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Highlander Holiday ShortCuts
Happy Holidays, Laura/genna12001! 
18th-Dec-2008 12:47 pm
my second highlander icon/serious one
Title: The Matryoshka Principle
Author: amand_r aka Hanukkah Harry
Written for: Laura/genna12001
Characters/Pairings: Duncan, Methos, omc, one Inuit goddess (D/M)
Rating: PG-13 (contains slash too!)
Author's Notes: Happy Holidays, genna; I tried to work in plot and funny, with a happy ending preceded by some angst. Methos takes a bit of a back seat in this one, but he's there. Thanks to my beta, joanwilder, and to unovis and amonitrate, who looked at it and proclaimed that it was not full of suck.
Summary: Duncan raised his sword a little, pointing the tip out at the water. "You know, Rich, this has been an interesting conversation and all, but I think I was supposed to comb your hair."




The Matryoshka Principle


...Sedna screamed and struggled as her body began to go numb in the icy arctic waters. She swam to the kayak and reached up, her fingers grasping the side of the boat. Her father, terrified by the raging storm, thought only of himself as he grabbed the paddle and began to pound against Sedna's fingers. Sedna screamed for her father to stop but to no avail. Her frozen fingers cracked and fell into the ocean. Sedna attempted again to swim and cling to her father's kayak. Again he grabbed the paddle and began beating at her hands. Again Sedna's hands, frozen by the arctic sea, cracked off. The stumps began to drift to the bottom of the sea, this time turned into the whales and other large mammals. Sedna could fight no more and began to sink herself.
--the origin story of Sedna, Inuit Goddess


Devils and gods, now that's an idea
But if we believe that its They who decide
That's the ultimate detractor of crimes,
'Cause Devils and Gods, They are you and I,
Devils and Gods, They are you and I,
Devils and Gods, safe and inside.

(Tori Amos, 'Devils and Gods')


SEACOUVER:

"Mac?"

"Yes?"

"Are you awake?"

"Mmpgh."

"Okay. If you were stranded on a desert island, and you found a genie in a bottle, what would you wish for?"

"Mmm. A Philly cheese steak."

"I'm serious."

"Then you picked a bad time to have this conversation," Duncan mumbled into his pillow. Beside him, Methos sighed and yanked his covers up to his chin.

"Okay. All right. After the Philly cheese steak, what would you wish for?"

"A blow job."

"This is ridiculous."

Duncan raised his head. "This is me at my most frank." Methos blinked at him. "And don't call me Shirley." He laid his head back down and closed his eyes.

Methos was silent for a full moment before hitting him in the head with a pillow. "Wake up. You have to be awake for this kind of discussion."

Duncan rubbed his face as he rolled over and sat up. "You mean this completely hypothetical fantasy scenario discussion? Fine." He slapped his hands on the coverlet. "I wish to be off the island."

Methos smiled. "I knew it. That is nowhere specific enough." He folded his hands together and sighed. "Just wishing yourself off the island isn't good enough. Did you designate a location? She could drop you in the Mariana Trench." He frowned. "And what about time? What if it was 1847, but she transported you to the Renaissance? What if," Methos snapped his fingers, "she did that and then you met yourself in Vienna and then caused a paradox and then the world ended?"

Duncan flopped backwards. "Is there a reason you're talking about this now?"

"No," Methos said quickly. "No reason. Hey, want a coffee?"

Duncan blinked at the other man. "No, I think I want to sleep. It's three in the morning." With that, he rolled back over and buried his face in the pillow.

Behind him, Methos huffed a few times. "Yeah, sleep," he said.

Duncan didn't understand until much later why he sounded mysteriously nervous.

***

Duncan rolled over and reached a hand across the space between him and Methos. His fingers danced on the sheets until they found Methos's shoulder, then slid up to cup his chin. Methos's eyes opened a little, and he froze, his own hand flying up to touch Duncan's just before it tightened on his throat. In the next instant, Duncan came roaring up from under the covers, his other hand swinging cudgel-like to slam into Methos's face. The hand on Methos's throat squeezed and yanked, bringing his whole upper body up off the bed, and then the other fist smashed into the back of his skull, right where bone met spine. Methos stopped fighting, one arm flopping off the bed, knuckles bouncing on the parquet.

Duncan delivered a few more punches to Methos's face and chest, then dropped onto the bed and rolled over to his side, pulling the covers up to his chin and turning his back to Methos. Seconds later there was an unmistakable sound of soft snoring. A few more minutes later, Methos came alive with a gasp, sat up, and wiped a little blood from his face. He slid out of bed, approached the video camera, and smiled into the lens.

"See?" he whispered. Then he gave it the finger. "Dick."

Duncan pressed pause on the remote and sat back into the sofa, his face slack with shock. "Holy shit."

Methos shoveled another handful of popcorn into his mouth. "I'll say."

***

"So, where are you going again?"

Duncan tossed a few rolls of heavy socks into his gym bag. "Alaska."

"Where in Alaska?" Richie fell back onto the bed and spread his arms out. "Your bed is comfy."

Duncan tried not to look at the bed. The bed wasn't something he wanted to confront right now. In fact, he hadn't slept in the bed since Methos had showed him the tape. He'd been couching it, and the couch, while quite comfy for sitting, was not conducive to getting a full night's sleep when one was over five and a half feet tall.

"Ketchikan," he said. "Methos knows a guy."

Richie snorted. "Think of how many guys Methos knows. And I don't mean in the biblical sense." He lifted his head. "Did you ever stop to think that Methos could have been in the Bible?" He laid his head back down, closed an eye, and traced the pattern on the ceiling tiles with one finger in the air. "That changes the whole meaning of that phrase, knowing him biblically."

Duncan rolled his eyes and dug out two long-sleeved thermal tops. He considered the snow on the sill of the window and dug out two more. If it was cold in Seacouver, it was going to be freezing up North.

"So why the sudden trip?" Richie asked. It wasn't as if he didn't know. He had been sitting right there when Methos had told him. Sometimes Duncan really did wonder if Richie had selective hearing.

"The guy, uh, can help with the sleeping, you know, with the nightmares."

Richie sat up and grabbed his ankles, stretching forward. Mac wanted to tell him to get his feet off the bed, but he wasn't even sure he could say the word.

"The nightmares? Why don't you see a shrink? Or a doctor? Anne would hook you up, yo."

"Anne wants me to take Klonopin and go to a sleep lab." He stuffed a tightly rolled down jacket into the side compartment of the bag. It wasn't warm enough to be worn alone, but it would go well under something heavier. "Which, as you know, I can't do." He grunted and punched the bundle in further. "And of course, what could I say to a shrink?"

Richie shrugged. "Tony Soprano went to a shrink."

Duncan was going to tell him the obvious when he realized that Richie was smirking. "I'm serious--what do I say to the shrink? 'Oh, I don't know why, but for the first time in over four hundred years, I have started to violently punch and kill my bed partner in my sleep. But don't worry, because he's immortal, and as long as I don't take his head off he'll be fine'?"

Richie raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure you already know this, Mac, but that's fucked up."

Duncan sighed and sat on the edge of the bed, scrubbing his face with his hands. "I know."

Richie folded his fingers into a steeple. "What are you dreaming about when you do it?"

Duncan shrugged. "Nothing. I'm dreaming about nothing."

"That's awfully evasive. That's the kind of answer that means there is something."

"Rich, I-" Duncan shook his head. He could hear Methos puttering around in the bathroom. "I just can't talk about this with you."

Richie's eyebrows rose. "With me? You used to tell me everything." He shrugged. "Well, almost everything."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Richie waved a hand dismissively. "When did you start playing footsie with Methos, of all people? I miss our old days, man."

Duncan sighed and ran both his hands in his hair, fingernails digging into his scalp painfully. "Rich, are you mad at me for something?"

Richie grinned, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. Duncan was going to press him, but Richie slapped his hands on his thighs as Duncan rose and walked to the dresser.

"So, any idea why you're doing it?" When Duncan glared at him, he raised his hands in a defensive gesture. "Hey man, I'm just trying to be helpful."

Duncan shook his head, fishing around in his underwear drawer for something warmer than the briefs that Amanda seemed to have populated it with. "No, and if I knew that, I wouldn't be going to Alaska."

Richie snapped his fingers. "Did you know there's a place in Alaska called Unalaska?"

Duncan smiled and zipped up the other side pocket of his bag. "Yes," he replied. "And I-"

"Who are you talking to?" Methos appeared in the doorway to the bathroom, leaning against the jamb, an uncharacteristic look on his face. It took Duncan a second to realize that it was worry.

He glanced back at the empty bed as he zipped up the rip-stop nylon bag. "No one."

***

KETCHIKAN, ALASKA:

He didn't dare sleep on the planes, and so coffee had been his only alternative. By the time they had reached Ketchikan, Duncan was wired past the ability to operate a vehicle; he was forced to sit in the passenger seat of their rented pickup and drum his fingers at the speed of light on the dashboard while Methos meticulously checked the mirrors and turn signals. It was a special form of torture, this slowness, and he had the sneaking suspicion that he was being toyed with, only to be proven correct when Methos threw him a sly smile and said, "We'll have to take it easy; there aren't any chains on the tires."

The flight had been short, mercifully short, and Methos had remained cryptic, but they had had a short discussion in which Methos had made it clear that he was considering a profession in 'rescuing Duncan's psyche.' Duncan couldn't blame him. In fact, it was relentlessly irritating, thinking that Duncan was damaged so badly that he needed some Inuit shaman to rescue him. Again. Well, again with the rescuing and not so much with the Inuit shaman.

He grabbed the armrest as the truck skidded a bit, and his fingers switched to Flight of the Bumblebee.

Methos said nothing until they left the paved roads and took a dirt and snow packed trail labeled 'Hunting Cabins'. The area was blessedly bare, probably because it was November and the only thing worth hunting for was elk. They had brought food, so there was no need to go hunting anyway. Methos had said something about getting a tag, but Duncan hadn't been listening; he'd been in the line at the airport Starbucks, bulking up for his red-eye up North.

Duncan watched Methos's fingers dance back and forth on the arch of the steering wheel as the truck carved its way through the snow, fishtailing and slaloming, the traction so poor that he lifted his hands from the wheel and glanced at Mac as if to say, 'Look! No hands!' For the millionth time since they had become a couple two years ago, Duncan thanked whatever god was in the sky that they were immortal.

Methos finally pulled them up to a clearing perhaps fifty feet from the frost-encrusted shore, water lapping against the rocks almost imperceptibly. Off on the water, Duncan saw a small motorboat navigate through a few chunks of ice. Methos yanked on the parking break, cut the engine, and left the cab without a word.

Duncan laid his head against the rest behind him and closed his eyes. He was intensely tired, and it didn't look like they were in for any rest anytime soon. If he was looking at this correctly, Methos had bedrolls, and they were sleeping on the ground. He allowed himself a moment of exhaustion, feeling the ache settle in his shoulders, down to his hips and into is calves. Everything felt heavy.

From the truck bed, Methos knocked on the glass window. "Time to go, Beavis."

The first thing they did was make a small fire, because the heater in the truck was broken, a fact that they had discovered fifteen miles out of town. Duncan laid out the tarp while Methos fussed with lint and wax, his long fingers gingerly poking at fledgling sparks in a fire pit that probably hadn't seen action in weeks.

"So where's your guy?" Duncan mumbled as he yanked the bedrolls from the bed of the truck. His pack thudded into the snow, and he wondered why they couldn't just use one of the many log cabins that were probably abandoned. No one was ice fishing. They probably had multiple cots, so they didn't have to sleep together. That murder was even a factor when considering their sleeping arrangements was a most depressing thing.

Sitting back on his haunches and digging into his jacket lining, Methos sighed in satisfaction. He handed Duncan a small cloth-wrapped package. "Back in town. This is from him." He waited until Mac unwrapped the cloth bundle and produced a small bone comb, aged and carved from a solid piece. Then he grunted. "He still has a sense of humor. Hard to determine if that's good or bad."

Duncan eyed the comb in his hand. "What's this?"

"The shamans here have a ritual in which they comb the goddess Sedna's hair." Methos shrugged and rose to his feet, dusting off his hands. "You know, for wisdom." He threw up his hands. "Enlightenment. Favor. Good fishing."

"Can't she comb her own hair?" Duncan grumbled, thinking a split second later that he was having a conversation about a corporeal goddess.

Methos's lips twitched. "Don't you like when people comb your hair?" he asked with a knowing look.

"Oh. Yeah."

Methos waved a hand then, turning to his pack. "Plus, she doesn't have any fingers." He threw some paper wrappers into the fire. "Her father cut them off."

"Oh." Duncan looked at the comb. He'd never been able to use these things-they couldn't go through his hair when it was longer. "What am I supposed to do with this, then?"

Methos favored him with a withering glare, then opened the top flap to one of the larger utility packs, rummaging in it for a second and coming up with one big snowshoe.

"Oh, come on."

Methos pointed to the dinghy that had been left out on the water's edge.

Duncan sighed. "I like to think that I know a bit about mystical self-discovery, and this is completely unnecessary." He waved the comb. "And a bit silly."

Methos cocked his head. "Three nights ago, you plastered my larynx to my spinal cord," he said simply before thudding down onto a fallen log and setting his boot into the snowshoe.

Duncan took in the woods, the water, the drifts of wet snow frozen with a candy-coating of ice, and heard something warbling in the distance. He wondered if there were whales out there in the water. Something in his chest clicked; if he'd been mortal, he would have thought about calling a cardiologist. "This is serious. You're serious about this."

The sleep lab was looking better and better.

Methos sat back, the second snow shoe dangling from his fingers. His eyebrow arched. "The first five hundred years after I left the Horsemen, I visited fifteen holy springs, seven oracles, twenty-six shamans of varying religious persuasion, three hundred and sixty-two temples or otherwise sacred man-made sites. And I conversed with at least half a dozen insane people who may or may not have been gods, can't forget about the crazy," he mumbled, shrugging and returning to his shoelaces. "I did my time. Now you have to do yours."

Duncan fished into his pocket and pulled out the skullcap. The wind was not being kind to his ears. "And you think that simulating a ritual I know nothing about for a Goddess with whom I'm completely unfamiliar is the key to curing my sleep problem." When he said it aloud, it sounded even more ridiculous. He hoped that Methos felt the same way.

Instead, Methos didn't look up. "Did you ever stop to think about what the consequences of your...experience with Ahriman would be?"

Duncan glanced at the comb in his hand. "I thought we'd agreed that was just..." He thought of Methos's earlier words. "The crazy."

Methos snorted. "I didn't say you weren't batshit." He looked up from his laces then, hands still. "The human psyche isn't made for millennia." Then he proceeded to exhale a long-suffering sigh, roll his eyes skyward and shake his head.

"Wait, where are you going?" Duncan asked, watching Methos do up the last of the laces on his snowshoes.

"Hunting."

"For what?"

Methos pulled a piece of plastic that looked like a driver's license from his pocket and waved it like an overzealous reporter with his first press pass. He showed two rows of white teeth. "Elk."

"With what?"

Methos nodded at the shotgun leaning on the log next to his pack. For the first time, Duncan spotted the bowie knife sticking out of Methos's bedroll.

"I didn't know you liked hunting," Duncan said softly. Methos just rolled his eyes again, yanked the knife from the bedroll and began strapping it to his thigh. He rose, tamping the ground with his shoes.

"You don't know a lot of things," he said, eyes meeting Duncan's before they cut away to the forest edge. "Take your sword," he called over his shoulder.

Duncan stood mute and forlorn and not a little bit irritated as he watched Methos go, stomping out in the snow with a pack and a firearm. At that moment the comb seemed to burn in his hand.

***

He'd done a lot of religious soul-searching in his life, but never had he tried cosmological hairdressing. Duncan eyed the comb in one hand, and the sword in the other. He turned his head in the direction that Methos had gone with his shotgun, knife and small pack, footprints in the snow like the trail of Sasquatch.

The dinghy was seaworthy, insomuch that it didn't look like it was going to sink, and, in fact, it looked like it had just been put there a few hours before. The snow hadn't infiltrated the inside, and the oars were far from frozen to their locks. Duncan tried to keep his boots from getting wet as he pushed off and dove in, tossing his sword and comb into the bottom. It rocked gently with his mount, and soon he was breathing heavily as he pulled the oars through the icy water. His gloves slipped on the polished wood and he almost lost an oar.

There was no sign of anyone, not even the boat he'd seen earlier. These islands were riddled with paths and canals before they opened out to larger waters, so Duncan wasn't worried about being swept out into the Clarence Strait.

"He waxed under welkin, throve with worship," Duncan muttered, his oars cutting a rhythm out of the water. "Until each singly of the near-sitters over the whale-path had to hearken and give tribute-"

"A good king was he," Richie finished across from him. "God, it took you long enough." He reclined. "I've been waiting for you forever, you know."

Duncan didn't stop rowing. "Sedna?"

Richie smiled.

Duncan continued to row, not because he had anywhere in particular to go, but because it seemed like the thing to do. Richie reached out and skimmed a hand in the water. Duncan thought to tell him not to, that it was cold and that he'd freeze, but that solid-looking spectral finger made no impression in the water, left no tangible wake. It dawned on him mildly that Richie was wearing that hideous green jacket that he'd owned when they had first met, except that it was a great deal darker than he remembered, sicker, uglier, if that was even possible. It seemed slightly damp.

"Are we gonna talk or what?" Richie said, grinning and flicking water at Duncan. It never landed on him.

Duncan locked the oars in place and let the boat drift a little, flexing his fingers in the gloves. He retrieved the comb and his sword from the bottom of the boat and set them in his lap. "What should we talk about?"

Richie shrugged. "I suppose that we should get to the heart of your problem. Bet you're wishing now that you'd gone to a shrink."

Duncan stared out at the trees back on the island. He wondered if Methos was actually hunting, or if he was sitting somewhere on the timberline, watching him with binoculars. Methos was like that.

"I dunno, this is pretty par for the course for me: mystical journey to rid myself of demons."

Richie smiled again. Or rather, he had never stopped smiling. "You think I'm a demon?"

"Oh I don't know what you are," Duncan answered frankly, "but I know that you shouldn't be here."

Richie sighed. "I'm not your problem. Your problem-" he pointed out into the forest, "is Jeremiah Johnson out there."

Duncan looked out at the water seeming to stretch for miles. Hell, it did stretch for miles. "How do you figure that? Methos had nothing to do with you."

Richie's eyes widened. "Are you serious?"

Duncan twirled an oar. "Yes. In fact, he warned me about it, and I didn't listen. So what does that make you?"

Richie's eyes narrowed. "What does that make you"

The waves kicked up a bit with the wind. Duncan ignored the question, because he couldn't really answer it. Something cried in the distance, and he strained his ears to identify it.

"Ptarmigans," Richie said.

Duncan listened to the water slapping the sides of the boat and stared off into the distance. Out of the corner of his eye, Richie looked like someone else.

"I judged someone else for doing what I did to you," he said softly. The ptarmigan squealed and fell silent; Duncan recalled hunting for them with snare loops hundreds of years ago. The image of ptarmigans dragging their feet into his traps came to him suddenly, a vivid picture that seemed vulgar and barbaric now.

Richie cocked his head. "Caesar's wife must be above reproach," he said finally, buffing his fingers on his jacket in a parody. They came away dirtier, stained with green.

"Maybe, but that's not the issue. Not really," Duncan muttered, still not looking at Richie and instead searching for something on the horizon. Off closer to the strait he saw the crest of a tail strike up out of the water before slipping away.

"If you knew that he would leave you, would you kill him? Maybe that's what you're doing anyway," Richie said in a low voice. "Or maybe it's just one of those things. Maybe," he paused for a second, "maybe this is the price that you pay for being set up to win the Prize. It's going to be you, you know."

Duncan shook his head, frowning. The caffeine had worn off, and instead of being tired, he felt light, clear, hands deft and still, like in those first few minutes before a challenger stepped from the mist at an appointed meeting place. It was a feeling that he hadn't known for three years, since he'd closed in on O'Rourke in Paris.

He looked at the comb in his hand. Methos had said to take the sword. The comb seemed to burn through his glove. He unsheathed the sword and tossed the scabbard into the boat bottom. The comb pulsed a bit in his hand, a living thing, its bone carvings looking newer, less grimy.

"I'm afraid that you died hating me," Duncan said softly, eyes never leaving the comb.

"I did," Richie answered almost too quickly. He leaned forward, and the movement didn't rock the boat even slightly.

Duncan smiled. "I don't think so." He took off his hat and unzipped his jacket, pulling it off and draping it over the scabbard. "I think Richie died loving me, like he always did." He stood a little, balancing as he inched towards the side of the boat, sitting gingerly on the edge, not putting his full weight on it.

Not-Richie raised his hands in bitter supplication, just a little, but not really sorry. His eyes were dead. "How will you ever know, really? Doesn't it kill you inside not to know?"

Duncan raised his sword a little, pointing the tip out at the water. "You know, Rich, this has been an interesting conversation and all, but I think I was supposed to comb your hair."

And he fell back over the boat's edge and into the Alaskan water.

The first thing he felt was the cold, reaching inside and chilling things that were firmly inside his body. It was jarring, distracting to the point of being all-encompassing. Duncan tightened his grip on his sword and comb and blinked, trying to see. You've been this cold before, he said. You will be this cold again.

He didn't have much time to think because he had to go back up to the surface for air, a freezing lungful that shook him physically and made bright yellow spots appear behind his closed eyes. He prepared to go back under when something slammed into his side and he was pushed away from the boat, back towards land. He tried to get around it, to turn to face the thing that held his hides in an iron grip, but he only succeeded in a minute turn before the thing went down and took him with it. Duncan brought one knee up to wedge against his attacker even as he gulped one last breath of air, and then Sedna pulled him below.

He struggled for a second, his hands refusing to let go of the sword or the comb, but he wasn't able to bring either up and around to his advantage. Something filmy and thin trailed past his cheek, and he opened his eyes just as Sedna let him go. He sank, trying to see her as he took in the long wiry strands of hair that coiled in the water like ropes upon ropes, sliding against him and each other, forming knots and pulling on his clothes, his arms, and more importantly, his feet.

Duncan bent towards his legs to loose them from Sedna, when the coils retreated on their own.

The first whale came seconds after, hulking body unbelievably sleek and fast in the water, really, faster than he would have ever thought, its black and white hide skimming past him, the very force of it pushing him sharply to his left. Coils of hair tangled about his ankles while it merely slipped past the orca, leaving the creature untouched.

He was so focused on watching the whale as it slid through the water away from him that he wasn't aware of the other until the nose of it bumped him in the small of the back; Duncan felt his spine bow and he spared a thought to wonder if he might find himself in the powerful maw that assuredly loomed behind. The whale came up from under him, its back connecting with his legs and the hair that bound them. Duncan brought the sword around, careful not to cut the hair with the blade before his ears registered a noise, a persistent mournful wailing.

Duncan closed his eyes against the sound, blocking off the cold that hammered his limbs and the deep pounding of his heart as his air ran out. He grasped a handful of hair and pulled it gently, using his ears to guide him towards the weeping.

He climbed the hair as much as he was able then, his breath giving out finally even as he pulled and pulled himself along the slickness of it. Just when he would have lost consciousness, surrendering his lungs to foreign water, he found Sedna's face, turned away, eyes closed. With one final sweeping movement, he brought the comb up and into her hair, running it through a long swath of tresses. His chest and head pounded and he closed his own eyes, knowing in that moment that he was slipping away.

As soon as the comb slid through the hair, his lungs expanded and he could breathe; his head and chest sharply ceased to burn, and he opened his eyes to look directly into the eyes of Sedna, goddess of all creatures of the sea.

He had expected some diseased thing. Something green and scaly. Something old and withered, something that spoke inherently of a life below the sea. Sedna was none of these. She wasn't pretty, she wasn't ugly. Sedna was a girl, her face fresh and pale in the murk of the ice water, her lashes thick with the algae of the sea, yes, her eyes dark and filled with anguish. She stared at him as she brought her wrists up, cleanly sheared stumps incapable of holding anything, of touching anything. She opened her mouth in a perfect O, brows furrowed, trying to form words that he knew he would never be able to understand.

What could he possibly say to her? What could any man say to her wrists, to her hair, to those eyes with their lashes and her pink lips moving in sounds that he'd never understand?

I'm sorry, he thought, so very very sorry. He cupped her face with the hand that held the comb, then ran it up to the edge of her forehead and slid it through her hair, not daring to look away from her eyes as their lids fluttered closed and her voice dwindled down to a half-contented sob.

Duncan worked the comb through her hair as best he could. Her hair was long, too long to ever get through completely, but when he pulled -gently, gently- he met an impossible end and brought the comb, its bone teeth shining impossibly white, so white it glowed, back up to start all over again. His arms ached. His legs seemed to vibrate with the minute movements they made to steady his body in the water. His chest inhaled and exhaled as steadily as it ever did on land.

Connor had told him about this sensation once, of opening his mouth and inhaling the sea, but Duncan had never done it before. Indeed, he had drowned so many times that he had been convinced that it was something unique to his cousin. Even now, he was fairly sure that this was less his own doing, and more that of the face mere inches from his, as he worked the comb through Sedna's hair and tried to keep it away from his sword.

This is the sound of anguish. This is the sound of kin betrayed by kin. This is the sound of someone unloved, abandoned and helpless.

This is not what you have done,
he told himself. Sedna's eyes opened and stared at him then, her mouth moving in a familiar pattern. Duncan tilted his head in the dim light to see her better, but the water was dark, shafts of light from the surface fracturing and skittering over everything like fleeting starbursts, or the flashing of a car's headlights. Long minutes stretched as Duncan's arm tired, moving methodically through the myrid locks.

Time didn't register in any measurable way, and then his hand was caught in mid-stroke of her hair, and he glanced at it to see that her hair was caught in the comb, caught on his wrist. He tugged, but despite his pulling, the strands tightened further. He raised his sword arm away, trying to avoid her; she maneuvered towards it, her face coming so close to the blade that if she had been less careful she might have sliced her neck open. Could goddesses even cut themselves?

One of her handless arms reached out and brought the sword closer, hooking it in the crook of her elbow and running the underside of it against her upper arm. Using the current of the water, Sedna brought the sword up and around in an arc, slicing through her own hair, bringing off a large lock of it, as thick around as his finger. She twirled it around her wrist, spinning expertly in the water until the hair had formed a bracer on her arm. Her head turned to him then, holding out her wrist, reaching for the comb, and he tried to pull away. The hair on her wrist moved to the bone in his hand, running through and around, weaving itself into the comb, tying itself into knots.

Duncan looked into her eyes then, shaking his head, not understanding. Sedna's eyes widened, and the smallest smile crept onto her lips before she bent forward and placed her mouth over his.

The oxygan he had been breathing, the water in his lungs vacated with her kiss, and his chest began to pound. His head muddled with the loss of air and he struggled in her embrace, his wrists bound at her sides by her own arms. She tasted of salt and sand, neither particularly comforting, neither particularly harmless. His mouth burned, and as he spared one last thought about what a sad fate this would be for him to die here and now, he felt her arms release him and he was propelled upward.

Duncan kicked, his eyes on the lights of the surface, his lungs about to involuntarily expel all the used up air and take a breath of water, when he felt something solid come up from beneath and push him. His fumbling hand barely registered the smooth hide of an animal before he and the creature broke the surface of the water, the whale shooting Duncan cleanly up and into the air.

He was too startled to breathe in mid-flight, but slammed into the water and had to resurface before taking a huge breath, sucking in air and sea spray in a desperate and hoarse-sounding wind.

He didn't remember the swim to shore, though he must have done it. He didn't remember scraping his knees on the frozen rocks, but he must have, because as he lay there, he vaguely recalled the sharp sting of salt in fresh wounds before they closed over. Duncan didn't know how long he simply sprawled on the rocky sand and shivered, wondering if he was going to die a few times before Methos found him and dragged his sorry carcass into the shelter of the truck bed. What he did understand, however, was that he was still in possession of both his sword and Sedna's hair, fairly binding the bone comb to his soggy gloved fingers. The lack of lightness behind his eyelids told him that it was near-dark.

It became clear after a few seconds that the throbbing in his head had less to do with the cold and more to do with the proximity of another immortal. When Duncan could think about anything other than pain, he thought he heard the crackling of a fire, perhaps the dull thud of another log landing on it. Why wasn't Methos helping him up? Why wasn't Methos helping him into dry clothes?

"You're going to freeze to death there," said an unfamiliar voice. "Come over here and get some tea. I think I have whiskey."

Duncan lifted his head to see a man crouched on a stump in front of the fire, as far forward as he could get without igniting himself. He hunched towards the flame, holding his hands out to it, his frame swathed in a large fur and leather coat. His gray hair ran down his back in a long tail, and Duncan glared at his boots, probably toasty and most of all, dry.

The man made no move to help him, and Duncan took that as a sign not only that he wasn't going to be helping Duncan crawl to the fire, but also that he wasn't going to take advantage of Duncan's very impaired condition to take his head. Duncan vaguely wondered where Methos was as he dragged himself toward the roaring heat, dropped his sword, and accepted the tin cup dubiously. No whiskey, but vodka, and plenty of it.

"I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," he said as he dropped wearily on a vacant stump and nearly stuck his feet in the fire. He wondered if toes could snap off from frostbite, and when they did, if they might grow back.

"They call me Injun Joe," the man said, poking at the fire again.

Duncan shivered and began to doubt that he could even manage to change clothes in his current state. He blinked. "They call you Injun Joe? Really?"

Joe smiled. "Just the assholes. Let's just say my name is Nutaaq," Joe said. "I always hated Joseph, anyway."

Duncan sipped his drink and felt burning as the vodka slid down his throat. "Have you seen another man, about six one-"

"You mean Methos?" Nutaaq asked, sipping from his cup. "Nope."

"You know Methos?" Duncan reached for his pack and fumbled with the latches with one hand.

"I'm his 'guy' in Ketchikan." He gestured to Duncan's forgotten left hand. "Gave him that comb."

Duncan glanced down at the comb and the hair that virtually tied it to his hand. He hoped that he wouldn't have to explain that. Then again, Methos's 'guy' was supposed to be a shaman, so maybe he already knew what it was. Hell, he probably had a whole set of hair extensions of his own at home.

"Oh," was all he said before finishing the shot in the cup and setting it down so that he could rummage about in the pack again. "I was afraid that the whales were going to make a meal of me," he said, teeth chattering. He really needed to get his spare clothes from his pack. He was immensely happy that his hair was short and he could tuck it up under the fleece hat he'd dug out from a side pouch of the gym bag.

Nutaaq looked up from the fire suddenly. "Whales? Whales don't come in this far."

Duncan glanced back out at the water. "Oh." He tried to put the hat on without letting go of the comb and its hair; something told him he needed to be touching it.

Nutaaq's eyes locked on the thick ropes of hair coiled about Duncan's arm, entangled in the bone comb. "That comb belonged to my daughter," he said.

"Tell her that I said thanks," Duncan said, still not willing to let go of it or to shed the hair that coated his arm.

Nutaaq snorted. "She's dead."

Duncan unrolled the blanket and pulled it about himself, over his shoulders. He used his free hand to inch himself closer to the fire, as close as he could get without falling off the dry log and into the snow.

"I'm sorry," he offered to the other man, mostly because he had learned that there was nothing to say that was very poignant in these situations. He was really only sorry in the most abstract of ways.

Nutaaq shrugged. "She died out there, a long time ago. There was a storm."

The comb pulsed again in Duncan's hand, and he felt the sensation of pins and needles, as if his whole hand had fallen asleep. Duncan flexed his fingers and held out his other hand so that Nutaaq could refill his cup. As he did, the hair around his other wrist stretched in Nutaaq's general direction. Duncan resisted the urge to smack it, as one would a snake or other roving hand.

In some way, he reflected as he watched Nutaaq take in the hair suspiciously, it was almost comical.

"I came out here to free myself from the dead," he said nonchalantly, informatively, even though Nutaaq hadn't asked him. The conversation had to eventually turn around to the fact that he had just shot out of the water and virtually landed on the shore like some demented cartoon character. And the man was some sort of shaman, so for all Duncan knew, he was supposed to talk to Nutaaq after all this.

He hoped so, because he was still a little unclear about what all this meant. Were his dreams cured? Had he cured himself? Had he discovered something in his subconscious that his conscious hadn't figured out yet? And would he ever figure it out? Was this one of those mystery illnesses that got cured on the subatomic spiritual level and was never really decipherable from the outside?

He was struck suddenly with the memory of a time in which Richie had been peppering him with questions about...about something, something inconsequential. Duncan had been busy and distracted and definitely not in the mood for twenty questions. He distinctly remembered telling Richie so.

And then the next ten minutes had been blessed silence, only to be followed by a spate of questions along the lines of, Hey Mac, what's the French word for bouquet? Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons? Mac, Mac, how do you know when it's time to tune bagpipes? Was dead reckoning ever alive? Why do we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway? Why is the rum always gone?

"You're never free of the dead," Nutaaq said suddenly, eyes not leaving the fire. "They chase you forever, if you wronged them." His eyes cut over to Duncan's briefly. "You hurt someone?"

Duncan nodded and sipped from his cup. "By accident," he added. When the other man said nothing, he sighed. "I wonder if he knew it was an accident. I mean, he had to have known that I would never have hurt him. Until that moment, I don't think he would have ever thought I would hurt him, not on purpose." Not when I was sane, surely. Was I?

"You take his head?" Nutaaq asked suddenly. When Duncan nodded, he shrugged his own shoulders. "He probably didn't have time to think anything," the man told him.

Duncan didn't doubt that. It was the time after that he worried about. He was going to voice that concern when Nutaaq set his cup down and cracked his knuckles. "Once someone's dead, they have other things to worry about. You're making this all about you." He turned his head and caught Duncan's eye for a mere split second.

The wind picked up again, and the trees whistled with it. Duncan wondered if the ptarmigans were in this area. He also wondered if Methos had managed to bag an elk. He wondered about Richie and his hatred for all things forestry-related.

He could have turned it over a few more years, he knew, but maybe it was all about him. Duncan's heart ached for Darius suddenly.

Darius could have put it into perspective, though truthfully, he probably wouldn't have said anything that Duncan hadn't already known. That Methos and Joe hadn't already told him, that he hadn't already told himself. Did he need absolution from someone else? Maybe he wanted Darius to bless him, as if his forgiveness was more divine.

He knew what Darius would have said about that.

"You're the shaman; you'd know, right?" he ventured.

Nutaaq snorted into his cup, but didn't look at Duncan. In fact, aside from a few curt glances, he hadn't really looked at him much at all. Once was unusual, twice was coincidence, and three times was Parcheesi, as Methos would have said. "Who told you I was a shaman? Do I look like a shaman?"

Duncan shrugged, suddenly glad he hadn't unburdened his soul.

"I'm a fisherman," Nutaaq continued before spitting on the ground. "That is, I was, before she died." He waved at Duncan's occupied hand. "Can't set foot on a boat now. Leastwise, one that goes out into the sea."

Duncan's wrist throbbed, and the comb jittered in his hand. He glanced at it. Maybe it was time to unwind this stuff from himself before it cut off all circulation to his arm, sacred hairball or no.

"Did she die on the sea?" he asked, a dim memory of paintings of the Hesperus floating through his mind.

"There was nothing I could do," Nutaaq said, spreading his hands, "nothing. She made me do it." He turned that hand over and stared at the back of it against the backdrop of the fire.

Duncan's hand tightened on the hair roped about his palm and wrist. "Really." His arm pulsed, and things that he couldn't possibly have known clicked together in his head. "How long ago was this?"

Nutaaq stood and stretched a little, bouncing from one foot to the other. "Millennia ago. Nations have been born, grown old and died." He reached over to the side of the fire farthest from Duncan and grasped a wooden handle. "But you already know that." His chin nodded to Duncan's hand.

Duncan glanced down to Sedna's hair, her token, her favor, and then his gaze traveled back to meet her father's face.

"Yes, I do."

And then he dove to the side just as the huge blade arced through the fire, a sweeping blow that sliced pendulum-like though the air, whistling a little with its passage. Duncan fell from the log, legs almost tangled in the thermal blanket, his own sword coming up to catch Nutaaq's weapon by the shaft. His eyes measured the length of it, calculating a strategy to defend against the halberd. It had been a long time since he'd fought one.

He dodged another swipe, poorly-timed like the first, but then again, they didn't need to be timed well. Duncan's shirt clung to him in the cold and he ignored it and the rest of his wet clothing as he sprinted a few feet to the truck and jumped in the bed, eyes searching for something, anything, to use in addition to his katana, which the halberd could break easily if Nutaaq managed to land a few lucky blows.

Nutaaq took his time, striding instead of running, his weapon leading him, his face painted with firelight and a grimace. "I should have known that she'd do this. She's been trying to kill me ever since it happened," the man said steadily. "I tried to tell her that I was sorry, that I was weak, but she doesn't care."

Duncan's eyes landed on the fire axe just about the time that Nutaaq's halberd pierced the side of the truck bed. It was a careless mistake, and Duncan wondered just how many duels he had fought with it, if he was even trying, or if they might be able to solve this without bloodshed. His appearance at their camp to begin with was rather suspect.

Then the weapon dislodged and instead sliced a perfect line across Duncan's thigh at the same time he grabbed the fire axe and tumbled from the other side of the bed.

It hurt like hell, and as he limped to the timberline, he could feel it healing. Duncan tried to juggle the comb, axe and sword, but was fighting a losing battle. The comb stubbornly refused to leave his hand, mostly because he couldn't open his fingers. He didn't have much time to think about it, really, even as he stared at it and the fire axe, then glanced up to study the arrangement of trees in front of him. He ducked behind a twin pair of trunks and waited for the crunch of Nutaaq's feet to reach him.

The halberd plunged predictably between the trunks, and Duncan flew from his hiding place, running with his hands full-tilt as he gathered momentum in the short distance to slam his body weight into the opposite end of the shaft, hitting Nutaaq in a slam that knocked the wind out of him.

He heard a sharp crack as the shaft snapped up toward the head and they both tumbled to the ground. Nutaaq grunted and kicked Duncan in the legs, then delivered a series of light punches with expert hands, each one aimed for Duncan's belly.

Fishermen, apparently, knew how to bar fight. Duncan wondered if he hadn't been better off with the long blade.

His fire axe was gone. The comb was still attached to his hand, and his own sword was so much a part of him that Duncan doubted he could drop it if he was dead and falling from space at the speed of light. He rolled away from Nutaaq's fists and up to his feet, ready to bring his sword about and take the Nutaaq's head while he struggled to get up from the ground.

But Nutaaq was gone. The shaft of his weapon lay discarded on the ground, and Duncan couldn't see the rest of it on the other side of the tree, but he suspected, and was proven correct seconds later, that his opponent had already retrieved it.

Oh no wait, he realized, he has your axe. That was unfortunate.

His arms were getting tired, and quickly. Swimming in the water and trying to wrestle with other things had taken most of his energy, and the numbing cold wasn't helping at all. Duncan staggered when the blade met his, and he felt the rattle of metal on metal in his teeth.

The comb burned in his hand, through his wet glove, and he realized that he had not only not dropped it, but that he had been fighting with one hand and not noticed. Nutaaq flipped the length of the axe in his hand so that the blade was under his elbow. Duncan spared a glance at the comb with its mane of hair, then brought the arm up; the hair, wet and coiled like a rope, snapped forward and latched onto Nutaaq's arm like a whip.

The man recoiled and screamed as smoke rose from his arm and the rope tightened of its own accord, twisting, drawing taut against Duncan's arm. He gave it a pull, and the rope took the arm clean off, the axe flying off into the forest, the limb in the other direction.

Nutaaq clutched his arm then, his scream dying down to a pitiful wail that sounded hauntingly familiar. He fell to his feet before Duncan, his one hand letting go of the stump and reaching out to grab the hair that hung limply from Duncan's arm.

It reacted to his touch, leaving Duncan's arm to slide across that divide and caress Nutaaq's cheek. The man closed his eyes and leaned into it, his face wet with blood and something that might have been tears.

"Finally," he breathed, and Sedna's hair snaked its way up his shoulders, wove its way around his neck, then squeezed, until the head was separated from the body with a squelching sound. Duncan's hand reflexively pulled what was left of the hair on the comb to make the separation clean.

He drove his sword into the ground and waited, watching the licks of lightning begin to arc their way across the small swatch of ground between them, and in that moment he understood that Nutaaq had felt nothing. No time to register pain or surprise, no time to ponder the mystery of his daughter finally taking revenge through a third party who could travel on land.

And as he leaned back against the tree and let the lightning course though him, he realized vaguely that if Richie had died hating him, in that moment, when he had received everything immortal there was to know about him, then he would have known, he would have tasted it on his tongue as surely as Nutaaq's regret and anger seemed to burn a hole into him now.

Duncan lowered the sword and panted; he gave up fighting the urge to just fall on the ground and let his body freeze to death until Methos came back to thaw him out. If something happened, well then, he could only hope that he'd keep 'til spring. He was too tired to even smile at himself.

He needn't have even bothered with the thought, because less than fifteen minutes later, Methos chugged towards the forest edge, shotgun over his shoulder, whistling lightly, his face and the front of his jacket covered in blood. He dragged, with a serious amount of effort, a makeshift litter laden with a dressed carcass.

Methos stopped at the timberline, dropping his pack and the reins of his litter. Duncan didn't even have the energy to grunt and instead closed his eyes.

Methos crouched down next to his form and poked his shoulder. "Well, uhm, this is unexpected."

Duncan opened the hand that held Sedna's hair to show it to Methos, but his fingers were just tangled with ropes of seaweed.

***

SEACOUVER:

When Duncan returned from the store, Methos was pacing in the kitchen, phone in hand, a hardback book in the other. Duncan set the groceries on the counter, next to the open yellow pages. Methos padded towards him, raising his eyebrows at the leafy greens sprouting from the tops of one of the cloth bags.

"'And seeing that you desert the poor poet, a sweet sunset weeps a sad retreat,'" Methos drawled, putting the book down and reaching in the bag to produce a packet of paper-wrapped salmon fillets. He smiled and waved it about, still talking, "'And on my lips bitter silences weep!' Thank you. Goodbye." Methos flipped the cell phone closed and delicately set it on the book before transferring the fish to his other hand and reading the grease pen label as he dug farther into the cloth bag with the other.

"Really?" he asked incredulously. "Twenty five bucks a pound? MacLeod, someone ripped you off royally." His hand emerged with a fistful of leeks and he turned towards the fridge.

Duncan ignored him and instead leaned against the countertop, crossing his arms. "Who was that on the phone?"

Methos shoved the door shut with a gentle nudge of his toe and returned to the bags. "No one. Machine." He handed Duncan a package of dry pasta. "This, is not fusilli. This is...what the hell is this?"

"Gemelli," Duncan answered, tossing the box into the cupboard on his left. "You are telling me that you just recited," he glanced at the book spine, "Cesar Vallejo into a machine." Methos shrugged. "Whose machine?"

Methos shifted his handful of collard greens and yams and pulled over the open phone book, running his finger down the page. "Astrid Abernathy," he read, "of three six three Matherson Drive."

Duncan watched him file the vegetables in the crisper before turning to finish unpacking the groceries himself and stuff the bags in a drawer. Methos snorted at the remaining items: a packet of butter, a plastic case of figs, and a baguette covered in Asiago cheese. Duncan tossed him the butter and prised open the figs. "Who's Astrid Abernathy?"

Methos palmed two figs and swept up his texts, phone and directory. "I don't know," he mumbled before jamming a whole fig in his mouth and shuffling off to the living room. He flopped onto the sofa, dumped his things onto the coffee table and began to rifle through the phone book again. Duncan retrieved a beer and watched Methos punch a series of numbers into the cell phone and hold it to his ear. He looked back at Duncan.

"So you-"

Methos held a hand up. "It's ringing." A pause, and then, "Oh, I'm sorry, wrong number." He hung up and leaned over the phone book again, turning pages and running his fingers down the columns. This time as he dialed, Duncan didn't even bother trying to ask anything. Instead, he opened the beer, rounded the sofa, and slid onto the end of it, waiting for an opening. Methos listened for a minute and then recited Keats' 'To Autumn' into the phone, thanked it, and hung up. He stuffed the other fig into his mouth and returned to the phone book, turning pages with one hand and leafing through the poetry book with the other.

"You're cold-calling answering machines and reciting poetry?" Duncan finally confirmed, but it was really just a warm up to the other more obvious unanswered question.

Methos's eyes never left the page. "Yes."

"Why?"

Without looking up, Methos smiled. "I don't have to explain my art to you, fusilli fetching failure."

Duncan didn't argue, but instead sat in silence, drinking beer and listening as Dirk Dunstan received 'you shall above all things be glad and young' and Elaine Everly was regaled with Shakespeare's Sonnet 128. Michelle Mackey would return home to find several tankas from the Man'Yoshu awaiting her. Methos seemed satisfied then, because he closed the books and settled back into the sofa, tucking his feet between Duncan's thigh and the cushions.

"My toes are cold," he said simply, "and I have no clean socks."

Duncan sighed as the toes wiggled more firmly under him; they didn't feel entirely innocent, and he didn't have a foot fetish. "If you did your own laundry, that wouldn't happen." He let Methos take the last of his beer, stab his toes up against his rear and smile at him.

"MacLeod, I would never do the laundry. You do the laundry." His face sobered. "You wash. You fold. You needlessly use the permanent press setting." When Duncan raised a hand, he continued, "Besides, I cook."

Duncan rose from the sofa and made for the kitchen. They needed more beer. Methos had argued to replace one of the living room end tables with a mini fridge, but Duncan still had some modicum of standards, and he vowed not to get sucked into Methos's quest for Ultimate Lethargy.

"And what is for supper tonight, Iron Chef Pierson?"

"Hrm. Sous-vide duck with truffle-scented broth and mushroom ragout."

"Really?"

"Hell no."

"Oh."

"Trout and salmon with lemon-thyme cream sauce and basil oil."

Duncan fished the beers from the fridge and unscrewed the caps. "Now you're just being silly."

Methos smiled and accepted the beer. "You're right. Frozen pizza. Oh wait-" he held up a hand to his chest, as if to correct himself. "It's Digiorno."

"Finally, some honesty."

"I wish I had that elk meat," Methos griped. "Who knew that you needed a customs form for that?"

Duncan smirked. "For four hundred pounds of raw meat? How dare they."

Methos sipped his beer. "At least it won't all go to waste." He stuck his toes under Duncan's legs again, and Duncan let him. "Elk jerky. They're shipping it to Joe next month."

Duncan sighed and watched the fat snowflakes plink against the window, leaning his head on the back of the sofa. He was tired, and he was looking forward to going to bed that night...for multiple reasons. The most and least exciting being the actual sleeping. In a bed. With another person. Minus the homicide.

"Do you think Joe missed us?" Methos asked out of the blue. His feet twitched a little bit, probably to wake Duncan up, as if he had been sleeping. Really now.

"No."

"Really? I'm sure he missed me," Methos said confidently. "I mean, maybe not you, but I'm an excellent conversationalist." One of his big toes dug further and came up from under to touch--

Duncan shifted. "Yes, I am sure Joe missed you for the whole week and a half we were absent," he said finally.

"How will we know, unless we ask him?" Methos said quietly. Duncan opened his eyes a bit to see the other man squinting at him. Traces of a smile painted his mouth. "You know. If he missed us, he might say it with beer. And nachos."

Duncan couldn't find fault with that. "Beer," he echoed.

"And nachos."

"This doesn't have anything to do with the frozen pizza in the freezer, does it?"

"It's Digiorno." Methos held out two hands, shifting them like scales. "Nachos." One hand went down. "Frozen pizza." The second hand stayed the same. "Hot cheesy goodness. Frozen pizza." He levered his hands up and down. "Fermented hops on tap, Budweiser Select." The hand scale chose a winner. "This is really rather obvious."

Duncan slid off the sofa. "I didn't buy the Bud."

Methos crawled over the back of the sofa and padded into the bathroom. "Shut up. Find me some socks."


"So, was it really Richie?" Methos asked softly as they left the elevator and walked across the dojo floor. Duncan held the door for him, and he skirted past him and out into the chilly air.

"I don't know." Duncan shook his head. "It could all have been in my head, you know, but then..."

"Then what?" Methos half-smiled as they passed an overstuffed Santa waving a ringing bell like an escrima stick.

Duncan tossed the man an indescriminate bill and shoved his hands in his pockets. "He knew things I didn't know."

Methos shrugged. "Maybe it was your subconscious. The subconscious knows all kinds of things that the conscious mind doesn't." He skirted around a set of twin girls barreling down the sidewalk with sleds.

"So, my subconscious watched episodes of The Sopranos?" Duncan mumbled.

Methos did the dance of evasion as another child flung herself down the stairs of her apartment tenement and almost bashed him in the head with her sled. "I take that back," he said as he straightened the child by the shoulders and turned her to face her friends down the street before setting her free like a wind up toy. She bolted, and Methos sighed. "The Sopranos would have solved all of the other issues too." He smiled. "I always want to waste someone after I watch that show."

Duncan didn't have anything to say to that. He shoved his hands farther into his pockets and wished he still had his long underwear on. But they were all in the laundry basket at home, probably mixed in with all of Methos's socks.

"Why is it that every time I meet one of your friends, I end up beheading them?" Duncan asked distractedly, hoping that no one was listening to them. There weren't many people out to begin with, but sometimes he spoke without thinking of his audience.

"Injun Joe was not a friend. He was a guy I knew."

"I can't believe you."

"What? I have many acquaintances, MacLeod."

"No, you called him Injun Joe."

Methos blinked. "That was his name," he said simply. "What, I should have called him Native American Joe? Inuit Joe? Eskimo Joe?" When Duncan glared at him, he shrugged. "We both know that wasn't his name anyway. And 'nutaaq' is just Inuit for 'solid ice cover.'"

Duncan had to admit that in retrospect that had been a clever twist of language.

"Besides," Methos added, "I don't think it was my involvement in this that caused your 'issue,' MacLeod." He used finger quotes.

"You have to admit," Duncan countered, "that you do seem to be setting a trend, what with sending people my way who try to kill me," Duncan reached out and took Methos's hand, and he let him. There was something warm and reassuring about that hand in his, squeezing with a little rhythmic pressure.

Methos winced. "I don't know if you should be throwing stones very far, Mister Sleepy Stabbity-Stab." He paused. "But hey, no homicide for the last four nights--that's got to count for something, right?" He smiled wider than Duncan thought was possible; it was a little creepy.

Duncan thought on his words for a moment. "How did you know what to do?" Duncan asked, looking about for any more pelting children at the speed of light. "You just seemed so matter of fact about it."

Methos opened his mouth to catch a few snowflakes on his tongue. "Experience," he said without looking at Duncan. "I'm very old, and wise."

Duncan stepped around a running dog and realized that he hadn't accounted for four-legged beings going down the sidewalk at the speed of light. "Oh. You do know that you come out of this whole experience looking rather like Yoda, right?"

Methos squinted at him. "You mean that muppet that lived in the swamp?"

Duncan smiled. "Yes, the muppet with the bad grammar." The hand in his was squeezing with a certain rhythm Duncan recognized: Jingle Bells.

Methos didn't make note of his musical hand and instead snorted. "He was only nine hundred years old. He obviously didn't use moisturizer." He blinked a few times at Duncan. "Moisturizing is key."

Duncan laughed. "Your beer-to-blood ratio must be low. Walk faster."

"You know, maybe it was magic seaweed," Methos said under his breath after a few moments. "Maybe if we had planted it in the ground, it would have grown into a huge beanstalk, and then we could have smoked it--"

Duncan stuffed snow down his coat.

***

"Mac?"

"Yes?"

"Are you awake?"

"Huh? Again?"

"Yes, again. Let's revisit: if you were stranded on a desert island, and you found a genie in a bottle, what would you wish for?"

"Mmm. A Philly cheese steak."

"Still?"

"You underestimate the siren call of melted cheese," Duncan mumbled into his pillow. Beside him, Methos sighed and yanked his covers up to his chin.

"Okay. All right. After the Philly cheese steak, what would you wish for?"

"A blow job."

Silence, and then, "Well, okay then. If you insist."

"What? Oh. Oh."

END

Note: Matryoshkas are also used metaphorically, as a design paradigm, known as the "matryoshka principle" or "nested doll principle". It denotes a recognizable relationship of "similar object-within-similar object" that appears in the design of many other natural and man-made objects.

Comments 
22nd-Dec-2008 07:53 pm (UTC)
He seems to have a lot of fig newtons, that one. lol. :D
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