That one cut straight to the
heart. The old
man hadn't lost his touch. Methos had his hand on the door before
What the hell had he done now?
Why wouldn't Methos think he had come here on purpose to find him? The extent of the coincidence was mind bending -- to find him here of all places.... He had never once thought to find Methos in the African bush. Never. Not once in all the fevered imaginings of five years' worth of fantasy. Whenever he had envisioned Methos adrift in the world without him, it had always been a picture of crowds and cities and the surging milieu of life that had always seemed to suit him so well.
Perhaps it had been wishful thinking to envisage Methos happy and fulfilled, surrounded by friends and books and intellectual stimulation. Perhaps it had been a salve to his own soul to imagine that his leaving had not hurt Methos so badly that he could not carry on his life as he always had. Or perhaps this was just another turn in the road of his long, long life.
Maybe he just hadn't known Methos as well as he thought.
The handle of the machete he'd been wearing glinted dully as it lay in its sheath on the floor, having spilled from his pack when he'd dropped it. He picked it up and laid it on the bed beside his pack. He still felt naked without Hideo's katana, but there was no way he could have brought it here -- no way to carry it concealed -- so the deceptively sharp shorter blade would have to do. It seemed like everyone here carried them anyway. Not around camp though, so he tucked it safely away under his mattress for now.
The hut was plain but clean enough, little sign remaining of any of the previous occupants. Just a bed, narrow and hard, against one wall and a footlocker beside it into which he tucked the clothes as he unpacked. A knock on the door came as he closed the locker's lid.
"Perfectly all right. Don't worry about it. Now if you're all packed away we can start your orientation tour and get you working, as soon as possible." Daniel led the way to a nearby jeep and climbed behind the wheel.
"The medical side of things is
reasonably quiet right now, considering the number of people we have
the moment, but you'll be busy enough,
"Right now, since the rush for
border during the latest hostilities, we have as many displaced persons
can hold. Until the Angolan government or UNITA decides to 'clean up'
village and then we find out just how many more we can fit in."
unreadably painful passed across the doctor's face as
It had once been temporary, this
where he now stood, the sort that dropped, fully assembled, from the
back of a
truck, but the war in
"That was Simeon Nguni, he was the logistics guy before you. He got homesick while he was here and decided to brighten up the place. Quite beautiful, isn't it?"
"How's your Portuguese?" Daniel
"Not too bad, a little rusty but
sure it'll pick up with practice. Do all the refugees speak it?"
"That or English, but not all of them. We get a few from time to time that only speak the less widespread tribal languages. Usually we can find someone to translate but if not -- it's back to sign language and mime."
"I'll manage somehow, Daniel. I'm sure it's a lot harder for the medical staff."
Daniel smiled wryly. "You have no idea…"
"So you've known Dr Booker a long time?" Daniel began.
"I see...so long as it isn't going to be a problem for you two to work together. In any way…"
"Not at all," Duncan said with a lot more conviction than he felt, ignoring the implications -- ostensibly anyway. It could be difficult; they had a lot to talk about and if they could not work it all out -- what then? Whether they could repair the relationship wasn't even really the question, he realized, the real question was whether they should.
He loved Methos. But then, he'd loved him five years ago when he'd walked away, too. That was why he'd done it. Being close to Duncan MacLeod was a dangerous occupation, after all -- almost everyone he'd ever loved was dead because of him. Only a few like Amanda could cope with it and he'd come close to losing her too many times. Reality washed over him in a cold, sick wave, making his palms sweat. What the hell was he doing? If Methos came back into his life, how long would it be before it cost Methos his?
He pushed aside the wishful thinking of the small voice in his head that disagreed with him.
But the ache wouldn't go away. It was true what he had said to Methos earlier, he'd been walking around with a piece of himself missing. And now it was back and just as far out of his reach as if Methos was on the moon. He wasn't sure which was worse.
But for a tiny fragment of time he had held Methos in his arms, been able to touch and taste and smell him. Beyond wonderful. The answer to five years' worth of wishes. Like a gift extended and then abruptly torn away, the loss seemed even sharper, the longing more acute. Duncan truly didn't know whether he'd have the strength to walk away again. From that first exhilarating touch it had felt exactly right. Nothing in all the intervening years had felt so good.
It had been five lonely years, never letting anyone get too close, his only relationships shallow and fleeting. It was no way for him to live and so he'd sought meaning and satisfaction in other ways. Work had saved his sanity time and again. But nothing had ever, at any time filled his gaps so completely as Methos had with the simple touch of his hand.
And now he would probably never feel it again.
"So…when do we get the gossip on Mister Tall, Dark and Handsome? The grapevine is positively humming…"
Paulina slid into the seat beside Methos and settled her lunch tray next to his as he sat in the almost-deserted tent, trying to choke down his meal while he flayed himself for being so damn gullible. At least the rest of the morning had kept him too busy to think about this bloody mess. Paulina's almost-black eyes sparkled with mischief and he knew if she realized how much pain he was feeling, she would never have brought it up. She was a good kid really -- not her fault it was a slow news day.
"Karen said his eyes nearly bugged out of his head when he saw you. So, Matthew: what's the story?"
He couldn't help the wry twist of his mouth that came with his answer. "Nothing to tell. No deep, dark secrets. Sorry," he said unapologetically, as he turned his attention back to his lunch; almost laughing at the disappointment that turned her mouth down. "Better luck next time." It might even have been funny if it wasn't happening to him.
"I don't believe that for a moment, Matthew. What's really going on?" No doubt she thought that pout was adorable, instead of the truly irritating thing Methos was finding it to be.
He sighed; no doubt it was all over the camp by now. Gossip: the world's oldest pastime. Only one thing for it, disinformation by truth.
"Okay, Paulina -- you got me. Here's the real story. He's my long-lost lover and we haven't seen each other since he left me in the dead of night five years ago. I had no idea he was coming here until he showed up. How's that?" Methos added a smirk and a snort, just to throw her off the trail a little further.
The young woman looked at him, narrowing her eyes suspiciously in the manner of one who fears she may be the butt of a joke but isn't quite sure. Finally she snorted laughter at him. "God, Matthew! What a joker you are!" The laughter grew to an unfortunate braying. "You're no maricon," she gasped between laughs.
Methos just raised an eyebrow at her, twitched one corner of his mouth and left the table, the sound of Paulina's laughter fading away behind him. Time he was back at the hospital anyway. He would have plenty of time to berate himself later.
He went outside in the steamy afternoon and squinted at the leaden sky. More rain. Wonderful. Paris to this. Bloody rain. Why was it wherever MacLeod went he brought the rain with him? There had to be a message in that somewhere.
The heavens wept and so did I.
No. Enough fucking melodrama. He was done crying for MacLeod. Five years ago it had been the right thing to do, to let it out and get over it. Now it was just weakness and he wanted no part of it. Duncan could stay, or go, as he saw fit -- but Methos wasn't going to let it get to him.
Duncan hadn't come looking for him, didn't seek him out at all and that was what really hurt. Blind bloody fate had handed him the only thing he really wanted and given it to him in a way he could never accept. Karma was such a bitch. Methos would have cursed fate, or the gods, if he'd thought it would do any good.
The real kicker in all this was that no matter how hard he tried, Methos could never find it in himself to blame Duncan for what he'd done. He'd wanted to, so many times, but he knew why Duncan had done it and knew that for Duncan, at that time, it was the only answer. And he loved him, then and now. That had never changed -- never would. Underlying it all, all these years, was the belief that it would never truly be over for them, not while they both still had their heads.
Another raindrop hit him, square in the forehead this time. Foolishness? Perhaps. Irrational? Almost certainly. Doomed to end badly? Probably. How could he have been such an idiot as to think that Duncan had sought him out? At his age he really should have been past thinking like such a romantic fool. Methos snorted at his own stupidity.
No fool like an old fool, the saying went. If that was true then he must be the biggest fool of all. A fool to think that Duncan would change his mind. A fool to think that there was something left to salvage out of ashes five years cold. And doubly a fool for falling into bed with Duncan before he knew for sure. A five thousand year old idiot. No wisdom of the ages here, no enlightenment worth a damn, just a guy tearing his heart to shreds over the man he loved and would never have.
The air grew still and paused…then the sky opened and the deluge struck. Methos ran for the hospital building, leaping over the quickly forming puddles and ducking his head against the driving rain. He was shaking himself like a wet cat, still cursing fate, when a touch on his shoulder hauled him back to the present.
"Change of plans, Matthew." It was Tin Wong, one of the physician's assistants, to whom Methos owed a debt of gratitude for getting him out of that godawful scene with Duncan earlier, although he was sure the other man had no idea of it. "Just heard on the two-way that some of our people went down in a cargo plane about two miles over the border. Probably shot down, no one knows by who. Three casualties, one critical -- probable spinal injury. They need us to send a team to go get them. It's your turn, isn't it?"
Methos felt his stomach lurch. He loathed retrievals, especially over the border. But he kept his face carefully neutral and answered, "I guess it is. Will we be able to take the chopper up in this mess, though?" He tilted his head in the direction of the open doorway where a solid wall of water still pelted down.
"The casualties are in pretty bad shape. Besides, Djube says the storm's due to blow over shortly and we'll go up as soon as the worst of the rain clears. He's not worried," Tin answered.
Tin was though, Methos could see it in the hand he raked through his thick, bleached-chestnut hair, the way his full lower lip was sucked between his teeth. Methos reached out and laid a hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "You don't have to go, you know. Beth's gung-ho to go leaping out of helicopters, I'm sure she'd swap if you asked," Methos told him gently. It was true; their newest PA was fresh in from the States and still high on the adrenaline rush of being on the frontline, if her attitude was any indicator.
"No, man, I'll be fine." Tin released his bottom lip and shot Methos a cheeky smile, clearly summoning up his bravado. "No more dangerous than crossing the street back home in Hong Kong, right?"
Methos returned the grin. "Probably a good deal less." He gave the shoulder under his hand a firm pat. "Come on, we'd better go get loaded up," Methos said, steering Tin with him as he walked towards the door. So, who else is on the team this time?"
The sound of the downpour on the tin roof of the hut was deafening. Duncan strained to hear what Daniel was telling him while the heaviest rain he'd ever heard pounded above them. They had been working through his orientation pretty solidly for about two hours, and Duncan's head was beginning to spin under the weight of all the new information. The job he'd taken on here was vast, and made more so by the addition of his other agenda, something of which the administrator and probably the majority of his whole organization were completely unaware. But they were better off in ignorance, he thought.
He had almost refused when he'd been approached in London to take this on -- the denial of his ability to help on the tip of his tongue. But the offer and the offerer, had been persuasive. Grace Chandelle -- Grace Montgomery now...
London ebbed and flowed around him as he sat sipping bad coffee in the museum's tea-room, but Duncan was all but oblivious to the down-at-heel beauty, the well-worn charm of his surroundings. He and Diane had been here once, during World War II and he'd been hoping to resurrect some of those good memories today. It wasn't working, though. Duncan stared into the murky depths of the lukewarm drink, so lost in contemplation that the Immortal presence caught him a little off-guard and he twitched, sloshing the coffee over his hand onto the table. He looked up and, for the first time in months, really smiled.
He stood and held out a hand. "Grace. It's so good to see you."
The small woman took his hand in both of hers. "Duncan, how wonderful to find you here," she answered warmly.
He invited her to sit with him, mopping up the spilled liquid with a paper napkin and smiling apologetically. It was wonderful to see her, she touched a part of his past that seemed simpler...less painful. Good memories.
"I didn't even know you were in London, Duncan. Have you been here long?" Grace asked, her hands still wrapped around his.
He dropped his eyes from her steady gaze. "Long enough."
It was obvious she'd caught the weariness in his tone, a little line appeared between her eyebrows as she said, "That doesn't sound good. Would you like to take a walk with me and tell me about it? If you have the time, that is?"
He couldn't prevent the grimace. "Time's what I've got plenty of right now."
And somehow her hand remained firmly clasped around his as they made their way out of the museum and into the street. How long had it been, anyway, since someone had touched him like this -- with caring and simple friendship? The sweetness of it broke through the barriers he'd erected and Duncan found himself telling her everything that had happened in the intervening years, the long recitation of his loss -- losses.
Lovely Grace with her Audrey Hepburn accent and her touching faith in him; she hadn't even flinched when he told her how the charming red-haired boy she remembered so affectionately had died at his hand. She had stopped, right there in the street, put her arms around him and laid her head on his chest.
"I'm so sorry, Duncan," she whispered, the tears in her voice making his own spring to his eyes. "I know how you loved him."
He thought that maybe he had cried then, just a little, overcome by remembrance with his face buried in her hair. "I'm sorry," he said as he straightened and pulled away a little. "I didn't mean to get all maudlin on you."
"Nonsense," she chided, reaching up and brushing the telltale dampness from his cheek. "You've had a horrible few years." A surprisingly strong, small hand captured his again and led him on down the street once more. "What will you do now, do you think?"
He hadn't known the answer to that. His life had become an aimless habit, a wandering featureless landscape without color or form. His noncommittal murmur said as much.
There was a glint of something in Grace's brown eyes as she smiled at him and tugged him towards the curb and hailed a passing cab. "In that case, I think there's someone you should meet."
He hadn't been hard to convince after that, he remembered with a faint smile. What Grace had asked seemed so innocuous at first, and by the time her husband had revealed the truth behind the request it was too late by far to walk away. It was a good cause -- Duncan just wished they'd chosen a better man to serve it. Still, he'd given his word and he was determined to make it work.
The downpour was easing and the quiet that followed seemed odd and echoing -- out of place after all the noise. Duncan was about to ask Daniel another question when a low thrumming noise caught his attention. It drew him back into another time in an instant -- memories of Cambodia flooding his mind. Sounds like a chopper...
"Daniel? Is that a helicopter I can hear?" Duncan asked casually.
The doctor cocked his head to one side as if to listen more intently before he nodded. "Yes, that's one of ours. We use them quite a bit these days. It's a lot faster if we need to pull our people out in a hurry, if the fighting spills over the border, for instance. Or occasionally our own people need medical evacs."
Duncan nodded and thought little more of it. There was so much to learn, so much to absorb and he was determined to do a good job of this even though his true agenda had to come first.
After another half-hour of concentrated work, Daniel stood up, shrugged his shoulders and stretched. "Come on, MacLeod. I think we've done enough of this for now, how about I show you around the hospital and the rest of the camp? Sounds like the storm's done for now."
Duncan stood too. "Sure, Daniel. Let's go."
They walked out into the rain-washed sunshine, picking their way carefully over the slippery clay ground. Duncan looked up towards the hospital itself. More temporary buildings made up the ramshackle hospital, a thousand blue plastic tents surrounding it like a bivouacked army. Smoke from the ever-present cooking fires rose lazily above the tents, sitting like a low-lying storm cloud and flavoring the breeze with the scent of cooking maize meal and burnt wood.
Duncan was sorting through the myriad of questions that still churned in his mind when a slight figure in white shorts and shirt burst from the doors of the largest building and hurtled towards them.
"Tobias!" Daniel shouted. "What's the tearing hurry, man?"
The young man skidded to a halt just in front of them, gasping for breath. "Dr Mboku! The chopper's gone down over the border. Dr Booker and the rest of the retrieval team…"
Dear god, not Methos too. "Radio contact?" Duncan snapped, already walking the young man towards the office.
"No sir," Tobias answered
"We haven't been able to raise them. The only thing that we know for
is that they went down somewhere near the Angolan border. That was