Backstage, post-show, at a heavy metal concert. Not much could rival it for sheer excess. Imperial Rome in her heyday, perhaps.
The man standing vigil in the corridor had survived Rome. When he closed his eyes, he could still feel the reverberations of the combined shouts of the spectators shaking the Coliseum as their favorite gladiator fought for his life, still smell the stink of the animal and slave cages, still feel the energy of all those adrenaline high mortals screaming in unison. Some things never changed. The odor of unwashed bodies was still the same as it had been in Rome all those years ago and the roar of Byron’s fans was chillingly similar to the spectators at the Coliseum.
Byron’s performance stoked the crowd up. They were hungry for more, aching for better and bigger stimulation. Methos couldn’t count the number of times he’d heard that deafening human din. They were screaming for an encore, but in their jaded hearts, what they were really aching for was blood. Methos knew that, even if they didn’t.
He also knew that their hunger would be appeased somewhere tonight, one way or another. The minute Mike Palidini had overdosed, Methos had known that Byron’s days were numbered. The only chance Methos’ old friend might have had for survival was to leave the country, tonight, but Byron had made it plain that he wasn’t fleeing the wrath of MacLeod. Arrogance, over-confidence, ennui, a deathwish…it hardly mattered what Byron’s motivation was, the outcome was going to be the same – Methos was about to lose another friend.
It was ironic, really, that the man who had once been known as Death would come to this strait, would plead for life. He’d killed more mortals and Immortals than most people met in a dozen lifetimes. What was one more life to Death? What mother pleading for her baby had ever stilled his blade? What lover or terrified man-child had felt his mercy? Not a one. They’d fallen before him without exception. He’d taken life indiscriminately, and gloried in the ability to do so. A man who’d claimed so many lives for his own pleasure…what right did he have to ask that a life that mattered to him be spared?
But here he was, about to plead his case to an avenger as determined as the man known as Death had been blood drunk.
It was comical, really, in that tragically unfunny way Fate had of hoisting the arrogant on their own petards.
Time was, when Methos and his brothers walked, the very Earth shook in fear of them. No one was safe from their ravages. Death never pleaded for anything. He took as he saw fit, riding with a band of killers, sadists all, who made Death’s cruelty seem a mercy. But Methos’ brothers were dead now. Those days were long gone, as was the man known as Death. All that remained was the body that had housed the Grim Reaper. The soul in that body was tired, so tired of the killing.
And therein lay the irony. Death had had his fill of killing, but even Death was powerless to stop it. And Methos had tried. These past two hundred years, oh, how he’d tried! Over two hundred years without a Quickening. Two centuries without wasting a single mortal life. Ten thousand four-hundred weeks devoted to healing. Over seventy-two-thousand, eight-hundred days given to research and bettering the human condition…and it was all meaningless when a title he’d worn nearly three millennia ago could rear its nasty head and steal his present reality, as he’d stolen all those lives countless centuries ago.
It was a justice of sorts that he’d be brought to this strait, Methos supposed, but it hardly seemed fair. He’d buried the entire human race, or so it seemed some days. There were times when just one more loss seemed like it might break him. Alexa’s death had been almost too much to bear. To lose Byron…that would almost be as bad as forfeiting Mac’s friendship…which he may have already done.
There was so much unresolved between MacLeod and himself since Kronos had reappeared six months ago that Methos honestly didn’t know where he stood with the Highlander anymore. Not quite enemy, but not quite friend either. Mac…tolerated his presence these days. They were trying to be friends, where they’d never had to try before. The effort was exhausting them both. It was hard to relax into a relationship when there was a powder keg of resentment and anger lurking right below the surface, just waiting to explode.
The cynic in Methos couldn’t help but feel that it served him right for violating his own long-standing, non-involvement rules. If he’d just kept to himself, retained his autonomy, he wouldn’t be hurting right now. How many times was he going to have to be taught this painful lesson? Solitude was safe, solitude meant survival….
But solitude was another one of those cosmic jokes. Like happiness and contentment, it was good in theory, but almost impossible to achieve. Methos knew that involvement of any kind equated to pain. He’d learned that his only hope of not hurting was in keeping to himself, living apart, but how long could any man, even an Immortal, live completely on his own and remain sane?
He had spent the last three-thousand years trying not to get attached – to people, to things, to places. When you lived longer than the cultures that nurtured Man, you learned about the transience of life. You trained yourself not to care. But every now and then your humanity would rear its inconvenient head and you’d find yourself enjoying someone’s company a bit too much and, despite your best intentions, that person would get close enough to you that they became more than just another mortal or, far more dangerous, a future foe in the Game. They became that rarest of gifts – a valued friend.
You would think he’d learn after five-thousand years of this. It never worked out. It couldn’t. Every time he cared about a mortal, he’d end up holding their pain wracked bodies as they breathed their last breath, and when he committed the height of stupidity and befriended one of his own kind, situations like this inevitably occurred. He’d either find himself coming to swords with men he once called brothers, or find himself standing in some godforsaken place to plead for one friend to spare another’s life, which was his current hopeless scenario.
Methos knew it was a futile effort: Duncan MacLeod had judged Byron. All that remained was the dispensing of justice. If Ingrid Henning, who had been Mac’s lover, wasn’t able to evade MacLeod’s deadly punishment, what chance did Byron have?
Not for the first time, Methos wondered how he’d escaped that lethal katana’s blade in Bordeaux. None of his brothers had. Kronos and Kaspian had fallen to the Highlander’s sword. Silas would have, too, if Methos hadn’t taken his head himself.
Even now, nearly six months later, the guilt of that Quickening ate at his conscience. Silas might have been a psychopathic murderer, but the giant had loved and protected Methos for countless centuries. And for Duncan MacLeod’s sake, Methos had betrayed that four millennia old relationship, taken the Quickening of a man who’d never done anything to him but love and follow him.
‘I go with the winner,’ he’d told MacLeod that horrible night when he’d been resolved to step back and allow destiny to take its course. He’d used the words as a taunt to rile McLeod’s fury, believing in his heart that they were nothing more than the statement of fact, that he’d be able to just stand back and let MacLeod and Kronos duke it out, then go with the victor. It had never occurred to him that he had a chance against his former brothers anymore. Once, four millennia ago, Methos might have had it in him to stand up against Kronos and best him in a swordfight, but as he’d told MacLeod that fateful day Kalas had come for his head, he hadn’t the fire anymore. With the passing of his thirst for blood, he’d lost his passion for fighting. Methos had known that he couldn’t stand up to Kronos or any of his brothers and win these days, so he hadn’t even tried. Not until Bordeaux, when Mac had killed Kaspian and proven that the Horsemen of the Apocalypse could, in fact, die, not until he’d been presented with an alternative that seemed worse than dying. Duncan MacLeod had been willing to die fighting the good fight that night, and, for the first time in Methos’ life, a moral obligation meant more to him than keeping his head. Methos had still known it was a losing proposition to even try to stand against Kronos and Silas, but, in the end, the betrayed hurt in Mac’s eyes had been too much to bear and Methos had….
What he’d done was sacrifice his beloved brother on the altar of Duncan MacLeod’s piety, he bitterly acknowledged.
And it hadn’t been enough. It didn’t matter that Methos had loved Silas and in killing him, he’d made a choice he’d never believed himself morally capable of. It didn’t matter that the crimes Silas had committed were performed before the birth of Christ. It didn’t matter that Silas had spent the last two hundred years hiding from the march of progress in that backwater dive Kronos and he had pulled Silas from. Two hundred years of blameless living weren’t enough to satisfy the avenging Scot. Hell, Methos wasn’t sure that his own two-thousand plus were sufficient to placate Duncan MacLeod, because, for the life of him, he didn’t understand why he still lived, why he breathed when the other Horsemen lay dead in their unmarked graves. He was painted with the same brush as his brothers. He’d done the same crimes, taken the same pleasure from it.
He’d hoped that by siding with Mac and killing Silas, he might prove where his loyalties lay, only…it hadn’t been enough. Forgiveness was as beyond MacLeod as compassion had been beyond Kronos. Duncan had spared his life that night, but he hadn’t forgiven him.
Strangely enough, in over five millennia of life, forgiveness had never been all that important to Methos. When things didn’t work out in the past, he simply got on his horse and rode away. But he couldn’t ride away from the life he’d made here. Those first three months after Bordeaux, he’d tried, but, the damn Scot was in his blood. So, he’d returned to Paris, returned to Mac, returned to this damnable half-life of non-acceptance and suspicion.
Mac looked at him like he was a bug now. Joe was a bit more welcoming, but…it wasn’t the same there either.
And now MacLeod was going to kill the last true friend Methos had allowed himself.
After Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, George Gordon, Lord Byron, was the most frustrating man Methos had ever met. Byron’s incredible genius was eclipsed only by his ego and depression. The poet had been a disaster waiting to happen from day one. The self-loathing that Byron’s poetic brilliance had masked when Methos had taken the new Immortal on as a student had grown exponentially in the intervening centuries. Where once there had been exuberance and brightness, now there was only ego and peevishness. It hurt to see Byron this way, but Methos couldn’t help but hope that time would change Byron and return the master poet to his former brilliance.
There had been such fire there, such passion. It attracted Methos to Byron, much the same as it had drawn him to MacLeod three years ago when he had finally allowed himself to meet the young Immortal he’d observed from a distance for centuries.
Unfortunately, drunken whirlwind days and laudanum laced, lusty nights in Byron’s bed had done nothing to prepare Methos for the Highlander’s fire. Though it hadn’t always been the case, for all the poet’s unbridled passion, Methos could take or leave the mercurial Byron now. But Duncan MacLeod, there was no leaving that. The Highlander was as pure as he was bright. MacLeod sparked a fire in Methos that he’d believed long dead, and the Scot did it without drugs or drunken orgies. There were no besotted animalistic couplings with MacLeod. In fact, there were no couplings at all. More’s the pity.
Byron and MacLeod were opposite ends of the passion spectrum, amoral debaucher and perfect hero, respectively. It only stood to reason that their meeting would be as explosive as that of matter and anti-matter. Both couldn’t exist simultaneously in the same space; so one would have to be sacrificed. Methos loved them both, but circumstance had made it plain that he couldn’t keep them both.
Despite his undeniable attraction to the Highlander’s fiery personality, the choice in a situation such as this should have been clear as Rebecca’s crystal. He’d known Byron for over two hundred years. What were the mere three winters he’d spent at MacLeod’s side in contrast to that? He’d been both teacher and lover to the poet, where MacLeod had never been more than a platonic friend. Methos’ loyalties should have been completely undivided, but….
Methos knew what the stupid prick had been doing these past few decades. He’d heard the bragging boasts from Byron’s own lips as to how the rock star had seduced dozens of hyped-up mortals into jumping off of bridges and buildings with him, just to break the ennui, for a lark, for fun. While the man known as Death would have completely understood the power rush that came from such manipulation, Doc Polidori, Doc Benjamin, Adam Pierson and the man inside who was only Methos these days, shuddered at the waste of life.
And, so, he’d avoided Byron, as he avoided most things that disturbed him, until such time as Byron had gone slumming at that club where Joe’s band was playing and set these events in motion. Now Methos couldn’t avoid the issue anymore, because, if he did, Byron was going to lose his damn head and even though the fool probably deserved it, Methos couldn’t just let it happen. For the sake of what Byron had once been and might be again some day when he grew out of this destructive phase, Methos had to intervene.
Methos felt MacLeod in the dim, crowded corridor long before he saw him. It was a testament to his longevity that Methos could sometimes distinguish between the signatures of Immortals he knew. Byron’s buzz was a hornets’ nest of unrest in the stadium behind him, while Duncan MacLeod…the Highlander was like ocean surf pounding against a rocky shore – clean, powerful and invigorating. MacLeod’s buzz had the feel of someone far older than his meager four-hundred years. No doubt, it was the result of all the ancients MacLeod had taken. Grayson, Nefretiri, Kalas, and Coltec’s Quickenings alone were enough to super-charge any Immortal. With Kronos and Kaspian added to the mix, Duncan MacLeod was quite possibly the strongest among them at this moment. That would change as some of the older headhunters racked up their trophy Quickenings, but a dozen newly formed Immortals couldn’t match a Kaspian or Kronos for sheer power. Right now MacLeod was possibly unbeatable, the knowledge of which made it all the harder for Methos to step into the avenger’s path. He didn’t think Mac would take his head for interfering, but wasn’t certain how far the Highlander’s forbearance could be pushed. MacLeod had been serious about it coming to swords between them the day Methos had intervened in Mac’s behalf with Keane. Though they were trying to be friends, Methos knew there were no guarantees between them anymore.
Taking a deep breath, for he knew he was in for the fight of his life, Methos stepped out from behind the shielding white arch of the stadium’s corridor, placing himself firmly in the Highlander’s way. With his long dark coat flapping like wings behind him, MacLeod resembled nothing so much as an avenging angel. His black pants, dark tee shirt and burgundy button-down shirt did nothing to distill the image. Black and red were almost universally viewed as the colors of death. Far grimmer than the shades of his clothing was the expression on MacLeod’s face - dark and foreboding as a thunderlcoud, ready to spark killing lightning at the first obstacle.
Methos shivered as the trailing ends of MacLeod’s coat settled down behind him like a murdering raven’s wings. When Mac was close enough, Methos came straight up to him and stood in the other Immortal’s personal space, standing closer than Methos did with most of his lovers, so close that should weapons be drawn, there would be as much chance of injuring one’s self as one’s opponent.
The Highlander’s stormy face would brook no dissent. Mac was bent on revenge. The only thing that would stop him was a sword, Methos recognized with a sick heart.
The tiny corridor practically vibrated with tension as their gazes met and their uneasy truce was stretched to its limits.
Vaguely, Methos wondered if this was it, the point where their former friendship would finally disintegrate, where they’d come to swords for real.
Knowing he only had one chance, Methos started talking fast, pleading as he hadn’t pleaded for his own life under the Highlander’s blade the day Kalas and he had tumbled into the Seine, “Paladini’s dead, I know. Byron didn’t force him to do anything.”
“That’s a load of crap,” MacLeod countered, allowing himself to be halted by Methos’ hand on the center of his chest, his displeasure bristling in every hard line of his face. “Mike’s dead because of Byron.”
“No. Mike is dead because of Mike,” Methos corrected, not knowing if he could ever make this stubborn idealist see. A man like Duncan MacLeod would never have fallen thrall to someone like Byron, anymore than he would have to Kronos. It wasn’t Byron’s fault that those he toyed with were too weak to walk away from his allure. A predator could not be blamed for its nature. Users would use, and victims would be used, until such time as the victim wised up and made himself less of a target. Mike was as much to blame in this tragic dance as Byron, perhaps more so. Byron wasn’t the only user in this situation. The kid had seen Byron as his ticket to the stars.
A pair of stagehands came through with a speaker, ordering “Make way, make way!” and MacLeod matter of factly grabbed onto Methos and hauled him into a less obstructive part of the corridor. Considering the anger between them, the intimacy of the action was startling. For all his fury, Mac wasn’t treating him like a potential threat.
Still, the Scot’s temper flared, blasting out at Methos with, “The kid idolized him. Maybe he didn’t pull the trigger, but he sure as hell put the gun in his hand.To live like me, you’ve got to be like me. Come on, Methos. Mike couldn’t do that. He wasn’t Immortal.”
And once again it was all coming down to that goddamn outdated concept of honor and chivalry to MacLeod. If the playing field wasn’t equal, then it was the victor’s fault for taking advantage of a weaker opponent. It was all drivel. Survival was the bottom line. It didn’t matter how you got through it, only that you did. The only place the world worked on those high principles was in MacLeod’s head, but the Highlander would never see that.
“Which is not Byron’s fault,” Methos reminded, racing to catch up as his disgusted friend brushed past him. “Mac, Mac, WAIT! Think! Think about the poetry. Think about the music he’s made. Think about the music that he will still make! You’re going to kill all that as well?”
MacLeod’s respect for art was the only thing he could think of to appeal to at this moment. Morals were out of the question, for Byron had never had any. Right and wrong wouldn’t work, because even though he believed every argument he was making to MacLeod, Methos still knew in his heart that what Byron had done was wrong. It wasn’t Byron’s fault that Mike was weak, but Mike’s weakness didn’t necessitate Byron’s capitalizing upon it. They had both chosen to behave as they had. And it looked like they were both going to die from the consequences.
With ten small words, MacLeod took the wind out of Methos’ sails. “And what about Mike? What music could he have made?” Mac asked, staring at him, both eyebrows raised as he drove home his point.
Silas’ huge battle-axe couldn’t have cut his legs out from under him any more effectively. He’d seen Mike Paladini play. The kid had had all the potential of a Byron or a DeVinci.
And suddenly, Methos had no more arguments left. Mike’s music had been stilled forever, as had the art of all the other fools who’d followed Byron to their deaths. Methos still didn’t think that Mac should do what he was hell bent to do, but he didn’t have it in him to play the Devil’s advocate anymore.
Their gazes locked, the moment stretched. With nothing left to say, and the full knowledge of what his acquiescence was going to cost him and the world, Methos lowered his gaze and hugged his arms around himself, feeling an utter failure.
Though the cacophony of Byron’s solo was shrieking through the hall around them, it was the words to an old Queen song that played through his mind at that moment.Another one bites the dust. It didn’t matter who would win or lose in the upcoming challenge. Either way, Methos was going to lose someone dear to his heart.
Without another word, MacLeod brushed by him.
And, gods help him, Methos let him pass unchallenged this time. Even though he knew Byron would die by his doing so. Duncan MacLeod had asked something of him, and he once again found himself powerless to refuse. It was that Valicourt debacle all over again, only this time Methos knew the price of acquiescence. For less than a handful of silver, he traded the life of his oldest remaining comrade, gave Byron over to his death as surely as if he’d turned him over to Torquemada or James Horton.
There was no gratitude or acknowledgement of the sacrifice Methos made. MacLeod stormed past him with all the arrogance of the self-righteous, those whose morals never wavered, those who had never raped or killed or maimed for the fun of it, those perfect few who had never had to learn their lessons the hard way.
Methos, who’d never learned easily, turned on his heel and left the scene.
All he could think about as he skulked off into the shadows was, if their positions had been reversed, would Duncan MacLeod have just stepped aside and allowed an avenger, no matter how justified, to take the head of one of his closest friends.
He was four blocks away from the concert stadium when the answer slammed into him like a runaway truck.
A voice from the near-past, seemed to echo down the foggy Parisian streets.
Cassandra, I want him to live!
The words were indelibly etched in his consciousness. He’d been on his knees in a puddle sobbing his heart out over Silas’ death when he’d heard them, but even at the time, Methos had recognized the inherent threat in the declaration.
Faced with that same dilemma, the Highlander had chosen to protect his own.
And, once again, Methos felt as though he’d failed some unspoken test. He couldn’t even fathom MacLeod’s high-flung morals, let alone live up to them. He couldn’t help but feel that by giving into Mac’s demand, he’d once again disappointed the Highlander on some level.
So where did that leave him?
In the same limbo he’d inhabited since he’d walked away from MacLeod in that old Bordeaux churchyard on the morning after the apocalypse, Methos tried to lose himself in the thickening fog.
Methos hadn’t wanted to go to the bar where Joe was playing, hadn’t wanted to be there…afterward, but his feet led him to Maurice’s all the same.
He harbored no doubts as to whom the winner would be in this particular confrontation. Byron had longed for self-immolation for decades; the poet’s pride had simply restricted him from throwing the final battle. Methos knew what easy pickings Byron would be for someone like MacLeod. Hell, even Amanda’s young student, Michelle, could have taken Byron if she set her mind to it. The man was dead inside, with nothing left to live for. Taking the poet’s head would almost qualify as assisted suicide.
Being a Monday night, the club was officially closed when Methos arrived. Still, there were lights on and he could hear a familiar electric guitar crying its pain out into the night. Methos dumped his coat on the rack by the door and walked past the dark and empty tables, bee-lining for the bar. It was buried under the orderly upturned barstools.
Joe seemed to be the only one in the place. He was sitting up on the stage in a single, dramatic spotlight, playing to a roomful of shadows, only his guitar and a bottle of Johnny Walker for company.
One look at the mortal’s face and he knew that Dawson had gotten the news about his prodigy. As he often did when the events of the world became too much for him, Joe was consoling himself with his music. The squealing blues cried out Joe’s despair with chilling efficiency.
Sometimes, Methos wondered what form his own grief would take if he gave it voice like this…but music required a passion that was beyond him these days.
“You heard?” Joe quizzed once Methos was close enough so that he didn’t need to shout.
Heard? He’d discovered the body when he’d gone to Byron’s penthouse to talk sense into him earlier this evening. From what he’d been able to tell, the kid had left Joe outside the club, gone directly to Byron’s and shot up with some of the rock star’s ever-present party favors. Heroin was a lot different than coke. It was hard to stuff enough cocaine up your nose to kill you in one hit, but if you made a miscalculation with horse, you didn’t get a second mistake. It was tragic that Mike hadn’t waited till he’d come down from the coke and booze before progressing to the granddaddy of all habits.
Methos still found it difficult to believe that Byron would have allowed the kid to shoot up when Mike was already so wasted, but the Byron who’d walked into Maurice’s two nights ago was a far different man than the one who’d risked his life to free his beloved Greece from the Turks. Or perhaps not so different. Byron had always liked to push the odds.
Part of him felt like he should apologize to Joe, but how could he? He was no more responsible for Byron’s actions than Byron was for Mike’s.
Reading the silent accusation that Joe wasn’t quite able to hide, Methos’ anger surfaced. “Don’t worry, Joe. MacLeod’s gone to settle the score.”
“And you disapprove?” Joe’s expression made it plain that Methos’ attitude was incomprehensible.
Tired of being the outsider, Methos leaned his weary weight against the bar and gave this man, whom he still thought of as his friend, despite all the suspicion, the truth. “There’s an old saying about people who live in glass houses not throwing stones. It’s not my place to judge Byron or anyone.”
“Even when they cost innocent kids their lives?” Joe demanded.
Methos sighed. “I’m sorry Mike is dead, but Byron can’t be blamed for an overdose. He didn’t shove the needle into Mike’s arm. Mike put it there himself.”
“And Byron gave it to him.”
“Maybe he did,” Methos allowed. “But Byron could have given that same needle to you and you wouldn’t have used it, Joe. It was Mike’s choice.”
“And that makes it right?” Joe argued.
“There is no right and wrong in a situation like this. Mike knew what he was doing when he pushed that plunger. You wouldn’t have done it. MacLeod wouldn’t have done it.”
“What about you?” Joe harshly challenged.
“Not all of us can be perfect,” Methos sneered, so tired of suffering his friends’ barely concealed contempt that he didn’t even care anymore what was thought of him. He just wanted to shock and hurt, to do something within this millennium to justify the cold shoulders he’d been getting these last few months.
“You mean you’ve…”
He didn’t let Dawson finish. “I’ve been around a long time. There’s not much I haven’t tried.”
“It doesn’t seem your style,” Joe remarked, looking more curious than judgmental now.
Methos didn’t fool himself for a second. He knew he’d aroused the Watcher’s professional curiosity. MacLeod was just as bad, for different reasons. They were both so eager for some sagely illumination from the ancient past that they’d suffer one of the Horsemen for these tidbits of information.
For once, he was tempted to explain himself, to let Joe have a glimpse of how the past really was, but…how to begin?
Methos thought of the laudanum-dazed summer spent with Byron at the Villa Diodoti on Lake Geneva and all the other places Methos had followed the man. How could he possibly convey how totally enthralled he’d been with Gordon’s genius back then? Should he tell Joe that he’d had a homosexual affair with his student, that their relationship ended so badly that Methos had become an historical laughing stock? Should he mention the laudanum parties that had made the psychedelic parties of the 1960s look tame? Should he talk about Byron’s poetry and zest for life or relate the bouts of depression, violent tendencies, and self-hate that had finally driven them apart?
In five-thousand years Methos had met few with George Gordon’s flair. Byron had been so much larger than life. It only stood to reason that he’d have flaws as big. The drugs, the orgies, the bestiality, the barely suppressed violence…Methos didn’t know how he could expose these things without making Joe think he was more depraved than the mortal already believed him to be. Sometimes Methos didn’t understand himself what had made him party to all that. The cruelties of ancient Rome had cured him of so many of those excesses and yet…Byron had moved parts of his soul that Methos had spent millennia struggling to subdue. As much as he’d deplored some of what Byron had done, the poet had made him feel more alive than he had in centuries. But how to convey all that?
It was like trying to describe the color red to someone who’d been blind their whole life.
Joe hadn’t been there. He couldn’t understand. No one could. But they could judge. Oh, how they could judge.
“Death doesn’t suit my style,” Methos snapped at last, angry that he couldn’t take the chance, that he couldn’t allow himself to be truly known.
“Huh?” Joe questioned.
“A stoned Immortal is a dead Immortal. I don’t have MacLeod and your high-flung morals for doing the things I’ve done. If I didn’t indulge to Byron’s degree, it was for my own reasons.”
“Isn’t it always? You have a hidden agenda for everything you do,” Joe shot back.
“Don’t we all?” Methos challenged. “A cynical mind would suggest that you’re friends with us because it makes your job as Watcher that much easier.”
“I’m not your Watcher,” Joe snapped back, rubbing at his gray beard.
It was on the tip of his tongue to strike out with ‘You’re not my friend anymore either,’ but he managed to keep the self-pitying comment in. He didn’t have so many friends left that he could afford to go flushing them from his life in a fit of pique. It wasn’t Joe’s fault that Methos’ past had failed to live up to his high expectations.
Besides, it wasn’t exactly true that Dawson was no longer his friend. Joe mightn’t be as trusting of him, but Dawson still acted the part of confidant and kept Methos’ secret. Methos didn’t know another man who would have protected his identity after what had happened last spring. It was one thing to pretend that you didn’t know that the mild mannered scholar working on the Methos Chronicles was really the oldest Immortal himself. It was quite another to keep silent about one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse being a Watcher. In the black depression following the taking of his brother’s Quickening, Methos had resigned from the Watchers and disappeared before Dawson could out him. He’d returned to Paris on the sly, expecting to be the object of a Watchers’ witch hunt, but…his reception had been almost anti-climatic. No one had been looking for him; no one even knew what almost happened in Bordeaux. Like MacLeod, Joe hadn’t thrown him to the wolves.
But Dawson hadn’t forgiven him, anymore than MacLeod had. And somehow, this suspicious toleration hurt more than an outright denunciation would have.
Methos nodded at Dawson’s comment about not being his Watcher and turned towards the bar, squeezing between two of the upturned stools. Weary, he lowered his head to his folded arms.
“You, ah, really care about this Byron dude, huh?” The unvoiced ‘why’ was implicit in Dawson’s tone.
“He was my friend.” Unwilling to abide this casual probing, Methos bit back with, “I imagine you felt quite the same when he was hunting Andrew Cord.”
There was no need to specify which ‘he’ they were talking about. It was a fact of life that everything about them both inevitably led back to Duncan MacLeod. Dawson for the obvious reason that he was MacLeod’s Watcher. His own reasons were far more nebulous.
“Touché. You are a vicious bastard -- aren’t you?” Joe casually remarked
“The truth hurts.”
“What would you know about the truth?”
He’d had enough of it. You could only be a whipping boy for so long before you grabbed the rawhide and struck back. Methos swung around to face Joe with every bit of the hurt and anger he’d been suppressing these past six months blazing in his heart. “I never lied to you, Joe. And I only lied to him once, about important stuff.”
“Once,” Joe repeated his left brow climbing his forehead, his complete disbelief palpable.
It shouldn’t have, but the doubt still hurt. Normally, he wouldn’t explain, but Methos found himself wanting to be known, wanting to be understood. “When Cassandra showed up at the dojo, I pretended I didn’t know her. That was the only time I outright deceived him. And I never lied like that to you.”
“But when were you ever honest?”
“Who you are, for starters,” Joe grumbled.
“What would you have had me do, Joe?” his sarcasm got the better of him. “Walk up to him when Kalas was hunting my head and say, ‘Hi, I’m one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, care to join forces?’”
“It’s not like you haven’t had three years to.…”
“To what? Come clean to him?” Methos demanded. “Do you honestly think he’d have had anything to do with me if he’d known the truth any earlier?”
“It would’ve been better coming from you,” Joe insisted.
“It did come from me. For the last three years I’ve been warning you both about the danger of making assumptions about me.”
“What do you mean?” Joe asked.
“From the start, he kept trying to push me up on that
pedestal that’s been empty since Darius’ death. I
kept telling him all along, telling you both, that I wasn’t fit for the role, but you both kept.…”
“You’re not pretending to compare yourself to Darius here; are you?”
The thinly veiled contempt snapped something inside of him. “What do you know of Darius? You never met the man. I did, Joe. If he’d been alive three-thousand years ago, he would have ridden with the Horsemen. He commanded the Goths. Fifteen hundred years ago he sacked and raped his way across known civilization, destroying everything in his path. If you don’t believe me, go talk to Marcus Constantine. Darius was no different than any of us until he took Myrdidd’s head at the gates of Paris.”
The minute he said it, he knew he’d proffered too much information. All Watchers were by nature historians. Dawson recognized the legendary figure’s Welsh name almost instantly.
“You mean the Myrdidd? He was real?” Joe gaped, predictable as the tide.
And this was why he could never speak honestly to Joe or even Mac about these things. They were so enamored with the legends that it was impossible to convey what it was really like living with these demigods. “As real as I am. And I hated Darius after he took Myrdidd’s head just as much as MacLeod hated Horton.”
“You knew the Merlin?”
Methos sighed. Just once, he wished that his friends would surprise him, that for once in his existence, it wouldn’t be the brushing shoulders with history that piqued their interest, but the effect those events had on himself. But it was always “What was he/she really like?” rather than “Watching your teacher get his head chopped off by the Visigoths must’ve hurt like hell.”
Catching himself falling into the MacLeod syndrome of demanding a perfectly fair and honorable world, Methos snapped himself out of his self-pity and sarcastically evaded, “In five-thousand years you get to know a lot of people, Joe.”
“There, that’s exactly what I was talking about before,” Joe complained, struggling with his guitar as he shifted in his chair. His prosthetics were no doubt hurting him again.
“You drop some little tidbit like having known Merlin and then refuse to say anything else about it,” Joe all but accused.
“What’s there to say?” Methos shot back, equally annoyed.
“The truth, the whole story, not just some vague reference that leaves us wondering whether you were friends with the man or the Immortal who took his Quickening.”
“I didn’t take his Quickening. Darius did.” Methos knew that he was being churlish, but he couldn’t help it. They all acted like it was so easy to relate these things. Merlin, Caesar and their like might all be just history to Joe, but to Methos they were people he’d known as well as he did Dawson.
“There you go again!”
“What would you have me say, Joe? That I loved the man and watched him die as he tried to reason with a pack of blood drunk marauders? That I came a hair’s breath away from becoming Death again and loping off Darius’ head as he knelt there in Myrdidd’s blood? That I killed twenty-three of Darius’ followers with Myrdidd’s walking stick in a berserker frenzy while the lightning of his Quickening was still flashing around us? That I wouldn’t be alive today if that Quickening hadn’t changed Darius and he hadn’t stopped the man you knew as Grayson from taking my head after his troops finally subdued me? Should I tell you how I tried to kill Darius no fewer than thirteen times during the next century, even though I knew he was no longer the man who’d killed my friend? Is that what you want to hear?”
The shock in Joe’s suddenly pale face told him that he’d more than made his point. As usual, there was no sense of victory. He only felt guilty for losing patience with his friend’s very natural curiosity. Who wouldn’t want to know the truth behind the legends? It wasn’t Joe’s fault that Methos couldn’t offer him the perfect past that jived with the shining tales of honor and fairy tales that history had left as Methos’ peers’ legacy. All he had was the truth, and they never wanted to hear that.
“I’m sorry, Joe. That was uncalled for,” he said at last, almost squirming under the emotions churning in those vivid hazel eyes.
Abruptly feeling too known, too exposed, Methos turned back to the bar and lowered his head onto his crossed arms.
Another charming trip down memory lane, that’s all he’d needed to improve his mood. Sometimes he almost envied MacLeod’s amnesiac friend, Cochrane. It must’ve been like Nirvana to leave all the deaths behind and start anew.
“It’s all like that for you, isn’t it?” Joe asked gently from the stage behind him, the compassion that had first drawn Methos to the mortal shining through the man’s own pain.
He’d thought that Joe would be horrified by the concept that he’d tried to murder MacLeod’s hallowed St. Darius, but all he could hear was sympathy in that gravelly voice. It was quite possibly the first kindness he’d had from either of his closest friends since Bordeaux.
The unexpected gentleness shattered something inside him. The tears of frustration and remorse did their best to squeeze their way out between his clenched eyelids. He fought to hold them back. MacLeod and Dawson already thought him a sociopath. He didn’t need them viewing him as a crybaby as well. He hated when his emotions got the better of him like this, but it was horrible living as an object of suspicion to the two men he respected most in this age. All he wanted was for things to be the way they were between them all before Kronos showed up.
But the realist in him knew that was never going to happen again. Joe might learn to accept him; but, for all his goodness, forgiveness wasn’t a part of Duncan MacLeod’s nature.
Lost in pain, both present and past, Methos didn’t lift his head or answer Joe’s question and after a while, Dawson started playing again.
The mournful six string wailed into the night, keening its loss like a banshee. If Byron had thought Palidini good, he should have heard Joe tonight. But Byron would never hear Joe play again, or anyone else for that matter.
His grief closing in around him, Methos pretended not to feel the burning streaks of liquid dripping down his cheeks as he hunched over that bar with his face shielded, waiting.
Stars knew, it probably wouldn’t take that long. It wasn’t as though Byron were any match for the Highlander. How long could it take the man who had brought down the Horsemen of the Apocalypse to behead an effete poet?
But as the minutes ticked past and MacLeod failed to show, a prickle of unease shivered down Methos’ spine. Surely, MacLeod would come to Joe afterwards to assure Dawson that justice had been done. Didn’t the knight in shining armor always return to kneel at his liege lord’s feet after he’d attained his quest?
The knight did, if he were able, if he weren’t lying in some deserted warehouse with his severed head sightlessly watching his truncated body from across the room.
Damn. It wasn’t possible. MacLeod was the strongest among them. There was no way that a hyped-up punk rock star would best a warrior who’d trained for over four-hundred years. MacLeod had beaten Grayson, Kalas, and Kern, not to mention two of the Horsemen. There was no way Byron could beat Mac…in a fair fight.
Methos’ concern morphed into outright anxiety at the thought.
He’d taught Byron to fight. The poet might be weak, but what he lacked in physical prowess, he more than made up for in intelligence and ruthless cunning.
As so often happened to their kind, Methos found himself slipping back in time to one of Byron and his first sparring matches. Methos could almost hear his cautions ringing hollowly through the cavernous salon as he tried to drive their importance home to his stubborn new student, ‘You cannot brawl with them or try to meet them on their terms. They will all be stronger and bigger than you. You must be prepared for that and take precautions. A stiletto or a pistol can be a great equalizer.’
His dark curls disheveled and his sweat-sheened face glowing from exertion, Byron was still young enough at that time to ask, ‘Is that allowed? It doesn’t seem quite sporting.’
‘This isn’t a sport or a game. This is your life. If you can avoid a challenge, do so at all costs. Run, hide, don’t show…whatever it takes,’ Methos stressed.
“They’ll brand me a coward,’ the greatest Romantic Poet of all time argued.
‘What matters it what they think of you? A coward lives to fight another day. Heroes are cold in their graves by sunset. This isn’t about pride. It’s about survival. You run when you can, but if you are forced to fight, you fight to win. Fair is for fools, dead fools. Survival is the only thing that counts. It doesn’t matter how. You get them down and you take their head.’
Recalled to the present, to the chic Parisian night club, Methos wondered if Fate were about to throw him another curve ball. Were his words going to come back to haunt him yet again? Byron could never beat MacLeod in an honest fight, but if the poet shot the Highlander in the head….
Damn, he would have to think about something like that.
Pushing the horrible image of Mac being shot in the back and beheaded by his former lover firmly from his mind, Methos let Joe’s music vibrate through him. As he huddled there, shielded from sight by the spindly legs of the surrounding barstools, he hardly knew what to hope.
How did you choose between friends?
He was delusional, he know, but there was a sentimental part of Methos that prayed Mac would be merciful, that Byron would give his word to mend his ways as Gregor had and MacLeod would let him live….
Trying to sell himself that unlikely scenario, Methos straightened up, reached out for a bottle and glass and made his slow way to one of the dark wood tables near Joe. He’d barely settled when he felt it.
The buzz hit before the approaching Immortal even entered the club -- raging surf, roaring over a recently submerged hornets’ nest.
Damn…so much for delusions.
His stinging eyes squeezed shut to block out the dozens of memories flashing through his mind. His affair with Byron might have ended badly, but it had been based on genuine affection, unlike his longer, more complex relationships with Kronos and Kaspian. It had taken them a few decades, but Byron and he had managed to get past the bad feelings of their breakup and rekindle their friendship…the friendship Duncan MacLeod had just snuffed out like a candlewick.
What troubled him even more than his personal loss was the overwhelming knowledge that one of the greatest minds ever born had been lost today. There would be no more She walks in beauty like the nights, no more heavy metal megahits…only silence where Byron had brought joy to millions.
Thanks to the perfect Immortal.
Methos killed the memories and pulled himself together. He might be a coward and a betrayer, but he still had some pride left. Duncan MacLeod would not see him cry today; though, Lord knew, that the loss of the genius George Gordon had been was enough to make the very stars weep in despair.
Mac entered the club, parting the red curtains at the door with an unconscious theatric flair. In his long dark coat and severe expression, MacLeod was the personification of menace.
Even from across the room Methos could feel the energy from the Quickening sparking through his friend. MacLeod’s flowing coat hid his lower body, so Methos couldn’t tell if the Highlander had stopped along the way to deal with the residual arousal that was part and parcel to taking another Immortal’s lifeforce into one’s self. It was a normal reaction, none of them could avoid it, but tonight Methos found himself furious at the thought of MacLeod getting off on Byron’s death.
Knowing the danger of such anger between their kind, Methos purposefully kept his mouth shut. He couldn’t help but take a long enough look at Mac to visually assure himself that MacLeod had all of his parts intact, before grabbing the bottle and glass and pouring himself a double.
Beer was his drink of choice, but tonight he needed the solace of something stronger. Byron’s voice might have been easy to still, but his memory was going to take more than the stroke of a sword to vanquish.
He could feel MacLeod, standing there, staring at him with all of Byron’s memories moving through him. It was all Methos could do to hold that gaze and keep his face schooled. Mac had just gotten another eyeful of his past. Not as sordid as the memories MacLeod had taken from Kronos, but fairly damning in themselves no doubt.
But right now, Methos didn’t particularly care about the potential embarrassment. All he knew was the pain of losing yet another person he cared about.
Joe stopped playing as he noticed MacLeod.
Methos looked down at the shiny tabletop, waiting for the inevitable postmortem. Joe would ask how it went, and the Perfect Immortal would tell how he’d rid the world of yet another undesirable.
But the seconds stretched into minutes and Joe didn’t ask, nor did MacLeod offer any details.
Out of respect for his own feelings, Methos belatedly recognized. Not understanding why that small thoughtfulness choked him up so, Methos downed his double, doing his best not to notice how his hand shook.
Mac was still staring at him.
Although he was trying hard not to think about this issue, Methos couldn’t help but wonder what MacLeod saw when he looked at him now. Was the Highlander still sifting through Byron’s lifeforce, seeing Methos with the memories of all the nights Byron had fucked him vivid in his mind? Or was it Kronos’ sadistic sexual degradations filtering the moral Scot’s view of him tonight?
After another few moments of that insufferable observation, MacLeod wordlessly moved to the bar to fetch a glass.
Methos unconsciously tensed at the Highlander’s approach, but MacLeod paused only long enough to fill his glass from Methos’ bottle before settling at the tiny table that was pushed up against Methos’, close, but not invasive.
MacLeod’s choice was a little surprising. Methos had expected to be shunned, but Mac seemed to be closing ranks with him, comforting by proximity, the way Methos had tried to after the Highlander had taken Ingrid Henning’s head.
For the first time in their friendship, Methos wasn’t sure he wanted Mac that close. His anger over Byron’s death was still too fresh. The fact that he could feel his ex-lover’s lifeforce sparking through Mac’s dense form like so much heat lightning did nothing to ease Methos’ aching heart. The greatest poet the Earth had seen in five-thousand years, lost because of a youth’s reckless infatuation and an avenger’s unforgiving ire.
He didn’t look at the too-handsome man beside him. Instead, Methos sat there trying to ignore MacLeod’s brooding presence while he kept the memories at bay.
Methos was struck by the weird feel of the scene. To an outsider, they would look like three old friends just sitting around shooting the breeze. Once it would have been true, but not tonight. There was too much discord between them.
Knowing only one way to get past this pain, Methos refilled his glass. The booze bit going down, but its warmth spread immediately through him, filling those icy parts left by Byron’s loss and Mac’s responsibility. Slowly, the liquor took the edge off his anger.
It was one of the benefits to being the world’s oldest man. When you lived as long as he had, everything fell into perspective a lot sooner than it did when you were part of an age. You still felt the pain, but there was an understanding of the inevitability of death that muted the resentment. The bottom line was survival and, as long as he kept his head, Methos knew there was little he couldn’t endure.
Like everything else, this too would pass.
His years at Hellene’s greatest philosophers’ knees had left him too analytical by far. Where once he would have responded passionately to tonight’s events, now Methos took the time to think about them, to dissect cause and effect. In retrospect, he could see that Byron had been headed for this end for decades now. MacLeod was merely another player in Fate’s cosmic farce. Being angry with Mac for killing Byron was as pointless as demanding constancy from the profligate poet had been. Both Immortals could only follow their natures. Byron would indulge in excess until it cost him his head and MacLeod would avenge misused innocents until he encountered an evil powerful enough to best him. With the whiskey’s buffering help, today’s events transformed into just another of his thousand bitter regrets.
When he thought he could look at Mac without any residual resentment bleeding over, Methos commented into the subdued room, “Matter and anti-matter. Byron knew that, too. His life had become one long tragedy.”
It was a peace offering, of sorts.
“We all know how those end,” MacLeod replied, completely ungiving.
No remorse, no regret…MacLeod didn’t appear to have a single doubt that what he’d done was right. All that poetry lost forever, and the priggish Highlander didn’t seem the least bit disturbed. Methos wondered what it must feel like to be that sure, that certain of anything.
So, they sat there with that horrible silence where words should be, listening to Joe cry his heart out in a performance that would have made Clapton or Page green with envy.
“Methos?” MacLeod said, perhaps a full twenty minutes later.
The hair at the back of his neck pricked up at the uncertain tone.
“Yes?” Methos answered, staring down at his own image reflecting up at him off the highly polished tabletop.
“When Byron first came in here the other night, he called you ‘Doc’. Was that Doc Polidori?”
From the moment MacLeod had quoted that poem to him, Methos had known he was lost. If the Highlander had known that much of Byron, he would doubtless be familiar with the man’s personal history as well.
He’d wondered when it would come to this. To be honest, he’d been expecting a question like it from either Joe or MacLeod since Byron had shown up. Although Dawson didn’t interrupt his solo, Methos could almost feel the mortal’s concentration leaving his music to focus on their conversation.
Deciding to forestall playing twenty questions, Methos quietly offered, “Yes and yes.”
“To?” MacLeod wasn’t playing dumb; he appeared genuinely perplexed.
“Yes to the historical accuracy of the rumors. You’ve got his Quickening now. You know what it was. What more do you want from me?” Methos hoarsely demanded, pushed to his limit.
MacLeod had the grace to look uncomfortable, not quite the self-assured avenger anymore. “I’m just trying to understand.”
“Understand what?” Methos challenged. While it was true that the images received during a Quickening were more flashes than actual memories, anything Mac might have taken from Byron regarding himself was probably pretty straightforward. They were either partying, arguing, or fucking.
“I thought I knew you. None of this….”
“I can’t and won’t apologize for the past, MacLeod,” Methos spat out, banging down his glass with far more force than he intended. He swung around to face the other Immortal. He was so tired of entertaining these futile hopes of acceptance. This judgmental man was never going to be his friend again. If MacLeod couldn’t abide a little homosexual frolicking with Byron, what chance did he have of ever being forgiven his years with Kronos? What was he doing wasting his time here?
“No one’s asking you to--”
“No?” Methos cut in. “Maybe not in so many words, but with every look you’ve been silently accusing me since Bordeaux!”
“Maybe I just don’t know who you are anymore,” MacLeod quietly offered.
And finally, it was out in the open. They’d tried to discuss it once in the Luxemburg Gardens when MacLeod was on his way to meet Stephen Keane and then again after the situation was settled, but that day in the gardens there had been too much resentment between them and later Amanda’s presence had made free speech all but impossible. Afterwards…it seemed that they avoided each other now or did their best to keep everything on a superficial level. The last was never a wise move among their kind.
“I’m the same man I always was.”
“Are you?” All of MacLeod’s own frustrations seemed to come pouring out now that they’d finally broached the subject, and Methos had to admit to himself that there was a certain relief to finally be freed from the oppression of that accusative silence. “The Methos I thought I knew wasn’t a killer. He wasn’t….”
“He wasn’t real, MacLeod. Do you really believe that a cowardly bookworm could survive off Holy Ground for five-thousand years if that were all there was to him?”
“So it was all a lie, then? Every moment we were together was an act?”
The only time he’d seen Mac look more hurt was the night he’d viscously revealed his past to the Highlander. As much as tonight’s event angered him, he didn’t want to hurt or alienate MacLeod now. All he wanted was the impossible, to turn back time. So, Methos tried to make peace with, “None of it was an act, Mac. It just wasn’t the entire truth.”
“And what is the entire truth?” MacLeod argued, back in his role of judge and executioner.
Methos couldn’t stand it another minute.
“What do you care about the truth? You’ve already judged me on actions that took place over three-thousand years ago,” he accused, unable to keep his own sense of hurt from flavoring the words. Their friendship was all but dead. There wasn’t any point in mincing words anymore.
“Actions that you bragged you enjoyed! The Methos I thought I knew, he could never have taken pleasure from the killing of innocents.”
The sorrow and absolute confusion in those huge, puppy dog eyes of MacLeod’s stung almost more than the cold shoulder had. Methos had no idea how to apologize for his past or the savage way he’d revealed it to MacLeod. When he’d made that cruel disclosure in Seacouver, he’d meant only to drive MacLeod from him, to keep his friend clear of Kronos for as long as possible. Methos hadn’t considered the future repercussions, because he hadn’t believed he had a future. Now he was left with the shattered remnants of MacLeod’s broken faith, and no idea if he could rebuild it. If he couldn’t, there was nowhere they could go from here. He’d have to leave MacLeod for good. Their kind couldn’t abide uncertainty. If an Immortal wasn’t a friend, he was a foe. There was no middle ground.
Methos had sworn to himself from the start that he would never be this man’s enemy. He’d watched the Highlander for more than four-hundred years now. If he had to choose which of their kind would be the ultimate survivor, MacLeod would be his choice, even before himself.
Normally, he didn’t explain or make excuses. People either took him as he was or left him. It never particularly mattered to Methos which they chose, because there was always someone else to replace them. But MacLeod wasn’t replaceable, nor was Joe Dawson.
So, in the end, Methos found himself trying to rebuild the bridges of communication that had crumbled with Cassandra’s arrival into their lives. Taking a deep breath, he softly said, “The Methos you know no longer takes pleasure from those kinds of deeds, MacLeod.”
“And that makes up for it?” MacLeod questioned with his short-tempered morality.
“Ease up, Mac,” Joe counseled from behind them.
“He once bragged about killing ten thousand people, Joe,” MacLeod argued, unable to get past that fact, just as Methos had known he wouldn’t.
That judgmental tone touched off Methos’ own fury, as it had that day in Seacouver.
“Not ten thousand,” Methos corrected. “If you’re going to judge me on this, be accurate. Ten thousand was a conservative estimate. Do the math, MacLeod. The Horsemen rode for over a thousand years. We hit a village a month, sometimes two, killing anywhere from fifty to a couple of hundred people at a time. It wasn’t just straightforward murder. There was torture and rape, the whole gauntlet. There is no crime I haven’t committed, not a one,” Methos emphasized, staring at each man in turn until he was sure they understood the scope of what he was talking about here.
He got his point across.
His throat tight, Methos looked away from Joe’s bloodless expression. He didn’t dare MacLeod’s again. He’d seen that look before. The sickened disgust and horror twisting the chiseled perfection of MacLeod’s face as he shoved Methos up against his Landrover that night in Seacouver six months ago was forever etched in his memory. Its shadow was there now, darkening that beautiful, strong profile.
So, Methos gulped down another shot of courage, wincing as it scalded his throat, trying very hard not to notice the shocked silence roaring around him. He reached for the whisky bottle to refill his glass immediately after he finished. The hand pouring the shot was trembling so badly that liquor sloshed all over his reflection on the table.
“Why are you telling us this?” Dawson’s gruff voice finally broke the unbearable silence.
“Aside from the fact that you asked? You both said that you wanted the truth. That is the truth. Complete and unadorned,” even to Methos’ own ears his reply sounded cold and uncaring. It was quite a feat, considering that he was about to fall apart inside. He’d never been this blunt with anyone. Well, at least not in two millennia or so.
Joe’s next comment revealed the remarkable individual he truly was. “That happened what? Three-thousand years ago?”
“More or less,” Methos answered.
“How much of it is still true?” Joe asked. “You’re a different man now. You said you don’t take pleasure from…that kind of thing anymore….”
“It’s all still true, Joe. MacLeod is right. Nothing makes up for it. I can’t ever undo the things I did,” Methos wearily insisted, wondering if either man appreciated what he was trying to tell them here. George Gordon in his prime might have been able to vocalize Methos’ feelings, but the oldest Immortal didn’t have the words for it, didn’t know how to tell them that his guilt eclipsed even Byron’s insatiable hunger on a daily basis and that there was no reprieve from it. Whisky didn’t help, nor did narcotics. Sometimes, he could escape into the ascetic world of academia for a while. Sex was the best distraction, but even there…no one he’d slept with or loved ever knew his past, so, in a way, it wasn’t really him they were sleeping with, but some role he was playing, which only added loneliness to the guilt.
“So what is this – a play for sympathy?” MacLeod suspiciously suggested.
Gods help him, the sneer in his former friend’s voice hurt more than any of Kronos’ tortures ever could.
“I know better than to look to you for sympathy, Highlander. Make no mistake. I’m not a victim here. I never was,” Methos bitterly replied, so hollowed out right now that he didn’t care if MacLeod sent him to join his brothers.
After another weighty silence, Joe asked, “What made you stop?”
“What?” Methos was so surprised by the normal tone of Dawson’s voice that he didn’t immediately get the content.
“Obviously, you’re not the same person you were then. Why’d you leave the Horsemen?” Joe specified.
Methos glanced at MacLeod, a little surprised. He was sure the Highlander must have shared at least some of what he’d gleaned through Kronos’ Quickening with his Watcher, but if Mac had told Joe, Dawson would never have had to ask.
“I know what you want to hear, Joe, but I’m sorry. I didn’t wake up one day and realize that what we were doing was wrong. I just…got bored with it. It seemed there had to be more to life than torturing and killing mortals who were no more of a challenge to us than sheep. So I…left the Horsemen.”
“Just like that?” Joe questioned, heavy on the irony. Dawson might never have met Kronos, but he’d obviously heard enough about him to know that no one just walked away from the man.
“No, but you don’t need the gory details.” Methos held his breath, praying that MacLeod wouldn’t supply them. When there was no humiliating illumination, Methos glanced over at MacLeod.
He was startled to see something like compassion flash in the Highlander’s dark eyes as MacLeod no doubt replayed some of those grisly recollections he’d picked up from Kronos. Methos had learned a great deal about pain firsthand in his attempts to free himself of his ‘brothers.’ If the softhearted Silas hadn’t secretly unchained him that last time, Methos knew he would never have retained his sanity.
But MacLeod didn’t speak of any of Kronos’ degradations during that mortifying period, instead, Mac just sat there watching him. There was a different quality to the dark gaze. MacLeod looked like he was trying to work out the pieces to some intricate puzzle rather than deciding whether it was worth taking his head.
“So what did change you?” Dawson asked.
“What makes you think I changed, Joe?” Methos challenged.
“Save the bullshit for MacLeod,” Joe irritably countered.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” MacLeod demanded, almost on cue.
The Scot’s unconsciously petulant tone almost brought a smile to Methos’ face. Joe was already grinning.
“You bring out the worst in each other, that’s all. Look are you gonna answer my question or not?” Dawson asked, bending awkwardly over to stow his electric guitar in its case. Obviously, the music was over for the night.
“Like I said, I got bored. I grew up. I learned to read, learned to write and my world expanded. Education is a dangerous thing. You open the door to one thought and a dozen more rush in. It wasn’t until centuries later, after I’d studied with some of the great philosophers that…the scope of what I’d done hit me,” Methos answered.
“And then?” Joe quizzed, his blue eyes worried; but under it, he looked like he wanted his guess confirmed.
“What do you think? There was no way to make reparation. I couldn’t raise the dead or undo the wrongs I’d done. I spent a couple of decades trying to get my head lopped off, but…the coward in me always chickened out at the last minute, then Death would resurface and that would be all she wrote,” Methos supplied.
“What made you stop doing that?” Joe seemed really enthralled by even these vague details of his past.
A peek at MacLeod revealed an equally absorbed expression.
He’d never talked about this, ever, with anyone. Even now, the need for discretion was overwhelming, but…the need for honesty with these men was greater. And this was something he could share with them without painting himself a complete moral degenerate. Even the prudish Scot would approve of this anecdote. Yet…the truth was dangerous in itself here.
He debated the consequences of answering, then decided to take a chance. His friends might have lost faith in him, but they were still his friends. If he couldn’t trust Duncan MacLeod, who could he trust in this world?
Finding it easier to talk to the more sympathetic Dawson, he directed his gaze that way, keeping MacLeod in the periphery. “About two-thousand years ago, I challenged a young Immortal in one of the Roman Provinces, a hermit, living alone in the desert. He was young and tall, looked like he’d be good in a fight and I thought he could be the one to best me. But it didn’t work out that way. You would have liked him, MacLeod. He was even more of an idealist than you, if you’d believe it. He was a complete pacifist, absolutely refused to fight me, even when I put my sword to his throat with Death in my eyes and every intention of taking his damn fool head.” Out of the corner of his eyes he saw Mac’s muscular form bristle with incipient fury. “I tried to goad him into fighting – taunted him, cut him, but he wouldn’t take up the challenge. I’d never seen anything like it, before or since. He was utterly fearless. He just watched me out of those bottomless brown eyes, waiting. There was such a calm about him that I was tempted to kill him out of sheer envy, but….”
“But you didn’t.” Joe didn’t sound the least bit uncertain.
Absurdly moved by that small show of faith, Methos nodded his head and continued, “I couldn’t do it. He had such…presence. When I lowered my sword, I was the one who was shaking. He started talking to me, calming me, as though I’d nearly lost my head. He…he’d never had one of us for a teacher. He didn’t really know what he was, had it all jumbled up in some fanatical philosophy. I knew he was completely delusional, but I found myself listening to him and I told him…about the Horsemen, told him things that I’d revealed to no one, ever. All the horrible things I’d done with my brothers. He…he didn’t scorn me or judge me. He just…listened.”
“That was it? He just listened?” Joe appeared supremely disappointed.
“Not quite,” Methos shook his head, knowing he was a fool for even telling this part of the tale, but determined to give the truth, no matter what. “He’d had a reputation as a healer when he lived among man. When I was through with my tale, he offered to help me and I…I…mocked him when he told me that there was nothing that could be broken that couldn’t be fixed. As a joke, I challenged him to fix me, told him that there was no way to heal my mind of the horrors I’d done and he….”
“Yes?” Joe was wide-eyed as a child hearing a thrilling fireside tale.
Even two-thousand years later, Methos couldn’t keep the marvel out of his voice as he answered, “He did it, Joe. He fixed me. He put his hands on the sides of my head. He told me there was no sin that couldn’t be forgiven if it were truly regretted and….”
“And?” Joe prompted.
“Something changed inside of me. I don’t know how he did it, but it was like he reached down into my heart and pulled out the horror and pain. I-I didn’t want to die anymore. The guilt was still there, but I knew I had to accept what I’d done and go on with life,” Methos hesitantly admitted. Joe didn’t worry him, but he was almost afraid to reveal these things to MacLeod. They were so personal, more personal in a way than what he and Byron had done together. Everybody had sex. His choice of another man as lover might offend MacLeod’s Catholic mores, but he’d understand it. This was…almost mystical. Two-thousand years later it was still raw where that Healer had touched him. If Mac scorned the very thing that had kept him sane, Methos wasn’t sure their friendship would ever recover.
But MacLeod surprised him once again by living up to his high flung morals and not kicking a man while he was down. Instead of making light of the event, Mac simply said in that wonderful, deep voice of his, “He sounds a lot like Jim Coltec.”
Methos nodded. “Yes, indeed.”
“So what happened then?” Joe asked.
Methos sighed. “I spent a couple of weeks in the desert with him, learning as much as I could. Most of what he talked about seemed impossible, absurd even. It went completely against human nature, but he believed it…and lived it. I couldn’t. If someone came for my head, I was going to defend myself. But…I tried to humor him for a while. I wanted that kind of…inner peace, I suppose you’d call it. He wanted me to join him and help others understand, but…I’d never been much for gurus. When I couldn’t convince him of what he was, I packed up my stuff and left him there.”
“You left an unschooled Immortal on his own?” MacLeod challenged what they both knew to be the most irresponsible act an Immortal could commit. Their largest danger wasn’t from each other, but from the mortals who far out-numbered them. When you encountered a newly made Immortal, you either helped him or killed him. To leave the ignorant new Immortal stumbling on his own was criminal, a threat to all Immortals. Duncan had taken the head of one or two that couldn’t be convinced of their true nature, the same as they all had.
Methos calmly met MacLeod’s infuriated glare. “Yes, I left him alone in the desert with the scorpions and the snakes. I knew it was a danger to us all to just let him go on the way he was. He was mad, certifiable, but…if he was to die, it would not be by my hand.”
“What happened to him?” Dawson asked.
“What do you think happens to an Immortal who refuses to defend himself, Joe?” Methos all but snarled. “One of us eventually killed him.”
To this day, Methos wondered how different his world would be had he stayed, if he’d been there to protect his benefactor. But he’d cut his losses and run like he always did, and the gentlest, most compassionate soul he’d ever met had died on some sociopath’s blade.
The only consolation Methos had about the entire Bordeaux catastrophe was the fact that he had finally stopped running from his ghosts. He’d stood strong and made a stand for something he believed in. His efforts had been too little, too late for a hero like MacLeod, but for Methos himself, the choice had been transformative.
Not that it mattered. He’d still lost a friend that night, maybe two. MacLeod was still an unknown, more foe than comrade these days.
“You said you met this healer two-thousand years ago?” Mac questioned, his face scrunched with thought.
“A few years short of two millennia, perhaps,” Methos said, watching MacLeod closely, wondering how much he’d guessed.
“What was his name?” MacLeod questioned.
Although he’d embraced a policy of honesty tonight, there were some things that he just couldn’t share. Perhaps if it were just MacLeod and himself here he might have risked it, but Dawson made a truthful answer to that question impossible. Methos glanced at Joe, who was deep in a yawn and appeared to be losing his battle with exhaustion. The mortal was happily oblivious to Methos’ moral conundrum at the moment; Methos intended to keep it that way.
Methos shrugged. “Could it possibly mater after all this time? He was an Immortal, the same as you or I.”
“Who took him out?” MacLeod asked.
“A nobody. Just another desert rat trying to make a name for himself; though, it was said he never fought another battle after killing my benefactor.” Far more subdued, Methos continued, “Myrdidd took the head of that man, and Darius took Myrdidd.”
Methos saw MacLeod jerk. At first, he thought it was in response to his teacher Myrdidd’s legendary name, but the troubled look on MacLeod’s face told him that the Highlander had figured out the timeline, guessed the identity of the most famous Immortal to rise out of the Roman Provinces two-thousand years ago.
“You’re not suggesting that Darius was…”
Before MacLeod could say things that were best not spoken of before mortals, even one as trustworthy as Joe Dawson, Methos quickly interrupted, “There are still wonders in this world, MacLeod, mysteries that make life worth living even after five-thousand years. Byron forgot that fact.”
Methos added the last to change the topic, to bring them firmly back to the present and away from that dangerous side trip. The one absolute certainty five-thousand years of life had given him was that some of the legends couldn’t be debunked. Man needed his heroes and gods. Take those beliefs away and humanity descended to the level of the Horsemen again and, as much as Methos had enjoyed the indulgent savagery of that age, he had no desire to see it live again.
“If he ever knew it,” MacLeod grudgingly answered, his disapproval returning them to the here and now, breaking whatever spell Methos’ recollection had cast over them all.
“Oh, he knew it. If you could have met him two centuries ago….” Methos began.
“I don’t think so,” Mac denied with that priggish streak that made Methos want to batter his head with the nearest blunt object.
“We can’t all be perfect, Highlander,” Methos sneered.
Joe let out a loud sigh. “If you two are going to play that old record again, I’m history. Hell, I’m beat anyway. I better get home while I can. Lock up when you’re done, guys.”
“Okay,” MacLeod answered as their mortal companion struggled down the stage stairs.
Joe stopped at the bottom to stare over at them. His face looked gray and haggard, the events of this day weighing as heavily upon him as they did Methos.
“There’s gonna be a memorial service for Mike at St. Jude’s tomorrow at eleven. You’ll be there?” Dawson checked.
“We’ll be there,” the Highlander promised. “Good night, Joe.”
“’night, Joe,” Methos echoed.
Dawson gave them both a hard look. “Keep the sparring to words, okay?” Joe requested, legitimate concern in his eyes as he looked from one of them to the other.
Concern for me, Methos realized.
To Methos’ shock, MacLeod quickly assured Joe, “Always,” in much the same tone he’d used when reassuring Ritchie that the fight Ryan had interrupted when Methos had come to settle the Kristin situation was mere practice sparring.
It was hard not to offer a helping hand as his inebriated mortal friend struggled to make his painfully slow way to the club door with his guitar case and walking stick.
When Joe flailed his way through the red curtains at the door, the silence suddenly seemed louder.
Once Methos was certain they were alone, he turned to MacLeod and softly questioned, “Always?”
“You told Joe that we’d always keep the sparring to words,” Methos stated.
Appearing self-conscious, MacLeod answered, “Yeah…isn’t that what you want?”
The already tension-strained air felt brittle enough to shatter, the atmosphere far too similar to that between two gunslingers about to go for their guns.
That was simply not happening between them, Methos promised himself, answering the Highlander without further delay, “Of course, it’s what I want.”
“Then why’d you look so shocked?” MacLeod’s distrust was still there, just below the surface. Probably always would be.
“Frankly, I’ve had the feeling that you’d prefer to take my head to suffering my company lately,” Methos admitted.
MacLeod’s liquid brown gaze met his own, regret plain in their chocolaty depths. “I have never wanted your head.”
Duncan MacLeod was the first Immortal in five-thousand years from whom Methos actually believed that claim. Hell, MacLeod was the first of their kind Methos had ever fully trusted his secret to. Byron and his other friends knew he was old, just not how old.
While it was reassuring to hear the words from his truth-loving companion, Methos felt obliged to point out, “But you haven’t wanted my company of late.”
MacLeod’s innate honesty wouldn’t allow him to refute the accusation. “It’s been…strained between us since….”
“Since Cassandra told you what I was. I can’t change my past, MacLeod,” he wondered if his voice or face revealed what it was like to be haunted by such a past for three-thousand years.
Something must have shown for MacLeod was almost gentle as he answered, “I know that. None of us can.”
“But you can’t accept what I was….”
“I’m trying,” MacLeod cut in.
“Are you?” Methos challenged, almost coldly. As far as he could see, the Highlander rarely passed up an opportunity to get a dig in.
“Yes, damn it, I am!”
“Could’ve fooled me,” Methos quietly countered. He knew nothing would be served if they both lost their tempers, but he couldn’t hold in his bitterness. Duncan MacLeod was perhaps the only friend he had actively worked to keep, the only person he’d risked his neck for in over five-thousand years.
“Methos, it isn’t that simple. You….”
“I – what? I’ve lied to you only once, the day Cassandra surprised me in the dojo….”
“You lied to me with words only once, “ MacLeod corrected. “How often did you misrepresent yourself?”
“Never. I have been nothing but a friend to you since the day we met,” Methos hotly swore, certain of that, if nothing else in his checkered past.
MacLeod had the grace to look guilty. They both knew that was the bottom line between Immortals. When you outlived nations, history had to be kept where it belonged – dead and buried. Between most of their kind, it didn’t matter who or what each other had been in the past, so long as their swords stayed sheathed and they could turn their backs on each other in the present and keep their heads.
Appearing painfully uncertain, MacLeod attempted to explain himself, “Methos, when we first met, you came across as a meek academic….”
“And so I’ve been for the past five or six hundred years. You are judging me on events that happened more than three-thousand years ago. Are you the same man you were at your true death in Scotland? The same man you were after Culloden or before you met Darius? Everybody changes, MacLeod.”
“Some more than others,” Mac still couldn’t seem to pass up the opportunity to get a jibe in.
Methos took the words at face value, storing their hurt away where he stored all the rest of his pain. “You’re right. Some men don’t change. I could still be Death. I could have spent the last three millennia marauding with Kronos and his like, but I didn’t. I stopped--”
“You got bored,” MacLeod pointed out.
“Yes, I got bored with it. I’m sorry if that offends your sensibilities, but that is the truth you so wanted to hear. I made a conscious choice to walk away from the only life I’d ever known and I paid for that choice, MacLeod. Kronos’ Quickening probably gave you some idea of the immediate consequences of that decision. If it makes you feel any better, his torments were the easiest part of the whole thing. I’ve paid for my sins, MacLeod. Believe me, I’ve paid.”
Methos was surprised to see his companion pale. Obviously, Mac had gotten quite a bit of his past from Kronos.
It was hard knowing that MacLeod was privy to those humiliating tortures, but Mac’s unexpected support and compassion almost made up for Methos’ dented pride.
A nauseous expression darkening his features, MacLeod asked, “What do you mean – that was the easy part? I thought I’d seen everything, but what he did with that knife of his…” the brave warrior couldn’t continue. After a moment, MacLeod offered in a thickly accented voice, “I’d’ve killed him just for what he did to you.”
“I know,” Methos nodded, appreciating all that MacLeod conveyed with that.
“What could be harder than that?” MacLeod asked after a short silence, sounding as though he weren’t really certain he wanted the answer.
“Comprehension?” Methos suggested.
“MacLeod, I know you’re not going to understand this, but the world was a very different place five-thousand years ago. I didn’t grow up a chieftain’s son in a Christian kingdom. Truth be told, I didn’t grow up anyone’s son.”
“I thought you’d forgotten your first life,” MacLeod said.
“Could you ever forget the experiences and the people who made you Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod? Your mortal kin have been dust for almost four centuries and you still identify yourself to our kind by your connection to them,” Methos pointed out. “We don’t forget what made us.”
“So that was a lie too?” Mac looked more puzzled than offended.
“Not a lie, MacLeod. There are things all of us work very hard to forget.”
“That’s true.” Once again this honorable man refrained from asking awkward details. MacLeod didn’t put him on the spot interrogating him about the painful experiences that had formed him; although Methos could see the curiosity blazing through him.
There was a part of Methos that was tempted to give MacLeod the truth, to share the kind of upbringing that molded a normal child into the kind of compassionless monster that could ride with the Horsemen, but such enlightenment would only hurt Mac. Even the Horsemen were innocent once. MacLeod couldn’t redress the wrongs that had been done to the child Methos had been, anymore than Methos could undo his past. No matter what, he was determined to never become an object of pity in MacLeod’s eyes. Monsters, though hated, were worthy of respect. The only way Mac was ever going to get those particular reminiscences was through his Quickening.
When Methos was sure MacLeod was once again listening to him, he went on with a lesser, more impersonal truth, “Right and wrong were only vague notions then. The simple truth is that I hardly thought about the reality of what I was doing. Beyond planning the best attack strategy, I barely thought at all back then. It was all…living in the moment. I won’t debate the morality of it, but the fact of the matter is that the strong ruled and the weak served. The stronger you were, the more inclined you were to bask in it. I did what I did, and enjoyed it, and not a single day goes by that I don’t wish that I could step back into the past and take a different course than the one I chose. I know the abomination that I was, MacLeod, far better than you ever will.”
MacLeod lowered his eyes almost guiltily. “Then why….”
“Why what?” he softly encouraged, wanting to get past this whole issue, even if it meant they wouldn’t be friends anymore.
“When you told me of your past…why did you brag so? Why did you sound so…goddamn gleeful?”
He’d known it was the wrong course to take, but hadn’t been able to resist the opportunity to hurt back when everything that mattered seemed to be slipping through his fingers through no fault of his own. “I needed to alienate you. I needed to cut ties and run before Kronos got his hooks in me again. I thought….”
“You’re not going to like it,” Methos warned.
The humor that had carried MacLeod through four-hundred years of loss surfaced. With a wry chuckle, Mac asked, “So, what else is new?”
“I didn’t want you anywhere near Kronos, so…I tried to cut our ties the fastest way I knew how. I knew that once you discovered my past, you’d want nothing more to do with me.” Yet, here they were talking, trying to hash this out instead of putting a couple of continents between them like any intelligent Immortals would do.
“If that’s true, then why did you leave that matchbook in the Romanian asylum that Kronos sprang Kaspian from?” MacLeod questioned, sounding like he was looking for a lie -- not that Methos could blame him.
“I didn’t expect to be captured. Kronos showed up as soon as you left. When you said we were through, I thought that would be the last of it. That I’d disappear into the sunset, never to be seen again and spend the rest of my life hiding from Kronos, but once he found me….”
“Yes?” MacLeod asked.
“Have you ever been the prisoner of a man like that, Highlander? If I was not with him, I was dead.” Reading the disapproval that Mac couldn’t quite hide, Methos’ irritation flared. “I’m not you, MacLeod. It’s not in me to throw my life away on a moral dilemma.”
“No, we all know morals aren’t your strong suite.”
The dig was too much. “You….”
“What?” MacLeod demanded, in a tone so contentious that it made Methos long for the days when he’d had the skill to teach smart mouths the errors of their ways.
MacLeod’s brows were raised, waiting, his whole body a dare.
More than anything, this man needed to be taught a lesson, and Methos was more than eager to do it, only…the days of surprising Mac with his own katana were long past. That kind of trust would probably never exist between them again. If either of them lifted a blade to the other now, it would be in earnest. Yet, the desire to just give in to that imperative and have at it was almost irresistible. There was almost a palpable energy playing along their skins, irritating and building in power. The call to battle felt chemical.
As he thought the word ‘chemical,’ Methos stamped down hard on his own aggression. Of course, it was chemical. Mac had taken a Quickening less than two hours ago. He was spoiling for a fight…or any action that would take the unbearable edge off.
Recognizing what was going on, Methos froze and kept his inflammatory comment to himself. You didn’t live five-thousand years without learning a thing or two about human nature.
Consciously defusing, Methos put on his best Adam Pierson facade. Widening his eyes, slumping his shoulders, making himself as diminutive as possible, he softly offered, “I wasn’t strong enough to stand against him. I don’t know that I ever was, but I knew…”
His ploy worked. Mac was so gloriously predictable, too chivalrous by half to bully someone he perceived as weaker than himself. It was a wonder the man had survived this long. Though the serious cast never left MacLeod’s features, the predatory gleam did.
“Yes?” MacLeod encouraged, his patient self again.
“You had the strength to deal with him. You just needed the fire. I provided that the night you killed Kaspian. ‘I go with the winner,’ remember? I knew getting you mad at me was the surest method to--”
Stiff with rage, MacLeod cut in with, “You mean you intentionally….”
“Yes. I intentionally destroyed the finest friendship I’d ever had to save my scrawny neck. You want to know the really ironic part about it all, Mac?”
The betrayed expression on MacLeod’s guarded face told him that it was quite possible Mac didn’t want to hear another word from him for the rest of his life, but the Highlander had more moral courage than Methos could ever hope to entertain and boldly asked, “What?”
He caught that suspicious dark gaze and held it. “It wasn’t worth it and there isn’t a goddamn thing I can do to make that any better, either.” Methos downed the last of his drink and quickly stood up, wobbling a little from all the alcohol he’d consumed. “I’ll see you around, MacLeod.”
He didn’t make it two feet towards the coat rack before an iron hard grip on his right bicep stopped him. “Wait!”
He looked up into the chiseled perfection of MacLeod’s face. The Scot’s forehead was creased in a frown again, his thick eyebrows almost a straight line across the ridge of his brow. Mac’s features couldn’t be called stony at the moment, not with that much anger and irritation in them, but his face was certainly hard, harder than a friend’s should be, harder than some enemies’ even. For all the tortures Kronos had inflicted upon him, the ancient Immortal had never looked upon Methos with such….
Methos couldn’t even categorize the emotions flashing through MacLeod’s face: anger, for sure, with a good deal of hurt thrown in, and something that was uncomfortably close to disappointment.
“What do you mean it wasn’t worth it?” MacLeod demanded.
“It means I should have let Cassandra take my head. That guy in the desert had it all wrong, Mac. Some things can’t be forgiven.”
“I’m supposed to feel sorry for you now, right?” MacLeod questioned, understandably skeptical.
“Feel whatever the hell you want, just let go of me,” he sneered back, trying to pull free.
“You started this. We’re gonna finish it,” MacLeod denied, grabbing Methos’ other arm in an equally unbreakable grip, holding the older Immortal firm with his greater bulk.
Unless Methos used his knee, he wasn’t going anywhere for a while. Death would have done it without a second’s pause, but Methos couldn’t. He’d already hurt his friend more than he could ever make up for. He wasn’t about to add physical assault to his lengthy list of transgressions.
Besides, Methos wryly recognized, if he did do something that stupid, there was every chance MacLeod would snap him in half.
“What do you mean, why?” MacLeod echoed, not mocking, simply not understanding.
“There’s nothing left here to salvage. You don’t have any respect left for me at all and I….”
“And you?” Mac didn’t sound angry anymore. He was just watching him with those bottomless eyes that seemed to see everything, no matter how hard Methos struggled to hide it.
Methos scrunched his eyes shut to block out the sight. He stopped resisting and stood stone still. All he could feel was the Highlander’s body heat pouring down his left side like warmth off a hearth. Methos’ breath caught as he recognized how physically aware he was of MacLeod. Their bodies were locked so close together that he could have picked Mac out by scent alone in a dark room. Faded soap and shampoo, traces of a piney aftershave, sweat from the fight with Byron, musk, body heat…so much body heat….
“Methos?” MacLeod questioned in a tone so close to concern that it made Methos’ eyes sting.
It was too much. Mac’s heat, the scent of him, the power of the near-painful grip pinning him…his emotions were too raw tonight and everything was just too physical right now. Mortified, Methos felt himself go hard as his bones simultaneously liquefied.
Mac felt it about a heartbeat later. The powerful body restraining Methos froze, then stepped back.
Deprived of support, Methos sank to his knees, gasping for air. He didn’t look up. He couldn’t.
In four-hundred years of Watchers’ reports on this man, not a one of them involved a male sexual partner. A guy didn’t get much straighter than that. Almost hearing the fragile remains of their friendship shattering around him like glass, Methos knelt there on the black and white checkered linoleum, unable to think, let alone breathe.
It was with no great surprise that he heard the click of MacLeod’s heavy leather boots on the floorboards as he withdrew.
Frozen beyond humiliation, Methos waited until the raging surf with its recently absorbed hornets’ nest of an Immortal signature receded from the club. Only when it was gone entirely and all there was left was the endless silence of the empty centuries stretching out ahead of him did Methos allow his tears to finally fall. Unable to stop them this time, he crumbled under the weight. He’d lost Byron and the Highlander in a single night. That had to be some kind of record, even for him. Drawing his knees tight to his chest, he let the grief have its way with him.
He’d been holding his pain back for so long that when the grief overtook him, there was no fighting it. He wasn’t like the men of this age. He didn’t know how to not feel. For the past six months he’d fought a losing battle with despair. Mac’s walking out on him was the final blow.
He tried to control his reaction, but there was no holding the pain of desertion back. It overwhelmed him, as Silas’ death had in Bordeaux. Methos didn’t know how long he knelt there weeping on that freezing floor before exhaustion finally overtook him. It just seemed that mid-sob he found himself in a different place. He was out in the desert where he’d met that healer two-thousand years ago, only instead of that rangy hermit, it was MacLeod who sat with him at the campfire, a happy MacLeod who joked, told tales and looked at him out of smiling eyes instead of with suspicion.
Even while unconscious, the symbolism of the substitution did not escape Methos. He couldn’t help but wonder if he really saw Duncan MacLeod as the means of his salvation. The fact that Mac was there, taking that ancient holy man’s place, seemed to state incontestably that he did. And he accused Mac of putting people on pedestals!
In the dream, the night was cold, as deserts were wont to be and Methos shivered. MacLeod reached down beside him and drew up a folded blanket. The Highlander shook it out and carefully laid it across Methos’ shoulders. Mac’s arm stayed across it for extra warmth. Appreciating the small kindness, Methos turned to smile up at the laughing Scot, only to feel the rough wool of the blanket rub against his cheek.
Irritated by the verisimilitude of the dream, Methos scratched at his cheek…and encountered rough wool.
Abruptly aware of the very real Immortal signature singing around him, Methos shot up from his sleep, reaching for his sword. But he wasn’t in his bed and his weapon was nowhere at hand. What was beside him was Duncan MacLeod, staring down at him out of troubled eyes.
“It’s all right,” MacLeod assured. “It’s only me.”
Like that was supposed to calm him.
Confused, Methos stared down at the blanket draping him, belatedly recognizing it as the one that usually resided in MacLeod’s trunk.
“What are you doing here?” Methos asked, hating the cried out sound of his voice. He wondered how much dirt he’d picked up off the floor and whether his cheeks were stained with tear streaks now. Was his humiliation never to end?
“Running never solves anything,” MacLeod uncomfortably stated. He looked absurd sitting there Indian fashion in the middle of the empty club floor. The knees of his dark pants were stained with gray dust and his big body appeared strained, like maybe he’d been waiting a while.
The blanket’s presence made it plain that MacLeod had entered the club, then gone back out again for the blanket upon finding Methos asleep on the chilly floor. Why Mac had bothered covering him at all was beyond him. With the way they’d parted, Methos would have expected a kick.
Abruptly wondering how long the younger Immortal had been sitting there, Methos played for time.
“Oh, I don’t know. Running has always worked for me,” he replied, trying to gather his wits about him. He never woke up fast. He didn’t know if he was up to Round Two right now. He couldn’t figure what the hell had brought MacLeod back.
“It didn’t this last time,” MacLeod said.
Still not with it, Methos asked, “What?”
“No, MacLeod, running worked just fine. It was coming back that was the mistake,” even Methos could hear the weariness in his voice. He felt every one of his five-thousand years at the moment.
“Why did you?”
“Why did I what – run or come back?” Methos asked for clarification, just to be snarky. He was fully aware of what MacLeod was questioning.
“You must have pulled up stakes a thousand times in your life….” MacLeod began.
“Try millions,” Methos corrected for the sake of accuracy.
“So why’d you come back this time?”
“Obviously, I’m a glutton for punishment,” he quipped, hoping to change the topic.
“No jokes, Methos.”
“What do you want from me, MacLeod?”
“I want you to answer one question.”
“That sounds ominous.”
“Quit it, now,” Mac looked like he was trying very hard to maintain his temper.
Wondering what could possibly be that important to the Highlander in the shattered remains of their friendship, Methos reluctantly asked, “What’s your question?”
“Before…what was that about? I thought I was the one who’d taken the Quickening….”
Some things were beyond explanation, even for an Immortal who’d seen five-thousand winters. It was a testament to Duncan MacLeod’s true courage that he’d even ask such a question. That type of emotional fortitude was what separated the true heroes from the wanna-bes, Methos supposed. There was so much more to bravery than running around swinging a sword, just as there was so much more to desire than mere physical attraction and animal lust.
MacLeod was waiting, his features troubled, but his willingness to listen apparent.
And, once again, Methos had no words for it. He could no more explain this pointless longing than he could convey what it was like to carry Death’s sins on his conscience for three-thousand some odd years.
So, he tried to hide. Pulling his knees defensively up to his chest, he stared down at the blue blanket covering his lower body, the physical proof of the Highlander’s continued caring. When he called MacLeod perfect, it was no joke, though the words were often said in anger. The Scot was that and so much more, so much more that would never be his. He had Mac’s friendship, if he answered that particular question honestly, that might no longer be the case.
Tired beyond bearing, he softly instructed, “Go home, MacLeod.”
“Was it…the Quickening?” MacLeod tentatively suggested. “I know we put out a lot of pheromones right afterward….”
“That’s as good an explanation as any,” Methos allowed, relieved that he hadn’t had to voice the lie himself.
“That’s not an answer, Methos,” MacLeod pointed out, seeing through him with frightening ease. “Come on, let’s get up from this freezing floor and….”
The gentleness, he’d almost come to expect. What the oldest Immortal hadn’t anticipated was the hand that reached out to touch his shoulder. There was nothing sexual about the gesture. It was the same kind of innocent contact MacLeod had used with him a thousand times before. But tonight it hurt Methos, seeming to highlight as it did all the things that could never be between them.
“Don’t!” he hissed, sliding clear.
For a long moment, Duncan sat there staring at his hand, as if trying to figure out the nature of his offence.
Methos’ stomach clenched into a tight ball when MacLeod’s confusion seemed to give way to understanding.
“It’s as bad as that, is it?” MacLeod softly questioned, his brogue thick and gruff.
When doing nothing failed, Methos’ faithful fallback was bluff. Putting as much disdain as he could muster into his attitude, Methos demanded, “What are you talking about, MacLeod?”
For the longest time Mac didn’t reply. At first Methos thought MacLeod was using his own tactics against him, but then he realized that the other man was simply sitting there, for all intents and purposes, studying him.
It was unnerving having those dark eyes focused so intently upon him in the dim light, but Methos forced himself to sit still and withstand it. He’d survived Kronos. He could deal with being watched, but somehow this was harder. He felt far more vulnerable here with MacLeod, which made no sense. Of all the Immortals he’d ever encountered, Duncan MacLeod was the least likely to hurt him. Yet, Methos had rarely felt so open to attack.
“You were wrong before, you know,” MacLeod remarked.
“About what specifically or is that just a sweeping judgment?” Methos asked in a hollow imitation of his usual sarcasm. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t seem to stop shaking inside.
“I haven’t lost respect for you.”
Mac couldn’t have startled him more if the Highlander had pulled out his katana and taken his head. He’d expected some further comment on his earlier loss of physical control, some form of …judgment on his inappropriate sexual response. The shock of the statement hit worse than a physical blow. To his knowledge, this was the first time Mac had ever lied to him.
“Right.” Methos didn’t have to fake his cynicism this time. All his bottled-up hurt took care of it for him.
“It’s my trust that was shaken,” MacLeod admitted, his determined expression making Methos suspect that Mac was forcing himself to get through this. “And I’ve been…blaming you for it ever since.”
That had the ring of truth to it.
Methos lowered his gaze, watching as he bunched the blue wool blanket covering his knees between his fists. “I can’t undo my past, MacLeod.”
“I know,” MacLeod’s voice was gruff with emotion. “In my head I know it, but I still find myself blaming you. I…I want to understand why I’m so angry with you all of the time,” MacLeod’s reluctance as he voiced those words was almost palpable.
“I disappointed you and betrayed your trust,” Methos somberly reminded, as though that hadn’t been the on-going topic of debate for the past six months.
“I’ve been betrayed before….”
“And they all usually lost their heads. This was different,” Methos argued, unable to resist playing Devil’s Advocate, even when it was himself he buried with his sharp wits.
“It’s always been different with you,” MacLeod declared in the tone of someone making a major discovery.
“How so?” Methos questioned, intrigued. Mac looked so pensive. This quiet thoughtfulness was so different from the outraged machismo that Methos had envisioned after his body’s earlier betrayal that Methos couldn’t help but poke at it.
Mac seemed extremely self-conscious as he said, “We…it’s not the same between us as it is between other Immortals. It never has been.”
“What do you mean?” Methos didn’t debate the legitimacy of the claim. He’d never viewed MacLeod the same way he did the rest of their kind; although he’d known from day one that the Highlander could have slain him any time he wanted. But then, again, he was a cautious man. He’d waited until he’d seen how MacLeod dealt with Kage before risking contact with the young Immortal he’d watched from afar for these past three centuries or so.
“The…suspicion, I guess you’d call it, was never there with you, even in the beginning, after we crossed swords in the water tunnel,” MacLeod said. “I never once felt like you were going to go for my head when my back was turned.”
“I offered you mine on our first day together, MacLeod. There isn’t a more effective tactic than that for disarming mistrust.”
“That wasn’t a tactic,” Mac reprimanded. “Don’t even pretend to go there.”
Chastened, Methos looked away. “No, you’re right; it wasn’t. I was desperate that day.” The last time he’d been driven to a state like that was when his relationship with Byron was disintegrating around him. Then, as with MacLeod, his fear had driven him to foolish straits. “I…didn’t expect you to….”
“To what?” MacLeod prodded.
“To have enough…faith in me not to see our entire past as a complete…lie, I suppose. These past few months, there’s been so much suspicion. I thought it would color your entire view of me.”
“It did for a long time,” Mac admitted.
“I don’t know, Methos. You’re not the man I thought you were, but you are what you are.”
“Only slightly below the Untouchable Caste,” Methos couldn’t keep the bitterness out of the smart-ass comment. He stared off at the upended stools on the bar, wishing he could put himself on hold like that indefinitely.
The heat of the instant protest brought his wary gaze back to those upset features. “No? Then I think you need to tell me what I am, MacLeod, because I don’t know anymore. Friend, foe…I’ve no clue where I stand with you…if anywhere at all,” he was making no assumptions here. Nowhere at all was a hell of a lot safer with their kind most times.
“You’re my friend, Methos. You know that.”
After all the pain MacLeod had put him through these past six months, the hurt in those handsome features should have been meaningless, but somehow it only made him feel even more guilty.
“I guess maybe I had that coming.” Mac said at last, adding a serious, “It must look bad from the outside. Joe was really worried it would come to swords between us when he left tonight.”
MacLeod said that last sentence as though the idea were unthinkable.
“It wasn’t really an unrealistic concern on his part,” Methos pointed out.
“What are you saying?”
On some level, it was eminently reassuring that Mac didn’t think about beheading as a viable answer to their personal problems. On the other hand, the realist in Methos couldn’t understand. Mac had dispatched other Immortals he’d known far longer than their three years for much smaller offences.
“I guess I don’t understand why I still have my head. I was as bad as the others, perhaps worse in some ways.” At the Highlander’s pained expression, he explained, “I had imagination.”
“But you changed,” from the way MacLeod said the words, it sounded like a credo he’d repeated to himself over and over again.
This was the part of it that frustrated him the most. MacLeod truly believed that he wasn’t the same degenerate who’d committed those unforgivable acts, and yet the Highlander still blamed him for the crimes.
“Changed enough to be spared, but never forgiven, ey, Highlander? You’re a hard man, MacLeod.”
“I can’t take back the past. If you want to punish me, then take my head and get it over with,” Methos demanded, unable to bear another moment of this disapproving distance.
“More games, Methos?” the Highlander challenged, his annoyance plain.
Methos bit his lip, battered by the skepticism. What hurt so much about this whole thing was that for the first time in his life, such treatment was undeserved. He hadn’t failed MacLeod, ever. Where he would have run from a fight for his own head, he’d stood strong and fought challenges for this man’s sake, with opponents who by every right should have sent him to his maker. Methos didn’t know how he could have been a better friend to MacLeod. He’d never tried to change as hard as he had these last three years, all to be worthy of MacLeod’s respect. And he’d lost it all with Cassandra’s arrival.
He just didn’t have the strength in him to live with this kind of failure. If he weren’t worthy of MacLeod’s friendship, then the three-thousand years he’d spent changing were nothing but wasted energy. “No games. Just truth.”
“You really expect me to believe that? I may be younger than you, Methos, but I wasn’t born yesterday. You know I won’t do it.”
The disgust in MacLeod’s attitude bit into him like acid.
“If you had half the honor you play at, you would,” Methos sneered, everything so raw inside that he no longer cared about consequences.
He’d pushed the right button. Mac’s face darkened like a thundercloud at the aspersion to his honor. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The quality of mercy, Highlander. Practice what you preach. Either forgive me or take my head. This…cruelty ill becomes you.”
“Cruelty?” Mac echoed, as though he’d never heard the word before.
“What do you call it? I’ve never been anything but friend to you, yet you treat me like…like Judas Iscariot because of events that happened a thousand years before your Christ even lived.”
“Maybe I’m just trying to figure out what else you’re capable of, what other secrets you’re hiding,” MacLeod said.
The really ironic part was that Methos could see Mac didn’t intend those words as a weapon, yet they ripped his heart right in half.
Methos opened his mouth to respond, closed it when he couldn’t find an argument and looked away.
He didn’t want to, but he found himself meeting that dark gaze.
MacLeod attempted to explain, “I trusted you as I’ve trusted no other Immortal – including Fitz. It’s going to take a while for….”
“It’s been six months, MacLeod.”
“It’s not easy. You….”
He couldn’t bear to hear one more time how completely he’d let MacLeod down.
“Yes, I disappointed you. Yes, I lied to you. Yes, I manipulated you. Yes, you have every right to be angry. But I had no choice, MacLeod. I’m not you. I’m no hero. You want to punish me for that, then do it, take my head and get it over with, only…” he ran out of steam under that steady gaze. Methos hadn’t meant to say half of that. He could see the words hit Mac hard.
“Only?” the guarded word was hardly encouraging. MacLeod was watching him as though seeing him for the first time – which was not necessarily a good thing, survival-wise.
“Put an end to this.”
“This?” Mac appeared legitimately confused.
Methos had never wanted to thrash him more. “This…distance.”
MacLeod’s incredibly long and thick lashes swept down to veil his eyes. “It’s not that easy, Methos.”
“Fine,” Methos snapped. “Then at least tell me what it’s going to take to make this right again. How much do I have to suffer before I regain your trust? Do I have to rescue a few kittens from trees, save some orphans from a burning building – what’s it going to take? Just tell me what I have to do to get back in your good graces, MacLeod, and it’s a done deal.”
The silence that followed was deafening.
In its painful emptiness, Methos at last found his answer. Comprehension was no easier now than on that horrible day that he finally developed a conscience.
“I…see.” The cold formality that had saved him in many an incipient challenge spilled over Methos, sarcasm and disdain entering his attitude. They were the only form of self-defense he had left here. His pride was history. “My apologies, I’m not usually this dense. Forgiveness isn’t an option here; is it?”
“Methos….” Mac was almost pleading.
“No, don’t trouble yourself, MacLeod. I get the picture. Two-thousand years of hard work and changing mean nothing. Once a Horseman, always a Horseman, right?” He pulled the blanket from his knees and tossed it at MacLeod. “Save your pity for those worthy of it, Highlander.”
He was up on his feet and at the coat rack before the bulkier MacLeod struggled up to the vertical. He mightn’t be a perfect hero like MacLeod, but the one thing he had perfected over the years was fast exits. He was out of the club and racing down the garbage strewn, foggy alley behind Maurice’s before MacLeod even reached the street.
Mac was sensitive for such a young Immortal, but by the time MacLeod had chosen a direction, Methos was already out of detection range.
There was nothing like pre-dawn Paris in the winter to define misery. The fog wreathed around him in the dark back streets, reddening his exposed skin, soaking his cheeks and hair. He huddled into his long black coat as he walked, but it did nothing to shield him. The cold was coming as much from inside him as out. He’d walked these same streets for centuries, but rarely with the kind of pain that was eating at his heart now. He’d been made a fool again, a total, complete fool. Every time he allowed someone into his heart, he ended up bleeding inside like this. If his lovers were mortal like Alexa, they died way too soon and if they were Immortal like Byron or MacLeod, they grew bored with him and discarded him.
With every step, Duncan MacLeod’s voice from six months ago kept echoing through his mind. We’re through.
Why hadn’t he believed those words? Why had he deluded himself that there was something worth saving here?
As Methos made his solitary way home, he racked his mind trying to understand whatever had possessed him to inflict this kind of humiliation upon himself. He’d known what the Highlander was; he’d seen how unforgiving MacLeod could be. He had to have been insane to even dream they could ever be friends, that a man like MacLeod would want him around once his past was known.
There was a reason he’d never told anyone about the Horsemen in two-thousand years. Had a set of broad, strong shoulders and a sparkling pair of dark, sensual eyes made him forget his survival instincts?
But it wasn’t anything so simple as visceral longings that made him ache for MacLeod that way, Methos acknowledged as he turned down his block of eighteenth century buildings. In five-thousand years, Methos had seen, and had, more than his fair share of exquisitely good-looking lovers. It was more than mere physical chemistry that pulled him to Mac. No, nothing so easy as old-fashioned lust, though, gods knew, he did long for MacLeod. Strange as it may seem, it was the very honor he mocked that made him want Mac so. When he tracked back to its source, it was a single moment in time that had started this lunacy, one of those instances that forever defined a person’s character.
Even now, that memory sent a chill through him. His death had been upon him as it rarely had in five millennia. Methos had been soaked to the skin with river water, shuddering with the cold as he stooped beaten before a man he’d unfairly attacked, a man who’d only offered him friendship, the man whose weapon blade lay cold as an icicle against his exposed throat. MacLeod should have taken his head that night. Any other Immortal would have done so without hesitation. But instead of taking a Quickening that would have made the Scot invincible, MacLeod had raised him to his feet, brought him into his home, talked him through the shakes, given him hot food, dry clothing…and a friendship the likes he’d never seen in five-thousand years.
He got hard every time he thought about hunching there in that freezing shortcut to the barge with Mac’s icy katana blade at his throat, crouching down to keep the razor sharp edge from slicing into his skin. It had been millennia since living that close to the edge had excited him. And even in his distant past, he’d been in that situation only twice before. Once when he was a mere hundred-years old, then again when he first met Kronos. Both times he’d traded his ass for another day of life. But MacLeod hadn’t asked that of him. All Mac had asked was that Methos allow the Highlander to help him defeat the psychopath that was hunting his head. And somehow, Mac’s not demanding that kind of payment had made Methos want to give it to the Highlander.
He might as well have wanted to give it to the Pope, he bitterly reflected as his cold-numbed fingers fumbled the lock open. At least the Pope would have forgiven him his sins.
He was weary to the bone when he entered his apartment, but experience had taught him there’d be no rest while he was in this state. His mind was racing, his stomach churning at the magnitude of what he’d lost today. Byron alone would have been enough to depress him, but Mac….
Still too upset to think, he steered his mind away from that painful scene. He’d done everything but beg on bended knee for forgiveness…and it wasn’t enough.
The streetlights filtering through the half-closed blinds lent an eerie silver-blue light to the apartment. His mobile, metal sculptures cast twisted, moving shadows through the living room. Normally, the blend of ancient artifacts and cutting edge modern art put him at ease, seeming to define his life as it did. But tonight, the ceaseless swaying of the sculptures only made him nervous, the way a cat’s twitching tail might, and there were far too many tragic memories associated with the artifacts. In its own way, his flat was almost like a museum, with each piece commemorating a happier time that he would never see again.
After securing the door, he removed his sword from its hidden sheath in his overcoat, shouldered out of the coat and hung it on one of the pegs directly to the right of the intercom. Sword in hand, he stepped into the living room proper.
The building’s cranky furnace had apparently given up the ghost again. His flat was barely warmer than the streets had been.
Carefully not looking at the poetry collection on the nearest bookcase, Methos passed the wooden Welsh throne against the wall that divided the living area from his sleeping alcove and headed for the kitchen. Though tea would probably have been the best thing for him, there was a bottle of scotch in the cupboard out there that was calling his name. Maybe if he stayed drunk a couple of years it would take the bite out of this pain.
As if, he bitterly acknowledged. A man like Duncan MacLeod came along once in a lifetime, if you were lucky. You didn’t get over losing a friend of that caliber with a few years of boozing. And when it came to that man deeming you unworthy of his regard…Methos didn’t know if a person got over a blow like that at all.
He’d barely gotten the bottle out when the buzz of another Immortal hit him. The submerged hornets nest had almost been totally absorbed now. All Methos could feel were Duncan’s usual crashing waves.
“Damn,” he cursed, tensing all over as an angry pounding rattled the door. There was a perfectly operational buzzer right there, but neither MacLeod nor Amanda seemed to care for the modern technology. Mac’s pounding made Amanda’s loud night arrivals seem tame.
“Open the damn door, Adam,” MacLeod shouted.
Adam, not Methos. Even in his anger, MacLeod protected him. It was moments like this that made Methos know that he could never truly hate MacLeod. He might be mad as hell at the implacable prig, like now, but Mac’s underlying goodness precluded true hatred.
Purposefully leaving his sword behind, Methos regretfully placed the unopened bottle on the table. He would have liked a little fortification before facing Round Three.
Furious that he wasn’t even allowed the sanctity of his home as a retreat from the self-righteous avenger, Methos stalked to the door and swung it open. “What?”
MacLeod actually looked startled by the reception he received. His handsome features hardening with a challenging, almost predatory antagonism, the Highlander brushed past him without waiting for an invitation.
“Come in, why don’t you?” Methos sarcastically sneered. He’d had enough of MacLeod and his small-minded morality for one night, possibly for an Immortal’s lifetime.
“We weren’t through,” MacLeod said, in a tone that seemed to be struggling for civility.
Wondering why Mac was even trying, Methos corrected, “Oh, yes, we’re through. You said so in Seacouver. I was just too dense to accept it.”
The reasonable voice irritated him to a near berserker frenzy. Carefully clamping down on his rage, Methos tiredly said, “Go home, MacLeod.”
“You once told me su casa es mi casa,” Duncan reminded.
Methos despised the man at that moment. “We’ve already established my probity or lack thereof.”
“We can’t go on like this, Methos,” MacLeod said in that irritatingly reasonable tone he had at times. It was only slightly less infuriating than the judgmental one he more often took.
“You’re right as usual, MacLeod. We can’t. We shouldn’t even try. It’s been fun knowing you….”
“Methos…” The warning was plain.
And it was too much. Bad enough he subjected himself to this unforgiving piety when he was ready for the exchanges. For MacLeod to follow him home and inflict it upon him when he was in retreat was unbearable.
“What? What do you want from me? You’ve made it plain that it’s not my friendship. I don’t measure up. I can’t. Let’s just count our losses and be grateful we both still have our heads….”
“We’re friends,” MacLeod protested with that stubborn persistence that made Methos want to shake him.
“We were friends. Before Cassandra showed up. Since then…” he shrugged. “It doesn’t matter anymore. Whatever it was, it’s gone now.” Like everything else that ever meant a damn to me. Turning his back on his uninvited guest, Methos stalked back to the kitchen.
The scotch bottle was still sitting on the table where he’d left it. Its clear top caught the dim light from the courtyard window, glinting like crystals in the dark, beckoning to him, promising him forgetfulness.
Like most promisers, the scotch was a liar. The forgetfulness wouldn’t last. Methos knew going in that it was only a temporary reprieve. He’d still wake up with Death upon his conscience, only he’d have a splitting headache to contend with as well in the morning, but…sometimes he needed the temporary solace, regardless of the consequences.
That was, after all, why he’d befriended MacLeod. Temporary solace. A few days, months, decades in the company of a man like that went a long way towards easing the ache inside. It was just bad luck that Cassandra had made her appearance after three short years; instead of the three decades or centuries he’d hoped for.
Like the ghost in some bad Shakespearean play, the relentless Scot followed him into the kitchen.
“You measure up,” MacLeod said, shouldering out of his coat and laying it over the nearest hard backed chair. The sound of his katana knocking against the wood sounded strangely loud in the late-night/pre-dawn hush, its ring full of ominous possibilities.
“Make yourself at home, why don’t you,” Methos sarcastically drawled, ignoring MacLeod’s statement.
Mac moved past him and fetched two glasses from the draining board beside the sink. Reaching past where Methos was just standing there beside the table, defensively hugging his arms to his chest, MacLeod snagged the scotch bottle and poured them both a generous helping.
When Methos made no move to take the proffered drink, MacLeod put it on the table in front of him, pulled out the nearest chair and instructed, “Sit down.”
“I think I’ll stand if it’s all the same to you.” He was being difficult just for the sake of it, but he couldn’t help himself. This man had cut him to the quick tonight. He couldn’t take anything in stride with MacLeod right now.
“Methos, I think I know how you feel, I….”
That was too much. Unable to resist, he let his sarcasm loose. The jury was still out as to which part of him was the more ruthless killer – his tongue or Death. His tongue was arguing its case tonight. “You know how I feel -- do you? You know what it’s like to have your closest friend turn his back on you and treat you like a pariah because of something that happened three-thousand years ago?”
“Methos, it’s not that easy. It’s….”
“It’s who I used to be, Highlander. Emphasis on the used to be. Do you know what it’s like to carry something like that with you, every day for three-thousand years?”
Duncan opened his mouth as if to reply, then closed it and shook his head.
“I’ll tell you, shall I? When I was Death, I slept like a baby. Now…I need the beer just to get to sleep at all, and when I manage…I still see their faces at night, MacLeod. Every one of the countless thousands who fell under my blade, they’re all there, waiting for me when I close my eyes.”
He waited for this merciless avenger to tell him it was only his just desserts, but MacLeod surprised him by saying, “Sometimes I still see the Earl of Rosemont’s son’s face as he looked the day I killed his father after Culloden.”
“He was a lucky boy, MacLeod. Death spared neither the child nor his father. And what he did to the mother is unmentionable.” Moving from where he was leaning against the sink, Methos picked up the glass Mac had left on the table. He downed it in a single gulp, gasping as its fire burnt through him. “That’s what I am, MacLeod. That’s what I live with…what I’ve had to learn to accept.”
“Death’s been dead for three-thousand years,” MacLeod startled him by protesting.
“Has he?” Methos whispered.
“What do you mean?”
“Who killed Silas? Do you think a bookworm who’s cowered from fights for six-hundred years could have bested a warrior of his caliber? Death’s still in me, Mac. I just don’t let him out to play very much anymore.”
“If that were true, you would have killed Kalas,” MacLeod argued, seeming totally without doubt.
“Would I? Maybe I feared Death more than Kalas.”
“And maybe you’re just running your mouth again to tick me off,” MacLeod countered. “Maybe I’m not the only one who has trouble accepting who you used to be.”
Methos flinched at the suggestion. Recovering, he shot back with, “You’re right. Acceptance doesn’t come easy. The guilt aside…I have lived every day of the past three-thousand years knowing that the men I’ve come to respect and admire would spit upon me and turn their backs on me forever if they knew even a tenth of what I’d done. I’ve hidden the truth from everyone for over two-thousand years. You’re the first to know it and, just as I knew you must, you turned away from me, too.”
“I haven’t turned away from you, Methos. We’re still friends….”
“We’re not. You tolerate me because you haven’t found it in your heart yet to take my head.”
“I don’t want your damn head!” MacLeod insisted. Visibly calming himself, the other man continued with, “Come on, Methos. Sit down, please?”
Feeling like a trapped animal, Methos cautiously eased into the chair Mac had pulled back earlier. It was no balm to his dented pride to know that even now, when they were through, when he’d at last stopped trying to gain MacLeod’s acceptance, that he’d still do anything Mac asked – simply because MacLeod asked it of him.
Once Methos was seated, the Highlander took the chair beside him.
And, as so often happened, Methos’ eyes did a helpless reconnaissance of his companion. When he wore his hair tied back as tightly as it was bound now, Mac looked so severe. The Highlander’s black pants, tee shirt and burgundy outer shirt did nothing to lighten the somber impression his hair gave. MacLeod looked like judge and executioner rolled up in one. The fact that he so often played that role was in no way reassuring.
“I know how you must feel, Methos, but….”
Presented with the same idiocy he’d just spent the last ten minutes dispelling, Methos sneered, “You know what it feels like to have your friends despise you for mistakes you can’t fix? You know how it feels to have to hide all the time from the people you’ve come to love, because there isn’t a woman, or man, for that matter, on the planet that would come willingly to your bed if they knew what you’d been -- and you honestly can’t blame them because you wouldn’t sleep with you either if given half the chance -- are you telling me that you really know how that feels, MacLeod?” he met his former friend’s eyes again, needing to be known, if only for this short time.
“I’ve had a taste of it,” Mac replied, looking down.
It was the averted gaze that convinced Methos of his sincerity. But…who could turn away from this? There wasn’t a time ever that a man of MacLeod’s features and mettle wouldn’t be desired. Disbelieving that anyone could ever make Mac feel a pariah, Methos challenged the assertion with, “When?”
“I took Sean Byrnes’ head, Methos,” MacLeod spat out. “I know what it feels like to do something you can’t undo, something that makes you hate yourself more than anyone else ever could.”
There was no questioning the weight of that mistake. Mac had suffered the torments of the damned after the killers fighting for dominion of the Highlander’s soul had taken his old friend Sean’s head.
Methos considered the argument for a moment, then decided, “It’s not the same. That was the result of a Dark Quickening. It wasn’t you….”
“It was as much me as that Horseman named Death was you,” MacLeod stunned him by arguing.
If only they could both believe that was true.
His eyes stinging, Methos gulped around a throat tight enough to strangle him. He was not going to start bawling again, shaking was bad enough. He was not going to fall apart in front of MacLeod. Taking in a deep, quivery breath, he shook his head and insisted, “It’s still different.”
“The only difference is the fact that my friends didn’t throw Sean Byrnes’ death in my face every time they saw me. They…accepted me, even after I did that terrible thing. You accepted me.” None of this was coming easy to MacLeod. Every word looked like it was being ripped straight out of his heart.
Still unable to believe what he was hearing, Methos skeptically questioned, “Can I ask what brought about this change of attitude? You were singing an entirely different tune half an hour ago.”
“I know.” The thick fan of MacLeod’s lashes lowered to veil his eyes. “I was…angry, but I started thinking about things…”
“And?” Methos prompted after the non-answer.
After a long silence, MacLeod offered, “I got past the anger enough to…remember what you are to me. There’s been so much strife between us lately that I couldn’t see you anymore; all I could see was how you’d….”
“Let you down?” Methos offered.
Mac nodded, then added, “But it’s not just me. I think that we’ve both been angry.”
Hearing the offer, seeing the other man’s willingness to listen in the open features, Methos hissed in a startled breath. Everything in him screamed that he’d already revealed too much here tonight. Maintaining his cover was the only thing that had kept him alive this long, only….
MacLeod already knew the worst about him and was still sitting here listening. What was a little more truth after the horrors of the Apocalypse?
Taking a deep breath, he nodded and admitted, “Yes, there’s been anger. I’ve never broken faith with you, MacLeod, not once, and yet….”
The patient encouragement should have had a calming effect, but Methos’ heart was pounding in his chest like it had when Kronos had held that sword to his throat a few months ago. This was it, the chance he’d waited three-thousand years for – the opportunity to lay it on the line with someone he cared about and finally be seen for himself. For so long, he’d felt like that poor fool Diogenes, staggering along with his lantern in hand, searching the world for one honest man. He should have been happy that Mac was offering this opportunity, but all Methos could think about was what was at stake. Once he laid it out in the open, there would be no going back.
Truth or consequences, he’d always hated these moments, the kind that made or broke relationships. Byron had always considered them to be the instances when he was most tinglingly alive, but they nauseated Methos.
The knowledge that the peace between him and his closest friend could explode with a single wrong answer lay heavy upon him. It wasn’t as bad as with Kronos, where violence would be the result of a mistake. No matter what he said, he knew Mac would remain a rational human being. He just didn’t like going through this kind of painful postmortem when it seemed their relationship was already history. But if that were the case, why was Mac bothering with him at all?
If there was any chance at reconciliation, he had to take it. MacLeod was offering him the opportunity to speak his mind. It was more than he’d expected, maybe more than Death deserved.
Gathering his courage around him, Methos quietly offered, “You were so willing to believe the worst of me….”
“Only when I heard it from your own lips,” MacLeod cut in. “I came to you that night, hoping that it was all a mistake and…”
“And I gave you the truth.” Methos finished. “Would you have preferred a lie? I considered it, you know.”
“Why didn’t you?” Mac’s dark eyes rose from his contemplation of his drink. Mac might just as well have raised his sword to Methos’ throat; his body reacted that violently to the simple question.
How was he supposed to answer that? How did he tell MacLeod that he’d waited three-thousand years to find someone stalwart enough to stand firm beside him even after knowing about the Horsemen, that he’d hoped MacLeod would be that person? How did he confess that he’d been as much of a sap as the rest of the world and bought into MacLeod’s heroic claptrap, that he’d been so credulous as to believe that redemption was actually possible for one such as him?
Methos’ mouth went dry. His body didn’t want to answer that question anymore than his mind did, but he’d resolved to be honest with Mac and, as ever, honesty was a sharp blade. That was the problem with truth: Like any weapon, it was unforgiving and didn’t necessarily care who got in its way. He had no idea how he could tell MacLeod that this was one relationship he’d been determined not to screw up without revealing why the friendship was so important to him. And, even if he told the truth, he had no idea if he’d be believed. His credibility had been shot to hell ever since he’d lied to Mac about Cassandra.
Though the cynic in him was screaming that this was a useless ordeal to inflict upon himself when he already knew that they were through, there was a dreamer buried deep inside that wanted to risk it. After all, what had the cynic ever gotten him? That negativity had almost lost him Alexa the first time he’d gotten up the nerve to approach her. He’d be damned if it would cost him MacLeod as well when there was any chance of healing the breach between them.
So, he took another deep breath and answered more harshly than intended, “Lying to you wasn’t a habit I wanted to get into.”
His tone seemed to bounce right off the normally sensitive Scot. Instead of reacting, MacLeod asked in that same mild voice, “Why?”
“What do you mean why?” Methos sneered.
“You’ve hidden this for…what? Three-thousand years? Why tell me?”
“I told you why. To cut our ties and keep you clear of Kronos.”
“I don’t believe you,” MacLeod said.
As he often did when startled, Methos tilted his head to the left and blinked, staring at the Highlander out of narrowed eyes thereafter. “It’s the only truth I have, MacLeod.”
“Maybe it’s true, but it’s not the whole truth,” Mac countered.
About to further protest, Methos closed his mouth. He’d resolved to stop hiding from this man. Meeting those penetrating eyes, Methos suggested, “Maybe I was hoping for the impossible.”
“Maybe I thought that my friend might be willing to accept me for the man I am and not hate me for the mistakes another me made three-thousand years ago. But perhaps that’s too much to ask of anyone, even the Perfect Immortal.”
Mac winced at the part about being accepted for the man he was. When Methos finished speaking, the Highlander quietly protested, without rancor for once, “I don’t hate you and I’m not perfect, Methos.”
Gods, even the way MacLeod said his name in that thick, upset brogue sent a shiver through him. There was so much he wanted from this man, so much that he would never have. Even when he was furious with MacLeod, he still longed for him, still ached to touch all that goodness and make it his own, if only for a short while. The temptation to do just that, to reach out and cover that powerful, blunt-fingered hand so near his own was so strong that he could barely hold back. His fingers balled into a fist on the table as he struggled to control his raging emotions.
“You’re wrong there, MacLeod, quite wrong. You’re the best of us. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”
“How can you say that? You know better than anyone that’s not true,” MacLeod argued.
“No, I don’t. I watched you for over 350 years before I dared make contact. I know you, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I know your goodness.”
MacLeod’s eyelashes swooped down to conceal his gaze as a faint flush touched his cheeks. “I remember when you told me something like that in Darius’ church after I killed Sean.”
Methos recalled that day as well, when he’d chased Duncan MacLeod all over France after the Dark Quickening. It was quite possibly the most terrifying twenty-four hours of his life, never knowing from one moment to the next when MacLeod’s control would snap and the killers inside him would strike out. He’d felt like he was juggling live nitroglycerine, just waiting for the situation to explode in his face. Now, he could look back at it from a distance and think of it as just another ordeal he’d gotten through, but at the time, being with Mac had been very much like dealing with Kronos at his worst.
When Methos made no comment, MacLeod looked back up at him and continued, “I never understood why you kept coming after me that day.”
Methos shrugged. “It seemed the thing to do. It was no big deal.”
“It went against everything you ever tried to teach me about survival. Your motto has always been ‘Don’t get involved,’ but that day you risked everything for my sake again and again.”
“What’s that got to do with anything, MacLeod? It’s all ancient history now.” Sadly enough, even the terrors of the Dark Quickening were seen as better days now, because even when he was being controlled by deranged killers, MacLeod was still his friend underneath it. Back then there had been none of the suspicion and distrust that defined their relationship these days.
“No, it’s not ancient history. Every time I think it’s about to come to swords between us, I remember that day and….”
“Refrain from taking my head out of gratitude?” Methos dispiritedly suggested.
“No! It just reminds me that that’s who you really are.”
Methos’ chin shot up, his body stilling. “You think that’s who I really am?”
“I know it is,” MacLeod corrected.
His stomach and throat clenching up as tight as his balled fist, Methos faltered, “But….”
“Since Bordeaux, you don’t let that Methos out much and I haven’t looked too hard to find him, but he’s still there. When Stephen Keane came for my head, it was that Methos who stepped forward and took him on.”
“After shooting you in the back,” Methos dutifully reminded. Even when he tried to do right, he did wrong. It was the story of his life, all five-thousand miserable years of it.
MacLeod blinked in obvious consternation, a series of fast-moving emotions fluttering through his expressive face, before he agreed with an ironic quirk of his full lips, “Aye, after shooting me in the back.”
“It’s all like that with me, Mac,” Methos confessed in a subdued tone. More than anything, he wished he could offer this man something to make MacLeod proud to be his friend, but all he had was his past. What wasn’t downright depraved or lurid was uninspiring at best…cowardly at worst. “Even when I try to do the right thing, it turns out wrong.”
“Not always,” MacLeod gently corrected.
“Name me one occasion where I didn’t…disappoint your expectations,” Methos challenged.
To his unending shock, MacLeod answered immediately, without any trace of doubt, “After the Dark Quickening. Everyone else, including Joe, stepped back and let me go, because they thought I was truly lost. You were the only one who believed in me. You risked everything to help me.”
Despite his longing to affirm Duncan’s delusions, Methos couldn’t allow his friend to operate under false premises. “Joe called me and told me what happened. He asked me to help.”
“Maybe so, but you still had the courage to do it.”
“Mac, it wasn’t….”
“You gave me back my life that day,” MacLeod cut into his protest, that deep, steady voice making him shiver inside. “What you said in that church…about salvation…it was the only thing that got me through.”
“Yes, well….” Now it was Methos’ turn to stare down at his clenched fist. He had no idea where this conversation was headed. All he knew was that it was making him intensely uncomfortable.
“I’ve been blaming you for not being that Methos for all five-thousand years of your life, only….”
It almost took more courage than Methos had left for him to rasp out, “Only?”
“It wasn’t until tonight that I realized that you couldn’t have brought me through the Dark Quickening the way you did if you hadn’t ridden with the Horsemen.”
Methos forced himself to meet Mac’s eyes. They were clear and steady, with no hint of teasing or deceit. No matter how insane what MacLeod was saying sounded, Mac obviously believed it.
Trying to hold it together, Methos questioned, “How so?”
“I was a rabid, blood-thirsty beast the day you found me and it didn’t phase you.”
Methos shrugged, “I’d seen worse.”
Hell, he’d been and bedded worse.
“Precisely, my point. You didn’t balk when it got ugly and….”
“And?” Methos whispered. For some reason, he was almost afraid to hear the rest.
“When you spoke of redemption, you weren’t patronizing me. You believed what you were saying…and you made me believe. Your…conviction came from personal experience. Darius used to talk that way about it, with a surety that made you believe that nothing was ever set in stone, that there was always hope. If you hadn’t known redemption yourself, you couldn’t have saved me.”
Not insane, after all, Methos recognized. MacLeod’s logic was faultless. Unfortunately, it was also completely wrong.
“Sorry to disappoint you again, MacLeod,” Methos drawled, almost satisfied that the cynic had once again won out. “But you’re wrong.”
In its own way, this was as hard as the moment when he’d chosen to cross swords with Silas in Bordeaux. Meeting those eyes, because he had to, Methos supplied, “I haven’t known redemption; I’ve lived in the hopes of it. There’s a difference.”
“What do you mean?”
“Redemption entails acceptance of the past, the courage to admit your wrongs and move on from there,” Methos explained.
“You’ve done that. You’ve changed….”
“I’ve run from my past and hidden what I was for two-thousand years. There hasn’t been a single person I trusted enough to come completely clean to in all that time.”
“You were pretty frank with Joe and me tonight,” MacLeod argued.
“Only because I had nothing left to lose.”
“You said it yourself, Mac. Your trust in me is gone because you found out who I used to be three-thousand years ago-“
“No,” Mac corrected. “My faith in you was damaged because you lied to me and cut and ran after Cassandra showed up.”
“You said we were through,” Methos spat out.
“After you told me about being Death. After I found you bailing out like a rat from a sinking ship.” The betrayed anger was still there in Mac’s voice and stormy eyes.
“Are you telling me it would have been any different if I’d been upfront with you from the moment Cassandra showed up?” Methos challenged. “How would you have felt about me if I’d told you that I’d killed her entire village, kidnapped and raped her and thousands of others like her before I finally grew up?”
“We’ll never know. That’s not how that scene played out.”
Recognizing that they were once again back at square one, Methos sighed. “Like I said, Highlander, there hasn’t been any redemption for me. There never will. I’m not Darius. My entire personality wasn’t subsumed by some mystical Quickening. And to be honest, I wouldn’t want it to be. I’m just a guy who makes mistakes too big to be forgiven.” His fists balling even tighter on the table, Methos looked down into his empty glass.
“Darius used to say that nothing was too big to be forgiven,” MacLeod said, his expression seeming to indicate that he was trying very hard to remember his teacher’s disciplines.
“Darius might’ve been able to forgive what I’ve done. Normal men can’t. Even you….”
“I can…and will,” Mac vowed. “I know I haven’t acted as if it’s true lately, but you’re a good man and a better friend, Methos.”
“Right,” Methos snorted in disbelief.
“Look at tonight, if you don’t believe me,” MacLeod said, as though his meaning would be immediately clear.
“What about tonight?” Methos questioned.
“You no more approved of what Byron had become than I did, yet your loyalty drove you to try to defend him.”
Methos straightened in his chair, wondering if that was really how MacLeod viewed tonight’s events.
“It was nothing so lofty as loyalty, MacLeod,” Methos corrected, made weary to the bone by the basic misunderstandings between them. “I just…there have been too many deaths. I didn’t want to lose another friend. And I didn’t disapprove of him. Minds as brilliant as his can’t be held to the same standards as the rest of us.”
“You sound just like Byron,” MacLeod complained.
Two-and-a-half centuries ago, that comparison would have been the highest praise Methos could have attained. But, tonight, it wasn’t a compliment; at least it wasn’t coming from MacLeod’s mouth.
“Perhaps. He was lost in his pain, MacLeod, driven mad by the emptiness inside,” Methos tried to defend his fallen lover, as he’d failed to defend Byron from MacLeod earlier tonight at the concert arena.
“Oh, give me a break,” Mac spat, his face twisting with distaste. “He was a malicious sadist who got off on the misery and deaths of innocent mortals.”
Methos closed his eyes, trying to see Byron as the dissolute drug addict he’d met here in Paris and not as the vibrant genius who’d stolen the very words of his poetry from the Muses’ own lips two-hundred years ago. But it was impossible for Methos to divorce the present-day Byron from his memory of the man. Byron would always be passion and flame to him, and, like all fires, Byron was often indiscriminate as to who fell in his path. Byron’s crimes weren’t the same as Methos’ own foul past. They were merely the price of genius.
“It wasn’t malice, MacLeod; it was envy,” Methos wearily corrected.
“Envy?” MacLeod skeptically echoed.
“Of their ability to feel. He had nothing left inside of him. You took his Quickening. You know the kind of emptiness he lived with.”
The anger left Mac’s face at Methos’ reference to the Quickening. Even among friends, they rarely spoke of these things. What an Immortal received when he took another’s head was too personal, too private for discussion. Mac seemed to wage a silent war before he finally offered, “Methos, I took the Quickening of a man who’d numbed his feelings with drugs and drowned his genius with self-pity. He was no emptier inside than you or I. He just indulged his melancholy to a higher degree.”
“How can you say that? He….”
“He wasn’t the same man you knew,” Mac argued, his voice and demeanor incredibly gentle.
Not the same man he knew…not the hero poet who’d lived Childe Harold’s life, not the wild debaucher who’d fucked his teacher in a fierce whirlwind of possessive lust, not the jealous, egotistical genius who’d decried Methos’ pathetic attempt at story telling as plagiarism….
He was not going there; he was not going to lose himself in a well of self-pity. The past was dead. He alone lived on to mourn it and drown the pain in drink, the same as always.
The silence was deafening, the quiet so complete that MacLeod’s gulp sounded like a shout.
Methos’ entire body jerked, then froze as MacLeod’s broader, darker hand covered his own and gave it a squeeze. Mac’s hand didn’t immediately abandon him. It stayed there and held firm.
“I…Methos, I’m sorry for the pain this has caused you. I’m not sorry I did it, because it needed doing, but I am sorry you got caught in the crossfire. I know how close you two were….
Methos squeezed his eyes shut again. The last thing he needed was to be reminded of Mac knowing yet another embarrassment in his sordid past. It had taken him decades to get beyond the public humiliation the ending of his affair with Lord Byron had incurred. To have Mac know all the dirty details from Byron’s point of view…it was almost unbearable.
Filled with a self-loathing it had taken him a hundred and fifty years to master, Methos hissed, “You mean you know how besotted I was. You needn’t be so kind, MacLeod. I was there. I know what it was.”
To his consternation, MacLeod’s hand didn’t leave his own. Instead, it tightened in a reassuring squeeze. “Don’t….
The pleading note made Methos open his eyes and look. Hard as it was to sit here, knowing Mac knew the whole of it, up to and including Doc Polidori’s pathetic ‘suicide’ in 1821, Methos none-the-less forced himself to hold MacLeod’s gaze. “Don’t what?”
“You offered that egotistical bastard a gift he was too blind to recognize….
Methos snorted. Leave it to MacLeod to romanticize something like that. The man was truly astounding. “I was a pathetic sycophant who got his just desserts, nothing more than another one of his groupies, MacLeod.”
“You were his teacher and friend,” MacLeod countered.
“How can you say that? You must have seen….
“I saw that he was a user who didn’t give a damn about anyone or anything but himself.”
“No,” Methos shook his head, “you didn’t know him then. He was like a comet, MacLeod. He filled the entire sky with his brilliance….
MacLeod sighed in obvious exasperation. “How can you say that? You know how he treated people…how he treated you….”
“He never asked for me or anyone else to feel that way.”
Just as MacLeod had never asked for these feelings to exist, Methos acknowledged, wondering if he were fated to go through eternity never once earning reciprocity in love once his real self were known. Perhaps that was a fitting punishment for the man who’d once been Death – to grow a heart that ached for love, but to be ever deemed unworthy of it because of his past.
“And that excused his behavior?” Mac challenged.
Methos shrugged. “What can it matter now?”
“It matters,” MacLeod said, his voice thick and low.
Unable to meet that stare in his shame, Methos looked down at the table, where Mac’s hand still had his own trapped. The single point of simple contact was making it impossible for Methos to think straight.
He swallowed hard. His mouth felt so dry. The heat must have kicked in because his apartment no longer seemed cold. To the contrary, it was boiling now, hot as Hades, hot as Mac’s palm….
MacLeod’s fingers moved to grip his hand tighter.
His gaze shot up to Mac’s face. In the wake of his earlier loss of control where he’d given his desires away, Methos didn’t know how to interpret the gesture. MacLeod had never touched him quite this way before.
If he’d hoped for inspiration or explanation from his companion, he was utterly disappointed. He’d never seen such uncertainty on the normally confident Scot’s face.
Their eyes locked. The moment stretched. The tension that had existed between them from day one built to unbearable levels as they sat motionless with MacLeod basically holding his hand.
Methos couldn’t think over the thunder of his pounding heart. It felt like it was trying to hammer its way out of his chest. The air was so strained and thick that he could barely pull it into his lungs. His guts clenched up tight in a reaction that felt like terror, but wasn’t.
A man couldn’t live five-thousand years without learning to recognize the basic physical laws that governed human interaction. Apparently, a man couldn’t live four-hundred years without doing so either.
MacLeod’s expression made it plain that he’d finally correctly interpreted the sexual tension for what it was. Leave it to the Boy Scout to take three years to recognize the force that had governed their relationship from day one. Methos, for his own part, knew that he could have eaten MacLeod alive the first day Mac had shown up at his flat looking for the historian Adam Pierson, but MacLeod, for all his sexual experience with women, never seemed to recognize the attraction for what it was.
And now that Mac did, Methos wasn’t sure that it changed anything at all.
Methos knew Mac was straight. He knew the proper response here was to pull his hand free, mumble some excuse, and change the atmosphere with a macho joke to get things back on an even keel between them again. Lord knew, he’d had three long years of practice at avoiding this very situation, but…the lack of disgust in Mac’s admittedly hesitant features made him sit still and wait it out.
Mac wanted honesty from him. It didn’t get more honest than this. This was who he was. What he felt for MacLeod was quite possibly the definitive emotion of his life. To continue to deny it was as good as lying.
Methos braced himself as Mac’s eyes widened in surprise, but he didn’t avert his gaze. There was enough of Death’s arrogance left in him for Methos to hold his head up high while awaiting judgment.
Mac gulped again. His gaze lowered to their joined hands for a moment.
Methos steeledf for the inevitable rejection. He knew how this scene always played out. Hell, they’d already enacted it at the club just a few short hours ago. This would end no differently…it couldn’t. Methos knew exactly how it would go. Mac would pull his hand back, then there’d be an incredibly awkward silence before the Highlander shot to his feet to make his escape. Though never with a friend as close or important as Mac, Methos had been in this situation before, where a straight man would find himself responding to Methos’ more nebulous sexuality. They always bailed and the friendship was always ruined.
But Mac neither panicked nor bolted. Though Methos could see the broad chest pull in a startled drag of air and feel the tension tightening the body so close to him, MacLeod stayed where he was, those mysterious, dark eyes locked with Methos’ own.
He was five-thousand years old. He should be able to read this younger Immortal as easily as a child’s primer. Duncan MacLeod was as predictable as the tides; that certainty was part of his appeal. There should be no question of Mac’s response, only the inevitable, mortifying rejection. But…the Highlander did not pull back from him.
After what felt an eternity of tense waiting, MacLeod’s grip on his hand altered and Methos found his trapped limb being lifted towards the Scot’s face. Everything inside the five-thousand year old Immortal froze up in shock as Mac’s full lips pressed against his knuckles. The unexpected gesture was just so romantic, so completely outside Methos’ experience of male sexuality that he didn’t know how to respond to it, and was therefore devastated by it.
Mac’s lips were dry and firm, the moisture that slipped out between them was startlingly hot on his knuckles.
Methos sucked in a shaky breath, totally undone by the raw sensuality of this holdover of the chivalric code that Methos had always scoffed at as being too corny for words. It was like 20,000 volts of raw electric current shot through him at the touch of Mac’s mouth to his hand. The visceral rush of the contact was powerful as a Quickening, overwhelming. Methos tried to control it, but a shocked, cut-off moan still escaped him.
Mac had been concentrating on what he was doing, but now the Highlander’s gaze lifted to meet his own. Methos had no difficulty reading his friend’s shock at his vocal response. He could see those dark eyes taking in his state, determining how much this meant to him, how much he was moved by even this simple contact.
Methos felt his cheeks flush with shame as he looked away from that too-perceptive gaze. He wanted this man too much for either his peace of mind or safety.
He wasn’t accustomed to being off balance during sex. In five millennia of hard living, Methos had pretty much played out every role imaginable. But he couldn’t fit what was happening here with MacLeod into any of his usual safe boxes. Mac wasn’t a conqueror like Kronos, a manipulative seducer like Byron, or a horny one-night stand; he was just Mac, being as devastatingly gentle as only Duncan MacLeod could be.
Methos didn’t know what to expect, for he didn’t understand what had motivated MacLeod’s action. All he knew was that it couldn’t be what it appeared to be. Despite MacLeod’s sudden turnaround this evening, Methos knew that Mac thought him a moral degenerate. MacLeod wouldn’t want him this way…couldn’t. Four-hundred years of Watchers’ reports couldn’t be mistaken. It had to be something different – curiosity, payback, even jealousy…all were possibilities, for Mac had any number of reasons for wanting to put Methos in his place, but none would explain the tenderness of MacLeod’s approach.
He knew that Mac had to be toying with him. The Highlander had Byron’s lifeforce and a montage of the poet’s memories rattling around inside him…Mac now knew how susceptible Methos was to this kind of manipulation. Although this type of teasing wasn’t MacLeod’s normal style, it had been Byron’s. So soon after a Quickening, it was hard to say who was calling the shots. Methos couldn’t count the number of times Byron would turn him on like this, with a gentle stroke to his cheek or squeeze of his hand…then Lord Byron would laugh in his face and walk away, smug in his conquest.
His heart would shrivel up and die if Mac started playing those kinds of games with him. At least the contempt and cold distance of the past six months signified some form of respect was still present. But this….
This wasn’t payback or manipulation, Methos realized as he took stock of the other Immortal’s expression. The concern and tentative hope gentling those dark eyes were not the look of a sadistic manipulator. If anything, Mac seemed afraid of offending.
The sincerity came as a total shock to him, and, as such, Methos had no clue as to how to deal with it. Mac truly appeared almost afraid of the response he would receive.
“W-why….” It was more of a rasp than a question, but it was the only word Methos could get out.
He almost sobbed as his hand was abandoned, but instead of pulling back, MacLeod leaned forward and reached for his shoulders.
He’d never had that thick, passionate tone leveled at him before. He’d caught echoes of it while watching Duncan court Amanda. While those voyeuristic ventures had given him a vicarious thrill, they didn’t destroy him the way those two simple syllables did. Mac could have carved him apart, taken his heart, head, or genitals at that moment and Methos would have died a happy man.
But Mac didn’t kill or maim him as Kronos would have when presented with such vulnerability. What the Highlander did was move in for a kiss. If those lips had been electric on his coarse knuckles, they were downright nuclear when placed against Methos’ stunned mouth. It was like being in the heart of an atomic bomb. The heat was searing, melting flesh and bone.
Methos was so shocked that all he could do at first was sit still as a wax sculpture and allow the kiss to happen. He certainly liquefied like one of Madam Tussaude’s creations under the blast of the contact. He’d seen MacLeod in action before, but he’d never been on the receiving end of this sweet attention.
There was a hesitation to Mac’s approach that was strangely endearing. MacLeod was moving as though he expected to have his head handed to him on a platter at any moment. The initial brushing of their mouths had no force behind it. It was almost as though MacLeod were allowing Methos to set the pace.
But the pace of what? For the life of him, he couldn’t understand why Mac was kissing him. He reconsidered his earlier assessment of MacLeod. Was it possible that Mac had always been conscious of the sexual tension operating between them, and simply ignored it for the sake of their friendship? If so, Methos couldn’t fathom why that had changed now. Mac had run from his desire before. That was a real and honest reaction. This was…incomprehensible.
But while it might be incomprehensible, Mac’s kiss was exciting as hell.
He shivered as a wet, hot tongue swiped against his closed lips, irresistibly inviting. Mac could have plunged in and forced the issue. In the Quickenings MacLeod had taken, the Highlander had no doubt seen what Methos was accustomed to. Male sex and violence were almost inextricably bound together in Methos’ past. They both knew that he would submit to a more forceful male.
But Mac just licked across his dry lips, teasing, playing, seducing him with tenderness.
Methos’ mouth opened of its own accord because there simply was no alternative. There was only Duncan MacLeod…kissing him.
Juicy was his first thought as he sampled the flavors Mac’s tongue brought over.
The scotch was uppermost in the taste blast, but right below it was the tangy flavor that was naturally MacLeod. Mac tasted like he smelt…strong, male, warm and wonderful. Definitely wonderful.
The tips of their tongues touched, velvety rough taste buds sampling each other as they slipped around the limited space in Methos’ mouth in a strangely elegant dance.
Both of MacLeod’s hands rose to grip the sides of Methos’ head, his fingers scrabbling for a hold in the older Immortal’s short spiky hair. As the kiss deepened, Mac leaned forward…and disaster struck.
The ninety-year-old wooden chair, which Mac was tilting forward, went out from beneath the Highlander, Methos’ following suite when two-hundred pounds of solid muscle abruptly landed on him. They clattered down in a painful crash of shattered wood and impacting bodies.
Methos yelped as the back of his skull thunked against the edge of the sink on his quick descent. His vision blacked to a field of bright, painful stars. Blinded by the sudden pain, he narrowly avoided ending up with Mac’s knee in his groin; the heavy weight banged his upper thigh instead. Though not entirely without discomfort, the collision was much less catastrophic than it would have been if the knee had landed two inches further to the right.
For a stunned moment, they both just lay there on the floor in the detritus of the kitchen chairs, with the heavier Highlander doing his unintentional best to make Methos into a Rorshock blot on the linoleum.
The only thing preventing Methos from roaring his head off at this preposterous happenstance was the fact that there was too much weight crushing down on his lungs for him to draw breath for laughter. What little oxygen he had rushed out of him in a grunt as MacLeod shifted up enough to look down at his face.
“God, I’m sorry, Methos. Are you all right?” MacLeod’s hand moved to cautiously probe the back of his head.
Mac looked so horrified that Methos couldn’t help but grin. But his smile slipped from his face as he took in the degree of open anxiety visible in the Scot’s expression. Mac was acting as though Methos were something precious and fragile, as though the lump wasn’t already healing, as though Methos hadn’t known Kronos, Byron and a dozen others of their ilk who considered lumps, abrasions, contusions, and blood a necessary byproduct of sex. And, Gods help him, Methos simply didn’t know how to deal with a man like this.
The lump seemed to have moved from the back of his head to his throat, where it tripled in size until Methos felt as though he had one of MacLeod’s golf balls lodged down there. It was three swallows before he could even attempt speech.
“I won’t break, MacLeod,” he croaked out, but the comment sounded shaky to his own ears.
“I know,” MacLeod rasped back, shifting until he was lying beside, rather than on top of, Methos. The calloused fingers of his right hand rose to lightly stroke Methos’ temple.
His stomach dropped out on him then. That soft touch made him quake in a way that blows or knife wounds never had. He was frightened, more scared than he’d been the day Kalas had bested him, perhaps even more afraid than when Kronos had finally caught up with him six months ago. This tenderness could destroy him in a way that violence never could.
“Mac, you don’t have to….”
“Don’t have to what?” MacLeod asked, his hand stilling, his eyes digging right into Methos’ troubled soul.
“Waste the effort. I’m not Amanda. I can take it,” he promised and felt like an untutored child at the expression which sparked in those dark eyes. It wasn’t pity, but the emotion MacLeod was telegraphing was uncomfortably close to it.
“I don’t see it as wasted effort,” MacLeod answered in a gruff tone.
Hating the borderline pity nearly as much as his own fear, Methos persevered with, “What I mean is, you can let go. You don’t need the kid gloves with me.”
“What are you saying?” Mac asked, upfront as ever.
“Just that…it can be as wild as you want. We can…work our differences out this way…and both still keep our heads,” even as he spoke the words, Methos couldn’t believe that he was saying them to the original white knight. But there was a well of panic within him that made him need to translate this encounter into something familiar, something he could handle. Mac judging him and punishing him, he could live with. But this gentle seduction…were he playing a role here, Methos might have been able to take it in stride, but Mac’s knowing his past made him feel…unworthy of the kindness.
Steering away from the disturbing feelings inspired by that kiss to his knuckles, Methos concentrated on the facts he knew, those things he was certain of. Despite MacLeod’s claims to the contrary in the past few minutes, Methos knew that Duncan was still furious with him. If Mac purged that anger on his flesh, Methos thought that he might get his friend back. The logic had always worked in the past. Kronos had never wanted to kill him after a night of hard fucking. This might be the way to finally lay MacLeod’s resentments to rest.
There was one fault to the plan. Mac wasn’t Kronos. The suggestion alone might be enough to turn MacLeod off. His friend was such a gentleman…such a prude in some ways.
The handsome face so close to his own furrowed into a frown. Methos could almost see Mac sorting through whatever memories he’d taken from Kronos with his Quickening, absorbing the savage, bloody nights Methos had spent in his leader’s bed, no doubt moving on to the newer images MacLeod had picked up from Byron tonight. Though nowhere near as violent as the services Kronos had required of him, there was little tenderness to be found there either. Restraint and consideration had never been Lord Byron’s strong points.
And then there was always that shared Quickening to consider, those moments when they’d gotten a clearer look at each other’s souls than any two friends should have to endure. If he wasn’t damned by Kronos and Byron’s memories, then that little illumination was certainly enough to make Mac see that Methos was the last candidate worthy of a typical MacLeod seduction.
Methos held his breath, waiting the inevitable judgment. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod would doubtless be scandalized by the suggestion that the Highlander partake of even some of what Methos had done in the past. He waited…and waited, but the anticipated disgust failed to appear.
Relaxing a bit, Methos changed mental gears. He’d always known that his friend had hidden depths.
All Immortals had their dark sides, even Duncan MacLeod. He was fairly sure that Mac would never torture him like Kronos, but Methos had seen enough of MacLeod’s evil twin during the Dark Quickening to know that the Highlander was more than capable of taking a walk on the wild side. Intellectually, Mac knew that Methos wasn’t the same man who’d committed those awful crimes three millennia ago, but emotionally, the child in Mac couldn’t forgive Methos for disappointing him. It was that part of MacLeod that was angry at him, that part that wanted his head. If Methos could appease that beast, it was possible they might find their way back to where they’d been before Cassandra’s arrival.
“Just let go, MacLeod,” he urged.
“And?” the Highlander asked with tight control. Though Mac’s face was creased with emotion, Methos couldn’t interpret its source.
“Anything you want. Our kind are hard to kill,” he offered in his most seductive tone, consciously removing all resistance from his body, letting his pliancy communicate his willingness to submit to anything MacLeod might need from him to make things right between them again.
This wasn’t what Methos had hoped to find with MacLeod, but the last six months had made it plain that any chance of getting what he’d hungered for was shot to hell. He’d rather violence than pity, and, considering all that had passed between them, Methos couldn’t conceive that MacLeod would bed him out of anything but anger or feeling sorry for him.
“Is that all you’ve known?” MacLeod softly questioned, not jumping Methos’ bones and immediately having at it as Methos had anticipated, and perhaps even wanted on some level. There was as much absolution as catharsis in that kind of unbridled sex.
“Is what all I’ve known?”
“I saw you with Alexa,” the words were tentatively offered, as if Mac were afraid of hurting with them. “You know what it is to love.”
“Alexa wasn’t my judge,” Methos spat out. The last thing he needed to be reminded of tonight was his latest insufferable loss. Sometimes her very name was like a blade to his heart. She’d never known who he really was, but Alexa had loved him for whom he was at that moment in time.
“Neither am I,” MacLeod countered. His voice was hard as steel, for all that the hands resting on Methos’ shoulders were light.
“Then what is this about? You’re not…you don’t bed men. If you don’t want to bugger me through the floorboards as punishment forrrrumfph…” a firm palm smothered the rest of his crude question.
“I’m not goin’ta punish you with sex,” Mac firmly stated. “It doesn’t have to be that way between us.”
Methos squeezed his eyes shut and tried to breathe around the slightly clammy hand pressed right under his nostrils. Mac’s palm smelt of sweat and the ivory of his katana. It was a sad testament to the twisted state of his sexuality that the force behind the hands holding him was turning Methos on almost as hard as MacLeod’s kiss had earlier.
Slowly, the palm lifted from his mouth, allowing him speech.
Methos gulped and tried to explain himself, but he could find no words. Why Mac’s being gentle with him should frighten him more than violence was inexplicable. This was one of those horrible situations that seemed to keep going from bad to worse.
For a long, unnerving moment his companion’s dark eyes simply stared at him. Finally, Mac cleared his throat and said, “I’m not your judge, man. You’re my friend.” MacLeod’s brogue was so thick as to be nearly incomprehensible. The vowel in the ‘my’ seemed to go on forever.
Mac’s chest was heaving like he’d run six miles, his face more troubled than Methos could recall seeing it throughout their stormy acquaintance.
As if Methos had made another argument, MacLeod insisted, “That’s not what you want for us. Methos, I know you. That’s not what you want.”
Holding that upset gaze was the hardest thing Methos had ever done in his life. Sucking in a hot, MacLeod-scented breath, he softly confessed, “It’s never been about what I want. Not once in five-thousand years.”
“But you told me you’ve had over sixty wives…” Duncan’s confusion was complete. MacLeod didn’t seem to doubt his word anymore. The man simply didn’t seem capable of comprehending Methos’ motivations.
Uncertain if he could ever explain, Methos tried with, “I’ve had sixty-eight lovers whom I cherished – and hid from – every day we were together. None of them knew a thing about my past. Kronos was the only one who ever knew the real me and he….”
Raped and tortured him on a regular basis, the only person who’d ever really known him. In a unique moment of clarity, Methos was chilled by that acknowledgement…and what it seemed to say about himself.
“Kronos wasn’t your lover,” MacLeod corrected. “Lovers don’t use knives and chains. They don’t leave bruises. They don’t….”
“Reject you for not living up to their standards?” Methos couldn’t resist the dig. Kronos might have been an animal, but none of the physical pain the leader of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse had ever inflicted upon him came near the degree of hurt Duncan MacLeod turning away from him had caused.
“That, too,” Mac acknowledged after a too quiet moment. “Is that what this is about? You see me the same as him?”
“No,” Methos instantly denied, not wanting that big a misunderstanding between them.
“Then how could you even think I could do what he did?” Mac shook his head, the tension lines that formed around his eyes told Methos how disturbed MacLeod was with the entire idea. “You’re my friend. I don’t need to hurt you. Whatever’s wrong between us, we can work it out.”
“What if it’s what I need?”
“You need to be hurt? I don’t believe that. I won’t believe it.” Duncan insisted, his face a study in incomprehension. “Why…why would you want that? I know you. You don’t like pain.”
And yet he was here, asking for it, almost hungering for it. There had to be a reason. Why would MacLeod’s tenderness frighten him so? Mac was right. It wasn’t as though he’d known nothing but abusive sex. For the last six-hundred years, Methos had made it a point to be involved mostly with gentle lovers. Byron was the exception, rather than the rule, these days. Yet here he was, pleading for this kindest of men to hurt him. There had to be a reason.
Methos looked down and searched his heart, finally coming up with an answer he could share. Daring that gaze again, he carefully suggested, “Reparation?”
“A pound of flesh?” MacLeod asked, his feelings on the matter completely unfathomable.
Hearing the words literally, Methos suppressed a shudder. He’d been with men who had demanded that of him, and more. Kronos had once cut half his hamstrings out after an escape attempt…taking far more than a pound of flesh.
Steeling himself, Methos answered, “If that’s what it takes.”
“How can you think that my hurting you will somehow make things right between us?” Mac asked, with no sign of comprehending such a need.
“Because it might. Because you’re still angry at me and need to vent, because…” Methos floundered.
“Because if I hurt you enough, the guilt might make me forgive?” MacLeod suggested with no apparent rancor, just that amazing understanding that Mac sometimes had about the strangest things.
“Freud would be proud,” Methos acknowledged, doing his best not to let his shame show.
Mac gulped and looked away for a moment. When he turned back, he’d gotten control of himself, his features calm and unreadable.
“I’m that important to you?” Mac asked.
Methos squeezed his eyes shut, then slowly reopened them. Taking a deep breath, he quietly questioned. “What would you have me say, MacLeod?” To his intense relief, and equal bewilderment, Mac did not make him crawl. Instead, the Highlander shimmied closer to him and reached for him.
With all this talk of hurting, Methos couldn’t help but flinch.
“God, man, do you really think that I could…?” MacLeod’s shocked question trailed off. After a moment, he asked in a gentler tone, “Pain and betrayal really are all you’ve known; aren’t they?”
Methos didn’t want to talk about it, but MacLeod was making the effort to understand and…no one had ever gone to that trouble before. For once Mac wasn’t judging him and storming out the door; the Highlander was just lying there in their uncomfortable bed of splintered chairs, no doubt attempting to figure out what made a five-thousand-year-old man tick.
“It’s all I’ve known with men of our kind,” Methos offered at last, watching his friend’s face, trying to interpret every fleeting emotion. At least MacLeod didn’t outright condemn him for his homosexual encounters. Mac’s level gaze compelled him to explain, “Most…like Kronos…got off on the pain and domination.”
“And Byron?” Duncan asked, obviously attempting to make sense of whatever memories Methos’ old friend had given him tonight. Though nowhere near as violent as Kronos’ recollections, Methos knew that there was little in his whirlwind affair with the poet to commend itself to MacLeod’s sensibilities.
“What we shared was always more important to me than him.” Methos broke that gaze and lowered his lashes, hit with a chilling sense of déjà vu as he recognized that he could just as easily be speaking about himself and MacLeod. Determined to give the entire truth, despite the fact that he knew his pride was history now, Methos continued with, “With Byron, I took whatever I could get.” He looked over into those watching brown eyes and admitted, “I’ll do the same with you, Mac. Just name your terms.”
There, he’d done it -- laid every last shred of dignity he possessed out in the open for the other man to rip away. There would be no going back from here, not ever, just as there had been no going back when he’d offered his bum to Kronos to spare his life four-thousand years ago.
“We’re not negotiating a treaty here,” Mac rasped out, those piercing, emotion-torn eyes scouring Methos’ face as though searching for subterfuge.
“Aren’t we?” Methos quietly challenged of the man at his side.
“No, we’re not. This is us.”
“So, what do you want, then?” Methos asked, at his wit’s end. His nerves were fried. All he had was his need…twisted as that need might be.
“I want you to close your eyes…and your mouth,” Mac added with an exasperated snort, “and trust me. Can you do that?”
He would have been happier if he’d been asked to offer up that proverbial pound of flesh, Methos wryly acknowledged. Once again, MacLeod was putting him in the untenable position of having to make a leap of faith…to trust in what was, without having the details solidly ironed out…rather like what he was asking MacLeod to do when it came to his own past, Methos realized. They’d both seen the worst of each other during these last six months. Neither one of them had any reason to even try to trust.
Fifty centuries worth of self-preservation instincts were screaming at Methos not to enter into anything blind. But…he’d already offered Duncan his body as a punching bag and his Quickening as an act of contrition; MacLeod had refused both. He didn’t know what Mac wanted of him, but it wasn’t death or dismemberment. That should have comforted him, but the known was always easier to accept, even when all that was known was violent abuse.
Methos opened his mouth and croaked out a sound. Swallowing hard, he tried again.
Feeling as though he were tottering on a cliff edge, with jagged rocks below him and a gale trying to rip him off his unsteady perch, Methos braced himself.
He heard Mac draw in a sharp breath. MacLeod’s expression seemed to say that he appreciated how difficult this was for Methos.
Then those muscular arms were reaching for him, drawing him nearer, close, so close that no distance separated them at all…and suddenly things like pride, self-respect and the inevitable, disastrous consequences were meaningless. All that mattered was Duncan’s mouth, the hands moving over him, and the warm weight settling carefully on top of him.
Mac worked enthusiastically at his mouth. Those full lips kneaded against Methos’ own in a frenzy to get closer. Methos opened up to Mac and let it happen, drinking in all the sweet juices, shivering as MacLeod’s heat found all his cold spots and warmed them.
Four-hundred years of Watchers’ Reports had done nothing to warn Methos of the sheer sensuality of a Duncan MacLeod seduction. Hell, five millennia of living hadn’t prepared him for it. He’d known MacLeod had the fire, for Methos was always attracted to intensely passionate men, but Mac was like nothing he’d ever experienced before – as wild as Kronos, skilled as Byron, wilful as Caesar…but all of it tempered with a gentle care that only added to the ferocity of the experience. To touch the flame and remain safe…always in the past Methos had had to pay dearly for the fire he borrowed.
As Mac’s hands carded through the short spikes of his hair, his thrusting tongue promising things to come, Methos couldn’t help but wonder if this was what it was to trust…to lie beneath someone who could maim or slay you without effort, sure in the knowledge that it would never happen. While there had been a certain masochistic thrill to never knowing from one second to the next when the tide would turn and the hurting would start, this was better, so much better, Methos decided, almost purring as that masterful mouth slipped to his neck. He turned his head to allow better access, crushing his face against the rungs of his shattered chair.
Mac’s slick tongue left a trail of moisture behind it as it swept down the side of his throat. The flow of warm breath over the lingering wetness was the most shiversome delight Methos had felt in centuries. Gods, perfect didn’t begin to describe it. The man was so intense, so sensual…Mac was…Mac was withdrawing, pulling back….
Methos gasped as his wet neck was left to the mercy of the cold apartment air, almost sobbing as all that fire deserted him. His body felt bereft without its blanket of warm, dense muscles.
“This isn’t going to work, Methos,” MacLeod announced.
“What?” Methos was too shocked to even try to moderate his response. Every muscle he owned turned to lead as the rejection penetrated his stupor. A couple of kisses and Mac was bailing? And he’d thought Byron cruel?
“You’re squashed in the wood,” Mac said, reaching out to irritably shove the chair rung away from Methos’ cheek. “If we keep this up, you’re gonna get splinters.”
The relief flooded through him, fierce as an orgasm.
“Splinters?” Methos gaped. He’d been so focused on MacLeod that Methos hadn’t honestly been conscious of how…inundated he was by the debris. Now that he looked, he realized that there were shards of wood all around and under him. Not that it mattered. Kronos had taken him naked in nettles once. He’d have suffered that and more to be close to MacLeod. And Mac was worrying about a few wood chips?
The absurdity of it all hit him. His chuckle turned into explosive laughter, with a near hysterical edge. Once he started, he didn’t seem to be able to stop. The release was more addictive than heroin; perhaps better than sex, though Methos would wait to make that judgement until after he’d slept with MacLeod.
MacLeod’s expression went from confusion to amusement, then he, too, was laughing as well. “Methos, what are we laughing at?” Mac breathlessly interjected into a lull in the merriment.
“Does it matter?” Methos asked, stretching out beside his lover, knocking wood chips all over, starting them both off giggling again.
“God,” Mac gasped at last. “That felt good. I’ve…missed this between us. I’ve…missed you.”
Ambushed by the guileless expression of genuine emotion, Methos sobered immediately. “Ditto.”
Mac gave his lips a fast kiss and struggled up to a sitting position.
The fond light in the eyes gazing down at him melted something inside of Methos. Feeling very young and unconcernedly foolish, Methos rested his right hand on the dark denim covering the bend of MacLeod’s knee, just because he had the freedom to do so now.
Methos’ forefinger played along the inseam there, eliciting a gasp from his friend. Pleased, Methos saw the already impressive basket at the front of Mac’s pants surge and grow larger.
Mac’s hand covered his own, stopping him and holding him still there. The dark brown gaze just stared at their joined hands for what seemed the longest time before meeting Methos’ eyes again.
“Second thoughts?” Methos questioned, praying that he’d have the strength to accept. Mac’s reconsidering wouldn’t really surprise him since he didn’t understand what had motivated MacLeod in the first place. There was the Quickening, of course, that was often enough to inspire an Immortal to take a walk on the wild side, but never MacLeod, at least, never with a male partner.
“No, no second thoughts,” Mac’s response was immediate. The pressure on his captured hand was released, then, as if unable to stop themselves, Mac’s fingertips rubbed over the dark hair on Methos’ arm. “It’s just…new, you know?”
Shivering at that caress to a previously near insensitive zone, Methos used Mac’s knee for balance and hoisted himself into a sitting position, amid a veritable shower of splintered wood. Methos settled them knee to knee, across from each other. Once they were eye level again, he gave a slow nod. “I know.”
MacLeod’s head tilted to the right like a cocker spaniel’s, watching him out of those incredibly soulful puppy dog eyes. “You do?”
“I’ve never done chivalry before, Mac,” he admitted with a wry, self-deprecating smile, adding in a more serious tone, “You’re a whole new world to me.”
“That’s how it feels.”
Wondering if his physiology were as frightening to Mac as losing MacLeod’s respect was to him, Methos lowered his eyes and softly assured, “This new path you’re forging, it needn’t go anywhere the old ones didn’t.”
Mac snorted. “I think we’re past the hand-holding stage, Methos.”
He tensed as MacLeod’s finger hooked his chin and raised his head back up.
The lyrics to that old Peter Gabriel song, In Your Eyes, played through Methos’ mind. The light, the heat in that remarkable gaze filled his entire world as Mac’s other hand rose to stroke his cheek in a devastatingly tender caress.
“Bed?” MacLeod questioned, his expression nowhere near as sure as his touch and tone. The fact that this was the Highlander’s first time with another man was written all over MacLeod.
His throat closing up tight on him again; all Methos could do was nod. This was it – the moment he’d lived the last three years anticipating.
Despite his claim to the contrary, Mac did actually take his hand once they’d both gained their feet and shaken all the tan wood splinters off. It should have felt strange, two men as sexually experienced as they were clinging to each other like tots on the way to the school toilet, but the touch was comforting and natural.
MacLeod’s palm was as clammy as his own, which was somehow reassuring. An Immortal his age shouldn’t be this nervous about simple sex, but…nothing he’d ever felt for MacLeod had been simple. From frustration to anger to desire, the emotions Mac inspired were always overwhelming.
Without another word, Methos turned and led his companion to the sleeping alcove.
The huge, truncated sculpture keeping vigil at the top of the double bed seemed to give Mac pause. The backlighting behind it did give the piece an eerie air, Methos allowed. Even he could feel how the very room seemed to breathe with the antiquity of the statue.
Methos was so inured to his flat that he often forgot how strange the ancient artifacts were to the unprepared. Mac visited here so rarely that even the living room was new territory. To Methos’ knowledge, this was the first time Mac had ventured into this part of the flat.
All Immortals tended to have unusual dwellings, especially the eldest of them, and there was no one older than himself. Their kind were no different than mortals, in that they often grew attached to their belongings. Nine-hundred years ago, a piece like the Welsh wooden throne would have fit unnoticed into any noblemen’s keep, but these days, it stood out as much as the ancient statue MacLeod was studying.
The blue lighting Methos used at night to keep him from stumbling into some of his irreplaceable furnishings on his way to the loo made one feel as if they’d fallen into some bizarre, non-liquid fish tank.
Methos appreciated that this had to be weird as hell for Mac. The surroundings alone were enough to unnerve most people. Add to that the fact that MacLeod was having his first homosexual experience with the oldest Immortal on Earth, someone who’d already betrayed his trust once before, must be making this entire scene fairly intimidating. Yet, MacLeod was still here, still willing to bed one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. That took a degree of courage – and confidence – that Methos had rarely encountered in his life.
“Persian?” MacLeod guessed the statue’s origin, stepping to the top of the bed to view the immense stone artifact up close.
Methos chuckled. MacLeod was a professional. It was rare that the antique dealer was ever wrong, but then again, Mac rarely handled anything this ancient. There were museum curators who wouldn’t be able to accurately date this piece. “Try a thousand years earlier. It’s Sumerian, a couple of centuries older than me, I think.”
Methos knew that the statue was an eyesore that probably belonged in a museum, but…it was one of the few things that had shared the entire scope of his lonely life. People, countries, and cultures came and went, but he and the limbless wonder here always tottered on together, unscathed by time.
His companion seemed impressed by the age of the piece. Methos waited for the inevitable questions – even Alexa had hated the thing and wanted to know why he kept it so near – but for once MacLeod seemed satisfied with a simple answer, which no doubt was an indication of his apprehension.
He watched Mac look around the blue-tinted room, taking in sculptures and the computer, his nervous gaze inexorably returning to the mattress and box spring that made up Methos’ low bed. It dominated the area.
“There aren’t any bars on the door, Mac,” Methos softly volunteered. “My desire doesn’t necessitate action on your part.”
“No?” Mac questioned, seeming to shake himself out of whatever mood had fallen upon him when they’d entered Methos’ living space. MacLeod gave him a sheepish smile. “Don’t underestimate yourself. You necessitate action. You always have.”
Methos’ eyebrows shot up at the compliment. “Always?”
“Like I said, it’s never been the same with you. We’ve been….”
“Yes?” Methos prodded, curious to hear Duncan’s take on their relationship.
“I think we’ve been…dancing around this issue since the day we met.”
So MacLeod had felt it too, then.
“Sometimes, I was sure we were flirting,” Mac continued, then hastily clarified, as though reluctant to offend, “It wasn’t anything you said. It was more the way you’d come in and take over my space and…it wouldn’t bother me, not the way it should have. There were times when we’d finish one of our little debates and I’d feel….”
“Yes?” Methos was nearly mesmerized by MacLeod’s earnest expression.
“Strung out, like when Amanda would get miffed at me and play one of her teasing games that left me all twisted up with no relief in sight.” Mac was quiet for a moment before he finished with, “But I was too dense to recognize it for what it was.”
Startled by the regret in the serious tone, Methos counseled, “Not dense, MacLeod, merely wise. There was too much at stake.”
“And there isn’t now?”
Methos shrugged. “It will either make or break us. It’s not like we have a lot left to lose at this point.”
“You don’t sound particularly optimistic here.”
Methos bowed his head in acknowledgement. “I’m too old to be an optimist.”
“You promised to trust me. This isn’t going to work if you don’t.”
“I don’t even know what this is, MacLeod,” Methos admitted, shivering as the Highlander took a few steps closer to him.
“It’s what we make it, Methos,” Duncan replied.
Though the words were no doubt offered as consolation, they were anything but comforting. “The entire world was once mine and my brothers’ to make, and we drowned it in blood.”
To his consternation, he didn’t rattle MacLeod’s utterly incomprehensible – and utterly irritating – faith. “That was a long time ago. Another age, another you.”
“Sure of that, are you?” Methos challenged.
“Completely,” Mac said, holding his gaze until Methos had to lower his own. With all the wishing he’d done for a lover who could accept him, Death and all, it had never occurred to Methos how…frightening it would be to be that known, to stand naked without his artifices and shields to hide behind.
“It’s going to be all right, Methos,” MacLeod promised as he closed the distance between them, sounding as though it were the elder Immortal’s first time with another man.
MacLeod truly was extraordinary. He had to be nervous as hell, but he came right up to Methos and laid his palms on the outside of the elder Immortal’s arms, making the first move, making Methos believe his words through the sheer force of his will.
The kiss, when it came, was gentle, tentative, more of a learning experience than the prior ones had been.
Methos slipped his arms under Mac’s elbows, encircling the trim waist. When his friend didn’t freeze or pull back, Methos trusted some of his weight to the other man. He pressed his front against MacLeod’s more solid body, letting his companion feel his desire, worried that it might be enough to scare Mac off.
Mac’s scent was all around him now, warm and wonderful. The heady bouquet made it impossible for Methos to think straight. His entire body was throbbing for this man, this incredible man who wanted neither his blood nor his Quickening. Methos couldn’t recall feeling like this since….
Truth was, he couldn’t remember feeling like this ever, not with another man. Even when they weren’t sadistic sociopaths like Kronos or even Immortals, there was always a wariness when dealing with other males on a sexual level that made it impossible for Methos to truly relax. But there was an inherent protectiveness in Mac’s embrace that spoke to something deep inside Methos, a part of him that hadn’t known comfort since he was a very young child.
And the way Mac kissed! The full mouth owned Methos, melting them closer and closer together until their tongues and kneading lips moved as one. He’d certainly given up trying to figure out whose saliva was whose. All Methos knew was that it was wet and delicious.
The tension that was no doubt born of first time jitters gradually eased from the solid figure supporting him. As it did, Mac’s hands moved over his back with more confidence, rubbing, exploring.
At last, they drew apart for breath.
Methos felt like he was about to fall apart, totally undone by a simple kiss. He lowered his eyes to regroup, only to have Mac catch his cheek in that calloused palm and gently entreat, “Please, don’t hide from me anymore.”
Methos had never felt the need for concealment more. Those eyes saw too much. But he gave another assenting incline of his head and attempted to swallow, trying to relax.
“You’re so…sure. How can you …?”
“I’m sure of you,” MacLeod whispered, rubbing Methos’ back in a comforting circle. “Everything else…will take some getting used to. But…we should probably get rid of some of these clothes. Don’t you think?”
MacLeod’s understanding expression was about to finish Methos off.
He’d survived fifty centuries. He’d been taken by men since he was a child. There was nothing that a man could ask for in bed that Methos couldn’t deliver. In contrast, Duncan MacLeod had never known anything but a woman’s touch. It should have been the less experienced Immortal who was frozen here, but, though visibly nervous, MacLeod was incontestably the calmest of their pair.
When Methos made no protest, the Highlander reached for the bottom of Methos’ dark Henley.
“All right?” Mac checked.
His mouth too dry for speech, Methos obligingly raised his arms over his head.
While Mac was busy pulling his shirt and undershirt off him, Methos slid down to his knees, aiding in the tops’ removal, assuming a position he was used to working from.
“Methos, what’re you…you don’t haveta….”
Methos raised his left
eyebrow in reply and reached for the fastening of MacLeod’s black pants.
He didn’t have to. He wanted to; he’d hungered for the taste of
this man since the first day he’d laid eyes on MacLeod.
Mac hissed in a breath as Methos undid the button and lowered the zipper.
Methos’ practiced eye took in the state of the flesh moving beneath the material. Mac was more than ready.
Grabbing the waistband of the dark pants, Methos slid them from MacLeod’s hips, letting them pool around Duncan’s hairy knees. He was temporarily thwarted from viewing his prize by the front of the burgundy button-down shirt, the wrinkled material of which curtained down to conceal MacLeod’s groin. Methos’ unsteady fingers tackled the tiny white plastic buttons, carefully opening them one by one. He could feel Mac’s hungry gaze on him, anticipating his every move.
They both simultaneously gasped in a breath as the final button gave way. Methos pushed aside the folds of the shirt and then reached out to hitch Mac’s black tee shirt up the flat stomach. MacLeod’s briefs were stark white against his flesh. Methos swallowed hard as he took in the trail of dark body hair that ran down the center of that perfectly defined stomach to disappear into the elastic waistband of the briefs. While he watched, the bulge protruding at the front of the white cotton shifted and surged upwards. Looking close, Methos could see a spot of wetness darken the pristine material, visible proof of Mac’s excitement.
MacLeod’s hands settled on his shoulders. At first Methos thought the other man would pull him down to hurry the action along, the way Byron or Kronos would have forced him to move faster, but all Mac did was brace himself there. The fingers clutching his bare shoulders seemed to be hanging on for dear life. Even so, Mac’s fingernails never scratched or pierced his flesh.
Surprised, Methos caught the fine quiver that was coursing through those magnificent thighs and realized that MacLeod’s knees must have given out on him…from just the small bit of attention Methos had paid him so far. Stunned that this could mean so much to MacLeod, he reached for the briefs.
Mac hissed as the underpants slid from him, freeing his constrained erection.
As that hungry flesh bobbed up at him in all its throbbing glory, Methos sucked in a breath himself. It didn’t help calm his racing heart any. The scent of Mac’s desire was strong in the heated air. It made Methos’ head swim. Above him, he could hear MacLeod’s breath heaving like an overworked bellows in a steady, tortured rhythm.
For a long moment, Methos could just stare, frozen by the raw, animal beauty of the man he was worshipping. Like most of their kind, Mac was uncircumcised. His foreskin was already drawn back, the moist tip of his glans showing blood red above the translucent fold of flesh.
Just the sight of it made Methos’ mouth water in anticipation. Mac was beautiful in his desire, a purple-veined archetype of male sexuality. Three-thousand years ago, the primitive people Methos terrorized would have considered a man of MacLeod’s perfect physical beauty a god. Methos, who’d lived among them, wasn’t nearly as inured to the superstitious response as he’d like to be. Seeing MacLeod like this, with his pants down around his knees, his shirts pushed aside, and his manhood rising in all its splendor made him tremble with more than longing.
Beauty this exquisite could not be held onto. Throughout history Methos had watched men struggle to own this type of perfection for their own, and without exception, it always slipped through their fingers. Methos had played that fool’s game a time or two himself. Yet, here he was again, wearing his heart on his sleeve, on his knees before something so incredible that he could never hope to keep it. And he wanted to keep it. They hadn’t even made love yet, and Methos already knew it would kill him to lose this.
But lose it, he would. That was the law of the universe. Nothing was forever, except his life – and even that could be taken from him if he weren’t smart. So, he’d seize this moment and hold it to his heart, like he did all the other fleeting instances of solace.
“What is it?”
The gruff voice brought Methos’ gaze upwards. His face lined with need, Mac still managed to look concerned about him.
“Nothing,” Methos denied.
Recalling his resolve to be honest with Mac, he reluctantly admitted, “I was just…contemplating the transitory nature of true joy, MacLeod.”
With anyone else, Methos would have had to go into a long explanation, but this man had lost so much in his short lifetime that he seemed to instantly grasp the oldest Immortal’s meaning, even if he didn’t fully understand the cause of Methos’ mood. Mac’s right hand left his shoulder to stroke across Methos’ short hair.
Filled with understanding, those brown eyes were gentle, like his touch. Mac didn’t offer him any meaningless platitudes, didn’t attempt to tell him everything would be all right when they both knew it never would. Instead, MacLeod offered him the only comfort any of their kind could give.
“Carpe diem, my friend,” Mac counseled.
He tried for a smile, knew it came out as no more than an upwards twist of the corners of his mouth. Needing the contact, Methos’ head sagged forward, his brow coming to rest against the thick muscles of MacLeod’s abdominal wall, his impressive proboscis squashing against Mac’s rock hard penis.
It was only his companion’s gasp that made Methos realize what he’d done. Abruptly recognizing where he was, Methos took Mac’s advice and seized the moment. He rubbed his cheek restlessly across that hungry shaft. Mac’s resultant sob ran right through him. Back and forth his cheek stroked, like a cat marking its territory - only, it was Methos himself who was marked.
When he raised his face at last, both his cheeks were dotted with Mac’s precum and sweat. He smelt like MacLeod, the same way he used to carry Kronos’ musk on his skin.
Without delay, he opened his mouth and sucked Mac in. Taste supplanted smell then, and Methos’ entire reality was rocked by the experience. The salty flesh surged in his mouth, blossoming to its full size.
Lost in the heady flavors, Methos licked and sucked the hungry flesh. He knew how to do this, excelled at it, in fact. Many a night in Kronos’ tent, his mouth had kept him alive when his wits had failed him. But even knowing his expertise in this area, Methos was nervous. Though the consequences of failing to please wouldn’t be the same here as they had in the leader of the Horsemen’s bed, the pressure to please was somehow greater. Methos needed MacLeod to like this more than he needed his next breath.
Opening up wide, shielding his teeth as best he could, he offered himself totally to the other man, deep-throating that thick cock with an eagerness Methos couldn’t ever recall bringing to this particular act. So often in his past, this had been used as a symbol of his submission, but not here. He’d never felt so free…or so desperate. He didn’t just want Mac to like this; he wanted the younger man to love it, to need it so much that Mac wouldn’t be able to live without it.
From the grunts and gasps coming from up above, it was clear he was succeeding. MacLeod’s hips were thrusting in rhythm with Methos’ bobbing mouth, the hands on Methos’ shoulders trusting so much of Mac’s weight to the kneeling man that it nearly unbalanced Methos. But he held strong, keeping them both up.
The fragrant sacs that his chin hit on every downward plunge tightened up. Seconds later, Mac gave a loud groan and the back of Methos’ throat was sprayed with the thick, ascorbic by-product of MacLeod’s passion.
Methos swallowed it down, a part of him still stunned that Mac was coming in his mouth, that they were finally sharing this. He kept working MacLeod’s cock until the Scot had nothing left to give and the penis shriveled down to its normal size. Only when he was sure that every last drop had been drained dry did Methos release his prize.
Though the room could hardly be said to be quiet following MacLeod’s climax, not with his companion’s labored breathing sounding so loud, there was a quality to the feel of the room immediately after Methos pulled back from his partner’s body that suggested shocked silence.
Funny, the first time he’d done this for Kronos, Methos had experienced no trouble raising his eyes to meet his new master’s stare. Though his submission had left him little more than a slave then, Methos had been almost smug in the knowledge of how well he’d pleased.
But Duncan MacLeod was not Kronos. The Highlander’s ego didn’t need that kind of bolstering. If all of this were a result of the Quickening Mac had taken earlier -- which more and more seemed the only plausible explanation -- sex would only complicate the issue.
Still, although the man who’d been Death might be many things these days, few of them good, an emotional coward was not one of them. Bracing himself, Methos raised his gaze from that attractive, if flaccid cock, and searched out his friend’s eyes.
Mac’s eyelids were still closed, his lashes a thick, dark fan against his skin. His lips were parted, an expression of utter astonishment softening his entire face.
Methos’ stomach lurched as those lashes fluttered, then opened to reveal Mac’s eyes. They were…glowing was the only description Methos could put to them as they met his own uncertain gaze. He’d never felt so vulnerable in his entire life, so naked, as he did at that moment he knelt there awaiting Mac’s judgment.
Something of his anxiety must have penetrated MacLeod’s post-coital haze, for the handsome brow puckered in confusion.
“Methos,” Mac whispered.
The moment seeming strangely significant; MacLeod bent down, took Methos by the elbows and gently raised him to his feet, till they stood as equals, eye to eye. Then MacLeod pulled him forward into a bear hug, unselfconsciously pressing his naked front against Methos’ black jeans.
The kiss fed Methos’ very soul. It was passionate, yet gentle…and filled with more caring than Methos had felt in five millennia.
Mac’s hands seemed fascinated with the skin of his bare back. The palms kept circling, stroking, learning every inch by feel. Methos settled his own hands on the silk shirt covering Mac’s broad back and performed his own tactile reconnaissance, his vulnerability finding reassurance in touch. Mac was so solid, so real, so incredibly gentle that Methos’ fears didn’t stand a chance against those tender touches.
MacLeod’s technique was flawless. Without breaking the kiss or lifting his head to check their position, Mac shuffled them towards the bed behind them. No small accomplishment, that, considering the man’s pants were still bunched down around his knees.
Methos expected to be tumbled over backwards, with his warm, muscular blanket following him down, but while his mouth kept Methos occupied, MacLeod’s hands gripped Methos’ sides, guiding him into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, careful of him, in a way so few lovers had been. It was clear MacLeod was very conscious of his greater bulk, perhaps not to the same degree that Mac might have been were he with a woman, but enough so to be noticeable.
Methos wasn’t sure how he felt about the kid gloves treatment. His pride balked at the very idea, but the part of him that had served Kronos’ sadistic whimsies for so many centuries gloried in the kindness. So, he kept his mouth shut and waited to see what MacLeod would do next.
It was easy to see that they were both totally out of their depths here. Mac for the obvious reason that this was his first time with another man. Himself…were this a one-night stand with a non-violent stranger, Methos would have known how to behave, but the fact that this was Duncan MacLeod touching him put a meaning and significance to every instant that Methos simply didn’t know how to take in stride. So, he waited, barely able to breathe under the force of his desire.
The front of his jeans had long since passed constricted and was now working its way into the agony zone. The pulse of need that started in that strangled organ throbbed through his entire body, thundering through his ears, shaking his frame so badly that his lungs could barely expand. He needed this man more than he needed breath, more than he needed life itself. It was a humbling state, he recognized, but his utter dependency on MacLeod at this moment made it impossible to refute or deny.
And, at last, Methos understood his fear. In the past, Kronos might have been his master, but Methos had always maintained dominion over his own mind and soul. No matter what Kronos did to him physically, the leader of the Horsemen could never touch Methos inside. But without lifting his hand or sword, Duncan MacLeod could destroy him here tonight, could wound him in ways that Methos would never recover from. This man knew what he was, was still willing to bed him, still thought him worthy of gentleness…if Methos were rejected after this, he honestly didn’t know if he’d survive with his sanity intact.
Finally MacLeod withdrew from the kiss. Appearing delightfully flushed and breathless, the Highlander asked, “Lie back?”
As if unable to stop himself from touching, the forefinger of MacLeod’s right hand traced gentle circles around Methos’ nipple and Methos loosed a groan like his internal organs were being wrenched out. The already erect bud of flesh pulled up even tighter as the sensations engendered by that negligent touch ran rampant through Methos’ body.
Beyond speech, he lay back as instructed, watching wide-eyed as MacLeod shouldered his way out of the burgundy shirt, pulled off the dark tee shirt, then skimmed off his pants, briefs, boots and socks without any trace of self-consciousness or hesitation.
Methos eyed the naked man who sat on the bed beside him. Mac’s bare chest was a work of art. The body hair was thick in the center, spiraling out in sparser waves over his breasts, then arrowing down the middle of his stomach in a clean line. Methos was already familiar with the thick patch of pubic hair and the jewels below from their prior contact, but viewing the area in all of Mac’s naked splendor put a new spin on it. Methos realized that the adjective perfect was becoming trite in relation to MacLeod, but it was the only word that did the man justice.
Methos drew in a ragged breath as MacLeod finished with his disrobing and returned his full attention to him.
The calloused, rough skin of Mac’s sword hand stroked over Methos’ chest, making him shake so hard that Methos couldn’t help but wonder if his companion could feel the bed trembling. He hoped not. He already felt at too much of a disadvantage here. Mac pretty much knew that he’d trade his soul to sleep with him now, but Methos himself still hadn’t a clue as to why the other man was indulging him.
“You’re so smooth,” Mac proclaimed in a brogue so thick that it was only Methos’ time spent in ancient Wales that enabled him to untangle the meaning of the words at all.
Smooth wasn’t necessarily a good thing, Methos realized, remembering all too well how disappointed Kronos had always been in his strategist’s under-developed chest. And Kronos had been used to bedding men. What would this man, who’d sampled the most stunningly beautiful women of the past four centuries, think of the skinny body offered to him? Though he’d joked about it with Alexa the first time he was alone with her, Methos knew that he didn’t even have the face to make up for his other short-comings, not with his nose.
But Mac didn’t seem displeased with his body. There was no disappointed, telltale straying of Mac’s gaze. The Highlander’s attention stayed focused and interested. Methos was clear enough to read the open appreciation in his companion’s eyes and touch.
As that heated gaze all but devoured his naked chest, Methos heard Mac ask, “What happens next?”
“Mmmm?” Methos tried for coherency.
“When you’d get to this point in your fantasies,” Mac explained, moving to rest beside him on the bed, facing Methos. “What did we do?”
Methos blushed, but was unable to refute the suggestion. He knew he hadn’t left any doubts as to his own interest, but once again, Mac was way off base with his justifiable assumption. While it was true that he’d longed for this with all his heart and dreamed of it…the realist in him would never allow him to hope those dreams would be fulfilled. He didn’t know what it said about his psyche, but rarely was he happy, even in his fantasies.
“Methos?” Mac prodded, obviously hoping for some kind of instruction. Methos knew he himself would be at this point, were this his first encounter with another male.
“Sorry to disappoint you, Mac,” Methos whispered.
“It never gets this far.” When he saw Mac’s face scrunch up in confusion, he realized he was going to have to explain. Feeling almost timid, he offered, “Before Cassandra came back, the fantasies would fall apart when I’d tell you about my time with the Horsemen….”
“You used to fantasize about telling me that?” MacLeod interrupted, visibly stunned.
Methos nodded. “I…wanted someone who…knew me for what I am, no roles, no lies.”
“And after you told me the truth?” Mac asked.
Methos licked his suddenly dry lips. “There was never any daydreaming afterwards, only mourning. After Bordeaux, I figured it was only a matter of time before you’d come for my head.”
Methos held his breath, waiting for everything to fall apart, as he knew it must, but it wasn’t anger which darkened MacLeod’s eyes. Remarkably enough, it was pain…and perhaps guilt.
The fingers that reached for Methos’ face were gentle as they stroked him…and Methos was so overwhelmed by that kindness that it broke something inside of him. He literally felt the bottom drop out of his stomach as his guts constricted in a tight knot. He was so twisted up inside that he could hardly swallow.
He heard Mac gulp, then the Highlander stunned him by saying, “I guess we’ll just have to make our own fantasies, then. What do you want?”
It was three swallows before Methos even attempted speech.
“More than anything?” Methos checked, trying to ignore the finger that was trailing down his neck.
Mac nodded, his expression mild…Methos would almost say loving, were it anyone but himself here with Mac.
Methos thought for a moment, then answered. “May I let your hair loose?”
MacLeod actually blinked at his response. “That’s it?”
“That’s all I’ll ask for. Anything else is up to you,” Methos explained.
Shifting until he was propped up on his left elbow, Mac took hold of Methos’ hands and led them to the back of his head, where the long hair was tied back.
Working blind, Methos carefully undid the tie that held the thick locks in place.
“Why that?” Mac asked into the breathy closeness, visibly perplexed by Methos’ request.
“Aside from the fact that I really want to touch it?” at Mac’s nod, he continued, “You only wear it loose when you’re happy. I want to see you happy.”
With a final twist the elastic tie came loose from the metal clasp that bound it and Mac’s hair cascaded free around both their faces in a fragrant fall of silk. Methos’ fingers sank into the lush depths, carding the warm weight, sifting it through his fingers.
Though Mac’s hair was without doubt one of his most beautiful features, Methos had often wondered why a warrior as experienced as MacLeod would continue to sport such a vulnerable target in an age where long hair was no longer in vogue, but as he let the uplifted hair slowly feather down to land against Mac’s neck, he had his answer. Visibly shivering under the rain of soft locks, MacLeod’s eyes sank closed, his mouth parting as he savored the sensation. Obviously, it was a major turn-on for Mac to have his hair played with.
Methos indulged them both for the longest time, sifting through that wonderful length until he was sure he knew every separate root from its neighbor, getting more and more excited with every passing second.
It was MacLeod who finally called a halt to the hair playing. The Highlander changed the entire mood of the encounter again by sinking down onto Methos’ mouth for another juicy kiss. When Mac finally pulled back, Methos could barely see straight, let alone think.
He moaned as Mac’s hands traveled down his chest, stopping at the waistband of his jeans.
“Can we get rid of these?” Mac asked, still sounding as though he expected to be denied.
Methos gave the same nod he would have offered MacLeod if the Highlander had asked if it would be all right to peel his epidermis off. Then Mac was fidgeting with the button of his jeans, carefully undoing the zipper, peeling the jeans open…and Methos’ erection was finally free. It popped up out of the placket of his boxers as soon as the jeans were eased from his hips. Mac grabbed the top of the boxers and gave a determined tug, and pants and underwear were peeled away in a single adroit move.
Methos groaned at the freedom, sobbing as he realized that MacLeod was frozen above him now, just staring down at his gonads as though the Highlander were shocked to discover he had them. Methos wondered what he must look like to Mac. Neither of them were circumcised, so they looked pretty much the same on that front. Methos was paler down there and a couple of inches longer, but Mac was meatier. They were well matched, Methos thought, his pink flesh complimenting Mac’s darker shaft almost perfectly.
“Reality time?” Methos managed to grate out at last when no action seemed to be forthcoming.
Mac started, as if startled out of a daze. “What?”
“You knew I was a man,” Methos reminded, then, seeing the absurdity of the whole thing, he lightened the mood by adding, “You did know I was a man -- didn’t you?”
It was the right approach. The birthing defensiveness left MacLeod’s features. He gave a small, somehow shy smile and admitted, “Aye, I knew you were a man. I just…didn’t know you were so beautiful.”
Tensing at what he knew must be a lie, Methos searched that handsome face, and encountered only amazed wonder, like Mac really did find him attractive, despite all expectations to the contrary. Methos didn’t allow himself to ponder as to why Mac would be doing this at all if he hadn’t expected to find him attractive.
He heard Mac gulp, sensed the worry that entered his friend, the way he might feel a cold draft sneaking into the room. “Methos, I never… I don’t know….”
His heart melting, Methos took hold of Mac’s sword-hand and guided it to his own abdomen, then wrapped the broad palm around his own swollen shaft – doing his very best not to come at that first touch. It was like being encased in fire. Mac’s hand was just so hot, the pressure already perfect.
“It’s not that different. I promise,” Methos assured. “Whatever you do, it will be perfect.”
To demonstrate his point, Methos moved their still joined hands up and down his shaft, gasping at the sensations that exploded through him. His eyes sank closed as he savored the feelings. The next thing he knew, Mac was kissing him, that rough-palmed hand moving of its own accord on his touch-starved member, his own hand following along for the ride.
In five-thousand years, Methos had been taken in every conceivable position, seduced and fucked by true artists in the arena of sexual intercourse, yet nothing had ever moved him as much as MacLeod’s stumbling attempt to please.
His body responded like Byron’s guitar had to its master’s touch. Every fumbling stroke Mac gave called forth the purest, most excruciatingly intense delight, transforming a bumbling handjob into an almost celestial symphony of pleasure.
He’d wanted this man too long for it to last. Five strokes was all it took, then Methos’ reality exploded out of his cock in a burning gush of liquid relief. He felt it splatter their joined hands and his lower belly as he spiraled farther and farther out of himself in the web of sensation Mac had woven for him. He could have spent all of eternity soaring those peaks of ecstasy, but all too soon he returned to himself.
The kiss finally ended. Methos heard Mac take a deep breath and pull back from their embrace a bit. Wondering how far the retreat would go, Methos slowly opened his eyes…in time to catch MacLeod licking the spilled semen from the knuckle of his right hand. Caught by the carnal eroticism of the unexpected act, Methos just stared.
Finding himself under observation, Mac gave a wry lift of his eyebrow and finished the job, seemingly without shame.
When he thought he could speak past the lump in his throat, Methos grated out, “How was it?”
“I think I’ll try it hot next time,” Mac smiled.
“Next time?” Methos echoed, that tightness inside unfurling as he relaxed under the warmth shining from Mac’s eyes. It might be just post-coital bliss, but Methos would take the good will while it lasted.
“We’re both wrung out tonight,” MacLeod accurately observed, “but there’s sure to be a next time. Don’t you think?”
He’d offered this man his head as an act of contrition tonight. Surely, MacLeod couldn’t be as uncertain of his reception in his bed as he sounded.
Before Methos could rally a reply, Mac stammered on with, “I know it wasn’t much in the way of technique, but it’s bound to get….”
This time it was Methos whose hand covered his partner’s mouth, muffling speech. “It was perfect, Mac. Never better.”
He pulled his palm back with a hiss as MacLeod gave his hand a mischievous lick. Despite the amusement in his eyes, Mac’s words were almost troubled as he observed, “You’ve got it bad; don’t you?”
With anyone else, it would have been an arrogant statement, perhaps even a conquest, but MacLeod seemed only concerned, like he was worried about Methos getting hurt here.
Having expected nothing but to be hurt, he held that gaze and acknowledged, “You’ve no idea, MacLeod.”
Mac gave a pensive nod and bit his lip.
Methos appreciated that the other man didn’t even attempt to lie to him.
After a long moment of mutual observation, Mac quietly offered, “It will be all right, Methos. I promise.”
He almost laughed in MacLeod’s face at the absurdity of the claim. He’d just done it with his best friend – his very straight best friend. Methos still had no clue as to why Mac had bedded him, pity and the post-Quickening rut were running neck and neck as contenders. He had no idea what this had meant to MacLeod, if anything beyond the relief of the moment. And, they hadn’t even begun to discuss where this fit in with MacLeod’s ongoing relationship with Amanda.
But there was MacLeod, assuring him that everything would be all right.
Those arms reached for him, and there was no denying their lure. Breathing in the musky, earthy scent of the other man, Methos pulled it deep into his lungs and tried to hold it there, as he settled his cheek on the warm fur of Mac’s chest and tried to hold on to the thought that everything would work out for them, that he’d somehow be able to hold onto this. Everything would be all right, Mac had said so, and Duncan MacLeod never lied.
The cynic in him sneered at the very concept. Everything would be all right…sure it would. His years with the Horsemen would be magically forgiven after a single blowjob. Mac’s entire sexual orientation would be turned around overnight. And the issue of Amanda would never, ever even come up between them in the future.
“You’re thinking too loud,” Mac sleepily complained, his hand rubbing Methos’ back in reassuring circles as he delivered a soft, long kiss to the crown of Methos’ head. “Trust me. It will work out all right.”
“Right,” Methos answered far too tersely. But Mac just kissed the top of his head again and cuddled him a little closer. Lulled by the gentle attention and the steady beat of MacLeod’s heart under his cheek, Methos found himself relaxing in spite of himself.
“It will, you know,” Mac whispered, sounding on the very verge of sleep.
“Be all right?” Methos checked, almost willing to believe any fairy tale when Mac held him like this.
“Mmmm…try to…” an enormous yawn interrupted MacLeod’s words, “…believe for me. ‘kay?”
He’d throw himself in a vat of acid if this man asked it of him to prove himself. Giving the response MacLeod needed to hear at the moment was no hardship. Methos would even do his best to believe in the lunacy, until his world came crashing down around him again, as it inevitably would.
“All right,” he whispered back, kissing the soft body hair under his cheek, knowing from the slow beat of that chivalric heart that the hero in his little melodrama had fallen deep into Morpheus’ clutches.
And as the wonder of lying here all tangled up with MacLeod’s long limbs spread through him, Methos almost convinced himself that it could, in fact, be all right. While there on the verge of sleep himself he heard it, the unmistakable grunt of a pig flying by his window.
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