DRAWING THE LINE

by

Rosemary


It was the pounding of his head that finally woke him. Even the oldest of Immortals couldn’t consume half a bottle of scotch in a couple of hours without paying for it. Methos’ head felt like it would literally fall off if he lifted it too far from the pillow. His mouth tasted like something from the bottom of a neglected birdcage, while his stomach was too rebellious to even think about. It was a miracle he’d been able to function at all last night.

Last night…the memories came quick and fast: Byron’s death, the argument he and Mac had at the club, MacLeod following him home to sort things out between them… and, oh, how they’d sorted things out! The incredible night he’d spent in Mac’s arms made even this killer hangover bearable.

It was the first night in Methos didn’t know how long that he’d truly slept. No insomnia, no nightmares, no parade of victims, no cataloging his thousand regrets…just good, old-fashioned rest.

As he got used to the throbbing in his head, Methos slowly became conscious of his surroundings or, to be more accurate, an absence of something that should have had him at the brink of panic the second he opened his eyes. All the months he’d spent bunking in at MacLeod’s over the last three years had never cured him of that initial flare of anxiety when upon waking he’d find the environment thrumming with the presence of another Immortal. This morning there was nothing but the usual silence of his flat.

The other side of the bed was, of course, empty when Methos pried his eyelids apart. Alone again, naturally. The truly pathetic part of his discovery was the fact that he was genuinely surprised by it. Sap of the century that he was, he’d honestly believed Mac would stick around – at least until daylight.

Methos reached over and lay his hand against the sheet on the other side of the bed. It was ice cold…long deserted. He stayed still, waiting for the hurt to hit, but there was just a big gaping hole inside him where the reaction should have been.

Normally, the cynic in him would be chiding Methos about now for being such an utter dupe, but even that pessimistic taskmaster seemed shell-shocked by Mac’s abandonment. The last thing he remembered about last night was Mac promising him everything would be all right, but this empty bed was as far from all right as it was possible to get.

Methos knew that it wasn’t really surprising that Mac had bolted. The wonder was that MacLeod had stayed at all. Maybe if the night had gone down as Methos had tried to orchestrate it to go, if he’d persuaded MacLeod to purge his anger on his flesh, then maybe he would have understood Mac’s disappearing act, but…last night hadn’t been ugly and violent. Hesitant, perhaps a bit amateurish, but beautiful all the same. Mac had seemed to enjoy it just as much as he.

Of course, Mac had enjoyed it, he chastised his own stupidity. The Highlander had taken a Quickening last night.

What Methos had forgotten was how imperative the post-Quickening rut could be. The more powerful the Quickening, the more desperate the need. When your hormones were raging like a bull in heat, even one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse would probably begin to look good, especially if he were willing. Hell, there were times an Immortal would settle for a knot in a tree if it promised release. MacLeod couldn’t help it if his better sense had prevailed in the cold light of dawn.

It was the only conclusion Methos had ever expected. He’d known better at the time. No man, not even Duncan MacLeod, could accept Death, could welcome a man who’d committed such atrocities into his bed. But the tenderness of last night had made Methos begin to believe that redemption was truly possible. He might just as well believe in the tooth fairy.

That frightening hollowness still numbing him, he looked away from the broken promises the empty bed beside him signified, and stared at the window. Between the slats of the blind, he could see another gray day pouring its rain down on the City of Lovers, just another typical winter day in Paris. For a while, he watched the rain bead on the glass. The drops chased each other down in silver rivulets that ran like tears.

He’d done enough crying last night. No more tears, no more self-pity. It was time to face facts, get up and get on with life.

Belatedly, he recalled his own promise to Joe. He had a funeral to go to.

And wasn’t that going to be fun? MacLeod and he staring at each other across a church, trying to pretend that everything was normal between them, that they hadn’t fallen asleep in each other’s arms…

The emptiness inside abruptly became a little wider, a little colder.

There was nothing more bitter than disillusion. Last night he’d thought he’d played out his final charade, that he’d finally found someone he didn’t have to pretend with…and now he was going to have to hide deeper than he ever had, so deep that the real him might never surface again.

Mac….

Well, MacLeod had gotten any revenge he might have wanted. Methos doubted if the younger Immortal would ever appreciate how lethal a blow he’d dealt. Everything tightening up inside him, Methos gulped and turned away from the window.

A flash of silver by the bottom of the bed caught his eye.

Confused, Methos stared at his sword. It was in the wrong place. He always kept it close at hand, right here at the top of the bed, so he could reach for it while half asleep. But last night his sword had never made it into the bedroom. He’d left it propped against the sink in the kitchen. How…?

Mac must have brought it in before he’d gone, Methos realized, remembering that MacLeod’s katana had also spent the night in the kitchen. Bright, that. Any more distracted and they’d be featured in a Washington Irving story. Well, it wasn’t as though it were likely to happen again, Methos reflected.

He tried to find some comfort in the fact that MacLeod had cared enough about his safety to move the sword so he’d be able to protect himself, but Mac was such a boy scout that the action could have been automatic, a courtesy the white knight would accord any stranger and therefore meaningless.

Unlike last night when Mac had held him and kissed him and….

But that had obviously only had meaning to one of them.

Methos squeezed his eyes shut. Maybe he was wrong to want that hollowness to disappear. He had a feeling that what was waiting for him with MacLeod would make the debacle with Byron over the ending of their affair 177 years ago seem like kids stuff. Though, to be accurate, they could hardly call what had passed between them last night an affair. It barely qualified as a one-night stand. Whatever it was, it was over now, waiting to take its place in line behind Methos’ thousand other regrets.

Methos contemplated moving, but between Mac’s desertion and his raging hangover, there really didn’t seem much to get up for…except another funeral. He wished he’d never made that promise to Joe. Obviously, it was long past time for him to be moving on. For a second, he considered just packing his bags and clearing out, but Joe had asked him to come. While Dawson mightn’t be especially surprised if Methos pulled a no-show at Mike’s memorial service and disappeared again, Methos himself was determined to play this hand out. He’d be there for Joe today, stick around to see if his presence was needed by Dawson during the next few weeks, then maybe go back to Katmandu for a few years.

As plans went, it wasn’t one of his best, but it was all he had. Whatever might transpire with MacLeod today, Methos was determined not to let Dawson down. He owed Joe that much for his silence.

Very aware of the fact that if he didn’t get up now, he might never move again, Methos spurred his sluggish body to action. Motion was fully as agonizing as he’d anticipated. The second he sat up, his stomach lurched, threatening to disgorge its contents all over the bed, if his pulverized brains didn’t drip out of his ears and hit the sheets first.

A deep breath sent the bitter, salty rush of bile back down where it belonged. A shower and some dry toast might help it stay there, but he didn’t have much hope. He might make it through the funeral, but Methos knew himself well enough to have no illusions. He’d be right back at that bottle, sucking down its false comfort, just as soon as he was freed of his obligation to Dawson.

Well, the sooner he got moving, the sooner he could make a start at drowning his sorrows.

Methos had just swung his legs over the side of the bed when the rattle of his front door opening and the buzz of another Immortal hit him. He was instinctively reaching for his weapon before he even had time to think, but froze as recognition of the signature penetrated. MacLeod….

Sure enough, his wide-eyed gaze settled upon Mac’s muscular frame. It was the Highlander’s right shoulder that entered first, followed by the rest of him, as the dark-coated MacLeod dragged no less than eight bulging white plastic bags in the door. Mac’s coat was stained from the rain around his shoulders. His cheeks were flushed from the cold, raindrops still beading his hair.

MacLeod moved far enough in to allow the door to slam shut behind him, dumped his burden immediately onto the floor and removed his coat in a rush of activity that left the hungover Methos’ head spinning just to watch.

A sheepish smile quirked Mac’s face as he turned around and found himself under observation. “Good morning.”

The greeting was completely normal, completely Mac.

“You…came back,” Methos stammered, too stunned to hide his shock. Realizing what he must sound like, he instantly snapped his mouth shut.

“Huh?” Bright boy that he was, MacLeod appeared to instantly pick up on the atmosphere of the room. The smile slipped from the handsome features as they scoured Methos’ face. “I told you I’d be right back.”

“Told me?” Methos echoed, making no assumptions. “Was I awake?”

With this hangover, nothing would surprise him. Though, he found it difficult to believe that he could have gone back to sleep after the novelty of waking up to find MacLeod sharing his bed. Even the mere sight of Mac seemed to have astronomically lessened the pounding in his head.

“In my note. I left it….” MacLeod’s eyes moved from the empty pillow at Methos’ side to the floor. Mac had had no way of knowing that the draft that came under Methos’ front door was enough to lift a man off his feet at times, let alone an unmoored piece of paper. Regret immediately replaced the Highlander’s open confusion. “It’s next to that iron sphere over there. You thought….”

“The obvious,” Methos admitted, holding Mac’s gaze.

Now that he took a proper look at MacLeod, he could see that his friend was still wearing the clothes he’d had on last night. They were wrinkled and nowhere up to MacLeod’s usual sartorial standards. Wherever Mac had gone, it wasn’t home.

“I’m sorry,” Mac apologized, moving to the bed. He hovered there at its side for a long moment before sinking down to sit beside Methos’ knee.

Last night was suddenly real between them again, with all its inevitable tensions. He could tell that MacLeod was having trouble figuring out how to look at him right now. Deciding to deal with inconsequentials first, Methos asked, “You went?”

He didn’t really care where Mac had gone. All that was important was that he’d kept his word and returned.

“To the grocery store. The only thing you have in your refrigerator is beer.”

“Ah,” Methos replied, for want of something intelligent to say.

“You hungry?” MacLeod asked, visibly groping to keep the lines of communication open between them.

“Queasy, actually,” Methos admitted.

“Little wonder. We were really packing it down last night.”

Methos held his breath, waiting for the ‘God, were we drunk’ patter that would dismiss their encounter as no more than a drunken excess. After five-thousand years, he’d seen and heard it all.

MacLeod asked “What?” just about the time Methos’ ears began to ring from oxygen deprivation and that bitter bile was making another rush for his throat.

He took a deep breath and swallowed down the nasty stuff yet again. Almost irritated by MacLeod’s failure to blow him off, Methos challenged, “No excusing last night to drink? Or are we playing it like it never happened at all?”

Those were the two smartest strategies. Methos could deal with either – in public. It would be hard when it was just the two of them alone together…providing Mac ever wanted to be alone with him again.

“It happened,” Mac instantly answered. “And we weren’t that drunk. At least, I wasn’t. You looking for an out here?”

Mac actually appeared worried.

Unwilling to trust his voice, Methos shook his head.

Mac nodded his understanding, then abruptly broke eye contact. After a minute, he softly said, “It shouldn’t be this hard.”

MacLeod looked so lost sitting on the edge of the bed that it made his heart ache. Methos wanted to reach out, to just touch him and tell this incredible man that everything would be all right, but five millennia’s worth of living put a lie to that fantasy. The stakes had more than doubled last night. What they’d done had complicated their problems, not diminished them.

So, as ever when uncertain, Methos did nothing. He sat and waited, to see what MacLeod wanted to make of their tryst, to see if their friendship had even survived, to….

Methos blinked as he noticed something he’d overlooked earlier. Mac was wearing his hair down….

Mac only let his hair loose like that when he was happy, when he knew there weren’t going to be any immediate challenges, when he wanted to look hot…he was wearing his hair down because Methos had asked it of him, which meant….

He knew he was probably reading too much into this. He’d taken Mac’s hair-tie out himself, so it was probably lost somewhere in the bed, but if that were the case, Mac could have braided it to hold it back. The fact that Mac had left his hair the way Methos had said he’d liked it had to mean something. If nothing else, it did mean that that he had no right inflicting this kind of tension on his friend.

Mac was new to sex between men. It was only natural that he’d be nervous. Methos knew that it was up to himself to smooth this over, only….

Five-thousand years of conditioning was a lot to overcome. It wasn’t in his nature to take chances, to initiate relationships. He’d even had trouble approaching Alexa, making a start when he knew how it would end.

And with Mac…Methos hadn’t a clue where this would lead them. To one of them taking the other’s Quickening, more likely as not. The roadblocks in this relationship seemed insurmountable. They were both Immortal, both male. Mac had never shown any inclination towards blazing this kind of trail before, so when the novelty wore off or things got too complicated, there was no telling how the Highlander would jump. And beyond that, there was Methos’ own baggage. That damned past that he had dragged behind him like Marley’s chains for three millennia now. Every moment his history with the Horsemen lay between them like a rotting corpse and MacLeod’s puritanical ethics were nearly as daunting.

Logically, this hadn’t a chance of working. They shouldn’t even try, and yet…Mac’s misery drew him like loadstone to magnet. He was as lost as MacLeod here, as utterly clueless. He knew the score and knew they should just cut their losses and make a clean break, but….

But his hand was acting independently of his will, following his heart instead of his better sense. He laid it on Mac’s nearby arm and waited to see what would happen.

What happened was that it drew Mac’s gaze back to him.

For an instant they simply stared at each other, then Methos’ free hand reached out to touch as well and he found himself dragging MacLeod into his arms, embracing him the way he’d ached to hold Mac every time he wore that wounded look. Not that it took that much to compel the Highlander. He barely had to tug on Mac’s shirt. The invitation alone seemed all that Mac needed.

Wonderful as it was to hold him, after months of verbal sparring and all the hard feelings between them, it still felt strange to cuddle MacLeod close to him in the cold light of day. He could feel Mac trying to get used to the idea as well. But the other man didn’t pull away.

Taking comfort from that fact, Methos squeezed his eyes shut, buried his face in the crook of MacLeod’s powerful neck and just held on…for dear life.

Mac hugged him back for what felt like forever, gifting Methos with a type of intimacy he was almost completely unfamiliar with, at least from another man. He’d despaired of ever earning this kind of affection from Mac again. His hungry heart soaked it up like a dried-out sponge would water, trying to saturate every pore with the feeling, because experience kept insisting that it couldn’t last.

Methos was the one who finally lifted his head and broke the moment. He moved only far enough back for their eyes to meet.

That was all the inducement their mouths needed.

Mac had apparently found his sea legs when it came to seducing another man. He moved in on Methos with typical MacLeod determination, bearing the older Immortal back onto the mattress in a breathtaking burst of passion.

More than three millennia had passed since Methos had felt the type of emotions this man aroused in him. During that time, he’d been with many men, been taken by most, usually by choice, occasionally by force, but through it all, there had been this blank spot inside where the fire used to be. It was almost as if what he’d done with the Horsemen had burned him out, left him incapable of feeling things too deeply. Every now and then, he’d get attached to a mortal lover, just enough to get his heart ripped out when they died, but even with Alexa, whom he had adored, he’d never let himself go, never let himself feel all the way and be totally in the moment, the way Byron used to prattle on about. It had always irked the poet that he couldn’t inspire that degree of passion from him, that Methos had always held part of himself back. But, despite his best attempts at self-protection, there was no holding back with MacLeod. This man owned him, in ways that others who’d had true title to his person never had.

Methos could only marvel at his companion. Mac’s courage aside, with the way his mouth tasted, he wouldn’t want to kiss himself, but MacLeod was sucking the juices out of him like they were the sweetest of wines. Mac tasted fully as good as he had last night, perhaps even better since there was no scotch masking his flavor this morning.

As his tongue explored every slick surface of the Highlander’s teeth, Methos realized that the other man must have borrowed his toothbrush. Normally, the idea of someone taking such liberties with such a personal item would have made him gag, but this morning it struck Methos as just another intimacy they could share.

His body ignited like kindling under MacLeod’s blanketing heat. His own mouth was kneading against Mac’s with a frenetic need that left him literally breathless.

He sobbed in frustration as MacLeod struggled free from their lip-lock. It seemed to be a total retreat, for Mac’s hands abandoned him too, but when Methos opened his eyes it was to find that the other man had only pulled far enough back to jerk open his jeans. MacLeod’s cock popped up, hard and hungry, glistening like a cherry ice pop.

His stunned gaze noted how Mac’s hands were quivering, like he were strung out with need.

Once he’d dealt with the pants, MacLeod shifted around a bit, grabbed hold of the covers and hauled them down from between them. And then Methos was quivering all over himself as their hot groins met for the first time. Rock-hard flesh nudged rock-hard flesh as Mac carefully settled back down on top of him, all two-hundred pounds of him. The strength and power MacLeod was holding in check was a vibrant, physical presence.

At first, Methos worried that MacLeod might be put off by how male he was, but his erection didn’t seem to cramp Mac’s style at all. As soon as they were safely snuggled down below, Mac’s mouth reclaimed his with a vengeance.

Though perhaps a novice to gay sex, MacLeod was no stranger to the art of seduction. Once they were comfortable, those slender hips started a totally devastating rocking. Gasping under the onslaught of sensation, Methos’ hands scrambled over the silk covering Mac’s broad back, groping lower. He slid his hands beneath Mac’s jeans and found what he was looking for by feel. The round, plush globes fit his palms as if constructed for them.

Methos held his hands still for a moment, waiting to see if Mac had any objections. This was sometimes questionable territory when dealing with another man. Simple touches could so often be misconstrued as proprietary statements. Mac was nothing if not macho. Methos could well have understood if this proud warrior were uncomfortable with having his bum touched when they were so new to each other and so much remained undiscussed between them – like what they were doing here and why.

But Mac was apparently man enough to go with what felt good. The moment Methos gave those lush cheeks a tentative squeeze, Mac let out a low, pleased growl and the fervor of his kiss increased to manic proportions.

Methos used his hands to guide Mac’s thrusts, his own hips rising up to meet each humping move.

Like so much in their relationship, they were good at this, in spite of themselves. It should have been awkward and bumbling. They should have been vying for dominance like any two male Immortals usually were when thrust together. Instead, the connection just flowed, the desire throbbing between them and magnifying, as though they had an actual organ connecting them. It was like when they were joined at Silas and Kronos’ Quickenings, but less painful.

Methos’ very pores seemed to be trying to drink the other man in. And, from all indications, MacLeod was doing his level best to meld them together.

Methos couldn’t swear to it, but it really seemed as if they hadn’t come up for air once.

Climax when it came was a piercing rush of pleasure, fierce and wrenching as what he felt for MacLeod. Who came first, Methos couldn’t tell. Their cocks seemed to simultaneously explode in a hot, sticky gush. He tore his mouth away from Mac’s and groaned, his own loud outcry swallowed by MacLeod’s bellow.

Afterwards, they clung to each other, gasping and sweating, barely able to breathe, let alone think.

When his senses returned, the first thing Methos was conscious of was the sound of the rain pelting the window. Now that he had Mac here in his arms, it didn’t seem such a desolate sound. In fact, if Mac were willing to cuddle him like this, he was willing to lie here and listen to it forever.

Indulging himself, Methos rubbed his companion’s broad back, delighting in the fact that MacLeod would allow him to touch him this way.

Mac didn’t seem in any hurry to disengage. He lay on top of Methos, just holding on, breathing directly into the skin at Methos’ neck, making the oldest Immortal shiver like a schoolgirl.

Finally, MacLeod loosed a long sigh and said, “We’re going to have to get moving soon. We don’t want to be late.”

“No, we don’t want to be late,” Methos echoed.

Still, neither of them stirred.

Maybe fifteen minutes later, MacLeod groaned and sat up. “I’ve got to go back to the barge and change.”

Methos stared up at his friend. With his loose brown hair all askew, his lax genitals peeking out through his open pants and his shirts wrinkled beyond belief, the Highlander looked incredibly wanton, as though all his rigid morals had been fucked away. What was left was wild and pagan, totally carnal. Simply looking at the man made Methos’ cock twitch with an interest it had no right displaying when he was this hungover and sated.

Realizing that those dark eyes were just as intent upon him, Methos couldn’t help but wonder what Mac was thinking. Though he would do nothing to jeopardize it, Methos still had no clue why MacLeod was doing this with him.

Asking would be the height of stupidity. Methos had this superstitious dread that this divine gift would be snatched from him the instant he questioned it. So, he’d play the same game he had when he’d fallen for Lord Byron, live moment to moment, never knowing what rights he had, never knowing when he’d be discarded, certain of nothing, except that the sex would be good, when he got it. Hard as it was on his self-esteem, he could live that way, had for decades.

“Should we hook up at Joe’s and go to the service together?” Methos suggested, trying for casual. He hoped that he didn’t seem overeager. He was determined not to repeat old mistakes, to take nothing for granted. Byron had taught him the folly of trying to tie down the wind.

Though MacLeod made no immediate response, Methos could tell that his words had thrown the other man.

When he spoke, Mac’s deep voice was uncharacteristically uncertain, “I thought…we might go together. While you’re in the shower, I could fix breakfast. We could stop by the barge before we get Joe. Unless you’d rather….”

“No, that’s fine,” Methos hastily agreed, cheered that Mac’s needs had been the same as his own. He didn’t need any apart time yet. While he knew that MacLeod was probably still riding the crests of post-coital bliss, Methos was willing to take the togetherness while he could get it.

There was an awkward moment, then Mac gave him a fast kiss that grew progressively more involved before the Highlander forced himself back, smiled, and left the bed.

Barely knowing what to think, Methos watched the other man carefully tuck himself back into his pants.

The unconscious sensuality of the gesture did things to his libido that Methos didn’t want to dwell on. He was in way too deep here.

Methos waited until MacLeod had left the room to drag his purchases out into the kitchen before he left the bed.

********************


There was nothing sadder than the funeral service of a young mortal dead before his time, except perhaps the burial of the greatest poet the world would know in an unmarked grave. As Methos had sat through Mike Paladini’s memorial mass at St. Jude’s, he couldn’t help but think of his old friend lying MacLeod-only- knew-where in a shallow grave, Byron’s passing unnoted and, for the most part, unmourned.

Byron had deserved better than that, but, then, so had poor Mike. It was a tragic situation all around.

He stared at the somber faces surrounding the table. The entire funeral party was here at Maurice’s, all seven of them, sitting around a clumped group of tables, mostly ignoring their meals. Joe, MacLeod, and Dawson’s band, all come to mourn a boy they had barely known.

Methos shifted in his chair and pulled his black jacket a little closer to him. The club was on the chill side tonight. He wished he’d been smart like MacLeod and worn a wool sweater. His white cotton Henley had next to no warmth to it, but fortunately his black corduroy pants were keeping the rest of him warm.

“Mike didn’t have any family,” Joe said, gazing down into his Johnny Walker. He still had his crisp white button-down shirt on, but his tie was gone now and his black suit jacket was slung over the chair behind him. “He’d been bouncing around foster homes since he was eight. I called the contact number he’d given the passport office as his next of kin and…they thanked me for calling. When I told his foster mom that we’d hold the service till they could get here, she said that wouldn’t be necessary. Wouldn’t be necessary…can you believe that? What kind of life must he have had?”

“Looks like music was all he had,” Jerry, the shaggy brunette bass player in Joe’s band, remarked. Even he was wearing his Sunday best, which consisted of a pair of blue jeans with no holes, a clean black shirt and a navy suit jacket that looked like it had belonged to his grandfather.

“Yeah, and look where that got him.” Joe’s misery was a palpable entity.

“At least he had friends to care about him,” Methos offered, patting Joe’s back.

“Yeah, right….” Dawson’s sarcasm came close to rivaling his own at times.

Their table fell quiet again. As the evening became progressively more somber, one by one, the band members rose, gave Joe a pat, bade their farewells and split, leaving only the two Immortals and Watcher in their island of grief among the club’s customers.

Fortunately, it was a Tuesday night. There was no live music tonight, so the place wasn’t too loud. It was mostly a dinner crowd, and a small one at that, due to the deluge outside.

“You guys don’t need to babysit me. I’ll be all right,” Joe said some time later.

MacLeod and he exchanged a glance and stayed where they were.

“Who’s babysitting? We’re just drinking your liquor,” Methos answered.

“MacLeod’s liquor,” Dawson corrected. “Mac insisted on paying for everything.”

It was amazing how much communication could go on without words ever being spoken. The sheepish shrug Mac gave Methos spoke volumes. All teasing aside, the man really was the perfect Immortal. And stars knew, MacLeod certainly looked the part today. In his white cable knit, turtleneck sweater, black pants and black jacket, the Highlander could well have been a model straight off of the cover of GQ.

“I just wish….” Joe trailed off.

“Yes?” Mac prompted, his concern for their bereaved mortal friend written all over him. Joe was taking Mike’s death hard.

“There should be more than seven people at a man’s grave,” Joe explained, his bloodshot eyes owing to far more than the booze.

“Joe, some of us don’t even get one friend at our grave. Some of us are lucky if our opponent takes the time to bury us,” Methos pointed out.

“Was that supposed to help?” Joe groused, giving him a sour look.

Though hardly pleasant, Methos was glad to see it. The reaction showed a rallying of Joe’s spirits. A couple of hours ago, Dawson would have let the comment pass unchallenged.

“It’s just his brand of comfort,” Mac said, an affectionate glint in his eyes Methos hadn’t seen in over six months. “You remember that charming little anecdote he had about his friend and the Inquisition?”

Dawson snorted. “It wasn’t something I’m likely to forget.” Those red-ribboned, hazel eyes ran over Methos, who was closest to the mortal, before scouring MacLeod, who was seated at Methos’ other side. “Okay, what’s up?”

“Hmmm?” Methos questioned.

“You two haven’t sniped or growled at each other all day. It’s making me nervous. This good behavior isn’t on my behalf is it? What’s goin’ on with you two?” Joe asked with his usual endearing, upfront lack of tack.

Methos’ blood turned to ice at the question. He’d expected their closest friend to notice some difference in their attitudes as – if – their relationship progressed, but not on the very first day. Was what they’d done written all over them? Mac was going to freak over this.

To his shock, he felt the Highlander’s palm settle on his back. Almost panicked, he looked to MacLeod…whose visage was serious, but in no way alarmed.

Frozen in place, Methos heard Mac answer, “No, it’s not on your behalf. We just worked some problems out last night.”

“Yeah?” Joe sounded surprised.

Feeling Dawson’s gaze boring into the side of his face, Methos ripped his eyes from MacLeod’s calm features, gulped and affirmed, “Yes.”

He can’t know, Methos told himself. But there was something in Joe’s expression that seemed to indicate that he was aware that something was going on.

Mac’s palm remained on his back, a burning weight that both comforted and unnerved him.

This was another of the many issues Mac and he had yet to broach. In popular vernacular, it was called coming out these days. Coming out…Methos could well recall the days when there was no such thing as being in the closet.

The extreme changes in social mores that went on during the course of such an extended life was one of the hardest things to get used to about being an Immortal. Sexual preferences and relationships that were perfectly accepted and openly celebrated when he was young would have gotten Methos burned at a stake or imprisoned for life a mere century ago. While homosexuality was no longer a criminal offense in most civilized societies, it wasn’t always viewed as welcome news. Methos knew Dawson well enough to know that his friend was cool with people of alternate lifestyles, but being civil to strangers wasn’t exactly the same as having to deal with the issue on a personal level. After five-thousand years, Methos knew that it shouldn’t matter to him what one mortal thought, but Joe’s opinion and respect were important to him. Also, he had no clue how MacLeod was going to feel about outsiders knowing they were boffing.

“Well,” Joe said, “maybe something good came out of this, after all.”

“Definitely,” MacLeod agreed in such a contented tone that it drew Methos gaze back to his friend. When Mac noticed Methos looking at him, a small, shy smile touched his lips.

That boyish bashfulness was lethal.

It was a ridiculous reaction at his age, but Mac’s swift response made him tingle all over like a smitten schoolboy.

The moment held, then passed. With a soft smile of his own unconsciously touching his lips, Methos returned his attention to Joe. He mightn’t have been aware of the smile, but Methos felt it slip away as he met Joe Dawson’s stare.

Methos expected Mac to pull back at that point, but to his surprise, the hand lingered on his back.

He knew Joe had to be able to see what Mac was doing, but his new lover didn’t seem at all worried. Of course, Dawson was pretty absorbed with his grief at the moment, but Watchers were by nature an observant breed. If Mac kept that hand there much longer, Joe was bound to notice. MacLeod wasn’t really a toucher in public. Even with Amanda or Ritchie, who was like a son to the Highlander, MacLeod rarely hung onto them for any length of time. And he hardly ever touched Methos at all, certainly not since Bordeaux.

Sure enough, Joe’s bloodshot eyes followed Mac’s arm to Methos’ back, then jumped to MacLeod’s face and Methos’ immediately afterward. Dawson’s gray eyebrows quirked up. Even if they’d planned on keeping their budding relationship a secret, the cat was now officially out of the bag.

Methos held his breath. He was intensely aware of MacLeod sitting so close beside him. Mac never missed a thing, that was how he’d survived this long. MacLeod had to know that Joe had sussed them out, yet the Highlander didn’t even tense.

To his shock Joe let out an earthy chuckle and shook his head. “Man, you are never boring. I’ll give you that, MacLeod.”

“Thank you, I think,” Mac answered.

Joe’s hazel eyes seemed to study them both for the longest time.

“We’re not an exhibit in a museum, you know,” Methos snapped at last, his nerves raw.

Left to his own devices, he never would have told Joe this soon. When everything fell apart with MacLeod, which he knew would be sooner rather than later, Joe’s knowing would be just one more cross to bear. He remembered how hard it had been when Byron and Doc Polidori had had their falling out and broken up. Everybody he knew was aware of the laughing stock he’d become. Polidori’s suicide had been as much a release from the ridicule as an escape from Byron.

Joe’s knowing scared him. He wasn’t ready to give up his Adam Pierson persona yet. But…Mac wasn’t Byron. Even if things did fall apart with MacLeod, they could never end up in any worse state than their relationship had been at after Bordeaux. Even then, MacLeod hadn’t intentionally made Methos a pariah. Methos knew that the problems he’d had with these two men were entirely of his own fault. So, if --when -- things did fall apart with MacLeod, providing he played it cool himself, chances were Methos would be able to keep Dawson’s friendship. With that thought in mind, he took a deep breath and tried to calm his jangled nerves.

“Sorry,” Dawson instantly offered.

“No, Joe, it’s my fault,” Methos quickly admitted, reminding himself that he was supposed to be comforting Joe tonight.

“It’s just…new and a surprise,” Mac said, drawing both their attention away from Methos’ unfortunate outburst.

“I’ll say,” Joe snorted, that incredulous expression back on his face again. “I just can’t get my brain around the idea.”

“Try it from this end,” Methos drolly suggested.

“Was that an invitation?” Dawson quipped, a totally evil light in his bloodshot eyes.

Realizing what he had, in fact, said, Methos’ head shot up.

Both his companions cracked up at whatever his expression was.

“Very funny,” Methos groused. “What would you do if I said yes?”

To his consternation, Dawson wasn’t thrown by Methos’ challenge. His eyes just got brighter, his cheeks redder as he laughed all the harder.

“What’s so funny?” Methos demanded, totally peeved, irritated as much with himself as his laughing friends.

“I’ve watched MacLeod for more than thirty years now. You’d have to sell him on the idea first,” Joe explained.

“Oh…” Methos’ voice trailed off at the very thought of inviting the boy scout into any kind of a threesome. To his knowledge, even Amanda had never succeeded in broadening MacLeod’s sexual horizons when it came to the subject of multiple lovers.

Methos’ consternation only increased the hilarity.

But the laughter wasn’t at his expense. Mac’s hand patted his back, while Joe’s smile was completely devoid of malice.

“Seriously, though, this just isn’t something I ever expected from you two,” Joe said at last.

The mood changing fast, Mac asked in a serious tone, “Is this going to be a problem for you?”

Joe gave another snort. “You two growling at each other and acting like it’s gonna come to swords – that’s a problem for me. I got no problem with my friends playin’ nice…you are playin’ nice; aren’t ya?”

Methos could feel his cheeks warming at the gruff inquiry. One look at MacLeod showed him redder than his countryman Robert Burns’ red red rose.

Mac’s eyes met his, seeming to ask a silent question.

Methos wasn’t certain exactly what was being asked of him, but he looked down and gave an assenting nod of his head, leaving the ball in Mac’s court.

“Very nice,” Mac assured Joe, playing it cool and taking a sip of his drink.

“Good…I’m glad,” Dawson said.

The words seemed to be true. Methos searched his friend’s craggy face, but could find no hint that Joe was bullshitting them to spare their feelings. It startled him. Joe was happy his dearest friend had taken up with one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

“I’m also about to explode here,” Joe added. “’scuse me a minute.”

They watched Joe climb to his feet and make his slow way to the men’s room.

Once Dawson was out of earshot, Mac turned to Methos, leaned in close to him and quietly asked, “Did I make a wrong move letting Joe in on what’s going on between us? I only realized afterward that I should have checked with you first. I’m…not used to hiding this kind of thing.”

No lies, Methos reminded himself. Taking a deep breath, he admitted, “It just seemed…a little early, perhaps.”

Especially in light of the fact that they hadn’t even discussed what they were doing themselves.

MacLeod nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Methos said. “I’m not. I just….”

“Don’t think this is gonna last long enough for Joe to need to know?” Mac suggested.

Methos gulped. Joe wasn’t the only one who could be ruthlessly upfront. Deciding to do his best to follow suite, Methos answered, “I want it to. I just…we haven’t even talked about what this is. I feel….”

“Yes?” Mac didn’t appear upset or threatened the way some men could get when the subject of their feelings came under discussion.

“I feel like I’m operating in the dark here. I don’t know what my role is or where you’ve drawn the lines.”

There, he’d said it. With Byron, that complaint would have been enough for Methos to be told that he hadn’t the right to so much as presume to ask the question; whereas with Kronos, punishment would have been swift and bloody. But with MacLeod….

The Scot’s face grew more serious, and beneath it, impossibly gentle. “I know we haven’t talked…that’s my fault. I’ve…never done this before. I’m a little out of my league here, but…you’re not playing any role with me. It’s just you and me, no games, no roles. And there aren’t any lines to be drawn. Okay?”

His heart twisted in his chest like someone’s fist was around it squeezing. Hating that this man could make him feel so much, Methos short-temperedly argued, “There are always lines, MacLeod.”

“No, there aren’t, not with us. You told me the first day we met that su casa es mi casa. Well, mi corazon es su corazon. Comprende?”

God help him, he wanted to run. This incredible man was just so true to his principles that it scared Methos spitless. He’d never met anyone with this kind of integrity, let alone loved anyone with it. He knew he couldn’t measure up to it himself, knew that he was bound to fail MacLeod’s impossible expectations. The idea of disappointing Mac again that way hurt worse than the thought of everything falling apart now, when it was so new and fragile. The survivor in Methos was telling him it was long past time to hit the road, but the part of him that kept him coming back to MacLeod wouldn’t allow him to run, not this time when he’d finally found someone who could live with his past.

Still, the pessimistic survivor wouldn’t allow him to accept this lunacy unchallenged. It was almost his moral duty to make MacLeod see how absurd this entire proposition was. Feeling cornered, Methos sarcastically demanded, “So on the strength of a single blowjob, you’re going to turn your entire world on end?”

If he’d hoped to press MacLeod’s buttons, he was bitterly disappointed. With that same devastating earnestness, Mac calmly answered, “No, on the strength of a three-year friendship with someone I trust with my life.”

That shut him up but good. If this had been a sparring session, he would have been on his knees with Mac’s katana at his throat.

“Ahhhum….”

They both jumped as someone cleared their throat nearby. Joe stood beside the table, wearing an unmistakable ‘too much information’ expression on his weary features. But Joe Dawson was nothing, if not adaptable. He gave them both a wry grin and said, “Sounds like you guys have a lot to talk about. You want to drive me home?”

MacLeod’s well-worn guilt flashed across his face. “Joe, you don’t have to….”

“I’m tired,” Dawson said. “I want to go to bed. Seriously, guys, it’s been a long day.”

There was some truth in that. It had been nearly twelve hours since they’d picked Dawson up at his flat this morning. Even then, the mortal had looked like he’d had a hard night. Now, Joe was almost gray with exhaustion.

“Yes, it’s been a rough day all around,” Methos agreed.

“Joe….” MacLeod was still trying to beat that dead horse.

“Honestly, I’m really done in, guys,” Joe insisted.

“If you’re sure…?” Mac said.

“Positive,” Dawson answered.

Mac had that troubled look about his features again. Engaging as the brooding Heathcliff front could be, Methos often wished his friend would lighten up a bit. Too little beer, that was the Highlander’s problem. MacLeod didn’t know how to properly enjoy life, but, with a little luck, Methos was planning on teaching him.

After a minute of giving Dawson that worried look, MacLeod asked, “You’re not leaving because of…us -- are you, Joe?”

Methos almost crowed with victory. So, the perfect Immortal wasn’t as self-possessed as he let on. For all his outer composure, MacLeod really was as worried as Methos about Joe’s reaction to their news.

Regret flashed instantly across Dawson’s grizzled face. “’course not. I’m leavin’ ‘cause I’m about to fall flat on my face. You…you made me laugh tonight. I didn’t think that was possible. Now, will you please take me home…before I fall asleep on my feet here?”

Mac grinned and nodded.

“I’ll get our coats,” Methos offered, moving to the coat rack while Mac went to the bar to speak with Maurice and settle their account.

Methos preempted any awkwardness at the car by climbing into the back seat of Mac’s black Citroen before Joe could even protest. The ride over to Dawson’s flat was quiet, but not uncomfortably so. The steady swipe of the windshield wipers filled the car. It was still raining, pouring, actually. The streetlights glistened off the downpour, giving every surface of the city a bright sheen.

Mac pulled into an open spot in front of Joe’s building.

“Thanks for coming. It meant a lot to have you both there,” Joe said when the car came to a stop. Dawson just sat there for a long moment, as if too exhausted to brave the elements yet.

“You want some company?” MacLeod asked.

“Yes, why don’t we come up and….” Methos immediately seconded.

“Thanks, but all I wanta do is sleep. I appreciate the offer, though,” Joe answered, giving them both a tired smile.

“If you change your mind….” Mac said.

“I’ve got your numbers,” Dawson finished. A wicked smile creased his tired features as he added, “Whose number should I dial in case of emergency?”

It was clear that Joe was going to get a lot of mileage out of their altered relationship. The fact that Dawson could joke so easily about the whole thing was the clearest message the mortal could have sent that he was cool with the situation.

“911?” Methos quipped, then suggested, “Mac’s.”

“Well…you two behave yourselves.” Joe’s cheeks colored a bit, “Play nice.”

“We’ll try,” Methos drolly replied.

“He’ll try,” Mac joked.

“Meaning that he plays nice all the time,” Methos helpfully translated. “But I’m working on making him a little less boring.”

Dawson snorted. “Boring is not an adjective that applies to either of you, my friends.” Joe paused, seemed to fish around in his head for the words for a moment, before saying, “Seriously, though…I’m glad for you. You both deserve some happiness.”

“Does that mean we have your blessing?” Methos was trying for light, but even he could hear how surprised and serious his voice sounded. Joe’s acceptance and support had thrown him completely.

“Yeah, for what it’s worth, you’ve got my blessing,” Joe answered.

“It’s worth a lot,” Mac instantly assured.

“Yes…thank you, Joe,” Methos said, still unable to believe that Dawson wasn’t counseling MacLeod to run as far and as fast from him as possible.

“No, thank you both…for today and for burying the hatchet. I don’t know that I’m up to anymore funerals just yet,” Joe admitted, looking and sounding all of his years. “Well, if I’m going up, I better get moving.”

“You sure you don’t want us to stay?” Methos checked, hating that this good man was alone so much of the time.

“Positive. Like I said, I need to sleep,” Joe answered, that mischievous glint back in his eyes.

It took a minute, but he finally realized what Joe was saying. Once again, both Mac and Dawson were chuckling at him.

“I didn’t used to be this slow. It must be the company I’m keeping,” Methos commented.

The Boy scout shocked him totally by adding in a mock-offended tone, “You said you liked it slow last night.”

“And, that, my friends, is my exit cue,” Joe laughed, shaking his head.

Seeing that Dawson had gathered his walking sticks in preparation to making an actual move, Methos said, “Here, let me get the door.”

Just stepping out into the freezing downpour long enough to get the passenger door open and trade places with Joe left him chilled to the bone.

Though he still felt bad about leaving Dawson on his own, Joe had a smile on his tired face as he bid them goodnight and shuffled through the pouring rain over to the apartment door.

“He’s a good man,” Methos said as he slid into the passenger seat beside MacLeod. He could already see the water from his pants beading on the slick leather of the car seat. He reached down with his jacket to try to blot it up, but only succeeded in depositing more rain on the seat.

“The best,” Mac agreed. Seeming to notice what he was doing, the Highlander said, “Give it up. You need the heat on? Your lips are turning a charming shade of blue.”

Methos gave a grateful nod and luxuriated in the blast of warm air that hit him. It was his imagination, of course, but sometimes it seemed to Methos that he had spent at least half of his five-thousand years trying to dry off and get warm.

They waited until the apartment door had closed behind Joe before pulling out.

“The barge?” Mac asked.

“Yes. I’ve got clothes there…they are still there, aren’t they?” Methos belatedly checked, realizing only after he’d spoken that most people would have dumped his stuff into the Seine after he’d taken off with Kronos.

“They’re still there,” Mac replied, giving him an understanding glance before returning his attention to the traffic, which was unusually heavy tonight.

Methos swallowed hard. Mac had kept his stuff, even after the Highlander believed Methos had betrayed him. That said a lot about Mac’s feelings for him. It told Methos that, despite all the distrust between them, there had still been a part of MacLeod that had never given up on him.

The barge was clear on the other side of town, so it was a long drive. It seemed that no matter what time you tried them, Paris streets were as snarled with traffic as any other major metropolis these days. The action tonight was giving New York a run for its money.

They were halfway to the barge when MacLeod softly questioned, “How are you holding up?”

“What?” Methos turned his attention from the Christmas tree-like montage of lights that was Paris at night to his companion.

“Joe wasn’t the only one who lost a friend yesterday,” Mac explained, looking awkward. “I know you’re hurting.”

Methos shrugged, trying to minimize the issue. Byron had brought nothing but discord between them. He didn’t want to dwell on it. “Byron chose his own path. I urged him to leave Paris. He wouldn’t go.”

Mac’s eyes left the red Volkswagon they were following to give him a sharp glance. “You don’t have to…hide your pain from me. He was your friend. You have a right to mourn him.”

Methos swallowed hard. “I mourned his loss over 175 years ago.”

“What you said before, about having only an opponent at our graves…he’s decently buried,” Mac said, sounding troubled.

“I know.”

MacLeod never left his kills behind. Lord knew, if he did, Mac would have been in prison years ago with all the Quickenings he’d taken in the past few decades.

“I put him next to Alexa in Rebecca’s keep,” Mac said. “I hope that was all right.”

“You did what?” His blood was turning cold again, but not from fear this time.

“He was your friend. I couldn’t leave him in an unmarked grave,” MacLeod said. “Collier said he’d handle the stone.”

Collier was an Immortal who’d run a monument business for the last two centuries. Due to the nature of an Immortal’s death, such common traditions as wakes, funerals, burials, and memorials could become incredibly complex. There was just so much red tape involved with dying these days.

“That’s why you were so late getting to Maurice’s last night? You took him out to Rebecca’s?” Methos questioned, still unable to believe MacLeod had done this for him – before they’d ever made love.

Mac nodded and answered, “Traffic was bad. Should I have put him somewhere else?”

MacLeod was obviously far more attuned to him than Methos had ever suspected; though he supposed his shock must have been fairly apparent.

Methos considered Mac’s question. He never would have thought of burying Byron anywhere near Alexa. It was almost an insult to her purity, but…it was touching that Mac had done this for him.

“No, Rebecca’s keep is fine,” Methos replied when he thought he could do so without choking up. He turned back towards the window, mostly to hide the moisture he could feel stinging his eyes.

The soft touch that landed on his left shoulder told him he wasn’t entirely successful.

“I’m sorry what I did hurt you, Methos.”

“If it wasn’t you, it would have been someone else, Mac. He’d been courting death as long as I’ve known him,” he said, stamping down hard on the pain.

“You don’t have to do that with me,” Mac said, giving his shoulder a squeeze.

“Do what?”

To Methos’ irritation, the Volkswagen in front of them came to a complete stop. As far as he could see up St. Germain-des-Pres, the street was a sea of red brake lights. The flashing lights of an emergency vehicle way up in the distance were not encouraging as far as immediate movement was concerned. He was going to be stuck here with MacLeod in concerned mode for a while.

“Pretend that it doesn’t hurt,” Mac answered, the soul of patience.

Methos was beginning to wish he had that judgmental avenger back. It was so much easier to deal with that MacLeod at times.

“What would you have me say, MacLeod?” Methos peevishly demanded.

“You could try talking about it,” Mac softly suggested.

“To what end?” Methos snapped.

“Huh?” Mac seemed totally confused by his question.

“What good could talking about the latest act in this tragic farce possibly do? Lord Byron is dead. Nothing I say is going to bring him back, and even if it could, nothing I say would make him or me any happier. It just is and has to be accepted.”

There was a long, hurt silence, then MacLeod said in that same subdued voice, “It might help me understand you a little better. When you close me out like this, I have no way of knowing if I’m making things better or worse for you.”

It was a familiar complaint. Even Alexa had voiced it in some form.

Methos turned back to the man beside him, his movement making the black leather of the seat creak. For all intents and purposes, he and Mac were stuck in this traffic jam for the duration. That wounded expression MacLeod was sporting made Methos want to reach out and hold him, but he realized the inappropriateness of such an action here in public. Also, he suspected that Mac would prefer words. Venting a sigh, he said, “You make things better. It’s your nature.”

The sardonic flair he added to the words seemed to rub Mac the wrong way. “Methos….”

Willing to do anything to avoid another senseless argument, Methos quietly questioned, “All right, what do you want me to talk about?”

“If you’re going to be difficult….” Mac began in an affronted tone.

Methos cut him off. “I’m not being difficult, at least, not purposely so. The…scope of what you’re asking is daunting.”

“What?” Mac blinked. Seeming to give up the pretense of driving anywhere soon, MacLeod shifted his muscular form so that he was facing Methos in the confined space of the driver’s seat.

The car stalled in this unending traffic jam was a strangely intimate setting. The only sounds at the moment were the steady pound of rain on the vehicle, the rhythmic squeal of the windshield wipers, and the softer sounds of their breathing. With all the windows closed against the deluge pouring down, it felt like it was only the two of them alone in the world, as isolated as if they’d been stranded on a desert island together.

Seeing no way out of the discussion, Methos answered his companion’s question, “You asked me to talk about my pain. I’ve got five-thousand years of it behind me, Mac. I don’t close you out by intent. The only way I survive is by not thinking about the losses, not letting myself wallow. If I did….”

“Yes?” Mac gently prompted. Sean Byrnes would have been proud of his young friend. Mac sounded like a trained psychoanalyst at the moment.

“I’d be like Byron was or worse.”

“You could never be like him,” MacLeod almost spat out.

Methos nearly laughed at the scandalized tone. Mac was acting like Byron’s star syndrome temper tantrums and his seducing mortals into life threatening situations were the worst things a man could do. Methos knew better. Byron was no saint, but the poet had never forced himself on an unwilling partner; Byron had never captured his victims or delighted in drinking their blood as he vivisected them. Every life Byron had claimed had been freely offered up to him.

“No? Think again,” Methos corrected. “I was him and worse.”

Seeing that those dark eyes were merely listening, and not judging him for once, Methos cautiously offered, “Do you really want to know what makes me tick, MacLeod? Do you really want to know the things I’ve never spoken about? Have a care, my friend. None of it’s pretty,” Methos warned.

“I don’t care if it’s pleasant. I just…want to understand you,” MacLeod answered.

Reading the truth in those irritatingly earnest features, Methos glanced off at the unmoving line of cars before them, took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay, but…remember you asked for it and you’ll have to tell me where to start. There’s…so much that I’ve seen….”

“How about starting at the beginning?” Mac asked. “The other night, you said you were no one’s son….”

Methos snorted. MacLeod was the most persistent creature he’d ever met.

Realizing what he was going to have to address, Methos turned his eyes from MacLeod and stared out the windshield in front of him, fixing his gaze on the license plate of the Volkswagon, the numbers of which he could barely see through the rain-blurred windshield.

Five-thousand years…and he still suffered night terrors over some of this stuff. Methos never allowed himself to remember those times, never dwelled on the particulars, but here he was, about to disgorge the whole sordid mess, simply because Duncan MacLeod asked it of him. Christ, but he had it bad.

Methos’ nervous gaze settled on the car in front of them. He couldn’t talk about these things while looking at someone, while seeing their reaction. He had to distance himself as best as he could, focus on some inanimate object until he felt as insensate as it was and then just start talking, relate the cold facts without putting any emotion behind them, for if he let himself feel….

Taking a deep breath, he began, “I was found on a caravan route in Mesopotamia as an infant. My foreign appearance brought a high price in the slave market.”

“You were a slave?” Mac sounded shocked.

Surely, the Highlander hadn’t thought the life of the Horsemen would appeal to pampered princelings? Ignoring the urge to give into his sarcasm, Methos answered the question at face value. “For my entire mortal life.”

Mac was silent for a long moment. “How bad was it?”

Methos was impressed with his friend. For a died-in-the-wool abolitionist, MacLeod still had enough objectivity in him to understand that all slave owners weren’t monsters, that there had been some masters who had valued the work their property had done for them. Unfortunately, that hadn’t been Methos’ lot in life, but he’d seen some owners who treated their people decently. They were few and far between, but they had existed.

In Mac’s voice he could read the hope that this had been his experience and was tempted to lie, but that would defeat the purpose of this exercise.

Drawing a deep breath, Methos met his friend’s eyes and confessed, “I always swore to myself that the only way you’d get this information was with my Quickening.”

Admittedly, the dashboard lights gave everyone a greenish cast at night, but Mac seemed especially so at the moment. “It was as bad as that?”

Methos bit his lip, and stared back at the numbers on the Volkswagen in front of them for a minute, then offered, “My foreign appearance ordained my fate from the start. I was raised in my master’s pleasure tent, suckled by one of his whores. I…saw things from an early age that no man should have to view, let alone a child. When I was five, I watched a group of my master’s soldiers gang rape the woman who’d nurtured me. They…beat her to death for sport…because she was no longer supple as a virgin. After more than five-thousand years, I still see that scene in my mind and dreams as vividly as if it had happened yesterday.”

“My God,” Mac gasped.

“God had nothing to do with anything that went on in that tent, MacLeod,” Methos said, even now outraged by what he’d seen and endured in a time before man had even learned to write. Deciding to give Mac everything he’d asked for, Methos pulled emotionally back as far as he could from the events he was detailing and continued in a calm tone, “At age eight I was sent to my master’s bed, where I learned everything there is to be known about sex serving him and his men. That first night, I was so young that he ripped me to pieces inside, but…wounds that would have killed a mortal child healed on me. Three, sometimes six men would visit me a night.” He couldn’t help but sneak a glance at MacLeod after confessing that, a masochistic part of him needing to see his friend’s revulsion and disgust, but…Mac disappointed him on that front. His lover wasn’t looking at him like he was dirt. To the contrary, there were tears clearly standing out in those dark eyes. Gulping his own reaction to the sympathy back, Methos gently offered, “I don’t have to talk about this. It’s not anything that has meaning anymore. That me died more than five-thousand years ago.”

He could hear the gulp Mac gave clear on the other side of the car. “No, go on. How…how long were you there?”

Methos had to give MacLeod credit. He had courage…perhaps more courage than Methos had himself. The telling of this was…difficult. No one knew these things -- not Kronos, no lover, even that desert healer hadn’t heard these tidbits.

“My…recuperative powers fascinated my master and he spent the majority of my mortal life torturing me to see how much pain I could take. He finally reached my limit one day and killed me…but I didn’t stay dead. Once I realized that I couldn’t die…it was transformative. One night I grabbed one of his warriors’ swords and started hacking…and when I was through, I was drenched from head to foot in blood and the only people breathing in that camp were slaves. I took my master’s finest horse, his gold, and started running…and in some ways, it feels like I’ve been running ever since,” Methos confessed.

The silence that followed hit like an avalanche, burying everything. They both sat there watching the windshield wipers flip back and forth before Mac finally got up the nerve to ask, “What happened then?”

“MacLeod, we’re talking five-thousand years here. Do you really think we have time for this?” Methos challenged, his courage faltering under those perceptive eyes.

Mac gestured at the snarled traffic in front of and behind them. “We’ll be here at least that long. What happened after you left?”

With a defeated sigh, Methos gave in, “I spent the next few centuries enjoying my freedom…drinking, whoring, tasting all that life had to offer. I still didn’t know what I was for a good part of that time. All I knew was that I couldn’t die. At first, it was a wonderful feeling, a blessing even, but then….”

“Yes?” Mac prodded.

“Do you remember a few days ago when Byron was comparing himself to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – a monster doomed to walk the frozen wastelands forever?”

“Yes,” MacLeod nodded.

“I was about his age when I began to understand the curse of Immortality. And that’s exactly what it felt like,” Methos said, remembering those horrible times when the world started dying around him, not just individuals, but entire cultures and lifestyles.

“Methos….” Mac began in his counselor’s voice.

Not able to face another bout of idealistic optimism, Methos quickly challenged, “How did it feel when you went home to your birthplace a few years ago and even the castles were in ruins? That’s how it was for me when not just the people I knew in my mortal life died out, but their very language and culture. I have watched civilization rise and fall three times, Highlander. But that first time, it was the hardest.”

“What happened?” MacLeod questioned.

Methos shrugged. “All of history happened. But specifically? Once I escaped slavery, I lived well – a real success story, from slave to king in under three-hundred years. Sumeria was…like a dream. We were a pastoral people for the most part, herders and traders. I…loved that life, Mac. I was able to…make things good for a very long time. I was a rich man with many holdings, the king of one of the most prosperous Sumerian city-states when the Empire fell. I was able to protect my people for a while, but then the Amorites came…they could have given the Horsemen lessons. They fell like jackals upon us and when they were through…there was nothing left. I buried lover after lover, friend after friend, the children I raised up in my keep…no one was spared. And with every body I laid in that cold earth, I buried a piece of my heart with them, until it got so bad that I…turned my feelings off. I stopped letting myself care about people.”

“And then?” MacLeod softly prompted.

Methos tried to make this passionate man understand, “I was dead inside. Deader than ever Byron was. I didn’t even have hunger in me anymore. And…I wanted to feel again. I roamed for a while, thought a different place might…inspire me. I made it as far as Wales, but…no matter where I went, I was the same wasteland inside. So, I returned home. Things hadn’t changed, for me or Sumeria. The emptiness ate at me until…until I discovered the thrill of committing the kinds of unspeakable acts that can’t help but raise up emotion…even if it was only revulsion. I made the Amorites pay for what they’d done to my people, but…it didn’t stop there. Revulsion turned to hunger, and hunger to bloodlust. The Amorites were too narrow a target, so I broadened my playing field. I grew to love the blood and the pain I could inflict on mortals. The freedom of that rampant sadism was…exhilarating. I met Kronos, joined the Horsemen and spent the next thousand years glorifying in the most savage emotions imaginable…until even that thrill became old. When I finally outgrew my violent adolescence, I was completely numb inside. It was as though there was nothing left – no hate, no bloodlust, no fire – it felt like every emotion had been burned out of me. I’ve spent the last three-thousand years trying to feel again.”

The silence in the front of the car once he finished speaking was absolute. It was strange, but Methos really felt as if he were on trial, awaiting judgment.

Mac almost seemed to have stopped breathing; he was so still. Finally, the Highlander swallowed hard and grated out, “You were never dead. You just had more pain and loss than any one man should have to suffer. I’ve been there. It makes us all mad…careless. How could you not want blood after what had been done to you?”

The compassion was not what he’d expected, not after detailing how much he’d enjoyed his years with Kronos. The unsought understanding broke that brittle shield that kept him estranged from the bulk of his grief. Before he even knew what was happening, Methos’ cheeks were hot with tears and MacLeod was drawing him into his arms, right there in the middle of a crowded Parisian traffic jam.

It seemed like he held on and just cried forever, with Mac softly stroking his back and hair, planting light kisses on the crown of his head. The unexpected breakdown ripped through him, shattering him the way Alexa’s imminent demise had left him sobbing in Amanda’s arms that time she thought he’d set her up, but far stronger.

When the outburst had finally run its course, Methos was left totally limp, resting in the shelter of MacLeod’s arms, barely able to move, let alone think or worry. The material of Mac’s coat beneath his cheek was soaked through from his tears.

“Do you feel better now?” Mac asked.

The worry in that soft question made Methos lift his head to take a peek at his friend. MacLeod definitely had the look of a man who’d bitten off more than he could chew. The details of Methos’ childhood were obviously far more brutal than the soft-hearted warrior had ever imagined. But Mac didn’t look like he was ready to bail.

The reality of that slowly penetrated. MacLeod wasn’t dumping him. Mac now knew it all, all the horrible parts, his time as a child prostitute…the Horsemen, his humiliating infatuation and affair with Lord Byron…the absolute lowest points of his life. Admittedly, there had been other times that were equally challenging, defeats and hurts that made him come close to despair, but none of them had been as offensive as what MacLeod now knew…and Mac was still hanging around. His friend hadn’t gone all cold and superior. Mac hadn’t closed him out or left him. Instead, his new lover had offered him understanding…understanding about the atrocities he’d committed as Death.

As he sat there in MacLeod’s stalled vehicle, Methos began to recognize that, against all odds, he had finally found someone who could still care for him, even after he was truly known. That realization almost set him off again, but knowing how it would worry Mac made him force a smile and answer, “Strangely enough, yes. Your coat is soaked by the way,” he added, pulling back to his own side of the car.

For a second, he had trouble meeting Mac’s eyes, but the concern and warmth in those handsome features proved impossible to resist.

Mac’s expression still bore testament to the pain Methos’ revelation had inflicted on him, but the Highlander forced a weak smile and reached out to rest his right hand on Methos’ thigh.

There was nothing numbed or distanced about Methos’ reaction to that move. He hissed in a breath and trembled at the rush of sensation that exploded from that single point of contact. It was astounding just how fast the mood could change between them. One minute Methos was feeling stuffed up, cried out, and barely able to keep his eyes open; the next he was turned on harder than he could remember being in centuries. The air in the car was hot and close, the throbbing in his groin the only reality in his universe.

It was inevitable that his companion would notice.

Mac still seemed surprised that he could get to him this way. His dark eyes widening, MacLeod said, “Neither of us is dead inside. As soon as this damn traffic starts moving again, I’ll prove it to you.”

“Was that supposed to help?” Methos groaned, beginning to sweat.

That burning hand gave what was probably supposed to be an encouraging squeeze to his thigh, which all but made Methos come. He gasped and grated out, “MacLeod, it has been over 180 years since I was last arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior in public. I’d prefer to keep it that way.”

With a throaty chuckle, Mac withdrew his hand.

Twelve eternally long minutes passed before the line of traffic finally began to crawl forward again. It was another half hour before the Citroen coasted down the slippery cobblestone ramp that led down to where the barge was moored.

Methos couldn’t count how many times he’d come back here with Mac late at night like this over the last three years. Hell, he’d lived here on the barge for the three months his own flat was being redone. MacLeod’s home had always signified safe haven to him, much the same way Donald Seltzer’s place used to. But, with all his familiarity with the barge, he’d never viewed it quite the same way he did tonight.

The emotion that flashed through him when the Citroen finally stopped in front of the barge was as intense as the relief one felt upon finding facilities when one had an urgent need to use the toilet. Not even the icy downpour dimmed the feeling.

Methos was proud of them both. Though it was clear Mac wanted to jump his bones as desperately as he did MacLeod’s, they managed to control themselves until the port had closed behind them. Then it was no holds barred.

The barge was pitch black, the only light a faint grayness coming in through the windows. They were both soaked. The sweater Mac was wearing smelt like a wet sheep, Methos himself was at least ten pounds heavier from all the rain water he was carrying in his clothes. They should have headed straight for the bathroom for hot showers and dry clothes, yet the door had barely clanged shut when MacLeod grabbed hold of him with a frantic need Methos had never expected anyone to feel for him who’d heard the facts he’d revealed tonight. The hands on his shoulders were strong, the mouth that covered his own passionate and needy.

The door was hard against his spine as Mac backed him up against the closet opposite the entrance. Mac was nearly as hard against his front, what with all that muscle crushing against him. Methos was aware of one spot in particular that felt like it was going to bore a hole right through his upper thigh as MacLeod pressed his pelvis tight against him.

Both their coats landed on the wooden landing, the metallic clanks of their concealed swords resounding through the hollow platform. Their hands were groping each other as frantically as their mouths. The feel of clothes against skin became unbearable. Frantic fingers worked to undo fastenings in the breathy silence. Their jackets followed the coats to the floor almost as soon as their weapons stopped clanking.

The heat wasn’t up on the barge, so the minute his jacket was removed Methos started shivering, but Mac’s fire soon warmed him. MacLeod was still like a furnace, seeming to give off more heat than humanly possible for one man. Methos was amazed that the soaked sweater didn’t sizzle dry, but wet wool was all Methos could smell in the closeness. Never before had that scent been particularly arousing, but tonight, it had Methos hotter than a shepherd who’d spent one too many long, lonely nights in the company of his charges.

Then Mac’s hands were tugging his Henley over his head and Methos was doing his best to wrestle the damn wet sheep off MacLeod. Their undershirts all but evaporated. Bare chest pressed against bare chest as their mouths sucked each other’s juices down.

It was hot and bone-shakingly erotic…just what he’d needed to exorcise the demons of his past.

Still locked in the kiss, they slid down to the floor. Methos landed flat on their wet clothing with Mac right on top of him. Methos’ hands ran over that broad back, delighting in the silken skin and strong muscles he could feel rippling beneath as MacLeod’s hands worked between their waists. Mac was a smooth operator, he had to give his friend that. The pants were undone and lowered, his boxers, boots and socks following as the Highlander stripped them off him without once breaking the kiss.

Methos tried to return the favor, but his more restrictive bottom position limited his ability to move. He supposed he could have done something to change that, but he was enjoying all that warmth above him, so he just waited for the Boy scout to clue in and do the job for him. It didn’t take long. Once MacLeod got going, he bore very little resemblance to the strict moralist that could so often be such a pain in the ass. This MacLeod was something Methos had only seen hinted at in some of the Watchers’ Chronicles, wild and unrestrained, purely carnal, pure action.

Mac’s pants, briefs, and footwear were hastily removed one-handed as the Highlander’s other hand reacquainted itself with Methos’ genitals. There was no hesitation or caution tonight. Mac handled him as though they’d been doing this for centuries. His touch was certainly that practiced, that devastating. Though, at this point, Methos supposed Mac could have just glanced at him and he would have come on demand, he was so wild with arousal.

Of course, that presupposed that MacLeod could see him. It was so dark in the barge that they were still both working from touch and scent, which was perfectly fine with Methos. There was a certain degree of freedom to be had when the restraint of vision was removed. The skin just felt and reacted. The nose just sampled, as did the tongue. It was only the eyes that judged.

They played with each other like puppies, tongues and limbs grappling and investigating everywhere. Naked, they rolled around the limited floor space of the entry platform, both instinctively avoiding the stairs as they scrambled to get closer. Rolling over and over, they’d come up against one icy cold wall, then the other. But though there was a lot of tumbling and tusseling going on, there wasn’t the usual struggle for dominance Methos had come to expect in encounters with other men. Mac seemed as easy with Methos on top of him as below him, which was reassuring, even if it wasn’t precisely what Methos wanted.

He knew what he wanted and had lived long enough to recognize that he might never have a better chance at achieving his goal. There were no givens here. Everything could fall apart in the morning, doubtlessly would. But if it did, Methos was going to have had this night and this one wish fulfilled.

Momentarily on top, Methos broke the never-ending kiss and latched onto MacLeod’s throat. He sucked his way down that muscular neck, delighting in the groans and shivers he inspired. MacLeod was a feast to all his senses. Mac’s chest was a smorgasbord of tastes and textures, from the incredible softness of the hollow of his throat to the pert buds of nipples and downy chest hair. Methos sampled them all, repeatedly.

His tongue became intimately familiar with every tiny bump of each nipple. He took his time there, earning his moans before moving lower. The moist trail he blazed from nipples to stomach pricked Mac’s skin in goosebumps. When he reached that shadowed belly button that had taunted him so frequently when Mac’s ghi would fall open in practice sessions, Methos memorized the depth and flavor of MacLeod’s navel. He laved his way across the body hair sectioning the tender underbelly, stopping only when he encountered his target, the more wiry pubic hair.

Methos lifted his head, instinctively looking towards Mac’s face for feedback…belatedly realizing that it was too dark to see even the cock he was so close to, let alone something so ephemeral as an expression. So, he used his hands instead, stroking over his companion’s body to determine the lay of the land, as it were.

MacLeod was flat on his back, spread-eagled. His skin was dewed with sweat, his breathing coming in hoarse, labored pants…as open to this as he was ever likely to get.

Methos took a deep breath, lowered his head to where he knew his target to be and sucked that straining shaft in. Mac’s taste was fully as incredible as Methos remembered, salt, musk, and bitter precum, the flavor of a male on the verge of explosion.

Coming out of the dark as it did, the move was apparently a shock to MacLeod’s system, were the cry he released anything to go by. Mac’s body arched up at him, eager as a racehorse straining at the bit. Methos worked that shaft until it was more than slick, until it was dripping with moisture, then…he pulled back to MacLeod’s desperate moan.

“No, please…Methos...don’t stop….”

“Sssh,” he soothed. Shifting around in the darkness, he straddled Mac’s hips, positioned himself, and before his lover could so much as guess his intent, Methos slowly lowered himself onto that throbbing cock.

“Aaaaaahhhh…” Mac’s cry was the soul of ecstasy. The man sounded as though every one of his wet dreams had just been made flesh.

Methos could feel the astonishment in the other man’s body as he absorbed that hungry penis into himself inch by slow inch. The stretch was amazing. Mac was so wide, so powerful. The saliva was already starting to evaporate, so the entry was a little drier than Methos would have liked, but otherwise, it was sheer nirvana. Mac was finally inside him, where Methos had wanted him from the day he’d laid eyes on MacLeod.

Somehow, the strung out Scot managed to hold himself perfectly still while Methos adjusted to the penetration. Even without being able to see his face, Mac seemed to sense that this wasn’t something Methos was accustomed to any longer.

Finally, Mac was in. Methos had slid straight down the mighty cock to rest against the taut balls below. The only sounds in the room were the pounding rain outside and the painful grunts of their labored breathing.

Methos rocked a little, experimenting. Mac gasped and thrust up further into him. It felt good, but Mac wasn’t hitting the spot Methos was looking for, and he knew that Mac’s bottom position had to be restrictive as hell when his body wanted nothing more than to let loose and fuck.

“Follow me,” Methos grated out.

Understandably confused, Mac said, “Huh?” at about the same moment Methos leaned over sideways.

MacLeod had only two choices then. Stay still and suffer a painful detachment or go along with Methos for the ride.

Bright boy that he was, MacLeod followed him over.

Never breaking that internal point of contact, Methos used five-thousand years of experience servicing men to keep Mac inside him until he’d shifted them around to the desired position. After the course of some grunting and fluent, multi-lingual cursing, they ended up with Methos on the bottom and Mac kneeling between his drawn-up legs.

It was hardly the setting Methos had pictured for this. The wooden entry deck was cold and drafty. Their shed clothing was lumpy and wet beneath him. Someone’s boot tip or sword hilt was poking Methos in the small of his back, but….

It was real and it was happening and Methos would never forget a moment of it.

“You okay?” Mac astounded him by grunting out once they’d stopped shifting about.

“Aaahhh…perrrfeccct…” Methos rasped back, holding onto Mac’s shoulders because he truly feared the power of the feeling pulsing through him might send him into orbit. Mac was so big, so wide…the fit was tight, unbearably exhilarating. “Just…move. Please, Duncan….”

His use of MacLeod’s given name seemed to have an immediate effect.

Mac gasped and started thrusting.

It was on Mac’s third inward plunge that he found the spot Methos had been hoping he’d discover. The quicksilver pleasure-altered state, becoming…satori. The pleasure was like being at the heart of a thundercloud when the lightning burst forth; so intense, it was devastating. It sparked through Methos’ nerve endings like lightning running along the wet ground, sizzling and searing everything in its path.

Methos came with that first sharp burst of ecstasy.

MacLeod had more staying power. His pelvis thrust like a piston, burying that hungry cock deeper inside Methos with every inward plunge. There was no quarter given, no restraint, nor was any asked for. Methos had waited all his life for this, to be taken by someone who wanted him as is, warts and all. Mac rode him the way Methos had dreamed it would happen, wild and conscienceless. With every savage thrust, Methos opened himself up wider, took more of his friend, rode the storm out even though his own insides were still lost in a revolving swirl of mindless release.

One final thrust, that felt hard enough to split him right down the center, but which he knew from experience never even nicked him inside, sent Mac over the edge. With a mindless growl, MacLeod came deep inside him.

Methos was only conscious of it through Mac’s sudden stillness and the convulsions he could feel running through that masterful cock. Mac’s orgasm went on and on…finally stopping what felt like centuries later.

An awkward moment followed immediately afterward, when he could feel Mac’s better sense returning, could feel his friend realizing what they were doing and where they were doing it. They’d never even made it down the steps to the living room.

“My God…Methos…” Though Mac sounded stunned, the hands that settled on Methos’s hips were sure.

They both hissed as Mac slid out of him. Methos knew that they were both going to be sore for a while from the animalistic coupling.

He sought Mac’s face again, needing to know how his partner was feeling about things…and encountered only blackness.

Methos found himself cursing the very darkness that had given him such freedom a few short moments ago, for he had no idea how MacLeod was feeling about what they’d done. Oh, Methos had a clear enough idea that MacLeod’s body had enjoyed the sex, but, once again, this was probably one of those issues they should have discussed before leaping in. No one knew better than Methos how fucking had a way of altering the dynamics of a relationship. Mac was so conventional in many ways that this might have been more than the Highlander could handle right now.

Another incredibly strained second followed, wherein Methos was certain he’d made a horrible mistake by initiating these events, but then Mac was settling down beside him on the rain soaked clothes, pulling him close.

Lying there in Mac’s arms, Methos barely dared to breathe while he listened to the noisy wheels of Mac’s thoughts turn in the utter darkness.

Finally, MacLeod sighed and hesitantly ventured, “I’m guessing I don’t owe any apologies here.”

“You’d guess right,” Methos replied, equally careful, equally unsure of his footing here.

“This….” Mac began and faltered.

“Yes?” Methos braced himself. Here it was, the ‘you’ve gone too far’ death knell Methos had been waiting for since Mac had touched his hand last night and initiated this madness.

“I…didn’t mean for it to be like this, didn’t mean to attack you like an animal. After…what you told me, I wanted to bring you back here and love you slow and careful, the way you should have been handled your whole life.”

Methos heard his own gulp; it was so loud Joe probably heard it clear on the other side of Paris.

The way he should have been handled his whole life…this man was going to kill him, one way or another.

“There’s nothing to stop you from doing that later,” Methos answered when he thought he could trust his voice.

“Huh?” Bless him, Mac might be a bright boy most of the time, but in post-coital daze, he was slower than Silas.

“We’ve got all night, Mac,” Methos offered.

“So we do,” MacLeod answered, placing a soft kiss on Methos’ brow. “But I don’t want to spend it here in the doorway. You do realize that we’re lying on a hard floor again?”

Methos smothered a grin. This man made him so happy. “I had noticed.”

“Methos?”

The suddenly serious tone raised the small hairs on the back of his neck. Methos froze in Mac’s arms, continuing to breathe by an act of will as he tried for nonchalance with, “Yes?”

MacLeod’s fingers were stroking the back of his neck, grazing his right ear, making him shudder.

“I didn’t expect it to be like this between us.”

“Like what?” Methos asked, relaxing. Mac was cuddling him too fondly for this to be a goodbye.

“Like brushfire. It used to be like this with Tessa. We’d barely get in the door some nights before we’d combust….”

Mac was comparing what they had to his relationship with Tessa? Joe had told him that Tessa had been the love of Mac’s life, that even now, MacLeod was still grieving over her loss.

But…Mac couldn’t mean it that way. MacLeod was talking combustibility…sex. That was a far cry from the love he’d felt for Tessa.

“Have a care, Highlander,” Methos warned.

“Huh?”

Though he couldn’t see his lover’s face, he could feel MacLeod’s eyes trying to distinguish his features in the dark as Mac bent his head to look down at where Methos’ cheek was resting against his chest.

“Tessa was…special. Don’t…mistake chemistry for….”

Methos felt the freeze that came over Mac’s muscles. His warm, comfortable pillow turned to lead.

“You think all we have is chemistry?” Mac demanded.

The offended tone made Methos wince. He’d unwittingly done it again, set them at odds.

Before he knew what was happening, Methos found himself flipped over flat onto his back. His wrists were captured and held close to his shoulders as Mac settled on top of him again, bearing down on him until he could feel Mac’s wrathful breath on his face. If there had been light in the room, Methos knew that he would have seen Mac glaring down at him.

His mouth suddenly dry, he swallowed hard and looked for an answer.

“I told you before that I don’t know what this is, that I’m groping in the dark here. There’s nothing wrong with chemistry, Mac,” Methos said, trying not to show how unnerved he was by the abrupt turnaround.

Was he about to get the violence he’d asked for last night?

All he could hear was the pounding of his own heart and Mac’s harsh breathing. All he could feel were those steel-hard muscles pressing down on him. He could see nothing, hadn’t a clue what Mac was feeling or thinking. He’d never been more lost in his life.

Mac’s entire body heaved as he took a deep breath. When he spoke, Methos could hear the hard-won patience in his voice, could sense how brittle his partner’s forbearance was at this moment.

“Okay,” MacLeod said, “we’re gonna go over this once and for all. Listen up.”

“You have my full attention,” Methos assured, hearing the irony in his own voice.

“Cut the sarcasm,” Mac demanded, taking another deep breath. “First-off, Tessa isn’t the only person who’s ever been special to me. In four-hundred years, I’ve loved a lot of women, Methos, maybe more than I can count or remember. But in all that time, you are the first man I’ve loved. Now maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you, but it makes you pretty damn special in my book.”

Methos gulped. With just a few brief sentences, MacLeod had him feeling like an unschooled barbarian again.

“I…appreciate the gift you’re giving me, Mac,” Methos all but swore.

And once again, it was the wrong thing to say. Mac wasn’t angry this time. Methos could tell by the sound of the sigh that he’d disappointed again.

“It’s a gift you’re giving me, too. This isn’t a one-way deal here. What we just shared. My God, Methos, do you know how that made me feel?”

Methos did his own sighing, “Mac, great sex is always….”

“This isn’t about sex, damn it!” MacLeod shouted.

Close as they were, the sound reverberated through Methos’ chest as through a hollow drum.

Tired of being intimidated, his own patience shattered and Methos snapped right back with, “Then you need to tell me what it is about. What am I doing here, MacLeod? Satisfying your curiosity? Standing in for Amanda? Working off a Quickening? What is this about? And don’t you dare say friendship again. You never slept with a male friend in your life…”

As he realized what he’d just said, Methos’ words trailed off, even before he heard MacLeod confirming, “No, I haven’t. Damn it, man, don’t you see? It’s the same thing that’s been ripping us apart since the day we met.”

“That would be carnal interest,” Methos emotionlessly supplied.

“No, that would be love. You’ve gone to bat for me too many times to even pretend it’s anything else for you, while I’ve….” now it was MacLeod’s voice that faded away.

“While you?” Bleeding behind his emotional barricades, Methos could barely get the two syllables out.

“While I’ve done my damnedest to ignore what I was feeling and…sublimate it. I’m not doing that anymore, Methos. I’m…in love with you.”

The words were almost anti-climatic now that they’d been said. Beyond shock, Methos just lay there under his friend until finally Mac was forced to ask, “Why can’t you believe that?”

Methos swallowed past a tight throat. “I believe that you believe it.”

“But you don’t believe it will last?” MacLeod challenged.

“Nothing lasts, MacLeod.”

Belatedly, Methos realized that he might have damned his chances by voicing that pessimistic truth that every Immortal knew. He held his breath, waiting for Mac’s anger to explode again, but…nothing happened.

After what felt like an eternity, Mac vented another breath, then quietly stated, “I guess there’s been little enough in your life to make you believe in anything except loss. We’ve both got…a lot to learn here…a lot to unlearn. You gonna stick around long enough to give it a shot?”

MacLeod couldn’t possibly be as anxious as he sounded. Methos just wasn’t accustomed to being…that important to anyone.

He lifted his wrists up from where MacLeod had them pinned to the floor. Mac let him move the moment he tried for freedom, for all that the Highlander had conquered his heart, Mac was no overlord who needed submission.

Methos slid his hands upwards along Mac’s muscular forearms until he was palm to palm with his partner, then he interlocked his fingers with the Highlander’s.

The grip was painfully tight when it was returned…strong as Kronos’ chains, sweet as Mary Shelly’s kiss…perfect.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Methos answered.

“Promise?”

Methos searched for a suitable surety, something MacLeod would believe if he swore upon it. Finally, he whispered, “On Alexa’s grave.”

He felt the start MacLeod gave at that, knew he’d finally said something right.

Fifteen breaths and three times as many heartbeats later, MacLeod questioned, “Aren’t you going to ask for a promise from me in return?”

“No.”

“No?” Mac sounded completely puzzled. “Why not?”

“You’re a man of your word, MacLeod,” Methos answered.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I won’t have you chained to me by some outdated promise. I…come with a lot of baggage. I want you to always know that the door is open, should you feel the need to go. And….” this was almost too honest to reveal, but Mac had told him he loved him…and it had been more than words. Mac really believed he was in love with him. That was more than Methos had ever dreamed possible. He owed his lover something in return.

“Yes?” MacLeod gently prompted.

“And that way every day we stay together, I’ll know that it’s because that’s where you really want to be.” There, he’d said it. Methos felt like a fool, but he’d gotten the embarrassing sentiment out.

“God, Methos…”

His mouth was taken again. As the delightful kiss deepened, tongues and genitals becoming involved as their bodies slid as close as humanly possible, Methos recognized that they were going to be making it on the cold, hard floor…again.

The End

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