A Study in Loneliness

by Margaret

2nd August 1999

Disclaimer: Disclaimer: I don't own Duncan or Methos or anybody else (slavery is illegal you know, much as I might wish otherwise in this particular instance ;-)) They and the concept of Immortality belong to whoever it is that does own them. I'm not making any profit from this (chance would be a fine thing) and I mean no harm.

Notes: Inspired by a couple of lines from the song 7Twenty7 by Roxette, which you'll find in the text in *, I've made one gender change to the lyrics. Thanks once again to Karen for beta duties.

Rated: PG-13

*Another jet black night, another drink to go*

If anyone ever felt the need to do a study in loneliness then an airport terminal had to be the place for it, Duncan decided.

Duncan sat on a hard, plastic seat in front of a small table in the airport coffee shop. To the left, through the window, he could see the runways and the clear, black sky of a chilly November night. To the right, he could see through the glass front of the shop to the terminal - almost empty at this time of night, the daily bustle only in evidence when a plane was due. Everyone in transit. Fresh-faced youth off to start a new life, following hopes and dreams wherever they led. Family, friends and lovers reunited after endured absences, whether long or short; or parting reluctantly with whispered endearments and promises to return soon.

Two weeks ago Methos had left for parts unknown. Two weeks, three days, fourteen hours and an odd number of minutes. Two weeks since Methos had vanished into the throng of humanity as only the World's Oldest Immortal could. They had been lovers for just over two months. Two months of the most comfortable relationship Duncan could ever remember having; despite only having known Methos, if anyone could ever claim to do so, for a few years. He had known Tessa for a dozen years and loved her dearly for all that time and beyond, but there were things she just hadn't understood - about Immortality, about the Game, about the prospect of losing everyone you ever cared about one way or another. Truth be told, he had been glad she would never know what it was like, but that gap had been there and could never have been crossed.

Amanda he had known for centuries and Duncan loved her too, though not in the same way. She knew the Game, understood the price of Immortality; she'd lived it for a thousand years, though it seemed to touch her only lightly. Their on-again-off-again relationship suited them both, but Mac had a need for permanence that the exasperating thief couldn't or wouldn't fulfil. Friends they were - close friends... on occasion *very* close friends, but still just friends and it was probably best for all concerned that they stayed that way.

Now there was Methos; old as the hills, older probably, and he fitted into Duncan's life as though he'd always been there. A piece of himself he'd never realised was missing until he'd found it one spring day in Paris. Not that Duncan had realised it immediately in that form, at least not consciously. There had been an instinctive need to protect this ancient one, but it wasn't until later that he'd recognised the root of that need. Even then it had taken a while to find the courage to acknowledge it. After 400 years the prospect of being in a completely unfamiliar situation was not something that was easy to face, and not something to be treated lightly. Especially not when getting it wrong had such consequences attached. Uncertainty in the face of 5,000 years of experience was understandable, but cowardice was not something Duncan tolerated in himself, especially not when a small voice kept insisting that he had nothing to worry about. The fateful step was eventually taken and his courage had been amply rewarded, more than. Love was a fine thing when you found it, even more so when it was returned. So began the first day of what, for the first time, had the potential to be forever. Duncan sighed, forever got shorter every time he looked at it.

In every past relationship, with a mortal or an Immortal, Duncan had always been the strong one, the protector; this time he didn't have to be. Tessa had been mortal and even though he had known he would lose her to death eventually, he had always been afraid that she would get caught up in the Game, used against him. Hurt. Killed.

Amanda, for all her Immortality, was the same; she was reckless and got herself into unnecessary trouble too easily, needing Duncan to bail her out. He didn't mind helping her, even if it did exasperate him sometimes, but he was afraid that one day she would get too far in over her head and he wouldn't be able to help her.

Methos was different. It wasn't that he wasn't afraid for Methos - he was, but he acknowledged that the fear was far less likely to ever be realised. If anything, it was more likely to be the other way around, as Methos occasionally felt compelled to point out. Methos was the ultimate survivor; he had proven - simply by his continued existence - that he could handle whatever life decided to throw at him, in many ways better than Duncan himself. In fact, Methos had been the strong one, in an understated sort of way, on more than a few occasions - whether it was by saving Duncan's life or just by being there to understand when life hurt.

*Tell me will I ever see [him] again*

Two months of comfort, happiness and the best sex Duncan could ever remember, before he'd come home one evening to discover a new fear. Methos was packing. An hour of arguing, wheedling and eventually begging had only been able to extract the fact that it was 'time to go' - whatever that meant. No reasons, no explanations, it was simply time. Hardly an adequate reason to Duncan's mind, but all his efforts had been unable to sway his soon-to-be ex-lover from his purpose. The only concession he'd been allowed had been to drive Methos to the airport. They'd sat at this very table, waiting for the flight to take the ancient Immortal to New York and on to who knew where, drinking coffee and talking about nothing in particular. Methos had been trying to lighten the mood, but his best attempts had been unsuccessful. Duncan, sick with dread, had stayed mute; the silences had been suffocating and far too frequent.

Eventually the flight had been called. It had been simultaneously a relief and the dawning of a barely contained panic. Methos had to go and he had gone. Duncan had watched him leave. He hadn't wanted to, but had found himself unable to look away as his partner rose and gathered up his bag. He'd watched until the last swirl of great coat disappeared around the corner and long after. Only then had Duncan realised that he had never said perhaps the most important things; the ones that might, just might, have made Methos stay - that he would be missed, that he was loved. Duncan had felt his stomach clench with the almost overpowering certainty that something would happen. Methos would die or, worse yet, simply decide not to come back and Duncan would never have the opportunity to tell him. The near panic had clawed at his self-control. He'd tried to be as nonchalant as his lover, but Methos had him beat by at least 4,500 years of practice. Duncan had fought it down - tried to tell himself that what he'd had with Methos was just a fling, that it didn't matter really and that he didn't care much that he was gone.

It had taken him 'til dawn to convince himself well enough to leave. However, the very next night, and every night thereafter, had found him in the same coffee shop, in the same seat, drinking the same bad coffee. Joe was starting to seriously worry about his behaviour, he knew. Duncan didn't do anything while he was there, really, he just sat drinking coffee and watched the people come and go, letting the buzz of their conversations wash over him. It was non-time. His life was on hold. He assumed he'd get over it eventually, but until then...

*Everything is just pieces of my stupid dreams*

For almost the first time this night Duncan's gaze turned outward to his surroundings and he found himself staring out the window into the dark. Beyond the brightly-lit coffee shop the runway was dark, a pitch black wall sealing him off from the world. Nothing moved and the darkness seemed to fill his whole vision with its emptiness, seeping into his mind and mood like tar, absorbing light and forming an impenetrable barrier. Duncan closed his eyes to the empty runway and ordered another cup of coffee.

Two weeks with no contact; no phone call, no letter, no email, not even one sent to Joe. Duncan had convinced himself that Methos wasn't coming back, but at the same time he still held onto the faint hope that he would. Part of him wished he'd tried to follow Methos, another part wished he had made Methos stay... somehow. But some small voice had warned him that trying to do either would have been the most effective way of ensuring he never saw the ancient Immortal again. Despite feeling that was probably going to happen in any case, Duncan found himself drawing some comfort from it - that even if he never saw his lover again at least he hadn't driven him away. He listened to that voice a lot lately; how could he not? It spoke with Adam Pierson's voice.

As he sat his vigil in the early hours of the morning and once again contemplated the recent past, Duncan began to realise that any dreams he had entertained of having a relationship with the ancient Immortal had been foolish indeed and didn't say much for the accumulated wisdom of 400 years. He recognised that he always had, and probably always would have, a need for anchors in his life. His homeland was one and his clan was another, but they all vanished eventually, receding into the mists of time. Friends and lovers died. Even the land of his birth had changed with the passage of time. Nothing ever lasted, not for an Immortal with all of eternity before him. In Methos he had seen something new, a possibility. Someone who not only understood the feeling of being cast adrift far from the time and place of his birth, but who had somehow managed to weather the winds of time without ever losing his essential self, even when he'd lost everything else. Duncan found he envied that. In just a very few years Methos had gone from being a stranger to being a piece of Duncan's soul - how could he possibly have imagined that Methos' departure would not affect him as strongly as his arrival had.

Lights outside drew his gaze and Duncan watched the descending plane. For some it would be a homecoming, for others it would be the beginning of their hopes and dreams... while his home was 400 years in the past and his own dreams lay in ashes. Suddenly the near-deserted coffee shop was too close, too stuffy; stale air, too much coffee and too many sleepless nights combined to make his head hurt with a sharp, broken-glass pain. Duncan stood abruptly, threw a few notes on the table and left. He had to get out; he couldn't breathe.

*I hear myself swallowing the tears I cried*

Outside in the cold November air his breathing eased. Duncan zipped his jacket up to his chin and thrust his hands deep into the pockets. He stood unmoving on the curb outside the terminal, letting the biting cold numb him to the pain of broken dreams, freezing the tears that threatened to fall. It was going to be a hard frost tonight. He took deep gulps of the night air and tilted his head back to look at the stars. The sky was jet black - dark, cold and empty; the tiny pinprick stars only succeeded in emphasising the emptiness.

His life felt like that right now - occasional points of heat and light, but mostly just the vast, empty spaces in between. For two months he'd found himself in the orbit of such a source of warmth and light that the darkness had receded into distant memory. It made the loneliness now all the more difficult to bear.

Duncan closed his eyes against the bleak vision of his life and bowed his head. If he were here, Methos would be telling him he was being bloody daft and excessively Scottish. Duncan agreed with the assessment and right now he would have given anything to be able to tell his friend so, just to see the expression on Methos' face. He smiled sadly to himself at the mental image and resolved not to return to the airport tomorrow night. The smile turned rueful as he realised that it was one resolution he wasn't going to be able to keep, not yet anyway.

Duncan shook his head at his own foolishness. Methos would not come back and life would go on; maybe he'd find someone else to stave off the darkness for a while, maybe he wouldn't, but he'd go on. To borrow a phrase, he would live and grow stronger and fight another day and maybe, just maybe, he'd find the World's Oldest Immortal once more. But it hurt; to have it all and then lose it like that, not with a bang, not even with a whimper, just a silent retreat into the night. Despite the cold and the public place, Duncan found himself on the verge of tears once more, mourning a love that had died almost before it had had the chance to live.

"Hot chocolate?" The voice was soft, drawing him from his thoughts. "You look like you need it more than me." It pulled Duncan into awareness of the strong Presence that now surrounded and enfolded him. A hand appeared in front of him, offering a styrofoam cup topped with a creamy froth, steaming in the cold air. The slender fingers holding it lightly were instantly familiar - long and elegant, but deceptively strong, he knew. With his eyes Duncan followed the fingers to the wrist and arm, unwilling to take his eyes off the owner for even an instant lest they disappear. Sleeve of a black coat, broad shoulders, the loose neck of a thick sweater and the pale skin of a bare throat. Finally he saw the concerned expression on a face that, six months ago, he would never have believed he could miss as badly as he had.

"Methos?" he breathed, not quite able to believe.

A faint smile erased the concern. "Highlander." Warm, velvet tones grounded Duncan solidly. This was real.

"Methos," he whispered again, more acknowledgement than query. Then, heedless of the other travellers nearby, Duncan slipped his hands beneath the long coat to wrap his arms around Methos' waist. Letting his head rest against his lover's shoulder, Duncan drew comfort from the solid presence. He was almost shocked when he felt Methos' arms wrap around his shoulders and return the embrace, pulling him closer and accepting the confinement of his lover's arms. One hand still held the hot chocolate, but the other drifted up to the back of his neck, fingers gently stroking his hair. Duncan didn't want to open his eyes and end the fantasy, but when he felt a soft kiss whisper by his ear he had to look up. Even under the harsh lighting Methos' eyes shone warmly in golds and greens and browns. His expression was one of such tenderness that Duncan felt his heart thud heavily in his chest and his throat constrict with the onset of tears.

"I'm sorry. Forgive me?" Methos' voice was warm and quiet, pitched only for the two of them and, in spite of all the evidence otherwise, still just a little uncertain of his welcome.

"Forgiven," Duncan managed to choke out past the constriction in his throat. The smile that lit his lover's face then almost made the last two weeks worthwhile and he just had to claim that smile for his own.

"Well," Methos gasped when he was finally let up for air. "Much as I appreciate public displays of affection, I really think it's a bit cold to carry this further out here."

Duncan smiled. He felt incapable of doing anything else. "Well if you insist. There is a nice warm bed at home."

"Home sounds good," Methos grinned as he pulled away and shouldered his bag.

Home, Methos had said. He was right; home did sound good - coming from those lips. Duncan began to lead the way to the car, checking once to make sure Methos was following. He still had no idea why Methos had left and he surprised himself by realising that he didn't really care anymore. If Methos wanted him to know he would tell him; if not, then all his prodding would probably never find out. Nor did Duncan know why his lover had returned - he only knew that he had and he found he could be satisfied with that. Duncan turned his head to meet the sparkling green/gold eyes of his lover. He watched Methos' expression turn mischievous and realised he could be more than satisfied - he could be happy.



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