Five thousand years have taught me that few things live up to their hype, but Paris in springtime is one of the exceptions. On this particular gorgeous spring day, I have little cause for complaint - not only is the weather superb, I'm sitting at a sidewalk cafe with a cup of excellent coffee, some delicious pastry and a truly amusing memoir. Granted, the memoir in question is my translation work for the day, but just because you're being paid for something doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. If MacLeod were here, I'd imply that I learned that lesson in a brothel in Alexandria, say just enough to make the tips of his ears go pink, and then drop the subject before I had actually incriminated myself - MacLeod baiting being one of the great pleasures of my life at present. But he isn't here, so I must content myself with the not-inconsiderable pleasures at hand.
I'm on my third cup of coffee when I feel a buzz not born of caffeine and my morning is suddenly complete. MacLeod rounds the corner with that predatory strut of his, the black leather coat a little too much for the warmth of the day. He's as finely-crafted, showy and dangerous as his blade, a walking advertisement for the benefits of taking his head. But he smiles at me when he sees me and his Quickening isn't what I covet.
"DM of the CM!" I call out in greeting and he arches an eyebrow at me. "Come join me!"
"You're in a good mood today," he says as he threads his way through the little tables to sit down, smirking at me a little.
"Hey, it's not that unusual. I'm a very cheerful guy."
"Adam Pierson, perpetual grad student is, maybe. Especially when he gets a few beers in him. You, not so much."
I make a big show of looking around, then stage whisper to him, "MacLeod, you do realize that I am Adam Pierson?"
"Ha, ha. You're a real comedian, Adam. You know what I mean. You're Adam Pierson to about the extent that I am my leather coat. He's something that belongs to you, something to remove at will."
I laugh, not bitterly but with genuine good humor. "Is that what you think? That I'm the world's most complex case of multiple personality disorder?" I laugh some more, and his eyes harden. I've annoyed him, but what can I do? It's funny.
"What's your explanation, then?"
"My explanation for myself? I *never* explain myself. Other people's explanations of me are so much more entertaining."
I take a sip of coffee and savor it, feeling smug until I see the spark of hurt creeping into those deep brown eyes. Again.
"I'm glad we lesser beings can at least amuse you with our ignorance," he growls. Ah, the full fledged Highland Pout.
But I'm in too good a mood. "No, Highlander! Not the pout, please! I cannae take it, Captain!" My Scottish accent is deliberately bad and earns me a look so deadly it could take a Quickening all on its own. Which only makes me snicker more. "MacLeod, what do you want me to say? It's hard to offer an explanation for one's own personality. Kind of a forest for the trees situation."
"It would be nice if you would, for once in your life, make some kind of definitive, unambiguous, truthful statement about yourself, instead of evading every attempt that anyone makes to get close to you."
Ah. My mirth fades, and I'm really rather touched. MacLeod looks embarrassed, having just given away far more than he intended but, with typical courage, he doesn't try to take it back. Heavy silence falls over the table and neither of us moves.
The tips of his ears are pinking but I don't feel my usual sense of triumph at having gotten to him. I have a strong desire to give him something, like when you see something in a store that you know just *has* to belong to someone and so you buy it and you give it to them, even though there's no particular holiday and no real reason for it. In this case, the thing I want to give him is what he wants, some kind of token of closeness, except I absolutely hate this wretched navel-gazing and I can never think of anything to say in these situations that doesn't sound completely stupid.
"Look," I say, "in the year 1650, how often did you bathe?"
"What? What does that have to do with anything?"
"You asked me a question, I'm trying to answer it. Just go along with me for a couple of minutes, here."
"1650? I don't know, not very often, that's for sure."
"So you were stinky."
He glares at me. "Me and everybody else, yeah. You got used to it."
"Do you think of yourself in 1650 as Stinky MacLeod of the Clan MacStink, a separate personality from the twenty-first century MacLeod who showers every day and wears deodorant?"
Now he's laughing despite himself. "Of course not."
"No, of course not. It wouldn't have been appropriate in that context to bathe all the time. People would have thought you had some kind of mental disorder." I smile at him, gently but triumphantly, and take a bite of my delicious pastry.
"What, that's it? You're comparing the difference between Death On A Horse and Mild-Mannered Dr. Pierson to the difference between bathing and not?"
"Well, it sounds really callous when you put it like that! It's a metaphor, okay? I'm just saying that a person can exhibit very different behaviors in different cultural contexts without having a dissociative disorder. Besides, you've never seen Dr. Pierson in a faculty meeting. All those years of experience in heartless pillaging come in handy, let me tell you."
MacLeod shakes his head with a smile and I can see he's still not getting it.
"Okay, try this." I reach down, pull the spare knife out of my boot, and slice the top of his hand open, just a shallow cut.
"OW! Fucking hell, Adam!" I offer him my napkin for the blood and he snatches it out of my hand. When he pulls the napkin away, the cut's gone.
"If you'd sustained that injury during a fight, you wouldn't have shouted. You wouldn't have even noticed it."
"So, are you a person who shouts when he's wounded or not?" His glare becomes a bit more thoughtful. "Right," I say, "you're both. It depends on the context. It's not that I'm Dr. Pierson now and I was Death then. It's that what you're thinking of as stable personalities are just constellations of behaviors. These days, for the most part, I perform the behaviors you associate with Dr. Pierson. That doesn't mean that the behaviors of Death cease to be a possibility. I just don't choose to perform them."
"I could be flippant and say that it would be culturally inappropriate, but I think you'd rather hear that I understand things differently now."
"Which is the truth?"
He tosses the bloody napkin onto the table between us like a gauntlet. "That's all very postmodern of you, but you *are* different when you're being Dr. Pierson than you are when we're sparring. You stand differently, your whole body language, your silhouette, is different. You feel like a different person."
"I'm flattered that you're paying so much attention." He gives me a stop-clowning-around look and his ears stay disappointingly the same shade. I sigh. "It's all me, Mac. There's just a lot of room in my personality."
The waiter, with exquisite Parisian lethargy, wanders over to ask Mac if he wants anything. Mac says no, but he doesn't storm out of the restaurant in a huff, which is how I half expected things would end up when we started talking about this nonsense. Despite the fact that the discussion's turned too serious for such a pretty day, my good mood refuses to dissipate. We sit quietly and I soak up coffee and the silent company of a somewhat confused Duncan MacLeod.
"I do pay attention to you," he says softly. "And not just because I'm trying to figure you out."
Then why? I'm supposed to say, and then he's going to say something which he can't take back, and then we'll have to actually deal with this thing we've been dancing around ever since we met. So I refuse to deliver my assigned line, and instead I say, "I appreciate your diligence," and continue sipping my coffee with as much nonchalance as I can muster.
He blows all his breath out in a frustrated huff and scowls at me. "Why do you make everything so difficult? This is the most complicated relationship I've ever had. I swear to you about half the time I have no idea at all what's going on."
"That's not a bad ratio, actually," I answer lightly. "All things considered."
"Why don't you consider easing up on the Sphinx impersonation and addressing the issue at hand?"
"And what would that be?"
His scowl disappears and he starts laughing. "We're going to spend the whole six months like this, aren't we? Circling each other like we always do."
"Old habits can be hard to break. Perhaps there's a reason why we've developed this one."
He stops laughing and looks at me carefully. "You're not interested then?" His voice is serious and heavy, suddenly carrying the full weight of his heart, and he's backed me into a corner, the bastard.
I could say no, and things would be awkward for a while, but eventually I think our friendship would recover. We've been so careful to hardly lay a finger on one another to this point that we still have room to maneuver.
I could say yes, and perhaps some of the things I've been dreaming of would come to pass before proximity to the world's greatest trouble magnet brought about my sure demise.
My survival instincts are in favor of the former. The Parisian sunlight is in favor of the latter.
"I think you know the answer to that question," is what I say, but he catches my gaze and holds it, and I can feel that I'm not being nearly inscrutable enough. My eyes are giving me away without my permission.
He smiles and steals the last bite of my pastry. His beauty is glorious, excessive, like the riot of color in Sainte Chappelle on a clear winter morning, outside the bounds of all taste or common sense. I've answered the question in spite of myself, and I can't remember the last time I was this afraid or this happy.
"Dinner tonight, my place, I'm cooking, you bring the wine," he says. "Eight o'clock."
And with that, he's gone, conspicuous coat swirling behind him. I signal to the waiter for more coffee and can't help grinning just a little. It really is a gorgeous day.