HAIR OF THE SHAGGY DOG
by Leslie Fish
Thanks to a blown-out tire and the necessity of changing it right there on the street, Duncan was an hour late showing up at Joe's. He caught himself feeling guilty for that as he walked through the doors and picked up the feel of Methos' Quickening, but the sight of the man shocked him.
Methos looked up with bleary eyes as Duncan approached, looking distinctly rumpled and morose, and his welcoming wave was...clumsy. Duncan wondered if this was the effect of a recent Quickening - until he drew close enough for his nose to pick up the unmistakable scent of whiskey-laden sweat, and he realized that Methos was seriously drunk.
Drunk? Him?! Why? ...It can't be just because I'm an hour late! Duncan sat down carefully at the table, wondering how to proceed and where to begin. "So, how are you doing?" was the best he could come up with.
Methos gave him an owlish look, visibly squared his shoulders and replied, enunciating carefully: "I've been wrestling with a decision."
Duncan got the horrible feeling that if he said anything serious he'd learn that Methos' decision was to go off and disappear again, this time permanently. The decision had to be a hard one to drive Methos this deep into the bottle. Keep it light. "Best two falls out of three?" he asked, trying to keep his voice playful.
Methos gave him a bare twitch of a smile, thought laboriously for a moment, and carefully replied: "More like best 16 out of 30 by now."
"Can I help?" Duncan couldn't keep from saying.
"Not yet." Methos waved his hands vaguely, encountered his half-full shot glass, and peered at it as if it were a crystal ball. "I'm...trying to come up with just the right words...for something."
"Oh." Feeling caught in some obscure cul-de-sac, Duncan scrambled mentally to find another direction, another subject. "Hey, I heard one you might like." He remembered that he'd thought of sharing this with Methos from the first moment he'd heard it. "You know that Gandhi, during the last year of his life, tried to use his own asceticism to quell the problems of India's independence..."
Methos blinked again, clearly trying to force his alcohol-sluggish brain to work. "Uhm, yes. Didn't help, really."
"It certainly didn't help him much," Duncan hurried on. "Sleeping on a thin reed mat gave him calluses all over his body, and his repeated fastings not only weakened his bones but gave him really bad breath."
"I hadn't heard about the bad breath," mumbled Methos.
"Well," Duncan grinned nervously, hoping that Methos was capable of catching the punchline, "You wouldn't expect the Indian government to admit out loud that their leader was..." He shifted his voice to just the right degree of almost-song. "...a super-calloused fragile mystic vexed with halitosis." Then he counted the seconds, sweating.
It took Methos a whole ten seconds to catch on. He replied with a grimace and a whine. "Old Pop-Tunes Week, is it? Ha, I'll get you for that one, MacLeod."
Duncan chuckled, relieved, and dared to offer a cautious question. "So, what words were you looking for, and did you finally find them?"
Methos looked at him for a long moment, then raised his glass in something close to a salute. "I think so," he said. "And they're just...that despite my present idiotic condition, I...really do love you, you know."
Duncan felt his jaw drop. An instant later, small shock-waves of heat and chill chased themselves up and down his spine. Out of the sudden chaos of feeling two certainties rose: first, that he'd truly been waiting a very long time to hear Methos say just those words, and second, that he absolutely must not say anything lightweight and stupid now. The best way to avoid the latter fate was to say nothing, but he had to react. Duncan silently reached out and clasped Methos' hand and squeezed it gently. The words he needed suddenly blossomed in his mind, and he hurried to say them. "It's...a two-way street, Methos."
They sat looking at each other, saying nothing further as the moments passed and passed, and a heartfelt smile slowly spread across Methos' face. Duncan could have sworn he saw a glimmering of unshed tears in those green-gold eyes. At length Methos managed to find more words. "I can't really do anything more until I'm sober," he said.
Duncan chuckled back, realizing that this ploy would give them both time to gather their thoughts. "Then let me finish off that glass for you," he offered.
"Why not?" Methos reluctantly withdrew his hand, and used it to push the glass toward Duncan. "Oh, and have you heard the latest gripe about the election of the new Pope?"
Back to normal, Duncan thought, relieved, as he picked up the proffered glass and sipped from it. Scotch, he noted. "No. What's the complaint this time?" he asked, keeping it light, keeping it safe.
"Why, just that Cardinal Gutierrez wasn't even considered in the balloting, and a lot of Latin Americans consider him practically a saint already."
"I confess I've never heard of him," Duncan admitted.
"So many stories are buried or ignored by the media." Methos shook his head. "Cardinal Gutierrez has always been the defender of the poor. He went down into a collapsed mine to help dig out the trapped miners, and lost his left arm in a resulting cave-in. But he didn't let that stop him. He inaugurated a flying-doctor program that served poor folk out in the boondocks of three Latin American countries, and insisted on flying along with the doctors to offer whatever services he could wherever they landed. At one point the plane crashed, costing him the use of his right eye. Another time he helped treat plague victims and caught the disease himself. The doctor was desperate to save him, and wound up using an old, old remedy that contained colloidal silver. The treatment worked and Gutierrez recovered, but the medicine dyed his skin permanently purple."
"I've heard stories about such things," Duncan recalled.
"To this day, he still flies with the doctors. As I said, the locals consider him the next best thing to a saint. Yet his name wasn't even brought up at the conclave to elect the new Pope."
"Why on Earth not?" Duncan frowned.
Methos grinned widely. "I suppose it's because the other cardinals simply weren't ready to consider... a one-eyed, one-armed, flying purple Papal leader."
It took Duncan three seconds to get it, and when he did he gave a howl that made Joe, at the bar, turn a worried look toward him.
Methos grinned like a Cheshire cat, pointed his finger like a gun at Duncan, and chortled: "Gotcha."
It was, Duncan considered even as he laughed, a good beginning for a new direction in their relationship.