It must be like the moon illusion, Duncan thought, the age didn't show in Methos' eyes until they were surrounded by white hair and beard. He usually looks so young, and there's no point of reference to judge by.
They had decided that Duncan wouldn't make a very convincing elf, and an even less likely reindeer, so he wore the uniform of a security guard, watching over Methos, who couldn't very well carry a sword.
Methos was surprisingly good with all the children, their parents, the different attitudes the kids brought to his lap, and he'd been doing it for a week at Seacouver's mall.
His throne was on a mezzanine overlooking an ice rink where the skaters' gliding kept the wait in line from being too tedious.
Duncan didn't come to alert obviously, but he began to scan the line of parents and kids more carefully. Finally, he located it - the indication that a child would, one day, be Immortal. She wasn't a pretty child: she was too sober and serious. She waited, off to one side, watching the skaters and listening to the season's music on a repeating tape.
Someone else must have gotten tired of Gene Autry's Frosty the Snowman, Bing Crosby's Jingle Bells, and The Little Drummer Boy. A new tape began with an acoustic guitar rendition of Greensleeves.
The mall was ready to close, and the lined had thinned down to stragglers, with the dark-haired little girl bringing up the rear.
She wasn't well-dressed, and she was very tentative as she climbed onto his lap. She looked around carefully, delicately moved the wig and beard hair away from Methos' ear, and whispered into it behind her small hand, while Harry Belafonte's voice sang with regret,
All the stores were closed and shuttered
All the streets were dark and bare.
In my town no scarlet ribbons:
Not one ribbon for her hair.
Very slowly, Methos put his arms around the child, she put her head onto his shoulder, and he rocked her gently. Then she disengaged herself, slipped to the floor, and gravely offered him her hand to shake. She slipped into a closing Sears, sidling between the doors as they met.
Santa rose from his throne, stretched and walked wearily towad his security guard. As Duncan watched, the aging in his eyes seemed to leak down into his body, fueling a sigh he dredged up from his boots.
"So, what did she want?"
"Real parents. She can't remember anything but foster care." They walked toward the employee's restrooms, nearly at the other side of the mall.
"I think that's a little beyond Santa's reach."
"Santa's, yes, but not mine. She knew her social worker's name."
"Methos, get real. You can't adopt a child. That's a fifteen, twenty year commitment."
They had reached the lockers, and Methos carefully lifted off his wig and stocking cap, draping them over the polystyrene head. He shucked off the coat, hung it up, and pushed his trousers down over the boots fireman-fashion, so he could just step in and pull up the suspenders tomorrow. He stripped off heavy padding, thick as pillows.
Standing there in his skivvies, he peeled off the frothy white beard, and with it, years of age.
"What's the matter, Duncan? Don't you think I have the time?"
As he bent over the sink, washing his face, Duncan could hear him singing,
If I live to be a hundred,
I will never know from where
Came those lovely scarlet ribbons,
Scarlet ribbons for her hair.