His left arm was missing, or so it felt as Duncan MacLeod rolled over and struggled back to consciousness. Still more asleep than awake, he smiled down at the cause of his discomfort. Methos might be lean, but the man was dense with muscle. The arm that his lover was lying on had been asleep so long that there wasn’t even a hint of pins and needles.
MacLeod dragged his trapped limb out from beneath his bedmate and pulled the duvet up over Methos’ milky shoulders to ward off the late morning chill.
It was a testament to his companion’s state of advanced exhaustion that the light sleeper didn’t even stir. Though Mac could hardly blame his friend. Longford’s challenge had exhausted Methos. Hell, it had exhausted MacLeod and he had only been a spectator.
Rubbing circulation back into his smarting arm, he stared down at the slumbering man beside him. The rumpled, short brown hair, sleep flushed cheeks and curled up position all gave Methos an incredibly young and innocent air. When he saw his lover like this, it was hard to believe Methos could ever have been Death, but MacLeod had seen that ancient conqueror himself just this morning.
The transformation had been chilling. A shiver ran down MacLeod’s spine as he recalled how completely Methos’ face had changed after Longford’s blade had opened his forehead. Mac had feared his friend dead at that instant, but then Methos had rolled over backwards and riposted in a blur of motion. All MacLeod had been able to focus on was the cold-eyed stranger who had been staring out of his lover’s face after that. Even the eyes had seemed to change color, going from Methos’ usual gold-flecked green to a dangerous brown as they focused on their prey. He’d never seen anything like that vicious cat and mouse game Methos had played with Longford. The kid had been good, possibly as good as MacLeod himself, but once that change had come over Methos, Longford might just as well have been a toddler, for all the effect he had on Methos.
His lover was right. Mac would not want to face Death. With God’s help, he’d never have to.
That was the problem with their kind. So often, the unthinkable occurred. A hundred years ago Duncan would never have dreamed it would come to swords with friends like Coltec, Cullen, or Garrick, yet all three had died on his katana. As he gazed down at his sleeping lover, he couldn’t help but wonder if the same would ever happen with Methos.
Not liking the path his thoughts were taking this morning, Mac pulled himself from the bed.
He didn’t want to admit it, but Methos’ alter-ego had shaken him. Immortals were no different than normal humans, they were both good and bad. MacLeod accepted that as a given. However, the mythological Horseman that was part and parcel of his lover was in a whole different league than most other Immortals’ bad sides. Death was a formidable force to be reckoned with, and having seen a glimpse of that ancient demon with his own eyes, MacLeod was having trouble forgetting it. He’d lain here for nearly two hours while Methos slept in his arms, trying to come to terms with what he’d seen. But the sadistic glee Death had taken in ripping Longford to pieces by slow degrees was hard to accept. When he’d finally dozed off, he’d been no closer to assimilating it.
And yet…that ruthless monster had no more to do with the man sleeping in his bed right now than the MacLeod who’d killed Sean Byrnes did with him. Mac felt that in his soul. His Methos had been as appalled by what his alter-ego had done as MacLeod was. He’d never forget how shaken Methos was when he’d finally regained control of himself at the end of that gory battle. The poor guy had puked his guts out afterwards, the entire thing obviously too much for the gentle scholar to handle.
Methos had done him proud at the end. Mac didn’t know if he would have had it in him to spare Longford. That mercy had been totally unexpected, as much of a shock as Death’s bloody emergence.
As he pulled on some clean underwear, socks, and a warm pair of navy blue sweats, MacLeod finally recognized the basis of his uneasiness. With two such disparate entities inhabiting his lover’s body, Mac wasn’t sure which one was real. He wanted to just accept his gentle lover and forget about what he’d seen this morning, but…his Methos should have bought the farm when Longford blinded him. The creature that had taken over his lover’s body and saved Methos was fully as real as the sarcastic scholar whom Mac loved with all his heart. The fact that Methos lived in fear of losing his identity to that conscienceless killer disturbed MacLeod no end, because with the violent lives their kind lived, it was entirely possible that it could happen. He had only to think back on poor Michael Moore for proof of how easy it was for an honorable man to lose control of his darker side.
Lord knew, Methos had the textbook symptoms of a split personality – intense sexual abuse in his formative years, complete lack of conscious control over his actions when his other half-emerged, and psychotically violent episodes resulting from that emergence. And yet it was different than what Mac had seen with Moore. Michael had retained no memory at all of what his other half had done while in control, whereas Methos had complete recall.
It made Mac’s head hurt to think about it. With all his heart, he wished that Sean Byrnes were still alive. MacLeod knew that the psychoanalyst would probably not have been able to cure Methos of this problem, but at least Sean would have been able to give him an informed opinion as to how dangerous the situation was.
Like he really needed anyone to tell him how bad it was.
Mac had seen how near a thing it had been today. If he lived to be Methos’ age, he would never forget the expression in Methos’ face as Darius’ rosary beads seemed to fix his attention when Death moved in for the kill. The raw panic there, the desperation…his lover had been fighting for his life, but not in the real world. The most important portion of today’s battle had taken place in Methos’ head. The idea of that sadistic monster overwhelming Methos froze his blood.
MacLeod wasn’t accustomed to being terrified of the people he slept with.
He’d never had a relationship this…complex. For the last three months, he’d tried to put Methos’ past completely from his mind, tried to deal with the Methos who was living and breathing now, not the Methos who had done all those hideous things millennia ago. To find that that monster was there sleeping in his bed, just waiting for the chance to overthrow his lover at a weak moment…it scared the hell out of him. One of the most troubling facts was that after watching Death fight today, MacLeod wasn’t at all sure that he could take the monster if he had to.
And there he was again, thinking that it was going to come to swords between them. Standing beside the bed, Mac took a deep breath, drinking in the warm scents of his sleeping lover, finding comfort in the familiar even as he admitted to himself how completely Death had unnerved him this morning. This was a hell of a lot more than he had signed on for.
But…Methos had warned him from the start that it would be a rough ride, that MacLeod would like nothing he learned of Methos’ past. While that was true, it was also true that Mac had never known a love like the one he shared with Methos. Unexpected as it was, this wisecracking, sarcastic pessimist made him feel things that no other lover had in his life. The question was, was what he felt for Methos enough to overcome his fear? The fact that he couldn’t give an immediate, pat yes to that question disturbed him as much as Death had.
Needing some air, Mac slipped on a pair of running shoes. He sidetracked to the kitchen and got himself a mug of the coffee that they’d never touched this morning, then pulled on a jacket that was hanging on a hook inside the door. Stepping over the filthy remnants of the clothes they’d worn this morning, Mac went out onto the deck. He knew if he stayed inside when he was this restless, he’d wake Methos up for sure. His friend needed his sleep.
It was still ridiculously cold out. The wind bit into his bare face and hands as soon as he stepped onto the deck. But at least the gale had cleared off the snow. It wasn’t nearly as slippery up top as it had been this morning. Huddling deep into his jacket, Mac squinted out over the water, the glare of the noonday sun off the river only accentuating his discomfort.
Glad of the warmth of the coffee, Mac wrapped his hands around the mug and stared pensively out over the Seine. A tour boat laden with tourists passed by on the far side of the river. Mac’s heart twisted as he saw the familiar logo on the ship’s side. It was the same company Tessa had been working for the day they met.
If he craned his neck to the right, he could just catch sight of the stone bridge under which Fitz had lost his head to Kalas. And over to the left, St. Julian’s modest dome could be seen between a pair of office buildings; Darius’ final breath had been taken there.
All those losses, and he was standing here contemplating blowing the best thing that had happened to him this century….
An annoying mechanical rumble turned his gaze landwards. A helmeted, black suited motorcyclist was rumbling down the ramp to the barge’s dock.
MacLeod froze as the buzz of an Immortal signature hit him. Stepping close to the barge entryway, inside which his katana was standing amongst their discarded clothes from the morning, MacLeod waited. He didn’t think Longford would be gunning for Methos’ head again, but the one thing he’d learned never to underestimate was the power of stupidity, especially where blood debts were concerned.
He stayed tense and frozen in the doorway as the rider parked his bike and dismounted. It was only as the helmet came off and a familiar shock of red hair caught the light that Mac relaxed. Ritchie.
Though their last parting had hardly been amicable, Ryan was no cause for alarm. As Ritchie climbed the gangplank, MacLeod glanced behind him, expecting to see his sleep-rumpled lover opening the door, sword in hand, but nothing stirred in the barge. Recognizing how totally drained this morning’s challenge must have left his friend if Methos were able to sleep through another Immortal’s arrival, Mac moved forward to meet Ritchie.
“Hi, ya, Ritch,” he greeted, cooler than normal, but not exactly unwelcoming. “I wasn’t expecting to see you today.”
“Yeah, well…I left my gear here,” Ryan answered, visibly uncomfortable. His brown eyes made a quick scan of the deck before returning to MacLeod and commenting, “You, ah, don’t look like he didn’t make it. I guess Methos whacked the kid, huh?”
Bristling, Mac swiftly corrected, “Longford wasn’t a kid. And not that it’s any of your business, but, no, Methos didn’t kill him.”
“They fought…and he let him walk?” Ritchie looked and sounded utterly bewildered.
“It happens,” Mac shrugged and settled his coffee mug on the nearest rail. “Hang on. I’ll get your stuff.” Pausing before he went inside, because disappointed as he was with Ritchie’s behavior, Ryan was still like family to him, MacLeod asked, “You want a coffee?”
Ryan’s cheeks reddened from more than the wind. “I, ah, didn’t think you’d want to hang with me after last night.”
Mac speared the younger Immortal with his gaze as he reminded, “You were the one who wanted different company, Ritch. You want that coffee?”
Looking completely uncomfortable. Ryan nodded. “Yeah, sure. Thanks, Mac.”
The barge was still silent as a tomb as MacLeod opened the door and crossed to the bar, behind which Ritchie had stowed his duffel bag when he’d shown up yesterday.
He looked over at the bed. All he could see of Methos was the disheveled top of his head sticking out from beneath the duvet. Mac didn’t know if it was a good sign that Methos was comfortable enough here to sleep through the arrival of another Immortal. Normally, his insomniac lover sensed one of their kind before they made it within three-hundred feet of the barge.
After a quick stop at the galley to get Ryan his coffee, Mac was slipping back out onto the freezing deck.
He found Ryan leaning against the rail, huddling into his black leathers to avoid the wind.
“Thanks,” Ritchie acknowledged as MacLeod offered the steaming mug to him.
Mac placed the blue duffel bag on the deck, retrieved his own cooling coffee from the rail where he’d left it, then moved to join Ryan.
After a long, not completely uncomfortable quiet, Ritchie said, “Joe read me the riot act last night. He said I was being a judgmental jerk.”
He wanted to second Dawson’s opinion, but recognized that his doing so would be very much the pot calling the kettle black. Ritchie got on his nerves so often because, in many ways, they were very much alike. No matter what they were arguing about, Mac could always see himself mirrored in the younger Immortal’s stubbornness.
“You didn’t expect it,” Mac said, then offered, “I didn’t react much better when I found out.”
“But you still…got involved with him after learning about that? I just don’t get it, Mac,” Ryan said, his expression more troubled than disgusted.
“Ritchie, what he did was horrible, but it happened over three-thousand years ago. He wasn’t the man we know then.”
“None of us are innocent,” Mac argued. “We have all done things we are ashamed of or regret.”
“Did you ever kill a kid or some white-haired grandmother?” Ryan challenged. “Ever rape a girl in front of her family?”
Mac was quiet for a moment, debating his next words, finally he just said what was on his mind, “No, but I never went around picking fights with our kind in bars for trophy killings either.”
Ryan straightened, “Low blow, Mac.”
“Maybe, but none of us wants to be judged by our actions at our worst moment. Would you want someone thinking that headhunter was all there was to you?”
Ryan reluctantly shook his head.
“Give Methos that same courtesy then,” Mac asked. “What he lives with…it’s not easy on him.”
“Yeah, but…we’re talking about making a life out of cold blooded murder here, Mac. Not just the Game.”
“Look, there’s a lot I can’t share with you without violating confidences, but…Methos turned his back on that three-thousand years ago. He has spent all that time trying to make up for what he did. He’s been a doctor, a teacher, and a scholar. Every time in the past when someone has shown up wanting to even the score, Methos dropped his entire life and ran – so that he wouldn’t have to hurt his former victims. This is the first time he’s ever tried to make a stand and…I think his friends owe it to him to support him.”
“You don’t really think he considers me his friend -- do you?” Ritchie questioned, as straightforward as MacLeod himself.
Mac looked at the shivering youth he’d trained these last six years and laid it on the line, “Maybe not. But I consider you mine.”
“That’s not fair, Mac,” Ritchie protested, visibly uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry, but that’s the way it goes. He’s sharing my life now, Ritchie. That’s not gonna change anytime in the foreseeable future.”
“You’re serious? You’re really…settling down with him, like you did with Tessa?”
Mac supposed that his two greatest loves of this century could hardly be more different from each other as far as personalities went. At first glance, the softhearted Tessa had nothing in common with the smart-mouthed, male Immortal Mac had taken up with, and yet, MacLeod, who had loved them both, felt the similarities.
“Not like with Tessa,” MacLeod corrected. “At the most I would’ve had eighty years with Tessa. Methos is another Immortal.”
“God, you are serious.” Ryan looked astounded.
“Dead serious, Ritchie. If you can’t accept him, you’re going to have a hard time being my friend. He’s not going anyplace.”
“Christ,” Ritchie shook his head, “What is this – a love me, love my dog standoff?”
Mac stared at this young man who had lost his life trying to save Tessa. There was so much history between them. Ritchie had stayed with him through the worst times MacLeod had seen. In four-hundred years, Mac had rarely had a more loyal companion. The idea of losing Ritchie hurt, but…the thought of losing Methos now was unbearable. He could live without Ritchie Ryan in his life. He didn’t think he could live without Methos anymore.
This wasn’t really an either/or situation. Mac understood that he was making it into one. He’d had many friends in his life who couldn’t be left in the same room together without it coming to swords. He’d usually managed to stay close to both parties, despite their differences. But this was a little too close to home for that. Ritchie was more like a kid brother or the son he’d never had than just a student to him. There was no way he could maintain as close a relationship with Ryan if Ritchie were unable to treat Methos with respect. For all that Methos pretended that he was beyond guilt and accountability for his past, Mac knew that under that unaffected veneer, his friend was hurting. His new lover was having a hard enough time accepting that he was worthy of being loved. Methos didn’t need someone knocking him down every time they met, undermining his confidence. Mac didn’t want to make that kind of choice, but if he had to, he would.
“I wouldn’t phrase it that way,” Mac said at last, “but, yeah, that’s pretty much what it comes down to. You’re my friend, Ritchie, and I don’t want that to change. You’re entitled to think anything you want, but…if you can’t treat Methos with respect, then I’m afraid you’re not welcome here anymore.”
“I see,” Ritchie was quiet for a long time, staring at him as though seeing MacLeod for the first time in his life. Finally, the younger man said, “You know what Joe told me?”
Wondering if Ryan were about to bring up Methos’ time with the Horsemen, Mac slowly shook his head no.
“He, ah, said that he’s been watching you for the last twenty years and that in all that time, he’d never seen you as happy as you’ve been the last three months with Methos, not even with Tessa. That true?”
Not knowing where this was leading, MacLeod took a moment to think about it, then finally nodded his assent, “Yeah, I guess it’s true, Ritch. He’s good for me.” After a second, he added, “He’s good to me. I love him.”
Looking pensive, Ritchie took a sip of his coffee and stared out over the water for a quiet time.
Mac realized that it was a lot to ask of anyone. He had trouble stomaching his lover’s past himself and he knew Methos well enough to trust him. Methos had never really clicked with Ritchie, and had therefore had no reason to open up to the kid. All Ritchie knew of Methos was his razor sharp wit and tongue. Mac knew how he’d feel if someone he loved and respected were asking him to accept that kind of history in a mere acquaintance on blind faith.
They both swung around as the door behind them clattered and they were hit with the resonant buzz of an Immortal so old that his very signature seemed to echo like the inside of Giza’s Great Pyramid.
“Are you actively courting frostbite, Highlander?” Methos’ acerbic voice demanded, sounding its normal self as he opened the door and stared at them.
Mac searched his lover’s features. There were dark purple bags under Methos’ eyes and his lean face seemed thin with fatigue. Clearly, the man hadn’t had enough rest. But he was up and dressed. Though concerned about Methos’ emotional state, MacLeod couldn’t help but admire how snugly those tight brown cords hugged Methos’ thighs or how the baggy black turtleneck sweater he wore accentuated the sensual length of his throat.
“Ah, no we were just…” Mac faltered, remembering that he was waiting to hear if his friendship were important enough to Ritchie for Ryan to rise above his instinctive prejudices against the kind of past Methos had led.
“Actually, I, ah, came by to see you,” Ritchie said, his face hard and unreadable.
“Oh?” Methos tensed; Mac could see it from where he stood six feet away, even though his friend’s face remained unchanged.
MacLeod winced as he saw Methos’ gaze sweep inside the barge doorway, to where Mac knew both their swords to be standing. It hurt to know that Methos seriously believed that Ritchie might be here for his head…and it didn’t make Mac feel any better when he realized that he couldn’t swear that Ritchie wasn’t. Ryan and he were very much alike in that regard. When they saw a problem, they dealt with it. The acts Methos had admitted to last night were enough to make any decent man’s blood boil.
Tensing himself, MacLeod waited to hear whatever his student had to say, wishing that Methos had interrupted them a minute or so later.
Ryan cleared his throat, threw an unreadable glance MacLeod’s way, then stiffly stated, “I, ah, was way outta line last night. I came to apologize for being such a jerk.”
Methos’ face blanked of all emotion for a moment, before he guardedly questioned, “You came to apologize for being outraged by barbarism that would sicken any civilized human?”
Methos never made it easy, not on others or on himself. Mac could see how much it had taken out of his friend to voice those words.
Ritchie, who wasn’t accustomed to dealing with Methos’ verbal volleys, seemed struck speechless. “No, I…I mean….”
“You mean that MacLeod and Dawson blackmailed you into apologizing,” Methos suggested.
“Damn it, Methos…” Mac began, seeing how shocked Ritchie was.
His lover swung around to face him, fire sparking in his eyes. “You cannot force acceptance or forgiveness on a man, Highlander. Either they are gifts willingly given or you ask someone to live a lie. I need to know where the ground lies, who I can turn my back on and how far I can trust them. Though well intentioned, what you’re asking of Ritchie will only foster resentment. I will not live that kind of charade, not even for you. Ryan must make up his own mind in this. What say you, Ritchie? Do you want Death for a friend?”
Methos’ brittle tone was reminiscent of that which he’d used on the bridge this morning. Looking at his friend, Mac realized that Methos was still stretched to his emotional limits. Abruptly, he recalled what Methos had told him about not feeling himself for several weeks after a close brush with his alter ego.
Total street tough, Ryan answered, “From what I hear, Death’s no one’s friend.” The tension on that freezing deck rose to astronomical proportions, but then Ritchie defused it by adding, “I wouldn’t mind getting to know you better, though.”
Mac had never felt so proud of his student. He could see how difficult this was for Ritchie, who still hadn’t completely gotten past the man he’d known as Adam Pierson taking Kristin’s head.
Apparently, it wasn’t much easier on Methos, either. He blinked in surprise, stared at Ryan out of eyes narrowed with suspicion and demanded, “Why?”
Ritchie met that glare with his own brand of attitude. “‘cause Mac says you’re here for the long haul. He wouldn’t keep you around if there wasn’t more to you than the cynical smartass you play at. I figure I can tryta keep an open mind.”
“For MacLeod’s sake,” Methos specified, after casting an evaluating glance MacLeod’s way.
“You tellin’ me you’d be wantin’ to hang with me for any other reason?” Ritchie challenged, laying it on the line with his usual lack of tact. Though Mac respected the forthrightness, sometimes he wished his younger friend would develop just a bit more diplomacy.
But it was obviously the perfect approach for Methos. Mac saw an ironic smile pull at the corners of his lover’s sensual lips before Methos softly acknowledged, “Touché.”
Seeing the shudder that ran through his lover immediately afterwards, MacLeod realized how cold Methos must be out here in just that sweater. “Now that that’s settled, why don’t we go inside and get some lunch?”
“Thanks, Mac,” Ritchie grinned, “but I really did just come by to pick up my stuff. I’ve got an early date with this classy mademoiselle who wants me to show her Paris on my bike.”
“Classy, huh?” Mac smiled back; the statement was just so Ritchie. Only in Ryan’s reality did the words classy and motorcycles inhabit the same sentence. “You’re taking a date out cruising in this freeze?”
“Well, actually, I’m pickin’ her up from work to drive her home. She only lives a couple of blocks away. I don’t think we’ll get much further than her place, if you know what I mean,” Ryan grinned.
“Where did you meet her?”
“I cruised by the Hard Rock Café the other night after I left Maurice’s and, well, one thing led to another. You know,” Ritchie said, seeming his usual enthusiastic self again.
Appreciating the normality, MacLeod gave the younger man a grin and answered, “Yeah, I know. Have fun, Ritch.”
Like a playful bear cub, Ryan leaned forward to bat his shoulder. “Yeah, you too, Mac.”
Feeling like everything was going to be all right between them again, Mac laughed and returned the light punch.
He caught sight of Methos standing apart from them, the few feet of actual space separating them nothing on the emotional distance. The older Immortal looked lost as he observed MacLeod and Ritchie’s affectionate interplay. Mac had rarely seen his friend so pale and emotionally run down. It was like the events of this morning had left Methos adrift, doubting himself and everything around him. He stood there huddled in his insufficient sweater, visibly shuddering as the wind whipped at his face and hair, watching him and Ryan with the loneliest expression Mac could ever recall seeing on his lover’s face.
Always the outsider, always alone, always skirting the fringe of belonging someplace…Mac knew what that felt like. But that wasn’t Methos’ reality, not anymore. Death might have scared MacLeod spitless this morning, but not even that grim murderer’s appearance could make Mac ignore that kind of need.
He wasn’t sure how comfortable Methos would feel with him doing this in front of Ryan, but he really couldn’t turn a blind eye to his shivering love another moment. Without making a big deal out of it, he moved closer and draped an arm over Methos’ shoulders and gave him an affectionate squeeze.
To his relief, Methos simply sidled closer. The older Immortal took a deep breath of the freezing air, then gave MacLeod such a gentle glance that it warmed the Highlander straight to his toes.
Mac saw Ritchie’s eyes widen a little at the move, but the only other reaction was a broadening of the younger Immortal’s usual sunny smile. To his chagrin, Ryan looked as amused as Dawson usually did.
“I’ll catch you later, guys,” Ritchie said, holding out his empty coffee mug to MacLeod. He bent down to retrieve his duffel as soon as the cup was taken from him.
“Ritchie,” Methos called as Ryan turned for the gangplank.
“Yeah?” Ryan paused. He seemed a little uncertain, but his smile didn’t dim.
“Thanks,” Methos said in Adam Pierson’s quietly earnest voice, the one that Mac remembered bringing him back from Hell during the Dark Quickening.
“Don’t mention it. See you around, old timer.” With an amused arch of his brows, Ryan turned and made his way down the gangplank. The wind had blown away most of the snow, as it had from the deck, but it was still slippery.
They watched the younger Immortal mount his bike and take off up the ramp.
“He’s a good kid,” Mac said as his student roared out of sight.
“You mean a lot to him,” Methos answered.
“Yeah. It’s mutual. You had enough of this wind?”
Methos nodded, turning speedily for the door.
Mac took off his jacket and left it hanging on the rack inside the doorway. As he did so, he noticed that their fouled clothes from the morning had been removed. The only things inside the door now were their two weapons leaning against the wall.
“Ready for lunch?” MacLeod asked, hoping to put some color back in his friend’s face. “We’ve got that roast left over from the other night.”
“That’s fine,” Methos said with a marked lack of interest.
But he followed Mac into the galley as MacLeod moved to prepare their meal. Mac worked in silence for a time, slicing bread and meat, then heating the meat in the thick brown gravy. The lush scents made his empty stomach growl, but a surreptitious glance his companion’s way showed Methos staring over at the empty hearth, a far away, not very pleasant expression on his face.
Normally, Methos would have had the table set and a salad tossed by now. They worked well together. Neither ever seemed to need to ask the other for assistance; they just automatically did what needed to be done. But today, the ancient Immortal seemed oblivious.
Figuring that a hot roast beef sandwich would do fine, Mac got the plates himself and prepared the rest of their lunch. It was only as he put the steaming meal and a beer down in front of Methos that his lover seemed to take note of him.
“You’re welcome,” he smiled over, but Methos’ gaze had already returned to the middle distance.
Unsure what to say, Mac sat down and started eating. As he worked his way through his meal, Mac was intensely aware of the fact that Methos had yet to take a single bite.
MacLeod was sopping the last of the gravy off his plate when Methos finally looked over at him and asked in a completely uninflected voice, “Death scared you this morning -- didn’t he?”
Seeing no point in lying, MacLeod gave a somber, “Yes.”
He’d hoped this was the start of a conversation, but those beloved eyes slipped away from him again to stare off into space. Gaining a new appreciation of how Tessa used to feel when he did his own brooding, MacLeod sipped his beer and waited…and waited.
A half hour later, Mac asked, “You through with that?”
For a second Methos didn’t seem to know what he was talking about, then the older Immortal winced as he looked down at his untouched, ice-cold meal. “Sorry, yes.”
“I could heat it up,” Mac offered.
“No, thanks,” the courtesy seemed to be an effort, as though Methos were thousands of miles away…or thousands of years.
“Do you want me to make you something else? Soup or maybe eggs?” MacLeod suggested, wondering if the gravy drenched sandwich were too heavy for his friend for a first meal of the day.
“No…thanks. I’m going to go for a walk,” Methos said as he rose from the table.
Not liking that, Mac rose as well. “I’ll come with you.”
“No…I, ah, need to be alone for a while,” Methos softly denied, still not looking at him.
The cornered expression that came over those weary features was totally alien to MacLeod.
“Please, Duncan. I know you mean only to help, but….” Words seemed to fail his friend.
“Back off?” Mac completed, forcing a smile, desperately trying to lighten the tension in the room. The very air in the barge seemed to crackle with suppressed energy like the heavy air on a summer night just before a thunderstorm hit. And it was all coming from Methos. Though intensely withdrawn and silent, the ancient Immortal was emoting enough energy to jumpstart a major metropolis’ power grid.
Looking stricken, Methos softly requested, “For a short while?”
MacLeod could do nothing but nod. Letting his lover walk out the door as upset as he was went against every instinct Mac possessed, but…he’d caused this. He’d forced Methos to stay and face Longford and now his friend was paying the price of that reckless demand.
God only knew what it cost Methos to guard the internal gateway against Death. Mac could only imagine what it was like trying to assimilate that sadistic monster back into one’s soul.
So he nodded his assent and watched in silence as Methos went to the door, donned his sword’s scabbard and the bloodstained coat from this morning and left without another word.
As Mac watched him go, he couldn’t help but feel that it might be for the last time. There had been too many goodbyes in his life for him to have many illusions left.
With a heavy heart, Mac turned to clean up the remains of their meal.
The day dragged by in slow motion. When the phone rang, he leapt upon it before it could sound a second time, but it was only Dawson, calling to see how they’d fared this morning. Then it was back to the silence of the barge and the waiting, and the worry.
Sunset came and went, leaving only the eerie howl of the wind off the Seine. MacLeod practiced his katta for a couple of hours, working until the sweat poured off him as he attempted to find peace, but the guilt and worry still consumed him.
He hadn’t had the right to force this upon Methos. He was always so sure that his way was the best way…sometimes so arrogant as to believe it the only way. It stuck in his craw that Methos preferred to flee challenges, so in a selfish prove-you-love-me demand, he’d forced Methos to play it his way…all the while forgetting that he and Methos were not the same.
Methos had warned him all along that Death was still there inside him. He just…hadn’t understood. So he’d forced his friend to unleash an atavistic part of himself that no man should have to revisit.
After three months of loving the ancient Immortal, MacLeod knew his Methos inside out now. His lover still talked a good game. Methos was always the first to drolly suggest lopping someone’s head off as a pre-emptive solution to a problem. The sarcasm and sharp wit all reinforced that hard front, but Mac had touched the man who lived behind that facade. Methos hid it like the trait was something to be ashamed of, but there was a gentleness inside him that was unlike anything Mac had encountered. The quiet scholar MacLeod had first met was actually more the real Methos than the sarcastic wise ass who hung out at Joe’s bar; all that sass was just protective window dressing. The idea that he’d thrown that gentle soul into mortal combat with Death appalled MacLeod.
And now his lover was out there wandering Paris’ frigid streets, searching for a peace that city lights couldn’t offer, that maybe nothing could offer.
With a deep sigh, Mac completed his katta and headed for the shower.
He waited up until well after one, but there was no sign of Methos. Finally, Mac laid a few more logs on the fire in the hearth, left the Tiffany lamp burning low so that his lover wouldn’t have to stumble through the pitch black barge when he returned, and turned in for the night.
After only three months, it shouldn’t have felt so strange sleeping alone, but the queen sized bed felt huge without his lanky lover taking up the other side of it, huge, and cold. The sheets were like ice against his bare skin as MacLeod lay there in the dark, watching the firelight flicker across the ceiling. He turned restlessly from side to side, trying to relax, trying not to think, but with every minute that ticked by, his anxiety increased, for it became more and more real to him that Methos might not be coming back.
It must have been close to three hours later when the ringing of another Immortal signature brought Mac up in the bed. His hand was reaching for his sword, but the closer the buzz got, the more he recognized it. Methos. Taking a deep breath, MacLeod relaxed back against the bed.
A couple of minutes passed before Mac finally heard the door open. Some quiet rustling followed, the sounds no doubt made by Methos divesting himself of his overcoat. A second later, there was a sharp hiss and a muffled groan, probably caused by the thawing of frostbitten flesh.
Damn. Mac wanted to go to his lover and offer comfort, but he didn’t want to pounce on Methos as soon as he arrived or make the man feel he had to account for his time. They didn’t have that kind of relationship. So, hard as it was, he waited for his lover to make his way to the bedroom.
A few minutes later, MacLeod saw the quiet silhouette back lighted against the firelight from the living room. A shiver passed through him when he noticed the sword in Methos’ hand, but his friend deposited his weapon at the foot of the bed, before turning to remove his sweater and cords. Garbed in his boxers, undershirt and socks, Methos turned back towards the bed, and just stood there, staring over at the somnolent Highlander.
Almost feeling the other man’s uncertainty, Mac lifted the duvet and softly said, “Come to bed.”
Silent and hesitant, Methos slipped in beside him.
Hating the awkwardness, MacLeod shifted nearer and draped his arm and leg over his companion. He hissed at the shock of the contact. Methos’ flesh was as cold as ice. Obviously, the poor sod had spent the entire night freezing outdoors.
Deciding he’d had enough of this unbearable distance, Mac gave into his instincts and pulled his friend closer, cuddling around the chilly length. He was braced for a protest, but Methos was completely pliant as he settled against him.
After a couple of moments of quiet embracing, Methos released a shuddery sigh and whispered, “Thank you.”
Squeezing tighter, Mac offered, “Nothing to thank me for. I missed you. How are you feeling now?”
Methos shrugged. “I’m not likely to be decent company for a while. I could go back to my flat….”
The words trailed off as Mac settled his mouth against the freezing skin of the other man’s forehead.
“Do you need more space?” MacLeod asked after a time, not wanting to push. He vented a relieved breath as Methos shook his head no.
Encouraged, Mac softly requested a few minutes later, “Can you tell me what’s going on with you?”
Methos gave another negative shake of his head, his body tensing immediately.
Wondering what his lover dreaded so much, MacLeod began to gently rub over the warm cotton undershirt draping Methos’ beautifully shaped runner’s back. He loved the fluid beauty of this man’s body.
“That’s okay,” Mac assured. “We don’t have to talk about it.”
Methos squeezed his eyes shut, turning his face into the Highlander’s shoulder so that the warm, moist stream of his breath scuttled down MacLeod’s neck in shivery waves. “Mac?”
“Did you mean what you said to me this morning?”
Confused as to precisely what his friend was talking about, MacLeod answered, “I don’t usually say anything I don’t mean. What in particular are we talking about?”
“The part about me being stronger than Death?”
MacLeod gulped, sensing what must have prompted that question. “Yes, I meant it.”
Methos released a shuddery sigh, squeezed him tighter and whispered, “Thank you.” After a very loud swallow, Methos raised up on an elbow beside MacLeod so that he could look down into his face as he asked, “When you say Death scared you, how bad are we talking?”
He wanted to lie, to assure Methos that it was nothing serious, but…how the hell could he? Methos wasn’t even certain he could control his alter ego; how could MacLeod possibly shrug it off? He loved this man with all his heart, and feared the monster that dwelt within Methos to an equal degree.
There was, of course, no choice. MacLeod finally just admitted, “Pretty bad.”
Methos gave that same lost nod he had when MacLeod had pushed him up against his Land Rover in Seacouver and demanded the truth about his involvement with the Horsemen.
The tension seemed to crackle in the air between them like Quickening bolts in the silence that followed.
MacLeod was very aware that such a frank response was more than likely to drive Methos from him again, but there was no way he could lie about something that important.
When Mac was sure he’d go mad if the quiet lasted one second longer, Methos took a deep breath. Seeming to force himself to speak, he quietly asked, “Mac?”
“Yes?” his nerves were strained to the breaking point. He could tell by Methos’ taut expression that it was the same for him, that whatever his friend was about to say, it was taking every ounce of his courage to get the words out – which did not bode well for them.
“Don’t let Death win. I know that I’ve got no right to ask this of you, but…please…don’t give up on me….”
“My God….” It was like every bone MacLeod owned liquefied on him. His stomach contracted so tight at that heart-breaking plea that he could hardly draw breath to reply – providing of course that his stunned brain were able to string two words together.
Not even discovering that Methos wanted him sexually had shocked him this much. The Methos he had made love to three months ago would never have had the nerve to make that kind of request. That Methos would have thought his case a hopeless cause and left without even attempting to fight for what he wanted. Recognizing how much trust it had taken, how much courage it had required for this man who’d known little but abandonment and disappointment in his long, lonely life to ask him to stay, MacLeod realized how far his friend had come these past few months, and just how much Methos must need him for the ancient Immortal to open himself to that kind of rejection.
“I’ll not leave ya,” MacLeod vowed, hearing how thick his burr had become, as it always did when emotion overwhelmed him. “I swear it.”
The hiss Methos gave at MacLeod’s response sounded like a knife had slid between his ribs. Mac gazed up at those weary, beloved features, seeing how totally lost his friend was. It was almost as though Methos didn’t know how to respond to MacLeod’s reassurance, like it was too much for him to deal with in his emotionally and physically exhausted state, which it probably was.
Running on instinct, Mac took hold of his lover’s shoulders and rolled them over until Methos was flat on his back below him.
Methos was quaking, no doubt undone by the strain of making that unprecedented request.
“He’s not goin’ta win. We’ll fight him together,” MacLeod promised and then gently kissed his lover’s mouth.
Methos’ slender lips clung to him with a feral need that took MacLeod some time to quell. Letting his heart guide him, Mac kept the kiss gentle, for all that Methos’ desperation seemed intent on propelling them into a repeat of last night’s bone-shaking carnality. Neither one of them was up to that kind of passion tonight. Hell, Methos was barely up to breathing tonight.
Even now, Methos’ skin was still so cold. His friend’s lips were dry and chapped, his mouth nowhere near its usual juicy freshness. Kissing the ancient Immortal, Mac realized that the other man mustn’t have had anything at all to eat or drink while he was out. There wasn’t even the familiar flavor of beer in that dry mouth.
Recognizing that he was taking advantage of his lover’s emotional need at a time when the man should be resting, Mac raised his head a long time later and asked, “All right?”
Only afterwards did he realize that it was hardly a coherent question. Mac didn’t even know what he was asking.
But Methos seemed to be a hundred percent with him at the moment. In the dim light, Mac could see how that brave act had exhausted what little reserves his wind-burned lover retained, but Methos met his gaze and softly rasped out, “Anything.”
Mac’s own mouth ran dry at that word. He could see that Methos was too worn out to have any genuine interest in sex tonight. The man looked inches away from another cathartic emotional breakdown. The fact that his friend would offer him free license like that when Methos himself was obviously uninterested broke something very fragile inside MacLeod. All the fear and anxieties of the day receded. MacLeod’s doubts about their relationship were vanquished by that one word. No matter what, they were going to survive – together, as a unit.
MacLeod lowered his head again for another kiss, testing the waters, as it were.
There was no resistance. Methos just seemed too tired to initiate anything.
“You want to stop?” Mac checked, breathless already.
Methos once again restricted his response to a single negative shake of his head. Normally, MacLeod would have taken Methos’ lack of energy as a red light to love making and just settled down to sleep for the night, but there was a vulnerable expression in Methos’ gaze that seemed to suggest that the old Immortal really needed to be close to MacLeod tonight, even if he weren’t up to his usual level of participation.
Wanting to surround his emotionally battered companion with love, Mac gently kissed his way across Methos’ face, taking great care as he crossed the bestubbled cheeks, which had yet to heal. The soft sigh Methos released as MacLeod kissed first one eye, then the other, reassured him that his friend was enjoying this.
Moving lower, he took his time, kissing his way across that gamin, pointy chin, feasting on the length of that snowy neck. As MacLeod bent to suck behind Methos’ ear, Methos’ hand fumbled out, trying to work its way between the Highlander’s thighs to reciprocate.
That was his lover, always trying to give more pleasure than he received. Mac took hold of the groping hand, drew it to his face, and then placed a kiss on the center of Methos’ palm.
“Not tonight,” Mac whispered.
“Let me…” Methos sounded more than half out of it.
“I’ll let you do anything you want, once you get some sleep. Just relax now, okay?”
“Mac, you don’t have to--”
“I know. I want to. Just close your eyes and enjoy.”
That actually got a snort out of Methos, “If I close my eyes, I’ll be asleep in two seconds.”
“Then you’ll fall asleep. My ego’s not that fragile,” MacLeod assured, smiling as Methos’ fingers stroked over the cheek nearest them.
Returning to that tasty neck, MacLeod stopped dead in his proverbial tracks as his nose bumped against something hidden beneath Methos’ collar. He gulped, recognizing Darius’ rosary beads from the shape of the evenly spaced round lumps beneath the fabric. Methos had taken them off in the bathroom this morning before showering. The fact that he’d donned them again startled MacLeod.
Touched, Mac kissed the warm smoothness of the nearest bead, sending up a silent prayer to the man who’d owned them for any help his old friend could give Methos.
Recalling what he was supposed to be doing, Mac licked the luscious neck and sucked around the skin above the collar.
“You want me to…?” Methos tugged at the bottom of the obstructive garment.
“I want you to relax. You’re still shivering,” Mac said.
“It’s not from cold,” Methos admitted, letting MacLeod see how moved he was by Mac’s actions.
Mac gave a small smile, then reached out to finger Methos’ right nipple. Methos gasped as the flesh pulsed to life beneath its cotton shield.
MacLeod spent a while teasing the pert bud with his fingertip before lowering his head. Settling his mouth around the dry crispness of the undershirt, Mac sucked at the flesh below.
There was nothing sleepy about the groan Methos released then. It sounded like it had been wrenched from the bottom of his soul.
Mac lingered there, learning the flavor of the cotton before leisurely making his way to the other nipple to give it the same treatment. The hardness of the cross between Methos’ breasts, resting below the undershirt was highly distracting, but he tried to ignore it as he moved his lips over it. He was still superstitious enough to be uneasy over the sacrilege of wearing the rosary beads, let alone wearing them during sex, but…if their presence comforted Methos on any level, Mac knew Darius would forgive them their indiscretion.
The tension Mac could feel in his lover’s body now was no longer the bad kind. Lifting his mouth from the now soggy undershirt, he pressed his fingertips into the shirt and scratched his nails down Methos’ tight stomach.
Methos’ lower body lurched up at him.
There was no room for teasing tonight. His lover’s need was just too raw. Mac could sense how close to the surface Methos’ emotions were tonight, how much trouble Methos was having just holding it together after Death’s grisly appearance this morning.
He lowered his head to Methos’ groin, gently rubbing his face against the hardness he could feel moving beneath the loose boxers. Methos’ flesh pulsed to life, popping out of the placket as though searching for MacLeod.
Mac didn’t make him wait. He sucked that long cock into his mouth, loving the salty fresh taste of the throbbing flesh. Methos was so perfect here, so powerful.
As he worked that growing shaft, bobbing at his service, MacLeod could feel the energy sparking between them, that same strange circuit that formed every time they made love. Last night it had been so strong that Mac had thought it would singe them with its flashing. Since they were both exhausted and far more subdued tonight, Mac had expected the energy web to be equally low key, but, if anything, it seemed more enhanced.
Tonight MacLeod could almost feel it like a physical force pressing down on him or perhaps out of him. The focal point of all that inexplicable energy seemed to be at the chakra point in the center of his solar plexus. He could feel it spiraling between them like some psychic whirlpool, ready to absorb all he was and funnel it down into the Immortal below him, the way a Quickening would move through their kind. There was a clearly defined edge to it, like a cliff that he might stumble off into a fall that never ended.
Mac had sensed that point to a lesser degree every time the vortex formed between them. Generally, he ignored it, and felt Methos trying to do the same, even though it still grew and surrounded them without their conscious volition.
Not for the first time, MacLeod found himself wondering what it would be like to give into that incredible sensation, to flow with it and see where it led.
Deciding to explore some as he diligently worked his lover’s cock, Mac relaxed into the energy flow that he normally either ignored or actively resisted. He’d expected it to be like sticking a penny in an electric outlet when he focused on it, but the current was actually quite gentle for all its strength. He let it move through him and from him into Methos.
It was weird. Suddenly, Mac felt…expanded, like there was twice as much area to his skin and twice as many channels in this weird energy grid. He could feel….
Hell, he could fell someone sucking him off, which was blatantly impossible, as his groin was nestled between Methos’ knobby right knee and the mattress. Nonetheless, he could feel the heat, the wet suction, the ticklish brush of long lair over his balls as that head bobbed up and down as it serviced him….
But…he was the one giving head here.
Stunned, Mac realized that he’d somehow plugged into his partner’s neural network and was feeling Methos’ pleasure, from the inside out. It was unreal and teeth-shakingly erotic, like receiving a jolt of raw sex.
Mac gasped under the rush of pleasure, feeling himself go instantly hard.
He’d never dreamed of anything like this, of being this close to another person. The sex was incredible beyond belief, but…there was something else he wanted more, something that was far more frightening and unalterable than going along for the ride to orgasm.
What he wanted more than anything at that moment was to touch Methos’ heart. He could feel another level of this connection, waiting just beyond his reach. To get there all he had to do was follow the flow in a little further, be just a bit more open himself. Mac tried to sink in a little deeper, to get a taste of the emotions he could feel below the overwhelming sensual plain, but he hit the psychic equivalent of a stonewall.
MacLeod felt his strung out partner’s entire body tense at the contact, sensed Methos scrambling mentally to shore up those barriers as he tried to resist it as they both always did.
Shocked, Mac realized that Methos was keeping him out on purpose and, perhaps even more astoundingly, his lover knew what he was doing. It didn’t make a whit of sense, but MacLeod received the very clear impression at that moment of initial contact that Methos was accustomed to defending against attacks on his mind.
Lifting his mouth from the saliva slick cock, Mac softly entreated, “Don’t fight it…don’t fight me. Let me in. Just relax….”
“I…can’t,” Methos whispered, his face twisted in a unique blend of terror and need.
“Can’t…or won’t?” Mac checked.
The lids that swept down to veil those tired eyes gave him his answer. Won’t.
“Please?” Mac begged. “For me?”
“Unfair…” it was the only word Methos seemed able to get out.
Mac could feel how bad his stopping the blowjob had strung his lover out. Methos needed release…now. But he needed to touch what was waiting behind those walls of Methos’ just as badly, and he knew exactly how to get through them. The only thing in question was whether Mac were willing to sink to that level of extortion to get his way.
MacLeod didn’t need anyone to tell him how wrong what he was considering was. It added a whole new level to the concept of emotional blackmail. Methos was weary, hurting, in need of comfort. The last thing the poor guy should have to deal with was another challenge to his emotional integrity.
But Mac wanted this so bad he could taste it. He could sense his friend waiting on the other side of the barriers Methos had erected between them. Hell, he could feel Methos cringing at the very idea of that close a contact. Honor and every moral code Mac had ever studied insisted that he drop the subject immediately and respect his lover’s limits, but it was like asking a drowning man to resist a gulp of air.
If he could get that close to Methos, he knew he could make everything all right between them. Every single one of the problems they’d had in their friendship could be tracked back to their misconceptions of each other’s characters and motivations. Methos was a mystery to him. In his heart of hearts, Mac believed that if he could feel what went on inside his lover, then he’d understand him better.
Of course, there was always the possibility that greater comprehension would be an impediment. If he pushed past those barriers and found that everything he loved and respected about his friend were a sham, there would be no going back from there. Or he could come face to face with Death. It was very much a lady and the tiger situation. Open the wrong door, and he could lose everything of value in his life…or gain everything.
Mac wasn’t certain what he’d find waiting there, all he knew was that he wanted to touch it, to know for sure, one way or the other.
Pressing a totally unfair advantage, MacLeod concentrated on how much he wanted to get closer to Methos, how much it hurt to come up against that psychic wall. He took that emotion and focused it on the funnel of this weird vortex, projecting it at his lover…and felt Methos’ barriers crumble like the walls of Jericho…because he asked it of Methos. Whose thought that was, he wasn’t sure, nor did it matter as he plunged into the maelstrom.
And, maelstrom it was.
Fear…so much fear….
Fear of the demon that dwelt within, always hungry for blood, always ready to make a play for dominance….
Fear of giving into that beast and losing sovereignty of one’s soul, the repulsion and terror at the thought of learning to glory in the freedom of the kill again….
Fear of what MacLeod was going to think….
Mac sucked in a shocked breath as the waves hit him. Methos might have had some inexplicable familiarity with this form of contact, but it was all new to Mac. Those feelings swarmed into him like they were his own, overwhelming him. It was too much to assimilate: too much terror, too much hurting.
But, shocking as the emotional barrage was, one thing was completely clear. There was no demon waiting to pounce on MacLeod as he touched Methos’ inner self, no schizoid psychosis. All there was was a terribly hurt and confused man, who doubted himself more than anyone else ever could.
Mac couldn’t even begin to absorb the level of pain. Methos was burdened with such a throbbing well of disgust and self-hate over this morning’s events and the emergence of his mirror half that it froze MacLeod for a moment. The most frustrating part was that it was mostly feelings he was getting, a jumble so dark and turbulent that MacLeod couldn’t see his way out. The contact was very much like a Quickening, nothing clear-cut, just a confusing montage of sensations and mental images. Mac got a sense of what his friend lived with on a daily basis. Things done, that could never be amended. Regret…so much regret for so many things.
MacLeod remembered suffering feelings like this after the Dark Quickening, when there had been so much guilt over killing Sean Byrnes that he didn’t think he could live with it. What Mac had felt back then was crippling, but the remorse he touched now was so intense that he could barely get his mind around it.
How did a man function with something like this inside him? It was little wonder Methos had trouble sleeping.
He almost pulled back, that first taste of what it was to be Methos hurt so much.
But…he could feel his lover flinch at his helpless reaction. That was just what Methos had feared most, that MacLeod would bail once he got a clear look at his lover’s soul. Mac felt the bitter burst of resignation that played through Methos, could feel how Methos expected nothing but to be rejected once he was seen that clearly.
But, by God, the pain was so all encompassing; how could he do anything to alleviate this? How could anyone? Every survival instinct Mac owned was screaming that he get out now, with his sanity intact. But…that wasn’t an option.
Mac knew that this was probably more than he could handle, but he’d forced this issue. Once again, he’d pushed his overwhelmed lover into doing something Methos wasn’t up to. He couldn’t run out on Methos, much as he longed for the relative peace of his own mind.
The second he made the decision to stay, Mac felt Methos’ entire being rebel against it. MacLeod seemed to hear Not for pity’s sake, please…but it was as much an emotional cry as a mental request.
Pride was all Methos had left, Mac recognized. His lover’s self-respect was in the toilet right now, all that remained was a defeated warrior’s resolve to die with his honor intact…only Methos didn’t believe that he owned any honor.
It was…heart breaking.
And MacLeod was not going to allow it to continue for a single second longer.
So he opened his soul to that tormented man. As Mac reached out from the inside for the other Immortal, his companion cringed back from him, Methos obviously too burdened to handle another regret.
As he’d projected his need before, this time MacLeod radiated his acceptance…of the fear, of the pain, of the remorse, and even of the self-loathing. He tried to tell Methos with his heart that none of it mattered, that the only thing that was important was that they remain together.
The shock that flushed through him was not his own, but Mac rode it out, focusing on his love to the exclusion of all else.
At first, it seemed to have no effect, for, who could feel anything through such an agonizing deluge, but ever so slowly, a change occurred.
Methos drew closer to him on that psychic level like a timid child, almost afraid to reach for the comfort he’d been denied for millennia. Mac upped the empathic pleading factor, felt Methos make that final reach for him, and then….
As they touched on that empathic level, Mac felt the eerie, psychic wind that preceded the taking of another Immortal’s lifeforce play over their epidermises. There was a moment of pregnant calm and then the energy crashed around their bed in the lightning flashes of a faux Quickening. Mac could feel every bolt hit, only, there was no pain and there was no glass breakage around them. Instead, his arousal sky-rocketed right through the roof. He felt like those lightning bolts had a direct line to his groin, he went up so fast and hard. Then every neuron he owned was exploding with sensation, delight like he’d never dreamed of.
The experience was like climax after climax hitting him. All there was was pleasure, the swirling, confusing firestorm that came from knowing the heart of true ecstasy. It was both immolation and birth, an ending and a new beginning.
If it hit MacLeod hard, it took Methos even harder. Mac could feel the long body beneath his jolting under the energy bolts, but Methos wasn’t glorying in it, he was trying to fight it. Mac could feel his partner attempting to lose himself in the ocean of misery.
And those bolts were hurting Methos as he tried to hide from them.
Feeling how Methos’ resistance was turning the experience into the tormenting ordeal of an actual Quickening, Mac tried to be the buffering wall between his lover and the power claiming them. He stretched himself out on a psychic level, becoming a protective shield between Methos and the energy. And it changed on him, the same way it had when Methos denied it. As that dancing delight mutated into searing agony MacLeod moaned in protest, sensing that if they lost control here, they might never find their way back, that they would be lost forever in this consumptive force.
He felt Methos’ dismay over the fact that protecting him was hurting MacLeod. That concern trickled over his tortured being like cool water over blistered skin.
Mac reached for that concern, followed it further into his lover past all the destructive pain, until MacLeod found himself staring at the secret, inner core that made up the man.
And, even here it wasn’t Death he found hiding. It was the Methos who’d staked his sanity on loving a man he believed he would never be able to hold onto. The Methos who had tended sick slaves and turned his back on fighting. The Methos he loved with all his heart.
Mac gave that feeling to this hidden soul, let Methos feel first-hand how desperately he loved him, how the love he’d found with Methos had become the cornerstone of his world these last three months.
It wasn’t nearly enough to erase five millennia worth of pain and self-doubt, but it was a start.
After the briefest of hesitations, Methos reached for that feeling like a lifeline.
They both gasped as the pain stopped and it was only pleasure flooding them from the spectral lighting flashing around them.
There was every possibility that they both would have come from those ecstatic psychic bursts, but there was a physical plane to be experienced as well…a totally delightful physical plane.
Recalling that they were in the middle of making love, Mac moved his attention from the internal to the external far enough to lower his head again. Methos’ moist shaft strained up to meet him. Opening wide, Mac deep-throated his exhausted lover, synchronizing his bobbing and sucking to the pulsations of the energy link between them.
With every suck, that flow seemed to strengthen, the light show getting brighter. Mac went with it, opening himself to the energy, feeling it fill him, both figuratively and literally.
Everything seemed to peak at once, the sex, the energy, the emotions. With a resounding groan, Methos exploded in his mouth. And without a single touch to his penis, Mac’s own body shot its load against Methos’s thigh seconds later. In that instant of simultaneous orgasm, Mac almost seemed to melt through his skin into Methos. He could feel the amazed joy jolt through his lover’s exhausted body, the clear impression that Methos hadn’t believed he would ever feel MacLeod’s love again. The degree of physical exhaustion Methos was experiencing was tremendous. Mac could feel how bone-throbbing weary Methos was as if it were his own body that ached, and, more than anything, he could feel the absolute love this man bore him.
And when the energy circuit closed this time with the inevitable cessation of orgasm, MacLeod was genuinely regretful to feel it go. Suddenly, he felt lonely in his mind, like a part of him was missing.
He swallowed the cum in his mouth, savoring its bitter, acrid flavor as it slid down his sore throat. He didn’t remember Methos thrusting that hard, but the back of his throat told a different story.
Releasing the now limp shaft, he shifted back up to lie beside Methos, almost nervous about meeting his friend’s gaze.
He needn’t have feared. If he were uneasy, Methos was downright ashamed. It was hard to be that open, to have no barriers, hard for both of them.
Mac rested his hand on Methos’ sternum, feeling how chill the damp parts of the undershirt were against Methos’ skin where he’d sucked. Beneath his palm he could feel his friend’s heart madly pounding.
It took a few minutes, but Methos’ averted gaze finally rose to meet his own.
What could one say after such an immolating exposure? Mac felt like every sin he’d ever committed were out spot-lighted and Methos had been too absorbed with his own burdens to even begin to touch on MacLeod’s emotional baggage. He couldn’t imagine what his lover was feeling at his moment.
In hindsight, MacLeod recognized that he’d committed the psychic equivalent of rape. Methos had said no, and he’d still pushed to get his way…in a manner he had never done in the bedroom. And, the most horrible part of it was that MacLeod knew he wouldn’t be able to resist doing exactly the same thing again; Methos got to him that much.
“Well, Highlander, was it worth it? Did you get what you wanted?” Methos was trying for his usual sarcasm, obviously desperately attempting to distance himself, but MacLeod could see how his friend was barely holding himself together.
They’d both had far too much stress today to take anything lightly, not that the kind of experience they’d just had could ever be minimized into the ordinary.
To remind them both of what was between them, what really mattered, Mac let his thumb flick over the chilly, damp undershirt, brushing over the nub of flesh hidden there, feeling it instantly harden once more as Methos gasped in surprise at the unexpected caress.
“Yes,” he answered simply.
“Just yes?” Methos quizzed, still looking as though he expected some type of censure.
Censure…when he was the one who’d been violated…shaking his head at the notion, Mac whispered, “Aye, just yes and…I’m sorry.”
“For?” Methos was still guarded against him, but after how close they’d gotten, MacLeod could expect nothing else.
“Everything…you said no. I shouldn’t have pushed like that….”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” Methos agreed, his eyes grave and hurting.
“I, uh, it was rape – wasn’t it?” MacLeod voiced his deepest fear. He forced himself to hold that gaze as Methos’ startled eyes dug into him, everything inside him frozen as he awaited judgment.
Wariness seeping over him, Methos softly reminded, “Consent was given.”
“Coerced,” Mac reminded.
“But given all the same,” Methos countered, the academic in him seeming to fix onto the technicalities.
Mac knew what he’d done, even if Methos wouldn’t admit it. They both knew that Methos had never denied him a thing he’d asked of the older Immortal. Mac understood that honor required that he show restraint and self-discipline in such instances, but he had no will when it came to loving Methos...and, therefore, no true honor. Not if he could plunder his lover’s soul against his wishes.
“It was…quite a bit more than you bargained for – wasn’t it?” Methos asked at last, seeming to force the question out.
“I…don’t regret the closeness, just the forcing you part,” Mac quietly clarified, feeling duty bound to add, “I, ah…you oughta know, I don’t think I’d be able to do any differently next time out.”
It was a horrible thing to admit, but he owed this man the truth.
To MacLeod’s utter bewilderment, Methos didn’t seem either alarmed or angered by the words. “You…you would want a repeat performance of that?”
Mac shrugged, “Without the hurting.”
Methos watched him from across the pillow for a long moment before warning, “That’s all there is inside me.”
Mac moved his hand to cup Methos’ wind-burnt cheek, trying to ignore how his lover watched the move as though he meant to strike him.
“No, it’s not,” MacLeod corrected.
Methos didn’t seem to want to pursue that line of conversation. After a quiet minute or two, he asked, “Was that everything?”
“The ‘everything’ you were sorry for? You made it sound like it was more than just that.”
He’d raped the other man’s mind and Methos called it just that, like it was nothing that the deepest secrets of his soul had been forced into the open.
“There’s more…I-I didn’t know what I was asking of you last night when I asked you to stay and fight…I’m sorry,” MacLeod offered, wishing he could take his lover’s pain into himself.
Methos’ lips parted with a dry, tisking sound. “No, you were right. It was time to stop running -- from them and from Death.”
Surprisingly enough, despite his suffering, Methos seemed to mean the words.
“This…connection that’s between us…” Mac began, not sure how to word what he wanted to say.
“Yes?” the nervous light was back in Methos’ eyes. He looked like he was waiting to be dumped.
The fingers of the hand cupping Methos’ cheek softly stroked the red skin beneath them as he offered, “I’m glad for it. I want to know you that well.”
Those thick lashes swept down, temporarily veiling Methos’ eyes. When they rose again, Methos met his gaze straight on and admitted, “You’re…a brave man, Duncan.”
Now it was his turn to blush and avert his gaze. “It’s not bravery. I want to know you.”
“Not bravery? How many men could have dared the morass you just explored? Don’t underestimate yourself, MacLeod. In five-thousand years…you’re the first to…I never thought anyone could hang around once they saw Death, let alone what you just waded through. You’re one of a kind, Highlander.”
“So are you,” Mac replied. Trying to give his thoughts words, MacLeod continued, “What you struggle with…it makes me love you more. I know…what happened this morning disturbed you. It scared us both, but…. It doesn’t matter that you draw on Death’s strength to save you in a fight. A very wise man once told me that all that matters is that you live and grow stronger. We will grow stronger…together,” Mac said, seeing how each word shook the emotionally vulnerable man who lay beside him, shook him in a good way.
“Together…even after seeing all of that?” Methos whispered as if the concept were too much for him to take in.
“Especially after seeing all of that. If you weren’t a good man, there would be no remorse or pain inside you, but…” Mac struggled for words.
“But?” Methos seemed braced for the worst.
“But you can’t keep living in that. You’ve got to…let it go.”
Naturally enough, Methos asked the one question Mac had no answer for, “How?”
“You could talk to me about it. Sometimes just letting the words out helps,” Mac said, feeling it a pathetically inadequate tactic to battle all that hurt. But it was what Sean Byrnes and Darius always used to do with him when he had problems too big to handle alone, and, even though his two wisest friends didn’t always have some pat answer to give him to solve whatever dilemma MacLeod had brought to their door, Sean and Darius were inevitably right in that the talking itself did help.
For the first time ever, Methos didn’t automatically reject the suggestion.
“I’ll consider it,” the oldest Immortal promised.
Feeling oddly buoyed, despite the fact that nothing had been resolved, Mac smiled and said, “Good. One way or another, we’ll work it out.”
Methos actually found a smile for him. It was small and tired, but the glow in his eyes made up for it as he warned, “I’ll be hell to live with for a few weeks.”
Mac shrugged. “Don’t worry. You can make it up to me in trade.”
“I can -- can I?” Methos’ smile broadened.
“Yes. Now get some sleep. I love you,” Mac added as an afterthought, curling up around his long-limbed love.
“Ditto,” Methos answered a bit too seriously as his eyes sank shut. “More than you know.”
MacLeod opened his mouth to reply, but his exhausted companion was already sound asleep. With a quick kiss to Methos’ forehead, Mac settled down for the night, his mind filled with everything he’d learned of this man he held, dwelling not so much on the facts, but on the level of emotional fortitude it required for Methos to even remain sane.
Whatever it took, MacLeod was determined to ease the burden Methos carried. Three-thousand years was long enough for any soul, even Death, to suffer the tortures of the damned.
Sleep stealing through his own overwhelmed system, Mac pressed his lips against his lover’s temple and gave himself over to slumber.
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