MacLeod left the club and sidestepped the little spectacle at the curb, having seen more than enough rock star posturing for one night. The worst part, he thought, was that they always thought they were so original -- and kids like Mike bought it hook, line and sinker. Underneath all the bullshit, Byron had talent, that was true enough; once, he had been one of the poets of his age. But it was painfully obvious that whatever gifts he'd been given had long ago been smothered by all the layers of ego and drugs and self-delusion.
He saw Mike run up to Joe, juiced, saying something about Jimi Hendrix. Glad to see the kid had remembered Joe existed, MacLeod joined them just as Joe was asking Mike if he wanted to play with them again tomorrow night.
"Yes, of course, man, I'll do whatever it takes!"
"You already did what it takes," Mac reminded him.
"So come by in the morning," Joe said, "we'll run a couple of tunes and see--"
But Byron wasn't so willing to give up his newest acquisition. Strolling up, he blithely interrupted, "Hey, Mike, you want to come jam?"
And Joe might never have existed, as far as Mike was concerned. Practically babbling with excitement, he was swept up in Byron's wake as easily as a leaf on the wind, and only MacLeod could see the way it cut Joe. MacLeod hated to see that beaten look on his face, that slump in his shoulders. The unfairness of it simmered in him, made him want to punch that smug bastard in the jaw for thinking he was better than a man like Joe Dawson, for the condescension and the amused superiority he hadn't bothered to hide. Joe tried to caution Mike, but of course the kid had eyes only for his idol; the rest of them had already fallen off his radar.
"Now or never, Mikey," Byron announced imperiously, and it was the last straw. MacLeod turned away in disgust.
"He's an arrogant son of a bitch," he muttered. It was directed at no one in particular, but Methos had managed to tear himself away from the throng of sycophants and made a convenient target.
"A lot of geniuses are," Methos shot back with that mild tone that always felt like the scolding you'd give a five-year-old. "He's connected. He could make that kid's career with one phone call."
"Yeah," said Joe bitterly, "he's in the big time now."
MacLeod realized his anger had lengthened his stride, and checked himself, slowing to match Joe's pace. "Byron doesn't give a damn about anyone but Byron. Sooner or later, Mike will figure that out, and realize that he doesn't need a free ride. He proved that tonight, thanks to you."
"Well, I hope you're right, Mac. I really do." They'd reached Dawson's truck, and he stopped. "Listen guys, I'm gonna call it a night. Thanks for coming out."
Mac wished he had better words, something he could say to wipe away the gray, discouraged weariness that had come over his friend. "Any time, Joe. I'm looking forward to hearing you play tomorrow."
"Yeah, show 'em how it's done," Methos said beside him, hands in his pockets.
Joe smiled. He looked from Methos to MacLeod and reached out, squeezing Mac's arm briefly, gratitude in his eyes. "Thanks, guys."
They stepped back to the curb and watched him get in the truck, waiting until it started up and Joe started to pull away. Then it was just the two of them, and all the tension and unspoken questions seemed to stir in the sudden silence, crackling between them like static electricity. Why was Methos even here with him? MacLeod wondered. He knew he'd done a poor job of hiding how angry and resentful he felt, how jealous as all hell at the way Methos' smile had lit up his face when Byron had walked in. Surely Byron offered the better company tonight.
The childish thought shamed him. Had he really thought they'd been working towards something these last few weeks, finding their step together after all the false starts? Now he couldn't even bring himself to meet Methos' gaze, afraid of what he'd see there. Right back where he'd started, after he'd fought so hard to learn to take Methos on his own terms, after he'd had such hopes for tonight.
The silence had already stretched too long, and he made himself look at Methos.
Knowing himslf utterly transparent, he'd half-expected the cool, amused detachment Methos often wore like a shield -- or worse, the blank, closed-off behavior he remembered too well from Bordeaux. But it wasn't as bad as he'd feared. Methos was just Methos, his lean body hidden in his coat, the night wind ruffling his hair. If he was in a hurry to be rid of MacLeod and on his way to more interesting pursuits, he didn't show it.
"Interesting night," MacLeod said at last, wanting to ask, afraid to ask. His chest felt tight, the knot of unspent anger and resentment tangled up with something that had been kindling a long time.
"You could say that," said Methos, sparing him none of it. Waiting, as if this were a chess game and MacLeod had the first move.
"You want to tell me what that was about?" MacLeod asked, stalling for time. He couldn't quite help adding, "Doc?"
"I might," Methos said, surprising him. "Sure you want to hear it?"
The unexpected answer threw him off his guard, and the knot inside him eased a little. He felt his face relax, and realized only then how tense he'd been for the last two hours. A hint of a grin escaped. "I don't know, do I?"
"Up to you," Methos countered, and his face was amused, but there was something else in his eyes, something quiet, guarded -- or maybe just quietly waiting. Will you accept it? Methos had asked him once. He'd never answered. They stood less than two feet apart on the sidewalk, two feet of distance and an ocean of unspoken truths between them. MacLeod drew a breath.
"I'd like to," he said. "You feel like coming back to my place for a nightcap?"
"Sounds like a plan," said Methos, and if he hesitated, it was so brief that MacLeod barely had time to register his own foolish leap into the drink before he was already safe on the other side. Methos' smile reached his eyes, and they fell into step together a moment later, as if it were easy, nothing at all.
"I saw you write something in that girl's book," MacLeod said as they reached the corner and started to cross.
"Yes, I did."
"Yeah, Byron asked her to get my number and address."
They reached the other side of the street and turned toward Mac's car, parked halfway down the block. "And did you give it to her?" Mac asked, unable to stop himself.
"I wrote, 'Next time, ask me yourself.' Why, you jealous?" Methos teased.
"Why, you hoping I was?" MacLeod shot back.
They reached his car, and Methos met his look across the roof. "Maybe," he said, his gaze clear and unguarded, and all the days and weeks and months behind them coalesced into that arrested moment. A streetlight flickered, and somewhere far in the distance, a car alarm went off.
"Maybe," echoed MacLeod, and couldn't help it: he laughed. In response, Methos started to grin.
"What, not enough of a commitment for you?"
"Shut up and get in the car."
"Ooh, I love it when you get butch, darling."
"Get in the car, Methos."
Grinning as if he wasn't planning to stop any time soon, Methos got in.