As always, Martha has been patient and helpful. I'm sure the half dozen or so people who read this are very grateful for her kind hosting.


 

In the Early Spring, the Paris Sunrise comes Just after Seven

 

 

Even though he had to be in Seattle at three o'clock, MacLeod didn't get on the road until after one. He fidgeted and fussed around the loft, casting worried glances at Methos until Methos was ready to toss him out a window. Methos was looking forward to being alone. He'd had constant shadow--sometimes two--for a week now, and though he loved them both dearly and would trade them for nothing, he was beyond ready for a few minutes to himself. They watched him constantly. They planned 'fun' activities like concerts and trips to the zoo to keep his spirits up and prevent him from brooding. At first it had been amusing. After about three days, it had graduated to irritating and mildly insulting. It had reached the point, now, where Methos just wanted to be left the hell alone.

 

He had plans. MacLeod had a lovely, large bath tub and excellent plumbing. Sitting in hot water was a luxury Methos had never gotten tired of.  After the bath, he was going to settle up on the roof and read the new Tom Clancy novel he'd picked up on yesterday's field trip to the bookstore. No doubt it was shameless drek with no artistic merit whatsoever. After that, he'd order a pizza: anchovies, pineapple, sausage and Greek olives. He couldn't wait.

 

He was just taking his shoes off in preparation for the bath when he heard the elevator start up. It wasn't Richie, not without a warning. Which meant he had a babysitter for the afternoon.

 

Damn. He thought longingly about the bath tub and weighed his chances of talking his way out of an afternoon of company. Not good. Ten little minutes of hysteria, and everyone acts like you're a candidate for a padded room.

 

"Joe!" he said brightly. "Hi. What a surprise." He smiled hopefully.

 

Joe pretended not to sneak by a measuring look while he carried a paper grocery bag into the kitchen. "I thought we could have some lunch," he said casually, unpacking bread, cheese, and several little cellophane deli bags.

 

"Oh. Gee. I've already eaten."

 

And that did get him an open once-over. Apparently Joe knew better, which meant that he and MacLeod had spent the five whole minutes Methos had had alone to exchange updates and plan strategy. "Really? I've got roast beef, tomato, and feta?" The look he turned on Methos was patient and sympathetic. It was a look that cared.

 

The cheerful, Thanks, but maybe some other time, died on his lips. He was surprised to see it go. He'd intended to make a stand today. He'd wanted a few minutes of peace. He said, "Whole wheat or white?"

 

"Kaiser rolls."

 

"All right."

 

For just a moment, he saw Joe's relief, and the thought stung: how much of the relief was on his own behalf, and how much was for not getting in hot water with MacLeod over failing his little mission. The thought was unworthy. Joe had only once made the choice between them. And it would be hypocritical to hold that against him, since Methos himself had made the same choice.

 

And oh, he didn't like the direction of this line of thought. "I've changed my mind," he said abruptly. "Put it all away. Let's go to a movie."

 

The worried look flashed briefly, but Joe tucked the meat and cheese in the fridge and went along.

 

Tuesday's field trip had been automobile shopping, and "Adam Pierson" had bought a beautiful new SUV with money he'd recently "inherited" from a "deceased" relative. It easily trumped Joe's sedan in the who's driving debate.

 

Joe collected his jacket from his trunk before getting in the passenger side of the SUV. It was a warm day, and the jacket was a bit of a mystery. Methos pondered it while he pulled out into the street. "So. Do we drive around in circles until we stumble across a theater, or do you know where one is?"

 

"The Rialto is on Fourth: it's got atmosphere, but not a lot of variety.  The mall is soulless, but it has twelve auditoriums and a cafť."

 

"Ah. Soulless it is, then." He glanced down at the jacket in Joe's lap. Its shape was off enough that it had to be holding something fairly heavy in the pocket. Joe was carrying a concealed weapon. There was no chance that Methos was wrong. The only question was why. If it were a problem with Hunters, Joe would have warned him.

 

A lump rose in his throat. Methos wasn't just being babysat. He was being guarded. He wasn't sure how that made him feel. His habitual caution was enough to keep the raw panic of the game well away. He did not need to be protected, would never even think of it. But, oh, the feeling of having a comrade at his back. In all his life, there had been so little of that. And never, never, would he have expected a Watcher to go armed on his behalf.

 

Without thinking, he reached out and took Joe's left hand. The hand jumped slightly and went rigid. Joe stopped breathing and sat very still, looking straight ahead.

 

Methos understood his mistake at once, of course, but it was too late. American men almost never touched one another. They never held hands. To even think about it shredded their manhood. Apparently, Joe could handle sleeping with a man, but touching one in public was too much.

 

Methos swallowed hard on his anger. It wasn't Joe's fault, after all. He was practically a baby, really. He was doing his best. Perhaps he would even be big enough to forgive Methos this error. Perhaps their friendship could continue....

 

As casually as he could, Methos released Joe and pulled away. At once his hand was seized and held firmly. It wasn't a relaxed grip at all--or even friendly--but it was definite. Perhaps Joe had remembered what Methos was, that he did not belong here. Perhaps it was only pity. Whatever the logic, it was forgiveness.  He would take it.

 

They said nothing on the way to the mall. Methos did not embarrass them both by apologizing for how foolish he'd been.  Joe did not let go until Methos needed both hands to park. The lot wasn't crowded this early on a weekday, and they found a good spot. Once inside, finding a movie was more complicated. Methos had not, naturally, heard of anything that was playing. He pointed to a poster of a giant space ship flattening a major city. "That one's about to start. Or this one...is that Sean Connery?" How old he looked.

 

"Nope," Joe said. "This one's a comedy. You'll like it."

 

Methos doubted it. Most American comedies were dependant on love stories or scatological humor. They were an unfunny people who didn't have a clue about the uses of humor. But he didn't argue. Not today.

 

The selected comedy didn't start for half an hour. Another strike against it. They went for coffee, which gave them something to do, but did not solve the problem of what to say. The last week of babysitting had used up every neutral topic of conversation that they'd had between them. In desperation, Methos spent most of the wait droning absently about Chang Dynasty politics.

 

All of that was forgotten when, three or four minutes into the movie, Methos realized what it was about. "Wait--" he whispered. "They...they...."

 

"They run a night club. It's called "The Birdcage." See? It's a remake of--"

 

Methos felt slightly dizzy. "Yes," he said. "I see." The movie was a peace offering. For the rejection in the car. An odd peace offering, yes, but--oh, kindly meant. And yes, this was the sort of thing Methos would find funny.

 

Methos watched diligently, trying to keep his mind on the film.

 

***

 

MacLeod had promised he would call. When it was over, one way or another. Adam Pierson did his waiting in public places, and as much as possible with other watchers. He had known ties to both of the defendants. If things went down badly, and Mac had to resort to taking Joe out by way of the back wall, they would need help on the outside that was in the clear.

 

When the call finally came, though, Methos nearly laughed aloud with relief. He excused himself from the party of low-level watcher researchers hanging out in the back room at Emile's and answered with a delighted, "Howard's Department Store. Woodrow Wilson Smith, speaking."

 

But MacLeod hadn't laughed. He'd only said, "I need to see you. Twenty minutes."

 

Methos reached the meeting place first. He spent the cold wait pacing the length of his car. Up and back. The council had not let them go, he realized. Not this late at night. Not with Methos hearing nothing about it.

 

When MacLeod arrived it was with squealing tires and slamming doors. And he was alone.

 

"What happened?"

 

"He stayed." MacLeod bit the words out as though they burned. "He's decided to accept their sentence. He said he deserved it."

 

"He what?"

 

"So I left him there!"

 

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What happened? The tribunal came back with a verdict so quickly?"

 

MacLeod paced back and forth, tracing the same path Methos had been making minutes before. "They kept at us. Long after you left. They were...nasty. And then something happened. Another of the field staff was killed, and Shapiro called for a vote at once. They didn't deliberate--they didn't even think about it! And Joe--"

 

Methos closed his eyes. "And Joe refused to escape with you."

 

"It was a fraud! A kangaroo court! And he just--" MacLeod stopped, reached for him in the darkness. "I don't understand!"

 

No, Methos thought. And, it's better that you don't.

 

"I don't understand! How could he accept this?"

 

Methos could not answer. He waited in silence while Mac paced out his fury into grief and back to anger again.

 

"He could have escaped. I begged him to come with me." Methos kept his face calm, despite the wrenching pain inside. It would all be for nothing if he gave anything away. Joe had made his choice. So had Methos. It was the same choice.

 

"Damn him. Setting himself up like that. Waiting to die. He'll go down without a word."

 

"It sounds like that's the way he wants it." He managed to say the words calmly, convincingly, even. And he hated himself for being able to tell this lie so easily. Joe Dawson--

 

But no. No. There was no other way. The Central European Headquarters was a hornet's nest of guards and enforcers and paranoid electronics. With Joe along, neither stealth nor speed would have been possible. As strong as Joe was, climbing out the window and scaling down the wall was simply not an option. Besides which, it was likely that the Watchers had let MacLeod--alone--escape. Despite the ugly little package deal Shapiro had tried to cut, the Watcher hierarchy had no desire to start butchering Immortals.  MacLeod's vanishing would solve the problem of his inconvenient friendship with Joe Dawson as thoroughly as MacLeod dying. More so. Watcher hands would be clean. If Joe had attempted to escape--even if he had succeeded--he would have been hunted to the end of the earth, and MacLeod with him. 

 

MacLeod, though, was seeing none of the practicalities. He could believe it of Joe, that he would toss good honor after bad, that he would continue to keep promises to men who had no justice themselves. He couldn't see past his own honor or his own guilt. 

 

"Well, what did you expect me to do? Stay there and die with him?" MacLeod had been crying. Methos could still see the remains of tears glittering in the streetlight. This line of thought had to be crushed, or it would all be for nothing.

 

"Well, I wouldn't," he snorted. "MacLeod, you need a vacation. I hear New Zealand is very nice this time of year."

 

But guilt still rang in his voice as loudly as anger. "Look, you did your best. I did my best. If he wants to sit there like a lamb to the slaughter, then let him. There's nothing else to do. I'm not going back for him."

 

"No. It wouldn't be sensible." Inwardly, Methos screamed. He should have had years more. Years. But Joe had chosen his Highlander over everything else. Faced with the same choice, Methos would also sacrifice Joe for Duncan. Was doing it. "Don't go home. Get a hotel room. Pay cash. You need to stay out of sight."

 

"Until it's over," MacLeod ground out bitterly. "Damn him." 

 

***

Armand: Al, you old son of a bitch! How ya doin'? How do you feel about that call today? I mean the Dolphins! Fourth-and-three play on their 30 yard line with only 34 seconds to go!

 

Starina: How do you think I feel? Betrayed, bewildered... wrong response?

 

Armand: ...I  have no idea.

 

 

On the screen, silly people were franticly pretending to be who they were not for the sake of love. It was an odd and distant quandary. Methos wasn't even sure he had an inner identity to betray anymore. Who he was on the surface--Adam, Roger, Ben, Pierce, Sergey, Atticus--was just a brief flash, a changing moment. He had once spent ten years living as a woman among a group of desert nomads because the only men who could escape participation in their continual, pointless little bush wars were the ones willing to accept the reduction in status and manual labor that came with declaring oneself female. It hadn't mattered, not really.

 

What mattered most about any given life wasn't what you wore or what the masses thought of you. What mattered was whether you loved anyone or not, and whether they loved you. But even love was wasn't permanent.

 

***

 

The habits of caution brought Methos home and signed him on to the network to check his email. Then they called up a few of his coworkers to see what they'd heard. The news was as he'd expected. Joe would be executed in the courtyard at dawn.

 

The habits of caution were oddly silent on the matter of fleeing town and disappearing, despite the fact that he was in tremendous danger of being outed.

 

Joe did not want to die, and he had in his possession two pieces of information that were easily worth his life. His options were many; he could cut a deal with Shapiro or Walters.  Or Bauer, for that matter. She held a lot of clout in Eastern Europe. Or he could skip the leadership and bribe one of the guards with what he knew. It was career-making information, to the Watchers much more important than Joe's treason, and worth more than his life.

 

After all, a Watcher who consorted with an Immortal, well that was one thing. But an Immortal who'd been hiding among them for twelve years, who'd had access to all their records, their updates, their methods...it would break their paranoid little hearts.

 

The second bit of information would be considered even more important in some factions: Joe knew the location of Methos.

 

Really, all things considered, the wise thing to do would be to run now. But Methos didn't. He wasn't worried. Not about Joe betraying him.  Oh, this life was over.  There was no question of that. He couldn't stay here, not after so much unrelenting pain. And not when he was so bitter he might let slip to MacLeod what had been sacrificed on their behalf. But he could disengage quietly. There was no need to run in the night....

 

There was nothing to fear. Joe would not sell him out, not even for his own life.

 

He had spent that night lying awake in his bed, pondering the impermanence of love. He spent it trying to forgive Joe for not attempting the impossible. And himself, for not rescuing him. And MacLeod, for being so bloody thick.

 

He went to the curtain as the sky lightened and watched the world grow light. Watchers were notoriously punctual. It would not have been painless, but it would have been quick.

 

He was still standing at the window when the phone rang. That would surely be MacLeod. He would need reassuring. Methos would have to say something.

 

It was the voice he expected, but the words made no sense. "I need a doctor. Someone discreet, but good. Do you know anyone?" 

 

"What?" Why the hell would an Immortal need a doctor.

 

"A doctor, damn it. I can't take him to a hospital."

 

Methos went cold.

 

"Are you there? I need help!"

 

"What happened?" Phone tucked under his chin, Methos was already digging under the bed for his medical bag.

 

"There was an...assault on the headquarters. Another Immortal. He got to them before they--before Joe--He's hurt. It's bad. If I take him to a hospital, the Watchers will find him."

 

"Bring him to Shakespeare and Company. I'll meet you there."

 

"He needs a doctor--"

 

"That's covered. Just get there."

 

***

 

On the screen the family with values but no morals went to dinner with the family who had virtue but no respectability, and the farce started in earnest. In the theater, Methos closed his eyes and wondered if what he was feeling was guilt.

 

What did he have to feel guilty for? You do what is necessary to survive. You let people make their choices. And you don't, ever, imagine that you can control what happens in the world.

 

You love. You enjoy. You let go.

 

When it's over, you let go.

 

But Joe had not died. MacLeod had not died. Methos had not let go of Adam Pierson.

 

Joe pushed up the arm that separated their seats and edged closer. "Do we need to leave?" he whispered against Methos' ear.

 

"What? No!" he whispered as brightly as possible. "I'm fine."  He patted Joe's arm. "I'm fine. Watch the movie."

 

***

 

When the lights came up, they filed out with the rest of the small afternoon audience. "Hey Adam, how about some lunch," Joe said. "I'm hungry, even if you're not."

 

"You know," Methos drawled, "Itís not like I'm going to starve to death."

 

"I might."

 

"I am not eating in a food court."

 

"I would never think of it."

 

"And I want to stop at Sharper Image. I like to gawk at that there new-fangled technology."

 

Joe started to laugh, caught himself, and laid a gentle hand on Methos' arm, guiding him into an alcove by the payphones. "Have I offended you?" he asked softly.

 

"How could you possibly offend me?"

 

Joe froze for a moment and then lifted his hand. "Right. I forgot. I'm just a kid. You'd have to take me seriously before I could offend you."

 

Joe was trying to pick a fight. Patience hadn't gotten him anywhere, so he had moved on to tough love. He stepped closer and breathed, "That wasn't precisely what I meant. Although, on that note...this little attempt to manipulate me isn't working." Joe flushed. Methos stepped around him so he could speak to his ear and avoid the unbearable nakedness of eye contact. "What I meant, was that since the day we met, you have never been anything but kind. Even when, as far as you knew, I was nobody, you were kind. And when you learned better, you never turned it to your own advantage.  I am sure you know the price Kiem Sun has put on my head. And I am sure it never occurred to you to collect it."

 

"Damn right, it didn't!" Joe exploded. "Who the hell--"

 

"Hush, my friend," Methos whispered, still standing too close, still speaking too quietly. "Listen to what I am saying. You can hurt me. You have not and cannot offend me."

 

In the half second before Joe shut his eyes, Methos saw what he'd had no idea he was looking for. In that flash, Joe let slip a relief so great it bordered on pain, and a warmth so bright it nearly broke his heart.

 

The mall bustled on around them. A short line was forming at the box office. A mother with three screaming children balanced a huge load of packages while trying to keep track of her hellions. A pair of teenagers, holding hands, kissed without pausing in their progress.

 

"You would have died and taken my secret with you. I can accept that. But it was wrong, that I would have let you go and not *told* you--"

 

"Oh, Adam. Methos. You did tell me," he murmured. "You did tell me. When you addressed the council. You weren't talking to them. And you weren't talking about Mac."

 

Methos stepped back. "No. I suppose I wasn't. Joe--I didn't think...I didn't think they would."

 

"You might have been right. If David Shapiro hadn't died."

 

They stood there for a minute or so, together in a weary silence. "Food," Methos said at last. "Did I mention I skipped lunch?"

 

"No. Gosh, I bet you're hungry."

 

"Famished. I think that sign over there is gourmet pizza. Feeling brave?"

 

"Completely fearless. I'm up for anything."

 

"Anchovies, pineapple, sausage and Greek olives."

 

Joe smiled sweetly, and that smile passed over him like a soft wind. "Except that. We're getting separate pizzas."

 

 

***

 

When he opened the door, Methos was standing to the left holding a naked sword and Joe was standing by the coat rack holding a semi-automatic handgun. All the lights were on and the remains of a card game were spread across the coffee table. "Hi, guys," Duncan said. "Nice to see you, too."

 

"You said you'd call," Joe groused, putting the weapon back into the pocked of his jacket.

 

Duncan snorted. "I fried another phone. I ought to buy them by the gross." Actually, when he thought about it, the comment wasn't funny.

 

As Methos went to put his sword away under the couch, Duncan turned to Joe. "How is he?" he asked softly.

 

Joe took a deep breath. "Sentimental and clingy, but not depressed."

 

"Sentimental? Really?" Methos seemed to be doing very well.  "I'd like to see that."

 

"Yeah, just once I wish it were you. He's a handful." He raised his voice. "How was the trip? I take it there was some excitement?"

 

"Young and stupid and I didn't challenge him."

 

"I didn't think you had," Joe said gently.

 

"Tomorrow, all right? I'll tell you everything. Anyway, look what I got." He set the small but sturdy box he was carrying on the kitchen island and carefully unpacked the contents.

 

The tiny vase was only five inches tall and thin as paper. White Jade, translucent and perfect. It was five hundred years old. On his way past to the fridge, Methos said, "Very nice," but Joe looked at it a little disapprovingly. "Set you back much?"

 

"It's not for me. I have a client who's been looking for ten years." He picked it up and held it up to the light. "For me it's the hunt.  And then to hold it, to understand it....This was made by a master years before I was born."

 

Methos laughed. "Imagine that," but Joe frowned and didn't say anything. Duncan knew his aversion to precious things stemmed from the loss of Lauren to John Durgan, who had murdered her because she threatened his secret horde of stolen treasures. Precious things.

 

Duncan put the vase away. "It's very late. Will you be all right going home?"

 

"Not that late," Joe said. "I'll be fine."

 

"You could stay," Duncan offered.

 

Joe glanced at Methos. "No," he said, "thanks." They both agreed that Methos was not ready to share a bed with anyone, and for some reason Duncan could not fathom, Joe had the idea that Methos felt somehow jealous of the idea of Joe and Duncan together.

 

"It's nearly two."

 

"I usually work later than this."

 

"I'll walk you out then," Duncan said, and led the way to the elevator. When they cleared the fourth floor, he said, "We haven't had a lot of time alone lately. I'm sorry."

 

Joe smiled slightly. "We've been busy. It's been...interesting."

 

Duncan laid a hand on his shoulder. "You haven't had very long. I realize deprivation is a hell of a way to learn to share."

 

Joe laughed outright at that. "I've been sharing you all along. And I've done pretty well, considering I was in love with you from almost the beginning." He shifted forward and kissed Duncan reassuringly. "Of course, it took me about six years to figure out that I was in love, but that just means Iím a little thick."

 

The lift stopped, but Duncan didn't reach for the door. There should have been more time for talking like this. There should be some time for play.  For years he had pretended that what Joe felt for him was nothing particularly special, and for years he'd pretended to feel nothing but friendship in return. "Are you sure you're all right going home?"

 

Joe patted his arm. "I will be fine. Get some rest, ok?"

 

When Duncan got back upstairs, Methos was cleaning up the remnants of the card game. "Hungry? There's leftover pizza and stuff for sandwiches in the fridge."

 

"Your pizza or Joe's?"

 

"I ate mine." A pause, a thoughtful look. "Long trip?"

 

"I tried to scare him off," Duncan said without thinking. "I didn't want...."

 

Methos looked up. "Given up on the game?"

 

Duncan retreated from the gentleness and went to the refrigerator. "Believe in it," he said shortly. "It's just not a very good reason."

 

"Ah. Mac, have--"

 

"So what do you want to do tomorrow," Duncan asked brightly, hoping to forestall whatever kindness want along with the look Methos was giving him now. Joe was right. "Sentimental" was the only word.

 

"Thought I'd go apartment hunting."

 

Carefully, Duncan set the slice of cold pizza on his plate and said, "Come again?"

 

"Well, it looks like I'll be in town for a while. I've got to get my own place."

 

On the one hand, this was very reassuring. On the other, it wasn't. "You're welcome to stay here."

 

"Yes. Well. You have been a generous host. This is not a commentary on the comfort of your couch." He smiled. "Are you coming or not?"

 

Duncan frowned, thought quickly, gave up. "Sure," he said.

 

 

 

 

Feedback to Dasha

Home