my coffee table."
"Gives the place a homey kind of aura, don't you think?"
Mac's fingers spasmed into the cool leather of his jacket. He looked down at them like they were new additions, a surprise part of himself he hadn't encountered before. Mechanically, he hung the jacket back on its peg and turned away from the door. Behind him, Methos was an overwhelming presence for all his silence, a perfectly still argument against control.
"I don't want to talk about this," Mac said.
"You don't want to talk about it, or you don't want to talk about it with me?"
"What I want is for you to leave me the hell alone about it."
"I have no objection to that. Joe's getting my utilities reconnected even as we speak. I've got a flight out first thing tomorrow morning." The words were cool, but not without a certain kindness.
Mac noted the length and breadth of the room, the emptiness of it, the insubstantiality of the bed and the couch and the bar and the chairs and didn't hurt. He didn't. "Fine," he said.
"Leave it," he grated, and there it was, that sound he'd been afraid he'd make that sounded like damage.
Methos stood at his right shoulder, just behind him. "It's been raining for days," he said quietly, and his voice, his voice sounded like strength.
"Don't what?" Strong, thin hands settled on his shoulders, and held on.
"Methos, I can't do this."
"You can. I want you to turn around and look at me, and I want you to tell me what you're so afraid of, and I want you to do it now. Okay? On three."
Mac turned. Methos' eyes were steady on him, wide and patient. The compassion in them was terrible, implacable. "There's too much of it," Mac said. "I have to get out of here."
"Methos," he said. "Let me pass. This isn't your problem."
"I didn't ask for any help from you, and I don't want it."
"You think you can get away from yourself out there? Think the racetrack's got some magical cure for you? Maybe if you look at the blood stains on the concrete long enough you can pretend there aren't any on your hands."
Shock silenced him as effectively as a gag -- but only for a moment. "For God's sake! I killed him. He hadn't even had a life yet, and I took it away from him." Mac wanted to run, but he was frozen by the dozen directional choices; wanted to leave, but stayed still, impotent and cold. He shook with the potential for action.
He couldn't move a muscle.
"Yes," Methos said. His voice was a low agreement. His eyes were warm. "You killed him. He was young and vulnerable and weak and you killed him, Duncan, and there's nothing you can do about it."
Mac nodded once, his jaw so tight it ached. He forced words out, unthinking. "It hurts."
"That's what pain does."
"I can't let go of it just because it's boring you, Methos. I can't wipe it from my memory because you find it inconvenient. If the company here is not to your liking, you can leave right now. You were never invited in the first place."
Methos stepped back and swept a hand through the empty air, toward the door. "You want to run away, be my guest," he snapped. "There's your escape, MacLeod. Take it."
Mac was almost out the door when a grip like death circled his arm and yanked him around. Methos' face was set in solemn lines, pale with certainty. "You go," he said. "You run, and you'll never be free of it. It'll be everywhere you look. In your mirror, in the passenger seat of your car, on the cold side of your bed, it will be there. Running doesn't make you strong, Mac. It makes you careless." There was a pause, and Methos voice dropped low, his meaning clear. "Someone very dear taught me that. I haven't sent a Hallmark card, but I thank him for it every day."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Mac said, pulling his arm free.
"Ryan's death is a part of you. Your guilt is a part of you. It's angry and hurt and scared and it hates you, Duncan, it hates like nothing you've ever known. You ignore it, and it'll kill you. You embrace it--" he reached out, touched Mac just over his heart, "--and you can heal it." Methos' hand dropped to his side, and he stepped back. "If you're strong enough," he said softly. "You are, my friend. You just don't know it yet."
Methos smiled then, all trace of gentleness stripped from his face like a caul ripped brutally away. "Then I guess you're just going to have to trust me, aren't you," he said.
Mac looked at him, mute, wanting to hit. Wanting to hold on. He ached, a bone-deep feeling of fragility and exhaustion. Methos never looked away from him, never wavered, never moved; the stillness in him seemed to stretch deep into the earth, and after so much time, maybe it did.
"I killed him," Mac said again.
"He believed in it. You didn't, Joe didn't. He trusted me."
"Yes, MacLeod," Methos said. "Yes."
Mac took air deep into his chest until he felt lightheaded, held it until his vision greyed and the shapes around him fuzzed at their edges, held it until it felt like fighting Ahriman had felt -- like drowning in his own heart. He locked his eyes with Methos' eyes and a hand came out to steady him, a hand like granite curled around his shoulder, an extension of the planet itself. Methos looked strange to him in the dying light from the portholes, pale as chalk, a white solidity of time. Mac clutched at the hand on his shoulder and hung on, letting the breath out of him and gasping half of it back in, holding on while he said it, pushed the words out of him, pushed, and said
"I did it wrong, I fucked it all up, Methos,"
and started to shatter, started to break apart until another hand came up and steadied him, grasped his jaw in fingers like iron and made him look, made him see himself in another set of eyes, and Methos smiled at him with a compassion and pity that was incandescent and said,
Mac pulled in another shuddering breath. "Yes," he said, and the control holding him upright failed.
Methos caught him, eased him back against the wall and left him there, retreating into folded arms and a pensive, measuring look; becoming human again. MacLeod could see the fine tremor of exhaustion threading through him.
"There's more," Methos said.
"Yeah. I couldn't have--"
"--done anything differently." Methos kept watch on him as the words sank in, then jerked a quick nod and turned away. He hooked a hand around the back of his own neck, rubbing ineffectually at the tension. "You do take a lot out of a guy, MacLeod," he said.
"Sorry." Mac's voice sounded strained to his own ears, grinding in his throat like broken glass.
"Yeah," Methos said. He looked at the bar like a man just in from the desert, hugged his elbows in tight, and sighed. "See that it doesn't happen again, okay? I don't think my nerves could stand the strain."
Out of nowhere, Mac found and grafted on part of a smile.
He detoured around Methos and made his way over to the couch on unsteady legs. The cushions gave as he fell into them; he groaned quietly, tilting his head back and back until the lines of his throat curved into taut, open arch. He closed his eyes, centered himself, and breathed. The air moved in and out of his lungs just like it always did, smooth and deep. Constant.
A weight settled in beside him. Mac didn't move.
"I can ask Joe to get things turned on at the loft," Methos said quietly. "Or I can cancel my flight."
Tension drained from Mac's limbs as if someone had pulled a plug, leaving him trembling, enervated. "You don't have to stay," he said quietly to the darkness behind his eyelids.
"No, I don't."
Turning his head to one side, he opened his eyes and found Methos leaning over the coffee table, elbows on his knees. He was taking apart the remote control with an air of relaxed intensity. Methos' hands were unsteady, fingers getting in his own way, and a truth was there, a very real truth Mac had been missing for too long a time. "You never had any intention of leaving without me."
"Yeah?" Methos shrugged one shoulder, and didn't look up. He didn't do anything with the remote, either, just held it there between his hands, which had stopped shaking. In profile Mac could just make out the smile Methos didn't want to show him. He looked away from it, but Methos' voice drew his eyes back. "Well, we're friends."
"There's nothing wrong with the remote."
"The TV won't come on. I told you that this morning." Methos arranged a wire more to his liking, leaned back for a better look at it, moved it again.
Watching Methos not watch him, Mac found he could say it. He could say it out loud without breaking open, without spilling ugliness on the expensive rugs and fine-grained woods of his home. "I loved him, you know?"
"You were his teacher," Methos agreed, as if that explained everything at once. He held out a hand like a surgeon, his concentration a strong wall of icy remove -- remote, vast, but transparent if you looked at it right, and Mac was looking. "Can I borrow your pocket knife?"
Mac fished it out of the pocket of his slacks and handed it over. "I miss him." The words came easier, stronger. They flowed like scouring blood from the wound Methos had made in him, lancing the pain. The ease of it was a release not unlike sex, a breaking free in his chest -- the power not to forgive, maybe, but to accept.
Which would have to be enough.
"You always will miss him."
"How do I--"
Looking up, Methos shook his head. For a moment, Mac could look into Methos' face and see tectonics, colliding layers of heart and mind and will. "You don't. You love him for who he was, you mourn for what he could've been, and then you just -- get on with it."
"He hated when I treated him like a son. It drove him crazy that I felt like that about him. Like I was his father."
"He was your son, more than he was anyone else's. Not everything has to be about blood, MacLeod. Sometimes it's just about who it is you love." Methos looked up, and the smile was still there, pride in it and understanding, too, alongside the comfort of familiar irritation. "Does the word 'moron' carry any personal significance for you?"
Surprising even himself, Mac grinned. "You're such a bastard."
"There's a statistical probability, yes. What's your point?" Methos fumbled with the knife, stuck a few bits of plastic back into the casing, and snapped it shut. After a moment's contemplation, he gave it a good, hard shake.
"Guess I should call the airline. Make a reservation."
"Already taken care of." Methos tried with very little success to hide a grin, succeeding only in that he directed it at the television. A push of a button, and the screen glowed into life. High tones in a minor key poured out of the speakers, and Methos sat back with an air of triumph. "See there? You have to show technology who's in charge."
"You think you know me so well." Mac slumped down against the cushions, propping his feet on the coffee table. The words cauterized him, burning with a special and favored kind of truth -- the kind that made him want to hug the friend beside him, or give him a beer, or maybe just tell him where to find one.
Methos turned to him and looked him over, doctor's eyes now, measuring and cool, but there was warmth behind the look; care generated heat like that. Mac found he could relax into it, could look back at Methos and return his smile and wait for diagnosis.
"You look pretty good." There was satisfaction in the slow, deliberate nod. "You're not so slow as I'd thought."
"I've had some pretty decent teachers," Mac said, careful not to meet his friend's eyes.
Methos settled back next to him, their shoulders barely touching. Neither of them had a beer, and neither seemed inclined to go and fetch one. Sometime soon after the opening credits, the rain tired of its steady drizzle and escalated into a covenant-breaking downpour, pounding viciously against the empty decks above.
Neither of them mentioned the weather. Mac didn't care, and Methos didn't seem to notice.
"Still falls the rain -- dark as the world of man, black as our loss..."
-- Edith Sitwell