Late afternoon light streamed in from the windows, warm and soft, falling on the neat stack of boxes lining one side of the loft. The flotsam and jetsam of his life now carefully sorted and labeled and ready for storage. MacLeod held the flat unassembled box in his hands, taking a moment to really see the bare walls, the scuffs on the wooden floor.
He put the box together and then picked up another one. All that was left was the kitchen. At seven in the morning movers would arrive to take the bigger furniture pieces to his warehouse upstate. The boxes he'd take himself to the island.
From the open window he could hear cars honking, pedestrians walking, talking on cell phones. The area had become gentrified in his absence, now populated by a Starbucks on one corner battling with the Coffee Bean on another: Abercrombie & Fitch and The Gap, Coldstone's Creamery, Barnes & Noble, and a fifteen-screen Cineplex. The dojo didn't fit anymore.
The gears of the elevator started, engine rattling as Immortal presence flooded the room, scratching along his back. He carefully set down the stack of dishes he was holding, put his hands on the counter and shook his head. Of course. Had to be. He listened for a little bit, head cocked, then smiled.
From the fridge, still stocked with essentials, MacLeod grabbed two bottles of beer, quickly tossing the caps into the black plastic trash bag in the corner. He stood by the elevator, held out one of the bottles, not speaking, not saying a word, although he couldn't hide a hint of a smile.
Methos rolled the elevator gate up, stepping into the loft, his eyes dropping to the bottle dangled before him. "I see I have you well trained."
MacLeod frowned, waggled the bottle back and forth. "I'm going to ask you why you're here in a minute, but seeing as I'm going to put you to work, I figure I should disarm you first."
With a smirk, Methos took the beer and drank, smacking his lips. "I say again, I see I have you well trained."
MacLeod found himself watching Methos shift further inside the loft, hesitant in the nakedness of the room. He looked the same and also different, less the perennial student and more the young urban professional in designer jeans and sunglasses perched at the top of his head. MacLeod believed the term was "metrosexual."
"How'd you know it was me?" Methos asked.
"Besides Joe, you're the only one who still has a key."
The moment shifted until Methos smiled, unchallenging, just a friend, open and honest and there. He touched MacLeod's arm, gripping his shoulder. Without really thinking about it, MacLeod pulled Methos into a hug, holding him tight.
They finished packing the kitchen before nightfall. That was it, everything done, boxed, stored, shipped, sealed away. The entire loft was stripped until it was just a bare space. There was some work left to do in the dojo before he handed over the keys to the new owner, but that could wait for the next day.
On the roof, the sun sank majestically behind buildings, melting into the ocean that was just visible in the distance. Summer had ended some weeks ago. MacLeod could taste fall in the air. He sat against a cinder brick wall, bucket of ice and beer next to him, letting memories of the dojo slip one by one, offered as a sacrifice to the sunset: faces and names and stupid little remembrances like the bad water pressure in the men's locker room and the smell of Pine Sol on Sundays when the floor was washed.
"Who'd you sell to?" asked Methos, sitting next to him.
"Milly Martin," he said, taking a drink of his beer. "Milly and her partner Sam are going to convert it into a yoga and wellness studio." He rubbed at the label on his bottle. He could feel every pebble he sat on, every coarse brick against his back. At the horizon the sun was halfway gone, bleeding across the clouds and the sky.
The changes the new owners would make would fit right in to the neighborhood. Just what everyone wanted. They'd take down the old faded sign. It wouldn't be DeSalvo's anymore.
"Any plans?" Methos asked.
MacLeod closed his eyes for just a moment, the image of the sun burned into his retinas, a glowing green spot. He didn't answer. He had no answer. "What about you?" he asked Methos, turning the question around. "It's been," MacLeod counted months and years since he last saw Methos, just before MacLeod had left for the States again. "Almost five years. Still in London?"
Methos glowed in the pinky-orange light, mischievous little smile on his lips. "I'm a photographer now," he said, with the same kind of sneaky wonder as if he'd just said, "I'm a ballerina now."
Macleod's eyebrows went up. "And what do you photograph?"
"Better than dealing with people"
"Exactly. I'm really quite good. They pay me loads for it. Best job in the world. All I have to say is 'here's where I want to go and what I want to do' and people give me money and make it happened. Grants, fellowships, you name it. I'm going to Antarctica next," he said, tipping his beer towards MacLeod before taking a sip.
"Really," said MacLeod, unable to hide his doubt or his curiosity.
"Yes. I've even won awards. You're looking at the 2006 and 2007 Pilsner International Photography Grand Prize Winner, my friend. Ten thousand dollars a pop. That's right, I'm no joke."
MacLeod laughed. "I'm glad," he said. "It suits you."
Methos didn't say anything to that, and MacLeod looked away from Methos's unrelenting scrutiny.
They drank their beers in silence until the sun disappeared and the sky inked from pink to purple to black. It grew chilly, and they rose to leave. Methos stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Would you consider a job offer?"
Driven away by the emptiness of the loft, they decided to go for a drink. MacLeod flipped slowly through Methos's portfolio that he brought to the bar. He was quite good, MacLeod acknowledged. He stopped at a photograph of a sunrise over Ayers Rock in Australia taken from the ground with a lone figure at the top holding his arms aloft, another taken in Mexico, a native woman bent in prayer at the steps to a small church next to an Aztec pyramid. All from interesting angles, all framed uniquely, telling a story: a freeze frame of a climatic moment: the start of avalanches, the downward swoop of a bird of prey. Methos had misrepresented himself; he took pictures of humans, they just weren't the main focus, only part of the greater drama.
"If you agree to this," said Methos, speaking over the loud music and the noisy bar patrons, sitting opposite MacLeod, "you have to do everything I say. Is that clear?"
MacLeod turned the portfolio sideways to get a better look. "I get it, I get it. Your word is law, master."
Methos pursed his lips, frowned. "I'm not kidding. This isn't a holiday. You'll be my assistant. As in, your sole purpose is to assist me, in anything I ask you to do, without question. This is work and I need a level of commitment." Methos used his beer bottle for emphasis. "If you don't think you can do that, well," he trailed off, shrugging.
MacLeod closed the portfolio, leaned back in his chair. Joe had sold the bar a year ago. It was now a themed sports bar. A baseball game played on all of the television sets. He studied Methos until Methos looked away. "You don't have to," said Methos. "I should never have asked."
"I'll do it," said MacLeod, not taking his eyes off Methos. "If you really want me to go with you, I'll go. Tell me where and when I have to be, and I'll be there."
Disarmed, Methos looked stunned for a moment before relaxing in his seat. "Two weeks, Christchurch, New Zealand. We're flying in."
Walking back to the loft, more than a bit drunk, they stumbled over the curb, and laughed, clutching at each other. Methos steadied MacLeod as they wove down the street. When they got to the dojo, MacLeod leaned against the wall, put his cheek against the brick and inhaled the dusty mud scent. In the morning, he would say goodbye to what had been a home for over a decade.
Methos sat on the steps, leaned back, raising his arms over his head. He groaned. "You'll have to carry me."
"Will that be part of my duties?" asked MacLeod. "Beast of burden? Trudging through a blizzard, carrying your skinny arse."
Methos smiled. "There's actually very little precipitation in Antarctica," he said matter-of-factly. "No, I meant now. There's no way I'm going any further."
"Oh. Well you can stay here, then. I have yet to sign my contract of employment, so you're on your own." MacLeod dropped his keys, reached to pick them up, dropped them again, sat down and leaned his head back. "As soon as I open the door, you're on your own." He stretched his legs out, kicking Methos in the process.
"Ow. Thanks," said Methos, muffled.
"You're welcome." They fell silent. MacLeod listened to Methos's breathing. The cement stairs were cold underneath his bum. "I'm going to miss this place," he said, at last.
Moments passed. Methos rolled onto his feet, held out his hand. A strong hand. A good hand. MacLeod took it. Together they opened the door, made their way up to the loft where, without speaking, they dropped into their respective camp beds and fell asleep.
Methos's position as photographer was contracted through the Carson Science Foundation, a privately owned think tank that had made a presence for itself in Antarctica, funding several ongoing research projects and covering nearly two-thirds of the continent's employment. He would be working closely with a scientist named Alice Barrett, a paleoclimatologist. It seemed she wanted a photographer to document several aspects of her work in Antarctica, and someone at CSF had recommend Methos, still known to the world as Adam Pierson.
"What about our swords?" asked MacLeod on their flight from Seacouver to London where they'd first prepare before heading south.
Methos shook his head by way of an answer. "Too obvious. And also weight restrictions."
"And you're okay with that?"
"Not really," said Methos, dryly. "But I take comfort in your presence, Highlander." Methos batted his eyelashes.
MacLeod snorted, but couldn't help feel a little bit pleased even if he knew Methos was mostly teasing him. It would be unlikely, another Immortal in Antarctica, or one wanting to take up a challenge in any case.
"Here," said Methos, reaching for a stack of papers and a folder from the inside of his carryon. "It took a bit of doing, but you're all set."
MacLeod looked through official documents detailing insurance for the expedition, search and rescue contracts, forms allowing access to a temporary residence in McMurdo Station. "What do you mean 'a bit of doing?'" he asked, flipping through all of the information on who they'd be working with and the stations they would visit. Altogether they would be in Antarctica for just over one month. They'd spend Christmas on the ice.
Methos shrugged. "They'd already had an assistant lined up for me, an Antarctic regular. A woman, by all accounts very capable," he said with a smirk. "She has quite a reputation. I just may regret asking you. And besides, you weigh a lot. I have to give up a couple of cameras for you."
"Is that some sort of comment on my relative attractiveness?"
"Oh don't worry, you're much prettier. You're going to get eaten alive when we get there." Methos laughed and reclined his chair for a nap.
MacLeod huffed, taking out the books on Antarctica he'd brought. He fell asleep reading about katabatic winds and nanatuk peaks.
Methos had hundreds of cameras, from ultra modern digital models to an old 1920s box camera. He always had one on him, was always taking pictures. He took pictures of MacLeod as he packed their gear for the trip. "I thought you didn't photograph people."
"I make the occasional exception," said Methos from behind the lens, framing MacLeod against the backlight of the floor-to-ceiling window in Methos's downtown flat overlooking the London skyline.
Having never seen Methos with so much as a disposable camera before, he didn't quite believe the "renowned photographer" gimmick until they arrived in London. The walls of Methos's flat were covered with his photographs and framed news clippings of Methos accepting awards. There were picture books on the coffee table. MacLeod stared at one photo he recognized, having seen it popularized on the internet. And all this time, he hadn't known.
Every day was spent preparing, packing with careful attention to weight restrictions, going over lists and itineraries, on the phone arranging for this and that. The time flew by until they were on a plane again, from London to Christchurch and then from Christchurch to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
Macleod looked out of the window. The small aircraft descended toward Williams Field, a long white strip off the side of a haphazard collection of buildings spread out before the expanse of an ice shelf. The plane dipped and rattled in the crosswinds. Next to him Methos gripped a handle attached to the hull of the plane, eyes closed, looking pale against the red of their CSF standard issue jackets.
"We could have gone by boat," said MacLeod.
Methos cracked one baleful eye. "You think you're so clever."
MacLeod grinned. He would never admit he felt queasy himself as the plane rattled louder, sliding on skis as it landed.
A bit wobbly-legged, they descended into the extreme sunshine and bright, sharp-edged cold.
They were met at McMurdo Station by a blond man named Brett who boasted a wide smile and lots of teeth. "Hello. How was your flight? Ready for some fun? Lots of excitement? The Carson Science Foundation is very happy to welcome you both to Antarctica. Right this way. Alice Barrett is looking forward to meeting you, Mr. Pierson. Oh, watch that patch there. Very slippery. This way."
MacLeod stared at Brett, trying to decide whether to find the man annoying or comical. Methos leaned over and whispered, "Don't be rude."
"I'm never rude. You're the rude one," MacLeod said to Methos's receding back. He hurried to catch up.
They were checked in, weighed, processed, assigned quarters, and then given a quick tour. MacLeod took note of the CSF logo on several buildings and vehicles parked around the station. Each person they passed stopped and stared. At first MacLeod didn't notice the extra attention but it was hard to ignore a crowded mess hall filled with over forty people suddenly falling silent and turning almost in unison to size up the new additions.
Brett the Liaison smiled and clapped them on the back. "Don't worry. They're just interested in new faces."
MacLeod took in the crowd. Everyone had that ruddy, windblown look, reminding him of old photographs taken of Scott and Shackleton and their crews, except there were women working in Antarctica now. And all of them stared with keen interest. He smiled, haltingly, raising his hand in a little hello wave.
The silence was punctuated here and there by a cough, a creak or scrape of a chair, until Brett clapped his hands. "Well, shall we continue?" he said, indicating the door but before MacLeod could follow he was surrounded, hands tugging at his jacket, pulling him back into the room.
"What's your name?"
"Don't worry, we'll make you feel at home. Right. At. Home."
"Welcome to Mactown, lesson number one, always take your layers off."
"Hi," said MacLeod, smiling but trying to extricate himself even as he was stripped of his outwear, hands passing over his hair and down his back, over his bum, making him squeak. They led him into the center of the room, pushed him onto a chair.
He tried to look back for Methos but a striking brunette stood in his way, looking fierce as she sized him up. The others parted for her. She moved in close to stand before MacLeod, crossed her arms. Her intense scrutiny made him look down at himself to make sure everything was there.
"Well," she said, "if I had to be replaced I suppose they could have done worse. I'm Christine."
"Oh. Hello. Sorry about that," said MacLeod, as apologetically as he could. Meekly even. Smiling his most charming smile. "I'm Duncan MacLeod."
She narrowed her eyes but stepped back, letting the others cluster around MacLeod again. MacLeod could feel the weight of her stare, even as a pretty red-head claimed his attention.
He saw Methos standing off to the side, very amused, judging by his smirk. MacLeod made a goofy face and mouthed the words "don't leave me" but Methos grinned evilly and waved bye-bye. Bastard. MacLeod would show him.
Over the din, he could hear Methos ask Brett the Liaison, "They will return him, won't they?"
Brett's mouth widened in another toothy smile. He said, "Oh, I should think so," as they left MacLeod to the tender mercies of the McMurdo Station crew.
They did return MacLeod to the quarters he shared with Methos, no worse for wear if slightly ruffled.
"So much for loyalty," he said, sorting equipment for the next day, liberally glaring at Methos. Already, not even a full day on Antarctica, and MacLeod felt the effects of twenty-four hours of sunlight. By his clock it was past ten in the evening but outside the sun shone like it was noon.
"Aw, were they mean? Tomorrow we'll only need a telephoto, and just the Nikon, if that's all right with you."
MacLeod thought about shoving the telephoto lens up Methos's--
"I'll need that," said Methos, taking the lens from MacLeod's hands with a knowing look.
MacLeod took the lens back and waved his hands at Methos. "Shoo. Shouldn't you be out communing with penguins or something? Let me do this. That's why I'm here, isn't it? I'll decide what you need and what you don't."
Raising his hands in supplication, Methos leaned against the wall, a smirk creeping across his lips.
"What?" asked MacLeod, sucking on a thumb he'd just smashed stuffing more equipment than could fit into the camera bag.
"I'm going to regret this, aren't I?"
MacLeod grinned broadly.
MacLeod trudged behind Methos, carrying their equipment. They turned and faced the Ross Sea Ice Shelf. Just white on white with pockets of light gray shadow, and the clear blue sky above. No clouds, except for a thin line far in the horizon. Methos held out his hand and MacLeod put a camera in it -- the Canon loaded with sensitive fast film because MacLeod thought it better. Without a word spoken between them, Methos started taking pictures.
Brett the Liaison talked and pointed: "This is where the Ross sea party landed. That over there is Hut Point. And then you can see Erebus in the distance and Mount Terror next to it." MacLeod wasn't listening. He knew the history, had lived through those years of explorers disappearing south, some never to return.
It wasn't until that moment, right then, standing on ice hundreds of meters wide and hundreds of meters thick, that he truly realized he stood at bottom of the world. If he concentrated he thought he could feel the water flowing far below. MacLeod listened to Methos's camera clicking through each shoot. He put one hand on Methos shoulder and Methos turned toward him; MacLeod could see the same realization in Methos's eyes. Together they stared out into the distance.
They were airlifted by CSF helicopter from McMurdo Station to an outpost at the base of the Antarctic Peninsula. From there they loaded skidoos and headed for Hope Bay.
MacLeod drove, with Methos behind him anchoring their weight. The skidoo bounced and skidded over snow ridges. MacLeod felt it in his lower back and his jaw, in the stinging of the wind that bled through his jacket. He grinned, steering the big great, motorized ski, following the two other skidoos ahead of him. He thought they were only twenty minutes away from the campsite location. It would be almost temperate there, filled with Antarctic life and showing signs of the global climate change.
Methos gripped him from behind. "Are you trying to hit every bump on purpose?" He yelled into MacLeod's ear, slightly muffled because of the mask he wore, straining to be heard over the engine and the roaring wind.
"Hold on," answered MacLeod, aiming for a bunch of mogul-style lumps. His teeth rattled. "Almost there," he yelled back.
They arrived, skidding to a halt next to the other two skidoos carrying Brett the Liaison and Alice the Scientist. As soon as they stopped, Methos stumbled from the back of the skidoo and lay on the dusty snow, groaning and swearing.
MacLeod wanted to laugh but the truth was every inch of him still vibrated from the skidoo and he ached in interesting places. He offered Methos his hand.
"I hate you," said Methos, still muffled.
"I know," said MacLeod. "You better get up before Ms. Barrett starts thinking you're not worth her time." Alice and Brett, as well as their assistants, were already unloading and busy at work setting up their tents and the essentials of base camp.
Methos groaned and MacLeod hauled him up to standing, amused by Methos's nods and waves and smiles directed at Alice. MacLeod turned and let his smile fall away, stunned at the view of mountain ridges and snow-capped peaks on one side and deep blue ocean on the other, filled with immense icebergs and drifting ice floes. At this latitude, the sun dipped a little below the horizon, and MacLeod realized that it must be early in the morning judging by the pink sky, nearly lavender along the far reaches, dotted with clouds.
MacLeod took the camera bag from the skidoo and started loading film. "I'll set up," he said. "You go."
Methos looked at the bag and the camera MacLeod was holding. He took both and put the camera strap around his neck. He started off in one direction, along the ragged coast.
"Wait," said MacLeod, pulling Methos back to stand in front of him. He fixed Methos's hat underneath his jacket hood, and buttoned and zipped the jacket properly, removing the wind mask. He tugged on Methos's gloves. Everything was standard issue CSF gear and of the highest quality. "Don't take your gloves off, and if you need your fingers you can take off just this bit here, see," MacLeod demonstrated, "but don't keep it off or you'll get frostbite and I don't want to hear you crying about it all night long." MacLeod finished, noticing Methos smiling at him with bright, crinkly eyes, all that could be seen with the jacket zipped up. "Get out of here," he said, refusing to be embarrassed and pushing Methos away. "And don't forget to label the film properly," he yelled after him. "You never label anything properly."
Then it was MacLeod's turn to nod and wave and smile at the others who didn't hide the fact that they were staring. Alice the Scientist called after Methos, asking him to wait up, and they both headed off together. MacLeod started setting up their tent.
They were a total of seven days out on the peninsula. MacLeod cooked breakfast and dinner on their rather sophisticated little camp stove, made sure they had snacks and chocolate bars for midday lunch. During the day, he followed Methos around as he and Alice visited penguin rookeries and lichen gardens, or studied the icebergs and the effects of global warming. The continent was lifting out of the ocean, springing up as less and less ice weighed it down. He belayed Methos over an edge to take pictures of scoured strata along one mountain.
At another science base at the tip of the peninsula, they rode out to sea on a raft boat, suited up in thick, arctic wetsuits. MacLeod loved the still blueness. It was so blue, just layers and layers of blue, darker and then lighter and then darker again. Blue water, blue ice, blue ocean life. He hoped Methos could capture the stark cold that teemed with life. Everywhere MacLeod looked he saw life.
He made sure Methos stayed organized, kept a log book of locations and shots taken, bickering and fighting along the way: Methos gave orders and MacLeod fulfilled them his way that was never Methos's way, which then devolved into a game of who was more stubborn, until Methos conceded MacLeod's way was best. Unless it wasn't, and then MacLeod never heard the end of it. The others on the team started to get that look on their face that said, "I'm not getting in the middle of that."
At night, or what passed for night on the peninsula with just the rosy blush kissing the clouds and the sun traveling in a tight circle in the sky, MacLeod lay awake in the tent he shared with Methos, feeling all of the aches and pains gathered throughout the day, listening to the slow rasp of Methos's breathing, matching it to his own until he fell asleep.
MacLeod brought up the rear behind the others, following Methos who followed Alice with Brett leading. Single file, they hiked into the interior of the peninsula, guided by GPS through a route along narrow crags in and around the snow-speckled mountain that resembled old men's faces with long gray beards.
"This way," said Brett, climbing up a steep incline where someone had made the effort to carve handholds and toeholds for climbing. "Carson Science Foundation has put in a permanent lead line here for our surveyors and scientists. So it's really quite safe," said Brett.
MacLeod gritted his teeth against Brett's slightly condescending tone. He braced himself against walls of ice, the spikes of his climbing boots scraping against stone. They emerged into blinding white and unending sky. No one spoke; even Brett remained silent, the only sound coming from the wind skimming over ice and snow and the soft clicking of Methos's camera.
After a moment, Brett indicated they should keep moving. Like scaling a dragon's back, they picked their way through the unsteady, slippery ridge, clipped into the permanent lead line with carabiners, stopping only when Methos or Alice called a halt.
They reached a wide, deep fissure between two colliding mountain cliffs threaded with blue ice and black rock, probably split by age and ice and expanding water. At the bottom MacLeod could just make out a crooked path that wound around. "We scale down here," said Brett. "Then trek through the canyon and back around."
It took a few minutes to set up the abseiling anchors. They would go two at a time. MacLeod crouched in the snow, testing his weight against the anchors. "I'll finish setting up here," said Brett with his too-wide smile, putting a hand on MacLeod's shoulder. "Go tell Alice we're ready. She and I will go down first."
Methos and Alice were off to the side, speaking too softly for MacLeod to hear; she was pointing out toward the horizon, gesturing, and Methos leaned in to listen. She saw MacLeod approaching and without waiting to be told returned to the abseil point, walking past MacLeod. Methos paid no attention, peering through the camera's viewfinder, like some kind of strange alien porcupine with cameras hanging around his neck, different size lenses sticking out.
"I don't think your girlfriend likes me," said MacLeod.
Methos smiled. "Jealous?"
"Deeply," Macleod answered as dryly as he could.
They waited their turn, listening for the "off rappel" call to come from Brett and Alice. MacLeod put all but a couple of Methos's cameras into the camera bag and lowered that over the edge until it reached the bottom. MacLeod clipped his harness in, locked the carabiner, stepped backward down a few inches, testing his weight. He felt the peculiar elation of looking down a big ravine. Next to him, Methos turned around and stepped backward. "Ready?" he asked.
With a nod, Methos took a small leap. MacLeod followed a second later, sailing through the air. They took their time, going slowly. The walls of the crevasse were threaded with lines of ice and rock of various widths, like the rings of a tree. They stopped at the halfway point, and Methos spent several minutes aiming his camera down the length of the narrow passage. The wind howled through the fissure.
Dangling hundreds of meters above the ground, MacLeod took one of his gloves off, put his hand against the rock face, imagining he could feel the pulse of the continent beneath his fingers. Antarctica smelled like cold dirt, wind, and iced seawater. He held his hand there until it started to ache. Making sure Methos's attention was elsewhere, MacLeod reached into one of his pockets and took out his small, ordinary 8.1 megapixal digital camera and quickly, sparing a glance at Methos, took some shots of the claustrophobic walls and the carved blue ice before tucking his camera away.
"What are you doing?" asked Methos.
"Nothing," said MacLeod innocently.
Methos narrowed his eyes. "Right. Well, shall we? I'm sure Brett is huffing and puffing and looking at his watch."
"And smiling," added MacLeod. "He's always smiling. I think it's frozen that way."
Methos chuckled. Then, with a questioning look, he lifted his face to the cliff above as a loud crack reverberated against the rock wall and a shower of rocks and ice sprinkled down. "Mac?" he said. MacLeod looked up and saw a larger chunk of solid ice tumbling down.
"Swing out," yelled MacLeod, but it was too late. Methos was hit full on by the ice. He banged against the wall. A whipping sound followed. Methos's anchor gave, the rappel rope snaking in mid-air. Methos slid along the ice, scrambling for purchase.
Without thinking, MacLeod released the brake on his line and followed. He jumped to the side and let the rope whip through his hand, heating up, burning with friction. He aimed for Methos who kept sliding, sliding, scraping along the ice wall with the spikes of his boots. He hit a small jutting shelf that stuck out.
MacLeod knew the howling wind, and the burn of the rope through his hands, he knew the panic in Methos's eyes, and the blur of the mountains, the ice and peeking sun overhead. He knew all of this as he reached, stretched across space and caught Methos's jacket just as the shelf cracked and gave way. MacLeod yelled, his arm wrenched nearly from its socket. They both slammed against the wall.
Dazed, MacLeod and Methos twirled and swung. With a yell of pain and effort, his heart bursting, head pounding, MacLeod lifted Methos up until Methos could grab hold of MacLeod's harness and lock his carabiner in.
Panting, they slumped against each other, dangling more than fifty feet from the ground. Below, MacLeod could hear the yells and cries from the others. He swallowed and cleared his throat. "Got him," he said, hoping they'd heard him, but the yelling continued.
After a moment, MacLeod realized Methos had passed out. He put his arms around him and waited. It took maybe a minute, maybe a year, before Methos stirred, lifted his head, instinctually thrashing out.
"Hey," said MacLeod, trying to hold still. "Easy."
"Mac?" asked Methos. MacLeod could see his eyes clear. He was bleeding a little bit from an ugly black and blue gash on his forehead. "Ow," he said, wincing.
"Yeah." MacLeod squeezed, offering a sympathetic smile. "Very well done. Honestly, is this your way of flirting with me?" MacLeod was quite pleased with the open-mouthed gape Methos gave him.
Recovering, Methos glowered. "This would be your idea of courtship, wouldn't it?"
MacLeod laughed and then sobered. "How bad is it?" Methos looked pale but the bruise on his forehead was nearly faded.
With a grimace, Methos sighed. "Well, I'll have to see once we're on the ground, but I think the Nikon is ruined," he said, holding up the poor, dead, smashed camera. "It was my favorite, too. But the little Canon's okay."
"Priorities, Methos. I meant you."
"Oh. A few broken bones. Nearly all healed now."
"That might take some explaining." With his free hand, MacLeod wiped at the blood on Methos's forehead, leaving a faint smear of read that he'd hope no one would notice.
"Less than the explaining I'd have to do if I'd died, so thank you, and can we move on from here? I don't trust this rope with both of us on it," said Methos, looking anxiously to the top of the wall.
"Good point." MacLeod shifted Methos so that they were basically chest to chest. "Hold still," he said, speaking quietly into Methos's ear.
Carefully, slowly, MacLeod let go of the rope, controlling their descent.
On the ground, Alice and Brett brushed past MacLeod in their eagerness to make sure Methos was all right. Alice's face was pinched with fear. Brett stood beside her, grimacing. Or maybe smiling, MacLeod wasn't sure. MacLeod watched Alice cosset Methos, feeling slightly ignored, stripping free of the abseiling harness. Turning his back to the others, he couldn't help rolling his eyes a little as he got rid of the last of the climbing gear.
"I'm fine, really," insisted Methos. "No, no, no, don't call a medevac. Honestly, nothing broken, especially not my neck. See? Still in one piece. We can thank MacLeod; he saved my life."
It was so silly, and he felt a little foolish, but, still with his back to the others, MacLeod felt his ears burn and he couldn't help smiling as he stood up straighter.
It took a bit of convincing on Methos's part, but Alice and Brett finally accepted that no permanent damage was done. Brett in particular was very insistent, citing insurance claims and formal reports, but he finally gave way. They made it back to base camp without further incident. Completely exhausted, everyone ate in total silence and then climbed into their tents with very little conversation.
Finally horizontal, MacLeod couldn't sleep. Every muscle along his shoulders and back throbbed. Each time he closed his eyes he saw Methos sliding down the wall with wide-eyed panic. He wouldn't have died. They hadn't really been in danger for their lives, and yet, MacLeod couldn't shake it. After nearly an hour of restlessness, he quietly left the tent.
The air seemed colder than earlier, although he knew it wasn't. It was just that he was tired. He sat down on one of the skidoos, turning to face the open sea so he could watch icebergs drift slowly past.
He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see Alice standing there. He budged over so she could sit next to him. Her light brown hair was free of its braid, sticking out from underneath the hood of her jacket. Her face was white, bleached by the cold, maybe also from residual fear. He didn't know her at all. They'd both kept their distance. There seemed to be some unspoken rule about assistants and contract laborers like him staying separate from the scientists. She'd been as chilly and as frosty as the wind and the snow peaked mountains. But Methos liked her, and for him, MacLeod could be polite.
They were silent for a long time, until Alice breathed in and turned toward him. "That was an incredibly stupid and brave thing, what you did."
He smiled a little. "You sound like Adam." In truth, he didn't feel brave. He felt like a cheat. He couldn't die, no matter how many mountains he fell from, he would always rise and walk away. But these mortals, with their fragile bodies and their unstoppable thirst, they perished at the whim of the indifferent wind, at the mercy of Antarctica. He looked at Alice, really looked at her possibly for the first time since they'd met. She wasn't striking, not like Christine from McMurdo Station, but could be called pretty in the evenness of her features: petite nose, intelligent blue eyes. She was cold and haughty and not very nice, and MacLeod was suddenly overwhelmed with a desire to protect her with all of his power. He wanted to protect all of them, all of these crazy humans who clung to the skin of this continent. There were tears in her eyes. She was shaking.
He took her hands in his. "Would you believe me if I told you I knew he wouldn't die? That neither of us would die. Call it faith."
She creased her forehead, wiped at her eyes. "I can't make you out, or him. What is it with the two of you?"
MacLeod squeezed her hands and then let them go. "A lot of history," he said, with another smile.
She laughed. "Okay, keep your secrets."
"Why are you here?" he asked her, really curious.
A stray hair fell over her eyes. She brushed it aside. "I love it. This is the last free place on earth. It belongs to everyone, to no one. And it can teach us so much."
"You don't think it'll get exploited eventually?" MacLeod knew there was supposed to be a wealth of untapped natural resources in Antarctica: coal, oil, gas. Sadly he felt it was just a matter of time.
"No one will let that happen," she said with such assurance MacLeod could only nod and hope she was right.
They fell silent again, sitting side by side, until without a word she got up and left, returning to her tent. He watched her, a lone figure walking, backlit by the Antarctic light.
MacLeod's days became a blur of cold and wind and blowing snow, the constant blue sky and the stretching white horizon. Trekking and hiking, constant movement, never resting, until Brett, always the timekeeper, signaled it was time to head back to base.
In contrast to his days, the nights were spent trying to sleep with the daylight shining through the fabric of their tent. He sometimes lay awake, with Methos's warm body lying next to his, sprawled across the floor of their tent, hogging all the space. It made him smile, and he watched Methos's chest rising and falling, listened to the wind batting against the tent, howling, wailing.
He found a friend in Alice. They worked well together; they made a good team, all three of them. MacLeod was conscious of not interfering between Methos and Alice, but it seemed to him that she held herself back, battled with her attraction to Methos, and for his part, Methos didn't push her. She was quiet and serious, only becoming animated when she spoke of her work: ice cores, trapped carbon dioxide, the atmosphere a hundred years a go, a thousand years ago, the ever present threat of global warming. "This place is disappearing," she said, her eyes glowing, her cheeks flushed. "So slowly, but I can see it. It's why I asked for Adam and why I work for CSF."
She was cagey about her involvement with CSF, enough to raise MacLeod's suspicions, to think she had another reason for wanting to document her work here. The CSF logo was everywhere, like they owned the continent. But he said nothing, helping Methos frame a shot of a deep crevasse that had opened up beneath a CSF ice core drilling station, causing all personnel to perish.
Back at McMurdo Station, word got around of MacLeod's abseil rescue, and he was made to repeat the story of the fall in the mountain fissure for everyone's entertainment.
"'Sha, man, that is intense," said a snow-blistered young man called Jaffo, laughing, holding out his hand for MacLeod to slap, to shake and snap their fingers. "You're welcome on any trip I take out onto the ice."
Others clapped him on the back, and more than one woman came close, with bright eyes and grudging respect, whispering things in his ear. "Welcome to Antarctica, baptism by fire," they said. "Not bad for a fingy, and a Carsy at that. Wait till you get slotted, then you'll really be one of us, you and your pet beaker. You'll be wintering over before you know it."
MacLeod gathered that a 'fingy' stood for 'fucking new guy' and 'beaker' was the general, slightly unfavorable, term for scientists, which apparently they thought Methos was and MacLeod didn't see the need to correct them seeing as it fit Methos so well. (He imagined Methos strongly denying any resemblance to an orange-haired muppet, and laughed). 'Slotted' had to do with falling into an unseen crevasse on the ice.
He noticed that few of his new friends wore CSF issued clothing.
"Working for Carsy's all right," said Jaffo, swigging a blue alcoholic drink. "A lot of money, good pay, good jobs. Nothing boring about being a Carsy, except the mort rate's high. Got a bad rep. They lose a lot of people every year. But that's Antarctica. Nothing safe here. Yet, Carsy's all a bit," he wrinkled his nose, eyeing Brett who had entered the room, "corporate, if you get my meaning." Jaffo leaned in conspiratorially. "Don't you think he smiles too much? It's unnatural. Some of us think he's really a robot."
MacLeod grinned. He listened with interest to the stories the others started telling of narrow escapes and daring rescues from the jaws of Antarctica. It seemed everyone had a story told in scars and wounds of near death on the ice. MacLeod enjoyed being the center of attention, listening and learning: always be prepared, never leave base without plenty of extra rope, on the ice bring an axe, bring a knife.
He caught Christine watching, hovering on the fringes of the room, as striking in appearance as before. She looked darkly at him, something in her eyes that MacLeod couldn't read, hidden and mysterious. She approached, an unspoken challenge in her stance. "You're not really one of us until you join the Three Hundred Club," she said, hands on hips. The others in the room gasped, some said to leave him alone, and others said it was the best idea, he should do it right away.
He sat back and smiled, all charm and relaxation. "Is that like the Mile High Club?"
A few laughed, and Christine just curled her lips a little. "Nothing like."
MacLeod started to feel a little uneasy. "Well, I'd love to, but I've got work to do," he said, standing, backing out of the room, suddenly eager to find Methos and hide.
They all laughed at him, and the determined look on Christine's face told him he wouldn't escape so easily.
MacLeod found Methos using the station's dark room, the safe light bulb indicating it was okay to enter. Methos wasn't alone. Alice turned when MacLeod opened the door, looking slightly flushed. Macleod didn't think he had interrupted anything more intimate than a conversation; she and Methos were standing side by side as he showed her photographs hanging from the clothesline running through the center of the room.
Alice said a quick good-bye, sliding past MacLeod. She gave him a pale smile before he shut the door and she disappeared around the hallway corner.
He turned toward Methos and raised his eyebrows, wondering if he should apologize. Methos shrugged.
"Well, for a pair of country mice, a couple of fingys, one of us a beaker, you and me are not bad. If tomorrow's a dingle day, we could go out to observation hill and get some grips in before we have to pack our klatch and bagdrag, leaving Mactown for the ice. I'll make sure we take a lot of nutties with us for snacks, and pray it's not a manky ride."
Methos frowned at him. "Gone native already?"
Macleod grinned. "What's wrong? Do you have your monk-on or something? Did you forget to degomble? A little too much big eye? Tired? Need to find your donga?"
"You can stop now."
"I particularly like 'Mactown.' Makes me feel at home here."
Methos shook his head, looking very much put upon. "Are you staying or going? I've got a bit more to do here before I can turn in."
"I'll stay," said MacLeod. Macleod went down the row of black and white photographs, showing a more documentary style instead of the nature shots Methos was known for.
MacLeod stopped at a photograph of him taken while still in London, in Methos's flat: he stood in front of the window, backlit so the London skyline was clear but he was just a silhouette, just the shape of a man. Next was another of him, and MacLeod was surprised to realize it had been taken the day of the accident, hundreds of meters above the ground. In the photograph his face was lined with strain, etched with deep concentration, gray against the white of the sky and the background. Methos had framed the shot to encompass the open fissure in the background and the rock wall, sheer and stark. MacLeod hadn't realized Methos had managed to take a picture; it was all a blur now, just a series of impressions of ice and rock and the heavy weight of Methos against him. The photo brought it all back.
"What do you think?" asked Methos.
MacLeod turned to the next photo of Alice hunched over a clipboard, a look of complete absorption on her face, her eyebrows creased together. Framed behind her was her tent with the CSF letters just off to the side, and then behind that a mountain, and then several more mountains behind that, like shark teeth, ragged and pointy. "Very good," he said, quietly.
They both quietly started working on separate things. MacLeod tidied up the mess that Methos always made with his cameras and his film, photographs all over the place. Methos leaned over a light board with an eyeglass, looking at developed film. At one point, Methos switched to safe light and the room turned into a murky sea of dark red.
MacLeod watched Methos as he worked, neither having spoken in over half an hour. He leaned against a metal cabinet. "Why did you want me to come with you?" he asked.
Methos looked at him. In the red light, he seemed older than his perpetual mid-thirties appearance. Or maybe Methos was just tired and the red light picked up on the shadows and the lines of his face.
"You know why. I already told you."
"No, I mean, really, why did you find me? Out of the blue, there you are. I'm not complaining. I'm glad, more than I can say, just, I don't know why."
Methos looked at the floor and was silent a long time. He fiddled with a pencil. MacLeod knew he wasn't being clear, that he hadn't truly conveyed to Methos how happy he was just at this moment, to be at the bottom of the world on an iced-over science station in a dark room with this man, this particular old friend. After everything that had happened, after all of the fighting and the deaths of those he loved and hated alike, MacLeod couldn't say how grateful he was, but he felt it, a pressure in the center of his chest.
"I don't know why," said Methos, finally. "I just woke up one morning and thought of you. Total impulse. I hadn't even planned to offer you the job that day in Seacouver, I just did. Good thing, I guess," he said with a lopsided smile.
"Nah," said MacLeod. "You'd have done fine with out me. But, I can't help but think about that anchor."
"I know," said Methos, shifting a little. "I talked to Brett about it. He blamed it on what they like to call the A-factor. It's Antarctica. The ice is unpredictable. You're thinking it wasn't an accident."
"Well," said Macleod, waggling his head back and forth. "You're usually the paranoid one--"
"With good reason!"
"--but, yeah, I do think it's a bit odd, except I can't figure how anyone could have planned it, and both Brett and Alice could have fallen as easily as you or me."
They frowned at each other. MacLeod could make guesses, instincts warring with each other, but there was nothing to be done except to go day by day and keep their eyes and ears alert.
He walked over to Methos, plucked the pencil out of his hand and laid it aside. He watched him carefully, noting the wary way Methos sort of stepped back. Macleod leaned in, his hands on Methos's shoulders, and pressed his lips to Methos's forehead, right where the bruise had been.
"This would be a perfect time for your girlfriend to walk in," MacLeod said, pulling Methos into a hug.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" said Methos with a short laugh, and MacLeod could feel the tension in Methos's back disappear.
When they pulled away, he regretted the red light that hid whether Methos blushed or not. "Tell me," MacLeod said, as conversationally as he could make it. They stood side by side, shoulder to shoulder. "Do you know what the Three Hundred Club is and should I be worried?"
Methos's eyebrows went up and he barked a laugh. "Oh, this I have to see."
Watching Methos grin like a fool and then burst out into more laughter did nothing to make MacLeod feel safe. He realized that the answer was yes; he should be very, very worried.
He was grabbed in the middle of his sleep cycle, arms and legs held firmly, and carried bodily through the station. He tried to fight, kicking and shouting, but it was no good. No one came to his rescue and actually, it seemed as if the crowd of faces around him grew in number, gathering more and more people as they navigated through the corridors. He recognized his captors, at least two of them: the sun-blistered Jaffo and Christine, marching beside him with firm, determined faces.
They took MacLeod through the station to one of the largest loading bays where a crowd waited.
His captors let him go and he stumbled. "What the hell is going on?"
Christine ignored him, climbing onto a couple of storage containers to rise above the crowd. "Thank you, everyone, for coming to this, Duncan MacLeod's inaugural entry into the Three Hundred Club. As I'm sure most of you know entry into this prestigious club requires the participant to go through three hundred degrees Fahrenheit by stripping naked, rolling around in the snow, and then hitting the sauna." She paused and the crowed clapped, hooted, stomped their feet, and cheered. One lone person in the back called out, "Take it off," which was met with more yelling and cheering and general mayhem.
"No way," said MacLeod, trying to leave, forcibly pushed back by a couple of big no-nonsense men. He spotted Methos in the crowd, with his perpetual camera. "Adam," he growled.
With his maniacal grin, Methos waved. "Don't get mad at me, it wasn't my idea. I'm innocent."
"And the camera? Have you no sense of decency?"
"None. Oh, and look." Methos pulled out MacLeod's compact digital camera. "Don't worry, I'll take some shots with yours as well."
"Why, you--" MacLeod lunged for Methos who quickly jumped behind Alice for protection.
Christine stepped in MacLeod's way. "It seems we have a squealer here." Everyone booed. "Don't be such a baby. Do you want company?" she asked. She turned back to the crowd, raising her voice. "Is that it? What do you say, people? Anyone want to join Duncan here so he doesn't feel so alone?"
MacLeod looked to Methos. "Absolutely not," said Methos.
"Coward. Just for that I'm going to mislabel all your film." But Methos only grinned with evil glee and took MacLeod's picture. To his own horror, MacLeod started to laugh as well, damn it all: Methos looked the happiest he'd seen him since the trip started.
The crowd started chanting: "Duncan. Duncan. Duncan." MacLeod looked out to the crowd and recognized Brett, smiling and clapping away, and Alice -- quiet, haughty Alice -- wolf whistling and yelling, "Do it. Do it," with great gusto. MacLeod felt deeply betrayed.
"Well, if no one else will, then I suppose I'd better," said Christine, MacLeod's jaw dropped when she started to strip. "Now you have to do it."
Damn, she was good. Standing up straight, with a challenging look, MacLeod whipped off his shirt. The crowd erupted in cheers. Then it was a race to get naked first. Suddenly they were joined by two more. Then a third. Then a fourth.
Six naked people, including MacLeod leading the pack, resisting the urge to cup his balls protectively, yelled and shouted, psyching themselves up and jiggling and flopping as they ran the gauntlet through the crowd. At the other end, Methos, grinning maniacally, held open the door to the outside, revealing a swirling world of wind and finely powdered snow and all MacLeod could do was yell, "I'm going to get you for this," as he ran past. Then he squealed as the cold hit him. It was a blur of shrieks and wind and blinding, dusty snow. Everyone screamed, slipped, clung to each other in a tangle of pink and brown skin rolling around on the ground. MacLeod felt like his skin would slough off, like it was all fire and ice.
Through the blinding white he saw Christine standing with her hair whipping all around her, tall and untouched by the ice, hands on her hips. She yelled, her voice carrying easily through the noise of the windstorm, "Come on, come on, everybody back inside, move it, move it, move it."
They all rushed back in. The crowd cheered as they ran down the hallway. He flashed on Methos's face in the crowd, a blurred image laughing and smiling like an imp, as MacLeod rushed forward into the communal sauna.
The first burst of warm steam felt heavenly, but then as he warmed, he felt raw all over, tender, cold on the inside and hot on the outside. Through the fog, Christine smiled. "Now you're one of us."
And all he could do was laugh, and then wince with the pain of defrosting.
MacLeod felt warm and tingly, sleepy after all the exertion. In the mess hall, he was plied with strange Antarctic alcoholic drinks. He talked and hugged and laughed, posing for pictures, with many people whose names he hoped he would remember, warmly accepted by everyone. He was called a friend and a good sport. He chatted up attractive women and bonded with the guys, until he noticed that Methos wasn't anywhere to be found.
He slipped away but was stopped in the hallway. Christine emerged from the shadows, her arms folded across her chest. "Looking for that good-looking beaker of yours?"
He smiled, laughed a little. There was something about this woman that made him cautious. "Why? Have you found him?"
Her dark eyes seemed to read him easily, judged him, and found him wanting. "He went back to his quarters. You should keep a better eye on him," she said with a trace of teasing threat to her tone. She moved out of MacLeod's way and down the corridor. "He seems a bit accident-prone."
She disappeared around the corner. MacLeod frowned, scratched his head, Christine's words filling him with unease as he stood outside of his quarters wondering what to expect. He could sense Methos behind the door.
With great force, he banged the door open. Startled, Methos looked up from where he sat on his bunk, cross-legged in his stocking feet, reading a book. "Mac?"
"Everything okay?" MacLeod looked around.
Methos also looked around, an amused but confused expression on his face. "Yes," he said, "I think so. Why wouldn't it be?"
MacLeod felt a bit foolish, but then remembered that Methos had ambushed him, betrayed him to Christine and the others, and willfully and gleefully took pictures of him in a delicate state for the likely nefarious purpose of blackmail. "You!" he thundered, pointing at Methos.
"Me," cried Methos, trying to retreat further back into his bunk, as if he could melt into his pillow. "Now, now, don't be mad. You had fun and you know it."
MacLeod, taking only a second to kick the door shut, pounced on Methos with all of his weight.
"Ow, ow, ow," said Methos, curling in on himself. "Don't hurt me," he pleaded, but he was laughing and squirming and MacLeod had a hard job keeping Methos from sliding right through his hands. So he did the only thing he could do: MacLeod kissed him, firmly on the lips, awkwardly pressing down with his weight.
Methos went still, squeaked, arms and hands locked in odd positions until he suddenly relaxed beneath MacLeod, opening, kisses long and languid with lips and tongue and teeth.
"This isn't part of your employment contract," said Methos, eyes glinting.
"Let's call it overtime," said MacLeod, kissing Methos's nose. Methos opened his mouth. MacLeod moved against him, thigh against thigh. He pulled back, tore his shirt off, shivering as Methos slid his hands up MacLeod's back.
Methos smirked. "Still sensitive?"
"What do you think?" asked MacLeod, sticking his hand down Methos's trousers, taking hold of his cock with one smooth tug. Methos gasped.
With their clothing half off, feet dangling over the side of the bed, MacLeod stuck his tongue down Methos's throat, grunting when Methos scraped fingers down the raw skin of his back, bucking into Methos's hand until he came, hard. He took a moment, listening to his heart beating in his ears. He pressed his lips against Methos's throat, trailing down to a collarbone, to a nipple. MacLeod swirled his tongue over Methos's stomach. He pushed clothing out of the way, taking Methos's cock into his mouth, sucking deep and long. Methos gripped MacLeod's shoulders, arched up off the bed, and came.
MacLeod was just conscious enough to make sure all of their limbs were accounted for and safely on the bunk, which was decidedly not big enough for the both of them but he rectified that problem by falling asleep half on top of Methos and didn't remember anything else until their alarm woke them up two hours later.
The next day they boarded a CSF plane heading over the Transantarctic Mountains to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Base. From there they would be going out to the Polar Plateau.
MacLeod strapped himself into the fuselage of the plane, with Methos and Alice on the other side. It was just the three of them. "Where's Brett?" he asked, yelling over the noise of the engines. He hadn't seen Brett or Brett's smile all morning.
"He's not coming," answered Methos.
"Not coming?" repeated MacLeod, shocked, as if Methos had just said Brett had turned into a parsnip. "But why?" By all accounts MacLeod should be relieved, but he felt strangely panicky at breaking up their merry little band. He had gotten used to Brett, after all.
Methos shrugged. "He was never meant to. He's scheduled elsewhere."
MacLeod frowned. "But why?"
"I don't know why. He just is."
"MacLeod," said Methos, not amused, very stern and annoyed.
MacLeod grinned, thinking of the previous night and the way Methos had thrown his head back when he nipped at his neck. They had been a little awkward in the morning, but Methos had kissed MacLeod just before they left the privacy of their quarters and MacLeod couldn't help but smile wider at the memory. His thoughts must have shown on his face, because Methos turned pinker than an Antarctic morning.
Alice watched with her blue eyes and her quick understanding, and MacLeod wished he could take the teasing back, instantly sorry. He didn't want to hurt her, didn't want to come between her and Methos and whatever was blossoming there. She turned her body away as much as she could, putting on her noise protection headset.
Methos looked worriedly at Alice, sparing an angry glare at MacLeod. The mood on the plane plummeted even as they rose into the air. MacLeod wanted to say he was sorry, that he would fix it somehow, but the noise was deafening. He put his own headset on.
The plane tossed back and forth between crosswinds, sinking and rising with turbulence. At first it was like any other plane ride in Antarctica, rocky and unpredictable. But the shaking grew worse and MacLeod's head hurt from the constant jarring. There was a sudden drop. The plane stabilized, but then dropped again. Even with the noise protection headsets, he could hear a storm outside, beating against the hull. Across from him Methos sat straight-backed against the fuselage, pale, his eyes closed. Alice looked at him with an expression he had only seen on her face once before, the day of the abseil accident: white and pinched and very scared. He released his restraints, ignoring both Methos and Alice yelling at him. He couldn't hear them anyway.
The plane jarred violently. It made him stumble, bounced him from side to side, but he made it to the cockpit. It was all noise and shaking and chaos. It was difficult to hear what the pilots were saying. They yelled at him, gestured for him to take a seat, to strap himself in. "Storm," they yelled. "Very bad. We have to go back. Go back. Go back."
The pilot repeated his last two words, as if the repetition would make reality more favorable. MacLeod stumbled back. He grabbed hold of the netting along the sides of the plane just as a particularly bad plunge lifted him off his feet. He slammed against the ceiling and then fell to the floor. A little stunned, he tried to sit up. Suddenly, the plane stopped shaking. It flew smoothly. It was over, he thought, the storm had passed. In that crystal moment, he looked over and made eye contact with Methos, a perfect still shot, a frozen picture.
The next second, the floor of the plane splintered. The fuselage shook like a test tube in a centrifuge before being ripped into shreds. MacLeod saw blinding gray, almost black. He thought he'd gone blind. He didn't know up from down, but he held on, until he lost his grip, hit his head, and knew no more.
MacLeod woke up with a gasp, half buried in snow swept over him by the wind. He'd been tossed from the plane, spit out and left on the side. It was dark, an unnatural dark of a blinding snow storm blocking out the sun, but he could see pieces of the plane only a few feet in front of him. His limbs felt heavy; he couldn't feel his feet or his hands, but he stood up and started moving.
A fire burned in one of the engines, but it was so cold he couldn't feel the heat of the flames. He called for Methos, called for Alice, his voice carried away by the wind. He came upon the two pilots first, lying dead in an ungainly heap of limbs, torn from the cockpit.
MacLeod climbed into the fuselage, shouting for Methos. Methos was still strapped in, his neck broken but he was whole. There was a moan, and MacLeod rushed to Alice's side. She was bleeding into a pool of red snow that had already gathered beside her, punctured through her abdomen by a steel rod.
Through the shrieking wind and the roar of the engine fire, he could hear his breath loud in his ears. He took one of Alice's hands in his. Snow collected on her eye-lashes, powder fine, like confectioner's sugar. He wiped her face. She was lucid, he could see her recognize him. She looked deeply into his eyes as her life drained away into the snow.
He stayed with her until he feared he would never leave and he and Methos would be buried there forever. Before rising, he closed Alice's eyes.
Crawling through the plane wreck, he found their supplies, their tents and sleeping gear, Methos's cameras and film, and also the emergency kit every CSF plane carried. In the ravaged cockpit, he found the satellite phone.
He set up the tent quickly, lighting one of the camp stoves in the corner, then went back to the wreck. He dragged Methos's body, already mostly frozen, through the storm, the drag marks disappearing in the wind. Using the sleeping bags, he created a cocoon. Methos was blue, dead eyes staring. MacLeod struggled to undress him, to get his frozen clothing off. His fingers were stiff and wouldn't hold things properly. He stripped his own clothes and lay on top of Methos, needing to generate as much heat as possible.
MacLeod didn't stop to think. He didn't think of the two dead pilots. He didn't think of Alice. All he could do was chafe Methos's arms, over and over again. "Come on," he said. "Come back to me. Come back."
Lying on top of Methos, shivering, he started talking. He talked to Methos about the traveling he had done after Connor's death, the funny little towns he'd find himself in, the strange people he'd met. "She collected three-legged dogs. When I was there she had ten or twelve, all named after dead presidents. Truman was my favorite. A boxer. He was just a puppy, abandoned by his owners, left to starve. When she found him, his back right leg had to be amputated. I stayed there for three months. That was in Texas, near Galveston."
And on and on. He kept talking, wrapped his arms around Methos's unresponsive body. He whispered into his ear. "I'm so glad you asked me to come with you. I'm so glad I'm here. Wake up, Methos. Wake up."
He didn't know how long he talked. Hours, certainly. Methos gasped, sucked in air. MacLeod saw color flood Methos's face, his eyes fluttered open. He gathered Methos into his arms and squeezed, buried his head against Methos's rapidly warming neck and cried.
MacLeod woke with his cheek pressed against Methos's chest, listening to his steady heart beating. He shifted, raised his head. There was very little light, mostly coming from the camp stove in the corner. Methos's skin was red and bruised, the small capillaries having burst. He lifted a hand, placed it against MacLeod's cheek, carding gently through his hair. Methos's fingers were swollen, turned dark with frostbite, but Immortal healing battled the damage, slowly. The cold, thought MacLeod, it slowed down healing.
"Are you in pain?" he asked. It must hurt terribly. He moved to check Methos's legs and feet.
Methos shrugged. "I'll live," he said with a sad smile. "Alice?"
MacLeod dropped his eyes, passing his hands down Methos's hips. He carefully removed Methos's socks. His toes were black, but MacLeod could see the spark of healing ripple across the skin. "She survived the crash, but only for a few minutes. There was nothing I could do. I'm sorry. The two pilots are dead, too."
Methos closed his eyes. He raised his swollen, black and blue hand and covered his face.
MacLeod rummaged through the supplies. There was emergency food, flares, a map. He put his outer gear back on, took a small cooking pot and went outside into the dark, windy cold and gathered as much snow as he could. The snow was fine and powdery and flew away as soon as he tried to scoop it up, but he gathered what he could before his hands froze.
Back inside, he made warm soupy food for Methos and himself. He held the pot to Methos's lips, ordered him to drink. Methos in particular needed to eat. They both did.
The satellite phone beeped when he turned it on: no signal, not with the storm outside blocking the sky. They would have to wait.
The windstorm lasted for hours before dying down, MacLeod wasn't sure how long exactly. He made more food for Methos. They slept a little, Methos tense beside him, breathing through the slow pain of healing. He lost track of time, wasn't sure if it was day or night. Without a satellite link, the sat phone didn't help. MacLeod went back out to the wrecked fuselage, salvaged what they could use, but they wouldn't be able to carry much. He hauled the two bodies away from the wrecked plane and laid them side-by-side by a rocky outcropping that made a natural shelter against the wind. He went back for Alice's body, but found Methos walking toward him through the blowing wind carrying her in his arms.
He almost ordered Methos back into the tent, but stepped aside and let Methos lay Alice next to the other two. They couldn't dig, not into this frozen mountain. He wondered if they should burn the bodies, or if they should just leave them. Perhaps the bodies could be claimed somehow. He didn't know if Alice had any family, if the two pilots had loved ones.
MacLeod looked up to the sky. He could see the sun, but the wind blew strong, and there were clouds coming up from behind the other mountains. The sat phone beeped, searching for an uplink, failed. Inside the tent he found Methos packing up their supplies, dismantling the camp stove. He already knew.
"We have to get off this mountain," he said.
MacLeod carried the heavier load, the food, the supplies they needed, and put the lighter stuff into Methos's bag. They left the cameras, but took the film. He rigged two harnesses from materials taken from the wreck. They put them on over their outer clothes and MacLeod clipped a long safety line between him and Methos. They both carried small axes. With detailed maps he found in the survival kit, and doing his best to guess the speed and trajectory of the plane, the length of time they'd flown before crashing, he knew approximately where they were: on the eastern side of the Transantarctic Mountains.
He made Methos go first. They moved as quickly as they could but neither he nor Methos were at top form. Methos stumbled frequently. MacLeod kept looking at the sky. Periodically, he checked the sat phone. Sometimes it almost connected. It must be the storm, he thought, or something related.
They kept moving, stopping briefly for breaks, eating their rapidly dwindling food. They hiked over hard snow and hard ice. Sometimes the incline was gentle, sometimes they had to use anchors and their axes, free climbing around sudden drops and cliffs. His fingers wouldn't work properly, legs giving way suddenly. He couldn't think around the cotton in his head, around the hard cold spiking through each limb. MacLeod gave Methos one of the candy bars he carried. At this altitude, and in this cold, with the exertion of climbing and outpouring of energy needed for healing, they weren't eating enough calories. Methos's face, the little he could see, was gray with exhaustion. MacLeod wasn't sure how many hours passed before Methos collapsed onto his knees.
"Come on," said MacLeod, hooking his arms underneath Methos's armpits. "Keep moving. Just a little bit more." They were nearly to the plateau. Macleod worried that if they stopped now, they'd never get up again.
"Forget it. Just leave me."
"Don't be so dramatic. Get up." MacLeod tried lifting Methos, but his own strength failed. They both plopped to the ground.
"No, I mean it. You can come back for me." Methos rested his head back against MacLeod.
The cold from the ground crept up and sank its teeth into his spine. MacLeod was so cold he felt warm. If he left Methos here, he would come back for him. Leave him with the extra supplies. Maybe Methos would survive. Or freeze. Popsicle Methos. Bring him back to New Zealand like that, in a body bag, blue and white and lifeless. Through the slow, thick fog in his mind, MacLeod realized what he was thinking and surged to his feet. "Out of the question."
"Mac," said Methos. "I'm spent. My blood is ice. My heart can't pump any more. This is deep hypothermia. I can feel it. We'll both end up frozen forever."
"I said no. No way. Now, move. Come on." MacLeod scrambled for purchase, still hooked underneath Methos's armpits. "I said move."
MacLeod felt Methos gulped in air and pushed against him for leverage, until they were both standing.
They stumbled along. After a moment, MacLeod took out two more candy bars and gave them both to Methos. Then he got one for himself. They still had food. Not much, not nearly enough, but it was something. Methos started laughing softly to himself. Then louder, and louder, until they had to stop so he could catch his breath.
"Do you mind?" asked MacLeod, but he was smiling, too. "What?"
"That was bad. That was like a scene from a really bad movie." He imitated MacLeod. "Mooovve. What are you, Sarah Connor?"
"It worked, didn't it?" he said, embarrassed and laughing.
"That was the Oscar clip. Or at least it would make the trailer."
Methos kept giggling, high and infectious. MacLeod joined him. They both were losing what little grasp on sanity they had, but that was okay. That was fine, as long as they kept moving down the mountain.
A driving wind fell upon them as they stumbled and spilled down to the more level ground of the plateau. The wind kicked around the loose snow. MacLeod could feel Methos at the other end of the safety line they were each clipped to. They walked as far as they could from the mountains until Methos stopped, tugging at the safety line. He fell to his knees, sank to the ground. In the blinding swirl, MacLeod realized just how much he had underestimated this continent. He had felt safe in the security of his Immortality, but not even that was a guarantee here. Not even that could save him. He realized for the first time that they might not make it.
These were the katabatic winds MacLeod had read about: strong, unrelenting, they could blow for weeks. The satellite phone beeped. Through the noise of the storm, MacLeod thought he heard it beep again.
"Hello," he yelled, grabbing the phone from his backpack, pushed the buttons. "Yes, we're here."
The voice that came through the phone was small and tinny, carried away in the wind. "This is Jaffo at McMurdo Station calling CSF Flight 20."
MacLeod could have cried. If he'd had any moisture left in his body he would have sat down and cried like a baby. "This is Duncan MacLeod," he answered. "CSF Flight 20 crashed, exact location of the crash unknown, but we're on the east side of the Transantarctics. There are two survivors. Myself and Adam Pierson." He looked to Methos who still lay on the ground dusted with snow.
There was static filled silence on the other end. "Magnetic storm," said Jaffo. "Interference difficult, can't track sat phone. Search and rescue on their way. Trek out to these coordinates."
MacLeod pulled out his map, memorizing the coordinates Jaffo gave him. The search and rescue point was about ten, fifteen kilometers further east, but he wasn't even sure of where they were at that moment to figure out in which direction to go. He looked at the sky, the sun's position obscured by the wind and the snow. He wished desperately for a GPS device. The phone call ended, the sat phone cutting out. He didn't know the time frame, how long they had, or if the search and rescue team would come by plane or by helicopter.
He pulled Methos to standing, shaking him, slapping his face until Methos woke and pushed back. If he had to, MacLeod would drag Methos the rest of the way, but they were getting to the rescue point no matter what. The sat phone, when it worked, told him their coordinates. Using that, and gut instinct, he started out in a direction.
Thankfully, as they moved further away from the mountains, the storm died down, although the wind still blew strong, pushed at their backs and at their sides. Methos bumped into him and then walked sideways until the safety rope caused him to stumble and weave drunkenly back. Macleod knew there was no way they could keep on course, but he kept looking at the sat phone, kept looking at the map.
The ground was uneven, ridged with deep grooves cut into the snow and ice like scalloped edges, etched parallel to the wind. Sastrugi, that's what the ridges were called, he remembered from his reading.
Methos fell behind. MacLeod felt the drag of the safety rope. He turned back to yell at Methos but tripped on a large upsweep of snow, his feet kicking through. The ground opened up, sudden, wide, and he fell backward, arms flailing. He yelled.
Slotted, that's what they called it, when you fell through an unexpected crevasse. His fall stopped with a sudden jerk, the harness he wore riding up hard, and he heard a loud snap, cried out with the blinding white pain of a broken back.
Dizzy from shock and pain, MacLeod looked up and saw Methos half dangling over the edge of the crevasse, having stopped himself from going over by wedging his axe into the frozen ice underneath the layer of snow.
MacLeod could hear Methos struggle, trying to climb back all the way to the surface, but MacLeod's weight made it impossible.
"Methos," he called. They looked at each other, both dangling from opposite ends of the rope that kept them connected. MacLeod took out the knife he carried in the inside of his jacket. "You go on."
"Don't you dare," said Methos, through his clenched jaw, still struggling to pull himself up and out of the crevasse.
"It's all right," said MacLeod. He put the knife against the rope.
"I mean it, MacLeod. If you cut that rope I will never forgive you." They locked eyes, and the distance between them melted away. It was as if they were face to face, battling over swords in the dojo, challenging each other, pushing to see how far the other would bend. MacLeod believed him; Methos would never forgive him. He moved the knife away from the rope, cutting the straps of his backpack instead. The backpack fell away, carrying all of their food and supplies, and the sat phone.
Grunting, yelling with each inch he gained, Methos crawled slowly back up over the lip of the crevasse. MacLeod watched from where he hung, swaying until he could grab onto the sides of the crevasse, using his knife and axe to climb up, but without the use of his legs he was nearly useless. Inch by inch he was lifted. He took a moment to look around. The crevasse was beautiful, filled with majestic ice sculptures, immense spikes of frozen ice, hollowed passages filled with blue light. MacLeod realized he still had his camera, always kept in an inside pocket. For Methos, he thought, he took a few pictures.
At the top he took hold of Methos's hand. Together they collapsed in a heap at the edge of the crevasse, panting, holding each other. Methos smiled at him and MacLeod smiled back. They didn't move.
"My back's broken," said MacLeod.
Methos nodded, pulling MacLeod into a more normal position. They sat with their backs against a small mound. The wind blew flurries around them.
"So," started MacLeod, conversationally, as if they sat on stools at a bar drinking beers while the game played. They had no tent, no shelter, no food. Brilliantly, miraculously, he remembered that he'd put the flares in Methos's backpack. He took them out, snapped them in his hands. They flared bright fuchsia. He wasn't sure how far they were from the pick up point. "What are your plans after this?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Methos. "I thought I might take a vacation. Some place warm. Bora Bora."
MacLeod chuckled, grinning. He couldn't help asking. "By yourself?"
Methos didn't answer, falling silent. "I lied to you," he said after a while.
"Oh." MacLeod shifted a little. Methos's face was still flushed with angry red skin, all along the cheekbones and the tip of his nose. His lips were dry, cracked. Methos wouldn't meet his eyes. "What about?" he asked softly.
"I do know why I asked you to come with me." Methos's voice rumbled quietly in the cold air.
MacLeod waited for Methos to elaborate but he said nothing more. The flares burned brightly. MacLeod turned, leaned close against Methos, resting cheek to cheek.
The wind picked up. It wasn't the driving strength of the katabatic winds but more of a flattening from above. MacLeod looked up and saw a helicopter, landing several meters away. A man emerged, smiling, and MacLeod could have kissed Brett, so happy he was to see him. Except, something was wrong. Where was the medevac? Why was Brett alone? Where was the search and rescue team? Beside him MacLeod felt Methos stiffen in anticipation. He felt his own stomach tighten with fear.
Brett trudged over the sastrugi ridges toward them. "Hello, there," he said behind his usual wide, toothy grin and his dark sunglasses. "Someone's been waiting to meet you."
He stepped aside. From the helicopter, MacLeod saw another man, no one he recognized, drop down to the ground. In his hand he carried a long broadsword. Immortal presence tingled down MacLeod's spine, melting into his numb legs. The man approached, stopping just a couple of meters away. He was tall, dark-haired, covered in CSF standard-issue clothing.
MacLeod looked at Methos. Methos's eyes were bright, hard. "You must be the eponymous Carson," said Methos, calmly.
Carson inclined his head. "And you are Doctor Benjamin Adams. You knew my teacher, Morgan Walker."
"Ah," said Methos, struggling to rise. He gripped his axe in one hand, picked up MacLeod's axe with the other. "I might have known."
MacLeod grabbed at Methos's arm, but what could he say? There was nothing he could do. He couldn't feel his legs. There was nowhere to run even if he could stand. MacLeod was helpless. He gripped the handle of his small knife he still held in his hand. "Methos," he said, his throat hurting.
Methos's eyes were sad but clear, bright in the sun and the wind. He squeezed MacLeod's hand before turning to face Carson.
Methos stumbled, blocking Carson's swinging sword with one axe, hacking with the other. MacLeod could feel Methos's exhaustion, flinching with every blow and jab that Methos received. Carson was just playing with him. It would be over soon. Carson sliced Methos's thigh. Methos cried out but ducked just in time, swinging back and hitting Carson in the upper arm. Both men pulled back, circled each other. Methos couldn't walk straight, tripping over his feet.
MacLeod recalled the little that he knew about Morgan Walker -- slave trader, killer. Carson didn't look like a killer. He looked like a businessman, a Wall Street tycoon playing dress-up in the wilds of Antarctica. This was about money. MacLeod thought of Alice Barrett and her ideals, her dreams. This man thought he could own Antarctica.
The wind blew harder, kicking up the snow flurries, obscuring MacLeod's vision. Carson swung his broadsword, hacking into the cold air, beating Methos backward. Methos fell, sprawled on his back, fending off each blow. With both axes, he hooked the broadsword's blade, kicked with his foot. Carson staggered back. Before Carson could recover, Methos swept wide and buried one axe in Carson's sword arm. He swung around again, buried the second axe in Carson's neck. Carson clawed at his throat with his one good hand, blood gushing through his fingers.
Staggering, legs collapsing beneath him, Methos grabbed Carson's sword, and delivered the killing stroke. He fell to the ground as the quickening gathered, collecting in a cloud of snow and electricity above Methos's head before striking.
The helicopter sparked and exploded. The sky darkened as cloud cover grew.
MacLeod saw Brett reach into his jacket and pull out a gun, pointing it at Methos. Brett's smile had become edged with fear. MacLeod willed his legs to work, pushed himself up to an almost kneeling position. "Hey," he called. The quickening was ending. Methos lay on the ground, motionless. Brett turned. MacLeod hefted his knife. Brett looked shocked when the knife slammed into his shoulder, disabling his arm. The gun fell from his hands. Brett dropped to his knees, fell onto his side, crying out in pain.
MacLeod crawled toward Methos. The quickening storm kicked snow into his face, clouded his eyes. He thought he saw a figure come striding through the whipping wind, untouched by the storm, then several more figures appeared. He lay on his back and stared up into the familiar face of Christine.
"Need some help?" she asked, smug smile tugging at her lips. She peered into his face. At that moment she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
She knelt by Brett, taking her gloves off to feel his pulse. MacLeod saw it and wondered how he'd missed it before, right there on the inside of her wrist: the Watcher's tattoo.
Sickbay at McMurdo Station smelled like antiseptic and ammonia. MacLeod, hooked up to an IV pumping liquids into his body, tried to shift on his observation gurney, unable to turn over. Methos lay in the next bay, asleep, also hooked up to IVs. At least Methos's skin was mostly back to normal, having lost much of the angry frostburn. MacLeod had tried to insist that they didn't need medical attention, but Christine had not listened. "No one will know," she said. "I've got it covered. You're both suffering from dehydration and hypothermia."
Decorations hung lopsided over heart monitors and EKG machines. Lights framed the doorway and the mock window that looked into the next room. They'd missed Christmas somewhere between craggy cliffs and blue ice.
The door opened and Christine entered with two trays of food. She set one by Methos, off to the side for when he woke, then brought the other to MacLeod, setting it right in front of him.
She pulled a stool over. "Eat everything. You're about one third the man you were."
MacLeod caught his reflection on the metal surface of a storage cabinet opposite where he lay. His face was thin but he knew he would recover. He wanted answers before he started eating. "You were Carson's Watcher?"
"It'll get cold," she said, taking his spoon and dipping it in the bowl of soup. When he didn't take it, she smiled. "Obviously."
"You should have said something."
She crossed her arms. "That's not what we do, and you know it. What could I have said that would have changed anything? He would have found some way of making the challenge. I did what I could; I watched."
"You should have said something," MacLeod insisted. "Alice died, the two pilots died. If you had come to me, it wouldn't have happened. She'd still be alive." It was the old argument again. Watchers who sit back and do nothing while innocent people die.
Christine stared at him intently. There was pity in her eyes. "Carson was many things -- powerful, rich -- but not even he could control Antarctica. Not really. Alice Barrett, Marcus Stapleton, Stevie Williams all died because Marcus and Stevie decided to fly into a storm over the Transantarctics instead of turning back. Carson was an opportunist, plain and simple. If he saw something he could exploit, he did. This is Antarctica, MacLeod. She takes no prisoners. Not even your kind."
There was truth in her words, and he knew it, but she couldn't quite meet his eyes. They had been played like puppets. MacLeod knew his blame in the whole thing, ignoring his suspicions as he had, but he would not let her off the hook so easily. "Did they fly into the storm because they were foolhardy, or because if they didn't they wouldn't keep their jobs next summer?" he asked. "What about the money Carson poured into Antarctica, none of it for the surface reasons of science and research? If left alone, Carson would have owned this continent and all of its potential resources. You're right, he exploited everyone. Even you."
Her eyes were dark, unreadable. "Eat everything on your tray," she said, standing up. He stopped her before she could leave.
"You love this place. You're like Alice. She had the same fire inside driving her. I see it in your eyes. Don't forget it."
She pulled free from his grip on her arm, looked at him for a moment, then left.
MacLeod sighed. That hadn't gone well, and he was sorry to have pushed her so hard. Next to him Methos shifted. "I know you're awake." MacLeod swallowed his first spoonful of soup.
"They're not going to change, you know." Methos's voice was rough, raw. "She said it: It's not what they do. It's not who they are."
"I know," said MacLeod, quietly. "But she might change. You believe in the inevitably of things. Things happen because that's how they happen. She would have died no matter what, one way or another." MacLeod wasn't arguing. He was old enough to know how hard it was to change. Like the katabatic winds driving grooves of sastrugi into the snow. Sometimes you just had to let the wind push you where it willed. Maybe he could not have prevented the plane crash. Maybe he was just as arrogant as Carson.
MacLeod didn't look to the side, to Methos, but he could hear his quiet breathing, the slide of fabric over fabric.
"No," answered Methos.
"You think very loudly. You're not like him, so stop it. All we can do is learn from both what we do wrong and what we do right, and continue on. Alice had her suspicions about Carson, probably brought too much attention to herself. None of us are blameless."
It sounded like Methos was trying to convince himself, but MacLeod was grateful. They fell silent and didn't speak anymore until they were released by Jaffo and sent back to their quarters. Methos disappeared and MacLeod was left to pack for their departure the next day.
A crowd gathered to see them off: Jaffo, Cilla, Tommy, and many others whose names washed over MacLeod as he hugged them, shook hands, kissed a few cheeks. He looked for Christine, but he couldn't find her anywhere. Just before entering the dark door of the plane, he turned back and looked around to all of McMurdo Station. He saw Christine, by herself, climbing the big hill that butted up against the south side of the station. She turned and stood looking out toward them. At that distance, he couldn't make out her face, or any distinguishing features. She waved, and he waved back.
MacLeod learned that morning that Brett had survived and would be shipped off Antarctica as soon as he could travel, barred from ever returning. Already there were rumblings about CSF going under, questions about what it might all mean, about the future of Antarctica and everyone's place there. There were scared faces and hopeful faces, a few relieved faces.
Methos and he had not spoken since their conversation in sickbay, aside from an offhand comment here or there about packing. Had Methos made sure to take everything from the dark room? Had MacLeod cleared out the drawers?
The plane ride was tense, long, and quiet. They arrived at Christchurch late in the day. In the hotel, as Methos and he parted to go to their separate rooms, MacLeod knew. He had known since before leaving McMurdo Station, but had ignored it.
"Methos," he said, trying to think of something more to say. Methos looked at him, eyes shining from the lights of the hotel hallway. It was like they still had the safety rope tied between them. Time to cut the rope. He reached into his pocket and handed over his digital camera. "Keep it," he said, "There are pictures on there for you." He held the camera until Methos finally took it from his hand. "It'll be all right," he said, for no reason except that he really wanted it to be true.
Methos smiled. "I believe you."
In the morning there was a note waiting for MacLeod at the front desk, written in Methos's handwriting.
My barn having burned down to the ground,
I can now see the moon.
Be somewhere I can find you in six months.
Typical, thought MacLeod. Leave it to Methos to leave cryptic notes and then vanish.
Adam Pierson disappeared. The London flat was cleared out, left empty. None of his solicitors or agents knew where to find him. He'd left word that he would be in contact when he was ready, and that was that. MacLeod didn't try too hard to find him. He believed Methos would come to him when he was ready.
At first MacLeod found it difficult not having Methos beside him. After so many intense days together, spending all day, every day dependent on each other, tied together in more ways than with just a rope, it was like losing a limb. Like losing sight, or hearing. It was hardest at night. MacLeod listened for Methos's breathing and was restless without it.
He bought a boat. A big forty-foot cutter sailboat, with a decent sized cabin and a ten-foot mast. He named her Sastrugi because of the way she cut through water, making grooves and waves. For six months he made the sea his home, making port here and there. He spent a week with Amanda in Mexico. He visited Joe in San Francisco. Joe wouldn't answer his questions, only smiled that snaggle-toothed smile. "I simply don't know, buddy. He doesn't talk to me."
MacLeod huffed, sipped his whiskey. He was itching to get back out onto his boat, to sail away, but he made himself sit still.
"Christine refused reassignment," said Joe, rising from his stool, carrying his guitar in his hands. "Thought you might like to know."
He had wanted to know. He hoped it was a good decision for her.
In June he sailed to Southern California and paid a lot of money to make port in Marina Del Ray. He used his credit cards, checked his email, had all of his mail redirected to a local post office box. He sat in café shops and read newspapers and magazines, rented a car and drove around Venice Beach, but always slept on his boat. One morning he sipped his coffee and read a small back column in the last few pages of the June edition of National Geographic. The title read: "Carson Science Foundation: More Secrets Revealed."
It seemed once Carson disappeared -- presumed dead, just another claimed by Antarctica -- suddenly much came to light about private interests groups backed by high powered money and potential mining contracts. An unnamed individual bought all of Carson's stakes and proceeded to dismantle them, bringing everything public. The CSF was no more, reformed under the new name of Barrett Antarctic Survey, administered by Jeffery "Jaffo" Stephens and Christine Deluna, with a focus in conservation, research, and safety.
Well, thought MacLeod, Methos had certainly kept himself busy.
The summer days continued, long and lazy. MacLeod had a routine of waking up, walking to a local breakfast spot, shopping for the day's supplies, then rummaging around the boat doing odd jobs and repairs.
On a hot Tuesday, he returned from breakfast to find a brown paper-wrapped package waiting right on the stern with no note. He brought it below deck, put his groceries down before tearing the paper away. It was a large picture book. The photo on the cover was one taken in the crevasse, showing the magnificent ice garden that no one but himself would ever see in person. Inside the book were pages of sweeping panoramic views of glaciers and open blue skies, harrowing shots of narrow ice-covered corridors between overhanging cliffs, underwater murky photographs of glowing sea life. Interspersed among the larger than life photographs were the black and white stills, mostly of Alice, some of himself and a few others.
One section was filled with pictures taken with his digital camera, hundreds of smiling faces of the people who worked at McMurdo Station. He smiled to see large, blown up pictures of his pasty white behind running through wind-whipped snow, and all of the others who'd joined in the fun that day. He traced his name next to Adam Pierson’s.
Immortal presence made his knees go weak, and his head bent forward. The boat rocked as someone stepped on board. There was a gentle knock and MacLeod turned around to see Methos standing framed in the small doorway. He looked like himself, less the young urban professional and more just Methos, in his long dark duster, sweatshirt and dark jeans. They stared at each other for a moment.
"It had to be a boat, didn't it?" asked Methos.
MacLeod chuckled a little. "You sound surprised." He got two beers from the small fridge in the galley, handed one to Methos. He took a long pull from his. "Come to make another job offer?"
"No," said Methos, stepping fully into the cabin. There wasn't that much room to stand up straight, to give each other space. "Yes." Pause. "No."
"I see," said MacLeod, amused.
Methos saw the book left on the small table. He walked over to it, flipped a couple of pages. "The last works of Adam Pierson. What do you think?"
MacLeod studied Methos's back for a moment, trying to read his body language: nervous, waiting, held in. "I think it's amazing," he answered, softly.
Methos turned and faced him. "That means a lot. Thank you."
MacLeod wasn't sure what to say next. Wasn't sure if this was just a visit or more. He picked up on Methos's apprehension, feeling a tightening in his belly. "Are you hungry? Just went shopping, so you're in luck. Or we could go for some food--"
Methos stepped in close and kissed him quiet, pressing MacLeod back into a corner hedged in by cabinets and overhanging storage bins. MacLeod opened his mouth and Methos pushed in further. The kiss moved, it traveled, mashed up against lips and teeth, sliding tongue against tongue. MacLeod nipped at Methos's neck.
Methos inhaled, turned his head for better access. "Actually, you see, I was hoping for the job offer this time."
"Methos," said MacLeod, taking their half-finished beers, leading Methos through the small space to the back where the bed was. He unsnapped Methos's jeans, pushed him back onto the bed tucked into the bow of the boat. MacLeod climbed on top. "Shut up."
"Right. Good id--"
The rest was muffled. MacLeod lay fully on Methos and kissed him deeply. They both laughed a little as they shimmied out of the rest of their clothing, trying not to bump their heads in the small space. MacLeod rose up onto his elbow, catching Methos's hand in his, threading their fingers together. It was a good hand, a strong hand. He remembered the swollen fingers, the black of frostbite, and brought it up to his lips. The boat swayed gently.