Samsara by hafital
[Reviews - 0] Printer

- Text Size +
Author's Notes:
Written for ADabsolutely for the Highlander Holiday Shortcuts festival. Thank you to basingstoke for the beta! And additional thanks to unovis for reading.

SAMSARA

~*~

Samsara: The endless cycle of births, deaths, and rebirths to which all beings are subject.


They met for an early dinner at a new restaurant located in the 6th arrondissement. The food was good, Duncan couldn't argue with that, a type of Franco-Asian fusion that was all the rage these days. But, for some reason, it had made him restless.

If he were honest, he knew it wasn't the food that made him restless, but it was easier to blame the food.

Dinner had been Methos's idea. He'd called Duncan, as if just to chat, something they never did, and then asked him to dinner. He'd even offered to pay. Normally this would have given Duncan an opportunity to tease Methos, if the attempt hadn't been so transparent.

"How have you been?" Methos asked.

"Oh, well enough," said Duncan, evasive but smiling a little. "Amanda left a few days ago, but I suspect you know this."

Methos had the grace to color slightly.

A month had passed since he'd taken O'Rourke's quickening. While Amanda had been in town he'd managed to keep this unnamed restlessness at bay, this growing unsettled feeling that pooled in his chest. Now he wondered if he'd been able to hide it from Amanda at all. He imagined that she'd called Methos, and that was why he was now being treated to an awkward dinner. She'd probably called Joe, as well, which meant he should expect Joe on his doorstep in the next couple of days. It chaffed, that they thought he needed handling.

"Come on," said Methos, rising from his seat and ushering Duncan out to the street. "It's a pleasant evening. Walk with me."

"Methos, is this a date?" Duncan had to ask, but fell easily into step.

Methos scoffed. "You should be so lucky. Believe me, if this were anything but dinner with a friend, you would not have cause to doubt. I am quite a romantic."

Duncan grinned at Methos's posturing, wondering briefly what Methos's idea of romance was -- but Duncan knew that when he wanted to be charming, Methos could be devastating.

The wet stone path caught the light from streetlamps that blinked into existence, one by one. They meandered along, heading in the direction of both his barge and Methos's flat.

"Thanks for dinner," he said, after a long stretch of mostly companionable silence. Duncan was grateful Methos wasn't pushing him to talk.

"What are friends for, if not for these sorts of evenings?" he said, hands buried in his coat pockets.

Duncan was about to respond when they turned a corner into a square that was currently housing an open market or bazaar of sorts. They slowed their pace. It was late in the day for such a market to still be in full swing, but Methos pointed out the banners strung up over the square and Duncan realized it was some kind of special event.

There were food stands, metal and leatherwork booths, clothing shops, and a fortuneteller with an elaborate turban sitting on a bench underneath a swaying tent, wiggling jeweled fingers over a crystal ball as if that were enough incentive for someone to sit down.

Methos left his side, stopping to examine a rack of leather belts. Duncan stood watching the different people, mostly couples, some with children running around hyped up on sugar.

The fortuneteller, perhaps sensing a potential mark, approached Duncan, and he realized belatedly that the fortuneteller was a man -- his face painted and elaborate, but clearly male.

"I can see you carry heavy burdens," said the painted man. "Perhaps you would like a consultation with the great Cosina?"

The painted man extended one arm toward his table.

Duncan shook his head, laughing a little. "I don't think so."

"Why is that?" he asked, and Duncan could see that his eyes were a dark blue that caught the light. "Are you not a believer, Monsieur? Do you not have concerns and fears that plague you? Especially at night?"

Duncan attempted to take a step back. "I don't need my fortune told," he said. "I know my fortune."

"Yes," said the man, contemplative, stepping closer, staring hard at Duncan. "Yes, I can see that. It is not fortune you seek, but answers. Yes." The man bowed his head.

Thinking that might possibly be the end of it, Duncan began to walk away.

"You would like to know of those other lives, yes?" asked the painted man.

Duncan froze. "What other lives?"

"Why those that are yours, naturally. I can see you have had several. Many lives, many deaths. Would you like to know who you were in these other lives? I can tell you."

Duncan hesitated, knowing that the fortuneteller was nothing more than a performer at best, a con artist at worst, here to entertain for a small fee. But it was on the tip of his tongue to ask for more.

"What's this?" asked Methos, appearing at Duncan's side with an ice cream cone in hand. Duncan glanced at Methos, a little embarrassed but mostly relieved to see him. "Let me guess, you look in that crystal ball and discover my friend here was Charlemagne in a past life?"

Methos grinned in an open, cheery manner. The painted man's expression tightened, but he graciously inclined his head. "As you say. Gentlemen, be at peace." And he turned away, targeting a young woman and her boyfriend who were gazing at the fortuneteller's sign.

"That was easy," said Methos.

Duncan scowled. "Let's go," he said, swiping at Methos's ice cream, but Methos made a funny "nnhhmnn" noise and blocked him with his shoulder.

"Get your own, Charlemagne," he said, indignant.

Duncan had to laugh, which he realized as he bought his own ice cream, was the point.

They continued, leaving the noise of the square behind, and finally reached the point where Duncan would have to head in a different direction if he were going to return to the barge. They both stopped, as if unwilling to part ways. Duncan almost asked Methos to return with him. He was fairly certain Methos would say yes.

He opened his mouth but then paused. "Do you believe what he said?" he asked instead.

"What, that you were Charlemagne in a past life?"

"No," said Duncan, both amused and annoyed. "You're the one who mentioned Charlemagne."

"Oh right. Well, no one in their right mind would want to have been Charlemagne. He was a bastard. Consider yourself lucky."

"I'm talking about past lives. Or other lives, alternate realities."

"MacLeod," said Methos, his forehead crinkling, shaking his head. "You can't be serious. There's no such thing as past lives, reincarnation, or whatever the kids are calling it these days."

"I'm not talking reincarnation exactly. And how do you know?"

"Because I've been alive for five thousand years, that's how I know. We get one life. One chance. For good or bad."

"Even for mortals?"

Methos got a sort of pained look on his face. "Yes, even for them. It's wishful thinking, that you can fix your mistakes in some other life or whatever fantasy you've concocted. That you can blame someone else, some other less-evolved self, for the mistakes you make now."

Duncan knew this, knew Methos was right. But something rose inside of him, this great big wave of unsettled noise. Images from that alternate life flooded his mind. It was like a double exposure, seeing his Methos in front of him, but also seeing that other Methos. The one he had to kill.

"I know," he said. "I was just thinking. There's so much we don't know."

"About what?"

"Everything. Life, existence."

"We know enough."

Duncan nodded. He'd succeeded in ruining the pleasant mood between them, and for that he was sorry. "Thanks again, for dinner," he said, and turned in the direction of the Seine.

"MacLeod," called Methos.

He stopped to look back, but Methos appeared to struggle with what to say. "Call me, all right? Don't…."

"It's okay," he said, walking backward, raising his arms out to the side, saluting Methos in an offhand manner. He knew his friends worried he was going to disappear on them, but he had no such intentions. "I'll call you."

He continued on his way, smiling when he heard Methos call back. "It's your turn to pay next time!"

In the barge, Duncan busied himself cleaning up after the day, tidying the galley and the living room. He was too restless to sleep.

He lay lengthwise on his couch with his laptop and searched the Internet, learning that there were many people who believed in alternate realities, and believed these other realities were accessible either through meditation or through dreams. It was all a little too out there for him, and he could only imagine what Methos would have to say about it. Yet, he kept reading, clicking from page to page. He thought of the monks from the monastery and wondered what they would say.

But he knew what they would say. They would say: Come back to this moment. Come back to your breath.

Duncan breathed in long and deep through his nose. He laid his head back against the arm of the couch, and closed his eyes.

~*~

He dreamed.

He thought it was a dream, with the sound of waves crashing onto a shore and seagulls squawking.

The coffee machine chugging to life woke him, as it did most every morning, better than any alarm clock. Dishi Malloy cracked one eye and saw the time was half past five.

If he wanted to open the shop for the early birds, and catch a few waves himself before the shop opened properly, he needed to get out of bed. He kicked back the covers and stretched.

Padding barefoot down the stairs from his loft above the shop, he tugged on a wetsuit, and then opened the shop door for Huck and Patsy who were already dancing from foot to foot outside. Huck was smoking a cigarette, which Dish frowned at. "Not in the shop, Huck."

"Gotcha, man. Got some of that coffee?"

"Yeah, you know where."

The others showed up moments later, all needing coffee. There were also bagels and fruit and other snacks for later when they got hungry. He made sure they got food, knowing sometimes it was the only meal they bothered to eat. Stevie needed a new leash for his board, and Bobbi needed new fins. "Pay for it later," Stevie said.

"Yeah, yeah," answered Dish. He knew the kid was good for it. Most days. He’d rather Stevie had the leash then pay him, anyway.

The sky lightened. Dish was the last one into the water, paddling to the swells. Out of respect for him, they always let him pick whatever waves he wanted, but he let the others go as he floated, sitting on his board, almost laying back, happy to be in the water, happy to be breathing.

It was cool now, the water like ice, but he knew it was going to be a hot day, his mind already leaping forward to what needed doing, what bookings he had for lessons, who might need help, the busy life of a surf shop in season.

He had the sense of something, on the horizon. A seagull called and he looked further but there was nothing except a far off boat chugging along, disrupting the waves. The ocean lifted him up, high high high.

"Hola," he called, paddling forward. The others parted to let him pass. "This one's mine."

And away he went, feeling the power of the wave, the spit of the ocean in his face.

Later, as he pulled his T-shirt off in the mid-day heat, a bird called, just like it had that morning, and he looked up to the far off horizon. He could see the kids out there surfing their little hearts out. Nothing strange, nothing out of the ordinary. The door the shop dinged and a couple of teenaged girls entered, asking about surfing lessons.

"This way," he said, and showed them to the patio where they could practice on the boards he'd step up, along with the special wave simulator he'd built. The girls giggled, flipping their hair, jiggling in their bikinis. He smiled at them, but didn't respond, demonstrating how to lie on their board, how to pop up, how to position their feet.

As he talked and corrected their position, he felt a tightening of the nerves along his spine, a flash of sensation. He saw a man on the boardwalk that ran in front of the shop. The man was looking out to the ocean the same way Dish had been doing all day, watching the horizon. He stood out in a suit and tie, the tie flopping in the breeze, and he had a lost, stunned expression on his face.

Dish kept his eye on the man, as he took the girls' money for new boards and new suits.

The man didn't move except to sit down. Dish walked out of his shop and went to him. "Hey," he said. "You okay? Do you need anything?"

"What? Oh, yeah, I'm…" the man squinted as he looked up. "It's bright out here."

Dish took this in. "Today it is."

"I never knew before. I've never seen. There's so much activity. So much always moving, all around."

Actually, it had been a fairly calm day. But there were families with kids yelling and screaming, and skateboarders with their boards clanging on the stone benches and pavement. Couples on bikes, roller-skate enthusiasts dancing and spinning. "Yeah," he said, "there's always something going on."

"The surfers coming and going. Watched them come in to your shop, hang around, then leave, then come back. All day. Watched them out in the ocean, skating along the surface."

This got Dish's attention and he narrowed his eyes. Last thing he needed was some nosy parker making noise about buying the place. But he relaxed, noticing further the spaced out, far away expression in the man's eyes. Frankly, he was surprised the man had observed anything in the state he was in. He suspected drugs, which Dish wanted none of. He had enough trouble with the kids getting mixed up with heroin and meth, but the truth was the man didn't look like he was on drugs.

"You're curious about the shop? Ever surfed yourself?" asked Dish.

The man shook his head. "No. I can honestly say it never crossed my mind."

"And what about now? Do you want to now?"

The man breathed in deeply, he closed his eyes and expelled the held breath. "Yes," he said, but Dish wasn't certain what question he was actually answering.

"Come on then," said Dish, half expecting the man to ignore him, but he followed Dish into the shop, and out to the patio.

Dish got a good look at his new unexpected student. "Take your shoes and socks off." Not something he normally had to ask at the beach.

Awkwardly, the man obeyed, his pale toes curling over the sand and dirt on the floor of the patio.

"Over here," said Dish, indicating the wave simulator. The others, Huck in particular, teased him about it, and said it was like one of those beds in cheap hotels that vibrated when you put in quarters, but Dish was proud of his baby. It didn't quite imitate what it was like to stand on a board as it cut across a wave, nothing but the real thing could, but it served its purpose. And it got him a lot of business. He patted the board. "Hop up."

The man did as he was told, and Dish climbed up next to him. Then he bent down to roll the man's pant legs up to his knees. He turned him around to face him, frowning. "You realize you can't walk around like this."

The man looked down as Dish tugged the suit jacket off, tossed it down onto a chair. Then he loosened the man's tie, dropping it on top of the jacket. He pulled up the man's shirt to hang loose, then took his hand in his, unbuttoning one cuff, rolling the cuff up. The man had surprisingly strong hands, with different calluses that Dish didn't recognize. Tennis maybe. Racquetball. Whatever rich businessmen played in their country clubs. Golf, he thought.

"Do you do this with all your students?" the man asked, watching him through his eyelashes.

Dish felt his cheeks warm, but he didn't stop as he rolled up the man's other cuff. "Only the ones that show up on my doorstep looking like they escaped some kind of business merger from hell by the skin of their teeth."

"What do you know about business mergers?"

"Enough to avoid them. Turn around."

The man was slow to turn. He smelled like aftershave and deodorant and sweat.

"Left foot forward. That's it. Bend a little. More. Arms out for balance. Then, arms down, touch the rails, the sides of the board. That's it. Now close your eyes, and just listen, and feel. Do it again." Dish placed his hands on the man's waist, helping to position him. He reached over and turned the simulator on. It shivered to life.

The simulator rocked the board so you had to keep your balance or it would shift too sharply. Dish closed his eyes, too, and let the motion guide his body, to the left, to the right, his hands remaining on the man's waist. They began to move along the board, like a dance, forward and back, with the board dipping and swaying.

After five minutes, the usual setting, the simulator ended. Dish opened his eyes. He was leaning close over the man, practically chest to back, their arms aligned, their weight working in tandem.

Slowly, to accommodate their shifting balance, Dish stepped back, then hopped down to the ground. The man straightened, took a deep breath as he opened his eyes.

"See, that was your first taste," said Dish.

The man didn't answer, but stood staring out to the horizon. Not wanting to intrude, Dish left him alone, returning to the store which he'd been ignoring for the last twenty minutes.

It was strange to think it had only been twenty minutes.

There were a couple of customers at the register, ready to check out, and a few more milling around, looking at boards or going through the clothing racks. He tended to the customers, trying not to look out to the patio. Eventually the last of the customers left and he saw the man standing next in line, feet back in his untied shoes, suit jacket on but his tie left undone and loose around his neck.

"Thank you," said the man.

Dish shrugged. "It's what I do."

The man opened his wallet. "How much is it?"

Dish scrunched his face and shook his head. "Nah, you don't have to pay."

The man nodded at the sign behind Dish's head. "It says twenty bucks for a ride on the simulator."

Dish looked behind him at the sign, then back to meet the man's eyes. "So it does."

The man held out twenty dollars. "Take it."

"All right," said Dish, taking the money and opening the drawer of the register. When he looked up again, the man was gone, the door to the shop jingling as it shut.

That evening, he met some of the others at Moe's for a drink and a bite to eat, those that were old enough to drink anyway. The place was crowded and loud and he was left to squeeze up against the wall as he listened to the chatter of what the waves had been like that day, what they might be like tomorrow, how Trish had mastered a spin, how Timmy had the gnarliest wipe out. Aside from a bad scrape here and there, no one had got hurt. They'd all wake up the next morning and do it over again. That was his life, but he wondered at the restless pit of his stomach.

As Dish sipped his beer, he spotted the man from earlier in the same suit, sitting at a corner table, a single beer in front of him.

Their eyes met. And there, in this stranger's eyes, Dish saw the horizon, until he set his beer down on the bar and stepped out back to where the bathrooms and the private rooms were, to where there was a quiet hallway. A moment later, the man showed up.

Dish took him by the waist, pushed him up against the wall. The noise from the bar filled even this space, but he leaned in and whispered. "You," he said.

The man's chest expanded with breath. "You," he answered, and they were kissing.

He pushed his right hand between their bodies, struggling with the unfamiliar catch and zipper of the man's trousers, but they eventually opened. He pushed down his board shorts and together they groaned as he palmed their cocks together. The man raised his arms up, hands tangled in Dish's hair.

They grunted, panting into each other's mouths, until the man came with a sudden bite and lick of Dish's lips. Dish whimpered and came, breathing hard.

It took a moment for reality to return: the noise of the bar, the music from the jukebox, the stink of old beer and french fries and salt air. Dish stepped back, pulled up his shorts. The man zipped up his pants. They jumped apart when two women appeared laughing and stumbling their way to the bathrooms. Dish turned back but the man slipped past him, out into the bar, lost in the crowd.

Dish returned to his friends, and his unfinished beer.

The next morning, the man was there again, still in his suit pants and dress shirt, though he had lost his jacket and tie. "Can I ride the wave again?" he asked.

Dish was slow to nod. The man paid another twenty dollars and then went out to the patio, hopped onto the stimulator board to ride imaginary waves. Then, after he was done, he went away.

He showed up again the next day, but this time stayed longer, not talking much. Dish let him be, let him figure whatever he needed to figure out. It was the same the next day. And the next. And for every day after that, the man kept showing up. Dish had no idea where he had been sleeping. On the beach maybe, or in a car. Eventually he ran out of money and started working around the shop to make up for it. The suit pants and dress shirt were looking pretty ragged until Dish handed him a Samsara Surf Shop T-shirt and board shorts.

"I can't pay for this."

"Didn't say they were for sale, Mungo. Besides, I can't stand to look at you in those rags. Where are you sleeping? What are you eating?"

The man shrugged. "Not really hungry." Which only answered one of Dish's questions, and not in a way that made Dish feel good at all.

"You can shack up in that back room, okay? Don't make me have to hunt you down. You wouldn't stand a chance."

Amused, the man nodded, accepting the clothing and the room and the food that Dish shoved at him. "Why Mungo?"

It was the name Dish had given him. "Have to call you something. Mungo was the first thing that came to mind. Saint Mungo, the dear one. It means 'beloved'."

As soon as he said it, Mungo's eyes clouded over, but he didn't protest. As Dish took Mungo with him to the waves in the mornings, and the kids also began to call him Mung, or Mu, or Manly Mungo as Huck preferred, it stopped mattering too much. He took to the waves naturally, which was rare for someone who started so late in life. He was part of the scene now, one of them, coaching a couple of the kids through their GEDs, making sure everyone ate and those without a family had a place to crash.

One night, when it was just the two of them sharing a few beers around the firepit, Dish told him all about Teresa. He never told anyone about Teresa.

"And that's why you bought the shop?"

Dish shrugged. "She always loved it here."

They didn't repeat what occurred in the back hallway of Moe's Bar. Not right away. Not for months, when finally it felt like Mungo had always been there, and he stopped Dish as he was locking up the store for the night.

Mungo put a hand on Dish's arm. "I don't know what to say, to thank you. I think you might have saved my life."

Dish swallowed. He held Mung’s hand between both of his. He knew these calluses now. He wanted to know them more. Dish led Mung up to the loft bedroom, and quietly they stripped down to their bare skin.

"Beloved," said Dish, as he rocked against Mung. He touched him all over until they were both hard and ready and Mung spread his legs, let him open up. They looked into each other's eyes as Dish thrust inside. He held onto the feeling for as long as he could, the way you pump faster in the tube of a perfect wave, everything all at once, all together. It was Mung who held him as he came.

In bed, they held hands. "So tell me," said Dish. "You have to know, whatever it is, it won't change this."

"You sound so sure."

Dish shrugged, kissed Mung's hand that smelled of suntan lotion and board wax.

Mung lay on his back. "What's to tell? One high-powered job after another. That's how you do it, you know. The business itself doesn't matter. You're a CEO, you take a company with low profits, turn it around, make money any way you know how, no matter who you have to step on to do it. I destroyed people. I destroyed companies. I eliminated jobs, I wiped out pension plans, I foreclosed on people's homes, and the best part is I never got my hands dirty. Other people held the bag for it. I'm clean, as clean as a sewage drain. After a while, you don't even see what you're destroying, it's all minor details, fine print."

Dish was holding his breath.

Mung took a good look at him. "You asked," he said.

"I did." He thought he'd been able to hear this, but he realized it was one thing to suspect, and another thing entirely to know. He had thought that maybe Mung had lost money in the market crash, or that he'd been fired. But it wasn't those things. He rose up onto his elbow and touched Mung's face. "What made you leave?"

Mung shook his head, his eyes as dark as Dish had ever seen them. "I was so good at it. They were waiting for me in the board room, just a few more signatures needed and another multimillion dollar deal would close, and I stood outside the room realizing I hated everyone in there. Most of them were friends, people I had known for years. And it hit me, all at once, I couldn't breathe, I was going to die, I had to get out of there. I didn't look back."

A thought struck Dish and he shook Mungo. "Do you have a family? A wife and kids? Who did you leave behind?" He was stunned to think he had never thought of this before now. There was always someone left behind.

"No," said Mung, although his throat sounded tight. "Not like you think. Not like that. But, in a way." He turned to his side, away from Dish, curling in on himself.

Dish realized that he didn't know Mung at all. Not even his name. He had no trouble believing that Mungo had been good at his job. He thought of how he took a wave — with precision, with forethought and planning. He was canny, and smart, and ruthless all at once. But, Mung was shaking, not crying but shaking as if in pain. There was no way Dish could turn away when he was in this much pain. He pulled at Mung until he could take him in his arms. There wasn't anything he could say, so he held him. They fell asleep clinging to each other.

In the morning, when the coffee machine woke him, he was alone in bed, and there was no sign of the man he had come to know as Mungo.


~*~

Duncan woke from an uncertain, restless sleep to the pitch and sway of the barge, to the cry of far off seagulls, only to realize that the Seine was quiet, and the cry of birds was actually the noise of traffic from Boulevard Saint-Germain.

He dressed in sweats and went to see if he couldn't run this restlessness out of his system, like a bad quickening. Again, he thought of that strange dream from the night he'd taken O'Rourke's head, when he'd swung his sword at that other Methos and there had been no quickening.

He ran mindlessly through the streets, without a plan or a destination, until he found that he had returned to the same square from the night before, only this time the square was quiet. No noisy bazaar, no irksome fortuneteller.

Duncan picked up his feet and ran on. This time he knew where he was headed, turning down Methos's street but just before he got there, he changed his mind. He bent over, catching his breath. Presence teased on the edge of awareness.

Perhaps a minute passed, Duncan contemplating where to go next, when a pair of feet wearing brand new trainers appeared before him. "If you're going to dance outside my window, the least you could do is knock."

Duncan squinted up at Methos. "Didn't want to wake you."

"Well, good job there."

"Those are new," said Duncan, looking at Methos's feet. "Are you going to join me?"

He tried not to sound too hopeful. Getting Methos to go running with him had been something of a minor mission of his for years now. Methos always managed to avoid him, wily bastard.

Methos actually looked embarrassed. "You didn't wake me. I was awake already. Couldn't sleep."

"I see," said Duncan, taking in the slight lines on Methos's face, proof of a restless night. Duncan knew it was his imagination playing tricks on him, but he thought he heard the rumble and crash of waves breaking. "Come on," he said. "For an hour."

Methos breathed in, gazing for a moment down the street, his eyes seeming to see farther, out to the horizon. "All right."

And they fell into step.

~*~


He dreamed.

He thought it was a dream, of warm beaches and a lazy, sleepy ocean. But the cold mid-January breeze cut through his lab coat, reminding him sharply that he was nowhere near a warm climate, and unlikely to ever get to one.

Doctor Maddoc leaned against the wall, on the other side from where ambulances pulled up to the emergency room. He was done with rounds early and had a few minutes to spare before returning to the office for the day's appointments. It was times like these that he wished he smoked. If he smoked, it made standing outside in below freezing weather less conspicuous. Smokers had that gift. No one ever questioned why a smoker stood outside in the cold, staring into space for no reason.

He didn't have to wait long. Five minutes later he heard the sirens and watched as the ambulance drove up to the ER. The back doors of the ambulance burst open. He spotted the tall, good-looking EMT, working furiously, giving the patient chest compressions.

More nurses and doctors arrived and they hustled all together into the emergency room, but Maddoc could see even from several feet away that the patient wasn't going to make it. Dead on arrival. They tried to save him, though. They always tried.

He shivered, a chilled sensation traveling down his spine, as if ice or snow slid down the nape of his shirt, but he quickly followed the commotion inside, observing from some distance as they struggled to revive the patient. A few of the nurses and other technicians began to take notice of him, and he wondered how long before someone finally had the nerve to come up to him and ask in thinly veiled tones if there was someone or something he needed or wanted.

The EMT he'd come down to watch had relinquished his job to Doctor Bradley. Maddoc knew Bradley. They'd been friends once, used to play squash together, but not for months now. The EMT was standing just outside, watching to see if the patient was going to make it.

"You did what you could," he said, coming up on the EMT's left side. "I was watching."

"Wasn't enough."

Maddoc shrugged. Sometimes they lived. Sometimes they died. But he could tell that wouldn't be any comfort to this man. He hesitated, though, slightly annoyed with himself for how nervous he felt.

"I've seen you a few times now, actually," he said, then faltered when he had the man's full attention. There was no look of discomfort, no slow recognition followed by disgust or, worse, fear. That, in and of itself, surprised Maddoc, and he was at a sudden loss. "I wanted to," he had to take a quick breath, "I wanted to ask if--"

One of the nurses interrupted, speaking to the EMT. "You can go, Don. They're waiting for you outside."

"Right," said Don, giving Maddoc a curious glance before leaving. With a sinking heart, he saw one of the techs walk with Don down the hallway, whispering to him with side-glances back at Maddoc. That didn't take long.

The nurse turned toward Maddoc. "Is there something I can help you with, Doctor D--?"

And there it was, that barely hidden disdain, that almost spoken word. She at least looked mortified for her near slip. "Nope," he said, staring at her until she left.

Hours later, somewhere in the depths of the interminable afternoon when he had a break between appointments, he spotted Don in the cafeteria, pouring himself a cup of coffee. Maddoc came up beside him, started to fix his own coffee. He felt it, the second Don recognized who was standing next to him.

Don waved his hand in front of Maddoc's face. "It's you," he said, amused.

Maddac found himself chuckling softly, which vaguely horrified him. He cleared his throat. "I'm Evan Maddoc," he said, holding out his hand.

After a beat where Maddac thought Don wasn't going to reciprocate, Don took his hand and shook it. "Donovan Murphy. There was something you wanted to ask me?"

"Yeah, um..." He wondered why it was so difficult. "A few weeks ago, you took a call to South Hawthorne High School. You probably don't remember."

Don quirked his eyebrows, clearly expecting a different question all together. But then his eyes grew unfocused as he thought back. "Young girl, fifteen or sixteen? She collapsed in her home economics class."

Maddac took a deep breath. "That's it. That was Anna. You made quite an impression. She hasn't talked about anything else. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind visiting. She's here, in the West Building, fourth floor."

Don seemed to consider it for a moment. "Is she your daughter?"

"No, no," he said quickly. "Step daughter, but my wife and I are divorced. So, well, it's complicated." And as he spoke, he saw in Don's eyes that hesitation, that vague unease that most people had with Maddoc these days. "You know what? Never mind. I'm sure you're busy."

"Sure, I'll do it," said Don. "When's a good time? Would now be okay? I just got done with my shift."

It took Maddac a moment to recover. He looked at his watch and tried to remember what Sabrina's schedule was these days, and if Anna had any tests that would have her absent from her room. "Uh, yes, now would be fine, I think."

Don took a swallow of his coffee before dumping it, holding his arm out to indicate he would follow. "Lead on."

They walked to the correct bank of elevators. In the silence of the elevator car, standing side-by-side, Maddoc glanced at Don. "I suppose they told you all about me."

Don pursed his lips. "They told me some people call you Doctor Death. Seems pretty juvenile. I didn't take it seriously."

Maddoc closed his eyes, feeling the heaviness of gravity as the elevator slowed down, reaching its destination. He opened his eyes again. "You should. Take it seriously." As the doors opened, he started down the hallway. "Let's just say, it hasn't been a very good year."

Don didn't answer, and Maddac was grateful. The door to Anna's room was open, but he knocked anyway. "Anna?"

She was sitting up in bed, gazing at the window. Maddoc looked quickly around and was relieved to see that Anna was alone. She smiled when she saw him, but lit up like he'd rarely seen when Don stepped into the room.

"Look who I found," said Maddoc.

Anna honest-to-god squealed, and covered her face, but she was smiling, and Maddoc relaxed, letting Don take over. Of course the man was a natural charmer. He watched as Don sat on Anna's bed. She had her cell phone out in less than a second, wanting to take a selfie, probably had it texted to all her friends and uploaded to Facebook already.

He heard steps come up behind him and internally grimaced when his ex-wife pushed the door the rest of the way open. "What have you done now?"

"Good to see you, too." But he rolled his eyes. "She was asking about him. He's doing me a favor."

"You'll tire her out."

"So go in there and tell him he as to leave."

But she didn't do that, watching her daughter become more animated then they'd thought possible since the diagnosis. Maddoc knew he had won this round. He'd pay for it in some way, he was sure.

After another ten minutes, Don stood up and said he had to get back to work.

"You'll visit me again?" asked Anna.

"I promise," he said, and with only a quick look at Sabrina, followed Maddoc from the room.

"Thank you," said Maddoc, quietly. The whole thing was far beyond what he had hoped let alone expected.

Don shook his head. "You don't have to thank me. I'll see you around."

Maddoc nodded, and watched Don walk away, wondering if that had been a question or a statement.

As it turned out, they saw each other frequently, schedules permitting. Despite the malpractice suit and the hospital's own investigation, they'd never suspended him, and Maddoc had more surgeries scheduled then one would expect. He was still the best they had, that didn't change. They may talk about him behind his back, call him Death or even worse, but they wanted him here, they needed him. If it weren't for Anna, he'd have left long ago.

But now there was Donovan Murphy. Don kept his promise and went to see Anna whenever he could. On breaks, Maddoc hung around the emergency room to catch Don after an ambulance run and they'd get a meal or a cup of coffee together.

It amazed Maddoc, as he watched Don with another patient, one who would live this time, how much Don cared. "I don't know how you do it," he said finally.

Don looked at him and seemed to know what he was referring to. He had paled slightly, shook his head. "Even when I know it's hopeless, I can't seem to let go. I think there might be a chance. I might make it happen. I don't think it's actually a good thing, this," he said, and made a choking gesture with his hands, a sign of his frustration.

They were sitting in a quiet corner of the brightly lit cafeteria, not the setting Maddoc would have chosen for a talk like this.

He reached up and almost touched Don's arm, but then he dropped his hand down to his lap. "It's better than the alternative," he said. "Believe me."

Their eyes met. "Meet me later? After your last surgery?"

Maddoc nodded. "It might be late. Is that okay?"

"Yeah."

They'd gone to his home, a hastily decorated condominium fifteen minutes from the hospital, stumbling to undress as they headed for the bedroom.

"Is this why your marriage ended?" asked Don before kissing his neck and untying the string that held up Maddoc's scrubs.

Maddoc laughed. "Oh no. That ended because I am an asshole and a bastard and a variety of other colorful adjectives."

"Hm, I did notice the bastard part."

Then, conversation ended as Don caged him between his arms and kissed him into silence. Maddoc turned over and shuddered when he felt Don's body press down on his. Don leaned down and kissed his shoulder. "Hey," he said, "I want to see you."

Maddoc closed his eyes and let Don shift him around, but he buried his face against Don's chest, unable to do anything but hold on. They lay like that, naked and entwined until finally Maddoc could breathe again.

In the morning, Maddoc passed his hand over Don's back as he lay sleeping in his bed, waking him for a moment. He had a full schedule of surgeries all day, and he knew Don had a late shift, so he wasn't certain when they would see each other again. "Call me," he said and Don said he would.

It was later, during the third surgery when a nurse came up to him, his hands deep inside the chest of a man, and whispered in his ear. He didn't stop, he kept going, but his vision blurred for a moment and he said as calmly as he could, "Page Doctor Lopez. I need him here. Right now."

Five minutes later, Lopez was there and took over, seamlessly. Maddoc ripped off his gloves, surgical robe, and mask. He ran through the hallways to the stairs and got to the fourth floor of the West Building just as his ex-wife broke down and Anna was taking her last breath. He got to hold her. He got to kiss her cheek, and then she was gone.

He didn't remember leaving the hospital. He didn't remember the streets or the cab he must have taken or even entering the bar or asking for the alcohol he drank. No one said much to him. They kept their distance. Until he fell off his stool and someone raised him back up. He reached for another drink, but they took the bottle away, so he sat there, unable to move, not wanting to think, until he realized it was Don who was sitting next to him.

"You," he said, taking hold of Don's solid arm, gripping it with all of his strength. "You're here."

"Yeah," said Don, and Maddoc realized Don had been crying. He wiped the tears away, then held Don's face between his hands. He leaned forward and rested his head against Don's chest. "It was hell trying to find you, but I'm here."

Don took him back to his condo, and he slept in a tangled mess, waking some time later in the grey of morning, his internal clock not letting him sleep past five a.m.

Awake didn't actually mean he could move, however, and it took him several minutes to roll over, and push himself up to sitting. His head hurt and then his heart hurt when he remembered that Anna was gone. He realized he was stripped down to his boxers, and he remembered Don. Unsteady, he rose to his feet and left the bedroom.

Don was out on the balcony. Maddoc pushed the sliding doors open, and stood next to him.

Maddoc put his hands down on the balcony wall, shivering in the frigid air. The city was asleep, grey and silent and expanding in every direction. He came closer to the edge and looked down.

Don reached over and took Maddoc's hand.

Maddoc remembered thinking that it was only Anna who had kept him here, in this city, working with so many who despised him. But now there was this man. Maybe it was enough.

~*~

They ran for three more miles until Duncan realized they had come to the same stretch along the Seine where Methos and he had walked together the first day they met. He came down to a walk.

"What? Tired already," said Methos with a cheeky smirk.

Duncan refrained from pointing out that he had run a number of miles before Methos had deigned to join him. Instead, he caught his breath and looked around. There was more graffiti, more weeds, but otherwise it looked the same.

They walked on. The sun had risen to the top of the sky and it was bright enough that Duncan had to squint a little and tears formed in the corners of his eyes.

A part of him wanted to confess to Methos, tell him about that other reality and what Duncan had done, about Richie and Kronos and all of it. I did this to you. It wasn't you, but I still did it. But he knew it would be an indulgence. In that other world, it was Methos who killed Richie and Duncan MacLeod had never existed. But in this world, in the only reality that actually mattered, Richie's blood was on his hands and there was nothing he could do to ever change that.

"You know, you practice brooding like it's an Olympic sport," said Methos.

Duncan wanted to laugh and sigh at the same time. "Sorry, I'm not very good company."

He could see Methos fight with himself to not to say something like, "When are you ever?" But instead, he reached across and squeezed Duncan's shoulder.

"Come on," said Methos. "All of the world's problems will still be there after a quick shower and a nap."

They returned to Methos's flat and took turns showering. After Duncan finished in the bathroom, he found Methos lying on his sofa. Duncan lifted Methos's legs and sat down, letting Methos rest his feet across his lap.

"Feel free to use the bed," mumbled Methos.

"I'm good here," he said, strangely quieted by the weight of Methos's legs on his. He sank deeper into his seat, and closed his eyes.

~*~

He dreamed.

He thought it was a dream of ice-cold wind and the blinding light of sunrise over a city of tall buildings. The lieutenant shook away the strange feeling. It was early in the morning, but the streets were full of people walking briskly to and fro.

With only a vague description to go on, he had little hope of locating the professor. But that was his mission, so he kept at it, searching for clues, for a sign.

His contact had said to ask the man who owned the flower shop in the old city center. Lieutenant Damon Mordecai crossed the square and entered the shop. Inside it smelled like leaves and petals and wet, moist dirt but was otherwise empty. He waited a minute, then cautiously explored behind the counter.

"Hello," he called but received no answer. He went door and down a hallway, entering a large workshop.

A man stood facing away, working on an arrangement with flowers Damon couldn't identify. A radio was playing, and the music seemed to buzz in his ear and vibrate across his shoulders, tinny and indistinct. He cleared his throat.

The man turned and took in the sight of Damon standing there. "Oh, it's you," said the man.

In that instant, Damon knew that, against all odds, he had found him. "Professor Addai. I've been looking for you."

"I can see that," said the professor. "I don't suppose I have a choice?"

Damon hesitated, noticing the back exit and wondered, if the professor had known he was coming, why he hadn't run.

The professor sighed. "The answer to the question you haven't asked is -- you would have found me anyway."

He supposed that was true. He wouldn't have given up, in any case. Damon nodded and raised his wrist to his mouth. "Stand down," he said to his men who were outside ready to charge in. He eyed the professor as he spoke, "He's coming willingly. Professor, if you will? This way."

"Call me Matthew," said the professor, letting Damon lead him from the workshop through to the shop and then into an unmarked car. "I haven't been a professor for many years."

Damon nodded. "As you wish."

The ride back to the facility was tense and filled with chatter from his higher ups demanding further information. "Do you think he'll cooperate?" They asked him through his communication unit.

"Yes, I do," answered Damon. After all, to echo the professor's unanswered question, what choice did he have?

The facility was in a remote location, naturally camouflaged by forest on one side and a steep cliff on the other, but once you reached the first of many checkpoints, the enormous size of the complex became obvious.

They set the professor up in one of the buildings on the perimeter, a large warehouse stocked with everything he could possibly need, along with a small army of assistants.

"You have three months," said Damon. "You know what we want."

The professor sighed, then nodded, and rolled up his sleeves to begin his work.

The official position was that the professor was a guest. He was given a comfortable set of rooms to return to after his work every day. He had access to gourmet meals, and could even go outside for a breath of fresh air for a twenty-minute break each day. Every morning Damon escorted the professor from his quarters to the warehouse, and every evening Damon escorted the professor back again. Sometimes, in the middle of the day, Damon brought a coffee and a pastry. The professor was always grateful.

Two weeks into the professor's stay, he asked Damon to remain for a few minutes after he brought coffee. "I need your help with something. Come here."

Damon radioed his position, then stood next to the professor.

"Hold this up for me." The professor indicated where he wanted Damon to hold the metal shaft steady. Damon did as he was told, but the professor took hold of Damon's hands and moved them to exactly the position he wanted. Then he let go.

"Why aren't you using your assistants?"

The professor scoffed. "Spies you mean. They're busy assembling the drones. That's it. Don't move."

Damon was amused. No doubt the professor knew there was no need to have the assistants spy on him. The place had cameras placed to cover every angle. Damon knew this because he'd set the cameras himself, made sure there were absolutely no blind spots.

"May I ask you a question?" said the professor, not waiting for Damon to reply as he soldered the two pieces of metal together. "Why do you do this?"

"Is that a philosophical question or a technical one?"

"Philosophical."

Damon thought about it. He knew the professor was inquiring further than just the basic answer of for King and Country. While he had been searching for him, he'd read everything he could on Matthew Addai -- scholar, theoretical physicist, expert bomb maker. The professor's hands were no cleaner than his, but he'd gotten out of the game a few years ago, disappeared into the ether, and had been presumed dead.

"I choose those causes I believe in."

"Ah," said the professor. "So your conscious is clear."

Damon felt a wave of anger and shame, but he couldn't detect any sarcasm in the professor's tone. "And you?"

The professor removed the protective goggles and their eyes met. Damon let go and inspected the work.

"There's always a noble reason, Lieutenant. Always a just cause that needs defending, and evil men who need conquering. Civilizations rise and fall. It sometimes seems they rise and fall daily. It matters little."

"Is that why you got out?"

"No," said the professor, removing his gloves and picking up his coffee. Damon noticed that his hands were shaking. He waited to hear the real reason the professor had disappeared for so many years but the professor merely sipped his coffee. "Thank you. You may go now."

Feeling ashamed for some reason he couldn't understand, Damon left. But the conversation with the professor stayed with him into the evening. He wondered, suddenly, what he would have done with his life if he had made a different choice. When he returned to the warehouse to escort the professor to his quarters, he said, "If I hadn't become a soldier, I think I would have liked to build things, with my own hands."

The professor paused at his door and turned to Damon. "Yes," he said. "You would have built a house. In a nice place. Remote and peaceful."

They stood looking at each other until the professor nodded and said. "Good night. I suppose I'll see you in the morning."

A few days later, Damon noticed the flowerpots that sat in one corner of the warehouse. There were small green shoots growing in each pot. He hadn't any idea where the professor could have acquired the soil let alone the seeds.

"What are these?" he asked.

The professor glanced up from his work. "Calendula officinalis. Or common marigolds." Then, seeing that this answer was not satisfactory, he added with a shrug. "I like plants and flowers. I like the juxtaposition they represent, both simple and complex."

It was on the tip of Damon's tongue to order the professor to get rid of the plants. He could see on the professor's face that he expected Damon to give that order. Damon pursued his lips, then turned around and left.

The days continued, inching closer to the deadline. The scope of weaponry began to take shape, and was ready for a demonstration. The normally spacious warehouse was filled with generals and politicians eager to see results. Damon stood off to the side and watched the professor demonstrate the targeting functions, and how to set the yields, and how the computer automatically prepared each drone separately, how they could function individually or as a group or as an army. It had to be a simulated demonstration for the most part, although the professor did cause all the officers to duck in surprise as he targeted a drone to blow out the windows of the warehouse.

"That's it?" asked the general.

"It is only a demonstration," answered the professor.

"We need more than blown windows to win this war."

Damon could see the professor struggle not to respond with anger and annoyance.

"What the professor means to say," interjected Damon. Several sets of eyes turned toward him, but he was focusing mainly on the professor. "Any further demonstration would likely result in the destruction of this facility. And if we take it elsewhere, your secret won't be much of a secret anymore. The other side has drones too."

This caused a lot of muttering, which Damon largely ignored, watching the professor closely. He wasn't looking at Damon, or at the other men in the warehouse, or even at the vast machinery he had built. He was looking at his pots of marigolds, all beginning to bloom.

Damon remained after the others left. He would need to escort the professor back to his quarters soon, so he might as well wait. It was just the two of them, alone.

The professor was touching the leaves of the marigolds gently, inspecting the flowers. "We are all men of folly, Lieutenant."

"You didn't want to build this, did you?" asked Damon.

"It doesn't matter what I want. Or what you want. Haven't you realized that yet?"

Damon wasn't quite certain what to say so he remained quiet.

"You wanted an answer to your question of why I got out for so many years. The fitting answer, the one you want to hear is something like, I found God, or I saw the error of my ways. I no longer wanted to be the cause of so much death, however indirectly. It had become abhorrent to me. This is the answer that makes sense, am I right? But, those answers are too easy and are easily made false, momentary excuses because one day I woke up with a guilty conscience. The real reason is here." The professor picked up one of the pots of marigolds. "Life. Live, fight another day."

Then the professor let the pot fall from his hands and it shattered at his feet. Startled, Damon jumped forward to catch it but then stopped himself. The professor pushed the other two pots and they also fell, crashing to the floor.

"I'm tired," said the professor. "I'd like to return to my rooms now."

Later that night, Damon woke from a sleep to sit bolt upright in bed. He couldn't name the emotion that woke him, like a hand reaching across to slap him hard against his cheek. Without thinking, he dressed and ran across the complex, avoiding as much as he could the surveillance cameras that were everywhere.

He knew instinctually it was useless to go to the professor's quarters. And it was useless to go to the warehouse. He stopped and concentrated on what he knew, on the signs that had been there all along that he either did not want to see or unconsciously chose not to see.

Where did the professor get the dirt for those plants? Where did he get those seeds? Where did he go for his walks when he wasn't working in the warehouse? Damon slipped noiselessly, like a shadow, through the campus. He had found the professor once before, he would find him now, along the perimeter, in a blind spot.

"You'll get caught less than a kilometer from the complex," he said, when he found the professor carefully working an opening in a weak spot of the fence.

The professor stiffened then turned around. Damon wondered if he was going to beg, but he stood straight and met his eyes. "I thought you might figure it out. I wanted…" but he didn't finish his sentence.

Damon blinked, and he rubbed at his chest, wondering at the pain he felt. After a long minute, the professor returned to the fence, attempting to crawl through the gap.

"Didn't you hear me?" asked Damon, taking a step further. "They'll catch you. There are patrols and more guards and your own drones. You won't last ten minutes."

The professor paused, then continued to squeeze out. "I won't remain here. Kill me if you must."

Damon grimaced in frustration. "I won't kill you. You'll be killed anyway. Stop. Please?"

They looked at each other again. "I can't."

"Then," and Damon sighed. "Then, I'll come with you."

"No," said the professor immediately.

"It's the only chance you have." Damon pushed the professor the rest of the way though, then began to squeeze himself through the gap.

"No, you must return. The device, and the drones, they're all set to explode in half an hour but you'll be safe if you return to the main complex."

Damon gave a short, hard laugh. "You're dreaming if you think I wouldn't be blamed for your escape." He caught the professor's horrified yet pained expression. "It's all right," he said, taking hold of the professor's two arms so they faced each other. They stood under the moonlight for a few precious seconds. "It's all right."

The professor cupped Damon's face, then embraced him tightly. "Yes, all right."

They were caught about five kilometers off the main road, near the cliff side, surrounded by hunting dogs and lights and helicopters dropping down armed men. It did take longer than ten minutes before they were found. It was more like twenty minutes.

The wind was strong by the cliff, adding to the noise and confusion. Damon tried to shield the professor with his body as much as possible.

"Damon," said the professor.

Damon turned to look at him. He shouldn't have been able to hear him over the helicopter and the dogs barking, but he did, clearly.

"Yes, professor?"

"I wanted to remind you to please call me by my given name."

"Matthew," said Damon.

"Yes," said Matthew, smiling. "Look up."

Damon looked to the sky and watched as the drones and the helicopter and the vast looming military complex behind them exploded together.

~*~

Duncan woke with a start, uncertain of where he was or even who he was, but then he recognized Methos's flat and remembered. Methos was still lying across the couch with his feet in Duncan's lap but he was awake and reading a book.

Methos peeked from around his book. "All right there, Sleeping Beauty?"

Duncan yawned and stretched. "I guess I was more tired than I thought."

Methos made a small noise before returned to his reading. Duncan looked down at Methos's socks, resting one hand on the tops of his feet and the other down the sensitive bottoms. Methos squirmed slightly but otherwise seemed determined to ignore Duncan.

He was just beginning to wonder if there might be something decent to eat in Methos's kitchen when Methos lifted one foot and poked Duncan in his side.

Methos had set his book down and was looking at Duncan. "In those other lives that never existed, do we know each other?"

"I'd like to think so."

"They couldn't be real. There's no such thing."

"No, but…" and Duncan struggled to put words to what he was feeling."Even though there's no such thing, I can feel where those lives could have existed, like… like a phantom limb." He fell silent, then shook his head. "I don't know."

"Are they good lives?" Methos asked, like he wanted to believe.

Duncan met his eyes. "Not always. Both good and bad."

"So, no different, then? Or do we not have any good in our lives? Do they all end in tragedy?"

"You tell me."

"Are we friends, in these other lives?"

Duncan felt a tightening in his chest and he put his hand down on Methos's legs, squeezing. "Sometimes more than friends."

A gleam entered Methos's eyes, a slight upturn of amusement. "Sometimes?"

Methos lifted his feet off of Duncan's lap, then sat up on the couch, facing Duncan. Duncan held himself very still, his heart beating hard and fast and he closed his eyes as Methos kissed him for the first time.

They kissed gently, taking all the time, until Methos leaned in a little more and buried his hand in Duncan's hair.

They parted, smiling at each other.

"I take it back," said Methos.

"Take what back?"

"Maybe it was a date, after all."

And they were kissing again, rising from the couch and stumbling across the room to Methos's bed, falling together in a tumble of limbs.

They laughed in between kisses, struggling to remove their clothing, Duncan lying on top, arms wrapped around each other, kissing again because Duncan could not seem to get enough.

"I want to go someplace," he said, kissing Methos's neck.

"What? Right now? Aren't we a little busy?"

"No, I mean, together, I want you to come with me."

"I thought that was already the plan," said Methos, with a smirk.

Duncan tweaked Methos's nipple.

"Ow!" cried Methos, then he made a smothered sound when Duncan swallowed his complaint before bending down to kiss the offended nipple, circle his tongue around it. "All right," said Methos with a gasp. "Yes, I'll go where ever you want me to go."

"Some place with a beach and waves. Lots of waves. Where we can surf."

"MacLeod," said Methos. "Do you even know how to surf?"

"How hard can it be?"

"Very hard! I saw Blue Crush. I know."

Since it worked the last time, Duncan kissed Methos again, kissing his neck and thrusting against him.

"Oh fu--all right, whatever you want. We'll do whatever you want."

Methos took hold of Duncan's face between his hands, searching with something like wonder in his eyes, holding him close. "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."

"Methos," answered Duncan, and, with tears in his eyes, he realized suddenly that there could only ever be one. One Methos, one Duncan MacLeod, one life, and this was it.

~*~

They dreamed.

They dreamed separately, and differently, but still they dreamed. Of sunshine and clouds, and the endless waves crashing.

Dish Malloy was closing up shop for the day, hauling in the Samsara Surf Shop sign and display surfboard, when he felt a sensation like wind chimes shivering down his back and he turned to see the man he knew as Mungo standing awkwardly across the boardwalk before approaching the shop.

He wasn't wearing a suit this time, but the same pair of shorts and T-shirt Dish had given him months ago.

"You came back," said Dish.

"Had a few things I needed to take care of. Took a little longer than I thought. I wanted to…" he started, struggling.

Dish shook his head. "You don't have to say."

He knew already what it took for a man to walk clean away from one life to the next. It wasn't easy. Dish had not been angry with Mungo for leaving, or angry with him for the things he had revealed about his past. It hurt, but Dish couldn't hold on to anger. Life was an endless circle, like the waves that pushed you down but then also lifted you up. He thought he'd lost his friend, and it was with immense relief that he took him into his arms again. They held on tightly, turning in a circle in the center of the shop.