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This story is SLASH, rated Adult for m/m sex, m/f sex, violence and language, so if such things offend you or it's illegal for you to read this where you live, please don't read it! For those extremely rare Highlander: The Raven fans who pay attention to timelines, I've fiddled with this one a little. This story takes place after "The Manipulator," but before "The Ex-Files." Bert is still in Paris, however, and it's still April, which is a slight bending of canon. In X-Files canon, this takes place in the middle of season six, some time after "One Son."

A huge thank you to everyone who helped beta read this over the years. Most especially, thanks to elynross and MacGeorge, who did most of the heavy lifting and encouraging.

Dedicated to elyn and Deb, who make it worthwhile.


Georgetown University
District of Columbia
April 19th, 1999

The insistence of the phone in the small hours brought Methos no panic
-- only mildly murderous thoughts directed at whatever drunken fraternity boy had accidentally dialed his unlisted number -- until he heard Joe Dawson's voice at the other end of the line.

Lying in the semi-darkness, staring at a crack in the plaster overhead, he let the words wash through him and didn't believe them. Not for a second. Some part of him maybe, the thinking part
, but he was still able to function and to ask the right questions, so he knew that he didn't really believe it, not where it counted. He went on not-believing, went on talking and moving and doing the things that were necessary: hanging up the phone, getting up, covering his nakedness and finding keys, starting his sensible, oh-so-practical car. It was a valuable skill, and had gotten him far, that ability to function like a normal, rational person in moments of destruction. He was good at it. No one could match Methos for calm in a crisis.

No flights this time of night, and no way in hell he could have waited for morning, or borne the close quarters of a train. He would drive. Would go on running on automatic pilot, and wouldn't think of what awaited him at the other end of the dark road that stretched between Washington and New York.

He lost a space of time between the front walk and M Street. Just a minute or two, but it was enough to make him get it together, focus his formidable will on performing the functions needed to operate the car without killing anyone.

Only when the Volvo's headlights were counting reflectors on the Beltway did Methos at last let his mind escape into the relative safety of the not-so-distant past.

December 24th, 1998

It was a testament to the dismal state of their friendship that Methos didn't think first of MacLeod, when he felt the approaching buzz.

Time had been when he could have placed a bet on it being Mac, and been reasonably certain of winning. Time had been when the first thrum of Immortal presence would have been enough to touch off a predictable chain of split-second responses. First, the tiny spark of excitement. Anticipation at seeing the Highlander. Curiosity about what would bring MacLeod to him on that particular day: a problem to solve or a question to answer or just the urge to hang out together for a while. Then the answering twinge of disgust at himself for being so eager to see him, no matter the reason. A barely acknowledged thread of apprehension, wondering if something might have happened. And only then, the wary caution he'd lived with for such a very long time.

Those days were past. It had been more than a month since the last time he'd seen MacLeod, the night after Liam O'Rourke had come for the Highlander's head. Since then Methos and MacLeod been living less than five miles apart, and Mac had made no further effort to contact him. It was too much to hope that after so much time, he'd had a change of heart.

Barring Mac, the list of Immortals Methos would have welcomed at this hour was vanishingly short, and he was off the couch within seconds, sword in hand, palming the lights off. Only the television cast light to see by; a fey Alec Guinness warned Albert Finney about the lonely fate of bitter old men as Methos glided silently toward the back entrance and the fire escape. This cold night, Christmas Eve in the City of Lights, he barely spared thought for the hope that the approaching buzz might be anything but a threat.

At least it had stopped snowing, but the wind was bitter, picking up speed as he slipped out onto the landing. Hunched against the cold, he waited, watching through the window from his place of concealment in the shadows.

He could hardly blame MacLeod for the distance, the awkwardness.That night on the barge, Mac had tried to hold out an olive branch, but Methos hadn't known how to answer in kind, not with Dawson and Amanda looking on, not when he was still cold and numb inside from watching Mac go to his knees in front of that pissant O'Rourke. He'd taken Mac's awkward attempt at peace-making badly, had felt it like a rejection, when in truth Mac had probably been trying to heal some of the damage between them, offering Methos only the simple acceptance he'd asked for. No, Mac was right. Far better they should stay apart, as they had for the past two years. Safer, in more ways than one. Never mind that Methos still played that night over and over in his mind, that he could hear MacLeod's voice sometimes as if it were in the room with him. No one else dies because of me. Never mind that he was still here, still in Paris in December, when all sane people were in the Bahamas or the Mediterranean or someplace equally warm.

Amanda had come to see him once, and he'd embarrassed himself with how glad he was for her company. Glad because he was alone too much these days and she was a breath of fresh air -- but also for the news she'd brought of Mac, which he'd absorbed too eagerly. She'd told him she was leaving Paris soon. She'd tried to urge him to go see MacLeod, of course. Her gentle appeal, so irresistible -- what could it hurt, to give it one more try? He'd resisted, though. In the end he'd made her understand that he'd gone as far as he could.

Across the darkened flat, a shadow fell on the pane of frosted glass above the front entrance; the guy was out in the hallway, probably about to kick in the door, the bastard. Methos was in no mood. Whoever this was, they were about to get a nasty surprise.

But instead of the door splintering inward, there came a familiar pounding
-- and Methos knew, even before he heard the voice, who it was.

"Adam? It's me, MacLeod."

Relief washed over him. Then in its wake came apprehension of a different sort. For a long moment, he didn't move. Unexpected, this late night visit, to say the least, and he wasn't ready for it. He didn't want to talk to MacLeod when he was this vulnerable. No matter how his heart was pounding, opening that door was almost certainly a bad idea.

But the edge of desperation in Mac's voice compelled him to climb down to the landing, go back inside.

"Adam? Please, I need to talk to you. It's urgent."

Unlocking the door and pulling it open, Methos sighed. "Kinda late, isn't it, Mac--?" The carefully calculated, casual greeting died on his lips when he got a good look at the man before him. "Good lord, what happened to you?"

MacLeod glanced down at his attire with a grimace and peered past him, into the darkened flat. "You alone?"

"A shock, I know." He stepped back from the doorway. MacLeod came inside, and Methos shut the door, locking it again. He laid his sword on the counter and immediately went and fetched the drink he'd been nursing earlier. MacLeod looked like he needed it more than Methos did. Mac was shivering violently, wearing the bloody, shredded remains of a white silk shirt and no coat. His cropped hair was wet, his lips blue with cold.

"Thanks," MacLeod said hoarsely, taking the liquor and downing it immediately.

"Help yourself to another if you want it." Methos hurried to get the duvet off his bed. Coming back with the comforter, he gave the other man a swift, critical once over, not liking what he saw. He'd obviously come some distance in the snow, and there was a great deal of blood, mostly dry now. From the looks of things, MacLeod had been shot by a powerful firearm, half a dozen times at close range. The wounds were gone, but the telltale bruising was still evident, and it looked like he'd scrubbed blood off his face and neck without benefit of a mirror. The prickle of gut-reaction fear Methos felt didn't surprise him; its intensity did. The visceral reminder that it didn't always come down to skill jolted him in a way he didn't want to think about. A katana made a poor defense against a bullet.

"Here, let's get you warmed up."

Shedding what was left of his shirt, MacLeod let Methos drape the down coverlet around his broad shoulders, then wrapped himself up in it, clutching it tight across his chest. For a few minutes he just stood there, gritting his teeth against the uncontrollable shivers as his body started to acclimate. "Thanks," he said again, at last, meeting Methos' gaze this time and saying it with his eyes, too.

Not trusting himself, Methos nodded, and went to start a fire in the grate.

Methos located a pair of fleece drawstring pants, a thick sweatshirt and fleece socks that would do for MacLeod. Returning, he found his friend standing bundled up near the fireplace, his gaze far away, watching the flames.

"You need to get out of those wet things. Put these on, will you?"

"Not as if I'm gonna catch pneumonia."

"Humor me. You're dripping all over my floor." It got MacLeod moving; he unwrapped the comforter and pulled the grey sweatshirt on. When he unselfconsciously started to unfasten his trousers, Methos turned away. He moved toward the bar, deciding they could both probably use another.

"So, having an exciting evening, are we?" He poured a double for each of them.

MacLeod gave a short laugh, without much humor. "You're not gonna believe it."

"Try me." Methos capped the decanter and came back toward the fire. MacLeod was dressed, lowering himself to sit with his back against the couch, knees drawn up. He took the glass Methos offered; Methos moved to the chair opposite.

MacLeod took a sip of the amber liquid, cradling the glass in both hands. "Amanda called me earlier tonight and asked me if I'd take her to the airport. I'm on my way back to the terminal, passing the line at the security check, and next thing I know everything's gone to hell. Some lunatic tried to get past the checkpoint with a semi-automatic."

"Carrying drugs?"

"Probably. And sampling the merchandise, from the looks of things. The guy was definitely walking an edge. When the scanner went off he shot the security guard, grabbed a young girl in front of him, and started dragging her off down the concourse."

"And let me guess. You got in the middle."

MacLeod shot him a dark look. "You'd have done the same, if you'd seen his eyes. He would have killed her, and who knows how many others."

Methos' eyes slid downward momentarily, to MacLeod's chest. "Seems like there was at least one casualty."

A sudden darkness touched Mac's face, and he glanced away.

"More than one," Methos guessed, berating himself for not getting it sooner. "I'm sorry, Mac."

The other man grimaced slightly. "As you're so fond of saying, nobody's perfect. The guy listened to me for a while but he was too wired. Started to lose it. I got the hostage away, he plugged me five or six times, and airport security took him down. He was just a kid."

"Lucky he was the only one, thanks to you."

"Yeah." MacLeod sipped at his scotch. "But not so lucky for me. A news crew showed up, and got the whole thing on tape."

Methos groaned. "Oh, no."

MacLeod nodded, lips curving in a grim smile. "Oh, yes. They got my wallet, my I.D., everything. And to make things really fun, I revived right there in the middle of the concourse, after the ambulance crew had already pulled a sheet over me."

"Lovely. What happened?"

"Managed to make it into a service corridor in the confusion. Got out of the airport, but didn't dare risk a cab, or the metro, looking like that."

"You know," Methos quipped, "If there's one thing I hate, it's getting shot on Christmas."

"No kidding. And I really like Paris this time of year."

The reality of the situation began to sink in, and Methos felt a sudden heaviness in the region of his stomach. He swallowed, and set aside his drink, hiding the unexpected ache behind a pose of casual interest. "Where will you go?"

Mac shrugged. "East, for a while. Then the States, I imagine."

"Not Seacouver."

"I don't think so. New York maybe, in the spring. I've got some things to take care of I've put off long enough."

"Does Joe know what happened?"

Mac shook his head. "Your place was closer. I couldn't risk the barge. Methos, I need your help."

It wasn't as if they'd been spending all their free time together anyway, Methos told himself. Hadn't he just been thinking it was for the best that they stay apart?

So why did he find himself suddenly fighting the urge to grab Mac and shake him and demand to know what the hell he'd thought he was doing, being so reckless?

Mac's gaze was deep, steady as it rested on his. Methos wanted to hold out his hand, but couldn't quite do it. His fingers pressed tight against his glass.

"Anything I can do, Mac. You know that."

"Yeah," MacLeod said quietly, smiling a little.

Methos did what was needed, going to the barge for necessities, helping his friend disappear as efficiently as their combined experience could manage. It didn't occur to him until much later how rare it was for MacLeod to ask him for anything; that the last time had been that awful night at the race track, when Richie Ryan had died and MacLeod had held out his sword, begging an end to his pain.

They parted in the carpark where MacLeod kept his second car. The sky was just beginning to be light when Mac gave him a key to a deposit box, and a note for Joe, and surprised the hell out of him by putting his arms around him for the first time, an awkward embrace that was over before Methos could begin to return it.

"Thanks for everything." MacLeod seemed to hesitate, and when he spoke again his voice was husky, his eyes deep with emotion. "I've missed you, you know."

Methos tried not to swallow, but the impulse was irresistible. His heart was beating too hard. These hours with MacLeod had made him feel more alive than anything he'd done in the two years previous. He wanted to say, I missed you too. The words wouldn't come, and he could only nod
-- but Mac smiled as if he'd heard anyway. He squeezed Methos' shoulder briefly, and started to turn.

"Take care of yourself," Methos managed, his despair far more profound than the situation warranted.

For a moment, Mac turned back. "I will. You do the same." His smile was shadowed with answering regret he didn't voice. "Merry Christmas."

Paris was unrelentingly grey and miserable in the days that followed.

Boston in the spring, MacLeod had said, or New York. Methos' pride wouldn't let him fall so low as to go after him
-- not so soon. But by New Year's he'd made up his mind. Had returned a phone call, accepted an offer, and become Georgetown's newest history professor. Three days later he was on a flight from Paris to DC.

Apparently, it occurred to him with some irony, he'd been wrong when he'd believed he'd gone as far as he could for Duncan MacLeod.

What else was new?

New Jersey Turnpike
5:27 a.m.

He drove a steady 74 miles per hour, just at the top edge of average speed on the toll highway. The desire to push the Volvo to its limit was tempered by the knowledge that being stopped for speeding right now might push him past his own limits. If forced to deal with an officer of the law, he really didn't think he could trust himself not to do something he would regret later -- and complications like that he didn't need.

When he'd left Paris, Joe had asked him to stay in touch. His friendship with the mortal Watcher had been severely tested over the past few years, but seemed to be holding steady in spite of that; Methos had been touched by the genuine concern and had agreed. Joe, being Joe, had been kind enough not to bring up the coincident timing of his departure, but his tact had not concealed the fact that Methos was understood, too well.

The decision had felt dangerously like surrendering something important, like he'd finally acknowledged a fatal weakness, but even that hadn't kept him from going. It had hurt more than he'd expected, though
-- that unspoken, eloquent admission -- even if he and Joe were the only ones who knew what it meant. When three weeks ago MacLeod had come home to the States and bought an apartment in New York, the relief Methos had felt at knowing Mac's whereabouts and having him close had been a more painful admission still.

Joe had given him MacLeod's number without waiting to be asked. Salt on the wound. Methos hadn't called, of course. Stubborn, prideful, stupid old thing -- when would he learn that life didn't wait for you to be ready, to find the right moment? When would he ever learn that all pride ever got you was the cold and lonely company of your own silence?

For a moment, tension spiked, the urge to hit something very strong. Methos held it in, refusing to start feeling because if he started, he didn't know if he'd be able to stop. He shook his head slowly, hands gripping the steering wheel with deliberate control.

"Damn you, MacLeod, don't you do this to me," he warned under his breath. "Don't you dare do this to me."

He had always believed he would know, with Mac. Would sense it somehow. But of course that was nonsense, a nice, reassuring personal fiction with no basis whatsoever in fact or experience.

Methos' eyes stayed fixed upon the road, on the steadily appearing and disappearing reflectors that marked his journey through the darkness. But if his attention had strayed, if he had chanced to glance at his image in the rearview mirror, he might have been quite taken aback to recognize the dangerous, much older self reflected there.


End Chapter One. Continued in Chapter Two.

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