There was more than a little humor to it, but in the end, the move was predacated on affection. Joe Dawson had hit the age where running a bar was running him into the ground. The cold made his bones ache and walking on the prosthetics got bad enough that he slowly gave them up for a wheelchair more often than not, then entirely. He needed to head somewhere warm. Despite having a more affectionate relationship with Amy, his long-lost daughter, he had another family he was loath to abandon and with it the bar and work.
The Watchers were no longer even an issue; the world’s oldest organization had crossed too many lines and run afoul of the Department of Homeland Security. To even Methos’ shock it seemed most of the World’s governments had known about Immortality since the First World War. They’d just quit investigating it after each laboratory, inquiry, or kidnapping ended up resulting in a natural disaster.
Mt. St. Helens.
The 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.
Five different major earthquakes and three of the worst hurricanes in recent history had been more than enough to convince most governments that meddling in Immortal affairs was more lethal for Mortals than the reverse. God had his own games to play, and he was possessive over the pieces. As such, it was decided firmly that the Game was to be played out on its own terms and Immortality was a need-to-know basis and very few people needed to know inside or outside of government.
Horton’s hunters had been the Watchers first strike. Like most large organizations, there were eyes and ears on the Watchers and spies within their ranks reporting back to everyone from the President of the United States to the Prime Minister of Australia. Neither Duncan nor Methos had figured out what their second strike was, but the third strike happened when Shapiro attempted to revive Horton’s little terrorist cell back in 2003. Within three months the whole organization had been rolled up. Their records and chronicles were seized, their employees interrogated and then usually released with a warning that they were now the ones being watched, and their leadership either vanishing into foreign prisons or nursing homes.
Duncan had tried to get involved in it, of course. He’d felt he needed to protect Joe. He hadn’t trusted any of it. All he’d ended up accomplishing was spending two months locked in what was effectively protective custody. On the plus side, Joe had been right there with him. On the downside, Methos has escaped, somehow fallen in with the NSA, and Duncan had ended up being really good friends with his hand for the entire time only to watch his lover waltz in to “spring them” with a bright smile that said they were never going to get the truth out of him.
However you looked at it, the world was a very different place with the turn of a new century. Duncan could and did go months without a challenge. Methos’ complaints switched from being broke to literally everything his students did, and Joe really was just their friend who owned a blues bar.
It might have been expected that Methos would be the one behind it when it happened. Though God only knew when his first death had been, it hadn’t been much past his twentieth birthday, if that. The man could pass for twenty-five or twenty-six if it mattered. He had the acting chops to convince anyone he wanted that he was an ungodly lucky thirty-five-year-old with excellent genes in most cases. At the time he was still cunningly avoiding telling anyone his real age, or even Adam Pierson’s “real” age, but as his alias crept past forty it was clear that it was time to move on.
Perhaps having finally found love and family, Methos was less willing to let Adam Pierson go than he would have liked everyone believe. Either way, it was MacLeod who suggested it. Methos still maintained the shock should have killed him where all else had failed.
“I could use a change of scenery.”
“Finally ready to see Tahiti with me, Mac?” Methos drawled, his feet balanced on his lover’s lap as he looked up from the trashy romance novel in his hands.
Duncan MacLeod (of said Clan, in said Highlands, of the expected country) had given up trying to figure out if there was something the other man wouldn’t read. Sterile though all Immortals were, he read parenting books (and roundly mocked them). He reread the Horatio Hornblower series every few years despite having very limited respect for the author, formula, and time period involved and a deep hatred of sea travel. Duncan regularly caught him scanning the back of bags of chips . It was quite possible that he would never figure out the answer to what Methos wouldn’t read simply because the answer was, “nothing”.
“I was thinking somewhere closer.”
“It’s February, if you’re going any further North than we are right now, you’re going alone, Mac.” Methos’ glare was directed first at the brunette and then out the window at the slushy mix of snow and sleet peppering their windows.
The loft had been traded in for a small craftsman house in a quiet neighborhood near Seacouver’s main university. There Adam Pierson taught the single rhetoric class still undertaken at the university as well as four foreign language courses. He also worked on-loan to the local history museum when they required a translator whose list of dead languages read and spoken was longer than most of their bibliographies.
Duncan had opened a new antique store. Things had grown quiet for him after he’d tried to walk away from his old life. After O’Roarke. He’d traveled for a few years, first trying to find peace with himself, then angry at the world, then angry at one individual in particular. After all, no matter where he went he had a disturbingly familiar shadow it was impossible to shake.
It had all come to a head in ninety-nine when Adam appeared in Scotland openly on Connor’s farm. Alex, his cousin’s wife, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The last thing Duncan had felt any of them needed was Methos’ brand of dry wit and lack of sensitivity. There was enough Death in the word cancer itself to glut them all on it for a lifetime in one ten minute phone call. Why add to it?
Duncan came to grips with a lot in the months that followed as he helped Connor hold himself together. The worst of those things and the best was himself. Among other things, his forgetfulness.
Methos had been a doctor in more lifetimes than Duncan could yet imagine. He’d spent more years healing than he’d spent pillaging, though Duncan had grown enough to admit he had no business trying to hold the scales in measurement of anyone else’s sins. Methos was a calm presence in the middle of Connor’s bloody and restrained, silent panic and Alex’s natural fear for her own life and what quality it would have after the treatments prescribed by her doctors were administered. Adam Pierson knew dozens of doctors, current experts, from his time with Alexa Bond and he renewed these contacts with a passion. While Duncan held Connor together, Methos taught Connor’s teenage son curse words in ancient tongues behind everyone’s back and answered questions for the archeologist about the past as she struggled with her treatments. Duncan suspected the Old Man told her things he outright lied to everyone else about. He couldn’t prove it, though. By the time he’d been there two months she was embroidering his fabrications herself with a grin on her face that almost hid how sunken her cheeks had become and briefly put the sharp light back into Connor’s eyes.
Then one day, she was in remission. One day Connor MacLeod would bury another wife. He would be alone again and he would have to carry that weight. That day, however, was pushed further down the line and Duncan could hold onto the reality that he wouldn’t have to lose his last remaining kin just a little longer.
Duncan had a dream one night. He took Connor’s head. Methos lived in an empty mansion, as distant from him as the stars were from a child’s reaching hand and twice as cold.
Fitz didn’t show up to tell him he was being an idiot, thankfully, but he felt like he had. There was a certain freudian unreality to just how hard he could cling to denial when he wanted to. As it was, he was sorry to disappoint Amanda when she next came to visit, but his bed was occupied and Methos, it turned out, was a possessive bastard. Duncan had his own jealousy issues so it balanced out nicely.
“Alright, Highlander, give . What’s on your mind?” Duncan looked back at his lover’s narrowed hazel eyes, flecks of gold standing out dangerously in the muted green, and he grinned cheekily in return.
“What about it.”
“ Duncan ,” Methos closed the romance novel with an ominous and rather catty snap. “You’re talking about change and now what serves you as a brain amidst all the honor and chivalry just went for a walk down memory lane so powerful it almost dragged me with it.”
“We need a change.”
“Now it’s we ?”
“Isn’t it always?”
Methos’ expression, irritated a moment before, softened and he became momentarily fascinated with Duncan’s bare toes against the carpet. Duncan never grew tired of flustering the man. Of seeing Methos, the Oldest of them all, with red ears and a glare thrown in his direction hiding the fact that this man could murmur the dirtiest and dearest things to him in bed, swear oaths to him not heard by anyone in millenia, and turn around and be struck wordless by implied love. One night he’d recited love poetry to him in thirteen languages. Now he was pouting like a green lad.
“Yes.” Methos looked up and stretched as if none of it mattered a bit. Then he leaned back, deliberately seductive. “That doesn’t,” long, slightly bony toes slid up the inside of Mac’s thighs, temporarily stealing his breath away in anticipation, “alter the fact that you want a change of some kind. Whatever might that be?”
Duncan’s libido, which was quite possibly the only thing more powerful about his person than his moral compass, nearly won the fight over his intentions for the evening. Memories of Joe’s complaints the night before and the slow way his dearest friend’s fingers tuned his guitar put him back on the right course.
“I was thinking a fatal car accident might be a nice change of pace.”
Methos stopped toying with Mac’s inseam and sat up, his feet hitting the carpet’s next to Duncan’s without a whisper of sound. The conspicuous nature of that sudden, unconscious grace told Duncan just how much he’d startled his lover. Duncan’s libido went to sulk in a corner. Duncan briefly considered joining it.
“Adam Pierson’s jokes about plastic surgery aren’t holding up like they used to and I’ve been in Seacouver too long.” Duncan said with complete honesty. “I’ve always had a backup for emergencies, but I’ve been setting up my next identity for years. God alone knows how many you have ready.”
“You can never have too many options.”
Methos’ non-answer was as expected as the sunrise, but the way the other man cocked his head to the side and examined him like a microscope slide distracted him. He and Methos had been lovers since the first days of the twenty-first century, but there were times when it still hit him how different Methos was. How varied. How strange . There were more layers to the man he shared his bed with than the shale in Montana, and hidden mysteries abounded in both places ready to surprise the unwary with fossilized confusion.
“This is about Joe, isn’t it?”
“Aye.” Duncan could admit that with a certain relief, glad for his lover’s understanding. The strangeness over, he reached out and dragged the leaner man against his chest with only the most token of protests from the other as he spawled backwards on the couch. “He’s too old for this, Methos, he needs to retire. Somewhere warm, where he can rest.”
“You’re right, but my guess is you’re not thinking Bora Bora.”
“Like he’d let us support him in his old age.” Duncan snorted and Methos pulled a face.
“The man has absolutely no sense.”
“The man had enough sense to get you to pay your tab.”
“Duncan, I always paid my tab.”
Duncan glared. He’d only learned that he was the butt of that running joke a few months before when Joe had decided to give him the truth to a few in-jokes for his birthday. He now knew that it was Richie who kept putting live spiders in his dresser drawers on the barge, leading him to fumigate on four different occasions. He also knew that Methos actually paid his tab regularly and tipped well, at least after Joe learned his secret, and they’d only kept up the ruse for two reasons. One, they thought it was funny. Two, they used Duncan’s attempts to pay off Methos’ tab under the table to rewire the bar for better audio.
“That’s beside the point, though I haven’t forgotten.” Duncan huffed and gave Methos’ ear a tug just to hear him yelp.
“Then what is the point?”
“The point is, we both need to renew our identities and we need to do it somewhere Joe can live comfortably on his budget after he sells the bar.”
“Which he’ll get top dollar for.”
Just like that it was mutually agreed upon. They bought the bar together through a cut out company after talking to Joe about their need to vanish and reappear. Neither fooled themselves that he didn’t know, but as long as there was plausible deniability everyone was happy. Duncan was still smug that they sold it two years later at a profit. Gentrification meant that the dojo grew obsolete, the loft was a thing of the past, the barge had been sold long ago, but it also meant that Joe’s place made them a tidy bit of money as a kid took it over to hock microbrews and organic french fries and ethically sourced bar snacks. In the end, they both got a good laugh out of where Joe ended up retiring to.
January 7th, 2017
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
“Are you finally going to use that thing?”
“Depends, are you going to use yours?”
“It’s a Christmas present, not a game of chicken, you two!”
Owning an antique shop in an area frequented by wealthy retirees was a lucrative business, so Duncan MacLeod - of no legal relation to the last Duncan MacLeod, whose wealth he inherited through a stream of holding companies so complex even he barely understood them - was doing well enough for himself to justify the beachfront property he lived in. It also covered the sailboat he liked to go out in regularly. It didn’t help him get Methos on that boat. Extravagant sexual favors did, so it all worked out in the end.
January was a cool month on the beach and the brisk wind and lower temperatures meant they were inside, rather than out. The pale blue stucco house endured it all with stoic good cheer. Reinforced cinder block beneath the stucco, raised slightly more than a story on heavy pilons, it was a damned comfortable house with four bedrooms. That gave Ducan room for an office, a salle, and then a guest room. A library was unnecessary because Methos’ books had cheerfully taken over the living room, attic, and lined the walls of the guest room.
At least he knew to look in the attic if he lost his lover. There was a Napoleonic campaign desk up there and some of his more obscure tomes. There was also a beanbag chair and a troll doll staring ominously at anyone who entered from the windowsill.
“I know that, I just fail to see the value in taking a DNA test when it’s blatantly clear I have no living relatives.” Methos picked up the box on the kitchen island and shook it lightly in Joe’s direction as the mortal lounged on the swiveling recliner he’d turned to face the kitchen.
Methos was relieved that this particular dwelling had rooms, though he had to give it to Duncan that the open floor plan was convenient.
“It’s not like either of us have any descendants.” Duncan also pointed out wryly as he continued to work on an elaborate meal involving South American grains and fresh, seared tuna.
“I figured you’d both be more interested in the ancestry and geographic region reports.”
“I’m not fond of putting my pertinent information out for public consumption.”
“You’re not fond of putting any information out for public consumption unless it’s a flagrant lie.”
“Joe, you wound me.”
“With his accuracy.” Duncan interrupted, finished plating the last of his three latest culinary masterpieces and set them in front of the three stools. “Dig in.”
Dinner progressed normally, drifting from topic to topic. Neither of the Immortals commented if it took Joe longer than it once had to get from the recliner, to his feet, to the bar stool. It was a rare day he felt good enough for the balancing act that was his prosthesis. Drawing attention to the situation was unacceptable.
Late that night, after courting public indecency charges (again), and washing the sand off in the shower, Duncan picked the box back up and looked at it curiously. Methos, drowsing beside him, sighed.
“You can if you want to, you know. It can hardly do you any harm at this point and we both know no dangerous little irregularities are going to show up.”
“I know, but I keep wondering if I should.”
Arched eyebrows egged him on and with a sigh the Highlander continued.
“I’ve been Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod my whole life. I’ve clung to it in exile, I’ve clung to it in battle, I’ve walked over parts of the Earth I didn’t know existed when I was nothing more than the clan chief’s only son. What about that might change, what about me might change if something shows me that’s all as much of a lie as my father told me it was when he cast me out?”
Methos looked at him with a kindness not often found in his acerbic responses. Duncan wasn’t surprised. Decades together had shown him where the tenderness lived beneath the world’s thickest hide. Long, elegant fingers swept through his hair, grown out again. He leaned into the touch, closed his eyes, and waited.
“You are who you are, Duncan, and being Scottish or Greek or Pictish or a Neanderthal wouldn’t change that.”
“Who are you calling a caveman, Old Man?” Duncan opened his eyes to scowl and got a smirk for his trouble as the man in his arms lay over him, propped on one elbow. “If anyone here’s part Neanderthal, it’s you.”
“They were actually a very sophisticated culture, Duncan, you really should be more open-minded about your distant kin.”
Duncan decided to roll over and squash his lover into the mattress. That smart mouth was occupied, both literally and figuratively, with Duncan’s tongue for the next few moments. When Methos next spoke his tone was steady, but his voice breathier than usual.
“Feeling a little more firm in your identity then, MacLeod?”
“I’ll show you firm .”
“Just…” Duncan pulled back, his expression curious. “You really think I look like a Pict?”
Methos’ next groan was not one of pleasure, but the one that followed from the Scot certainly was.
Joe Dawson didn’t live in an old folks home. Okay, technically it was a retirement community, but all that meant was that he had people come by to cut his grass, deliver his groceries, and it had taken him considerably less time to assemble a proper new blues band than it otherwise would. Besides, he had a lot of proximity to a whole lot of well-kept, rich widows of a certain age in his bungalow. It was a strategic decision, not an admission of defeat.
“Hey, you guys actually did it?”
The first words out of Joe’s mouth after “it’s open” were filled with surprise and pleasure. The Watchers were done, and he’d mourned both what they should have been and what nobody was doing now that they were gone. That didn’t mean old habits weren’t as hard to kill as some of his friends, and he still Watched as well as he could and he still wanted to know . So what if his Christmas present to the guys held a little bit of curiosity and impulse to research as well? They’d all gotten a laugh out of it for the last three months and that was what mattered.
Seeing the colorful envelopes from the company proclaiming their results was too intriguing to hide either his surprise or delight. He’d never expected Mac to do it. He certainly hadn’t expected Methos to do it.
“We do it all the time, Joe.” Duncan smirked suggestively. “I thought your days of making detailed reports on my love life were over.”
“Spare me your ego, Mac.” Joe glared and looked at the other Immortal present.
“We did.” Methos allowed, going straight into the kitchen and retrieving three beers. “I’m fairly sure you’re not supposed to have this stuff with your medication, but I’m just a house husband, so what would I know?”
The deceased Dr. Pierson was well enough known in the academic community and there was enough intermarriage between that and the medical community that it had been decided he should lay low for a few years before jumping into medical school again as he had planned. Joe knew that both men had new identities planned for after his death and didn’t resent them for it. If anything he was grateful. The loyalty of all of the men in that room stood unquestioned.
“Really, when was the wedding and why wasn’t I invited?” Joe asked, putting a hand over his heart and feigning hurt.
“And where’s this rake I’m going to apparently have to challenge for your affections if you’ve got a husband I don’t know about?”
“The only current challenger either of us has to worry about is Mrs. Maplethorpe.” The old man rolled his eyes and smirked, turning to Joe and waggling his eyebrows. “She came by the store again to ask if Duncan couldn’t just spare a single afternoon to come do an in-house appraisal of her antiques.”
“She wants him to look at her goods alright.” Joe snickered.
“She’s got good taste in men.” Methos added, trying to soothe his lover’s affronted expression at Joe’s continued snickering at his expense.
“Be careful, Mac, if her last facelift gives way the recoil could take out the entire coast.” Joe mustered up an artificial expression of concern. “I don’t know if even you could survive it.”
“My glad my geriatic sexual harasser amuses you.” Duncan muttered. “Maybe I’ll just have to invite her to meet you sometime, Joe.”
“Uh-uh, I’m too old for her.”
“She’s a good five or six years older than you are!”
“And therein lies the irony.” Methos grinned. “The most aggressive cougar in South Caroline is chasing a four-hundred-year-old man.”
Even Duncan had to laugh at that, his own expression turning rueful.
“I tried to set her on Methos last week as revenge, but all she wants to do is feed him and introduce him to her grandson.”
“She offered to set up your live-in boyfriend with her grandson in front of you ?” Joe looked appalled. “Even I’m not that dense.”
“It was behind my back. I don’t think her hearing aides were on. Also, she thinks homosexuality is a ‘phase all chidlen go through in college’. ”
Joe lost it again and Duncan exchanged a grin with Methos before wagging the envelope once dramatically.
“So, what do you think, should I go for the great unveiling?”
“Hell, yeah, Mac.” Joe leaned forward, muffling the last of his amusement, his elbows balanced on the arms of his chair and his eyes alight with curiosity.
Methos began a drumroll on his thigh and Duncan raised a single finger in salute as he extracted several papers and spread them out over his knee. After examining them closely he looked down at them with a bemused expression. Methos waited but Joe decided he’d had enough.
“Some of us aren’t getting any younger, Mac.”
“That’s a huge surprise.”
“What else?” Joe didn’t have time for that, he was too curious. “Mac?”
“Nothing, I’m entirely Scots-Irish.” He turned the paper around. “It’s an uneven mix with more Scots than Irish but, according to these people, I’m as Scottish as you can get.”
Silence reigned as Duncan began to grin to himself, a very long lifetime of belief and no few father-issues suddenly dealt with rather resoundingly by a cheek swab and three sheets of paper.
“What about you, Methos.”
“It says…” Methos paused, then frowned. “That due to a processing error at the lab the results were inaccurate and there’s a coupon for thirty-percent off another kit to re-test.”
“Well, that’s a let down.”
“Such is life. Shall I go pour us all a dram of whiskey to celebrate the most Scottish Scotsman of our acquaintance?”
“Shouldn’t you call your cousin to gloat first?”
“Wouldn’t matter, Connor hasn’t done one of these things.” Duncan replied, then paused.
A moment later an expression of pure wickedness crossed three faces and a great deal of hilarity and a whole lot of trouble was born.
“I am not Italian!” Amanda complained loudly into the phone as she stood naked on the balcony of an expensive hotel in Paris. “And how am I supposed to be descended from Genghis Khan? I’m older than Genghis Khan!”
Nick was sprawled out on the bed, inside the room, and perfectly comfortable to be covered in a blanket, sheets, and a fluffy duvet given the weather. If his lover wanted to stand on the balcony, flashing Paris, risking social media exposure, and ranting about a stupid mass marketed DNA test that was fine by him.
First of all, he’d be all there and toasty to warm her up when she came back in. Second, she wasn’t interrupting the game he was trying to watch. Finally, it would make her nipples exceptionally perky.
“The nerve of those people.” Amanda stalked back in, proving he was right on all counts.
He wasn’t upset to miss the game, though. It would be up on YouTube in hours. The future was an amazing thing. Immortality was wonderful and he never had to wear a condom again.
“If they had anything worth stealing, it would have been gone yesterday .”
Nick hummed reassuringly as he opened up his blanket nest and let her inside, then sprawled over her. He even let her dig her cold toes between his calves without complaint. Why not? Her nipples were extraordinarily perky.
She crawled back out of bed after only one kiss.
“I’m calling Conner.”
Nick turned the game back on.
“Apparently I’m half Norwegian.” Connor MacLeod reflected with amusement as he sat in a tent on the Kamchatka peninsula.
He’d lost Alex to a stroke two years before and decided to bury Russel Nash with her. John was fine, married with three kids who Connor would never be Grandpa to except as the source of a generous college fund. They would arrange visits when they could, but his wife thought that her father-in-law was dead. It was better that way.
He was Adam Scott on paper now. Normally he didn’t invent his own identities. It was a little too difficult given social security numbers and identification in the modern era. Things had changed, however, and as little as he liked the idea of the governments and intelligence agencies of the world being aware of them, it made certain things easier. One of them was starting over.
He’d been kind of tickled when one of the options made such an awful pun. He’d been a damn Scot a long time, after all. Being Adam Scott was easy. Besides, it was driving Duncan nuts. His cousin was in a constant fight not to call his lover “Adam” in public now that his public name had changed. Having his cousin pick up and use the name didn’t make his life easier.
Making Duncan’s life easier was never one of Connor’s jobs, though, was it? Safer, absolutely. Better, yes, if possible. Easier? No, relatives existed to love you, support you, and hassle you constantly.
Adam Scott was a wildlife photographer. He spent months at a time in the wilderness, alone with his camera and nature. It was a good career to pick up if you were grieving and done with humanity for a while. It also kept him away from anyone he might have known during the long years of his marriage.
Not that it had been long enough.
Connor let the grief wash over him as he sat in his tent. It wasn’t a bad tent. It was made of double-walled canvas. It had a little wood stove. He’d split logs to make a decent, raised floor. He’d briefly considered just building a cabin, but decided not to. He was only going to be there three more weeks, then it was off to Australia.
Anything that didn’t remind him of a farm in Scotland and the second wife he’d buried.
“ You’re half-Norwegian?”
“Roughly forty-three-percent, but it comes from both sides.”
“ Huh… ”
“Lots of Viking raiding.”
“I guess that makes sense. What else?”
“Scots, Irish, and a little French. Fairly ordinary mix for Scotland, according to the charts in the stuff they sent me.”
“How’d you get them out there?”
“Checked on my phone.”
“How are you getting reception out there?”
“Welcome to the twenty-first century, Duncan.” Connor grinned, a bright spot amidst the slow-healing darkness of grief. “Methos talk you into getting one of those vacuum robots yet?”
“He put googly eyes on it.”
“Turns out I’m a little bit of everything.” Joe noted in amusement as he looked over his results, once more in his designated recliner in the beach house’s living room. “So much for Mom’s claim we were Scots-Irish. Looks like her side of the family was mostly German.”
“Not something you really advertised back then.” Duncan mused, sitting down and nursing a glass of wine while Methos made some elaborate dessert involving gelatin, heavy cream, and immersion blender, and three kinds of chocolate and two kinds of liquor. “Find out anything else interesting?”
“Nah, though I signed up for the database thing.” Joe breathed. “Almost didn’t, that thing can apparently bite you on the ass.”
“Half-siblings and long-lost relations crawling out of the woodwork.” Methos agreed, continuing to work, then his voice rose in a whine. “At least you got your results. I got another form letter and a coupon saying the lab screwed up again. I’m beginning to get suspicious.”
“Methos, you were born suspicious.”
“And that is why I’m still alive.”
The Oldest Immortal Living grinned triumphantly and then came out from behind the island carrying three large parfait glasses filled with enough chocolate to sugar-up an entire primary school grade level. It came in four textures. You could taste the wine and the bourbon as two entirely separate elements. It shouldn’t have been good. It was excellent. Joe liked it enough he didn’t even ask if it contained eyeballs or reproductive organs before eating it. Given Methos’ history when acting as chef, this was a great compliment.
“Really, though, this can’t be normal.”
“Then the test was probably accurate.” Duncan chimed into the gap left by the perfect setup and got smacked for his trouble. “Spousal abuse!”
“That only applies if you actually marry the perfectly reasonable person hitting you.”
“Is that a proposal?”
Joe felt his heart twist in hope, staring between the two Immortals now staring at each other in a brightly lit, warm living room in Myrtle Beach of all the goddamned places. Seconds ticked by, and finally Methos leaned back, a smile spreading across his face.
“Would you like it to be?”
“Didn’t answer my question.”
“No, I didn’t.”
Duncan licked a stray bit of chocolate off his lip. The atmosphere seemed to condense. Joe didn’t exactly wish himself elsewhere. Watchers are, by natures, hard to embarrass. Voyeurism is part of the job description. It’s just a lot more comfortable being a peeping tom from behind a telephoto lens than it is from a recliner six feet away.
“Maybe I’ll ask.”
“I might even let you.”
Methos paused, his eyes flicking down, and then grinning he sat forward, just a hint of unease showing for a nanosecond in the golden sparks in the hazel irises. Duncan had spooked him, though he’d be wary to admit it. Either that, Joe reflected, or the man’s desire to just stop the pretenses and say, “yes” , had scared him shitless.
Joe was betting it was the latter.
“When you can get my results back from that damned company.” Methos grinned. “After all, I can’t marry you in good conscience until I at least know we’re not secret siblings or something.”
Duncan groaned and glared and Joe lost it.
“Come now, Duncan, think of the children!”
Joe Dawson, who had been privileged to overhear and become an unwilling accomplice to hours of phone calls with a for profit genetic testing firm, picked up his phone eagerly for the first time in weeks.
“Did you get it, Mac?”
It wasn’t the most polite way to answer, but it did the trick.
“I got it.”
He didn’t sound as eager as Joe had anticipated.
“They coughed up their so-called faulty test-results?”
“Was it like I thought; something to do with his age messing up their algorithms due to population shifts over time.” Amanda had been ranting about that for six months.
“ Uh, no.”
Joe considered the various things he could say and ask at that point and decided that, if Duncan was feeling so reluctant to speak about it he’d better be concise. Clearly this hadn’t gone the way they’d planned. He braced himself for the worst.
“Did you ask?”
“Aye.” And there it was, the warmer tone and thicker accent that Joe had hoped for from the irritating, noble, reckless, damned-lovable idiot who’d become his best friend. “He’ll marry me.”
“Well, that’s good news, then, right?!”
Joe was more satisfied. Maybe the man couldn’t string two words together because - lucky bastard - he still had the body of a Greek God and his lover had the libido of a college student.
“When’s the wedding?”
“We haven’t set a date yet.”
Again the tone was a little off.
“Mac, what’s wrong?”
There, couldn’t get much more direct than that.
Denial was definitely not just a river in Egypt.
There, the perfect tone: slightly disappointed and mildly threatening.
“Is your couch a pull out, Joe?”
“Jesus, Mac, what did you do?!”
Joe was sure it would be alright. Methos had agreed to marry the man. He was still Methos, so he might have agreed to marry him and then thrown him out in a huff for something, but the man didn’t do anything by halves. Love more than anything else. Best not to bring up that the man’s last significant marriage to an Immortal to reassure Duncan, though. The Horsemen were still a sore point between them at times.
“At marrying him?”
“His great-grandmother was a Neanderthal, alright?”
Joe’s mouth sagged open in silent, confused shock as Duncan began to laugh over the line. Apparently what he’d thought was confusion or distress had been the other man’s attempt to control his mirth. Staring at his own phone Joe’s shoulders began to shake.
“Oh, my God…”
“I know, right? They thought it had to be a lab screwup because modern humans don’t have a percentage anywhere near that high! They can’t!”
“And he threw you out of your own house?”
“He let me stop and get my sword…”
That did it, Joe was howling.
“The couch isn’t a sleeper, Mac, but you’re welcome to it.” Joe chortled. “C’mon over and I’ll open a bottle of the good stuff. Something like this has got to be celebrated. Have you called Connor yet?”
An even more glorious idea struck him.
“I sent Amanda a screenshot of the results, but I called you .”
“You’re a true friend, Duncan MacLeod, a true friend.”
It was several hours later when something started itching at the back of Joe’s mind, a good CD keeping a steady background hum in his bungalow and a belly full of fine Scotch breathing life into the parts of his brain that were good at following patterns and examining data. They hadn’t gotten a lot of use lately. Besides, the humor of the situation had kind of taken over.
Mac grinned up at his friend, mellow after hours of good company and good whiskey. Methos would forgive him. It was more of an artistic huff than anything else, and Mac had years of experience teasing his lover out of righteous snits. The sex always made the rest of it worthwhile, and the humor had been worth almost anything.
Connor had sent him a long text complaining about tears of laughter frozen into his beard (Duncan had texted back demanding a selfie to prove his cousin had actually grown a beard) and blaming Duncan because the laughter had scared off a bear he was photographing. Amanda’s response had been mostly emoticons and Duncan had yet to translate it. Methos usually did that for him. He'd ask him later, when he was allowed back into the house.
“Yeah, Joe?” Duncan looked up from where he’d been contemplating a dime sized stain in Joe’s carpet. Little seltzer water and some baking soda would take that right out…
“Mac, you’re sure that report said exactly that?”
“That his great-grandmother was a Neanderthal.”
Duncan started laughing again and got a wadded up paper towel tossed at his head for his trouble.
“I’m being serious, here! Was that exactly what it said?”
“It was.” Duncan held up his phone with a grin. “You can read it yourself. The report was really apologetic about the mix up.”
A look of dawning realization was spreading across the craggy, beloved, and bearded face across from him and Duncan grew a tiny bit more sober.
“Joe, is something wrong?”
“Duncan,” Joe Dawson stared across his tiny living room at his best friend, his eyes bleary, red-rimmed, and ever-widening. “Duncan, Neanderthals went extinct forty-thousand years ago.”
As if the long-dead bluesman on Joe’s stereo still had a posthumous sense of timing the sax solo cut off exactly as Duncan MacLeod sat up and dropped his empty glass onto Joe’s carpet.
“Oh, shit ….”
Back in the beach house and struggling with a severely agitated sense of paranoia, Methos was hacking into a French database just to make sure they hadn’t found any of his fingerprints at Lascaux. After the Bronze Age bit him and his relationship with Duncan so badly on the ass once before he wasn’t going to risk exposing his wedding to something from the Paleolithic. With that in mind he paused, opened a second window, and googled locations where the permafrost was melting. Sometimes you just didn’t have the time available to get someone’s bloody head off with a flint hand ax, you know?