Methos nodded as he passed the familiar graves before pausing at the one with the headstone that read: Joseph Dawson--Barman, Bluesman, Father, Friend. A guitar was etched into the stone. Methos sat down and leaned back against the marker. The cemetery was empty but that was of little importance; visitors to the hallowed grounds often saw the tall, lean man sitting on the ground talking to--well, they never could decide whether the deceased was his father or his friend. Or maybe both.
"Hello, Joe. How are we today?" Methos asked, negligently arranging his raincoat as he extended his legs. "The usual, eh? I wish I could say the same, old friend. But, unfortunately, things have changed. Two hundred and sixty-nine years. Two hundred and six-eight longer than I expected, but quite short of the number you'd mentioned, I'm afraid."
Methos sighed and looked up at the overcast Parisian sky. "It's over, Joe. The romance you said would last forever.... We gave it a good go, I think, both of us. I taught him to bend and he taught me that sometimes standing is the better option. Taught me. Bet you didn't think I'd have anything to learn at my age. Oh, sorry. Forgot who I was talking to for a moment. You always knew how much I didn't know, the deficiencies inherent in me. You had your moments of awe, I think, but most of the time you really didn't know what to make of me, did you? A man a hundred times your age....
"Were you disappointed to find out that long life didn't make you smarter, that no matter how long you lived, you'd never know everything? Or was it a relief? Did it help you to accept the inevitable better? Did you slip off your mortal coil a little easier knowing that you already knew just about all you were ever going to know? You must have envied us at times. Not just for our history, but for our strength, our health. You hobbled around on two columns of plastic, following a man who was basically physically perfect. Why weren't you bitter, my friend? How could you stand to see us take our extraordinary physiology for granted?"
Methos sighed and rearranged his legs. "Yes, Joe, I know I'm avoiding why I'm here. No, I didn't come here to discuss what a truly wonderful person you were. We had that discussion at your bedside right before you died. Called everything I said bullshit, if I recall correctly." He snorted and smiled. "For the first time in a long time, I'm completely honest and you say it's all bullshit. Oh, how you wounded me."
He cocked his head to one side as if listening. "Fine, you don't have to get snippy. Here's the cold, hard truth--Duncan's leaving me. No, he hasn't said anything, but being the master of great escapes, I know the signs of impending leave-taking. A certain impatience with and avoidance of discussions about the future. A lingering glance at where things are. Hastily ended phone calls. An anxiousness to get to the mail first...."
Methos gave a sad laugh. "I don't know what I did, Joe. I've wracked my brain trying to figure it out. I don't think I've been more of a pain in the ass than usual. In fact, I've been so busy, I haven't had time for it. What in the world possessed me to go back into medicine again? Even in the twenty-third century, it's not all machine-based. You still have to get to know your patients. You still have to...lose them occasionally. I hate that with the same passion I've always hated it. Death having trouble with death. Life is, has been, and always will be a bitch, Joe. There. You always wanted words of wisdom from me."
He drew up his long legs and rested his chin on his knees. "Could that be it? Have I neglected MacLeod too much? Well, damn it, if that's it, all he had to do was tell me. I don't have to work the E.R. I can get an office, start a practice or something if he needs to see more of me. He knows that I would do anything to be with him. I've killed to be with him, Joe. How many goddamn quickenings do I have inside of me just because of him? Starting with that bitch Kristin and ending with last week's little mishap. Oh, I didn't tell you about last week? Sorry, I have been busy, you know. I worked the evening shift, got off after midnight. I was waiting in front of the hospital for my car--what a hoot that we have remote control cars now--and suddenly there was Presence. I told the idiot I was tired. He said that was okay because he was after bigger game. Said something or another about hearing that the Highlander had an interest in the hospital, or someone at the hospital. He figured it was some buxom blonde and he was just going to figure out which one and follow them home.
"Well, that pissed me off. Two-hundred and sixty-nine years with Duncan and this idiot didn't know? I told him I didn't feel like being followed, so if he didn't mind I was just going to Challenge him and get it over with. He looked shocked, but by that time I had my sword out. We took it to a nearby alley. The fight? He was competent, but I was angry. His quickening was a bitch, though. He must have been a very, very bad boy. MacLeod was waiting for me when I got home. Yes, Joe, we still know when the other has taken a quickening. You know, he didn't even ask me about it. He just gave me a quick hug, dragged me into the shower, and then into bed."
Methos smiled. "Now, that's a place where we have no troubles. It's still just as good as the first time. If I could keep him in bed 24/7 then we wouldn't be having problems. But no, he thinks we need to make ourselves useful to society. Talked me into going to medical school while he got a doctorate in Economics. He wanted to do it in History, but I told him that was a cop out for an Immortal. So now he's Dr. MacLeod, and I'm once again Dr. Benjamin Adams."
He sighed and rubbed a hand across the etching on the tombstone. "I wish you were here, my friend. Maybe you could tell me what went wrong. You were the only person who could read Duncan all the time. I have my moments, but when it comes to what he thinks about me.... Gods, Joe, I still love him. I don't want him to leave me. But I promised him on the day we made our vows to each other that if he ever wanted out, I'd let him go with no recriminations, no unnecessary drama. I'm a man of my word, Joe, whenever I deign to give it. Although it's going to break my heart, I'm going to let him go.
"That's why I'm here now, telling you I won't be around for a while. Because I won't be able to stay here after he's gone. Too many memories. Guess I'm going to have to skip Seacouver, London, Prague, Beijing, New York, and Kyoto, too. Damn, we've lived in a lot of places together. Maybe one day, the love I had in those cities will be a comfort. For now, it will only be a reminder of what I've lost."
Methos stood and dusted himself off, before crouching in front of the marker and pressing his forehead against it. "I love you, Joe. And I'll be back to visit. I'll even bring my journals along and catch you up on what you've missed. Take care of all of them for me, okay? Alexa, Richie, Tessa.... When I joined with Mac they became my family too, you know. It's going to be hard leaving you all behind. Damn Mac for forcing me--"
He sniffed and banged his head lightly against the marble. "No, I'm not going to blame him. Not when he's given me the best two hundred and seventy plus years of my life." Sighing, he wiped his eyes, and lifted his head. "When I add up all the numbers, I've spent seventy-five to eighty percent of my life alone. So the odds against this being forever were slim to none. I knew that going in, Joe, so don't you blame him either."
He stood again and looked at his watch. "I have to go. He asked me to be on time for dinner tonight. That we needed to talk. You'd think after all these years there would be a better way to start a kiss-off than 'we need to talk.' The more things change, eh?"
He shoved his hands into the pockets of his long overcoat. "Rest well, my friend. And don't worry; you haven't seen the last of Methos. I'll be around, Joe. I'll be around."
Methos smelled the food as soon as he opened their apartment door. Mac had apparently gone all out for this farewell meal. Always a boy scout.
Duncan came out of the kitchen, smiling. "Ah, there you are. Right on time."
"You command, I obey," Methos said, dredging up a smile of his own. A man of his word until the bitter end. "How was your day?"
"I went to see Joe after my rounds."
Duncan paused. He didn't quite understand, or probably approve of Methos' visits to the cemetery. It wasn't that he himself didn't get comfort from such visits, but he'd admitted he found it unsettling that Methos seemed to have two-sided conversations when he was there.
"Do you actually hear them?" he'd asked hesitantly.
Methos had thought about it, then nodded. He did hear them--or the reasonable facsimile that his mind supplied. Duncan hadn't asked again.
"Yes. Do you want me to set the table?"
The meal was delicious, but Methos tasted very little of it. He was aware that Duncan watched him shuttle the food from one corner of the plate to the other, aware of the concern in the look. Damn him. Damn him for still caring. It would be so much easier to walk away from contempt or hatred or even sheer apathy.
A hand settled atop his. "Methos, is there something wrong?"
He looked across the table at the warm brown eyes that he woke to each morning. What would tomorrow be without them? "Shouldn't that be my line? You were the one who said you wanted to talk."
Duncan dropped his eyes and retracted his hand.
Methos felt his heart shatter and fought to keep the pain from showing on his face. He could do this. He'd promised Duncan. "Hey," he prompted, nudging Duncan with his foot under the table. "You can tell me anything, remember? I'll understand whatever it is."
"I don't belong here anymore," Duncan said softly.
One of the shards of his heart stabbed him in the gut and Methos bit his tongue to keep from crying out. "Then leave," he said calmly after his tongue healed.
Duncan raised his head and the relief in his eyes made Methos want to throw up the small amount of dinner he'd managed to consume. "This life is--sterile. There's no color, no surprise, no…. Damnit, I feel useless, Methos."
"You need someone to take care of." Not a nearly six-thousand year old man who could take care of himself. Hadn't he proven that with last week's quickening?
"Guess I'm not as far away from Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod as I thought," Duncan said with an uneasy laugh.
"Don't belittle the man I fell in love with," Methos scolded lightly. "So, have you made plans?" He could act interested in Duncan's future. He really could. Besides, it would give him a head start on avoiding him.
Duncan looked at him sheepishly. "Been working on them for about six months now."
Six months? He'd been planning to leave him for six months? "My God, Duncan! Why didn't you say anything?" he couldn't stop himself from crying out.
"I wanted to be sure."
He wanted to be sure he couldn't stand living with Methos a moment longer. He wanted to be sure he could toss away their love without it hurting too badly. He wanted to be sure Methos wouldn't go for his head when he told him. No. Duncan knew Methos wouldn't--couldn't--take his head. He just wanted to be sure--that's all. "I'm sorry that you felt you had to hide this from me. You know all I've ever wanted is for you to be happy."
"I know. That's what gave me the courage to move ahead with my plans. I knew you wouldn't hold me back."
No, never. "I'm glad you were so confident. So, come on, share with me." One last time.
"I know Mars might seem a bit extreme, but it'll be just like pioneering in the old days. Remember when there was always somewhere new to be settled, a vast frontier to be shaped and molded?" Duncan asked eagerly.
Mars? Duncan was so desperate to get rid of him, of everything they'd shared, that he was moving to Mars? A colony had been set up on the planet nearly a decade ago. Recently, there had been a call for fresh colonists. Something about limiting the time off-world for medical reasons. Skeletal and muscle concerns probably. Mars. Guess it was just what Duncan wanted, a new adventure with plenty of people to protect. "If anyone knows about new frontiers, that would be me," he said with a forced smile. Where in the hell could he live that Mars didn't appear in the sky some portion of the year?
"I know. That's why I wasn't too concerned about you agreeing to the plan."
Of course not. Methos had been left behind so often, had faced being alone so often, that it was all old hat to him. "Mr. Agreeable, that's me."
"I knew there was little chance of your application being rejected. I mean, what colony couldn't use a doctor? But I'm an economics professor--at least that's what they think. I'm probably just added baggage because I'm with you."
Added baggage? With….
"I sent them our medical files, but we're still going to have to go through their qualifying exams. Nothing we can't sail through."
Our? We're? We?
"I know the hospital's going to be pissed losing you, but it might give them some prestige to have one of their doctors involved in this project."
Methos stared at Duncan, his mind too confused to comprehend what he was hearing.
Duncan apparently read something else in his expression. "I know I shouldn't have taken this as far as I did without talking to you first, and I know you're probably pissed. But it's not too late to get out of it. Just say the word and I'll--"
Duncan continued to talk, to apologize, but Methos didn't hear the words. He was too busy drowning in a swirling mixture of joy and shame. The joy--Duncan wasn't leaving him; Duncan was taking him with him. The shame--despite the apology, Duncan hadn't committed an act of selfishness; it had been an act of faith. In Methos and in the love that they shared. Methos hadn't had such faith.
Methos hadn't had any faith at all.
Maybe it was time to give religion a try.
Methos didn't remember moving, but suddenly he and Duncan were sprawled on the floor beside the table, and he was kissing Duncan and removing their clothes. And if there were tears blurring his vision, he ignored them, because he didn't need to see to make love to Duncan.
Loving Duncan was something he could do by heart.
"That's the whole story, Joe. Yeah, I know--there's no fool like the oldest fool. But at least I'm a fool with my heart intact, right?" He couldn't stop the grin that spread across his face.
"Anyway, this is it for a while. We leave for the training center today, and six months from now our asses are going to be sitting atop a huge rocket that's going to send us soaring toward Mars. I've been annoying Duncan by splitting my fingers into a 'V' and saying 'Live long and prosper.' He swears if I don't stop, he's going to jerk points on my ears."
Methos laughed and leaned against the chilled headstone. "But this isn't goodbye, my friend. Duncan promised we'd be here on earth to celebrate our 300th anniversary. And we're going to do it up right, too. Especially after I've sacrificed all the comforts of earth to go live in some dome-covered speck on a barren planet. Breathing recycled air. Drinking recycled water. Eating god-knows what." Methos quieted and chuckled. "Yeah, well, if Duncan doesn't know about the beer-making equipment I stashed in my personal items, then that's his mistake, right?"
With his fingertip, he traced letters on the stone.
"I'll keep detailed journals, Joe, and I'll read them to you when we get back. It should be interesting. Yes, I'm well aware of the dangers, but it's what Duncan needs."
He watched a lone leaf flutter to the ground. "No, I know you aren't worried about me. I'm the ultimate expert on survival. But you don't have to worry about him either. I'll take care of him for you. Haven't I always?"
He stood and sighed when arms wrapped around him. "Yeah, I'm ready, Duncan."
"We'll be seeing you, Joe," Duncan said hesitantly. "Keep everyone on the straight and narrow till we get back."
"He says, 'You bet your ass, Mac."
Duncan laughed, his warm breath tickling Methos' ear. "I'll bring him back, Joe. I promise you that."
"And everyone knows that Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod always keeps his promises," Methos whispered, trailing his hand along the marble, then stepping back. "Come on, MacLeod. We have to be checked in by eleven."
"I'm not the one who put this off until the last minute."
"I don't like goodbyes. But I didn't want Joe thinking that I'd forgotten him."
"He'd never think that, Methos. He knows you will always remember those you love. In fact, I'm not even sure why we're here. We're going to be taking all of them with us, you know."
Methos smiled. "I know, my love."
As they walked out of the cemetery, Methos took a final look back and saw Joe sitting on his tombstone, guitar in hand, grinning at them.
The image stayed with him for the rest of the day.