About Today by hafital
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Author's Notes:
Written for tryfanstone (on LJ) for the 2012 hlh_shortcuts. Thank you to unovis_lj for the beta!

Hey, are you awake? Yeah, I'm right here
Well, can I ask you about today?
How close am I to losing you?


-- "About Today" by The National

***


Duncan MacLeod did not look at the man standing in the living area of the barge, tall and pale against the black of his pea coat. Instead, he concentrated on the bobbing tomatoes boiling in a big pot on the stove. Keeping his attention fixed on the tomatoes dancing and shivering against each other, MacLeod knew Methos had not taken his coat off, and that his pale hands were exposed. The setting sun flooded in through the starboard side portals: a bright, almost blinding light that made him squint as he picked up the big pot of boiling water and drained it over the sink. Hot water, then cold, then he set the tomatoes aside.

Methos stood far enough away to seem like a visitor, an unwelcome guest unsure of where to look and where to stand or what to do with his hands. MacLeod poured himself a glass of white wine, and poured another for Methos. But should he leave it on the counter for him? Or should he walk around the galley and hand it to Methos?

He left it on the counter.

"I had a dream with you," said MacLeod, taking an onion, preparing to chop it up into little pieces.

"Oh?" Methos's voice rumbled quietly, a slight inflection in inquiry. It might have been a night like so many others. It might have been from some time now lost to memory.

"It was a strange dream," he said, starting off by chopping the onion in half.

"Aren't dreams usually strange?"

MacLeod didn't answer. He sensed that Methos had come closer, but still too far away to reach the glass of wine waiting for him.

"You know how sometimes you'll have a dream that's so real. Everything is crystal clear."

"Is there a point to this?"

"You and I, we were on horseback riding across an open field with nothing for miles, just endless sky and an open moor. There were hills, yellowed and brown. It must have been winter." MacLeod spoke while he chopped, the crisp sounds of the onion an odd accompaniment to his words.

"On horseback?" cried Methos in an almost-but-not-quite-laugh. "That is weird. I haven't been on horseback since--"

Abruptly, Methos fell quiet. Silence rang in tandem with the bells of Notre Dame. MacLeod gripped the handle of his knife very hard. It was strange. He was over four hundred years old, and during his long life he had chopped many an onion. Every time, he thought himself master to the onion: 'This time, you will not get the better of me.' He knew all the tricks. But yet, just when he thought he might finally win and escape unscathed, his vision would cloud, and his eyes would sting.

Blinking away the irritation, he resumed his chopping. MacLeod spoke again. "The thing is, I was chasing you. On horseback. And we were dressed in clothes from out of the past, like a scene from one of those period films. Well, I said it was strange."

"Did you catch me?" Methos's voice was barely above a whisper.

"Yes. Of course I did. I had the faster horse, didn't I? I caught you, knocked us down into the boggy moor, scaring the horses. You fought back. I tackled you. It was bloody and messy and never ending. You asked if there was a point to all this? I don't know, Methos. You tell me."

And finally, MacLeod looked up but he couldn't see Methos. He was blinded, by the stinging onion, by the glaring sunset spilling in through the portals, washing the interior of the barge with golden light. The light cut across Methos's face, bright like fire, like quickening. For just one moment, it brought back the scene in the abandoned base: his exhaustion, the ringing of metal, and the wild, insane light in Kronos's eyes, the knowledge that Methos was fighting for his life just a few feet away yet still so far.

The memory must have shown on his face because, even though MacLeod could not see very well, he could sense Methos turn cold and turn away. "If you asked me here just to wedge in the guilt a little further, MacLeod, you needn't have bothered."

"You don't understand," he said, frustrated.

"No, I think I understand perfectly. You're saying this is all we'll ever have. This weight between us." Methos bit off his words. 


"That's not what I'm saying." MacLeod reached blindly for a towel or a dishcloth to wipe his eyes but he found Methos's wine glass instead. It fell and shattered, the tart smell of the wine rising. But what was he trying to say? It was there, on the tip of his tongue, stinging like his eyes, tears running down his face.

"I don't need this," said Methos, and he turned and headed for the door.

MacLeod wiped at his eyes. "Wait," he said, afraid that it was too late.


*


MacLeod jumped onto the stone of the quay. "Wait," he called again. His eyes still stung, but he could see Methos a few feet ahead, wrapped up in his dark pea coat, heading for the stairs leading up to the street.

He started to run. The dying sun bled red and gold all over the Seine and the gray stone. He wiped at his eyes, trying to clear his vision. Immortal presence rang discordantly off the quay, and he stopped when he realized the presence wasn't coming from Methos.

In the same moment, Methos turned to look at him in the slowly vanishing light. Their eyes met in a stark, clear moment. Behind the figure of Methos, MacLeod could just make out a man standing in the shadow of the Pont de Tournelle.

There was a noise behind him. He turned to see what it was just as someone yelled, "No!"

A gunshot rang loud. His first thought was of Methos, that he had to get to him, but for some reason his legs weren't working. He fell to his knees. His vision started darkening. Frustrated he wiped his eyes again and saw the blossom of red blood in the center of his chest, tinged with the golden light of the setting sun.

Someone was yelling, franticly. With great effort, MacLeod lifted his head and saw Methos with his sword drawn. "Get up, you bastard. Move," Methos yelled, bending down to grab MacLeod underneath his armpits.

Suddenly, everything snapped back into focus and MacLeod knew true fear. "What are you doing? Get out of here. Run, Methos, go!"

A second gunshot rang and Methos cried out. MacLeod was dropped painfully onto the stone. He rolled onto his back. The last thing he saw before he died was Methos standing with his sword held up in defense, a fresh gunshot wound high on his left thigh spreading bright red blood along the quay, and two nameless Immortals, circling.


*


When MacLeod revived it was to a night-darkened sky broken by the last few jagged silver-white bolts of quickening fire stabbing down into the river. The Seine roiled and swelled up, flooding over the quay. The quickening had cracked the stone, had blown out chucks of the bridge.

There was one man bent over in a whimpering huddle, crying out in agony. MacLeod took in the scene: the man, the broken quay, the strewn bodies of two other men. Understanding was slow to come. It was simply impossible. This was a dream. This was a nightmare.

The quickening ended, and MacLeod painfully stood up and walked toward the bodies. The remaining Immortal was barely conscious, crawling and babbling incoherently. Without pausing, MacLeod picked up Methos's sword that lay on the ground. He took one more step toward the whimpering man, then swung and took the nameless Immortal's head in one stroke.

MacLeod barely noticed the quickening. Instead, he fell to his knees again. He knew Methos's body by the dark pea coat, and his pale, strong hands. He gathered Methos's body against his chest while the quickening raged around them, and he yelled and cried until his voice was no more.

His rage and his sorrow and his guilt were inconsolable.


***


The glass shattered, sending tiny jagged shards everywhere. The pale golden liquid spread at Methos's feet.

"I don't need this," Methos said, heading for the door. He was desperate to get out, away from the smells of the spilt wine and the meal MacLeod was cooking.

"Wait," said MacLeod, trying to get around from the galley, but Methos had his hand on the handle, ready to push the door open and step outside.

"Methos, please."

MacLeod spoke quietly, almost a whisper. He didn't beg. It wasn't an impassioned plea, but there was still a note of such immeasurable sadness in MacLeod's voice that Methos felt the tips of his fingers grow cold. He shivered, and lowered his head.

MacLeod had called him earlier in the day and had asked him to come over. It had taken all of Methos's bravery to say yes, and it was taking all of Methos's bravery to stay. He was afraid. He was a coward.

Slowly, he took his hand off the door handle, and step-by-step reentered the living area of the barge.

MacLeod visibly exhaled. "I didn't ask you here just to attack you."

Methos noted how red and irritated MacLeod's eyes were. The light from the setting sun captured MacLeod in its golden bath, reflecting off every metal surface. It was all too bright, and Methos closed his eyes.

He felt MacLeod squeeze his shoulder.

There was so much Methos could have said in answer. Instead, he stepped around MacLeod and found a dishtowel, bending down to clean up the broken glass and the spilt wine. A moment later he heard the sounds of chopping start up again.

After cleaning up the wine, he watched MacLeod. He had to laugh. How many times he had watched MacLeod while he cooked? It was just pasta, and homemade sauce, but oh, it would probably make him weep.

"I had a dream with you, too, once, you know. Years ago, just after we first met," Methos said, the words coming before he knew he was going to speak.

MacLeod paused as he peeled the tomatoes. With red, pulpy hands, he tried to wipe at his face. Methos took in every detail.

"Were we on horses?" MacLeod asked, succeeding in scratching his cheek, then dipping his hands once again into the meat of fleshy tomato.

"No. I was lost in a labyrinth of books. Stacked one on top of the other twelve feet tall, rows and rows of them. You were calling for me and I couldn't find you. Felt like I was lost for hours. Clearly, this was during my Shakespeare and Company days," he added, wryly.

MacLeod smiled, and Methos wondered when was the last time he had been given one of MacLeod's smiles. "Did I find you?" asked MacLeod.

"Not sure. I woke up," Methos answered, feeling heat on his cheeks. "Dreams are just dreams, MacLeod," he continued. "They don't necessarily mean anything."

"I suppose." MacLeod spoke quietly.

The peeled tomatoes bubbled and stewed. The onions and garlic simmered in olive oil.

"The thing is," said MacLeod, and there was such vulnerability in his suddenly rough voice that Methos had to look at him. "I'll always find you, you know. That's what I was trying to say earlier. It was that, in here," and he placed his tomato-smeared hand against his clean shirt, "that hurt so much, because for a while you were lost to me. Do you understand?"

The sun was finally almost gone, leaving just a faint trace, a final lick of golden light rimmed around the portal windows. Methos tried to find his voice but he didn't know what to say, or how to say it, or maybe he was just afraid. The moment passed.

MacLeod wiped at his eyes. "Watch the stove, would you? I'll be right back." Methos stood in the middle of the barge looking blankly in the direction of the galley before he heard the door open and close.


*


Outside, Methos approached cautiously, stopping several feet away. MacLeod stood with his back to the barge, wrapped up in the gathering darkness. He turned round when Methos got close and they stood as two men sometimes do, gazing out into the dark ribbon of the Seine. Methos let the coolness of the night and the rising fog fill the empty space that stretched out between them.

MacLeod let out a sigh.

"Don't worry," said Methos, awkwardly. "I took the food off the fire. God forbid dinner should be ruined."

He tried to speak with dry amusement. MacLeod almost smiled and nodded, taking one or two steps closer to Methos. Methos held still. They stood within arm's reach of each other, off center, looking at the dark grey stone of the quay or the bridge or the lights of Paris that began to twinkle: everywhere but at each other.

Without speaking, MacLeod broke free and returned to the barge. Methos didn't follow. He didn't know why he didn't follow, only that his feet seemed stuck. He counted, imagining each step MacLeod took away from him. Methos had walked across the quay so many times he knew instinctually how many steps it took to reach the barge. The fog crept across. It grew cold, and still he didn't move. Eventually, he went home.

The next day he left Paris. He vanished back into legend. Alone, he never stayed in one place too long. Not because he feared he might be challenged, but simply because he didn't feel comfortable with familiarity anymore.

Even as he lived his life in the shadows, avoiding Immortals, he always knew where MacLeod happened to be in the world. Methos knew MacLeod's triumphs, he knew his pain, ever the champion. He knew, even from such a distance, how the very essence of what separated MacLeod from the average man -- his honor, his courage, his ability to love -- began to slowly erode away under the constant barrage of challenges and deaths and violence that defined his life.

Try as he might to resist, MacLeod was a born hunter. Methos had always known this. There can be only one.

Years went by. Decades. The Gathering rose like a thief in the night, stealing lives one by one. So many had thought the Gathering would come in the shape of a fantastic battle, but in reality its presence was felt in the quiet of the mornings, stealthily creeping in when no one was looking, one day leaving only two Immortals.


*


Methos ran across a boggy moor, his sword in hand. There were hills in the distance, and the wind cut sharper than a knife. The sun was setting. He lifted his sword just in time to block MacLeod's vicious swing that almost took his head.

MacLeod's eyes were hard, and he was stronger than anyone Methos had ever known, stronger even than his lost brothers. There was nothing of the man Methos remembered from those final moments on a darkened quay.

They fought until Methos's arms failed him. Panting, he circled around MacLeod. "I thought you said we were on horseback." He didn't know if MacLeod would remember. Methos wanted MacLeod to remember. He wanted it more than he wanted to live.

MacLeod smiled, and the setting sun caused the moor to turn golden and the air to shimmer. For one startling moment Methos was back in the barge on that fateful day so long ago, receiving one of MacLeod's smiles, just for him.

"That was just a dream. This is reality." MacLeod's voice was low. He stepped forward and the light from the sun faded, blocked by a passing cloud. "I said I'd always find you, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did."

Before Methos could breathe from one moment to the next, MacLeod rushed him. He raised his sword up but MacLeod hooked his sword with Methos's, locking it in place behind Methos's head. Methos recognized the move. He panicked, pushing against MacLeod in the circle of his embrace.

"MacLeod, what are you doing? Don't do this. This isn't how it's supposed to be." He struggled, he pushed as hard as he could but it just further ensured the spring action of the maneuver.

"Shh. This is the only way it can be," said MacLeod, his voice rough, full of sorrow and love and death.

Their eyes met. The sun returned, and Methos truly looked at MacLeod for the first time in so many years. Methos knew this man, knew his heart. As hard as he had tried all his immeasurably long life to run away from his fear, Methos found it again in the beloved face of the man who held him locked in his arms. Everything he ever denied came rushing back, and he shook his head in protest. "No," he said.

"Shh," said MacLeod, again. "It's all right. I've got you."

Methos was breathing hard, his heart hurt, but he kept his eyes open when MacLeod stepped back and let go. Methos's sword was released and swept around in a perfect arc, slicing through MacLeod's neck.

The quickening embraced Methos, brought him to his knees, then onto his hands, then further down until his forehead pressed deep into the soft, wet earth. He screamed in pain. Even so, he cherished every moment of the quickening, because once it was gone, he would be forever alone.


***


MacLeod wiped at his eyes. "Watch the stove, would you? I'll be right back." Unable to look at Methos, he crossed to the main door, pushing it open. The cool air was like a slap to his face and it made him stop.

The door swung open, revealing the quay and the lights of Paris just winking into existence one by one as the sky darkened. MacLeod did not step through. He didn't know what made him stop, and look back.

He saw Methos standing in the middle of the barge blankly staring in the direction of the galley. Something in MacLeod shifted. It was as simple as reaching across and closing the door, choosing to stay rather than to go.

Instead, he went to the bathroom and splashed cool water on his face. He pressed the heels of his palms against his closed eyes, and let out a sigh. When he returned to the main room, he found Methos standing behind the galley, still in his dark pea coat, stirring the onions with one hand and poking through the refrigerator with the other, emerging with the opened bottle of white wine.

MacLeod put his hands on his hips. "Just what do you think you're doing?"

"Helping," said Methos, innocently.

"Okay, enough helping. Shoo," said MacLeod, waving Methos out of the galley. He took down a fresh wine glass and placed it on the counter for him.

MacLeod suspected he saw something like a smirk pass quickly across Methos's face, which then caused some unnoticed weight to lift from his chest. He could breathe easier, and set to rescuing the onions from burning.

They didn't speak while MacLeod cooked. There was just the sounds of the onions simmering in red wine, and the occasionally noise off the Seine that traveled in through the hull. Methos sat on a stool, leaning against the counter, seemingly content to watch MacLeod. There was still a knot of uncertain tension simmering on low along with everything else, but MacLeod found he didn't mind it so much now. He added the tomatoes and then set the whole thing to stew.

"There," he said. "That should be done in about two hours."

"Two hours?" cried Methos in surprise and alarm.

MacLeod smiled at Methos. "Hungry?" He took up his glass of wine and took a sip. He looked at Methos when Methos didn't answer.

He must have said something, he wasn't sure, because Methos's expression was one of hope and fear and shock. MacLeod, his hand shaking slightly, set his glass down.

"Maybe you haven't lost me," Methos said, voice cracking. "Or, I want to be found. Or, I don't know, maybe you never lost me, not really. I was always right here." When he finished, Methos dropped his eyes down to the counter.

Heart hammering in his chest, MacLeod stepped around from the galley. Methos turned his body to face him. He took Methos's hand, pulled him from the stool. This was something he had been desperate to do all evening: he brought his arms around Methos, pea coat and all.

Methos was rigid, but he turned and pressed a cold nose against MacLeod's neck. "Shh," MacLeod said, bringing one hand up to cup the back of Methos's head. "It's all right. I've got you."

MacLeod could have wept with joy when, with a great big shuddering exhale, Methos brought his arms around MacLeod, and both men held on to each other as tightly as they could.


*


Carefully, Methos pressed his lips against the heat of MacLeod's skin, his neck, a cheek, the left eye, the right eye. Slowly, MacLeod reached underneath Methos's coat, first one hand and then the other, until he succeeded in taking the damn thing off. It dropped to the floor and was left there.

Together, they moved to lay on the couch, lengthwise on their sides. Methos pressed his face into the crook of MacLeod's neck like he lived there. MacLeod breathed in slowly. He ran his free hand down Methos's back, then down his arm. MacLeod brought Methos's palm against his cheek. With his face still hidden against MacLeod's shoulder, Methos shifted a little so he could watch.

"What happens next?" asked Methos.

"Next?" he repeated. "We stay here." MacLeod could not explain it, but he felt that if they could just manage to be together until the sun rose in the morning, all would be well. "And then, tomorrow," he shrugged. "Who knows."

Methos relaxed against him. "I can handle that."