Four for All

by Laura Mason

Set two days after the episode "The Messenger"

*****

"I have to say, Ryan, for someone who only recently didn't want to carry a sword anymore, you seem to enjoy swashbuckling."

"What a terrific story! And face it, *Adam,* the stage combat they did looks much cooler than the real thing. We know what real fights to the death are like. But those guys, it was like a dance, the way everyone moved..."

"Kind of like kata?" Methos smirked at MacLeod, who had been silently driving them. "Are you lost in dreams of seventeenth century France, MacLeod? I imagine you had a few adventures yourself."

"Whatever you think, old man, I don't fancy myself as D'Artagnan. That's more in Richie's line, anyway. Idealistic..."

"Brave!" Richie piped in.

"Naive; falling in love with anything in skirts, be she good or evil..." Methos continued.

"Hey! Kristin was a long time ago."

"Spoken like the tadpole you are, Ryan. Hammurabi was a long time ago..."

"Yeah, yeah, and electricity is a new fad. Get over it." Richie smiled as Methos subsided with a snort. "But seriously, the four of them... it was cool, wasn't it? A band of brothers..."

Richie saw Methos' whole body twitch, but before he could ask him what was wrong MacLeod spoke. "It's very romantic, Rich, but they were mortals. When you're involved in the Game, the rules are different."

"Yeah, I know. Still, 'all for one, one for all' sounds a lot better than our rule, if you know what I mean." Richie brooded for a moment. "I guess that's why I thought the other Methos' message was so exciting. I mean, he wanted to build that kind of solidarity..."

"Ryan, Dumas was writing a fantasy. A critique of the wealthy and powerful, using his musketeers to show the ideal. Even in this fantasy universe he didn't ignore reality: ingratitude, petty politics, evil triumphing."

"Aw, trust you to spoil a good story!"

"Dumas 'spoiled' his own story -- or did you think Constance died just so D'Artagnan was free to chase babes in the sequel? He showed that evil could win; that good doesn't always prevail. She was killed on holy ground. God didn't protect her, good men couldn't protect her..."

"Jeeze, Adam, calm down. I won't say another word."

MacLeod chuckled. "Chase babes in the sequel?"

Richie laughed, too. "I can see it now. 'Musketeers Two: Sexy Skirts!' I'm surprised Hollywood hasn't tried it."

Mac spoke up again as he pulled the car into a space behind Joe's bar. "No one has to invent a sequel, Dumas wrote two. Of course, he set the next story twenty years in the future."

"Twenty years later? They'd be old guys, why would he do that?"

"MacLeod, if you don't get your student to do some serious reading soon, I'll have to take his head on general principles."

"Hey, I read a book just last month."

"Were the pictures pretty, Ryan?" Methos snorted as he opened the door and walked to the bar. "Give me a beer, quick. I've been at the theatre with cultural barbarians."

Joe Dawson laughed even as he passed a bottle to his friend. "I thought they sold drinks at intermission."

"They do, but they wouldn't give him a six pack for the road home." Richie perched next to him for a moment, then said "Hey, let's get a table. Joe, join us -- unless you're going to be playing soon?"

"Are you buying, Rich?" Dawson smiled at his young friend. "If so, I'll sit out the next set."

"Well, I'll buy the first round. I had a great time tonight..." He moved with Joe to an open table, chattering in his ear about the swordplay and drama of "The Three Musketeers." MacLeod stood next to Methos, watching him go.

"I know I haven't said it yet. Thanks."

"You bought the tickets MacLeod."

"I'm not talking about the play. The last week, Richie still being alive..."

" You took him the sword. He killed Culbraith himself."

"But you told him who you really are because I asked you to. One could even say you helped me decide to go looking for him."

"I suppose one could say that. One could also say that I was just reminiscing and you took it badly."

"May one at least say thanks for suggesting the night at the theatre?"

"One could take me home and do something much nicer than *saying* 'thanks.' If one had any imagination, that is."

"Hmm. I can get the handcuffs out..."

"Mac! Adam!" Richie was waving at them. "Joe wants to hear about this sequel, too. C'mon over here and join us."

MacLeod smiled at his scowling lover, giving him a look that clearly said 'patience,' then picked up his drink and walked to the table. Methos followed, snagging two more beers as he went.

"So, Mac, Richie tells me this was a great show."

"Yeah, Joe, but Adam's the one who saw the university was sponsoring the troupe."

"Hey, tell us more about the next book, the one where they're all old guys..."

"Richie, they aren't 'old guys' in the book, they're in their 40's. Compared to you that may be old, but very few people over 19 would call that old." MacLeod sat back.

Dawson piped in, "Thanks, Mac. Us 'old guys' appreciate being allowed in on the adventures." They all laughed at Richie's blush.

"Oh, hell, Joe. I didn't mean... Tell us the story, Mac."

"It's been years since I read that book. But I think someone here could tell us more about it." He smiled at Methos.

"But they want to hear your version, MacLeod. The one gushing with romance and honor. Not my version, full of ungrateful rulers and dissent."

"Well, I remember Athos goes on to have a son." MacLeod's fond smile at Richie as he said this made both Dawson and Methos look away. "A son who is his pride and joy, and who goes on to distinguish himself in battle. The scene where they say goodbye is wonderful, Athos is loving and noble -- it's what every man wishes his father were like..."

"But even with a such a wonderful, loving father the boy grows up to live a short and unhappy life, thwarted in love and unable to get over it. Athos' child dies before him, every parent's nightmare." Methos looked at the horrified faces around the table, then down at his beer. "Hey, I didn't write it."

"But that doesn't happen right away, does it?" Richie looked like he'd just learned there was no Santa. "I mean, the guys must have good times, more adventures, right?"

"Adam is taking you all the way to the end of the story, the third book about the Musketeers. And everyone dies by the end of that one, all except Aramis."

"Proving that those who plot well will live forever." Methos raised his glass sarcastically, but Joe and Richie both looked too upset to join his mock toast. "Okay, yes, there is fellowship again in 'Twenty Years After.'"

"That's the name of the sequel?" Joe asked, trying to get back into a happier frame of mind.

"Yes. Louis XIII is dead, and his son is still a minor. I remember that D'Artagnan is still a Lieutenant of the Musketeers." MacLeod was speaking slowly, pulling his memories of the story from long ago. "He decides to reunite his friends, who've all retired to other lives. He wants to seek glory and fame again."

"He wants a promotion to the Captaincy of the musketeers, you mean. And he manages to sign Porthos on for the struggle because he's bored with his wealthy, peaceful life. But the two of them wind up fighting against Aramis and Athos."

"No way! These guys' friendship, it was special. They really took care of each other. Why would they be fighting?" Richie looked interested now instead of upset, so MacLeod continued.

"Petty politics, really. They begin the fight without knowing who it is they're battling on the dark roadway. Once they realize it's their friends, they stop."

"Well, that's a relief. So they keep their vow?" Richie asked.

"They go to England, where they wind up fighting on the same side and trying to keep King Charles alive during Cromwell's revolution." Methos looked up at the ceiling as if reading the story there. "But they can't save the king, and they barely escape with their own lives. Milady has left a son behind her, and he's determined to kill them and avenge his mother."

"Cool. That sounds more like what I was imagining. So they get away from him?"

"Athos kills him." MacLeod offered.

"Thus having even more blood on his hands." Methos sighed. "And back in France, politics continue without regard for honor, friendship, loyalty, or love." he concluded morosely.

After a moment of stunned silence, Joe laughed. "Well, I'm not dying to go out and read the book now, Adam. Don't ever write book reviews for a living, okay? You'll increase illiteracy in America." Joe stood and moved toward the stage. "Time for a song, I think." Once he was seated and softly playing his guitar, Richie stirred again.

"Adam. I haven't read the books like you did, but you said the play was pretty faithful to the original. The writer, Dumas, he wanted us to like them. To honor friendships the way they did."

"Yeah, Rich, I think you're right about the author's intent. Their bond is the only admirable thing. We hear about the Queen's beauty, but she's selfish and ungrateful. You can respect Richelieu's cleverness, but his machinations don't outlast his time in power."

"But the loyalty between D'Artagnan and the three musketeers, that's something everyone wishes they had." Richie enthused. "Friends like that, closer than brothers..."

"Not that immortals know what it is to have a family. Or true friendship." Methos rose and walked back to the bar. Richie looked to MacLeod in confusion.

"What did I say?" Mac shrugged at him, eyes on his lover's tense back as he stood at the bar. "Mac, I... I know about the Game and there being only one and all of that, but..." Richie's eyes were bright with emotions. "I'd like to think that we have a friendship like they did, a bond."

"We do, Rich. I cherish your friendship."

"Thanks, Mac. Me too." Richie rose. "Well, I'd better go. I'm supposed to pick up Sandy early tomorrow, we're going to the beach. Hey, we're not going to make the boxing tournament, she's got a family thing that night and I'm being dragged along."

"That's okay, don't sweat it. Have fun. ‘Night, Richie." MacLeod watched as his friend waved to Joe, and stopped near Methos to say goodbye. He didn't see whether Methos responded to him or not.

He didn't want to think too much about what Richie had just said. Actually, when it came to the Game and the Gathering, he didn't want to think at all. He just wanted to relax for the moment, content that Richie had survived his pacifist philosophy. His clan, his patched together family of friends, was intact.

Another glance at Methos' backside as he leaned against the bar, and he could think of a few more things he'd like to do tonight, most of which weren't relaxing. Nor legal in several states.

It still amazed him that he and Methos were lovers, that they'd developed the same kind of easy melding of friendship and sex that he'd always had with Amanda. Methos was much older than Amanda, much more threatening than her as well, and about eighteen times more contrary. Whatever little squabbles he and Amanda had over her illegal pursuits paled compared to the disagreements he had with Methos. A clash over rightful ownership of the barge was what initially landed them in bed together, where all their differences melted into mutual white-hot lust.

MacLeod didn't just lust for that incredible body, though. He wanted to get inside his mind and really understand him. Like knowing what had upset him tonight, why a show he'd chosen to attend seemed to rub him the wrong way. Or understanding why Methos always played devil's advocate around him. Maybe, someday, he could even hope to change him, just a little. Hell, sometimes he believed they'd already changed each other during their brief time as friends. Though it might just be wishful thinking, he'd actually seen Methos work out a few times now. That could be his influence, couldn't it?

Methos turned and stared straight at MacLeod, as if he'd finally felt the eyes burning into his back. Then he smiled a wicked grin and moved to the table.

"I think something's burning in here." He sniffed the air delicately. "I'd better get you home before you set off the sprinklers."

"Be nice, old man. Or I'll find another Aramis to hang around with."

"Oh, if I'm Aramis and Richie is D'Artagnan, I think that makes you Porthos." His smile widened noticeably. "Big and strong and stupid." MacLeod reached over to punch at him but he twisted away into the far chair. "But loveable, Porthos is, very noble and faithful."

"I'm afraid it won't hold up. You're both Athos and Aramis. Athos, the oldest, the one with a mysterious background he's never willing to discuss. The one who drinks like a fish. And Aramis, always scheming and thinking several steps ahead of everyone. Practical and incredibly attractive."

"Despite Richie aspiring for the part, you're D'Artagnan, too. Skilled with a sword, an incredible ladies' man with a generous heart. The key to the vow and the one who holds the friendship together." They smiled at each other for a moment, and then MacLeod sighed.

"We're both old enough to know better. We aren't musketeers, we're not living in a romantic fantasy."

"Well, I'm willing to live out a fantasy or two if you'll get off your bum and come home." Methos smiled at him. "Your ability to form friendships among our kind is a wonderful thing, Mac. Don't worry so much about the future."

"Live for today?"

"It works for me." MacLeod chose to smile rather than sigh and they left, waving to Joe as they did.

"So where exactly were you in 1630?" MacLeod's casual attitude didn't quite work.

"You could be asking who I was inspiring in 1844, MacLeod. It's a historical novel, not a history, and Dumas used a team of writing assistants."

"Am I ever going to get a straight answer about your past?"

"Am I ever going to get laid? The answer to these and other eternal questions..." Methos' monologue ended in a squawk as MacLeod pushed him against the car and kissed him into silence. The questions could wait, he decided as he enjoyed the press of Methos' body against his. They had plenty of time.

The end

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