For What It Is

by

Rosemary


Life was about surprises, or so it seemed to Duncan MacLeod after four-hundred some odd years of living. Every time he started to get bored or when things seemed to be going too smoothly, something unexpected would happen to stir things up. Most times, the excitement wasn’t the good kind. No matter how hard an Immortal might try to escape it, the Game always caught up with him, sooner or later. And if it wasn’t the Game, his mortal friends would die out one by one, and it would be time to move on again. Surprise and change came hand in hand, neither of them were especially easy, but over the course of four centuries, he’d grown accustomed to nothing lasting.

The latest development was perhaps the most incredible he’d encountered yet, like one of Carl Robinson’s fly balls, coming at him like a rocket out of left field. After four-hundred years of enthusiastic womanizing, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod found himself hopelessly in love with another man. Not just a man. Another Immortal. The oldest Immortal of all, to be exact. Methos.

In his more lucid moments, which were admittedly few and fleeting, MacLeod knew it was totally insane, that they hadn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of making it work, but...every night they continued to fall into bed together. This man who had been both slave and king, Death and healer, coward and savior continued to offer his body to MacLeod, and MacLeod would helplessly fall upon Methos like a starving man offered a loaf of bread. It felt like that at times, like what Methos gave him was feeding his very soul.

“Hey, Mac! How’s it going?” A familiar, gruff voice greeted from behind him.

MacLeod shook himself out of his daydream, smiled and looked up from his salad. “Hi, Joe. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

Maurice’s might have become their regular hangout over the last few weeks, but it was an evening gathering place. This was the first time MacLeod himself had been in his old friend’s club in daylight.

“Sound check. We’re playing again on Thursday,” Joe said, juggling his guitar case and walking canes with practiced ease as he maneuvered to MacLeod’s table and sank into the opposite chair. Baby blue was definitely Dawson’s color. The fleece jacket Joe had on over his ever-present tee shirt made his eyes stand out like alpine lakes in a field of snow. “What are you doing here at this time of the day?”

“There was an estate auction a few blocks from here,” MacLeod said.

“Ah, get anything good?”

MacLeod smiled, still happy with his good fortune. “A few pieces. How’s the sound check going?”

“So far, I’m it. The rest of the band’ll drift in soon enough. Think you guys will come up for air long enough to make the show?” Dawson joked, his grin brighter than the noon sun.

It was a ridiculous reaction for an Immortal his age, but MacLeod could feel his cheeks heating.

“We haven’t missed one yet -- have we?” he asked.

“You were fifteen minutes late to the last show,” Dawson reminded.

“Traffic,” MacLeod explained, putting his full attention on the cherry tomato he was attempting to spear with his fork. Unlike his latest lover, who could fabricate without missing a beat, he was a lousy liar.

Dawson’s chuckle made it plain that he’d been no more successful than usual. It was strange. When someone’s life was at stake, he could play out an Academy Award winning charade, but when it came to lying to a friend, he was hopeless.

“You’re looking a little lop-sided today, Mac,” Dawson commented, stretching his prosthesis out in front of him.

“Hmmm?” this time he was legitimately chewing.

“No Adam,” Joe explained, using Methos’ cover name, no doubt in deference to the other diners who, while not exactly within earshot, were a little too close to make it comfortable speaking a legend’s name aloud. “Everything okay?”

It was touching really, how worried about them Joe was.

“Everything’s great, Joe,” MacLeod responded.

“Really?”

“Really,” MacLeod assured. “You’re going to give me a complex if you keep asking.”

“Sorry, I just….”

“Keep expecting everything to fall apart?” MacLeod suggested.

“Yeah, I guess,” Joe admitted.

“You’re not alone in that, but it’s not gonna happen.” It seemed like MacLeod spent half his time making this same promise in one form or another. Either he was assuring himself or Methos and now Dawson.

“You sound pretty certain,” Joe commented, still unable to totally conceal his surprise at this new development in his friends’ relationship.

“It doesn’t make any sense, I know. I thought we’d be at each other’s throats in a couple of days, but…he’s good for me, Joe,” MacLeod was doing his best to play it cool, but he could hear the amazement in his own voice. He felt a little strange discussing this sort of thing with Dawson at all, but…MacLeod knew how hard his estrangement from Methos had been on the mortal, who was friend to them both. Joe had almost as much at stake here as they did, for if they screwed this up, it would affect Dawson’s life almost as badly as their own.

“Think it’s sort of a mutual thing there, Mac.”

“You think?” a four-hundred-year-old Immortal should not sound that uncertain, MacLeod told himself, but he couldn’t help it. Methos was the most frustrating enigma he’d ever encountered. From day one, he’d been fascinated by the dichotomies that made up his friend’s character – so much pessimism, yet, at the darkest moment of MacLeod’s life, it had been Methos there fighting for him, telling him that he had to have faith, promising him that redemption was possible.

“I know. Look, he’s a hard one to read, but I’ve known him for over fourteen years now and….”

“Yes?” MacLeod encouraged. Joe and he so rarely just talked about this kind of stuff. He was eaten up with curiosity over what Joe made of all this.

“When I first met Adam, he was just another researcher for the Watchers. I thought he was just a kid out of grad school. Despite the difference in our ages, we hit it off immediately. Whenever Watcher business would bring me over here, Adam, Don Seltzer, and I would meet for the occasional drink. It was weird. Don and me, we each had a good twenty years on Pierson, but…he always interacted with us like a contemporary, not a kid stuck with two old farts.”

“Most kids couldn’t keep up with you, Joe,” MacLeod pointed out. He’d never seen a mortal juggle as much as Joe Dawson did on a daily basis. Between running the Watchers, his tavern, and his latest musical tour, Joe had three full time jobs – which he pulled off with a grace and style MacLeod still couldn’t fathom.

“Thanks, but, to get back to Adam…” Joe said, “The change in him is obvious to someone who’s known him as long as me.”

“I can’t see any difference,” Mac confessed, thoughtfully chewing his salad.

“No? Well take a good look at his eyes. Adam was always good company, but…the laughter never touched his eyes, Mac. There was always this…cloud of pain surrounding him. I’d seen it before with guys who’d done too many tours in ‘Nam, old eyes, like he’d seen way too much death, you know?”

MacLeod knew. “Yeah, we all feel the loss sometimes. It comes with the territory, but it’s always there with him, just beneath the surface.”

“Thing is,” Joe said, “that dark cloud hasn’t been so thick these past few weeks. The smile isn’t so cynical. And the way he looks at you, it….”

“Scares the life out of me,” MacLeod completed when Joe fell silent, admitting the truth that he’d been denying these last five weeks.

“Scares you?” Dawson looked surprised. “You’re not usually one to run from a strong feeling, Mac.”

MacLeod pushed his plate away, giving up the pretense of eating. He’d never thought about discussing any of this with Joe, but now that he was, things were beginning to straighten themselves out in his mind.

“It’s not the feeling. It’s…you know how he is, Joe. He’s got all these barricades and yet, under it….” Even though Joe was close friend to them both, MacLeod still couldn’t come out and admit how fragile his new lover was under those prickly outer shields. “…I get the feeling I could destroy him without even trying.”

“That’s because you’re probably the one thing he really believes in,” Joe said in that casual way he had of stating things that were painfully obvious.

MacLeod was startled. Dawson was rarely that far off base when it came to reading people.

“No, Joe. He hasn’t got any faith in me at all. He doesn’t say anything about it, but every morning…it’s like he’s shocked I’m still there,” he hesitantly admitted the one problem that had been bothering him since the moment he and Methos had tumbled into bed together. He’d said everything he could say, let every touch and action speak the depths of his feelings for his new lover, and Methos’ eyes still had that shadow of doubt every second they spent together. It was driving him nuts.

“It isn’t you he lacks faith in, Mac. Give him some time,” Joe practically pleaded.

MacLeod’s head jerked up. Focusing completely on Dawson, he gave up the pretense of eating. “What do you mean it isn’t me? What else could it be?”

“Mac, the guy was one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s not you he doubts; it’s himself, his own worthiness. How would you feel if you were carryin’ that kinda past with you, if you’d hidden it as long as he did? Adam talks a good rap about acceptance, but nobody who isn’t running from his own ghosts downs as much booze on a daily basis as he does.”

MacLeod gaped at Dawson, seeing the truth of the words. The night after poor Mike’s funeral, Methos had confessed as much to MacLeod himself with that ‘I won’t tie you with a promise’ line. Methos had quoted the baggage of his past as one of the reasons. Mac had wanted to make Methos comfortable in their relationship so bad that he’d never really considered the effects that one-way promise could have on his friend’s ego. In retrospect, he might just as well have said, ‘yeah, it’s too much to expect anyone to sign on for the long haul’. Christ, but he’d messed up.

“You…you’re right, Joe,” Mac whispered, shaken by how blind he’d been.

“Hey, don’t look like that, man,” Dawson begged. “His past isn’t your fault.”

Joe was a good friend. Taking a deep breath, MacLeod admitted his own culpability in the situation. “Maybe not, but I didn’t have to hold it against him the way I did after Bordeaux. Maybe if I’d been a bit more understanding….”

“And maybe if he’d been upfront with us from the start, none if it would have happened. Should haves, could haves…they’re pretty useless. We just have to deal with what is.”

“I know. That’s what he says,” Mac smiled. “Anyone ever tell you you’re pretty wise for such a youngster?”

Joe’s grin was like a burst of sunlight through the city winter. “Not nearly often enough.”

They both laughed, looking up as Joe’s noisy bass player and drummer crashed into the place with their usual subtlety.

“Guess I better get to work,” Joe sighed.

“And I better get home.” After peeling enough bills out of his wallet to pay for his meal, MacLeod pulled on his long black leather jacket. “We’ll see you Thursday night, Joe.”

“Sure thing,” Joe’s grin visibly brightened at the ‘we’ as he gathered up his walking canes.

“Oh, and, Joe?”

“Yeah?” Dawson asked.

“Thanks.”

“Any time, man, any time,” Joe replied as the two musicians came bounding over to him, all aflutter over the new song tape Dawson had sent them home with last week.

Smiling as his friend’s cheeks heated at the effusive praise, MacLeod made his exit.

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

Blissful domesticity was not a concept the oldest Immortal had much experience with, even after sixty-seven marriages. He wasn’t Duncan MacLeod. He didn’t know how to lay it all on the line and just deal. While it was true that Methos had had over sixty wives, not a one of them had known his true nature, not even the Immortality part, let alone his past with the Horsemen. No matter how much you loved someone, when you were living that kind of a lie, twenty-four hours, seven days a week, for as many years as your partner survived, you could never really relax. His relationship with MacLeod was the first where he didn’t have to hide…anything.

Complete openness, that was another concept he hadn’t had much truck with. It was perhaps the most frightening thing he’d ever done, standing completely naked before another, with his past as out in the open as his bare genitals. All those years he’d spent wishing for a lover, or even a friend, who could accept him past and all, it had never occurred to him how terrifying it would be, because when things went sour; it would be the real him that was rejected, not some persona he was playing.

But Mac wasn’t showing any of the usual warning signals that things were about to plunge into a downhill spiral. Admittedly, it was early days yet. Only six weeks had passed since Byron’s death, that emotion-fraught night they’d fallen into bed together. If this had been a regular marriage, they’d still be on their honeymoon. But Methos had been on enough honeymoons to know that problems usually manifested long before this time. Hell, a week after Byron and he had altered the nature of their relationship, Methos had known the mistake he’d made, but his heart had taken a little longer to acknowledge that fact. Mac wasn’t a mistake. Duncan MacLeod was the rightest piece of loving he’d ever lucked into.

The fact that Methos knew that it was only a matter of time until he’d fuck it up was killing him. He wasn’t good at this togetherness thing. It had been over three centuries since he’d had a spouse, not that Mac had ever equated what they were doing here to a marriage, but the patterns they’d set over this past month had that kind of permanence to it.

It was all…too new to him. Methos wasn’t used to stability and trust. He wasn’t used to tenderness from a man. He wasn’t accustomed to curbing his tongue and staying somewhere near the sobriety zone after dark and, yet, he’d done it gladly. If Mac could stay, then he could play the domestic scene for as long as it lasted.

As he stared down at his current effort, Methos couldn’t help but think he was really losing it. Two thousand years had passed since he’d made Porpisius’ specialty. Kronos would have ruptured himself laughing if he’d ever seen his strategist slaving away over a hot stove like this, but here he was in what passed for a kitchen on the barge, stirring the chestnuts and artichokes on a painfully low flame, all because he’d once promised Duncan MacLeod that he’d make the dish for him some day and this windy Parisian evening had seemed the perfect night for road tar.

He froze as he sensed the buzz of another Immortal. Mac was right on time. The wine was chilled, the road tar would be done any minute.

Humming a little to himself, Methos scraped the bottom-most layer of paste upwards. This stage was vital. If he didn’t pay constant attention to his creation, it would singe and turn to rock.

Distracted as he was, it wasn’t until the barge door opened that Methos recognized his error. This had happened before. Andrew Keane had shown up around the time he was expecting MacLeod and he hadn’t been paying sufficient attention to the approaching Immortal’s signature to keep from ending up with a sword at his neck until far too late. He almost wished it were Keane again as his gaze wandered from the black suede stiletto boots the Immortal wore, up her shapely lags, slender hips, pert bust, up to the gamin face that his lover had never been able to resist.

It was his newest worst nightmare given form, Amanda, dressed to kill in a short black mini-skirt and bright pink angora sweater, under her long, open black leather coat.

Her grin was instantaneous and infectious. “Hi, ya, Methos.”

“Amanda,” he tried for politeness, but was unable to suppress a shudder as she set down a suitcase he hadn’t noticed till that moment.

“No Mac?” Amanda asked with a piquant mew, coming in and taking off her coat. He watched as she hung it up on a peg by the door, right beside his own, as though she lived here and had every right to, which, of course, she did. Amanda was just another one of the many realities they had avoided discussing during the past six weeks.

His mouth suddenly drier than the tar in the skillet, Methos shook his head and tried for normality.

“Are you okay?” Amanda asked, her lovely face filled with concern as she all but floated over to him, so graceful and light on her feet that she barely seemed to touch the ground.

Methos had envied Mac this when he’d first laid eyes on her, but now…the very sight of her filled him with dread. There was no competing with this. MacLeod had been addicted to her for over three-hundred years now. And with good reason. She was utterly exquisite.

“I’m fine,” he covered as a blast of her perfume hit him.

The word ‘vamp’ could have been coined for this woman, probably had been; she was certainly old enough. He cut short the unkind thought. It wasn’t Amanda’s fault that he’d pinned his dreams on a fantasy.

“That smells wonderful. What is it?” she asked, staring down at the unprepossessing meal.

His heart not up to dealing with this, Methos told her the dish’s name, then added, “I’d promised to cook it for Mac, but I forgot that I have a previous commitment. I’m glad you showed up. Would you mind looking after it till he gets here? He should be back any minute.”

And Methos definitely didn’t want to be around for that awkward entrance, that sophisticated he wasn’t.

Her brow creased into a totally adorable frown.

“Look after it?” she asked, sounding as though he’d handed her the leash of a seven-hundred pound, man-eating tiger.

Recalling that Amanda was fully capable of burning water, Methos softly explained, “All you have to do is stir it for another ten minutes. Mac should be back by then.”

And he needed to be long gone by that time.

“Aren’t you going to stay?” Amanda looked understandably confused.

“No, like I said….”

“A prior commitment,” her tone made it plain that he’d fooled no one. “What’s going on, Methos?”

“Nothing, really, I just…have to get out of here.” Before she could utter another word, Methos had handed her the wooden spoon, decked his apron, and was headed for the door.

“METHOS?” the anxiety in her shout was not feigned.

About to let rip with a sarcastic remark about her culinary phobia, the words died on his lips at the open worry in her stunning features. This would be so much easier if he didn’t like Amanda, but she’d shown herself a friend. He didn’t have the heart to cut into her, even though she’d just destroyed every hope he had of finding something lasting with MacLeod.

“Yes?” he asked, horrified to find himself on the verge of tears, like some hormonal teenager crushed over being jilted for the prom.

“Your sword,” she pointed to the weapon that was leaning next to the sink.

Nodding his thanks, he collected his blade, grabbed his coat to hide it, loped to the door and was halfway across the nearby footbridge when he saw MacLeod’s black Citroen pull into its usual spot. His broken heart contracted in his chest as he watched his lover step out of the car. Mac looked absolutely edible in those tight black pants and cobalt shirt. Well, it wouldn’t be wasted. Amanda appreciated Mac’s finer points as much as he did.

He watched MacLeod bend into the car to retrieve his coat, slam the door and jog up the entry plank to the barge. For a moment after Mac disappeared into the black hull, Methos stared down at the muddy brown waters of the Seine, tempted almost beyond his ability to resist. But in the end, he managed to reject the melodramatic impulse. He wasn’t mortal. Tossing himself off a bridge in winter would do nothing but chill him to the bone, and he was already so cold inside that Methos doubted he’d ever recover the fire he’d lost with Amanda’s return.

When his face felt like a brittle, frozen mask, he turned to make his way across the windswept bridge. He told himself that it was the icy gale ripping into his face that made his eyes so blurry, but knew better.

There must have been sharper losses in the unnatural aberration that was his extended life. Watching those drunken mongrels beat Silla to death when he was five had to have hurt more than this. He’d put sixty-seven wives and countless lovers into the cold earth; any of those events should have been more traumatic than the inevitable termination of a relationship that he’d known from day one had no hope of surviving, and yet….

He felt as if his entire world had just crumbled around him, as though Sumeria and Rome had fallen again, as though he’d been totally dispossessed.

Dispossessed? It was a ludicrous notion. He’d only been in Mac’s bed for under six weeks. He didn’t have those kinds of rights here.

Wondering how he could have allowed himself to become so attached in such an unbelievably brief time, Methos left the bridge, his feet automatically heading him towards his all but abandoned flat. Though nearly his entire wardrobe was now over at Mac’s place, he’d had sense enough to leave the important stuff behind. There were several bottles of Russian vodka in the cupboard under his sink. They might be enough to get him through the night.

Already tormented with visions of those mini-skirted legs wrapped around his lover’s thighs, cobalt silk crushed against fuzzy pink angora in an erotic tangle, Methos hurried home to lick his wounds, like the injured animal he was.

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

“Mmmm, that smells great, Methos. What are you…?” Duncan MacLeod’s words trailed off as he turned from placing his coat on the wall rack. “Amanda?”

“Hi, Mac!” Amanda left whatever she was stirring at the stove to race across the living room and wrap herself totally around the stupefied Highlander.

Left with no choice but to accept her weight or tumble over, MacLeod automatically braced her as his mouth was taken in a devastatingly deep kiss.

Sweet, her mouth was always so amazingly tasty. Her perfume, both bottled and natural, was all around him, as enticing as all that soft femininity. As ever, Amanda was as subtle and as irresistible as a freight train without breaks. Overwhelmed, his body reacted as it had a hundred times in the past when she’d surprise him like this, kissing back just like old times, only….

It wasn’t old times.

Recalled to his present reality, MacLeod gently, but firmly, pulled himself out of the kiss. Depositing her back on her stiletoed boots, he looked around his home in bewilderment for the person he’d expected to find here.

No Methos.

He stared back at Amanda. Though understandably confused, she looked perfectly normal, not at all like a woman who’d walked in on her lover’s latest paramour.

“What’s going on, Mac?” Amanda asked, her own spooked gaze doing a reconnaissance of the barge, as though searching for an intruder.

“What are you doing here, Amanda?”

“What do you mean ‘what am I doing here’? I just got into town.”

Recognizing that none of this was Amanda’s fault, MacLeod toned down the aggression and asked as normally as he could, “Was Methos here when you arrived?”

“Yeah. He said he had a prior engagement and had to leave. He asked me to…oh, hell!”

They both turned towards the galley at the same time, smelling the smoke.

MacLeod reached the stove first. Whatever had been cooking in the skillet was now a blackened, flaming mess. Grabbing a potholder, he tossed the pan into the sink and drowned it with water.

“Damn. I’m sorry,” Amanda apologized.

“It’s okay.” His heart twisted in his chest as his gaze fell upon a pile of chestnut shells on the counter and he realized what Methos must have been making before he was interrupted. Uncertain how to proceed in this awkward circumstance, MacLeod stalled for time by asking, “Did, ah, Methos say anything before he left?”

Tempting as it probably had been, MacLeod knew Methos wouldn’t have revealed anything to Amanda. When in doubt, do nothing was his lover’s credo. But it must have been hard on Methos.

“Nothing other than he had to leave,” Amanda answered his question. “Is he okay, Mac? He was acting really weird. He cut out of here like a scalded cat.”

No doubt. Her concern only made him feel guiltier. This should never have happened. But, then, it wasn’t as though Amanda ever left a forwarding address, so that he could have told her it wasn’t a good time for a visit.

“He’ll be okay,” MacLeod answered.

“Good.” Once the subject of Methos had been dispensed with, Amanda’s entire attitude changed. That expression of knowing, sensual mischief that always got to him quirked her lovely face as she all but purred at him, “Now that you’re home, why don’t we slip into something more comfortable and….”

MacLeod stepped back as she reached for him. He didn’t know what he was going to say, but he knew that going to bed with her tonight was not in the game plan. “Amanda…”

For a moment, she just stared at him, her body language descrying her surprise before a look of resignation overcame her confusion. “God, you’ve got that married look you had when you were living with that artist Lisa….”

“Tessa,” MacLeod corrected, as always seeing the childish snub as the statement of jealousy it was. Amanda knew Tessa’s name as well as he did.

“I’ve only been gone a few weeks….”

“You’ve been gone four and a half months, Amanda,” Mac reminded, highly aware of the amount of time that had passed without so much as a postcard from her. She’d left less than a week after that unpleasant Keane business, when he was still trying to sort through all the issues raised by his memories of Culloden and Sean Byrnes’ death. While it was the nature of their relationship to have extended lapses of communication, it didn’t make it any easier on him. He needed someone to be there for him for the bad times, as well as the good, but the minute life got serious, Amanda was usually on the first plane out.

Her eyes brightened, her gaze pulling quickly away from him.

He felt like a cad. There were no promises of exclusivity between them. They both shared a healthy appetite for the opposite sex and had always given each other the room they needed. It was an unspoken agreement. Yet, this was only the second time in their long history together when MacLeod was not free, or able to make himself so, when Amanda showed up on his doorstep unannounced.

“Well, it can’t be that serious. She’s not living here yet. What’s her name?”

MacLeod’s muscles tensed up. “It’s serious, Amanda. I’m…sorry.”

“Come on, Mac. What’s the big secret? Who is she?”

For one of the few times in his life, he didn’t know what to say. Though his affairs were really none of her business, he’d hurt her and therefore felt he owed her something, but her temper made him wary. She’d already been gunning for Methos once in the past; Mac never wanted to go through that again, especially now. So, he settled on, “It’s not a secret. It’s just new….”

“Mac, never try to con a con artist. You’re hiding something. What is it? She’s one of us; isn’t she? It’s that cow Grace….”

“Amanda, it’s not Grace. Please. Can’t we just leave it….”

Her eyes sparked fire. “It’s not Grace, but it’s one of us; I’m right about that -- aren’t I?”

Sighing, MacLeod gave a reluctant nod, “Yes, it’s one of us.”

“And I know her…” Amanda fished.

“You…you’re acquainted. Amanda, this isn’t….” about to tell her it was none of her business, he thought better of the approach. Even so, Amanda only became angrier.

“Acquainted? What the hell does that mean? You don’t usually mince words like this. Why won’t you tell me who sheee…” her voice trailed off.

A pensive frown wrinkled her lovely brow as her perfectly arched, slender eyebrows shot up. She was more than six-hundred years older than him. Though nowhere near as ancient as Methos, she had a grasp of human nature that sometimes still eluded MacLeod. Very little got past either of the two elder Immortals in his life.

MacLeod watched her gaze move from his face to the burnt dinner in the sink and from there, onto a bottle of wine that was chilling on the sideboard, which he only noticed at that moment. There weren’t any candles laid out on the table, but there just as well might have been.

Mac could almost see her putting two and two together, to come up with the correct conclusion, as she no doubt recalled whom she had interrupted here tonight.

“Oh,” her eyes widened in shock. “I, ah, was operating under a basic misapprehension there, wasn’t I? We’re not talking about a she, are we?”

He shook his head no, prepared for all hell to break loose. Amanda might be over eleven-hundred-years-old, but she was still a woman, with all the vanity, pride and territorial imperatives that were part of the human condition. She was always catty about his involvement with other women. He couldn’t imagine what her reaction to his sleeping with another man would be.

But unpredictable was Amanda’s middle name. Instead of exploding, her features softened with wonder. “Well, I’ll be damned. He finally got up the nerve.”

“What are you talking about?” MacLeod asked, not really sure if he wanted to hear the answer.

“Methos,” though circumstances had made it fairly apparent whom he was seeing, there wasn’t a trace of doubt in Amanda’s voice.

“You knew?” MacLeod gaped.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mac, don’t look so shocked. There’s not much I haven’t seen…or done. I’ve been around long enough to recognize when someone’s got it bad.”

“And you never thought of telling me?” MacLeod demanded, angry himself now.

“I thought you knew how he felt and were ignoring it,” Amanda shrugged, almost her airy self again.

“Why would you think that?” MacLeod asked, trying to understand. Of the two people who now knew about them, nobody but himself seemed surprised to find that Methos felt this way about him. Joe Dawson had only been surprised that they had acted upon it.

“Because his feelings for you were as clear as the nose on his face. For heaven’s sake, subtle he isn’t. Anytime you walked into a room, his eyes followed your every move. It was impossible to miss….”

“Not impossible,” MacLeod said, feeling three times a fool.

“You really didn’t know?” she looked genuinely stunned.

“No, Amanda, I really didn’t know.”

“Poor dear Duncan,” she cooed, her eyes filled with an inexplicable compassion.

“I don’t understand,” MacLeod was forced to admit at last. “When you thought I was seeing another woman, you were furious.”

“Of course,” she smiled.

“But now that you know it’s a man I’m seeing, you’re not angry anymore?” Look at it any way he would, it made no sense. Not that very much with Amanda ever did.

“No.”

“Why not?” Mac didn’t know whether to be relieved or insulted.

“Because everybody needs to take a walk on the wild side just once in their life. Don’t worry. You can make it up to me next time I’m in town.” Her grin was pure Puck, all mischief and libertine exuberance.

“You’re making another major assumption here,” MacLeod pointed out, surprised by how stung he was by her confidence that whatever he shared with Methos would be history by the time she breezed into his life again.

“Oh, Duncan, don’t be so naïve. The one thing you aren’t is gay, my love.”

“It isn’t…just about sex with him,” MacLeod hesitantly offered, afraid of hurting her by revealing too much.

“Of course, it’s not.”

“Amanda, don’t patronize me,” he snapped. “I’m not a child. I know what I feel.”

“This is what – a week or two old?” Amanda guessed.

“Not that it’s any of your business, but we’ve been together six weeks now.”

“As long as that, huh?” her smile was infuriating. “Well, I’ll take my cute little butt out of here and let you get back to business. I’ll see you in a couple of months, Mac. Have fun.”

He remained stone still as she came over to him, stood on tiptoes and kissed him again. Temptress that she was, Amanda couldn’t leave it at a simple peck on the lips. The kiss deepened until MacLeod found himself having to force himself back or drown in her sensuality again.

As he tried to catch his breath and calm the portion of his anatomy that she had always had the most control over, she giggled like a schoolgirl.

“See you in a couple of months, Mac,” with a speculative wink, she was at the coat rack, then out the door.

Feeling as though he’d been hit by a truck, MacLeod stood in the middle of the galley, trying to calm his body and racing mind.

She was so sure that this was some fleeting experiment, so sure….

MacLeod gasped in some air. In and out, two, three breaths, and his erection finally subsided. When the blood started returning to his brain, he recognized that he’d gotten off easy. There could have been scene hanging off every surface in the room if Amanda had handled this badly. Instead, she’d left with her dignity intact, smug in the assurance that things would go as they usually did when he took a mortal lover, that she’d have him back in a matter of time.

Her assumption that what he’d found with Methos was a passing phase irritated the hell out of him, mostly because Methos seemed to have the same impression. It always unnerved him when Amanda and Methos were on the same side in an argument with him. Living as long as they had, the ancient Immortals had an insight that MacLeod simply couldn’t hope to match in his four brief centuries of life.

And yet, they were wrong in this, both of them: Amanda, because she just couldn’t understand that it would have to be a devastatingly powerful emotion to make him consider so major a change of lifestyle this late in the game, and Methos, because he was unable to see past his own insecurities.

At the thought of his lover’s insecurities, MacLeod’s worries returned full fold. Everything was still so new between Methos and him, still fragile. Amanda’s arrival must have been a terrible shock to his friend. He need only look at the charred meal in the sink to know how fast Methos had cleared out of here.

Methos had forfeited the field without contest, Mac recognized. He wished that Methos had hung around, that his new lover had given him the benefit of the doubt here, but taking chances wasn’t part of Methos’ nature. Caution and suspicion were Methos’ approach to life. The traits were so finely honed that they sometimes bordered on cowardice. Time and again, MacLeod had seen his friend turn and run rather than investigate another Immortal’s presence. It was such an alien concept to MacLeod that he had difficulty getting his brain around it, but he did his best not to judge Methos’ prudence. He and his new lover had completely different approaches to life. They’d been reared in different ages, with different priorities and standards. MacLeod rarely understood what motivated Methos.

Like tonight. If their positions had been reversed, if some woman from Methos’ past had shown up like this, MacLeod wouldn’t have just left like that. Though it was doubtful he would have revealed any more to her than Methos had to Amanda, he would have stayed to stake his claim, left it to Methos to determine where he wanted to be. But Methos hadn’t given him that opportunity.

Mac tried telling himself that Methos’ flight tonight was just more of his usual caution, but he wasn’t any better at lying to himself than he was to friends. Methos hadn’t cut and run from the scene with Amanda to avoid a confrontation. In his guts, MacLeod knew that it was that same lack of confidence in him that had caused Methos to go. Or Methos’ lack of confidence in himself, Mac corrected, recalling Joe Dawson’s earlier insights.

Either way, it wasn’t good.

Realizing that the more difficult portion of the evening might still be ahead of him, MacLeod checked to make sure that the burners were off on the stove, grabbed his coat, and headed back to his car.

Traffic being what it was, nearly another half hour passed before MacLeod was finally outside Methos’ flat. Paused on the threshold, MacLeod drank in the Immortal signature emanating from the other side of the closed door. His lover was so powerful, the air practically throbbed with his presence. Standing there reacting to Methos’ presence, Mac felt like the knocker in some ancient bell. Once he came up against the force that was Methos, it left him vibrating incessantly, in bed and out of it.

The door was, of course, locked when he tried it. A man didn’t live five millennia by being careless.

It was only at that moment that it occurred to MacLeod that, in spite of everything they’d shared over the past few weeks, Methos had yet to offer him a key to his flat. In contrast, Methos had had the keys to both MacLeod’s dwellings for over two years now.

He tried not to read any deeper meanings into the oversight, but knew in his heart that it was just another indication of how little faith his friend had in anyone. The world had left his Methos so emotionally scarred inside that it was a miracle the man was capable of any kind of emotion other than hate.

Mac rested his forehead against the ice cold, beveled glass of the door, needing a moment to regroup before he knocked. He was still standing like that when the door swung open.

“MacLeod,” there was no welcome in those glinting hazel eyes. Every one of the barriers the Highlander had worked so hard to circumvent in the last month were tightly back in place. Looking at the somber figure standing there in the eerie blue shadows of the hallway, MacLeod thought that his friend was even more closed off to him than he’d been on their initial meeting.

It was all protective armor, Mac recognized, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with.

Methos moved silently aside and MacLeod stepped in.

He paused in the vestibule to hang his coat on the peg by the door, then followed his retreating lover deeper into the apartment. He was hit instantly with the funereal mood of the flat. Nothing was out of place or missing in the deep shadows of the open loft that MacLeod could see, but the apartment definitely had the feel of a house in mourning. Of course, that could have to do with the fact that there wasn’t a single light on in the place.

Once he was in the living room proper, he looked for a seat. The wooden throne against the wall was so uncomfortable it might as well have been a rock and the leopard skin sofa wasn’t much better. So, he stood and waited for Methos to make the decision as to where they’d talk.

Methos didn’t go anywhere; he just stood there staring at him, faced off like that morning they’d met in the Luxemburg Gardens. The blue backlighting gave a strange, sickly pallor to his angular face.

MacLeod’s gaze couldn’t help but survey the slender figure poised before him. He saw his friend in such a different light these days. When they’d first met, MacLeod had made the mistake of thinking the man thin and bony, an aesthetic scholar, a total non-threat, someone in Darius’ league – it was an impression the ancient Immortal worked to foster, Mac knew now, just as he knew how deceptive that inoffensive front was.

Methos might very well have been in Darius’ league, but not the Darius MacLeod had known. It might have been three-thousand years since Methos had worn the persona of Death, but the character traits that had brought the world to its knees would never vanish entirely. Both the mental and physical hardness needed to sport such a lifestyle were still there beneath Methos’ mild-mannered veneer. Methos simply chose not to walk that path any longer.

Looking at his friend now, it was hard to imagine he ever had been such a threat. There was such an air of innocence and bookishness about Methos that it was difficult to see him as anything other than the scholarly Adam Pierson most times, even for those like MacLeod who had cause to know better these days. Though his friend was pricklier than a cactus in the moral debates they often had, Methos was the least aggressive male Immortal MacLeod had ever encountered. So often, MacLeod had the impression that the ancient Immortal had risen above the violence of the Game, then Methos would turn around and make a blood-thirsty suggestion as to how to handle a current problem that would stop MacLeod cold. For a long time, the Highlander had thought his friend jesting at such times, but since Bordeaux, he’d learned to recognize that it was just Methos’ way of offering an entirely different spin on a problem, showing MacLeod a course he could follow, if he had the stomach for it.

Even now, Mac wasn’t sure how deeply the man who’d been Death was buried. He wasn’t child enough to accept that Death was gone completely. Methos had warned him himself that that savage conqueror was still lurking somewhere deep inside him. And, yet, the Methos standing before him seemed utterly harmless, no more than the grad student, scholar, and Watcher he’d been for so many years.

The really bewildering part of the whole thing was that every front Methos presented to the world was equally true. He’d been killer, rapist, and destroyer, as well as healer, academic and staunch friend.

There were so many layers to this man, so many disguises that sometimes MacLeod wasn’t even sure whom he was with. All he knew was that there hadn’t been a single aspect of his companion’s character that hadn’t proven itself devoted to MacLeod. Even the Methos who had bowed to Kronos last year had risked that psychopath’s wrath on the Highlander’s behalf.

So, he stared at his lover now, trying to distinguish which Methos he was dealing with here. The mask his companion was wearing tonight was hard enough to have been the Horseman, Death. It was the ultimate poker face. Anything at all could have been hiding behind it, from murderous jealous rage to heartbroken despair.

His gaze roved that trim figure. Amused, MacLeod realized that Methos had borrowed one of his own shirts this morning, an ash-gray Henley he hadn’t worn since before Tessa’s death. Methos was practically swimming in the oversized top.

The loose clothes were another deliberate ruse, Mac knew. Methos was forever hiding himself in baggy sweaters to disguise the sculpted musculature of a warrior’s body that had fought and won challenges for ages. Tonight’s outfit was Methos’ usual camouflage. The black cords were tight enough to reveal how slender those long legs were, but that loose gray Henley hid Methos’ shoulders and chest, so that an opponent might believe the mild mannered scholar image long enough to give Methos that essential element of surprise.

MacLeod took in the trim figure, trying to keep a proper perspective, but his reactions to this man were forever changed. His response to Methos was purely physical these days. Even the baggy, concealing shirt made his pulse skip into hyperdrive.

Still, attractive as his subdued lover was, something wasn’t quite right, he realized. Methos looked perfectly normal, and yet, something was off. Staring at Methos, Mac tried to decide what was wrong with the picture. It was only as Methos’ arms rose to defensively hug his own chest that MacLeod realized that the other man was unarmed.

“Where’s your sword?” Mac blurted out, worried. Like his own, Methos’ weapon was rarely out of reach.

“I didn’t think I’d need it with you. Shall I run and fetch it?”

“Very funny,” Mac answered, unnerved by the serious note beneath the sarcasm.

“I wasn’t expecting you tonight,” Methos said, no doubt trying for nonchalant, but sounding dead. He looked like he didn’t have a clue as to what to say.

MacLeod could sympathize.

Mac just stared wordlessly for a moment, unsure where to go with this. It was always so hard between them, the emotions so raw. For every concession and show of trust Methos gave him, he seemed to retreat two steps back afterward, like a wary stray. If they took any more steps back tonight, there was every chance this new aspect of their relationship would perish.

And MacLeod didn’t want that. He didn’t understand half of what pulled him to this man’s side, but it was one of the strongest, most fulfilling bonds he’d ever encountered. Yet, the words always came hard. To both of them.

It didn’t help that Methos probably had a blood alcohol content at the moment that would kill most mortals. Methos held his liquor well, but Mac, who was intimately acquainted with every nuance of this man’s bearing and physique, could see that his lover had been drinking – a lot.

“I thought we had plans,” MacLeod said, careful to keep all accusation out of his tone.

“Yes, well, plans change.” Methos’ eyes dropped to the carpet. “I appreciate your coming here, Mac. I know what you’re going to say….”

The other Immortal wasn’t even slurring his words; though MacLeod could see how carefully his companion was working to string his thoughts together. Methos still had that near perfect diction. The deep timbre of his cultured voice did things to MacLeod’s insides that they shouldn’t be doing during what basically amounted to an argument.

“You know what I want to say, do you? You wouldn’t want to clue me in, would you, since you seem to know the script so well.”

Methos winced at the cold sarcasm MacLeod couldn’t keep out of his voice. MacLeod’s temper was rising at how he’d been tried and judged before all the facts were known. Methos wasn’t even giving him an opportunity to explain….

Just like someone else in this room had done not so very long ago, his conscience reminded.

It was only as he experienced that enraging sense of unfairness that Mac began to get a taste of what his lover must have gone through after Bordeaux when MacLeod was too angry to even try to associate with Methos after how bitterly he’d been disappointed over the entire Kronos affair. Turnabout was fair play, he supposed, but it still hurt like hell. The guilt raised by this new insight into what he’d put Methos through helped him tone the irritation down some.

He reminded himself that Methos wasn’t being difficult to annoy him. Even though Methos wouldn’t look him straight in the eye right now, he could see how the other man was bleeding over this.

“You don’t do threesomes,” Methos stated in answer to MacLeod’s demand about wanting to be let in on the script, sounding as though that kind of compromise were the best he could have hoped for in this situation.

So little faith….

“No,” Mac agreed, “I don’t.”

“So, you don’t have to explain anything to me. I’m old enough to--”

“I didn’t come here to explain,” Mac interrupted, hating that distanced blankness in Methos’ usually expressive face. “I came to apologize. You never should have been put in that position.”

Though Methos’ head was still bent, MacLeod saw his eyes squeeze tightly shut, as though the gentle words had somehow hurt him. “What are you saying, MacLeod?”

Methos’ body was completely still, aside from a slight swaying that was no doubt the result of the alcohol he’d imbibed. It seemed as though every fiber of his being were concentrated upon MacLeod’s reply. And it looked as though this conversation was killing him slowly.

Recognizing how unconsciously cruel he was being, MacLeod delivered the most important fact first, “Amanda’s gone.”

“Gone?” Methos repeated, sounding as if he didn’t know the meaning of the word.

“Yes.”

For the first time since he’d entered the apartment, Methos looked him directly in the eye. “You…told her to leave…because of me?”

His lover’s utter incredulity nearly broke his heart. MacLeod had been inside this man’s body every night for the past five and a half weeks, yet Methos was standing there acting like he had no claims on MacLeod at all.

Mac’s throat clenched tight when he saw that those green and gold-flecked hazel eyes he so adored were extra-bright. Methos wasn’t crying, thank God, but he was damn close to it. And MacLeod hated himself for putting Methos in this position. He’d promised himself the night Methos had trusted him with the dark secrets of his childhood that he would never add to this man’s pain.

Mac tried to tell himself that it was the booze. Drink always brought the emotions that much closer to the surface, for all that people drank to numb themselves. But the alcohol couldn’t be blamed entirely. The liquor had only revealed something Methos would have hidden when sober.

“Yes,” he answered Methos’ question about asking Amanda to leave on his behalf, barely able to force the word past his tight throat.

There was no sense of either belief or relief in Methos’ features. MacLeod could see in every portion of the long, impishly handsome face that his friend still thought his case hopeless, that Methos fully believed that he didn’t have a chance of winning if it came to a choice between him and Amanda. And after everything Methos had given him these past weeks, the man should have had some clue as to his importance to MacLeod. Even if there were some lingering doubt, Methos should have had some confidence in him.

But as Joe said, should haves and could haves were irrelevant. MacLeod had to work with what was, and what he had was a complete lack of faith on his lover’s part.

Methos’ shocked “Why?” seemed to escape his slender lips without conscious volition.

Mac could see that the candor was instantly regretted. “What do you mean why? I’ve told you how I feel about you--”

Methos cut in, his voice sharp and hard as a diamond-edged glasscutter. “Do you seriously expect me to believe that what I have to offer you is more appealing than the charms of a woman you have been addicted to for over three-hundred years? Give me some credit, Highlander.”

“I would, if you were using your brain. I’m here, with you-”

“Because your honor wouldn’t allow you to give into your true inclinations?” Methos suggested, the words a little wobbly from drink, but perfectly understandable for all of that. The contempt his friend managed to pack into the word honor set MacLeod’s teeth on edge.

Wanting to explode, Mac took a deep breath and slowly released it. “No, I’m here because this is where I want to be.”

“Right,” Methos practically sneered.

“Why is that so hard to believe?” Mac questioned, totally lost here. In four-hundred years, he’d never known anyone this contrary, anyone who could give so much of themselves to him and then behave as though that gift were worthless.

In the back of his mind, he seemed to hear Joe Dawson’s voice telling him that it was his own worthiness that Methos doubted. And while his temper wanted him to cut through this for the nonsense it was, MacLeod finally apprehended the gist of what he was up against here.

“I know how much you care about Amanda,” Methos answered. He didn’t sound angry or resentful of that fact, just resigned.

“I care about her. I won’t deny it. She has made me laugh at times in my life when there seemed to be no joy left in the world. But I care about you, too, in a different way,” MacLeod clarified, not wanting Methos to think himself in the same on again-off again category that Amanda fell into. From the first time he’d touched Methos’ hand that night he’d taken Byron’s Quickening, MacLeod had known he was playing with fire here. This irritating man moved him the same way Tessa and Little Deer used to, down to the very fiber of his being.

Despite his care, MacLeod’s words were taken completely wrong.

“I can’t compete with three-hundred years worth of history,” Methos stated in a hoarse whisper.

“No one’s asking you to. This isn’t a competition, Methos.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No,” Mac answered.

“Why would you choose me over her? How can you expect me to believe that? It…makes no sense,” Methos said.

“You’re over five-thousand years old. Does love ever make sense?” MacLeod challenged. Those changeable eyes were watching him as though he’d taken complete leave of his senses. “Please, let’s not play it this way? Listen to me, please?” The pain in his entreaty seemed to penetrate some of that millennia old armor.

Looking as though he were committing the gravest of errors, Methos nodded, “I’m listening.” As if reading MacLeod’s confusion over where to start, Methos reminded, “You were about to try to convince me as to how a six-week-long liaison could somehow take precedence over one of the longest love affairs on record.”

“You’re not making this easy…” MacLeod began.

Methos shrugged, as if supremely unconcerned with MacLeod’s discomfort. “Deal. Or leave. You know where the door is.”

There were times MacLeod was sorely tempted to pull his katana out and slice off the other man’s vicious tongue. Only the knowledge that such an amputation would be all but permanent stopped his hand.

Taking a deep breath, MacLeod resolved to try again.

“I will not leave you, not until there’s no hope left for us.” That got through to his Methos, the man who hid behind all these prickly defenses. He could see Methos’ Adam’s apple bob helplessly, almost feel the sudden tension that had claimed the spare form. There were times when MacLeod was almost convinced that kindness hurt his lover more than brutality did.

It took a long moment, but Methos finally found his voice, “Have a care, Highlander. Reckless vows sow the seeds of regret.”

One of a thousand regrets… MacLeod seemed to hear the bleak words echo through the strangely lit flat. The room was like its owner, shadow and light twisted in a bewildering tangle, old and new losses as heavy in the air as the fog had been in that Bordeaux churchyard the morning after Armageddon.

“I am not going to be your thousandth and one regret, Methos,” he swore. Seeing the already pale face blanch even further, MacLeod quietly challenged, “Do you really want to know why I want to be here? Or do you want to go on arguing in circles the way we have been?” Taking his lover’s continued silence and the sharpening of Methos’ gaze upon him as assent, MacLeod gulped down a deep breath and bared his soul to this man who had been Death and so much more throughout the long ages, “The fact that you have set my very blood on fire with the things you’ve done to me these past weeks aside, I’m here because I…need you.”

Stated so bluntly, the words seemed almost trite, for all that they were true.

“Need me?” That appeared to be another concept Methos had difficulty understanding. Those gold-specked eyes were regarding him as though he were completely insane. And, perhaps he was. Of all the relationships he’d had in his life, this one made the least sense. Yet, it was incontestably one of, if not the, strongest. No matter where this might lead them or how badly it might end, Mac just couldn’t give it up. Not now…maybe not ever.

“Yes. Why is that so impossible to believe?” MacLeod asked, not to be difficult, but to understand.

“You’re the most self-sufficient man I ever met,” Methos answered. “I’ve got nothing unique to offer you….”

“Nothing unique? My God, man, everything about you is special.” Seeing that he had his lover’s undivided, if skeptical, attention, MacLeod tried to speak his heart, “Methos, you and I, we’re good at surviving. Self-sufficiency is a trait we both share, but that doesn’t mean we prefer it that way. I…don’t want to be alone anymore.”

“Amanda’s companionship has suited you for centuries….”

MacLeod sighed, recognizing that he was going to have to lay it all on the line here. “Yes, her companionship is wonderful, while it lasts.”

Methos wasn’t so drunk that the qualification escaped his notice. “What do you mean while it lasts? It has lasted several centuries. Even for our kind, that’s an impressive history. You have loved Amanda longer than the Valicourts have been married. In the entire Watchers’ Chronicles, there are only two Immortal love affairs that have lasted longer than yours and Amanda’s.”

Put that way, Methos’ concerns no longer seemed so unsubstantiated.

“Yes, Amanda and I have been falling in and out of bed for several centuries. I won’t deny that she’s in my blood--”

“MacLeod, how can you refuse something like that? Why would you even want to?”

“Because a couple of weeks of teeth rattling sex every year or so isn’t enough, Methos. I have…great respect and regard for Amanda, but life is one unending party for her. When things get too real, she can’t handle it. She tries, but constancy bores her to tears.”

His words seemed to take Methos by surprise. After a pensive silence, the other man challenged, “What makes you think I’m any better?”

“Aside from the fact that we’ve barely set foot off the barge in a month and you haven’t seemed bored even once?” Mac asked. “I know because you’ve proven it to me.”

“Proven it?” Methos sounded utterly bewildered.

“Yes.”

“How?” Methos wasn’t just fishing for compliments. Duncan could see that his lover hadn’t a single clue as to how important his presence in the Highlander’s life these past three and a half years had been.

And how could he, Mac reflected, remembering how many times he’d scorned Methos after Bordeaux, how quick he’d been to turn his back on the man over incidents that had happened three-thousand years before he was even born. In retrospect, his anger seemed more like cruelty than a justified response. If Methos had doubts, MacLeod knew he was the one who had put them there. Now he had to find a way to make it up to his friend, to make Methos believe fundamental truths that no lover should be questioning six weeks into a relationship.

“You’ve proven it by your…constancy,” Mac smiled as he used the word he’d described Amanda running from.

“I’ve been accused of many things in my time, MacLeod. Constancy was never among them.”

“No? Well, think about it. Where were you the night Ingrid Henning died? Where did you spend your nights when you returned from Greece after Alexa died?”

“It was you who did the comforting then, Mac,” Methos interjected, no longer sounding so defensive.

MacLeod hoped his friend saw it that way, but he knew it wasn’t true. Methos hadn’t broken down once in his company after Alexa’s death. MacLeod had hoped that his suffering friend would have shared his grief, but Methos had kept his pain to himself.

“No, I was too messed up to be of any use to you. Remember, those were the weeks after I violated my honor by assassinating Reza.”

Some of the shuttered distance left Methos’ face as he softly interjected, “Honor only works when both parties are bound by its precepts, MacLeod. Killing Reza was no different than killing any of the other monsters you’ve put down.”

He’d heard that same argument from Methos at least a thousand times after his friend’s return from Greece after Alexa’s death.

“At any rate, I was…a basket case back then. You talked me through three months worth of sleepless nights. I would’ve gone insane if not for you.”

“Funny, that’s exactly how I felt about those nights,” Methos offered almost hesitantly.

MacLeod felt a little of his panic recede at Methos’ words. Feeling as if he were standing on firmer ground, he continued with, “And where were you during those days of the Dark Quickening when I was rampaging through France like a one man Psychos R Us?” Mac softly questioned. “I’ll tell you where you were, right beside me, pulling me through it. Where was Amanda on any of those occasions?”

To MacLeod’s shock, Methos actually tried to defend Amanda, pointing out in that quiet voice that made him shiver, “Mac, you can’t make that kind of judgment. She didn’t know. She wasn’t there--”

“That’s right. Amanda wasn’t there. Understand, Methos, I love her and always will, but…I can’t depend upon her. The moment life gets rough, Amanda has to leave.”

“I’ve left, too, Mac,” Methos reminded.

“But not when I was bleeding, not when I needed you there. You left….” In retrospect, he realized that Methos seemed to take a walkabout every time MacLeod’s relationship with Amanda or another woman became hot and heavy, “You left when it got too painful for you to stay, didn’t you?”

His face white as chalk, Methos gave a guarded nod, as if even by admitting to that, he was revealing too much.

“I’ve hurt you so much…” MacLeod shook his head, wondering how Methos could want to be with him after his own ignorance and more recent, calculated misbehavior.

And it was there in Methos’ eyes that MacLeod was hurting him again, right now. Only, this time he could do something to assuage those wounds. That pain drew him like a magnet.

MacLeod stepped forward, half-expecting the other man to back away, but Methos stood firm, if slightly listing back and forth from drink. Mac tentatively placed his palms on the warm gray cotton covering Methos’ biceps, unsure if he even had the right to touch this way after Amanda’s arrival, but Methos didn’t flinch away from him.

Instead, the slightly taller man seemed to melt into MacLeod’s arms.

MacLeod buried his nose in the soft hair on top of Methos’ head as his lover pressed his face into the cobalt silk covering Mac’s chest as MacLeod’s arms hugged the slender frame tight. He was grateful that Methos could still trust him this far.

It was then that he felt how violently Methos was shaking, trembling like a man who’d been trapped in an arctic ice cave or another place where there could be no rest or solace found.

MacLeod rubbed the slender back, wishing that he could find the words that would offer Methos the reassurance he needed. But he was beginning to suspect that the words didn’t exist. This ancient Immortal had heard every vow known to man, in every language ever spoken, no doubt. There wasn’t anything he could say that Methos hadn’t been lied to about.

Not for the first time, MacLeod was nearly cowed by the obstacles he had to overcome here. In every relationship, there were always barriers to conquer, old scars that had never healed, bad experiences through which the current relationship was filtered. Mac had had his share of insecure lovers, women whose pasts had led them to suspect his intentions and trustability. But Methos was the first he’d had who didn’t just fear betrayal, but expected it as a matter of course.

Mac didn’t like to consider the type of experiences that forged that level of suspicion and cynicism. What little Methos had revealed about his childhood had left MacLeod amazed that his friend could accord anyone even the semblance of trust. Nothing he’d learned of Methos’ past had led him to believe that his lover had ever had an easy time of it.

He remembered the night this had all started, that heart-breaking line Methos had given him about how in five-thousand years of life, his love affairs had never once been about what Methos wanted. At the time, MacLeod had thought the claim an exaggeration, but as he stood here feeling the raw desperation in his partner’s embrace, MacLeod began to understand what Methos had meant. Methos hadn’t been talking about sexual gratification, as the Highlander had thought that night. It was more complex than that.

Methos wanted something he could never bring himself to ask for, perhaps something the oldest Immortal was too emotionally damaged to offer himself in return, but needed all the same. Instinctively, MacLeod began to understand what Methos longed for. It was this, emotional closeness with someone who loved and trusted him, in spite of his past.

MacLeod could make a thousand vows and tell Methos that he loved him every day, and it would be meaningless to Methos, because nothing else the former Horseman had known had ever survived the test of time.

And maybe Methos was right in his caution. Six weeks was nothing in the lifespan of an Immortal. It wasn’t time enough for MacLeod himself to fully understand what pulled him to this man, and certainly not time enough to convince this emotionally scarred survivor that MacLeod was any different from the plethora of love affairs that had gone sour on him.

All he could do was be here, letting his presence provide the assurance.

MacLeod wasn’t used to thinking like this. If he saw a problem, his instinct was to fix it immediately. If someone was hurting, he had to offer comfort. The idea that he could be so close to someone and yet be powerless to reassure was utterly foreign. And yet, now that he’d stopped talking to Methos and was simply allowing touch to communicate, his lover seemed to have calmed remarkably, as if even Methos wasn’t able to deny what was between them when they were in physical contact.

Mac would have preferred to convince his lover of his intentions, but that was obviously not an option here. MacLeod realized that he could talk them both into the ground and Methos would still be as riddled with doubt as he was at the onset of their discussion. So this was how it was going to have to be for a while. Show, not tell. Snuggling deeper into the embrace, Mac thought he could live with that.

His acceptance of his limitations seemed to lift a tremendous burden from his heart.

For a long time he simply stood there, holding Methos close, breathing in the warm reality of the man, stroking him until the shudders he’d noticed when Methos first came into his arms faded.

Everything about their loving was so primal. It seemed to hit them both on such an instinctive level that all the buffering experience they’d accumulated over the years was useless here. There was no stepping back from these feelings, no moderating them.

The intensity of the sex, Mac had expected after that first unbelievable night. But all these other emotions, while not new to him, were surprising in this venue. Over the years, MacLeod had had numerous Immortal lovers. As much as he’d cared for them all, there was always some part of them that held back from him, as though they all understood on an unspoken level that there were just some things that two players in the Game simply couldn’t share with each other. Mac had never believed that to be true, but no matter how hard he tried, love with another Immortal just never seemed to run as deep as it did when he was involved with a mortal. Until Methos, which made no sense, he knew. Methos had more emotional barricades than any Immortal MacLeod had met, yet the feelings Methos had for him seemed to circumvent even those impressive shields.

Mac knew that from the outside, he and Methos could not be more different. Their personalities were opposite poles of the spectrum and, yet, when they cut through all the superficial exterior differences, inside, he and Methos were alike. They needed the same things.

For all his lover’s claims of having no fire left inside him, Methos was one of the most passionate men MacLeod had ever met. While it was true that his friend presented a near flawless outer reserve to the world, Mac had learnt, and continued to discover with every new day, that what went on inside Methos was a very different story. Like what they were doing now. To look at this droll, self-sufficient man, one would never suspect that he would crave this kind of simple contact, but when MacLeod thought of their relationship in the quiet moments of the day, it was embraces like this that typified it in his thoughts, rather than the mind-blowing sex.

Twenty minutes must have passed while they just held onto each other without a single kiss being exchanged before Methos yawned, his lax muscles going almost limp as he trusted the majority of his weight to MacLeod’s keeping.

His companion was out on his feet, the Highlander recognized, exhausted himself from the emotions they’d unleashed with their latest argument.

“Bed?” Mac suggested, mouthing the word into the pink shell of his lover’s ear, feeling the resultant shiver quake through the long frame. The ends of Methos’ spiky hair were soft, but scratchy against his cheek.

“Mmmm…bright boy,” Methos agreed.

Mac could tell that Methos was trying to sound his usual, superior self, but the attempt fell flat, a brittle imitation that convinced neither of them.

MacLeod offered what he hoped was an encouraging squeeze and guided them towards the sleeping alcove.

They parted only far enough to disrobe.

Standing beside the bed to undress, MacLeod stared up at the truncated sculpture at the head of the frameless box spring and mattress. He never knew if it was his lover’s overpowering Immortal presence or the antiquity of the piece, but this room always felt almost haunted to MacLeod. He wasn’t normally given to such fancies, but he couldn’t help his reaction to the curious and somewhat grotesque furnishings of the flat.

They didn’t spend much time at Methos’ place, so MacLeod never had a chance to really adjust to the surroundings. Mac had wondered if their always being at the barge bothered his lover, but every time he’d suggested they come over here, Methos had made it plain that he preferred being at MacLeod’s. Territory was such a funny thing, especially with male Immortals, that MacLeod had never wanted to push the issue. Some of their kind didn’t like having other Immortals anywhere near their home turf; yet, on the very first day they’d met, Methos had told him his home was MacLeod’s home, so why Methos didn’t want them to spend time here together now was a complete mystery to him. It was just another of the many quirks he didn’t understand about his ancient companion.

Forcing his gaze from the disturbing sculpture, MacLeod quickly removed his clothes, a little surprised that Methos wasn’t helping him along already. He’d thought he was an expert at undressing quickly, but Methos could strip faster than a twenty-dollar hooker.

But tonight, the naked Mac found his partner just untucking his undershirt from his jeans. MacLeod couldn’t help but notice how slow and disjointed Methos’ movements were. There was almost a reluctance to the way those slender fingered hands were moving.

MacLeod winced as he saw how Methos seemed to force himself to move faster when he found himself under observation, still without his usual grace.

“Are you all right?” MacLeod questioned, easing himself under the bedclothes. It was his imagination of course, but the sheets in this bed that they hadn’t slept in since their first night together felt colder against his skin than those at the barge ever did.

“Fine.”

He heard the lie, but let it pass, waiting until Methos slid into the low bed beside him.

Normally, the moment they were both horizontal, they were epoxied together, neither of them ever seeming to make the first move, just instant clinch. Tonight was different. The entire feel of the atmosphere between them was…strange, not quite strained, but so far from their usual relaxed combustibility that Mac almost felt like this were a first time again.

“Penny for your thoughts,” he asked of the quiet man mere inches from him, almost feeling as though he needed permission to touch.

Methos sighed. “They’re not worth that much.”

Not liking the impasse, MacLeod reached out, ruffling the hair on his lover’s nearby forearm. Relieved, he saw Methos’ shiver in reaction. Whatever the problem was, it didn’t seem to be huge enough to affect the chemistry between them.

“You not in the mood tonight?” Mac asked gently, hoping he wasn’t pushing too hard. It had never happened before, but considering how much liquor MacLeod suspected his friend had put away before his arrival, it would hardly be unreasonable if Methos weren’t up to their usual love play.

“It’s not that. I just….”

“Yes?” Mac prompted, turning onto his side to face Methos, his head pillowed on his right elbow, his left arm tentatively settling over Methos’ smooth chest.

Methos didn’t freeze up or anything, but something in his eyes made Mac think that his friend had just done the emotional equivalent.

“I can’t take this in stride, MacLeod. I’m trying, but….”

Though his stomach tensed up at how troubled Methos seemed, MacLeod took some comfort in the fact that the words didn’t seem to be leading to a goodbye. Or so he hoped.

“Trying is all anyone can ask,” Mac attempted to reassure. “You’re doing fine.”

“No,” Methos shook his head, “I’m not.”

Biting his lip, MacLeod held very still, waiting to hear whatever Methos might say next. He was about to pull back and give Methos some breathing room when the older Immortal seemed ready to do it for him. Methos lifted MacLeod’s hand from where it lay flat against Methos’ ribs, as if to push him away.

But Methos didn’t push him off. Instead, while Methos’ left hand supported it, Methos’ right index finger played along MacLeod’s palm tracing the lifeline there. The hardness of the tip of the smooth fingernail moving over that ultra-sensitive skin made MacLeod shiver.

“Is this your way of saying that you would have preferred me to stay with Amanda tonight?” Mac asked, voicing a possibility he hadn’t even considered. Maybe he was getting too close for Methos’ peace of mind and the other man needed some room.

Methos gave a slow shake of his head. “It’s not that easy.”

“You could tell me what I’m doing wrong. You never used to be shy about pointing out my shortcomings,” Mac tried for lightness, though the pain gripping his insides felt like it would crush him to a pulp.

“Wrong? That’s just the problem. You haven’t made a wrong move yet.”

“And that’s a bad thing?” MacLeod couldn’t quite keep his confusion from flavoring his words.

Methos slowly shook his head. “No, not bad, only inexplicable. I thought the novelty factor of a homosexual affair would have worn off for you by now, but everyday you show me that what we’re doing here isn’t about experimentation.”

MacLeod’s anger at the suggestion died unvoiced when he realized that Methos had just ruled the possibility out. “And?”

“What it is about…is beyond me,” Methos whispered.

“You’re feeling trapped,” Mac said, hoping that he wasn’t revealing half of what was going through him. This was a slightly more refined version of the same scene he’d played out with Amanda a million times. He’d just start to relax into the relationship, and she’d need to be on a plane to Aruba the next day. Cringing inside, he wondered where Methos would fly off to, how much of a comfort zone his new lover was going to need to put between himself and MacLeod before Methos could relax.

Methos snorted. “Wrong again.”

“So what are you saying?” MacLeod snapped, closing his fist to stop the distracting fingering of his palm.

But Methos wouldn’t let him withdraw. Methos took hold of his clenched hand and gently pried it open. Even though Mac didn’t want to give in so easily, he couldn’t resist further without making a ridiculous show of it, which he was curiously reluctant to do, despite being hurt. It was almost as though he were incapable of turning away from any effort Methos made to get closer to him.

He was so sensitized to the other man now that MacLeod could tell that Methos was fully aware of the struggle he was going through. He hated being this transparent, especially with someone as strong as Methos, but that was part of the deal. You couldn’t open your heart to love, without opening it to hurt as well.

However, Methos didn’t take advantage of his weakness. Instead of commenting or capitalizing on it, Methos lifted Mac’s hand to his lips and deposited a light kiss on the Highlander’s calloused knuckles. There was a reverent quality to the gesture that was entirely at odds with the brush off MacLeod thought was going on here.

Lifting his head, Methos simply stared at him for a long moment before making any kind of reply. Instead of answering straight out, Methos took one of the roundabout courses that he always seemed more comfortable with and said, “There are patterns in life that repeat themselves time and again, MacLeod. You’ve lived long enough to know what I’m talking about.”

Mac nodded his understanding.

Licking his lips, Methos continued, “I, ah, am intimately acquainted with all the possible transmutations that most affairs of the heart can take, except this one. Tonight I was certain that it would follow a course that, while painful, was excruciatingly familiar. There was a certain…masochistic comfort in that. But now….”

“Yes?”

“You’ve turned five-thousand years of experience on its proverbial ear,” the humor in Methos’ attitude was forced and brittle. Mac recognized the tone, that studied calm that told him it was taking everything Methos had to hold it together right now. “It…isn’t easy to stare redemption in the face. Please, just…have patience with me. I can’t take this lightly, not yet.”

Mac gulped, barely able to breathe around the lump of emotion this man had put in his throat, let alone speak. It was two tries before he could find his voice to answer. When he was able to make the words, they sounded gruff and raspy to even his own ears. “You see what we’re doing as your redemption?”

Methos’ face quirked in a somehow self-deprecating and self-mocking manner as he gave a slow nod of assent. “That’s how it feels, MacLeod, melodramatic as that may sound.”

This time it was MacLeod who squeezed his eyes closed. All he’d done was love the man, the way he’d tried to love every other lover in his life, and Methos thought him his redemption? It was humbling and almost incomprehensibly moving.

“It’s not melodramatic,” MacLeod said at last.

It was so hard for them to be this open, this vulnerable to one another. He could see how intensely uncomfortable Methos was at the moment. This man had ruled the world when it was young. When you wielded that kind of power, you learned never to show weakness, to anyone. Even after three-thousand years of civilized living, those habits were hard to break. And beyond that, it was never easy to appear less than strong in the eyes of another man.

He couldn’t stand seeing Methos agonize over this. MacLeod had had so many relationships where personalities, needs, and motivations clashed that the unexpected joy he had found with Methos these past few weeks was like a breath of fresh air. Though they were constantly debating, they didn’t fight over the small stuff or the important issues; Methos didn’t push him for anything he didn’t openly offer, be it confidences or caresses. They were…simpatico. It wasn’t right that Methos should feel so off balance because he’d let MacLeod know how important he was to him.

Knowing only one way to assuage his lover’s wounded pride, Mac quietly offered, “You’re not the only one overwhelmed here, you know.”

Methos tilted his head ever so slightly to the side, his brows arching a little, his features turning openly encouraging and, in the space of a heartbeat, MacLeod found himself looking at Adam Pierson, the grave, wary warrior of seconds ago completely gone. As ever, Mac didn’t know which one was real. All he knew was that he was glad to be dealing with the mild-mannered Watcher and not Death. He could say what he wanted to say to Adam, for all that the entire Adam Pierson persona might be a sham.

“What do you mean?” Methos asked.

“The way you feel about the…emotional ground; that’s how I feel about the sex sometimes,” MacLeod confessed, still not sure he wanted to go here, but unwilling to leave Methos feeling like he was the only one swimming upstream.

That got Methos’ attention. “In what way?”

Mac blinked, too surprised to hide it. How could Methos not know what he was talking about? Every time he was with Methos, he felt as though his lack of experience with other men was tattooed on his forehead, for all that the chemistry was unbelievable.

They were like fire and gasoline, put them anywhere near each other and it was instant combustion. While MacLeod had enjoyed any number of whirlwind romances, not a one had been like this. Most times, MacLeod had centuries of experience over the women he was sleeping with. Even with Amanda, things were wild, but there was a certain…predictability to the final outcome.

That wasn’t the case with Methos. Each time they touched, it was a sensual odyssey that left MacLeod shaken and breathless. He did things with this man on a nightly basis that, the mere thought of which, had always left MacLeod slightly queasy in the past. His inhibitions and cultural hang-ups were pushed to the limit on a daily basis now. Yet, for all their convention breaking, there was still one major exemption to their repertoire which Methos had never sought to introduce, even though it was something he gave MacLeod almost every night. Not once in all the time they were together had Methos attempted to take the dominant role in bed.

At first Mac had been relieved, but now…his sense of fair play was demanding he address the issue, for all that the thought of it still made his stomach do flip flops.

Swallowing hard, Mac tried to explain, without sounding an idiot, “I sometimes feel like I’m playing out of my league with you.”

“You what?” Methos looked stunned.

“You’ve got five millennia of experience behind you. There’s nothing I can give you that you haven’t had a thousand times before from more skilled partners. I realize that I’m still…bumbling through half of what we do together in bed,” he tried to ignore the heat in his cheeks as he plowed on, “Every day, I keep waiting for you to get tired of…coaxing the kid in Remedial Sex 101 and move on to more exciting action--”

“Mac, if the action were any more exciting here, I’d be dead,” Methos interrupted, sounding almost his droll self at the moment, for all that that uneasy light was still sparking in his eyes.

His own voice sharpening, MacLeod reminded, “I thought we agreed that we would have honesty between us.”

“That is the truth,” Methos protested, looking and sounding like he meant the words.

How he could, Mac didn’t know. He was well aware of his major failing here, even if Methos had never mentioned or even hinted that there was a problem.

Feeling the heat in his face, he stumblingly laid it on the line, leaving himself as open and vulnerable as Methos had earlier. It hurt like hell, but it evened the playing field, gave Methos back a bit of his own. “I know I haven’t…been man enough to give you what you need….”

“Not man enough? Take my word on this, it doesn’t get any more Alpha than you,” Methos sounded his old self again, and supremely amused by McLeod’s suggestion.

“That’s just the problem, isn’t it?” his honor made him persevere. “I haven’t been exactly…equally accommodating….”

Methos had that expression he sometimes got when MacLeod tried to explain a moral stance that seemed incomprehensible to the older Immortal. “What are we talking about here?”

Temporarily distracted, MacLeod watched Methos place MacLeod’s hand back on Methos’ chest, that long-fingered hand covering his own and holding it in place there.

“Mac?” Methos prompted, obviously waiting on an answer.

MacLeod reminded himself that he was over four-hundred years old. He was sophisticated enough to have this kind of conversation. But, to mix metaphors, at moments like this, he always felt like the uncouth Highland barbarian that Kristen had smoothed into a silk purse. And somehow, Methos’ knowing eyes always made him feel that much more the fumbling bumpkin.

“Every night you’ve given me…a gift I haven’t had the spine to offer in return….”

“Please tell me that we’re not having a ‘who’s on top’ conversation here,” Methos pleaded.

Feeling all the more a fool, MacLeod asked, “Why?”

“Why what?” Methos sounded lightly exasperated, and totally exhausted.

“Why wouldn’t you have wanted to have that conversation six weeks ago?”

That’s what MacLeod had really been unable to comprehend, how Methos could keep giving himself to him every night without once asking MacLeod to return the favor.

Methos sighed. “Maybe because it isn’t an issue. Let’s not make it one.”

“Methos….”

“What?”

“I…don’t understand,” Mac said softly, putting no judgment in the words, just his confusion.

“There’s nothing to understand, Mac.”

“But…don’t you…fancy my…bum?” the ridiculous euphemism was the only way MacLeod could ask that particular question at all.

“MacLeod, unless it has escaped your attention, there is no part of you that I haven’t devoured. You’ve got the most luscious bum I’ve ever laid hands on. I’ll write you a sonnet about it in the morning, if you like.”

“I’m serious here, Methos,” MacLeod snapped.

“So am I. We do not need to have this conversation.”

The silence that fell between them was strained.

To MacLeod’s surprise, it was Methos who broke it. “You give me what I want. Stop worrying.”

“But…” MacLeod’s protest died as the unassuming Adam Pierson vanished and he found himself staring into eyes that seemed as old and uncaring as time itself.

“Why are you pushing this issue?” Methos demanded. “It isn’t something you want. It’s not in your nature.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” MacLeod challenged, remembering when Methos had all but sneered those last few words at him when they were discussing Methos’ past in the Elysium church in Bordeaux when they had both slipped away from their respective partners to parley on sacred ground when Methos was trying to keep Kronos from infecting the province with a deadly epidemic without directly confronting the man.

Methos took a deep breath. “All it means is that we have different needs. That isn’t something you’ve ever wanted or even fantasized about in your life. Or are you telling me different?” Methos asked, less sharply, the rising of an inquisitive eyebrow letting Mac know that it was a concept Methos hadn’t considered before.

Damn, it was embarrassing to be so…predictable.

Mac gave a reluctant, negative shake of his head. No, he hadn’t fantasized about it. Even with Methos, the very idea still left him uneasy.

“So what is the sense of having this type of conversation?” Methos questioned with inexorable logic, strangely gentle for all that it must be a sore topic.

Feeling an utter fool, Mac offered, “I want us…we should be equals in all things.”

The sharpness was back in that suddenly remote gaze, ten-fold. There was an air of danger about Methos, a threat that MacLeod had never even sensed before, no matter how bitterly they’d argued. Although he didn’t want any contention between them, in a way, the change was reassuring. It was good to finally come up against something Methos was unwilling to accept from him. Methos’ reaction, more than anything this master of words might say, convinced him that Methos really didn’t see any disparity in their sexual roles, incomprehensible as that was to MacLeod.

“Are you telling me that you don’t think of me as your equal anymore…because of bedroom antics?” Methos demanded.

When put that way, it did sound absurd, Mac realized.

“That’s not what I--”

“Answer the question, Highlander,” Methos ordered, as quietly furious as MacLeod had ever seen him.

“Of course, we’re equals,” MacLeod clarified up front, “or as equal as anyone can ever be when dealing with someone who’s got five-thousand years of experience over them.”

The wry qualification helped. Some of the ice melted in that frosty green gaze. Mac had always thought blue eyes did cold glares best. Tessa’s had been especially effective. But never had he encountered anything more quelling than Methos’ greenish hazel eyes. The relief was almost physical when they warmed to him again.

“Then what are we quarrelling about?” Methos asked with forced patience.

“I feel like I’m…denying you your rights,” MacLeod finally found the words to vocalize the amorphous guilt that had been miring him since the first time he’d taken Methos.

Methos was regarding him as though he were more than a few cards short of a full deck. “Are we talking droit du seigneur here? Though it’s true that no one is more seigneur than I, those conventions--”

The joke made him feel all the more foolish. “Methos, this is serious….”

Methos sighed, resignation settling across his features. “So I see. I just don’t understand how you can feel guilt over denying me something I never asked from you. Mac, you’re acting like being with you is some tremendous sacrifice on my part. Believe me, it’s not. And, if you will recall, it was I who initiated that particular form of contact.”

“Aye, but….”

“But what?” Methos prodded.

“You’re a man. You must want….”

All of the anger seemed to seep from Methos as he shook his head in open exasperation and said, “Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, what am I going to do with you? Yes, I am a man. The roles I play in bed with you won’t make me any more or less of one. While I admit that it hasn’t always been true of my paramours in the past, nothing we do together diminishes me on any level. Just the opposite, in fact.”

Recognizing the truth, even when he couldn’t understand it, MacLeod asked, “Really?”

“Really.” Seeming to read his need for reassurance, Methos softly continued, “You’re looking at me as though I get nothing out of our unions. I know you’re the original Boy scout – no offence intended – but I’ve also met Amanda. You’re not seriously going to suggest that a woman that worldly has failed to introduce you to some of the less mundane pleasures we’ve shared lately?”

MacLeod could feel not only his cheeks on fire, but his ears and neck as well. He was eternally grateful for Methos’ discretion. If the other man had so much as cracked a smile at that moment, MacLeod would have killed him, if he didn’t die of embarrassment first.

“Of course I’ve sampled some of what we’ve done….” he hotly replied.

“Then you know how great the enjoyment can be. Believe me, MacLeod, I am not suffering here.”

“I just….”

“I know,” the soft light in those changeable hazel eyes seemed to indicate that Methos did, indeed, understand fully, “and I appreciate what you’re trying to offer me, but the fact of the matter is, if the time were right, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You know that as well as I.”

The refusal was gentle and filled with more love than MacLeod had encountered in some instances when propositions were accepted.

MacLeod was forced to give a reluctant nod, “Aye, you’re right in that.”

He wasn’t ready for this. They both knew it. Not that it made him feel any better to admit that he couldn’t give as good as he got.

Methos’ eyes seemed to read right through him. “Okay, let’s look at this from another angle. If you were me, would you want someone you cared for to do something that was difficult for him to stomach out of a false sense of obligation and fair play? Sacrificial lambs don’t do it for me anymore, Mac. I…need to be wanted that way.”

And once again, it was brought home to him just how wrong he’d been about Methos after Bordeaux. There was a time when the oldest Immortal wouldn’t have cared if a partner were ready or even willing. That Methos had nothing to do with the man sharing his bed; any more than the MacLeod he was now did with the one who had killed Sean Byrnes.

“You’re right…again.”

“Not right, Mac, just old – very old and weary of the games,” more than weary, Methos sounded completely empty inside, as though MacLeod’s offer had hurt him or depleted the last of his strength.

“No games between us,” he promised, “not ever.”

The tension seemed to seep from those handsome, quirky features as Methos stared up at him from the nearby pillow.

“I don’t want anything from you that you’re not doing for your own lusty gratification,” Methos explained. “I know how new all this is to you, how different it is. If some things never happen, they never happen. I can live with that, only….”

“Yes?” Mac asked, finding himself falling in love with this extraordinary man all over again.

Methos squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, leaving MacLeod to wonder about the things Methos felt he couldn’t live without.

Every one of Methos’ five-thousand years of hard, hurtful living were there in his tired face.

His heart twisting inside his chest, Mac had no clue how he could help here. Sean Byrnes used to say that Immortals were like mortals, but that so much more was written upon their page. There wasn’t an Immortal alive that had endured as much as this scarred survivor had. How could anyone hope to lighten the emotional burdens of a man who had seen all of history play out?

As ever when faced with the scope of this challenge, MacLeod was almost paralyzed by it. Only….

Methos had called what they had his redemption. If his friend really saw it that way, then obviously MacLeod had to be doing some good, no matter how useless he felt.

Needing to offer some form of comfort, MacLeod looked inside himself and found the words Methos had offered to him at a time when he’d thought death would be his only salvation. “You’re not alone. Not anymore.”

Leaning down, MacLeod placed a gentle kiss in the center of Methos’ forehead, on the charka point the Hindus called the third eye.

Methos’ long form jerked as though the first blast of a Quickening had just hit him. Methos’ eyes snapped open to stare up at MacLeod, the turbulent emotions raging there fierce and more than a little desperate.

Mac couldn’t have resisted a kiss at that point if both their lives had depended upon it. He could taste the liquor in Methos’ kiss; vodka, he thought. Only after his own mouth bore the same harsh flavor and the residual tension in the long body beneath him began to fade did MacLeod lift his head.

“You don’t have to take it lightly. You take it any way you need to,” MacLeod whispered, referring back to Methos’ initial comment that had begun their discussion. “No matter what, we’re gonna be okay.”

For perhaps the first time, Mac saw something like belief in his lover’s gaze. It wasn’t anything clear or strong, more a shadow of hope than actual substance. Yet, it was more than he’d ever seen there in the past. Most importantly, the usual pessimism that generally greeted any attempt MacLeod made to reassure was entirely absent.

The moment was as fragile as the trust Mac felt he was earning here, but he didn’t blow it. MacLeod could almost see his partner’s tense expectation of disaster give way to grudging acceptance. Hope seemed as alien a concept to the oldest Immortal as submission was to MacLeod, but Methos was obviously made of stronger stuff than he. For all Methos’ unavoidable pessimism, Mac could see how hard his friend was trying to believe in him.

His stomach clenching in reaction, MacLeod leaned in on Methos again. He brushed his lips over each of those time-weary features, loving this person as he had few others in his life.

Methos closed his eyes as MacLeod kissed them in turn.

Mac paused between them. His tongue tip traced the faint white scar between those arched eyebrows. It was right at the bridge of the nose, leading up onto the forehead. The straight mark looked like it had been made with a sword or knife. The fact that Methos still sported it said that it must have been there for over five millennia, since his mortal life. Mac realized that at one point in Methos’ existence, that scar must have been as distinctive as Kronos’ face wound had been. It was so pale now that MacLeod couldn’t even see it in this light. He knew it was there though, from the weeks he’d spent cataloging every inch of this splendid body offered to him.

He didn’t know why, but he loved kissing Methos’ face, especially his eyes. Mac took his time there, licking the salty corners, brushing across the thick, dark fan of eyelashes, then up to the salt sweet oils of the naturally arched brows.

Venturing lower, he rubbed his stubbled chin over those impossibly high cheekbones, before finding his way back to his lover’s succulent mouth.

Even with the vodka, Methos’ taste burned through him. The whiskers on their chins scratched together as Mac drank deeply. Methos’ lips were slender, but strong and sensuous, for all their lack of girth. Mac especially loved the slightly fuller, lower lip. It was just the right size to suck on, and Methos seemed especially fond of that.

When they’d had their fill for the moment, Mac’s mouth slipped lower, kissing its way down Methos’ pointy chin. Even though he’d done this every night for six weeks, it still felt strange to encounter the five o’clock shadow that was just starting to give way to bristly stubble. Every time his tongue or lips ran into his lover’s beard growth, it still took him by surprise and he had to spend some time familiarizing himself with the new crop of hair that would perish under the razor’s blade come morning. He’d never told Methos, because neither of them seemed particularly comfortable with compliments yet, but Mac actually liked Methos a little scruffy.

Not for the first time, he found himself wondering what his lover would look like should he grow his hair a little longer. It had been slightly longer when they first met. Mac could still recall the boyish forelock that the wind had blown across Methos’ brow that first time they’d walked together by the river.

Why he should remember something like that after all this time, he had no clue. If he’d had a sword to his throat, he couldn’t have sworn with any accuracy how Fitz, Kit, Cullen or any of his other friends had worn their hair when he’d first met them. Hell, he couldn’t even swear to Amanda’s hairstyle, and it was understandable that he’d notice her. Wondering if it were possible that he could have been sexually attracted to Methos from their first meeting, MacLeod got back to the business at hand.

The long white stretch of Methos’ throat beckoned to him like a campfire on a dark, forest night. The skin there was so soft, so gut-wrenchingly vulnerable. Mac took his time, kissing, sucking and nibbling. There was a spot right behind and below Methos’ left ear that seemed to drive his composed friend wild.

Mac supposed that it only stood to reason that all of their kind would be especially sensitive around the neck, but the moan Methos released sounded overwhelmed, like even MacLeod’s careful nuzzling was more than he could stand. Mac licked over the milk-white perfection there, tasting the sweet skin oils as he made his way lower.

Methos’ chest was so smooth, so well formed. Slender, yet leanly muscled -- a warrior’s body, for all that it wasn’t the form of a man who’d worn much battle armor. The shoulders were especially developed, which only stood to reason for so fine a swordsman. Mac spent a long time nipping the cool curves there before following the collarbone down.

His targets were waiting in the center of the golden brown nub that decorated each breast. He’d always enjoyed the softness and pliancy of a woman’s bosom. When he’d started loving Methos, he’d expected to be, if not put off, then disappointed by the lack of flesh on a man’s chest, but even though there was nothing there to sink his teeth into, Mac found Methos startlingly exciting all the same.

Perhaps it had something to do with the level of sensitivity. MacLeod had rarely slept with anyone as all over responsive as Methos. After five millennia, Mac would have almost understood if Methos were bored with normal caresses, if he’d needed some of the violent acts that Methos had tried to talk him into their first night together to get him off, but the oldest Immortal shook and cried out like an untouched virgin at almost anything Mac did to him.

Only lately had MacLeod begun to wonder if it weren’t the actions, but the partner that was responsible for Methos’ responsiveness. Not that Methos had left any doubt of it their first night together, but every time they had a difficult discussion like tonight’s, MacLeod was reminded anew of the regard Methos held him in, how very deeply and genuinely Methos cared for him. Mac knew love when he saw it, even if that were a word his companion avoided like the plague.

MacLeod had no clue why he, of all men, had been granted this honor. There were others of their kind who were far more worthy: gentle scholars who valued books and learning the way Methos did, cultured elders like Marcus Constantine who had also shared the bitter blows of a life measured in millennia rather than mere centuries, stunning women like Amanda who had turned lovemaking into an art form. But Methos wanted him. More than wanted, Methos had called what they’d found his redemption, and meant it.

It was strange, unbelievable and…wonderful. Not a day went by this last month and a half that MacLeod wasn’t reminded anew of the preciousness of this gift.

One of the things he loved most was how constantly surprising Methos was. Though outwardly amenable and charming, very little really got to Methos where the man lived. Mac thought it was probably all protective barriers, but his friend seemed to keep a wall between himself and the world at large. Even with him, there was so much distancing going on, on levels that he thought were probably beyond Methos’ conscious control.

With the amount of emotional resistance he encountered, Mac had expected to have to work to gain his lover’s trust where sex was concerned. Methos was still so private when it came to hiding the hurts of his past, still so reticent about voicing his feelings for MacLeod, that his enthusiastic abandon in bed came as a complete shock to the Highlander…but a shock of the best kind.

No one had ever opened themselves up to him the way Methos did, not even Amanda. For all that she fulfilled just about every fantasy a man could think up, she was always very much in control of herself and the events that transpired. But with Methos…it was almost as though once the Ancient Immortal gave into his feelings, he had no defense against them. Mac was beginning to suspect that this was the case outside of the bedroom as well, which was no doubt why his friend kept himself so hidden.

But right now all MacLeod was interested in was what was happening in this bed. The rest of the world could wait – forever, if it had to.

His tongue and hands couldn’t get enough of his companion’s silken flesh. Now that they’d seemed to have gotten past the latest hurdle, he was all over Methos, which appeared to be just fine with the squirming man beside him.

Laving every millimeter of silken flesh in between, Mac made his way from the collarbone towards the nearest nipple.

But before he could get a hold of it, Methos grabbed onto his shoulders, trying to pull him down onto the bed beside him. “This is a little one sided--”

Mac pulled back, “Please…let me feel all of you….”

He knew how it would go if he didn’t hold out. Just as soon as Methos had him flat on his back, the other man would focus totally on pleasing MacLeod, barely allowing the Highlander any touches that weren’t stolen. And he loved everything Methos did to him so much that he couldn’t help but get lost in the responses. Mac still didn’t know whether Methos’ behavior came from his earliest training when he’d been taught as a child to service men or whether it was born of his lover’s natural generosity of spirit. All he knew was that tonight he wanted to give his friend back some of the joy Methos gave him when he worshipped Mac’s flesh every night.

That wasn’t to say that MacLeod didn’t touch Methos, he did. It just never seemed to be enough to even out the scales, if they were weighing such things, which Methos obviously was not.

Visibly dazed by sensation, Methos questioned in a bewildered tone, “Don’t you want…?”

“I want this. Let me?”

And as Methos had done any time MacLeod had made that request, the other Immortal subsided back against the bed, granting MacLeod his mouth or his anus, whichever the Highlander asked for at that time.

Absurdly grateful, MacLeod returned his attention to his lover’s body. In the last six weeks his tongue had learned every rucked facet of those tender pink nipples. Tonight, he took his time. Soaking the rough bud of flesh with saliva, Mac blew across it, loving the stunned outcry his partner gave. He sucked that nipple and its counterpart to tingling redness before following the faint trace of hair down the center of Methos’ sternum.

The hair was so fine that it could barely be seen, but his tongue felt it; though, not nearly as much as Methos did were his moans anything to go by. He loved that about his friend, that Methos was just as noisy in bed as he was.

That nearly invisible trail led him to Methos’ navel. Shallow, dark, and warm, MacLeod took his time exploring the tasty recess. He didn’t know what it was about Methos -- it was probably something as prosaic as the soap he used -- but his new lover’s skin was almost addictively flavorful, not quite spice, but not exactly sugar sweet, either.

“I could do this forever,” MacLeod mumbled, rubbing his chin back and forth across the tender skin of Methos’ lower stomach. Methos seemed to love the abrasive scratch of his beard stubble over that ultra-soft area.

Methos gasped and shuddered, his eyes so hot that this glib rhetorician seemed beyond conscious thought, never mind words. The pink flush of passion in those long cheeks stood out like fever marks. Stars knew, Methos’ flesh was certainly hot enough to be burning up with fever. Those greenish hazel eyes were glittering with a heat that never failed to spark a matching fire in MacLeod’s own body.

Over fifty nights they’d been doing this now, and it never ceased to amaze MacLeod how much watching Methos lose control turned him on.

All teasing stopped as the rapidly expanding cock below bumped his chin. Lost in the fragrant, musky bouquet of Methos’ arousal, Mac could only follow the scent downwards, all choice removed from him. Because he loved the feel of the dewy cling of the moisture seeping from the tip of Methos’ cock against skin, Mac rubbed his face against that impressive erection, much the same way Methos had done to him on their first night together.

That hot musk smell was all around him now, filling his lungs and world as he breathed deep and blew a hot stream of breath across those steamy genitals.

His fingers wouldn’t wait. They found their way to the velvety softness of his lover’s testicles and the loose fold of foreskin. As his right hand worked that massive cock, his left rolled the balls below, while Methos made these incredibly hot mewling sounds that set his blood percolating.

“Please – please – please…” Methos begged in rhythm with the Highlander’s pumping hand, his face so flushed and lined with need as to be unrecognizable as the subdued, remote Watcher MacLeod had befriended four years ago.

A month ago, this form of loving was hard for Mac. He’d spent four-hundred years as a Christian warrior, actively avoiding situations where he might be coerced by force or emotional manipulation into this very act. He couldn’t count the number of friendships he’d lost because someone had propositioned him to do this. The concept that he would give head willingly…enthusiastically…of his own free choice, blew his mind, when it wasn’t blowing him into the stratosphere.

He’d faced down so many demons this past month, crossed so many bridges of conscience to accept Methos’ love that there were moments when Mac didn’t even recognize who he was anymore, but…he liked the man he was becoming.

Methos deserved a lover who gave as good as he got. Mac knew he wasn’t all the way there yet, that there were certain acts he might never be able to accept, but he was hopeful. The first time he’d gone down on this huge cock, he’d broken out in a cold sweat and nearly lost the contents of his stomach. He’d gagged at his friend’s first thrust and hadn’t been able to swallow any of Methos’ sperm. He’d felt like a total failure, Methos’ patience with him only making it worse.

And, the truly pitiful part was that it hadn’t a thing to do with Methos’ desirability. He’d wanted to share this with Methos, only sixteenth century Catholic mores were nearly impossible to totally exorcise from one’s consciousness. In his head, Mac knew that going down on Methos was no more unnatural or sinful than going down on Amanda was – and he’d overcome those particular inhibitions centuries ago, thank God – but convincing his instincts was quite a different matter. It was just…different with a man, harder, because until Methos, he’d never allowed himself to think of men as possible sexual partners. All this particular act had represented in the past was an aspersion to his honor.

Fortunately, he was past that foolishness now. Though Methos’ size never failed to startle him, he found this long, lean muscled, male body just as exciting as he did Amanda’s or any other woman he was interested in. Now, when he leaned in over Methos’ genitals, he wasn’t struggling to hold onto his dinner; he was working to hold himself in check, not to rush things, no matter how impatient his five-thousand-year-old companion might be. Where it was true that he hadn’t even a tenth of Methos’ experience, he wasn’t a complete neophyte when it came to the bedroom and he was determined to prove it. If not to Methos, who didn’t seem concerned with such things, then at least to himself.

“Duncan…please…yessss…” Methos hissed as MacLeod finally gave in and absorbed that needy shaft.

He loved when Methos called him by his given name. It was so rare, usually in moments of extreme duress, as though Methos couldn’t help himself at such times.

His lover’s taste flooded him, strong and spicy as a gypsy stew. Mac used his tongue on the underside of the glans, stimulating that spot that seemed to jumpstart Methos straight into orbit.

The sounds coming from up above weren’t even decipherable anymore, let alone definable.

Though a late bloomer, Mac was a quick study. He was good at this now. Opening his jaw to its widest possible extension, he sucked down that long, blood-red shaft, deep-throating it with a skill that even a maestro like Amanda would have admired. He could feel Methos’ smoky gaze locked upon him, the way it always seemed to be whenever MacLeod did this, as though there were a part of Methos that still couldn’t believe it were happening to him.

Methos’ hands were back on his shoulders again, his nails digging deep into MacLeod’s skin as he held on for dear life.

MacLeod took his time, drawing it out, pleasuring Methos long past his jaw’s comfort point. Finally, the warm balls he was rolling between his fingers pulled up tight to Methos’ body.

That being the signal he was waiting for, MacLeod pulled off the straining cock.

“Noooooo….please….” Methos begged with a mindless need that, while familiar, was utterly satisfying.

“Hang on. You’re gonna like this variation on the theme,” Mac promised.

Gathering his courage about him, Mac slid his hands beneath Methos’ nearly unpadded backside and gently eased the other man up. Spreading those long, corded thighs, MacLeod bared the part of his friend that he had such intimate knowledge of, yet hardly ever saw.

“Yes…oh, yesss…” Methos begged.

From the strung out tension MacLeod could feel in the body he’d just folded over on top of itself, Methos’ response would probably have been the same if the Highlander were planning on vivisecting him.

Mac knew that level of need. He was dancing with it himself at the moment as he stared down between those snow-white, flat cheeks. Fire licked through his loins at the sight of Methos so open to him.

Though it shamed him to admit it in the cold light of day, having this ancient being offer himself to him this way was the hottest turn-on he’d ever encountered. There wasn’t any Immortal as powerful as Methos. The signature of his presence rang out with a depth and potency that felt like the power encountered on the most sacred of holy ground. To have all that history, strength, and power submit to him on a nightly basis appealed to a primitive part of MacLeod that he liked to ignore. Only, he couldn’t pretend it didn’t exist in bed, not when his instincts were running the show like this.

And, of course, his savage enjoyment of Methos’ gift only increased his guilt. There was just no way around it. He was as addicted to taking Methos as Cullen had been to opium. Thank God his friend liked it. MacLeod honestly didn’t know what he’d do if Methos didn’t derive pleasure from this.

If MacLeod had harbored any doubts about his partner’s enjoyment of this particular act, the speed with which Methos opened himself up to him would have dispelled them.

He swallowed hard as Methos’ shift in position exposed the tiny, dark orifice with which he’d only had tactile association. The puckered opening was impossibly small to the eye, and, he knew from experience, equally tight.

Methos was…beautiful and vulnerable, neither of which were adjectives that were normally applicable to this sarcastic chameleon, but both of which were breathtakingly appropriate at the present moment.

“Duncan?” his name was a strangled moan.

MacLeod glanced up at his friend’s face. Rapture didn’t half describe it. Big beads of sweat dripped down that sheened brow from Methos’s rumpled, soaked hair like they were in a sauna. The handsome features were lined with need, sharp and flushed. But it was the eyes more than anything that got to him…hungry and bright, they were focused on MacLeod as though he were the only thing in Methos’ universe.

And perhaps he was. He certainly felt that way about Methos at the moment.

Normally, MacLeod would ask permission before he went trailblazing any new frontiers, but his lover’s heated gaze seemed to grant him free license to anything and everything he might desire.

Methos’ sob filled the room as Mac lowered his mouth to a place previously touched only by fingers and penis. He was quivering with suppressed need himself as he breathed in the hot scent of the tight-guarded entrance.

He’d done this before with Amanda, but the occasion hadn’t risen yet with Methos. The Ancient Immortal had a way of precipitating events so Mac never had the opportunity to slow things down enough to indulge this way. Whether it were the alcohol Methos had consumed tonight, a byproduct of the emotional stress, or compliance with MacLeod’s request to be humored, his friend was not himself tonight.

It shouldn’t surprise him, but even this was different than when he did it with Amanda. His nose and forehead didn’t come to rest on a soft pubic mound and moist vagina. Instead, he found himself up close and personal with heavy testicles and a hard, hungry cock. Male, everything about Methos was just so masculine and strong that it still stunned MacLeod at times that Methos would want him this way.

The act itself was the same, though, even if Methos’ response was more dramatic. Normally, when he did this with Amanda, he’d get some wonderfully erotic moans, but when his tongue tip touched the center of that tight, puckered entrance, Methos let loose a scream that sounded like he’d achieved the orgasm of the century.

Methos’ hands leaped from MacLeod’s shoulders to tangle in his loose hair as the Highlander lapped at that perfect spot. The noises Methos made were too loud to be either groans or moans, but the harsh, guttural sounds cried out to something equally primal inside MacLeod.

He used his tongue to tantalize that sensitive orifice until it loosened to his slick probes. The taste of the flesh here was different than anywhere else, metallic and very human. Mac didn’t hunger for the flavor the way he did Methos’ sweat or eye salts, but it moved him in a way those other tastes rarely did.

MacLeod juiced the perimeter up with his saliva, then began thrusting his tongue in and out in a rhythm that foreshadowed his future intent.

If he’d still doubted Methos’ passion for penetration, the mindless mantra of “please, please, now…” that was coming from above in at least five different languages would have settled his doubts completely. Methos was as hot to be taken as he was to take. It was still incomprehensible to MacLeod, but it was also incontestable, what with the living proof writhing beneath his tongue.

When he’d done all that was humanly possible there, Mac lifted his head, wincing as Methos’ fingers helplessly tugged his hair almost out of his scalp.

The fact that there was no immediate apology told him how far gone his friend was. Normally, they were both tripping over themselves to be courteous, even here.

His heart skipped a beat as he met Methos’ gaze.

There was no higher thought in those eyes, just the rawest, most carnal need MacLeod had seen in four centuries of intercourse. And there was something else. Even now, when passion had driven his lover to the very brink of sanity, there was still a wariness. Methos was watching him as though he were being played with, as though MacLeod might suddenly leave the bed and abandon him.

Mac had no doubt that it had happened in the past. The images he’d gotten from both Kronos and Byron’s Quickenings had been enough to show him that whatever Methos had shared with either of these men, it hadn’t been about Methos’ needs. Though he knew that his friend had enjoyed dozens of perfectly normal, healthy relationships, the longer he knew Methos, the more MacLeod was beginning to suspect that at the times when his lover had needed something the most, Methos had been denied or betrayed – which was perhaps why he’d come to expect it. Methos’ level of disappointment was probably relative to that of his desire – the more something meant to him, the more Methos expected it to slip through his fingers.

But that wasn’t going to happen here, not with him.

“I willna leave ya,” MacLeod promised, his brogue so thick that he wondered if Methos could even decipher it, “not ever.”

Only then did he do what they both wanted, lift those narrow hips and slide home.

Saliva wasn’t the best of lubricants, but if the entry was on the dry side, neither of them seemed to notice.

All MacLeod could feel was that warm, tight body opening up to him.

What Methos felt was clear in his face. Mac didn’t know if he would ever understand how having something as wide and long as his penis shoved up inside him could possibly be viewed as a relief, but he’d lived long enough to recognize the emotion for what it was. Methos looked like MacLeod felt, as though every aching, desperate need had been instantly fulfilled with the entrance of MacLeod’s thick cock into his body.

After six weeks of doing this, those initial moments of penetration shouldn’t come as such a sensual shock for MacLeod, but everything was still so physical, so amazingly intense. He’d never felt anything like it. The heat of that almost painfully tight channel gripping him was perfect. Their bodies fit like they’d been made for each other.Yet, for all its fiercely erotic rush, there was something incredibly comforting about it as well. Emotionally, it felt like coming home, like after four centuries of wandering, he’d finally found his way back to the familiar hearth fire that had been forever lost to him all those long years ago.

But there was so much more to being inside Methos than the mere physicality of the act. Mac could feel that warm body quivering around and under him, could feel the sweat running slick off both their skins, could almost taste the sex in the air he breathed in…none of that was new or in the least unusual. Maybe even the bone-melting tenderness he felt whenever he slid inside Methos wasn’t particularly noteworthy or extraordinary.

What was peculiar to intercourse with Methos was the change in their energy fields, that ever-present buzz that all Immortals had. When he was thrusting inside Methos like this, Mac could feel the flow between them. He’d bedded dozens of Immortals and never encountered anything like this. Sometimes when it was really hot with Amanda, he’d get a sense of it. The power would be sparking around them so strong that it almost felt like they rocked the barge, but this was even more than that.

It was as if a conduit for the power that made up their distinctive Quickenings opened up, allowing their signatures to meld and blend the way their body fluids did. This unique melding added an almost psychic level to the sex that Mac had never heard of. It wasn’t as though their consciousnesses were touching, for he couldn’t hear thoughts. Rather, it was more like he was living inside Methos’ skin for the brief moments they were fucking.

Sometimes he thought that it might be a holdover from that joint Quickening they’d experienced when they’d taken Kronos and Silas’ heads at almost the same instant. It seemed that maybe the energies they’d inadvertently exchanged at that point were trying to find their way home to their proper bodies, but…the power didn’t stay put. As soon as MacLeod pulled out of Methos’ flesh, the conduit closed down and the energies rushed back to their respective bodies.

But right now those energy circuits were wide open and MacLeod was flying high. The freedom and rush of the act was incomprehensible. He felt like Icarus, before the sun melted his wings. He was burning up from the inside out, the pleasure and energy mix so sharp it hurt.

Methos was tight as a vise around him, but still pliant. There was no ripping or tearing, for all that the saliva had given out already. Mac pushed in deep, pulled all the way out, then drove in home again, discovering the rhythm that was as familiar as that of his own beating heart. His right hand left Methos’ shoulder to commandeer that impressive cock, needing to feel his lover’s pleasure as well.

The alcohol had slowed Methos down some, but at MacLeod’s first stroke, the sluggish flesh expanded to startling fullness. Even after all this time, it still felt strange to MacLeod to feel another man’s shaft stiffen and pulse to life in his hand. His own erections had never seemed a source of wonder to him, but Methos’ were.

They were both panting and groaning like the soundtrack to a cheap skin flick. As sensations sharpened, so did that power flow between them. Methos was so drenched with sweat that Mac could barely hold onto him. He wasn’t in much better shape. His hair was in strings draping his cheeks, wet as if he’d just stepped out of the shower. Every time he thrust in, a barrage of perspiration drops would be flung down onto Methos’ already soaked chest.

They didn’t do it in this position very often. Methos seemed to prefer being on his knees, which allowed him far more movement and, therefore, more control. But MacLeod liked it like this. He loved seeing the play of emotion over Methos’ strained features, loved watching the pain of need give way to the sheer incredulity of climax and from there into afterglow.

And it had one other added benefit that he was quick to indulge in tonight. When Methos was flat on his back like this, they could kiss the entire time.

He latched onto those tasty lips as soon as he was able, drowning in their depths as Methos tried to suck his toenails out of him. They were so equally matched here, so in tune with each other that it frightened MacLeod sometimes.

Fear, that was something else he wasn’t used to feeling during sex.

As he stared at that weird reaction, Mac began to get a taste of what his lover must be experiencing in their affair. They might have been born almost five millennia apart, but they both had the superstitious dread that only those born before the Age of Reason could experience. They’d both been reared with some version of the belief that the angels and ancient gods did not smile on perfection. Ever jealous of their divine status, when something came too close to the ideal, it was inevitably knocked down. Mac had only to review his own life for corroboration of that cold fact – Deborah, Little Deer, Tessa…each and every time MacLeod had found something that made him feel this good, it was snatched from his hands. And, shocking as it was to admit, nothing had ever felt like Methos.

Mac didn’t like thinking about this kind of thing. Spurred on by the fragility of even Immortal life, MacLeod pushed the ghosts from his mind. He buried himself instead in sensation and Methos.

Everything was becoming too visceral. Delight danced through his blood like a narcotic, the energy levels peaking, his senses swirling, reality tunneling down to the pumping of his hips, the clutch of that tight channel around him, and the embrace of Methos’ powerful legs. His heart was pounding faster than that race horse Kit and Amanda had fought over. He went to that place where there was only the magic of the connection of two bodies, that sacred space where love was more tangible than the ground beneath one’s feet.

Each breath was fought for like a Quickening. His body was on fire and only Methos could put it out, but there was no relief there either. Methos’ flesh was burning like kindling. The power was jumping along that open conduit between them like 20,000 volts of raw electricity. It was a wonder they weren’t writhing under the lightning blasts that they’d both suffered far too many times. The whole room felt like it was jolting.

The incredible rush of tangled sensation and emotion flared, white hot as nuclear fusion. Mac had often wondered if any Immortals had survived Hiroshima, and, if they had, what it had felt like. Now he knew. You felt your skin burn, then the flesh melted off your bones, then the bones themselves liquefied. After that it was all a molten gush.

Mac ripped his mouth free of his lover’s. Overcome, he cried out, faintly hearing Methos groan beneath him as climax convulsed through them both. As he’d done for the past fifty some odd nights, MacLeod pumped the melted runoff that had once been his physical self deep into the secret recesses of Methos body. Vaguely, he was aware of the scalding splatter of Methos’ coming spurting his chest and belly.

Even though he wasn’t sure he could survive another second in that vortex of ripping pleasure, MacLeod was still sad to feel his shaft deflate and slip free of Methos.

The physical separation came a moment before the metaphysical one. With a final, wrenching pull, the energies withdrew to wherever they originated from. And all that was left in the sudden quiet was the pounding of two hearts and their ragged breathing.

Mac knew that his body would eventually reassemble from wherever Methos had sent it. It always did. But right now, he didn’t have a solid bone or muscle to his name.

Having no choice in the matter, Mac collapsed right on top of his friend. He pressed his face into a the sweat-slick crevice between Methos’ neck and collarbone, sucking the salty drops into his dry mouth. He lay there panting, too whipped to budge.

Methos’ pain filled grunt seemed to indicate that he was attaining solid state a little faster.

“Sorry,” Mac gasped, still unable to do a thing about moving.

Methos’ chuckle was as unexpected and as satisfying as the orgasm they’d just achieved. “Sorry, he says.”

“Mmmm?”

If his lover were hoping for intelligent conversation, it was going to be a while.

“Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, that is not something for which a man should apologize – ever.” Methos was practically glowing with contentment.

Though his cheeks were warming from the praise, MacLeod was glad for it. Methos wasn’t bullshitting him. He could see that the other man was still gasping more than breathing, as flushed with pleasure as he was himself. It stood to reason that words would be more important to his lover than breath.

Appreciating that fact, Mac tried to return the favor, to give Methos something he’d like to hear. “It’s…never been like that for me before, Methos.”

MacLeod was proud of himself. The words were all in the same language and even made sense. That they were true was an added boon.

“Me neither,” Methos sighed. Seeming to give up the hope of ever getting out from beneath MacLeod’s no doubt squashing weight, he stretched beneath him.

Mac hissed in a breath, unable to believe that his body would be interested so soon after such a cathartic orgasm.

“Truth?” MacLeod asked, trying to distract himself from the sensuous movement of rippling muscle beneath him.

“It’s not something I could lie about. If our Quickenings had called any louder to each other, we’d be toast right now.”

Lured by the information, MacLeod managed to raise his head high enough to stare down into Methos’ face. The sweat was cooling on his lover’s skin. Methos looked sleepy and utterly sated now.

“You have felt that before then,” MacLeod determined.

“Not to that degree,” Methos replied, reaching up to stroke the hair clear of MacLeod’s face. “It’s…rare – almost unheard of.”

“What does it mean?” Mac asked.

“That we are…very much in tune,” Methos said, his smile gentle and loving.

“Yes, but…what does it mean?” he repeated.

Methos shrugged. “How should I know?”

“But…you said….”

“I felt it once, more than fifteen-hundred years ago. And it was nowhere near as strong as it is with you,” Methos answered, a trace of his testy self filtering through the bonhomie of afterglow.

“Who with?” Mac braced himself, praying it wasn’t Kronos. The timeframe was all wrong for it to have been Cassandra,

It was a long time before Methos answered. Just when MacLeod was beginning to think he wouldn’t respond, Methos quietly offered, “The man whose Quickening changed Darius.”

“Merlin,” MacLeod said, hearing the hushed wonder in his own voice.

“Joe has a big mouth,” Methos sighed, seeming weary, but not too upset to find that his friends had been discussing him behind his back.

MacLeod had a million questions he wanted to ask, but Methos’ expression made it plain that this was an extremely painful memory. Though loving Methos gave him some rights, it didn’t give him free license to go day tripping through his lover’s tragedies. Joe had told him the story. The bare bones would have to be enough.

A century of strained quiet seemed to pass before Methos questioned, “Don’t you want to know the sordid details?”

The tension in the body that was still supporting him told MacLeod how much Methos didn’t want to have this discussion. It was equally clear from Methos’ expression that he would tell MacLeod if he requested it of him.

This wasn’t a power he’d asked for. Mac wasn’t even sure he wanted it. The only thing he was certain of was that he was going to do his damnedest not to abuse it.

“No. Someday when the hurt’s not so raw, you may feel like telling me about it,” Mac answered.

“Raw? It’s been almost two millennia….”

MacLeod silenced the rest with a soft kiss. Methos’ lips clung to him with a desperate need that belied the resounding orgasm they’d just experienced.

When he eventually withdrew, MacLeod said, “It still hurts. Let it go for now. I’ll be around when you’re ready to talk about it.”

“It’s been fifteen hundred years, Highlander. It could be twice that before….”

“We’ve got time. We’ll talk about it then,” Mac promised, brushing the lank, perspiration-soaked hair back from where it had drooped over Methos’ forehead.

He could see in Methos’ strained features how hard those words hit. His own throat ached in sympathy with the loud gulp Methos gave.

“Mac?”

“Yes?” he hoped his smile was reassuring. Methos looked totally adrift at the moment.

“I…want to believe. I’ll work on it. I promise.”

MacLeod reached down to cup his friend’s cheek, his insides clenching as though being twisted through a turn of the century clothes wringer. He’d never felt this much for anyone in his life.

“Are you familiar with Frost?” Mac asked.

“Robert Frost?”

“Ah-huh,” MacLeod nodded.

The Road Not Taken?” Methos guessed. MacLeod could almost see his lover’s brilliant mind sorting through Frost’s works.

“No. I think it was one of his essays. We love what we love for what it is. You don’t have to change for me.”

Reading how fragile Methos’ equilibrium was at that moment, Mac gave his friend his privacy and laid his head back upon that satin smooth, slightly clammy chest. Methos’ arms tightened around him, holding him as close as possible.

He didn’t like falling asleep on his insomniac lover, but tonight he had no choice. Their argument and lovemaking had left him running on empty. Lulled by the steady rhythm of the oldest heart on the planet, MacLeod gave himself over to slumber.

He wasn’t sure what they’d settled tonight, but as he lay drifting off in that loving embrace, it sure felt like forever. And, for once, the idea of that kind of a commitment to another Immortal didn’t strike him as eternally confining. To the contrary, as Methos’ palm rubbed his back in slow circles, it felt like the best kind of freedom he’d ever known.

The End

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