We stood outside the bar, breathing the night in, tasting the cool, crisp promise of spring. We, MacLeod and me. So strange, to think of us as we again. Such a miracle. How did it happen?
I felt MacLeod sway a little, though he recovered quickly. He'd had too much to drink; he wasn't used to it any more. That's what he got for trying to keep up with me, I thought. I snuck a glance at him, noting the way his dark eyes were dilated almost black, the way the alcohol had flushed his skin and erased the guarded look a little -- the one that keeps him so closed these days, so self-contained.
I was none too steady myself, but there's safety in numbers. I meant to walk him home and crash on his couch, like the old days. I could afford to do that now. The weight of our mutual betrayals, the death of Richie Ryan, and two years at opposite ends of the world had done wonders to cure me. That's how I thought of it. I had been cured, of some temporary insanity. MacLeod was just a friend, now. Just a guy, like me.
I started slightly. I hadn't realized how far away my thoughts had gone. Dangerous territory, the recent past. Best left alone for now. "What, Mac?"
He swayed again, and I put out a hand to steady him, supporting one elbow. "I don't feel so well."
He didn't look well. I suppose I should have felt guilty, since the champagne (on top of everything else we'd drunk) had been my doing, but guilt has never been my strong point.
"Come on, let's sit down on the steps for a minute. It'll pass soon enough."
He nodded, carefully, and let me steer him to sit beside me on the cold cement steps. After a moment, the worst of his dizziness seemed to pass, and he breathed easier.
The door opened behind us, a few more partygoers calling it a night. A wave of sound spilled out with them. The band was still playing, an old Van Morrison tune I knew Joe loved. 'If you love me, baby you will know the truth...' God, the man could sing -- and tonight he was inspired.
"He really loves her, doesn't he?" Mac said conspiratorially, smiling a little. It was the kind of look that would have unraveled me two years ago, all tenderness and faraway, wistful longing.
"Yeah," I said, sharing the smile because I could, now. "And I'm pretty sure the feeling's mutual."
"She did look happy, didn't she?" he asked, a little anxiously. He was so protective of Joe. Of all of us really, as he'd always been; his little clan, worse for wear and damaged from the wars maybe, but still held fast in his irresistible orbit.
"Oh yes," I reassured him. "A bright girl, our Jess."
She'd taken us all by surprise, that one. Quiet, soft-spoken, too young for Joe by a good twenty years -- but the first time I'd heard her sing, I knew it was only a matter of time. She sang like an angel who'd fallen willingly, all smoky sadness and hard-won grace. He'd married her tonight, barely three months later, and no one was surprised any longer except maybe Joe himself.
"A marriage made in heaven," Mac nodded with satisfaction.
I shook my head, despairing of him. "You're such a romantic, MacLeod."
He snorted. "I'm not the one who's been married sixty- eight times."
I had to laugh. "See? I rest my case. Only you would equate the two."
He gave me such a comical, perplexed look. "What d'you mean?"
"You know as well as I do how it was in the old days. There were always plenty of other reasons to get married besides love. In fact, I seem to remember that love didn't usually enter into it."
His eyebrows rose. "Come on, you must have married for love at least a few times."
I shrugged, a little uncomfortable, finding myself suddenly not much liking this conversation. Why'd he have to remember that off-the-cuff remark, after all this time?
I looked down at the sidewalk, not answering.
He was incredulous. "Not once? In all that time? Not once just for love?"
Damn him, he was embarrassing me, and that pissed me off. I snapped, "Not everyone can be like the deValicourts, you know."
But a kind of sadness came over him, the liquor loosening the tight hold he'd kept on himself for so long. His emotions were close to the surface, written on his expressive face. "No," he said huskily. "I don't know." He sighed heavily, a sound so melodramatic I would have laughed if he hadn't looked so pathetic. "I don't think I was ever meant to marry." His accent was as thick and sweet as I'd ever heard it. "I'm cursed," he concluded morosely.
I remembered, belatedly, the way the Fates had conspired over the course of his four centuries to make sure he never had. And I was immediately sorry I'd snapped at him. It's so easy to be envious of a man like MacLeod. Even I'm guilty of it, now and then. He'd done a good job of pretending he was right as rain, but I knew he'd been hurting in the month since Amanda had gone. Now he had all the signs of sinking into a full-out, alcohol-induced blue funk. Great job, old man.
I patted him on the arm, feeling awkward doing it. "It'll happen one day. When the time is right, you'll see."
But he shook his head wordlessly, the dizziness it induced making him sway against me for a moment. His eyes were far away, staring into a memory. They shimmered for a moment, and I wondered if it were Tessa he mourned in that moment, or some other woman. Then he came back to me, apologetic for the lapse.
"M'sorry. Don't think I'm very good company tonight."
He was still leaning against me, and I wondered if he realized it.
"Don't sweat it, Mac. It's been a long day for everybody." If my voice was a little hoarse, I could attribute it to the smokiness of the club and the lateness of the hour.
"Thought she might come," he confessed.
It took me a minute to realize he meant Amanda.
"Yeah. So did I. Joe said she wouldn't, though." I didn't tell him what Joe had told me, about the mortal ex-cop.
"He's always right." His eyebrows gathered in a funny little frown. "Why is he the one who's always right, when we've got almost fifty-five hundred years between us?"
I was relieved that we'd moved into safer territory, and grinned a little. "Damned if I know. Beginner's luck?"
He didn't grin back, but I sensed the sadness ease, a truly bleak mood narrowly averted. Nodding as if that explained everything, he closed his eyes. I congratulated myself, more than content to sit there with him until the sun came up, if necessary.
"God, I'm tired," he said after a bit.
"Me too. Think you can navigate a straight line yet?"
"Mm." He considered it. "Give me a few more minutes."
The heaviness of him, where he rested against me, felt so good I didn't even try to resist.
Impossibly, we'd gotten the knack of it again. 'It' being him and me existing in the same city without trying to kill each other, for a change. I was more than a little thrilled about that. Ecstatic, if the truth were known. Of course, being me, I'd sooner have had my fingernails pulled out a few dozen times rather than let on what it meant to me, to have him close and trusting me again, when I'd been so sure I'd lost him for good. It wasn't something I thought about much if I could help it.
But sitting on the cold steps, it suddenly hit me really hard how much I'd missed him. Not just for the past two years, but every moment since Kronos had come, I had missed him. Missed this.
Despair welled over me in a slow, hot wave.
I'd told myself I was over him! We'd managed to keep things friendly for almost four months running, and I'd been telling myself it was enough -- more than enough. Telling myself that it was safe to just be friends, because the time when I'd have sold my soul for him was past.
What a fool I'd been!
And damned if I didn't hold it in so tightly, so completely that I didn't even make a sound that might betray me. Because no matter how many times he'd looked at me and failed to see it in the past, somehow, I knew, this time he would see. This time he would know.
"Why, Methos?" he asked with his eyes still closed, and for a moment my panic spiked.
"Why what, MacLeod?" I said very carefully, barely breathing.
And he looked at me, his face less than a foot from mine, and I was certain -- absolutely certain -- that he read me like a book.
"Why'd you lie to me?"
The question was unexpected, devastating, for all that it was asked without anger. I didn't have a clue what he was talking about, but I went on panicking anyway, just on general principles.
"About what, this time?" I asked harshly, wondering how we had come back to this. Dammit, I thought we were past this -- I thought I was done feeling like this! What the hell had gone wrong?
He frowned, obviously trying to overcome the impressive amount of alcohol he'd taken in over the course of the evening. For the first time it occurred to me to ask myself why I'd been so intent on getting him drunk. Why I'd decided it was my solemn duty to see him home.
"About your sixty-eight wives," he said patiently. "Why do you make things up like that?"
His face was so earnest, so without guile, I could only stare at him. He hadn't seen. He didn't know.
"What makes you think I made them up?" I said at last. I felt as if I was dreaming. This conversation couldn't actually be happening -- it felt too surreal.
He didn't answer me. Just smiled, as if he saw every tiny lie and obfuscation and half-truth I had ever told him, laid out bare to the light. Just smiled that affectionate, half-soused smile that went straight through me, unraveled me as if I were a skein of pale, thin silk coming apart under his hands.
And he put his hand on my knee, leaning in to me as if to tell me a secret. The weight of his touch was warm there, utterly devastating.
"I wish you wouldn't lie to me, Methos," he said sadly, like a confession. And he sighed, so close I could feel his breath softly against the side of my neck. "Things would be so much easier."
"Easier?" My voice was hoarse, barely able to manage the one word.
He nodded. "If you told me the truth," he said, as if it were obvious. He'd closed his eyes again. Was leaning even more heavily against me, his head practically on my shoulder.
I stared at him there, numb shock washing through me. His white shirt was open at the neck, his throat bronze-dark and shadowed by contrast. I could smell him faintly, his skin, under the scents of smoke and soap and the faint bitterness of the alcohol. His lashes curved lushly against his cheek. Right then, sitting there with him under the glow of neon and starlight, I was more in love with him than I had ever been.
"Mac?" I breathed, before I could think to stop myself.
"Mm?" Utterly relaxed, as if sharing every available inch of my personal space was something he did all the time. He didn't move, or open his eyes.
I have no idea what I would have said. Just then, the door opened again and two couples came out, laughing too loudly. The low moody sounds of guitar and bass drifted out after them. The interlopers stood on the sidewalk for a moment, debating one another's fitness to drive with more laughter, seeming not to see us. After a seeming eternity, they finally moved off.
And I was left sitting there, feeling utterly shell-shocked, with two hundred pounds of MacLeod passed out cold on my shoulder.
* * *
I got him home, eventually, though I'm sure we didn't take any prizes for grace or dignity on the way to the car. He never stirred, until we were halfway up in the lift -- and then only to mumble something about picking up the wedding gifts. I got him into the bed, took off his coat and his shoes, folded the duvet over him and left it at that.
This feels more like home than Paris, for some reason. I like the loft, and Joe's, and something about being back here feels right. Maybe just that there's not so much history here.
He's snoring a little. I don't mind; I've missed the sound. I don't know why, but I feel really good all of a sudden. Can't sleep, because there's a kind of...excitement in me I haven't felt in a long, long time.
Been waiting a long time, Duncan. Both of us have been waiting a long time, don't you think?
He's out cold. Wouldn't be surprised if he swears off drinking for, oh, at least a week. If he can hold out that long under my corrupting influence.
Tomorrow should be... interesting, I think.
Dead Weight by Killa
This story was written in answer to a title challenge posed by Taselby. My title was "Dead Weight" and the story had to be approximately 2,000 words. When Tiff told me my title, I thought, oh boy, this sounds like a nice, humorous story in the making. I should have known better. I tried, I really did! But I guess I'm not cut out to do humorous, only melodramatic and romantic, because this is what came out. Thanks to Bone for beta-duty!