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Secrets and Griefs

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Outside, the night was bitterly cold, the wind from the snow-capped mountains sending the temperature far below freezing. Inside the hospital, central heating kept the air warm, but the atmosphere felt colder than the chill wind. Strip lights filled the corridor with harsh light, robbing every corner of shadow. The walls were white, or blue, the floor...Methos knew every flaw, every scratch on the floor: he had spent hours, in recent days, staring at this same patch of dark linoleum. The plastic cup of coffee cradled in his hands was cold, too. He closed his eyes against the harsh light, making another attempt at meditation. The ancient mantra was supposed to help, to calm him. Tonight he could barely even begin.

Methos sighed, feeling tears well up behind his closed eyes. I can handle it, he had told Alexa, that night when he offered her her dream. Even as he spoke, he'd been blocking out the memories of the many times he'd been through this before, knowing that would only make this harder. He'd forgotten, deliberately, how painful it could be to watch a lover die. Now he was being reminded in spades.

No, he wasn't going to cry again. Not yet. Not here. He raised the coffee to his lips and grimaced at the taste.

"Buy you another?"

Startled by the familiar, totally out of place voice, Methos looked up, almost spilling his coffee. "Joe?"

Grey eyes met his, the skin around them crinkling as Joe smiled. There was a long silence, the two men just looking at each other. Finally, Joe broke the silence with a grin.

"You know, Adam, your mouth looks better closed."

Methos realised he was staring at Joe like some village idiot. He took the man's advice and closed his mouth. A little shakily, he got to his feet. "Joe, why are you here?" His mind working fast, he had the obvious answer before Joe could speak. MacLeod called him. Told Joe what Methos had tried to do in Paris.

"I came to see Alexa," Joe said. "That is, if its not too late." The last three words were a whisper, Joe's eyes gentle with concern.

Once again, Methos had to remind himself to keep his mouth closed. He swallowed, and found his voice. "Its not too late. But she's...s-she..."

"I know," Joe said softly, saving Methos from having to say the words. Awkwardly, he reached out, his hand resting on the immortal's arm. "How are you holding up, Adam?"

"I've been better," Methos said honestly. His eyes felt like he'd washed them with sand, his shoulders ached, and his heart... He swallowed back tears again. "Um...Joe, I need to go and wash my face. I don't want her to see me like this." He'dpromised Alexa he could handle it. She was dying. Methos couldn't save her life. He had almost lost his own, trying. All he could do now was the same thing he'd been doing since the day he met her: make every moment she had left as good as it could be. And that meant not letting her see he was hurting.

He squared his shoulders and walked to the nearest bathroom.

***

It was hard to see Alexa like this. She wasn't only an ex-employee to Joe, she was a friend. She had taken the job at his bar to help pay medical bills, and Joe, knowing she was ill, hadn't expected much from her. But Alexa's generous spirit had brightened his life from that day on. She was never too tired to smile, or share a joke, or listen to someone's troubles.

To see her now, wasting away in a private hospital bed, unable even to breathe without the omnipresent machines...Joe had been expecting this, but that made it no easier.

The room was more softly lit than the corridor. The curtained window overlooked the city. Beside the bed, a vase held a bouquet of fresh flowers. Adam folded his body into the chair nearest the bed, the gesture so weary Joe knew he had done this many, many times. He took her thin hand in his, carefully avoiding the canula in the back of her hand. Alexa gave no sign she knew they were there.

Joe remained standing, watching them both. He had came here for Alexa. He loved her, a little. Enough that it felt important to say goodbye. Mostly, though, he was here for Adam. Joe had believed him when he said he could handle losing her. He had assumed the immortal was experienced enough to know. Joe had been concerned, but not worried. Not, that was, until he received a frantic phone call from Amanda, telling him a wild tale about hunters and magical jewels...and Methos.

Adam wasn't handling this. Joe, whatever their differences might have been, couldn't let him go through this alone.

Adam talked to Alexa, telling her what was in the news, reminding her of places they had been. Joe was fairly sure she couldn't hear most of it. She was sleeping, most likely sedated. His eyes wandered over the monitors beside the bed. He knew enough to be able to read the basic information from them: breathing, heart rate. She was stable, but very ill.

Around nine o'clock, a nurse peered around the door and suggested they should leave. Adam stroked Alexa's face tenderly in farewell. He raised dry eyes to meet Joe's again, and Joe led the way from the room.

Adam closed the door softly behind them and leaned back against the wall, tipping his head back, his eyes closed.

"You okay, buddy?" Joe asked, knowing the answer.

"Should I be?"

"I guess not. You look like hell, Adam. Let me buy you a drink."

Adam shuddered. "Thanks, but no. If I start drinking now, I won't stop. I can hold together." He straightened; to Joe it looked like a great effort. "I could use the company, though. Join me for dinner?"

***

It was too late to book a table in a restaurant, so Adam had suggested calling room service from his hotel. Joe had expected Adam to be staying at a small pension; something in keeping with his graduate-student persona. Instead he drove to the Hotel de la Paix: one of the best hotels in Geneva. His suite wasn't a penthouse, but it was clear Adam had spared no expense. He had come here with Alexa, Joe knew, and felt a lump in his throat again at the renewed realisation of how much Adam had done for her.

"How does a grad. student on a Watchers' salary pay for this?" Joe asked, looking around the suite.

Adam smiled ironically. "If they ask, I'll tell them my rich uncle died or something. These things are easier to prove than you'd think."

While Adam called room service, Joe removed his coat, hanging it on the back of the door. A meal would be welcome, but he could really use a drink, too. He turned to ask Adam to order something just as he hung up the phone.

"Drink?" Adam offered. "Help yourself to the mini-bar. There should be something resembling your usual."

"Thanks. I could use it." He found a single malt. No ice, but this would do nicely. His back was to Adam as he poured the drink, but there was a mirror in front of him. He saw Adam remove something from beneath his coat and realised with a jolt it was a sword. Why was he surprised? Adam -- Methos -- was immortal: they all carried swords. The weapon was placed carefully beneath the bed, within easy reach, and the coat was put away. Adam sat down on the edge of the bed, raising a hand to brush back his hair. The gesture was one of unutterable weariness.

"You look like you could use it, too," Joe said gently. "You're a wreck, Adam."

"Am I?" Adam looked up at Joe. His eyes were tired, slightly bloodshot. He laughed, a harsh, bitter sound. "I'm sorry, Joe. I'd forgotten how hard this can be."

Joe placed his untouched drink on the table and sat on the bed beside Adam. A few inches of space separated their bodies. "What I saw you do today is the bravest thing I've ever seen," he said. "I mean that."

But Adam shook his head. "The courage is Alexa's, Joe. You should have seen her a few weeks ago, the way she could smile and laugh, even knowing..." He choked and swallowed back a sob. "I wanted to see the world through her eyes forever."

Joe felt a soft explosion of pain in his own heart as Adam's grief finally overflowed. He hesitated only for the briefest moment before reaching out. Moments later, Adam was in his arms.

He had expected this, when he decided to come to Geneva. He'd wondered if it would feel strange, or awkward, to hold him, given their past relationship. But their past was truly in the past, and Adam's grief for a dying woman was all that mattered in that moment. It was too much. Joe had no comfort to offer, no words to soothe, nothing could ease this. All he could do was hold him. Stand fast against the storm of emotion and let Adam know he was there.

And hope that, maybe, this would be enough.

***

Two Days Later

Joe's fingers moved deftly over the guitar strings, while Methos listened. The music was an expression of the depths of grief for both of them. Alexa had loved to hear Joe play. Methos wondered if Joe knew that. He leaned against the window sill, his eyes closed.

"It's as if he can draw all the pain in the room into his hands, and transform it into something beautiful." Alexa leaned back into Methos' embrace, her blonde head resting on his shoulder as she gazed up at the stars. "He's a healer."

"Very poetic," Methos said. His hands rested at her waist, and he was acutely aware of her fragility, of time running out for her. For both of them.

She turned within the circle of his arms. "Stop that," she told him, mock-sternly.

"Stop what?"

"Pretending." Her eyes met his. "I know all that cynicism is just reflex. You're just a big softie underneath."

A dozen biting replies came to mind, but he only smiled. "Around you, perhaps."

She reached up to touch his face gently, fingertips tracing his brow, his cheek. "Not only me, Adam. I've seen the look in your eyes when Joe plays. He touches you, too."

Ah, but Joe Dawson, like Alexa, was an exception. Another soul who had slid quietly behind the walls of self-protection Methos built around his heart. He felt tears sting his eyes again, Joe's music bringing them forth. He made no effort to stop them this time. The wound was too raw, too deep. The tears were necessary, the beginning of healing, finally.

There was no healing for Alexa. Not music, not magic, not science. There had never been a chance for her. Methos wished for her courage. He would need it to get through the next few days. Tomorrow the mundane details of life and death would intrude again. He would have to think about funeral arrangements, try to call Alexa's family...she had no immediate family, but she had spoken of an uncle, somewhere...these were thoughts for tomorrow. Tonight...tonight was for remembering, and for music.

And then the music stopped.

The guitar was set aside mid-coda. Joe was silent, his hands at rest, his eyes turned to the carpet.

"Joe?" Methos asked, into the silence.

There was no reaction. Methos moved toward him. Slowly, he reached down and moved the guitar out of the way. Rested a hand on Joe's shoulder.

Joe raised his eyes to Methos and he saw they were bright with unshed tears. Joe's voice was choked. "She was one of the best people I've known."

"Yes, she was," Methos said softly. "Joe, let it out. It's easier, trust me."

As if he'd been waiting for permission, Joe crumpled into Methos' arms. Methos held him close against his chest, one hand stroking the back of Joe's head, feeling the man's shoulders shake with silent grief. How long they remained like that, he didn't know. He found he was burying his face in Joe's hair, whispering something -- nonsense words -- over and over. So strange that he should be the comforter tonight.

It seemed the most natural thing in the world when Joe sought his mouth. Methos returned the kiss, feeling his own passion rise as Joe's tongue slid across his teeth. Resolutions of platonic friendship were forgotten. There were no thoughts of tomorrow. Joe's hands slid beneath his sweater, igniting fire every place they touched. He was fumbling at Joe's belt, seeking, needing...

He moaned with loss as he felt Joe pull away. "Joe?" he questioned.

"It'll be easier if we do this in bed." Joe's voice was hoarse with tears and lust.

Of course it would. Methos stepped back, allowing Joe to get up, then took his hand. Any other night Joe would have rejected that gesture. But it seemed Joe was as unwilling as Methos to lose the contact between them. Reaching the bed, they undressed each other with clumsy haste, making love with the sweet desperation that only mortality brings.

***

Morning

When he was sleeping, Adam looked about sixteen years old, Joe mused. He wondered, suddenly, how old Methos had been when he first died. There was little point in asking him; even if he thought Methos would tell him, the old man probably didn't know himself. It was difficult even to picture Adam going through the violent birth of Immortal existence. Difficult...and a little painful.

Adam stirred beside Joe, turning his head toward him, but didn't wake. Joe returned to his silent contemplation of the sleeping Immortal. Adam wasn't conventionally attractive, his face was too thin for that, the cheekbones a little prominent, the nose slightly too large. In an earlier age those same features would have made him a work of art. In any age, he was striking, the features sensual without being debauched, his eyes when he was awake knowing and innocent at the same time. The original Dorian Grey, Joe thought with amusement, making a mental note to ask him someday if he'd known Oscar Wilde.

What secrets did those eyes conceal? Good guy, bad guy. Life, love and death. Not always in that order. The words had seemed like a joke when Adam had first spoken them; now there was a poignancy to the memory: life, love and death...Joe hadn't even guessed the words concealed pain. But that was Adam's greatest talent, wasn't it? He kept secrets to survive. It made him endlessly fascinating to Joe.

Was that all Adam was? Just a puzzle to be solved? Joe's body was still humming from the night's lovemaking. His skin remembered exactly where those hands had touched him, where his lips had kissed...

His eyes were drawn to the curve of Adams neck and he resisted the urge to kiss his pale throat. It struck him suddenly how deeply Adam trusted him. Not in that moment -- Joe was no threat physically to a man five millennia old -- but he trusted Joe with his secret. Another immortal might have killed him to keep him quiet. Adam hadn't even asked him for a promise of silence. He had simply trusted him. Why? Because they'd been lovers for a week?

Or because you know I still love you? With the backs of his fingers, Joe caressed Adam's cheek lightly.

Adam woke with a start, his hand closing painfully over Joe's wrist. For a second Joe saw murder in his eyes. Then it was gone and Adam's grip on his wrist relaxed.

"Joe?" Adam sat up in the bed, cradling Joe's bruised hand gently. "Joe, I'm sorry. You shouldn't wake me like that."

Joe's heartbeat was almost back to normal. "Are you always this jumpy first thing in the morning?" he asked, trying to make it a joke, as the absurdity of the question struck him, hard. They had never spent an entire night together before.

Adam was rubbing Joe's skin, smoothing away the bruises. "I was...dreaming."

"Obviously not a good one." Joe withdrew his hand from Adam's touch. "I'm alright, Adam. Nothing broken." It hadn't looked like he was dreaming.

***

Their room-service breakfast was a silent affair. Joe watched Adam drink coffee and leave the food untouched. Reality was beginning to come back to him. Joe understood it must feel a little awkward. Less than twelve hours after he lost the woman he loved, Adam had been in bed with Joe. And Joe couldn't bring himself to regret it. Was this the part where one of them had to say About last night...?

Someone had to say something. "Adam," Joe began.

"Don't," Adam said curtly. He put down his coffee. "Don't tell me you regret it, or we shouldn't have. It wasn't the first time for us, and it's natural to want to celebrate life when someone dies. We don't have to make any more of it than that."

The words might have been well-intentioned, but to Joe it was a slap in the face. Silently, he poured more coffee. Lifted the mug to his lips, took a sip and replaced the mug on the table. "I'm a grown up, Adam. I know what last night was." He watched Adams gaze move from the tablecloth to meet his eyes. Coldly, Joe added, "Just a fuck, right? Meaningless." Adam's eyes fell, and Joe knew it had been more than that.

Amanda's warning about Methos came to mind suddenly. He's deceitful and as wily as they come, Joe. You can only trust him if you can corner him into telling the truth.

Adam was still staring at the tablecloth. "Okay, Joe. Tell me what you want."

"The truth," Joe said, "if you're capable of it."

More silence. Hazel-green eyes met Joe's. "The truth? Do you want to hear I've been waiting eleven years for last night to happen? I put my life on the line for you when you asked me to go after MacLeod and you still have to ask how I feel? Is this what you want to hear? It doesn't matter how I feel, Joe. It doesn't matter what last night meant. Its too soon for me to even think about it."

So much pain in those words. Yes, it was what he had wanted to hear...but he shouldn't have forced Adam to say it, not now. Joe swallowed, searching for a way to lighten the atmosphere. A memory came to mind and he smiled. "I know," he said quietly. "I didn't ask you for a wedding ring." Adam's words, eleven years before.

Unexpectedly, Adam laughed. "Touché, Dawson."

"Let's save the talk for later, shall we?" Joe offered, relieved. "I hate to be the one to bring it up, but there's a lot to get done today." Calls to make, a funeral to be planned, decisions to be taken...Joe could almost see Adam take on the weight of that knowledge. "And tonight," he added firmly, "we'll have that drink together."

***

Three Days Later, morning.

A beam of light flooded the church as the door opened. The shadow that fell across the light was familiar, so Methos stayed where he was. There was no need to be concerned. The door closed, plunging the church into darkness again. The only light came from the collection of candles beneath the statue of the Virgin. The approaching footsteps confirmed the arrival's identity: Joe.

"Have you been here all night?" Joe asked as he reached Methos' side.

"I was...restless," Methos explained, his voice soft, even. "You were sound asleep and I didn't want to disturb you." Joe would understand that, at least: he seemed concerned, not offended that Methos had left his bed in the middle of the night.

"Is there someone out there?" Joe asked.

Methos, surprised, looked up at Joe for the first time. Trust Joe Dawson to jump to that conclusion. "You mean an immortal? No. I just wanted peace and quiet." To be alone with Alexa one last time. He would never forget her, but she was gone, their brief moment of joy together over. Methos had to move on with his life...impossible as that seemed.

Joe's eyes showed his understanding. "Planning to sit there all day?"

Methos smiled wryly. "I suppose not." He stood and stretched, working out the kinks in his shoulders and neck. He'd been sitting still for hours. He fell into step beside his friend as they left the church.

Friend? Joe was certainly that. Methos wasn't sure how he would have coped with Alexa's death without his support. Experience suggested he would have been walking very close to the edge of despair. Joe hadn't done anything, but his presence was enough to keep Methos on an even keel. He knew he'd been a fool to believe he could do this alone. Yes, Joe was a friend. One of the best.

But the past few days, despite their cautious words, had crossed the line from friendship into another realm. It was no longer as simple as a friendship. Once, Methos would have welcomed the development. Now it was an unwanted complication.

They stopped at a small cafe for breakfast. It was amazing how Joe managed to find these intimate little places wherever he went. They chose a table where their conversation would be private and ordered coffee and croissants.

"What will you do now?" Joe asked him. "After the funeral, I mean."

Methos shrugged. "Go back to Paris. Pick up my life again. I guess." Then again, the memory of the last time he had been in Paris was strong. He'd almost lost his head in the debacle over the Methuselah Stone. Perhaps it was time for a change.

But he didn't have the strength for change. Not immediately.

"Is MacLeod still in Paris?" he asked.

Joe shook his head. "Right now he's in Russia. Amanda talked him into joining a circus."

"Circus?" Methos repeated. It didn't sound like the Highlander he knew. "Joe...has he taken a head lately? I mean, since the dark quickening?"

For a moment, something dark flickered behind Joe's eyes. "Once, that I know of," he said. Methos felt reassured until he added, "Damon Case."

What would Mac have against Case? Case goes after the young ones, he wouldn't have challenged MacLeod. "When is he due back from Russia?"

A shrug from Joe. "A few weeks, I guess. He hasn't told me."

Then I guess I should be in Paris when he gets there. Someone needed to keep an eye on MacLeod. And Paris was a good place to lose himself in work.

And Joe wouldn't be there.

***

They said goodbye in the hotel lobby. It was safer, Joe recognised, aware that Methos was rebuilding the barriers between them. He'd done the same thing himself, eleven years before: chosen a public place to say goodbye to Adam, avoiding a lovers' farewell. Joe smiled to himself bitterly at that thought. They had shared a bed for a few days. That didn't make them lovers.

Why had it taken him so long to realise Adam was what he wanted? Bitterness turned to sadness as he looked at Adam. Methos, not Adam. That had been the problem. MacLeod and Richie were two of his best friends but he had found himself unable to deal with the knowledge that the young man he had a brief affair with was the oldest immortal. He forgot all the little contradictions he had loved in Adam, forgot how much he still cared about him, the way he looked forward to visiting Paris because it meant they might meet, even years after the affair was ended. He hadn't been able to see past Adam's lie.

If he had been quicker to come to his senses, if he had let his guard slip just once while Methos was in Seacouver looking for Kristen...would it have made a difference? Or would Joe still have watched Adam fall for Alexa? Probably, he realised. The first time Adam had seen her, no one else had existed for him. Maybe it was just as well Joe had waited. Or perhaps he could have spared Adam this heartbreak...

"Joe, thank you for coming. For both of us." Methos offered his hand.

Joe, conscious of the hotel staff watching, shook his hand, keeping the gesture formal. "I'll see you next time I'm in Paris," he said. Next time I find an excuse to visit. Then, with a final squeeze of Adam's hand that had to convey all the things he couldn't speak, he added, "Hopefully next time we meet it won't be because someone's dead." Don, Christine, Eleni, Alexa. It always seemed to be death that brought them together.

Adam nodded. "I hope so."

There seemed nothing else to say. Reluctantly, Joe turned and began to walk toward the waiting taxi. He could feel Adam's eyes on him the whole way, but he didn't turn around. He didn't want to see Adam's relief that he was leaving. Whether he liked it or not, it was over.

***

Methos closed the suitcase and set it on the ground. He sat down on the bed, weary beyond words. On days like this, he felt five thousand years old. He had shared this bed with Alexa for the few nights they had spent in Geneva before her collapse. Then he had shared it with Joe.

And he had lost them both.

It was probably for the best, he told himself, but the words brought no relief, no reassurance. The last thing he needed was another doomed relationship.

Oh, but it would be so easy to fall in love with Joe again.

What was done, was done. Methos needed peace, right now, nothing else.

But perhaps, in a year or two, Joe wouldn't mind if he called...

~ The End ~