Fallstaff's Folly

by Laura Mason

 "Methos, I can't believe you're carrying on like this. How many times have you just taken off?"

"But I always came back." The oldest living immortal shifted guiltily in his seat. "Besides, that's different. Mac knows I sometimes need to get away, to think. I don't lie to him about it."

Amanda's brisk voice came over the phone in reply. "It's always different when you're the one doing the leaving. I'm the one who's had to listen to Duncan moan about missing you, wishing you loved him enough to stay..."

"I do love him!"

"And then listen to Joe whine about Duncan's moping," she continued, ignoring him. There was a moment of silence as both Immortals remembered the Watcher. "You're getting a taste of your own medicine, Doctor Martin."

"Thanks so much for your compassionate input. When that overgrown boy scout you're harboring starts to give you trouble, don't expect a sympathetic ear."

"Nick won't ever pick up any of my bad habits," Amanda giggled.

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Methos cut off the call, wishing for an old-fashioned phone he could slam down. Nostalgia? Him? That thought was almost more worrying than MacLeod's lies. Methos had always made a point of keeping current, not dwelling in the past or lingering over regrets.

But now Methos was thinking about the past, romanticizing it, really. He couldn't deny it. Even though they'd been difficult years, Methos missed the Duncan MacLeod he'd first met, so honorable and upright that he'd thought it impossible they'd ever be friends, let alone lovers. The beautiful, noble man who'd immediately offered friendship and protection without ever questioning whether Methos was worthy of such gifts. The same man Methos had constantly harped at about being too trustworthy, too honest, too good. "Don't keep using your real name, MacLeod. Don't be visible. Don't trust others of our kind."

Methos wanted the old days back so he could add a new caution to the list: "Don't become like me, MacLeod."

***

It was too late now for such wishes. Three days ago MacLeod had told his lover he was flying to Rome because the roof had collapsed in a portion of their villa. He'd reassured Methos that only one of them had to go, and since it was still the middle of the semester Methos had agreed that it made more sense for Mac to leave. He could turn it into a business trip, shopping for antiques. And Methos could finish his lectures at the Oriental Institute.

Though they'd spent time apart during their 40 plus years as lovers, often at Methos' insistence, this time was different from the start. Methos didn't enjoy the privacy and freedom MacLeod's absence offered him. Oh, the first night it was fun to order carry-out and leave the dirty dishes on the counter. He made popcorn with garlic and curry powder, which MacLeod despised, and left beer bottles in every corner of their townhouse. But the next day Methos had to pick the bottles up himself, and make a trip to the store on the way home for more. When he finally got home from the late office hours his teaching job required, the house was dark. No fragrant dinner waiting, no smiling Scot greeting him with warm eyes and even warmer arms. He had to cook his own meal, and clean up the two-day mess, including congealed bowls of greasy popcorn which smelled really unpleasant a day later. He was too tired and, if he was honest, too depressed to even write in his journal.

There hadn't been any calls from Mac, and his own call to the villa hadn't gone through. Considering all the technological advances everyone constantly touted, it was really stupid that you still couldn't get reliable overseas phone service. Of course, the villa was in a very remote location. It had been one of Methos' hideouts for years, until he'd decided to share it with Duncan five years ago. He took Mac there for the summer, and MacLeod had insisted on spending the time fixing up the ancient structure. The repairs took over a year, and they lived at the villa the entire time, Mac performing much of the work himself. Their final night there, Methos had presented MacLeod with the new deed to the house, which listed both their names as co-owners. And when MacLeod demurred, Methos said he'd take the price out in labor. And he didn't mean the painting and carpentry MacLeod had already done. That night...

It was even more depressing to be thinking about sex with MacLeod when he was all alone. Methos had shaken off his memories and wandered the living room, looking at music disks but unable to focus long enough to choose one. Then he'd had an idea which lifted his spirits. He'd called Amanda for a chat.

And his spirits had immediately plummeted when he learned that Mac had passed through Toronto two days ago, on the way to his fishing trip without Methos, who "didn't like cold places and was too busy with school commitments anyway." Amanda was gleeful as she quoted MacLeod's words, though she didn't openly comment on the trouble that was obviously brewing in her friends' paradise.

"You and Nick saw Duncan off?"

"Yes. Didn't he mention he'd be stopping by here on his way up to Nova Scotia?"

"Nova Scotia?" Methos didn't like being reduced to repeating the tags of sentences, but he couldn't wrap his mind around it, somehow. MacLeod was on his way to Rome. No flights from Chicago to Rome made stopovers in Toronto. It hadn't been that long since Methos flew there. Nova Scotia wasn't en route to Rome, either.

"Methos, are you alright? It's not like you to sound THIS stupid." When her bait wasn't replied to, Amanda became seriously worried. "Methos, tell me what's wrong."

And he did. At least, he told her what he could figure out was wrong. Obviously, he didn't know enough, because he'd had no idea that MacLeod was unhappy enough with their life together to run away from home.

Amanda refused to believe Methos' own worst-case forebodings, but Amanda basically wasn't a terribly comforting friend, at least not over the phone. Besides, there was a small, petty and terrible part of Methos that didn't believe Amanda had ever been entirely happy about his relationship with Duncan. Sure, she had Nick in her life. But she still loved Duncan. Even more, she knew Methos well enough to know he wasn't in MacLeod's league. He didn't come close to deserving the Highlander's love. Methos knew that, and he knew all MacLeod's friends knew it, too. Anyone who knew them both would probably applaud Mac for finally leaving him.

***

The phone call was over and Methos was desperately wishing he'd infiltrated the Watchers again instead of getting his doctorate in archeology. Where was MacLeod really going? Maybe Amanda had been confused. But there'd been no phone call -- maybe Mac met up with a challenge, and had deliberately changed his route to draw whoever it was away from their life together. Of course, that was it. MacLeod couldn't go to Rome, then drive to their hideaway, with someone on his trail. The trip to Amanda had been for help, reinforcements. How stupid of Amanda not to realize that.

Efforts to access the Watchers were completely fruitless. It had been too long and they'd kept up with advances in technology. So Methos spent the night hacking into airline passenger lists, trying to figure out where MacLeod had gone when he left Toronto. When that failed, he started to work on a way into the credit card records for MacLeod's account.

By 11 the next morning, Methos had arranged for a leave of absence from school and left the identity of Scott Martin, PhD, behind him. He drove to the interstate in a haze, then sped along the highway that led through Indiana and Michigan, into Canada.

***

The woman at the "As You Like It" motel was friendly despite the hour, but she didn't have a room to offer him. Instead she gave advice. "You drive up to Bayfield, they're likely to have rooms. You should have made a reservation. It's not every year we have a plowing match here." Suitably chastised, Methos drove another 50 miles looking for a place to sleep that night, but he wound up pulling off the road in a dark rural area. He put his sword on the floor, pulled his overcoat around him, and curled up on the back seat. The long drive and being awake for two days straight had combined to exhaust him, so he slept soundly.

The next morning he cleaned up at a gas station, then headed back to Stratford. Breakfast at Madeleine's and he learned that the Festival would close in two weeks. That was the only useful information he overheard. The plowing match was indeed the talk of the town, and of the many foreign visitors he heard speaking in their own languages.

Further prowling around the town led nowhere. The town was full of tourists, and the likelihood that anyone had noticed MacLeod went down when there were so many strangers. Mostly brawny farmer-types. Though Methos personally didn't think any of them held a candle to his Highlander. Well, maybe not his anymore. Because he had to know, Methos asked about weather conditions for the last week. No lightening, no sudden storms. Perfect harvest weather, according to the waitress, the bookstore clerk, the druggist.

He checked their home answering machine from a pay phone and there was -- finally -- a message from Mac. A very brief message, just "hello, I'm fine, I'll call again soon." Methos nodded grimly and wondered if MacLeod would even care enough to try his cell phone. It didn't matter; he'd left it behind.

Methos had reached the point where he was ready to drive out to the plowing match when he noticed one more place he wanted to visit -- the local library.

***

Methos slumped in his balcony seat and glanced at the program in his hand. It matched the crumpled poster in his back pocket. "Much Ado About Shakespeare," excerpts from the Bard, selected and arranged by Walter Graham. One performance to benefit the University of Toronto's Fine Arts program. Directed by Walter Graham. Costumes courtesy of the Stratford Festival archives.

The day he'd glimpsed the poster on the library's bulletin board, Methos had jerked as if struck by a Quickening. He knew that name, and it took him back to a time so wonderful and painful that he had to sit down on the nearest bench to sort through it.

Methos had just killed Kristen, no doubt saving Ryan's head -- for all the good that did -- and effectively re-entering the Game after over 200 years. He'd told himself he was staying in town to relax and recover from the effects of a Quickening after all those years. Certainly not because the possibility of another spar with MacLeod set his heart pounding and his body aflame.

So Methos had been hanging out at Joe's, reclaiming his friendship with the Watcher who now knew his true identity. Savoring the time spent with MacLeod, actually glad that Richie had moved along so he didn't have to share the Scot. Until Claudia Jardine and Walter Graham popped into the area, bringing melodrama and reminiscences of MacLeod's brief acting career, playing Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.

But Methos' memories wouldn't stop there, and he saw Alexa's pixie face again, her eyes sad with knowledge and her body so frail. He'd set aside his pursuit of MacLeod in a moment, wanting instead to spend whatever time he could with the mortal woman. MacLeod had seemed to relax at that idea, too, more willing to share his own concerns about Claudia's youth and his attraction to her once Mac heard about the beautiful waitress on Methos' mind.

Methos had forced his mind back to the present before memories of Alexa moved on to the dark days in Europe watching her die. He'd stood and pulled the poster down, noting that the performance was scheduled for Friday night -- four days away. It wasn't possible that Graham's presence in the same town he'd tracked MacLeod to was a coincidence. There was still a mystery here, but Methos' relief at finding an old friend instead of an enemy in the vicinity was immense.

The question now was whether on Friday night he'd find his lover or a stranger on the stage of the Avon Theater.

***

The performance was about to begin; the house lights flickered, then dimmed. Methos shifted in his seat yet again, glad to be out of sensing range of the stage and backstage areas, but damned uncomfortable after nights spent sleeping in his car. The audience applauded politely, and then Walter Graham stood center stage, reciting his welcome to them all.

"For us, and for our tragedy, here stooping to your clemency, we beg your hearing patiently."

Methos watched the parade of actors, smiling when he recognized Claudia Jardine among them. Evidently Graham had been forgiven his part in triggering her immortality. She was still a beautiful woman, and she enacted Portia's love scenes with Bassiano with true feeling for the language. Methos remembered the reported "death" of Ms. Jardine 18 years ago, when it had become too difficult to age herself and continue her concert career. MacLeod had been in touch with her, lending her his advice and sending her to Cierdwyn to finally learn to defend herself.

The cast was well-rehearsed, and Methos thought for a moment that all of them were immortals, familiar with these plays for hundreds of years like Graham himself. Or perhaps they were simply actors from the Festival who had the same kind of familiarity and ease with the archaic language. Methos enjoyed the flow of words and the way scenes had been arranged, contrasting tragedy with love, bawdy comedy with stirring histories. But he didn't relax.

Graham fancied himself as Henry the Fifth, and the selections from those histories included Falstaff's mockery of the idea of honor. Methos squirmed, seeing not the Prince Hal and his servant, but MacLeod and himself, debating the idea of 'death before dishonor.' He'd derided MacLeod's honorable ideals too often, and now he could only mourn for the man he'd known.

The next scene began with the stage in a wash of blue-green lights, and fog machines churning out mystery. Into this stepped a figure out of legend, a fierce warrior crying his defiance to fate:

"Hang out our banners on the outward walls; the cry is still, 'they come!' Our castle's strength will laugh a siege to scorn; here let them lie till famine and the ague eat them up."

The scene continued, other actors joining in, and Macbeth mourned his queen. "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!" When the proud king fell at last to Macduff, the man not of woman born, the audience wept and applauded wildly.

Methos' only emotion was relief. MacLeod was here, he was alive and fine. Looking damn good in that kilt, actually, though it wasn't his own clan colors. Playing a man's part at last. That caused a snort of laughter, and dirty looks from the rapt students surrounding him in these, the cheapest seats.

The show moved on, and MacLeod reappeared as Iago, doing what Methos could only hope was a fond impersonation. The movement and gestures were pure Methos, proving MacLeod had been observing him closely during their years together. Proving he knew Methos, even at his least charming and most scheming. It wasn't comforting.

A few scenes later MacLeod was back as Benedick, confessing his love to Claudia's feisty Beatrice at Hero's disrupted wedding. The sighs of the audience made it plain that MacLeod was a favorite. Graham's jealous look when MacLeod's Tybalt got more applause than his Romeo during their sword fight was priceless, even in the midst of Methos' anxiety.

The show ended with a grand masqued dance, each couple taking their bows and revealing their faces as they moved to the front. Methos watched MacLeod's easy grace, his natural beauty, and wondered again why he'd come looking for a man who obviously wanted to be free. MacLeod had other friends, other lovers... other interests, other lives without Methos in them. He knew MacLeod cared for Claudia. Only her youth and vulnerability had kept him from speaking of that love years ago. But now she was independent, no longer a student, and old enough to be approached. Nor was there any shortage of others, mortal and immortal, men and women, ready to be MacLeod fans, groupies, or lovers.

***

Methos stayed in his seat long after the house lights blazed and the seats around him emptied. Finally an usher politely chased him out, and Methos asked if he would be allowed backstage to visit one of the actors, an old friend.

He moved as directed and found himself on the edges of a great hubbub. The entire cast seemed to be drinking, kissing, laughing, and congratulating themselves on the production's success. Graham was there, completely unconcerned about Methos' presence when he approached. Foolish chance to take, but Methos appreciated Graham's complacency as he moved through the throng, not meeting the director's eyes, knowing the other Immortal would assume the buzz was from Claudia or Duncan.

Methos had toured the entire area and didn't see MacLeod anywhere. Maybe he'd left already, gone with his new lover. Maybe he'd spotted Methos in the audience somehow and was already on the road to Toronto, to a plane, hoping his disappearance now would finally make it clear that he wanted his own life, away from the ancient.

Methos turned a corner and realized he was almost on the darkened stage. He noticed Presence, close by, and then heard the familiar voice.

"Scott, it's me. Are you there? Please pick up if you're there, I'm really worried about you. Damn. Listen, I'm on my way home. I... I love you, I miss you. Please, pick up the phone if you're all right... I'll see you soon." MacLeod's voice sounded close to tears as he rang off. He turned away from Methos' dark figure. "Walter, is that you? I'm sorry, I was trying to call home. I'll be right back."

Methos didn't move, didn't answer. Could barely process what he'd heard. He hadn't been checking the answering machine, he realized. Since that first, cool-seeming message, he hadn't bothered to call. He'd only been here... six days. No wonder his back hurt. He'd lost track of time, something he knew he tended to do. Methos had been so caught up in his own fears of losing MacLeod, he hadn't thought the Scot might have any worries regarding Methos' safety or whereabouts.

"Walter?" MacLeod moved, trying to see who was standing in the dark wings. Methos wanted to answer him, but he couldn't bring out any words. This wasn't a time to be casual or witty. He needed to speak his heart, something that wasn't easy in any circumstances. Maybe the setting suggested it, but he decided to speak in the well-crafted words of someone who certainly knew about love.

"O, speak again, bright angel! For thou art as glorious to this night, being o'er my head, as is a winged messenger of heaven unto the white-upturned wond'ring eyes of mortals."

"Scott?" MacLeod's voice was hushed, cautious.

"By a name I know not how to tell thee who I am." Methos moved into the light, walking out onto the stage. "What's in a name?"

MacLeod's face lit up, a true smile crossing his features, and Methos felt his heart grow light for the first time in over a week as the Highlander replied "Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague? How cam'st thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?"

"With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls, for stony limits cannot hold love out, and what love can do that dares love attempt." Methos stayed in place, his eyes devouring his lover. MacLeod's costume and makeup were gone, but the gorgeous man who'd bewitched the audience was still there. Methos traced each beloved feature with his eyes, all his fears still lurking, telling him that this could be the last time he'd view MacLeod with the eyes of a lover. "Stand I, even so, as doubtful whether what I see be true."

MacLeod switched plays with ease, following Methos' lead and replying "You see me, Lord, where I stand, such as I am. Though for myself alone I would not be ambitious in my wish, to wish myself much better; yet, for you I would be trebled twenty times myself, a thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich."

"O beware, my lord, of jealousy," Methos choked out, unable to go on, remembering MacLeod's oh-so-accurate portrayal of Methos' Iago personality, feeling insecure and unworthy of the Highlander's love.

"Alas the heavy day! Why do you weep? Am I the motive of these tears, my lord?"

"Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing, and like enough thou know'st thy estimate." Methos turned away as he spoke, even as a voice inside chastised him for not trusting MacLeod, for doubting his love. Just one more reason he was unworthy. "Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter -- in sleep a king, but waking, no such matter."

"Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault, and I will comment upon that offence," MacLeod pleaded, pulling Methos to face him, his brown eyes full of sorrow. "Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt, against thy reasons making no defence."

"Thyself thou gav'st, thy own worth then not knowing. Or me, to whom thou gav'st it, else mistaking." MacLeod knew as much of his past as anyone could. Methos realized as he spoke that a part of him was still waiting, even after all these years, for Mac to remember his disgust with Death the Horseman and, remembering, leave him forever.

"In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes, for they in thee a thousand errors note." MacLeod pulled on his arm and drew him close. "But 'tis my heart that loves..."

"My five wits nor my five sense can dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee," Methos mumbled into Mac's chest, burying his face and enjoying the scent he'd missed so much. "Spurn me, strike me, neglect me, lose me; only give me leave, unworthy as I am, to follow you. What worser place can I beg in your love--"

MacLeod stopped the flow of Shakespeare at last with a kiss. "Hush now. I'm not sure what this is all about, but we're going to talk. In our own words. I've had enough of the Bard these past weeks, anyway."

"I thought..." Methos couldn't quite say it, but the burning eyes he raised must have spoken plain.

"I'm so sorry, Methos." Duncan was still holding him, and he pulled him tight again. "I tried to call you, but you never answered the phone... How long have you been here, anyway?"

"Since Sunday morning, I guess. I kind of lost track."

"I'll say. You're skin and bones. And fairly grungy, too. What happened?"

"I called Amanda."

"Damn." He smiled at Methos. "I guess I'm not very good at covering my tracks. Listen, Walter called me and said it was urgent. He asked me to come here but said he couldn't explain anything on the phone. I thought he was in trouble, so--"

"You lied to me rather than tell me this?" Methos wrenched himself out of the warm arms to glare at MacLeod.

"I wasn't in the mood to be shot in the back! Look, I'm sorry I lied to you, but if I hadn't, you would have insisted on coming along to watch out for me, wouldn't you?"

"Maybe," he grudgingly admitted, head down.

"Walter asked me to come alone. And he's a good friend." MacLeod's voice was so warm, so reasonable.

"A 'friend' who's come to blows with you once before," Methos retorted, trying very hard to hold on to his pain and anger despite those eyes, that voice.

"That's true, but I couldn't refuse." MacLeod smiled, and Methos felt his heart cracking. "I flew to Toronto, and I thought I'd just pop in on Amanda and Nick. I never even thought about you talking to her -- you never call anyone!"

"I'm usually preoccupied with a silly Scot," he growled. "I was lonely. Sue me."

"Really?" MacLeod's smile widened, and he moved very close again, one warm hand cupping Methos' chin. He forced Methos' eyes up to meet his own. "I missed you, too."

"Why didn't you call after you learned what Graham really wanted?"

"Why don't you have your cell phone?" MacLeod shook his head, still smiling. "Do you know how many times I called the house? I only left messages a few times, but I wanted very badly to talk to you and tell you everything. To invite you to come here and see the show."

"Well, I managed that on my own," Methos admitted. "Macbeth was very nice. Still letting Graham dress you in skirts, though."

MacLeod laughed aloud and pulled Methos to him for one more searing kiss. Methos felt his knees wobble, unsure if it was the kiss or his relief exhausting him. "Let's get out of here," Mac growled in a sexy voice.

"Um, Mac?" Methos held back, head down again.

"Yes?" MacLeod sounded worried, as if he were wondering what else was wrong.

"I don't exactly have a hotel. Something about a plowing contest."

"We've been apart two weeks, and you don't have a hotel room?" Methos shook his head in reply, and MacLeod smiled devilishly. "Then it's a good thing that I have the Tempest Room at the Stratford Inn, complete with a whirlpool tub!"

"Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of Scotland," Methos misquoted with a happy grin as they left the theater together.

The End

Notes: Yes, I've spent several summers in lovely Stratford, Ontario enjoying wonderful theater. And the plowing contest story is true: the first year we attended, my husband and I were very excited about the Festival. But none of the locals were; they all assumed we were there for an International Plowing Competition that was bigger news and an honor for Stratford to host.

Now, for those who want to know what all that Shakespeare stuff was:

Title and references to Falstaff throughout: Henry IV, Part 1 -- Act V, scene 2: "Can honour set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word honour? What is that honour? Air; a trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. "Tis insensible, then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so ends my catechism."

Walter's prologue: Hamlet

Falstaff's "better part of valour is discretion" speech: Henry IV, Part 1 -- Act V, scene 4 (oops, didn't actually quote it after all, but referred to obliquely)

MacBeth: Act V, Scenes 5-8

Mac & Methos' declarations:

  Romeo & Juliet, Act II, scene 2 (taken wildly out of order and context)
  The Merchant of Venice, Act III, scene 2
  Othello, Act III, scene 3 and Act IV, scene 2
  Sonnets 87, 89, 141
  A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, scene 1
Tag: Richard III, Act I, scene 1

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