Characters from the television series Highlander are owned by RPD
Productions. Used without permission.
ORDER OF THE AUTHOR
Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
It starts when Ev vy sends the lyrics. She sends U2's 'Stuck in the Moment' a song by a band of whom I'm not fond, and I have to go crawling cap in hand to a friend for a copy. It's not the most cheerful of songs - I suspect it's originally about some kind of addiction, although I can see exactly why Ev vy picked it, and yourself can read the lyrics at the end of this story. (I will not forsake / The colors that you bring / The nights you filled with fireworks). Then Amand-r forwards the theme - 'The End is the Beginning' - and it's all leading irresistibly towards more angst, and at this moment in time angst is not what I want to write. What I want to write is happy fiction, with happy endings, where the lion and the lamb lie down together in fields of gold...(See, even now, this comes edged: remember Henry and Francis on the Field of the Cloth of Gold, jousting like young wolves?) And do not forget that this is a Boy's Own Adventure: that herein you will find a man, and another man, prepared to love each other honestly and with passion: and if this is not your poison please retire with grace.
So I will tell you now, before we take this particular journey in Highlander fanfiction together, that we stand at this moment beyond the television series and beyond Endgame. Connor has indeed died, and Richie too: but Connor has found peace with his beloved Heather and Duncan has taken an avuncular interest in Alexander and John, who are enjoying the kind of contentment that can only be attained by the possession of a considerable private income and a four-square English rectory complete with golden retrievers and duckpond. Richie is pleasing himself whatever it is that boys of that age do enjoy - although I do hope that by this point in time he's given up this absurd liking for Hondas and the sort of scarves that risk tangling with your chain at speed. There's a Biker!Richie story in there somewhere - can't you see it coming? - but not just yet.
Duncan himself has had time to come to terms with both events, emerging older, wiser and a little sadder, but he still has the same maniacal energy and his grin still lights up his face. I think it's Loch Ness who refers to the Highlander as 'our lovable homicidal maniac'. Here he is. He's growing his hair, and it's reached that awkward stage where it's too long to brylcream and too short to tie back. He tucks it behind his ears, but with the inevitability of mice in Bradford or parental telephone calls just as dinner is ready it will fall, and he'll drag it back with unconscious impatience. Every time it uncurls Methos' hands twitch to smooth it back, a Pavlovian reaction that the old man himself has begun to fear, for one of these days, distracted and forgetting, he'll reach out. And what then? It's all very well to construct that casual intimacy in his dreams, but in daylight reality runs deep and he's never been a fool.
Notice I'm concerned with what Duncan looks like and what Methos thinks. But let's take a step back. Methos, of course, has convinced himself he can read Duncan like a book. (Yeah, it's such a cliché, but it's extradinarily apt for the Old Man. Live with it.) He thinks he can catalogue Duncan's responses, take a good guess at what the Highlander will do in any given situation. In Methos' dreams, he believes, some of the situations envisaged would have curled Duncan's hair, brought him to his knees, or sent him screaming into the sunset. Most of them would, Methos thinks, sunder any friendship between them. One does not generally, after all, roger one's friends (with infinite skill, generosity and staying power, of course) between the soup and the main course, so to speak, or indeed on top of the bar, which is where...
The fact is that Duncan's view of the situation is entirely different to Methos' perceived view of Duncan's view of the situation. What's more, Duncan, who has done some hard thinking of his own concerning motivation and impulse control since Connor's death, is quite aware of and amused by his older friend. He's come to the conclusion that Methos has driven himself into a corner of inaction. Methos expects convolution, revels in it, teases out motivation and understanding into a spider's web of complexity. Between the pair of them, the threads are so mixed and sticky that Duncan sees the old man blinking bemusedly over a coccoon of silk, afraid to raise a finger. In his heart of hearts, he finds the situation quite amusing, but between you and me he's got to the point where he is tired of imagining what Methos' skin would feel like under his fingers and has begun to consider rapine and pillage as a seduction technique. Flirtation has not worked. No matter how clearly he's expressed his willingness to be seduced, Methos persists in seeing a trap composed of his own machinations and Duncan's perceived heterosexuality.
It occurs to me that I have failed to tell you where we are, although the bar counter should have given you a clue. We are, yes, in Joe's bar, a set deliberately constructed to express a kind of netherworld, a complex and shadowed environment in which one might well turn a corner and come across a millennial demon, although whether Duncan's, Buffy's or Crowley's is moot because no one really dies in Joe's. And if one has Joe's Bar one has, of course, Joe, a gentleman of enormous tolerance and grace, stalwart in friendship and understanding beyond measure. You may think I perceive this from his appearance in the television series Highlander (which I should point out, belongs entirely to Panzer Productions, or Gaumont Television, or Rhysher-Davies: with certainty though, it belongs not to myself) but you would be wrong. Over the past year I have given Joe diabetes, sent him to hospital twice, forced him to take Rebecca's crystal against his better judgment, and dictated what is possibly the longest non-speaking part in Highlander fanfiction - a part which ended in his death. Nevertheless Joe, when called upon once again to witness a story in which he plays straight man to Duncan's foil without any conceivable benefit for himself apart from a toast and an apology, simply raises an eyebrow, grins, and asks for the script. Joe, when I raise the first glass of Glenmorangie in the company of good friends and lovers this coming evening, I raise it to you with thanks. Slainté.
So here is our cast of characters. Perhaps I should add that it's New Year's Day, that it's cold outside and the sky is gray with unshed snow: that although it's only three o'clock the streets are already darkening and the few cars on the road have their headlights on. That Methos is once again wondering why he remains in this cold city, caught in eternal orbit to a man he believes he'll never have. That Duncan is uttering a quick prayer of thanks to the God of New Beginnings that he is here, sane, mostly happy, and with friends: and that Joe is idly hoping that Michael remembered to clean the taps on the new barrel of Sheep's Heid and that the supply of Highland Park will withstand his friends' deprecations. Oh, and there is a soundtrack: Joe is playing the seminal folk roots album, Freedom and Rain, a collaboration between the powerful music of the Oyster Band and the uncanny, precise vocals of June Tabor.
I insert this shameless plug for several reasons: because you should go right now and crawl to the wise and brilliant Killashandra for a password to her vids page, for she vidded Highlander to the Oyster Band and it's magnificent: because I bought my own copy on the Rue Saint-Michel and so, therefore, did Joe, and it thus reminds both of us of those early years in Paris: and lastly because these are some of the good guys of the folk-roots world and your cash will enable them to make more music. While I suspect I should be playing U2 at the moment Amand-r tells me that I can't just quote from the song in this fiction so we'll count it, with grudging respect to Scott M. Peck, as a stony path not taken.
You might be wondering at this point when we'll start and just where we'll finish. I will tell you right away that we have started: that we started in front of a computer and with our back to the fire, like all the best stories start, a fire redolent with applewood and scented with pinecones, and we will finish in three hours and four pages, when the fire is embers and I have friends waiting for me. And that when the fireworks are over the characters will be at peace, that Duncan will be lying awake watching the stars wheel above his window, meditating on constancy, and that Methos will be sleeping with his not inconsiderable nose turned into the warmth of Duncan's armpit, content in the moment, and that Joe will be writing up his private watcher records with a forgotten grin on his face. Right at this moment, though, you see Joe and Duncan sitting opposite each other with three glasses, a bottle of Highland Park and a pack of cards between them. You see Methos at the bar, a bit blurred, because Methos is adept at disguising exactly what he's doing and at this moment the old man is studying the way reflections behave in the polished metal of an ice bucket whilst extracting a single cube for his glass of whiskey. Why is he doing this? He is doing this because, in the long shadows of a long winter afternoon, this ill-assorted but sympathetic threesome is playing poker.
At which point someone will say. "But-"
And I will tell you that I am sick of chess and that poker has proved an excellent plot device. Who's writing this story, after all? But we are not starting at the beginning of this poker game: we join it near the end. Our characters have played for dried kidney beans, for shots of Grouse (that was before they opened the Orkney malt) for loose change and for who gets to wash the glasses. Right now, they are playing for slips of paper.
Slips of paper? Read on.
It was Duncan's idea, but Joe, no fool, has a good idea where they're headed. He says, tactically, for the fourth time that afternoon, "Fold."
"What, again?" Methos says from the bar. "You're just worried that doing your accounts for the next IRS audit'll involve playing with your computer."
It's quite true.
"Never thought it," Joe says. "And leave that bucket alone."
Methos grins, unrepentant, and slides back into his seat bearing ice. "MacLeod?"
"Polish my swords for the next two months," Methos says immediately.
"Two months?" Duncan says. "That's a little...noncommittal, isn't it?" He looks down at the cards in his hand. Long acquaintance with the player on his right has forearmed against both sarcasm and stratagem. "Sing for me."
"What?" says Methos blankly.
"One song. Joe plays. You sing. Understood?"
"That's not fair."
"Whatever gave you the impression life was fair? You need to give your friends a chance to see you make a fool of yourself sometimes, you know."
Methos picks up his cards. "Singing was not mentioned in the list of acceptable qualities for membership of the Clan MacLeod..."
"Oh, you count yourself in, then?" Duncan says.
Methos purses his mouth, cocks his head on one side, and says, "Play."
Duncan wins. So Joe switches off the sound system for five minutes, and Methos sings, sweetly baritone and unaccompanied, an old and traditional ballad of a maid and a soldier. He sings it straight, but he has been, in his time, a soldier, and so has Duncan, and the verses he does not sing are the ones Duncan recalls. ( When the birds are sweetly singing/ As in summer oft they do/ Would you, dearest, be offended/ If I lay on top of you?/ No, Sir, No, Sir, No....)
There is an appreciative silence when Methos finishes, and Duncan raises his glass in salute. Would you, Methos, be offended..? There's something about the way the old man ducks his head, not bashful, not ashamed, a slow and erotic awareness that reminds Duncan forcefully of a white room in Paris, of a moment in his life when all the threads came together for one shining second. Then those eyes, those careful, duplicit, wide eyes, open, and
"Ever played strip poker?" Methos says, calculated revenge for the singing.
Perhaps I should mention that Methos does not expect anyone to take him up on this suggestion. It's really meant for late night sorority games, not afternoon matches with friends, but when Duncan looks up and smiles he knows he's made a mistake. It's getting harder to keep the wolves at bay, and the glint of dark awareness in Duncan's own gaze could send him baying at the moon.
Joe chuckles into his beard, deep and private, almost unheard.
"I'll play," Duncan says.
There is something I haven't told you about Duncan, a fact that you need to bear in mind as the seconds pass. Duncan...is in heat, flushed with it, eyes sparkling, caught on the horns of a quickening taken not four hours before. It gives him the recklessness of a child in a sweet shop, because this moment, this moment when Methos looks up and Duncan knows that Methos knows that he knows...this is the moment that Duncan decides he's done waiting, that he can maybe give it another half hour, no more, after all these years. Paradoxically, the decision taken, he feels as if something inside him shifts into place, makes of itself a quiet anticipation rather than a raging desire.
He deals the cards with steady hands, plotting, and Joe turns up the heating. He lights candles too, setting them in bottles like the French do, reminding all them of the days they spent in Paris.
Methos has decided that he is mistaken, that he could not have seen
what he thought he saw in Duncan's eyes. Methos is playing half-unconsciously,
watching Duncan's hands, wondering if he should pay Joe some of his
bar-tab as a New Year's gift. He is almost startled when he wins the
first hand and Joe goes so far as to remove a single shoe: looses
his own hiking boot with the next round and is commensurately shocked
when Duncan, loosing in turn, takes his sweater off to reveal nothing
but a singlet.
Methos might have sounded the first trumpet, but Duncan has declared war. It hurts, that display: it hurts because he can't touch it, and he turns his head away the way he always does when Duncan does something that tightens his groin, but this time his eyes brush past Joe's and the watcher loosens the collar of his shirt and says "Is it me, or is it hot in here?" without a trace of irony beyond the twinkle in his eye.
It's Joe who looks at Duncan with his eyebrows raised, and Duncan who smiles at him over the candles and shrugs.
"Now that I'm single you expect me to be straight?" he says, and deals the next hand.
And Methos says nothing at all, because even now, against all reason, he is telling himself that the Highlander knows not what he does. Straight, after all, is just a word: it applies as equally to someone unprepared to take risks with clothing or company as it does to someone who will admit to a Kinsey 0. But in Duncan's eyes, the set of the old man's shoulders is a story, and the private amusement of the tucked in corner of his mouth a joke that should be told only between the sheets. His hands outline soft tales of treachery on the cool glass of his beer bottle, and the opening sprawl of his legs tells an anarchic fantasy. Methos. Seeing how far he can push, an amusement so old that half of it must be automatic. Even now, his left hand, fisted, runs up and down the long line of his neck in meditative provocation, taking him through five rounds and the loss of both boots and one of his socks.
What of the Highlander himself? Ahh, He has lost his singlet to Joe's last royal flush, and the sweat lies light on his skin, and the moment has come to lay the stakes on the table. He opens his mouth.
And Methos looks at his cards.
And Joe's eyes flick between the pair of them, wise and tolerant and knowing.
And Methos folds his cards and looks across the table, very deliberately, as if later is no longer better and this moment will never come again. One of those moments that spin into infinity before even the words are spoken. Like falling without a rope, like setting tinder to the first fireworks, like the song of a sword drawn from scabbard.
"Sleep with me," Methos says. Then, in belated shock, he claps his own hand over his mouth. He had not meant to say this, but the words are irrevocable and the intent, once voiced, cannot be denied.
Duncan snaps his own aces together and puts them on the green baize. He has had, after all, eight years and twenty-five minutes to think of his answer.
"We take it in turns to change the sheets. I buy the lube. You wear silk for me, every so often. Oh, and if we do penetrative sex, I get to be on top. Always," he says.
"Er, Mac-" Joe says.
"I don't do birthdays and I don't do valentines, not with you," Duncan said. "I don't want to hold your hand in the street and I'm not interested in wedding rings."
Methos' hand has dropped and his mouth has opened, just a little, the upper lip with its perfect, defined bow soft and arched. He swallows once, and again. There is sweat, suddenly, on the fine skin at his temples. "What?" he says eventually, his voice half a tone lower than normal.
"I thought I'd change the rules. Make some more. Are you writing this down, Joe? He's a slippery bastard at the best of times, but he's my slippery bastard and I don't want him to forget it."
"Play," Methos says.
It takes all the strength Duncan has not to move. Because Methos does not say anything else. He uncurls himself from the chair, he stretches himself into and out of the space between them, the space that is suddenly too small to hold the three of them: he walks forward, and the sense of him coming is the edge of fear you get with a half-tamed great cat. His eyes hold Duncan's all the way, even when he drops to his knees in front of a body that is discarding thought and knows only desire. Without touch, the heat rises shimmering from his skin, and Duncan can feel the sweat rise and cool on his own flesh.
"Do you understand?" he says, between lips that are dry and stiff. "And Joe.."
"Don't mind me," Joe says. "But I think I'll be leaving now."
Methos says, "I never thought you were a fool." It's conceivable even in this moment that he is speaking to both the warrior and the watcher but this is not the case. Methos the wise has thought for only one man now.
He drops his eyes, and then looks up, slowly, between his eyelashes. There is no hiding the bulge in Duncan's jeans or the smell of incipient and explosive sex in the air. It's going to happen: it is really going to happen, now.
"I have rules of my own," Methos says. His voice has dropped another half tone, and spread on the muscles of his stretched thighs his hands curl white-knuckled. He still does not quite believe this is happening.
Duncan is the man who has danced on the Eiffel Tower and stolen the Stone of Scone. "My game. My rules," he says.
Methos draws in a breath with an audible rush, bites his lip. His eyes are fixed on Duncan's. But his hands are clenched, and all the long lines of his body are tight with desire.
"I want you naked," Duncan says, and watches Methos' eyes darken. "I want to be so far inside you it feels like I'm fucking your throat through your arse. I want you to scream my name when you come."
Methos groans then, deep and wet and abandoned. His mouth is inches from Duncan's hand, from his cock, and neither of them hears the slam of the door.
And Duncan reaches out to grasp the fine dark hair of the old man's head and pull him in, hard. "Ohh," he says, unable to stop himself, as Methos turns the line of his cheekbone against the ridge of cloth and hard on. The older immortal's hands come up to grasp the waist band of his jeans, to tuck trembling into the point where denim meets flesh, meets button, meets zip: meets unzipping Methos' skin on his skin. Methos' breath, his tongue, hot and wet and greedy, Methos keeping promises made seconds ago in the sudden exquisite pain pleasure as Duncan's cock is taken and swallowed to the root. It is an agony of pleasure. Slick and tight and open: one thrust and he will be coming. He fists into the dark hair and holds Methos still, feeling the other man's throat work round his flesh as air becomes a necessity. "My game," he says, panting, and gives Methos air and takes it away again. "Stop," Duncan says, and Methos looks up, and his mouth is open, as if the ghost of Duncan's flesh still spreads him bare. "My rules," he says again, and this time Methos says, strangled, almost silently, sibilant and angry and desperate, "Yes."
He lets go. Stands up and steps forward and takes Methos by the shoulders and pushes him backwards, feeling himself fall. Grabs at the confines of a suddenly hated sweater, tugs, hears fabric rip and finds his own hands on that dry soft skin, pushing, Methos' own hand next to his: He takes a breath that is all wool and hair and then is only skin. He travels down it, knowing there will be: yes, jeans, buttons ripped open, his own cheek against the heated rise of Methos' cock and the old man's hands in his own hair. He wants inside, but it is too late: by the time he's got his mouth round that astounding, heated velvet Methos is convulsing under him and his own body has left him behind. He comes blind and necessarily silent against the tangle of jeans and fine skin that is Methos' legs and Methos comes screaming, bent over Duncan's head with every muscle taut to extremity. The Highlander only realises he's been wise enough to let go when his jaw clenches around his own deep groan. Jesus. He's never come so hard and still he wants more, even before the last spasms stop.
A wise friend, an old lover, once said to me that he would never claim skill in the bedroom. There is, of course, he said and I agreed, enthusiasm, or skill, or knowledge, and occasional humour will never go amiss: but in reality it is the chemistry between the participants, the place and the hour which creates a singular experience. Suffice it to say that Duncan and Methos discover, in this hour, moving between floor and table and counter, cushioned on Duncan's sweater, a dark language which is theirs alone and makes of these moments a soft and desperate fulfillment. Too bad...
No, I won't say it. This is a story about these moments, stuck in this moment, and this moment is joyful, even ecstatic. To follow this train of thought I refer you to Luminosity's brilliant vid Not a Virgin: thence to Elizabeth Poe's album Haunted and her brother Mark Danielewski's novel House of Leaves, and warn you as an aside that this album, my favourite album of 2003, has caused my usually tolerant neighbours to mention with some exasperation that they know I am not a virgin anymore.
So instead I will tell you that it is nearly time to say farewell, that you and I have lived these moments together, but I have places to go and people to see and so do you. I will not tell you, now, the story of how Duncan came home one night to find his beloved friend in the jade silk robes of an Emperor's concubine, or of the morning when Methos would have laughed if he was not crying, as all his lover's body was held open in trust for his hands and his cock. I will not mention the book Duncan gave Methos one cold day in February, or the night after one near miss too many that the pair of them walk home hand in hand. And I will only sketch for you, from the shreds and patches of my ragtag imagination (and with a nod to Gilbert & Sullivan), the moments in the hour when Duncan drives his new-found lover to his own home and his own bed with one hand on the steering wheel and the other clasped on Methos' belt, in case. All these stories are as true as you and I think them to be, and if the path is ever stony and the night runs on too long, why, we are in this together, and your stories are as valid as mine.