"So this man walks into a bar ..." But Joe is laughing hard enough to lose the rest of the sentence.
"So this man ..."
"Yeah. He walks into ... damm, into ... this bar and he ..." Even the guitar strings tremble to Joe's guffaw.
Smiling, amused, Duncan waits for the punchline.
"... he asks for ..."
And then Duncan looks up. Past the half-full bottle of Macallan, past the tables and the stacked chairs and the cellar arches and the darkened bar and up the steps to the street entrance. There's an expression on his face Joe had hoped never to see again in this lifetime. A weary resignation. Fear. Hope.
"What is it?" But Joe knows. "Not in my bar," he says, and only closes his eyes for the briefest of moments. He's a watcher. It's what he does.
By the scrape of the latch and the footsteps on the stairs they are no longer alone. Duncan's eyes have widened. Joe drags himself round in the chair, reluctant, bound by oaths of vocation and friendship.
There is a man in his bar. Wide shouldered, narrow hipped, Trench-coated. Hair ruffled to a crest by the November wind. On the flagstones his feet in their thin leather-soled shoes are motionless, stopping him, the showy bastard, under the only spotlight left lit.
"So this man walks into a bar," Methos says. Shadows across his eyes, cheekbone, nose, line of his upper lip cut out in light. "No one gets him a drink. What kind of bar is this? he asks."
Joe stands up and has to sit down again in a hurry.
"Oh, don't mind me," Methos says. "I'll just get it myself."
He looks no different. He looks like Methos, bony hands reaching for a glass, angular stretch over the counter for the tapped casks.
If Duncan were a cat, he'd probably be spitting. Joe ignores him, lump of an over-sensitive Scotsman the man is at times. He tilts his chair back and rocks it a little, holding the guitar steady - it's his favourite guitar, the rosewood Gibson with the pre-amped pickup, and he's not having it damaged. Fingers steady on the frets, keeping the strings from singing.
"So this man walks into a bar," Joe says. A different joke from the one he started with. "It's a bar in Paris. His bar. But there's an envelope in the post that says something about zoning permits and then, he's a man who doesn't own a bar."
Methos rolls a chair down from the corner table and lets himself slide into it, easy and slow, no sudden movements, although the briefest of glares intimidates his pint glass into steadiness. Not a drop spills.
"Funny thing happened," Joe says.
"That's my sweater," Methos says to Duncan. He blinks, obvious as a pointing gundog.
"Yeah?" Duncan says, tone of a man willing to make a point.
Joe says, "Funny thing happened. Just about a week after there was no bar, this man gets a letter from a law firm in London. Seems this man has a Great-Aunt Eunice. And this aunt, she just happens to own a bar. Owned a bar. Odd thing, for a woman in her nineties to own, but hey."
"Raining outside," Methos says. Droplets still misted in his hair. There's a line to the slant of his eyelashes that can be nothing other than sly.
"More logs in the basket," Joe says. "Eunice had a cellarful."
"Man doesn't have an Aunt Eunice," Methos says. He waits, meeting Joe's eyes. "Is that the punchline? Did I miss the joke?"
"Wasn't a joke," Joe says.
Methos huffs, taps his fingers on the table. "Snake walks into a bar," he says. He's smiling, long mouth quirked up at the corner, eyelashes down. Flirting for ... Flirting. Eyes narrow and amused when he looks up. "Snake's got no legs," he says.
Joe stares him down. Screech of chairlegs on stone as thirteen stones of Highlander goes to stoke the fire.
"I thought it was funny," Methos says, and then, "Don't get ash on my sweater."
"Don't irk a man with a poker," Duncan says, and sends sparks whirling up the chimney.
"You got a thing about sharp pointy objects?" Methos asks, smile curling up at the edges.
Joe raps him on the knuckles, gently. "This bar," he says.
"I thought we'd heard this one before?" Methos says.
Joe glares. His eyebrows have got bushier with age, all the more than useful for staring down the impertinate.
"Go on, Joe," Duncan says, coming back to the table. He crooks his boot on the leg of a chair, spins it backwards and sits down splay-legged, elbows braced on the back of it and chin resting on his folded hands. When he wants to, he takes up space, Duncan Macleod of the Clan Macleod. "This bar ...?"
"This bar comes with all its permits intact. Licence change done. Barrels of beer in the cellar. Barstaff turn up on time: man comes to wash the windows; invoices paid up. Got some damn good whiskey behind the bar. Got a performance licence and they put the stage two days after the zoning went through in Paris."
"Yeah?" Methos says. "Don't have to be black to like the blues."
"Never seen a picture of Eunice. Could have been rainbow coloured for all I know," Joe says. "Funny thing, that. No-one else knows what she looked like, either."
"Sleeping partner," Methos says, offhand. He leans back, and there's a knife in his hand, stiletto slim silver. Blood sparks when he runs his thumb over the edge of it, and Duncan's hands tighten.
"Oh stop that," Joe says. "You know you only do it to tease."
But Methos smiles slow and wicked and does it again.
"Four bedrooms," Joe says. "One downstairs. With furniture. A fucking lift."
A log spits in the fire. Duncan turns his chin on his hands and blinks at it, lazy. Content has bled back into the lines of his face without Joe noticing, but it's there now. Duncan might as well have turned belly-up and purred. He's not often gentle, Duncan Macleod, but the potential is there and sometimes it shows.
Clock ticks. Rustle behind the bar suggests mice: it's the season for them. Light through Methos' beer glass is red-gold on the table.
Joe runs the pads of his fingers over the guitar strings and lets them sing, just a little. "Bathrooms like a five star hotel," he says. "Almost like someone was thinking of staying."
"Man walks into a bar," Methos says. "Thinks, all bars are the same. Walks out." He waits.
"What's the punchline?" Joe asks, when he can't wait any longer.
Methos shrugs. "Different city."
"Poor," Duncan says.
"Haven't heard you offering."
"No?" Duncan says. He flicks a glance across the table. "Man walks into a bar," Duncan says. "It's been a while."
" - and?" Methos says.
"That's all," Duncan says. He reaches for his glass, takes a sip. "You done posing yet?"
Methos says to Joe, "This bar. It's a great story, but I thought you guys had some sort of retirement plan."
"You telling me the watchers bought me a bar?" Joe says. He smirks into his whiskey. "Gotta say, Methos, it's not like you haven't tried that one before. Didn't work then either."
"Be fair," Duncan says.
"So I checked," Joe said. "But for fuck's sake, how many bars do you know with a library for an office? Yeah there's a paper trail, but there's only one set of fingerprints."
"Two," Methos says. Then, "Can't run a tab in your own bar."
"Not your name on the deeds," Joe says, aware of Duncan at his elbow. "But. Thanks," he says, and Methos ducks his head for a moment so brief it almost didn't happen. "You too," he says.
"Busted," Methos says to Duncan.
"Not news," Duncan says. "You gonna make your excuses and leave?"
"Three dozen cask ales, two featherbeds and a shower that should actually work, and you ask me if I want to go?" Methos, affronted.
Joe's saying nothing, but neither is Duncan.
"Maybe a few books I haven't read yet," Methos says. The boxes are in the office. He shrugs. "Maybe a couple of friends I haven't seen for a while. Maybe a sofa I haven't slept on."
"Bed," Duncan says. "Feather mattress. Eider duvet. Pillows."
"Something else you're not telling me?" Joe asks, dry.
"No ticks," Duncan says, and smiles. He stands up, slowly, his hands in sight and the curve of his shoulders relaxed. "You going to sleep, Joe?"
"Joe. Are you going to bed?"
He might be talking to Joe but he's looking at Methos, and Methos is looking back.
"Why? Something else you guys want to say to each other?"
"Ah, fuck it," Joe says, and drains the glass. "Don't bust the chairs. Play nice, you hear me?"
"You heard the man," Duncan says. "Put the knife down, there's a good lad." He's walking round the table, grinning. "I don't do bloodsports with friends."
"Fuck off," Methos says. "No, I mean it. Fuck off, Mac -"
But Duncan, passing, has snagged Methos up from the chair and is keeping going.
It's a little muffled, Methos' chin being caught in the crook of Duncan's arm and the rest of him bent as a broken G-string. Amused, Joe waits for them to clear the hallway.
"Won't be down for breakfast," Duncan calls from the stairwell, and then grunts. Something, possibly alive, thuds off the wall.
"Am I supposed not to notice?" Joe yells, but the only thing he hears in return is the rhythmic bounce of a heavy weight hitting every riser on the way upstairs. The bedroom door opens. Slams shut.
Methos left half a pint on the table.
Must be love, Joe thinks. He grins, washes it up, and goes to bed.