Following the man before him, Duncan placed his envelope of money on the tray. On the front of the envelope he'd written the enclosed amount, 20,000 yen, and the name 'Nash O'Connor', his current alias. Then he stepped into the building. The entire hall of the dojo had been decorated for the funeral. The polished wooden walls were draped with white cloth. Dozens of potted white chrysanthemums filled the hall with their spicy scent characteristic of funeral parlors all over Japan. More flowers surrounded a large photograph of an attractive elderly woman who smiled serenely at the mourners at her funeral from atop an altar decorated with bowls of oranges, apples and out-of-season plums.
Duncan looked at the chrysanthemums, at the gleaming wood of the dojo and the new tatami mat underneath his feet, and was glad to see how far the Koto School had risen since that time, decades ago, Koto Midori had fled to him in fear for her life and the continued existence of her family legacy.
The room bustled with well-dressed guests but he was the only Westerner present. That was probably what made it so easy for the woman he had first mistaken for Koto Midori herself to know who he was. It turned out her name was Miwa Noriko and she was Koto Midori's grand-daughter.
When he reached her at the front of the mourning line, instead of bowing, Noriko took his hand in hers warmly in the American form of greeting. "Thank you for coming, Mr. O'Connor," she said in impeccable English. She smiled sadly. "Though I wish we could have met under more opportune circumstances."
Duncan squeezed her hand lightly before letting go. "I am sorry for your loss. Your grandmother was an extraordinary woman." He stopped awkwardly, feeling the inadequacy of his words. In truth, he barely remembered Koto Midori after all these years -- a mortal lifespan -- and hadn't thought of her at all until he'd received the funeral invitation at his old address in Seacouver.
It had been a season for funerals.
The grand-daughter, having possibly heard dozens of condolences like his since this morning, smiled politely. "Thank you," she said. "I am sorry as well for your uncle. He was a great man. My grandmother spoke often of how he saved her and the honor of her family."
Duncan thanked her politely. It had been so long ago that she might very well be speaking of another man.
Perhaps his tepid response had disappointed her for the warmth in her voice, though still there, was diminished when she next spoke.
"I am glad you can see what Mr. MacLeod helped my grandmother save, though the Koto School has grown quite a bit since then." She smiled as she glanced at the dojo around her. "We will certainly be glad for the larger space at our new place."
Duncan frowned, his attention abruptly caught. "You're selling the dojo?" he said sharply.
Miwa Noriko blinked. Then she said warily, "Did you not know? The family decided it is best to move the school outside of Tokyo proper. We postponed it out of respect for grandmother, but we really cannot delay it any longer. The property tax alone is an unbearable burden, not to mention the school hasn't been in the black since the late 20th century." She spoke quickly and almost defensively, as if she was used to having someone object to what she said.
Duncan could read between the lines. Koto Midori's objection had been the only thing that had kept the younger generation from selling their ancestral home. Now Koto Midori was no more, and apparently her wishes were not to be honored beyond her death. Tokyo had always been land-hungry -- the prime lot the dojo stood on must have seemed to the real-estate developers what steak must seem to starving Dobermans. In a month's time, possibly less, what little remained of the home of a man who had given his life for Duncan would be bulldozed and cleared to make way for another ubiquitous skyscraper.
Duncan wondered how much money had been needed to pay-off the surviving members of the Koto family so that everyone was satisfied.
"I see," Duncan said.
Miwa Noriko's face no longer held any trace of warmth. She smiled stiffly at him. "There will be some delicacies served in the main house. Please feel free to stay." Then she turned her attention to the mourner in line behind him and Duncan was dismissed.
Cut adrift, Duncan found himself following the mourners before him to the coffin resting in the front of the altar. Koto Midori laid there in repose dressed in a black silk kimono. Duncan studied the face slack with death, the skin yellow and bloodless beneath the rouge and powder, and could not see the young woman he had helped all those years ago. It was an old woman's face.
Feeling the weight of each of his centuries, he wondered if Tessa too would have been like this in the end, if a bullet had not cut short her life.
A mortal lifespan. How quickly those passed.
The man in front of him bowed before the altar, and Duncan followed his lead before quietly walking out of the dojo. He did not go into the main house. It had been a mistake to come, he realized. He knew now what he had sought by coming -- closure, absolution -- but it was not in this centuries-old hall filled with mourners for a woman he'd barely known.
When he stepped out of the Koto School, the sun still shone bright and cold in the sky. With the neon lights of the nearby Shibuya district banked during daylight, the surrounding cityscape looked bleak and impossibly drab. The few pedestrians on the sidewalk didn't meet his eye as they hurried past him.
The flare of another Immortal's presence shouldn't have surprised him, but it did.
"Did you follow me?" he said.
Methos stepped out from the shadow of the alley, and shrugged. "You know who to blame for that. He still had resources, even to the very end. Man's last request -- even I'm not heartless enough to ignore it."
Duncan raised an eyebrow. "Last request? Really?"
Methos smiled slightly. "Well, that and pay my bar tab."
A small chuckle escaped Duncan at that. "Yeah, that I believe."
They stared at each other awkwardly then for a long moment. Their Quickenings thrummed between them, low and potent, warming Duncan’s chilled fingertips and drawing an answering flush in Methos’ face.
"What are you calling yourself these days?" Duncan asked finally.
"Matthew Henrikson." Methos shrugged again. "But he'll probably need to meet with a fatal accident soon. Too many years, too many questions. And you?" He looked at Duncan sharply. "Last I heard, the name of Duncan MacLeod had finally disappeared from the world of the living."
"Just taking a page from an old friend." Duncan studied the man standing in front of him. The years had been kind to him -- but then again, they usually were for Immortals. He was dressed more formally than Adam Pierson had ever been, in suit and tie, and a pair of steel-rimmed glasses. Duncan noted the glasses even as Methos took them off and slipped them into his suit pocket.
"They make me look older," he said in response to Duncan's questioning look, and for the first time, Duncan noticed the grey streaks that lay artfully at Methos' temple. "What can I call you?" Methos asked again, quietly.
Duncan looked at him. He thought of lightening in an old, abandoned warehouse, of long summer evenings on the Sorbonne. He said quietly, "You can always call me Duncan."
Silent understanding passed between them, and Duncan hadn't realized how tense Methos had been until the line of his shoulders abruptly relaxed.
Then Methos replied, solemnly, "I think I'll stick with MacLeod for now."
Duncan nodded, a little disappointed, a little relieved. "Walk with me?" he asked.
"You know," Methos said as they turned the corner together, away from downtown Tokyo, "I did just fly across the Pacific for you. The least you can do is pay for a taxi."
Duncan rolled his eyes at the carping. But it was a familiar sound, and he found himself smiling even as he retorted, "Got out of the habit of walking, old man, now that you're a respectable member of the community?"
"Hardly. I just don't see the point in stranding myself during rain season when there's a nice, warm hotel room a taxi-fare away."
The November air was cool and damp. It smelled of ozone and car exhaust, with a hint of cooking oil from someone's kitchen. A dark cloud had formed out of nowhere, hiding the sun. The late-autumn chill touched them where suits and coats failed to shield, reddening the tip of Methos' nose and nipping at Duncan's ears. Duncan sighed when as if to back Methos up droplets of rain began to fall, wetting their collars.
"Don't tell me," he said. "You learned the secret of weather reading while walking those thousands of miles through Katmandu."
"Actually, I just read the weather report."
Methos smirked as Duncan grabbed him and ducked into the shelter of a nearby noodle shop.
The shop was small and mostly empty, with only a schoolboy and a rumpled businessman seated at the corner. This close to central Tokyo no one looked twice at them, two suited foreigners coming in right before the lunch-rush. Inside, the shop was so warm that the windows were steamed up. The air sizzled with the aroma of sautéed scallions and chicken stock. Outside, the rain started falling in earnest, heavy sheets of water that cascaded off the tiled roof.
Methos glanced at the modest surroundings. "I have to say, Mac," he said cheerfully, "You used to be more expensive of a date than this."
"It's not like you ever paid for dinner," Duncan said dryly.
Methos shrugged, unrepentant. "True, but starving student, remember?"
Duncan smiled, amused. "Ah, I see. One of those -- the heart was willing, but the wallet, not?"
"Poor little Adam," Methos agreed earnestly.
The noodle shop had one of those the machines that took orders -- swipe a credit card, punch a button, and out comes a confirmation ticket as the kitchen cooks up the order direct. Duncan frowned at the menu, trying recall his limited grasp of the Japanese written language. Was that the character for octopus or for cat? "Have you eaten cat before?" he asked Methos absently.
"No, not yet, though I quite enjoy smoked dog. And that's actually the characters for catfish." At Duncan's look, he added, "I was in China for much of the late Qing." Then he nudged Duncan. "Try the house special," he suggested.
It was only after Duncan had swiped his card and put in two orders for the noodle house special at Tokyo's inflated prices that it occurred to him he'd paid for Methos' dinner -- again. He raised an eyebrow at Methos. Methos looked back at him guilelessly. Duncan shook his head. But as habits went, this one he didn't really mind.
It wasn't long before they were seated next to the window with bowls of noodles before them. They had barely taken three bites of their dinner, however, when Methos said suddenly, "The sun's out."
Light, diffused and pearl grey, poured in through the steamed up windows. Duncan used the edge of his shirt-sleeve to clear a space on the window pane and looked up to see the clouds part and reveal a spectacular rainbow in the brilliant blue sky. The rain had stopped, the autumn sky as temperamental as a lover's heart.
He turned to see Methos watching him.
Methos said only, "Duncan."
It was nothing so declarative as 'I love you' or even 'I miss you,' but for Methos it might as well have been.
Methos was turned toward him, face so close Duncan saw the flecks of gold in his irises. It seemed the most natural act in the world to close those last few inches and kiss him.
He meant it to be sincere but brief, a kiss between old friends long-estranged, but Methos caught the back of his neck, held him still when he tried to move away; he opened his mouth beneath Duncan's.
Duncan sucked in a startled breath when their tongues touched -- desire, unexpected and uninvited, surged over him, stealing his breath with its familiarity. The mouth moving beneath his was warm and soft and...known. Somewhere, somehow, his hands had settled on Methos' face. He felt one of Methos' hands slide beneath his shirt, fingertips calloused and gentle against his back.
They kissed like that, slow and unhurried, for a long time.
Duncan pulled away first. He pressed his forehead against Methos'. It took him a moment to catch his breath.
"I thought you weren't going to call me by my given name," he said finally.
Methos' hands came up and gently cupped Duncan's face. "I changed my mind." His thumb caressed the corner of Duncan's mouth.
They slipped out of the noodle shop from the back exit, ignoring the scandalous faces of the two remaining customers in the shop as they ducked into the alley. Methos caught him against the wall of the alley, pinned him with arms braced on both sides of his face. "Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod," Methos teased, and leaned in.
They felt the presence of another Immortal at the same time. Duncan cursed softly as they broke away from each other.
"Duncan MacLeod, Immortal bug zapper," Methos muttered under his breath loud enough for Duncan to hear, even as he melted into the alley's shadows.
The remark stung, but Duncan ignored it, unsheathing his katana and focusing instead on the unknown Immortal striding toward him. It was a muscular Japanese man who couldn't have been more than a few years past puberty on his first death, and he held in his hand one of those new inventions of the twenty-first century, a ceramic-plastic blade. His gaze passed over Methos, standing slight and unassuming in the shadows, before focusing on Duncan. He flicked his eyes down the length of Duncan's katana and sneered.
Duncan knew what he looked like -- a big, dumb foreigner in a rumpled suit playing samurai. He kept the end of his sword pointed to the ground. "We don't have to do this," he told the boy in his careful Japanese. And it was a boy, Duncan was almost certain, one who had not even lived out one human lifespan.
The boy narrowed his eyes, then hawked and spat to the side. "Take up your sword, old man."
Duncan tried again. "Walk away. Please."
It was a futile plea. This time the boy didn't bother to answer in words, responded simply with a lunge and a vicious swipe at his head.
Duncan took up his sword.
It was child's play to defend, assess, defend again, disarm. The first time Duncan went on the offensive, he saw the bewilderment on the boy's face. A single pass of his katana twisted the boy's new sword out of the boy's hand, the second drove the boy to one knee with his neck bared.
Duncan stared down at the panting boy. His hand flexed around the handle of his katana as he thought of the effort needed to severe a man's head completely from his body; he thought of an old soldier kneeling in a garden in long vanished Edo; he thought of a brother with his hands clasped warm and firm around Duncan's as he drove forward the killing blow.
"Tell me your name," he said quietly.
The boy stared up, disarmed, wide-eyed, neck trembling against Duncan's sword. He couldn't seem to accept he had lost. His bottom lip quivered defiantly. "Shinigami," he answered.
It was a nonsense name, a child's make-believe name, the Japanese word for 'death god.'
Duncan sighed, the last lingering intent on following through with his sword-stroke draining away. "Go home, boy," he said, lowering his sword. "Live a few more years, grow up. Stop challenging strangers in alleys."
He turned and walked away.
Only the movement of air over the tiny hairs on the exposed nape of his neck warned him.
Duncan ducked and rolled, cursing as he fumbled for his sword. A badly dodged swipe caught him across the shoulder-blades, deep and painful before his body healed. The boy yelled as the sword swung toward him again, and Duncan jerked the katana up into guard position, bracing himself for the bone-jarring impact -- only the impact never came.
Steel scraped against steel, and it was Methos' back before Duncan, Methos with his teeth bared and his sword locked against the boy's.
The boy seemed uncaring that his opponent had changed. There was no art or method to his movements now, just shame and the blind desire for retribution. He screamed, "Fight me, damn you! Fight me!" every time he swung through empty air.
Methos had danced out of his reach, and now seemed to toy with him, a slice across the kneecaps there, a stab in the flank here -- always leading the boy away from Duncan.
Duncan watched in rising horror at the cold, impersonal amusement on Methos face as Methos cut the boy, like a cat batting at an injured bird. The boy was crying now, tears and snot running down his face, rage contorting his features. He swung blindly in a circle, like a drunk caught in a cage.
Then Methos seemed to tire of the play, and the boy screamed as Methos cleaved his sword-hand from his wrist. Sword and hand clattered to the ground. The boy fell to his knees.
Methos drew back his sword for the beheading blow.
Duncan barely stopped himself from saying Methos' name out loud -- it would have been the boy's death sentence for sure. He took another step toward them. "Don't," he said to Methos. "Let him go." And when Methos narrowed his eyes and drew back his sword again, he said louder, "I want him to live."
Methos' sword halted mid-swing like it had met a wall. Methos looked up at him incredulous and furious. Both he and Methos knew what debt he was recalling with those words.
Duncan met Methos eyes without flinching. He repeated, quieter but no less determined, "I want him to live."
Methos snarled then. Then he reversed his sword and slammed the pommel into the side of the boy's temple. The boy toppled to the ground unconscious.
Without a word, with only a cold, narrow-eyed look at Duncan, he strode out of the alley.
Duncan stayed only long enough to press the severed hand to the boy's wrist, waiting until Immortal healing had sealed them together again, before following Methos. He had flagged down a taxi and Duncan barely caught him before the taxi sped away with him in it.
"Matte! Wait!" he yelled to the taxi-driver, who looked a bit wild-eyed at having this foreigner pound on the glass of his window. Duncan snagged the door handle and ducked into the car while the man still seemed undecided on whether to speed off or to call the police. "Thanks," Duncan said, sitting back in the seat next to a tense and silent Methos.
"Imperial Hotel, too?" the taxi-driver asked stiffly.
Duncan chanced a glance at Methos beside him, but couldn't read the closed expression on his face. "Sure," he said.
Methos didn't speak at all during the ride to the hotel. He didn't speak even when their taxi pulled up in front of the hotel. He didn't get out either.
The Imperial Hotel looked as drab and commonplace as the last time Duncan had seen it, years after the original, whimsical Frank Lloyd Wright Japanese villa version of the hotel had been demolished for the skyscraper looming now before them. Duncan wondered what had made Methos choose it, or if it hadn't mattered to Methos because he didn't plan on staying long.
Methos sat unmoving beside him, his face a closed-off mask.
"If you want to get out, here's the place to do it," Duncan told him. He saw the implication of his words reach Methos when his shoulders stiffened even further. He moved then -- Duncan saw his hand actually reach for the door handle -- before aborting the motion mid-gesture. Methos' mouth was tight and unhappy as he stared down at the betraying hand now clenched in a fist in his lap.
Duncan sat silently with him in the backseat of the taxi until the taxi-driver pointedly asked them if the honored sirs would be getting out any time soon.
"Last stop, old man," Duncan said gently.
Methos closed his eyes then, defeat seeming to weigh down his head. His head fall back against the car headrest.
Duncan expected the warm glow of triumph, but all he felt was relief, tired and bone-deep. He turned to the taxi-driver. "Kagurazuka, please."
'Crazy foreigners', the taxi-driver's stiff neck clearly said, but he complied readily with the new directive.
The taxi took them as close to the old district as possible, before the streets became too narrow for a car to pass. Then he and Methos continued on foot, him in front, Methos lagging a step behind, and Duncan glancing back every few steps to check that Methos was still there despite the reassuring hum of his presence.
The house Duncan eventually led them to was well past its prime, its wooden walls worn and weather-warped. It and the street it stood on looked small and out of place, out of time, in the shadow of the high-rise and the bright neon lights of modern Tokyo surrounding it.
The owner of the house, an old woman with shorn white hair and a self-effasive bow, greeted Duncan and Methos at the front door. She wordlessly led them to the small three-tatami room Duncan was staying in before sliding the panel silently closed behind them.
There was nothing in the room, not even a table, only a futon for sleeping, a gas heater, and a scroll depicting Mt. Hiei hanging on the wall. Even the panel that would have opened onto the verandah and the garden outside was boarded against the rain. Duncan remained at the door and watched Methos walk slowly around the room. He thought Methos might have said something biting about the austerity of the place and Duncan's chosen life-style if Methos had not been trying so hard to bite in all the other things he didn't want Duncan to hear.
When he stood in front of Duncan again, Duncan laid a hand on his arm. Methos stilled, eyes closing when Duncan leaned in and pressed his face against his neck. His skin smelled of rain and cardamom, and tasted like salt. His carotid artery jumped beneath Duncan’s tongue, and when he let all his body weight fall against Duncan, Duncan lowered them both to the floor.
It was only when Duncan pulled away for a breath that he saw Methos’ face, still closed-off and startlingly cold. Duncan breathed out in dismay.
"Oh, Methos. He was just a child."
Apparently, that was too much for Methos. He burst up from his seat on the floor. "My god, you do have a death wish! After all these years, you still haven't learned. That was not just a child, MacLeod. That was a baby asp!"
Back to MacLeod again, Duncan noted distantly. In the tumultuous years of their last relationship, before Methos just up and left one night without a word, Methos had also reverted to calling him MacLeod. Right before he stopped calling him anything at all.
"Methos, I can't kill any more children." He heard the plea in his voice for the other man to understand.
Methos' lips thinned in disgust. He turned away. He looked like he had understood and the understanding disgusted him. "After all these years, still the same set of blinders."
Duncan flinched. It had the ache of an old wound re-opened. He stared at Methos' back and laughed a little, harshly. "Are we going to do this again? Really?"
Methos turned on him, an intent look in his eyes. "Joe called me, said he was dying --"
"Don't," Duncan said sharply. It was his turn now to stand and turn his back on the other man. He didn't want to hear this; it was too raw, too soon.
But Methos pressed on, relentless. "-- He called and said could I please look after his good friend MacLeod who was acting like he did not want to last the year --"
"He shouldn't have been worrying about me when I'm the reason he." He choked, the rest of that sentence unvoiced.
"MacLeod, Joe died a very old man surrounded by friends and his loving progeny. It was a good death; the only thing better is to not die at all -- and he can hardly do that, now can he? Because he is not Immortal." Methos voiced betrayed his frustration.
Duncan shrugged Methos' logic away. "Don't try to comfort me," he said shortly. "The fact he was mortal means nothing. That I got him dead, everything."
"You did NOT kill him. Look at me, MacLeod." Fingers on his jaw turned him firmly toward Methos. Methos' face looked grim. "Joe was a grown man, he made his own decisions. It was his decision to follow you that rainy night to the challenge, god knows why, but it was his decision. He knew the risks and he took it, because he wanted to protect his friend."
"He didn't expect to die."
Methos studied his face, then abruptly let go of his jaw. He gave Duncan a dark, narrow-eyed smile. "You want to know what's funny?" he said. "When Joe told me he was dying the first thing I thought was, 'So what else is new.' "
Duncan recoiled away from him. "Don't."
"You want to know what else is funny?" Methos followed him across the room. "When I heard how he caught that pneumonia." His smile was vicious and knowing. "People keep dying for you in all sorts of interesting ways, don't they MacLeod?"
"The ancestor of the woman whose funeral you attended today, for example. I've read your Chronicles, MacLeod, it's a veritable list of sacrificial lambs slaughtered at your personal altar."
"Would you like me to start at the beginning?" he asked, sweet as hemlock. "Or maybe just the end will do. Sean Burns. Jakob Galati. Richie Ryan --"
He'd pinned Methos beneath him to the floor, chest heaving. He had both of Methos wrists in a crushing hold, grinding the bones of his wrists against each other. Methos didn't move, though his mouth tightened with pain; his eyes glittered with a dark sort of vindication.
And that too was familiar. His grip slackened.
"Stop it. Damn it. Stop it. Stop fighting me." He shook Methos a little with each 'stop'. He breathed out, a long shuddering breath. "I'm tired, Methos."
Methos stared up at him, his face white and stretched tight against his skull. "Stop trying to get yourself killed," he said. It was as close to a plea as Duncan had ever heard from him.
There was nothing Duncan could say to that he hadn't said before, reassurances like I won't or I'm not, lies or truths it did not matter. Methos would leave when he wanted to leave, in days or years, depending on the alignment of the planets and the shifting pattern of his own heart. And Duncan would still be left with his list of the beloved dead.
Without answering him, Duncan leaned down and silenced him with a kiss, and Methos let him.
They relearned each other's body slowly as that day fell into night, twined underneath the silk covers of the futon.
Duncan knew the body he touched. It had been years, but his fingers knew what his mind had forgotten. The hidden valleys that drew pleased groans, the tender curve behind a knee that elicited a gasp. And if their lovemaking carried an edge of anger and despair -- well, that was familiar too. They brought each other to the cusp of pleasure and beyond with just their hands and the friction between their bodies.
When they finished, Duncan rolled away and turned his face to the wall.
He heard Methos' breathing slow down on the pillow beside him. He told Methos, "Years ago, Joe asked me once if we were lovers."
"What did you say?" Methos said.
"I told him I didn't know."
There was a thoughtful pause. "And now?"
"I don't think it's that simple, is it, Methos?"
There was no answer, except silence, then the chaste brush of lips across his brow.
"Sleep," Methos told him. "I'll be here in the morning."