"Home is a place ... of entire unreserve." -- Harriet Beecher Stowe
"You're going to wake up my mum. And our guests. And the neighbors. And the dog. And the constabulary, and--"
"You're the one who can't shut up."
Tessa leaned forward and peered through the banister railings, tilting her head to see Alan and his friend better. "You're late!" she hissed, and both of them turned their heads up to her, still stifling laughter. Alan waved to her, smile breaking out, and Tessa took that as invitation. She scampered down the stairs of the Rothwoods' front hall, holding her nightgown and bathrobe up by her fingertips as if they were a ballgown. "Did you have fun at the concert?"
"We did indeed. Hendrix is a genius." Alan's eyes crinkled up when he smiled. Tessa gave him a hug as she flopped down on the couch next to him, then peered over at his friend. He was almost as tall as Alan Rothwood, with fine bones, dark hair and hazel eyes that laughed at her even as she realized he wasn't smiling. Not as handsome as Alan; but no one was, in Tessa's opinion.
Alan smiled and said, "Tessa Noel, Benjamin Adamson; Ben, Tessa. Her mum and mine are best friends. Tessa's going to marry me when she's eighteen. If I'm not so old that she'll have found something much better to do eight years from now."
"Shhhhh!" Tessa's embarrassed shushing overrode Ben's snort of laughter. "Stop being so silly." She suddenly sniffed Alan's shoulder, then tilted her head as she looked up at him in surprise. "You were drinking. And what's that funny smell? Tante Claire is going to be so annoyed if she catches you like this."
"You're not going to tell on us, are you?" Ben's eyes widened pleadingly, and he reached out to poke Tessa's slipper with one bare toe. His accent was English, like Alan's, but slightly better. He must have been a student too. "That wouldn't be fair. Here we go to the trouble of being very, very quiet, and we get caught by a mouse who's even quieter. Is that our fault?"
Tessa had absolutely no intention of getting Alan into trouble, but some contrary impulse had her looking up at him hopefully, then giggling at Ben. "Why shouldn't I?"
"Oh ho, is that the game?" Alan grinned and hugged her again, then started to tickle her. "What do you want, Miss Tessa?"
"A concert." She wriggled away, giggling still, then clasped her hands together, looking hopeful. "Please please please please please please, Alan. Please?"
"We can't take her to the ones at the Olympique," Ben said, raising his eyebrows. Tess grew more delighted as Alan's expression grew thoughtful. He was actually going to do it? Yes!
"Nooo, but there's one in the park, that jazz band." Alan smiled at her. "Would you like that? Sunday afternoon? You would have to bundle up, and you wouldn't dare catch cold, or Tante Marie would have my hide--"
"Yes! I promise to be good and I won't tell on you and thank you thank you thank you--"
A door creaked open upstairs, and a soft voice said, "Alan?"
Ben and Alan's eyes widened in fear and then Tessa chirped, "C'est moi, Tante Claire. I was just getting some milk."
"Tessa, go back to bed now! For shame, you will be so sleepy tomorrow, Marie will be incensed..."
Tessa waved good-bye to the boys over the balustrade, and Alan blew her a kiss as Ben saluted.
There is a bar, in Paris.
(Stop me if you've heard this one.)
Harry's New York Bar, established 1911, Sank Rue Doe Noo, or 5, Rue Danou if you insist on being accurate while on the premises. They serve cocktails that James Bond would drink, play jazz that Josephine Baker would sing, host the International Bar Flies Association and are all things witty and self-aware and French only by implication. It's the kind of place a guy might take a girl, a certain sophisticated kind of girl, if he's trying to prove something, like he's not an unemployed art student with delusions of genius but a suave, hip cosmopolitan who really respects her mind and her art and not just her pretty face.
It would probably help to complete the image if he'd quit drinking earlier.
This girl, Tessa, has already had enough of this guy, whose name she won't remember two years from now, or even two weeks from now. It's a set-up date, and she's going out with him as a favor to a friend. So she has taken a break from his pretentiousness to get a drink at the bar, and left her date at his booth in the middle of a drunken soliloquy to her hands and by implication what he wants her to do with them. But now at the bar, she is trying to avoid yet another pretentious drunk art student. They seem to be the only kind she ever meets.
"No, truly, I don't want to guess your sign," Tessa told the latest hopeful pick-up artist. "And I don't want to know about the trick you can do with the cherry stem. I am here with someone." She glanced over to the booth, where her date was balancing a spoon on his nose, and then muttered under her breath, "But not for very much longer."
"Seriously. Seriously. I can feel, feel it, we've met before, you know? Past life. Lives." The drunk peered at her owlishly, reaching out toward her hair as Tessa jerked back. "I think it was, you know, a pagan virgin sacrifice bonfire. With the Druids."
"The Druids didn't practice virgin sacrifice." The dry English voice next to Tessa was accompanied by a mug of beer being set down in front of her on the bar, interrupting their discussion in his own language. "Yours, darling. Rotten service tonight. Sorry I took so long."
Tessa startled and then involuntarily smiled at the newcomer, who at least was sober and not crowding her personal space. As well as giving her prospective reincarnated suitor a sardonic look of distaste. Hazel eyes, dark hair; he looked attractive, but rather harmless. God bless British reserve. Gratefully, Tessa jumped at the chance to play along. "You could have gone all the way to the real New York for this by now. For that, you will pay."
"Why would I do that? New York is full of New Yorkers. And I already did pay." He grinned at her and somehow maneuvered so he was between her and the drunk, who was muttering, "Hey, now. Hey, I just..." and being magnificently ignored by them both.
"Then you will also buy me hors d'oeuvres, and another drink. It is only fair."
"I would love to buy you hors d'oeuvres. I would love to buy me hors d'oeuvres. You'll have to settle for a second drink, or nothing. Starving history students have to save money for bread to feed ducks."
"Why would you throw your money away on bread for the ducks if you're starving?" Tessa asked, taking a sip of the beer. By now, Mr Reincarnation had melted away, taking the Druids with him.
"How else am I going to trap my breakfast if I don't have bait?" Her savior's lips twitched, and he held out one hand. "Adam Peters. Studying ancient Romans and their works."
"Tessa Noel. Sculptor," she returned, smile widening at the chance to introduce herself that way. The handshake was firm but not intimidating, the smile admiring but not leering. If she'd had to deal with a third masher in the evening, someone would have gotten hurt. "And so, that is why you know about the Druids?"
"Mmm, yeah, I mean, I wasn't there like our friend was, but I've picked up all the good gossip on them. They did practice sacrifice, but they really weren't all that picky about the sex lives of those being stabbed or stuffed in a bog. And there were no bonfires. And dear god, don't let me bore you with this. Where's that date you mentioned? I don't want to hold you up too long."
Tessa sighed, and pointed discreetly over to where her date was now balancing a small vase on his head.
"Say nothing," Tessa warned him, "or I am not responsible for my actions tonight."
"Can't have that." Adam smothered another grin in a sip of his own beer, and shook his head. "You know you can make a discreet getaway down the hall past the restrooms. That's what the exit is there for."
Tessa shot her date one more look, then rolled her eyes at his slumped form in the booth. "I could walk out the front door now, and he would not notice." She waved to the bartender, and handed over a fifty-franc note. "Make sure that he--" she nodded to her date of the night, "--gets into a taxi, yes?" She put another franc note down on the bar, and said to Adam, "To buy you another beer, for the courtesy of not being an intoxicated art student."
"You're buying me a beer because I'm not drunk enough? Exactly what kind of history student do you think I am?"
At another time, she might have stayed to find out, but she'd already decided she wanted her home and a little peace and quiet. Laughing, Tessa headed for the door and tossed over her shoulder, "A gentleman!"
"Oh, fine, be insulting... Another one on the lady, please." Adam sighed and toasted her as she left. "To women of taste and little patience."
The Tuileries Gardens are ordered, beautiful odes to the architecture of plants and the development of fine arts; appropriate, being so close to the Louvre, the Seine, and the Place de la Concorde. They are impressive, expansive, and well-kept. Which is why one can't sleep there overnight, and must take a nap in early morning if one wants a break there.
Tessa was coming back from making sketches at the Louvre a few days later when she slowed, recognizing the figure asleep on a park bench. With a duck nestled at his feet.
Adam yawned and smiled up at her, upside-down, raising his eyebrows. "Hullo?" He sat up, then smiled wider. "Hullo! Tessa, oui?"
"Yes, Tessa. I thought you were joking about trapping the ducks," she said, pointing to the one hopping around his pack on the bench.
"Who, Breakfast? He's just hoping someone will throw croissants at us." Adam blinked very solemnly. "Quack."
"Don't you have anywhere to stay?" she asked, torn between disbelief and laughter. His hair was rumpled exactly like the duck's feathers, and he appeared utterly unconcerned to be caught sleeping in public. "I thought you were a student here."
"I did. I am. I'm supposed to be defending my thesis in June, I'll be in student housing then. I had a friend here, in Montmarte, who said I could stay with him for the next few weeks, but... well, he lost his head over a woman." He sighed. "Thus. Park bench. And duck soup."
"That's very inconsiderate of your friend," Tessa said, hands on her hips. "To withdraw his invitation like that."
"Meh. To be fair, it was a coup de foudre. Fast as a storm. I can't hold him responsible." Adam looked philosophical. "Breakfast and I are just making the best of it."
Tessa tapped her shoe, then turned away, then turned back. "Would you like a couch for the duration?" At the widening of Adam's eyes, she warned, "And only a couch! No jokes about coucher!"
"I ... want to say I couldn't, but honestly, I'd like to not be sleeping under a bush again." He stared at the duck, then raised an eyebrow at Tessa. "You don't know anything about me. I could be a, um, psychotic ax murderer or something."
"Then I will warn you now, that I know fifteen ways to kill a man with an acetylene torch." She shrugged her shoulders. "You remind me of someone. Someone I liked, I think. I just have a feeling, yes?"
"Fair enough." Adam clambered to his feet, telling the duck, "You're reprieved. For the time being. If you're here in June and the department throws me out, I might change my mind."
"Bienvenue," Tessa said, opening up her door and holding it for him. "There is beer in the refrigerator which you may drink, and takeout which you may not eat, and if you touch the sculptures I will get out the torch."
"Understood." Adam flopped down on the couch as if he'd been there a million times before, and slouched back, long legs sticking under the coffee table. "By the way if you need me to take out the trash or other little domestic tasks, I must warn you I have no housecleaning skills whatsoever. But I do make a mean omelet."
"How are you with ratatouille?" Tessa asked, sticking her head back in the miniscule main room, holding a saucepan.
"If you have bacon in the cupboard?" He smiled slowly. "Better than fair."
The curve of the wing wasn't working; it refused to join the way she'd imagined it. Pffttt. Perhaps with the tongs....
The sparking glow of the torch screamed counterpoint to the Queen blasting from the speakers, I see a little silhouetto of a man scaramouche scaramouche will you do the fandango and ha, there! Perfect.
Hmm, now to shave the the edges, and then sear the top--
Bzzzztttttt. Splutter. Die.
Tessa shook the torch, then flipped up the visor when it refused to ignite, just as the Queen song was silenced too. "Merde!"
"Now will you listen to me?" Adam waved to her, then tapped his fingers on the check-valve he'd shut off when her back was turned. "There was a phone call."
"Turn that back on! I almost have it!" Tessa put her hands on her hips, then reluctantly asked, "So? Yes? Who?"
"He said to tell you that your late tour addition was hoping to treat you to dinner, for being so understanding." Adam's eyebrows rose at Tessa's in-drawn breath, eyes shrewd. "Now that sounds like there's a story behind it."
"Perhaps. Maybe." Tessa tried to hide her smile, and slowly shed her gloves and the visor, running her fingers through her hair. "Did he say when?"
"Tonight, at seven. Who's this newest conquest? Should I hang out and play the heavy again?"
"He jumped on my tour boat in front of the Place de la Concorde, then heckled my lecture all the way down the Seine!" Fuming at the memory, Tessa stomped into the kitchen for a drink of water, face warming. "He was worse than you, the time that you went along, telling them all the facts I forgot. He kept making things up as we passed the monuments! At least I think he made them up." She paused, turning back to Adam. "Cervantes never had a sword-fight with a female Musketeer on le Passerelle des Arts, did he?"
Adam's eyes widened as he shook his head, looking momentarily shocked, more than the story deserved, really. But Adam could be so strange about history, insisting on pure accuracy one moment, then challenging all accepted theories in the next. "Although you have to admit, it makes a great story. Who is this fabulist conjuring up fairy tales for you?"
"Duncan MacLeod. He's an antiques dealer. Scottish. Thinks he's handsome." Tessa gulped more water, then admitted, "And he is. Although he has atrocious taste in caps, no Parisienne would be caught dead in the one he was wearing."
Adam's expression was a study, but in what, Tessa couldn't be certain. Despite two years' friendship, there were still things she didn't pretend to understand about Adam. Questions he wouldn't answer, subjects he danced away from. Which was why they had never been more than friends, when she thought about it.
Like now; what was that note in his voice? Laughter, or despair? "And he wants to take you to dinner, picking you up at the Louvre. Well. Let's hope he doesn't get thrown out for being irredeemably Celtic."
"I didn't say I was going to go." Adam's mouth twitched, eyes laughing at her. Tessa slapped at his bicep and declaimed, "I didn't! I want to finish the piece tonight, I can't go."
"But you will eventually, won't you." Adam raised his eyebrows. "I do hope it's before Friday."
"Why? What is Friday?"
"I got my assignment notice from Professor Deschane." He took a breath. "He wants me on the dig in Egypt. In charge of the Alexandria tell."
Beaming at him, Tessa squeezed his fingers. "Adam! But that's wonderful!"
"It is. It is! But... it's not for just a few months this time, like it's always been before. It's two years work, on-site and in Cairo, at least." He gave her a lopsided smile. "You'll have to find a new part-time roommate, I'm afraid. Sorry."
"Ohhh, but now who is going to make me cocoa after my worst dates? Or curry when I am ill?"
"Possibly you'll develop a taste for haggis?" Adam suggested, looking innocent.
"Adam!" Tessa pouted at him, still laughing, but beginning to feel wistful. "I will miss you, professor. You must write. And call! Just because you're exploring tombs does not mean you are allowed to bury yourself in one."
Adam smiled again, tapping a finger on her nose. "I promise. Postcards and photos. And if this MacLeod takes one step wrong, you'll call, and I'll come back to separate his head from his shoulders. Promise?"
"Promise." She rolled her eyes. "But I think I would like to see that. He's half again your size, Adam."
"Size isn't everything. Age and treachery--"
"--will overcome youth and skill, oui, oui, but he's older than you too. So no threats!" Tessa was laughing again, despite the incipient leave-taking. "And you don't get to leave before I finish your sculpture. You have to take it with you, for bon chance."
"Wouldn't dream of it." Adam's lips quirked. "I'll pay you in Roman coins, when I find ancient treasure."
Stupid. He'd been very, very, very stupid.
Clever to use the celebrating crowds of Bastille Day, and the fireworks, to cover his panicked confrontation with LeClerc. The last thing he'd wanted was a sword fight in public. But how positively moronic, not to even be carrying a sword, no matter how much a surprise the fight had been, or how hard to hide at the height of summer.
The gun had worked fairly well as an alternative, but now he had blood covering his coat, his shirt, and his face, and any moment he was going to be stopped by les flics. Couldn't go back to the hotel, LeClerc would be looking for him there. Definitely needed to leave Paris as soon as possible, but not like this, dizzy from blood loss and a whack on the head.
Squinting, Methos realized he was in a familiar part of town. Lord, was that...? Yes. He hadn't been back here in eight years, not since before he left for the dig in Egypt. Tessa was in Seacouver these days, with MacLeod, but maybe... well. She never had liked to change her habits very much.
Under the carved stone rabbit on the porch, yes, there it was-- the key that opened the lock-box with the front entrance passkey. Thank God for small favors.
Staggering up the staircase, Methos let himself into their former flat with a sense of supreme relief, flopping onto the ancient couch the way he'd always done. The springs gave way in the same pattern; she really should have replaced this old relic by now....
The next thing he knew, someone was shaking him, hard, and swearing at him in French.
"Wha? Quoi? Non parlez--" He blinked upward, and smiled as he disentangled himself from sharp fingernails and a couch pillow. "Tessa! I thought you were in Seacouver."
"Incredible! Adam, you unbelievable ass." Tessa took a step back, hands on her hips now, surveying what he had to ruefully acknowledge would be considerable damage to his face and form. "I almost brained you with the frying pan! I thought you were some kind of thief!"
"Sorry?" He yawned, sitting up and blinking at her as adorably as he knew how. Tessa looked unmoved. "I let myself in."
"No shit. You are all over blood. Don't move."
Methos opened his mouth to come up with a convincing lie-- one involving fur protesters, and possibly a fight with police-- but she'd already stormed down the hallway to the tiny bathroom.
By the time she got back, he'd worked out a very amusing story about a performance artist and her ex-boyfriend, but Tessa's pissed-off expression had him meekly holding out his arm to be bandaged, and sitting quietly while she wiped the blood off his face. The muttering under her breath was mostly French, with the occasional foray into unrefined English that she'd probably picked up from MacLeod. When she'd finished, he had a butterfly bandage over one very deep, still-healing cut, and a nice padded bandage on his bruised arm, and Tessa didn't appear to want to strangle him any more. "You're not even going to ask what happened?"
Tessa made a rude noise, then rolled her eyes, packing up the bandages and ointments. "Why would I bother? You never really explain anything. The truth is too much trouble."
"That's not entirely fair." Methos frowned, trying to look put out, but his own exhaustion was working against him. "I never lied to you while we were roommates." Not about anything important, anyway. Well. About Immortality, and the Game, but, really. She hadn't needed to know. It occurred to him to wonder if MacLeod had told her the truth by now, and to become slightly nervous at the idea.
"You never had to, you never answered anything I asked," Tessa pointed out, bustling off to the kitchen. Methos could hear her messing about with tea things, and settled further into the couch, letting it mold around him as he stretched out. "You were a bullshit artist, Adam. I don't think you could tell the truth if you tried. You had too much fun making things up."
That... was a little too on-target to be comfortable, and Tessa came back with a mug of tea while Methos was fidgeting away from observation, deeper into the cushions. "Drink this," she ordered him, handing it over and curling up next to him.
"I could tell the truth if I wanted to," Adam grumbled, sipping the tea. He could feel the Adam Peters persona draping around him in the familiar surroundings, all his vital statistics as a history grad student coming back to mind. Including the lies he'd tell that could almost be mistaken for truth. "It's just so boring."
"Pffttt. Lunatic. So tell me a good lie, hmm?" Tessa smiled at him, humor lightening the traces of worry and outrage from her face. "Tell me where you have been this last year, and all the artifacts you discovered, and the bar fight you got into that landed you on my couch."
"Ahhh, that. You really need to get rid of this old thing, by the way. Never was that comfy...."
The key was gone from under the rabbit, and probably hadn't been there for five years. Sitting down on the front stoop, he watched the sunset the way he had several hundred times before, more than a decade earlier. No Tessa there with lemonade and mint, to comment on the passersby. No music blaring from their top flat. But if he squinted, he could think she was down the corner, picking up dinner at the bistro, just out of sight.
Methos unfolded the last note he'd gotten from Tessa months ago, and re-read the ending, wondering.
...we saw Alan in France last year, and it did not go well. There was a great to-do with his stepson, and a terrible mess he was in, and for the first time, I realized that I was not the only one getting older; he was too. He is not the same Prince Charming that I loved when I was seven-- you remember, I told you about that? And the concert he took me to later? He is still kind and brilliant and handsome. But time moves on.
So I think of you, Adam, and wonder how you are; and if you are still flirting with other men's wives and death in smoky bars and losing time in digs on the edge of the world. And I think: will I see you again, before some other catastrophe? Or are you still the same, exactly the same, as the student who slept in the middle of the Tuileries because his friend lost his head over a girl?
However you are, wherever you are, whatever lies you are telling today,
tous cherie amie
He could go visit her grave. Pointless exercise. Or send flowers to her funeral, or make some donation in her name to an art scholarship. Anonymously.
Too late to ask her: do you know? Did you guess? If you did, when was it? Is this why you stopped inviting me to Seacouver? Were you waiting for me to invite you to my home, or were you waiting for a note from someone else, telling you of my death?
He'd lost more friends over the years than he could count. Wives and students, servants and partners, and it always hurt in varying degrees and continued to hurt long after they were gone. But there was always a sting when a true friend died that the other losses lacked. Maybe not as deep as the loss of love, or as complicated as the pain of seeing potential gone. But when someone who'd wanted nothing more from you than your presence in their home from time to time left the world, there was one less place to go and be warm.
Adam (Peters for one last time; yes, might as well kill him off, let Adam Pierson be the only Adam with a post office box and a passport for now) got up from the stoop, and wandered down the street, thinking that maybe he'd have a drink at Harry's, and buy a round for the house. Ask them to drink to an old friend.
"You really, really have to not to fall for the doe eyes routine someday, MacLeod." Methos poured Duncan another scotch, smirking at him as he sipped his own. "At least this time the damsel-in-distress wasn't after your head. Just your passport."
"She looked only sixteen. I thought she was really lost and abandoned by her boyfriend! How the hell was I supposed to know?" Duncan demanded, wallowing in feelings of being ill-used and misunderstood. Again. "Bloody con artists."
"Amanda is going to love hearing about this."
"No, you are not telling about this."
"This story's going to be good for drinks for a week, of course I'm telling her about this, are you joking?" Methos shook his head sadly at his friend. "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, will you never learn that if you're going to be an idiot over a woman, you should do it where I can't see? And point? And laugh?"
"Shut. Up." Duncan got up to wander around the room, disconsolate and sulky, and Methos stifled his laughter in another sip of his drink, shaking his head. For once, they were at Methos's small flat instead of his palazzo or Duncan's; the one where he kept various changes of clothing, knick-knacks from his travels, and paraphernalia connected to his current 'work' as a computer researcher. One more bolt-hole among thousands.
"You're lucky we didn't get arrested with that... trick...." Duncan's voice trailed off as he came to a stop in front of a bookcase, one finger reaching out to touch the wing of a silver bird Methos had placed there. "This is lovely. Where did you get it?"
"A friend gave it to me, ages ago. As a good luck present." Methos' lips quirked, watching Duncan.
"It reminds me of--" Duncan took another drink of his scotch, trying for lightness when he finished, "--Tessa's work. It looks like one of hers."
"It is one of hers." Methos shrugged as Duncan turned to face him fully, wide-eyed. "An original Noel. They go for quite a tidy sum these days." He tapped his fingers on his glass. "Still. I'd never sell it. Sentimental value. And coming from me, that's saying something."
Duncan was silent again for a long moment, studying the bird. "She'd be fifty this year. If she were still alive." He swallowed, avoiding Methos' eyes. "Fifteen years, and sometimes...."
Methos watched him for a moment before speaking. "You still miss her." For a second, he pictured Tessa in the room with them both, older, hair going silver, possibly with more burns on her fingers from that blasted soldering iron; laughing at Methos, as he finally confessed what she'd figured out years ago. Teasing Duncan with stories of how they'd met. Mourning Richie. Smiling with Joe.
Methos tilted his glass in his hands, studying the ice, then held it up towards Duncan. "To never forgetting."
Duncan silently clicked his glass against Methos', and for a second, he imagined that wherever Tessa was, she approved of the toast and was amused by the lie.