NOTES: This story is SLASH, rated NC-17 for m/m sex 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! Duncan/Methos sex, you've been warned.

Not really beta'ed, so no one else to blame for anything. Please forgive me my Amanda fetish. Big thanks and virtual chocolates to Penny for invaluable assistance in visualizing the settings. Thank you to Ellen, Nick and Rache for mucho encouragement. (Okay, Duncan. I wrote it, now you can stop harassing me at 3 in the morning.)

Paris, 1998

It was late and getting later, but the little impromptu party of four seemed to be winding down at last. The promise of sleep lured MacLeod like a siren.

He glanced at Methos, feeling some unnamed disquiet. His friend had been strangely silent all evening. He had toasted with the three of them and drunk his share of champagne; he had even smiled a bit now and then. But he spoke little, and when MacLeod chanced to meet his eyes, he would not hold the shared gaze for long. Even his buzz felt oddly subdued. If it hadn't been for the fact that Methos had saved his life again tonight, reestablishing the oldest and truest pattern of their friendship, MacLeod might have thought him a stranger.

Thank God for Joe and Amanda, who warmed the room with their laughter and smiles and talk, a warmth MacLeod hadn't known in a very long time. Their presence was a joy he didn't have to examine, or be wary of. Here, tonight, it was enough that they were together and alive; he'd gotten all of them out of there in one piece. This time it was all right. This time he hadn't failed. He had been so certain, so utterly without doubt that he would fail to save them, he still couldn't get his mind around the fact of their living presence.

Joe pleaded exhaustion, finally, staying long enough to express his own relief, hugging tight when MacLeod pulled him close. His eyes were suspiciously wet when he turned for the door. MacLeod watched his halting progress, aware of the Watcher's mortality in a way that was oddly life-affirming -- something he wasn't sure he could have explained. The vividness of his dream-journey with Fitzcairn was fading at last, reality asserting itself. He could still feel Fitz with him, and Tessa, and Richie, but they were no longer more real to him than the here and now.

Amanda drew near, seeing the delayed shock he couldn't conceal. "Duncan, honey, what is it?"

Her sweetness, her strength, were the same as they had ever been -- there for him still, after everything. Raw from the unaccustomed intensity of feeling, he gave her the only answer he could. "I love you." Relief of being able to say it swept through him, the tightness around his heart easing. "I do."

"Really?" Astonished, as if it were news.

"Yeah." It was all that had gone through his head when O'Rourke had taken her -- that she was gone and now he would never get the chance to tell her. "You make my heart glad," he confessed, forgiving her in that moment for the year and a half he'd been alone. "You always have."

The funniest series of expressions played over her face: tenderness, anger and laughter in quicksilver succession. For a second she pressed her lips together, and he thought she would cry. Laughter won out, and she smacked him on the arm. "You son of a bitch."

She never did what he expected, he thought, and he had started to grin in response when she dissolved into tears and seized him close with one arm around his neck, hugging fiercely.

"Amanda -- "

"You son of a bitch, you scared me to death." Still holding tight, she smacked him again, this time with the hand that held her champagne glass, sloshing cool liquid over both of them. "Don't you ever do that again! Ever! Do you hear me?"

"You scared me, too," he said softly against her hair.

She started crying in earnest then, and he held her, aware that they had an audience.

He met Methos' gaze over her shoulder, and for the first time that evening Methos didn't look away. It hit MacLeod hard, the last time the three of them had been together on the barge, how long it had been, eighteen months that felt like forever. He had been another person then, living another life, so confident in the peace he'd made with himself over Keane. Such a fool, forgetting the way life struck you down for hubris like that.

He saw the memory reflected in hazel eyes he'd missed like his own heart, saw them knowing it, knowing him, all of it. The weight of years and old griefs pressed down on him, too much to feel, too much to bear. How did Methos manage it? This time it was he who looked away, closing his eyes and burying his face for a moment in the sheltering curve of Amanda's neck. I'm sorry, he thought, not knowing what he apologized for or to whom, not saying it aloud. I'm sorry.

Amanda gave a little push against his chest. MacLeod let her go; she wiped her face impatiently and drank down what was left in her glass, obviously embarrassed by the intensity of her reaction. "Just for the record," she said matter-of-factly, "I love you, too -- and if you ever let a tedious, ignorant prick like O'Rourke put so much as a butter knife to your neck again, I'll kill you myself. Slowly. Don't think I won't."

"And I'll help," Methos added, saluting her sentiment.

"Well, you're both certainly welcome to try -- "

Amanda advanced on him, hellfire glinting in her eye. "Four hundred and five is not too old for me to turn you over my knee."

Casting a pleading glance at Methos, MacLeod found no help there. He put up his hands, giving in gracefully with the air of a man who knew himself outgunned. "With friends like you two, I'll be lucky to see four hundred and six!"

"With friends like us, you just might!" Amanda retorted.

It was a profound relief to laugh. She glared at him once more, for good measure, but couldn't keep a straight face. Even Methos laughed in his quiet way, eyes sparkling, a grin playing about his lips. "Good to see you smiling, Mac," he said after a moment.

MacLeod heard what he left unsaid -- that it was good to hear him talking about the future. It made his heart hurt. This rawness couldn't go on. He wasn't up to it any more, feeling so much, so many strong emotions one after the other. It was like living in a stranger's skin, a self he'd left behind and hadn't thought to ever see again. Mercifully, he felt himself starting to shut down, chaotic emotion giving in to simple exhaustion.

He poured the last of the champagne and raised his glass in tribute to the other two. "To friends like you," he said simply, thinking of Fitz and of Darius, of Sean, of Richie and Joe and Tessa.

"To friends." Methos and Amanda echoed his toast, and drank. And with that, Duncan MacLeod thought that this longest of nights seemed to finally, at last, be over.

As if reading his thought, Methos put his glass in the galley and shrugged his coat on. "I think that's my cue," he said lightly. Whatever had been troubling him earlier, it seemed to have settled; he was his old self, hands in his pockets, exuding 'just a guy' as if it came in a bottle and could be applied at will. Near the door he turned back with a tolerant look that included them both. "Bye, kids."

Never one to overstay a welcome, our Methos, MacLeod thought. "Good night, Methos," he said, throat tight with the thought of how long it had been since the last time he'd said that. The slender form disappeared up the steps, and it was only as the last bit of black coat passed out of sight that MacLeod realized he hadn't embraced the man, not once -- only then that he even realized he'd wanted to.

Always so hard for them. Always a battle, never a moment to rest, to stop locking horns long enough to let the affection come first. Would it always be like that with them? But of course he knew the answer to that. He swallowed against the sadness and turned away from the empty stairwell.

To find Amanda staring at him, a very odd look on her face.

"What?"

Her mouth opened, closed again. She looked at the door, then back at him, nonplused. "You're not really going to let him go, are you?"

He blinked. Then frowned, his brain too tired to work itself around into Amanda-logic. Was she still shaken from their collective close call tonight? He started to gently take her arm. "Sweetheart..."

"Are you?" She shook off his solicitous touch, searching his face. Her eyes widened. "I don't believe it, you really are." She took two steps toward the door, looking up the stairs as if somehow Methos would reappear there.

Exhausted past bearing, MacLeod's patience was fraying. "Amanda -- the man's lived five thousand years, I certainly think he's capable of getting home by himself."

"Oh, Duncan, honey," she said kindly. "Don't you get it?" She came toward him, put her hand gently on his shoulder. "This is it. Last chance. Right now, tonight -- this is it."

He couldn't begin to make sense out of it, but her utter conviction raised the short hairs on the back of his neck. "What are you talking about?" he said hoarsely, feeling like a man on a battlefield who feels no pain, needing the medic to tell him he's lost a limb.

She made a visible effort to be patient. "What do you think? I'm talking about Methos. I'm talking about the two of you dancing around, talking about everything except what really matters. I'm talking about the fact that right now home is not where he's going, and if you thought about it for five seconds you'd realize that!"

The chill washed over him again, stronger this time. He had known something was badly wrong -- had sensed it, and hadn't understood. Ice, delicate needles of it, lanced into raw places he hadn't felt until this moment.

"You think he's leaving. Really leaving."

She nodded, no hint of doubt at all. "Yeah. I do. Don't you?"

And then he did, not just a hunch but a certainty, cold and heavy as steel sliding into his belly. It stole his breath. Bye, kids.

Something of his panic must have shown in his face, because her kind, dark eyes glistened and she came and put her arms around him, stroking his hair. "Oh baby, it's all right, it'll be all right. Just go after him. Talk to him." He felt the brush of her damp lashes against his neck.

"What do I say?" he whispered.

Her hand stilled against his hair, and then she pulled back to look at him. It was that look, the one she almost never showed him, the one that made him feel every moment of the difference in their ages. As it always did, that look unbalanced his world in some small yet fundamental way. She shrugged, a casual motion that managed to convey courage and acceptance and her love for him all at once. "I can't help you with that part. You'll have to wing it."

He stared at her, understanding that he had been mistaken about a very great many things this night, but that her generosity of spirit wasn't one of them.

"I didn't realize," he said numbly, squeezing her hands in some kind of apology, some instinct to comfort.

"I know," she said with a small, sad smile. "It'll be all right, you'll see." She let him go, and gave a little tug on his sweater, as if to propel him toward the door. "Now, go." Hesitation prompted a second, less gentle nudge. "Go!"

Grabbing his coat, not bothering to put it on, he went.

Despair was the color of the hours before morning, MacLeod thought, exhaustion and failure making his thoughts bleak.

Grey pre-dawn mist swirled through the pale beams of the Citroen's headlights as he drove in ever widening circles through the streets of Paris, searching for one tall, angular figure in a black longcoat. He had been everywhere he could think to look, including Charles de Gaulle, and no Methos. He had covered most of their old haunts on foot, alert for any sense of Presence: the blues bar, Methos' old flat, the bookstore -- even the bridge where Methos had once put MacLeod's sword to his throat. Nothing. In desperation he'd gotten back in the car and driven down to the Luxembourg Gardens, caught up in yet more memories of a time when Methos had been prepared to save his life, at any cost. Still nothing.

His head ached from weariness and from straining his eyes into the darkness, but instead of giving in to it, going home, he pulled the car to a curb and turned off the engine, trying to think of someplace else to try.

Logic warned that it was too late, that Methos was long gone, but he wouldn't think of that, not yet. Some sense he couldn't have named was telling him that what he sought was still here, in Paris somewhere, and if that was wishful thinking he didn't want to let go of his illusions just yet.

But where could the man have gone? Think like Methos, he told himself, closing his eyes to rest them, just for a moment. That brought an almost immediate grimace of bitter humor. He had never been able to understand the way that ancient, mercurial mind worked, not even when they'd seen one another almost every day. What made him think things would be any different now, when they had been apart from each other so long?

MacLeod was seized by a deep, melancholy nostalgia for those months after Alexa had died, when Methos had come back to Paris. He hadn't thought of it in a very long time. They had been easy with each other then, at peace. There had been time to simply be, to let the pain of things they had lost be assuaged by an unexpected friendship found. If there had ever been a time for them to reach out, to really learn to trust one another, it had been then. Fate had conspired. The time they'd been given hadn't been enough.

So many hurts, between then and now -- not always of their own making but always seeming to come between them. So much pain and anger and finally, distance that had been physical as well as mental and emotional, a kind of self-preservation for both of them. For a year and a half he hadn't even known where Methos was -- and if Joe knew, he hadn't offered and MacLeod had refused to ask.

Joe. Could he call Joe now? Would the Watcher be able to come up with something MacLeod hadn't thought of? He glanced at the cell phone, oddly reluctant to reveal his desperation to Dawson. It was more than bruised pride he feared. In some irrational way, he felt that if he spoke his fear aloud it would become real, and Methos would vanish into the wide world as only he could, forever.

It was as he sat staring at the phone, not picking it up, that the answer came to him like an afterthought, a quiet coda to the memories of that long ago time. A place he himself had gone more than once, when he was hurt and alone, and needing. A place Methos had once found him when he most needed to be found.

A long shot. But if Methos really were still in the city, if by some miracle he wanted to be found...

MacLeod started the car, his heart thudding ridiculously fast.

He felt the first singing thread of Immortal signature from the street.

The floodlights were on, giving the little church an otherworldly luminescence in the still grey fog. He hurried past the fountain, through the gate, only to find his steps slowing as he neared the door. For the first time it occurred to him to wonder what he thought he was doing, going after Methos like this, as if finding him would solve anything. They were strangers now, if they had ever been anything else. What the hell could he possibly say, or do, that would make any kind of difference?

MacLeod pressed his hands flat against the damp, ancient wood, closing his eyes as a wave of sweaty-palmed nervousness washed over him. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt like this, this particular combination of queasy apprehension and excited anticipation. Ridiculous. And certainly no help. What he needed was a dose of wisdom and insight, not cold sweats and butterflies.

In the end it was the thought of Darius -- of how his old friend would have laughed to see him standing outside his church in such paroxysms of eagerness and dread -- that made him pull open the doors and go in.

The vaulted interior was lit only by candles and the muted glow of the exterior floodlights through the stained glass. A few steps into the sanctuary memory struck him, hard. The strong current of Presence transformed St. Julien unexpectedly, and it became once more the place of peace it had been for him long ago. For a moment that illusion staved off the old grief, and he found himself drawn slowly deeper into the flickering gloom of the nave, certain Darius himself would appear at any moment.

Duncan! Always good to see you, my old friend. Is everything all right?

Someone shifted in the shadows near the altar. Not Darius. A dark head lifting, eyes glinting amber at him in the candlelight; other memories flooded him in a tangled rush, stopping him where he stood.

As if transfixed by the same memories, Methos only stared at him for long moments, not speaking, a breathless stillness of communion that was utterly unexpected, utterly devastating. MacLeod found himself wishing that they could stay in that moment forever, that single, miraculous space of time in which there was no future and the past was only the past, and couldn't hurt them.

Then something shifted, and the moment was lost, irretrievable.

"I was hoping I'd find you here," MacLeod said quietly, moving toward him.

"Were you? And why's that?" The edge Methos put on it was so slight it might have been imagination. He was sitting in one of the wooden chairs, coat drawn close around him, hands tucked somewhere out of sight. His angular face revealed nothing.

The whispers of long ago memories and dreams feathered through MacLeod's thoughts, leaving him disoriented and vulnerable. For the first time, it came to him what a tremendous power this man had over him, what a breathtaking capacity to hurt him. Even now, the potential was there. Even now, when there was nothing to lose -- Methos could still hurt him badly.

He stopped a few feet from the hunched figure, but the flickering light made it impossible to see the other's expression clearly. "I was afraid I might not see you again," he said, determined to offer only honesty, at least for his own part. Last chance. "I thought maybe we could talk."

"What'd you want to talk about?" Methos asked, his tone so neutral he might have been asking the time. But he didn't deny it, MacLeod realized. Amanda had been right.

Go very carefully now, an inner voice warned. Gravity dragged heavily at him; he moved to take a chair across the aisle, mirroring Methos' posture, eyes on the floor. "What will you do now?" he asked, echoing the same casual neutrality.

He sensed rather than saw Methos shrug. "Does it matter?"

"It does to me." MacLeod felt those eyes on him. He looked up, and was surprised to catch a glint of some dark emotion in the other's gaze. "Did you really think it wouldn't?"

Methos looked away. "I wasn't sure."

For a moment MacLeod wanted to protest. But even as the flash of annoyance touched him, he knew he didn't have the right. What evidence had he shown lately that it would matter to him one iota what Methos did?

"I wondered where you were," he said finally.

"You could have found out, if you wanted to." The edge was back in the low voice, sharper now. MacLeod hadn't imagined it.

"If you wanted me to know, you could have told me," he shot back, hearing the answering edge in his own voice. And on the heels of that came the despairing thought, the truth, tell him the truth! MacLeod closed his eyes, cursing the raw hurt that had prompted the lie, the old pattern of defense, always defense. "No," he said, before Methos could retaliate in kind. "No, that isn't -- " He drew a deep breath. "I wanted you to call, to write. To come home to Paris. But I thought... I couldn't stand thinking that I would find you and you would turn me away. So I didn't look."

Silence answered that. Unbearably self-conscious, MacLeod studied his hands, feeling his face grow warmer by the second.

"Mac..."

The sweet surge of heat was nothing MacLeod expected. He looked up.

And saw that something had eased in Methos, too, something had warmed a little with his confession. That small victory made him want to cheer.

"Don't go, Methos," he asked, unable to keep the plea inside. "At least -- not yet. Give us a chance to be friends again. I want to be."

The expressive mouth quirked up at one corner. "Think that's a good idea, do you?"

"Yeah, I do."

"Our track record isn't the greatest, you know."

"I know."

Methos was silent for a long moment, just looking at him. Sadness shadowed the austere lines of his face.

Apprehensive, MacLeod prompted, "What?"

"Your hair," Methos said softly. "You don't look like you any more." And to MacLeod's shock Methos reached out, fingertips barely brushing bare skin at his nape. The sadness in hazel eyes deepened, making his own eyes burn in response. "Are you in exile, Mac?"

MacLeod swallowed hard, the feeling of unreality very strong. The intimacy of Methos touching him like that was almost unbearably intense. In all the time they'd known each other Methos had rarely touched him, and never like this -- never with this painful, frightening tenderness. It threatened something vital and dangerously unprotected.

"No," he whispered, though Methos wasn't so far from the truth. It shouldn't have surprised him that Methos would know the custom, that a shamed warrior must cut his hair and live in exile from the tribe until his hair grew back to its full length. Far too aware of the place where those fingertips had grazed his skin, somehow MacLeod managed to make his brain and his mouth work together. "It just seemed the thing to do, that's all."

His discomfiture must have shown in his face, for Methos drew back. "Keeping things simple?"

"Something like that."

"Been there."

MacLeod found a shadow of a smile somewhere. "Now why doesn't that surprise me?"

With that sudden shyness that never failed to enchant him or catch him off guard, Methos colored faintly and looked away, drawing his coat tightly about his body. "Boy, I really know how to lighten up a party, don't I?"

MacLeod felt the familiar weight settle once more on his heart. It was almost a relief after the anchorless confusion of that startling touch. "It's all right."

"No, I shouldn't have brought it up."

He sighed. "Methos, it's all right. It's not like I can forget what happened. I don't ever want to forget."

The other man shook his head and closed his eyes, an eloquent gesture of self-disgust. "I'm an idiot."

MacLeod found himself remembering the impulse that had seized him earlier, on the barge -- the almost irresistible desire to put his arms around Methos, to somehow express his gratitude for the simple fact of his presence. It seemed ridiculous now, face to face with the man. He'd be lucky if all it got him was a broken nose. Oddly enough, that thought only made the impulse stronger. "I never thanked you," he said roughly, realizing it only then.

Methos blinked at the unexpected detour. "For what?"

"For saving my life tonight, as usual." He smiled ruefully. "Better be careful, old man. It's getting to be a habit."

It was the wrong thing to say. Methos sat up straighter, expression going cold. "Yeah, well, no one asked for your gratitude, did they?"

Stung, MacLeod stilled. He should have known they were getting along too well. The hurt sliced deep, as it always did, no less painful for its familiarity; equally familiar was the refuge he sought in sarcasm. "What's the matter, afraid you'll ruin your reputation for not giving a damn? Too late, Adam. No one's falling for it. Least of all me."

Methos rose abruptly, pacing several steps away before turning on him. "You really piss me off, you know that?"

Unthinking, MacLeod rose to face him, his own temper sparking. "Yeah, I know. So why do you bother?"

"I'm sure I have no idea!"

MacLeod opened his mouth to strike back, to somehow inflict some measure of hurt in return. He took one, reflexive step forward -- and got a good look at Methos. He was pale in the shadows, his whole body drawn taut. His lips were pressed tightly together as if to keep something inside, something that wanted to make itself known. Though he'd hidden his hands in the pockets of his coat, MacLeod could see they were clenched into fists.

No one asked for your gratitude, did they?

No, he hadn't, MacLeod realized, only that he stay alive. The same thing, the only thing Methos had ever really asked of him. Again and again Methos had gone to the wall for him, risking himself willingly as if it went without saying that Duncan MacLeod must live, at any price. And how many times had MacLeod spurned the gift, and stuck his neck out anyway?

Live, Highlander.

They were very close now, the tension shifting, becoming something else, something quieter but no less dangerous. "You're right to be angry," he admitted at last.

Methos went very still. His face was controlled, unreadable. He said nothing.

"When I went out there alone to face O'Rourke, I thought I was doing the right thing. I was wrong. I should have listened to you."

"Yes," Methos bit out. "You should have."

And it was only then -- only seeing how angry Methos really was, and how the anger was a substitute for the fear -- that MacLeod at last understood. From the beginning he had asked himself why Methos should care what happened to him, what the oldest of them all could possibly see in him worth saving. From the beginning he had tried to believe it was some kind of validation, that faith, something that he could be worthy of.

Methos' faith. It was a large thought, a scary thought. Perhaps most of all because he wanted it so badly, wanted so badly to deserve it. From the very first he had known Methos would do anything, give anything to make certain that MacLeod lived to face the endgame. It had always been a part of what they were. But he had never really let himself believe there might be another reason, a smaller, more personal reason the ultimate survivor would risk everything for him, again and again.

On some level he had known. Hoped. But never truly believed it, not really, not until this moment.

"I'm sorry, Methos." Three words had never felt so hard to say.

The other man's stillness gave way to something like surprise. I'm sorry was not something either of them had ever managed very well.

"I'm learning." MacLeod tried a small smile.

The lines of Methos' face altered almost imperceptibly. "I see that."

"Martyrdom isn't something I set as a goal, you know."

"Could've fooled me."

"I'll try to do better."

The hazel eyes were rueful, knowing him entirely too well. "I very much doubt it, but it's a nice thought."

Nonsense, really. An exchange that meant nothing, solved nothing, went nowhere. Yet it settled something in MacLeod, something fundamental that he hadn't known he'd missed until he suddenly, miraculously held it in his hand again. The impulse hit him again, the almost uncontrollable need to reach out. Hold fast. MacLeod felt the heat in his face, the rising of something dark and powerful and hungry. I missed you.

"Methos..." face averted, not looking at him "...why did you come here tonight? Really?" He didn't immediately answer, and MacLeod could practically feel the intricate dance of his thoughts as he sought a response. MacLeod made himself look. "The truth," he said. For once, he didn't add.

Methos had turned a little, eyes focused on the floor near his feet. Close as they were, MacLeod caught the tiny, involuntary motion of the pale throat: Methos swallowing with nervousness, or some other emotion. "I was trying to... make some kind of peace, I suppose."

"This is a good place to come for that."

The other's gaze flicked sidelong, a momentary expression of wry understanding "Yeah. Always was."

"And did you? Make peace with whatever it was?"

Methos shrugged, lashes veiling his eyes again. "Not really. I never was very good at resolutions. Always preferred just to move on, not wallow in the past and dwell on things you can't change."

"Let time take care of the messy details?"

He was rewarded with a hint of a smile for his perceptiveness. "Time's something I've got a lot of, in case you hadn't noticed."

"Yeah, I suppose so." MacLeod watched the prayer candles in the chapel going out, tiny ghost-lights flickering into darkness. "Of course, Darius thought so, too."

Methos' surprised tone scored him the point. "For a kid, you're pretty smart, you know that?"

"I have my moments."

The last candle guttered, went out, and he felt Methos' eyes on him. "I know you miss him, Mac."

In the muted, grey light of approaching dawn, the sanctuary felt like a haven outside of time, apart from the world. And somehow, thinking of Darius made MacLeod brave. "Amanda figured out that you were leaving," he said huskily, looking at his hands. "That maybe it was for good this time."

"Is that why you were out traipsing around Paris in the middle of the night? Because Amanda got it into her head I needed a keeper?"

MacLeod looked at him, daring him. "I thought maybe you were hoping I'd come after you. Thought maybe that's why you chose to come here, of all places."

Something flickered in that mutable gaze. It was gone before MacLeod was certain what he had seen, and Methos smiled his Mona Lisa smile. "Maybe."

MacLeod grimaced. "Your 'maybes' are gonna kill me one day."

The smile faded, and Methos nodded slowly, thoughtfully. "Very probably."

It tipped some balance in MacLeod, touched some crucial nerve left exposed too long, and the ache in his throat and the pressure on his lungs welled up, a deep, hollow longing for solace he had refused to let himself want, or hope for.

Too late, he realized that he'd given himself away. Methos was eyeing him warily. "Mac?"

He opened his mouth to say something, anything that would avert that sharp, perceptive scrutiny. Nothing came out.

"You okay?"

There was a sound like rushing water, distant and strange. It was the sound of his blood pumping through his dully pounding heart, MacLeod realized. Breathing seemed an infinitely difficult, painful task.

"No," he whispered.

Methos had taken his arm, was trying to guide him to one of the straight-backed chairs. "Come on, sit for a minute." MacLeod resisted, not out of any conscious choice but because if he moved, he was certain he would fall apart. He realized only when Methos touched him how badly he was shaking. Feeling it, Methos frowned his concern. "Mac. Sit down. Now."

As if the command made it possible, MacLeod found that he could move. He sat down, hard, feeling Methos move to sit beside him, the supporting hand still at his elbow. He was distantly aware of another hand at the back of his head, urging him to lean forward. "Come on, Duncan, put your head down. That's it." Blackness hovered at the edge of vision, and he realized he was in serious danger of passing out. He breathed, with difficulty; the blackness receded. He was excruciatingly aware of Methos close beside him, touching him.

Methos was saying "...delayed stress reaction. You're in shock. Just take it easy for a minute. Relax and breathe." The voice was calm, reassuring, but the gentle pressure was still there at the back of his neck, the other hand supporting his arm, sending warm tendrils of sensation curling through him in a way that undermined his effort to obey the words. "It's been a rough night. You're wiped out, that's all."

Delayed stress reaction, MacLeod thought numbly, feeling the warm touch of those hands in places he had shut away long ago, places that now shuddered painfully, clumsily open to the light. He'd been alone so long. His eyes burned with threatening heat. "No," he whispered. "That's not all." He looked up.

MacLeod knew everything was written on his face, couldn't care. The pain had struck him as hard, as mercilessly as it had in those first hours, those first terrible days after Richie had died -- God, that blunt, devastating pain. How had he forgotten?

"How could you leave me?" he whispered.

The hazel eyes had gone wide. "What?" As if only then aware that he was touching him, Methos let him go.

The pain crested, and on the heels of it, a sudden hot fury. Before he knew he was going to do it, MacLeod had seized the other man's coat lapels and shoved him back. The wooden chairs scraped violently, and they nearly toppled to the floor. Only Methos' quick reflexes managed to keep him from falling. He leapt to his feet and took two quick steps backward, clearing the chairs.

MacLeod had risen with him, not letting go. He forced Methos back further, toward the altar steps, snarling into his face. "I needed you. When Richie died, that night, and after -- I needed you to be there for me." The betrayal felt bottomless, enormous. "Not anyone else, Methos. You." He shook the other man hard, one breath from doing something much worse. "You didn't even say good-bye! How could you leave me like that?"

Methos had had enough. He broke MacLeod's grip with a swift sweeping blow across his wrists and immediately skated back out of reach. There was no remorse in his face, only reciprocal rising fury. "Good! Now you know what it feels like!"

MacLeod drew a breath. It pushed him further into the chasm, so far that he began to grow calm in his rage. It came to him with utter certainty that he could kill Methos if pushed to it. In fact, he had once already tonight, hadn't he? The superimposition was utterly vivid, so compelling he could feel the swing of Kronos' heavy sword echoed all along the muscles of his arms, his back. "Now I know what what feels like?" he demanded grimly.

Methos lifted his chin, meeting him steel to equal steel. "To need someone so badly, and find yourself alone. How did it feel, MacLeod?"

Such a relief, to finally be able to say it. "It hurt like hell!"

"Yes!"

The ache throbbed mercilessly in MacLeod's chest, his throat. His voice caught, the angry tears trying to spill. "It still does."

"Yes," Methos hissed, anguish and fury drawing his face into harsh angles, eyes suddenly red and bright with unshed tears of his own. "Oh, yes." And MacLeod was struck forcefully by the memory of a long ago day, an early morning confrontation by a car, an angry parting that had nearly broken his heart. He remembered, and understood.

If it were true, if that were the real reason Methos had abandoned him, if he had deserved it for his own long ago defection -- even that would be better than the betrayal, the hurt. For an instant he seized upon the possibility.

Enough truth in the hazel eyes to almost, almost convince him. But this was Methos. The first answer he gave to any question was seldom, if ever, the whole truth. Policy, Adam Pierson's voice said matter-of-factly in his head. Don't fight unless you have to, do nothing if you have a choice, and never tell the whole truth if you can help it.

"That isn't why," MacLeod said at last. "That isn't the only reason why."

Methos tried to hold his gaze. But something gave, finally, and he had to look away. "No."

MacLeod took an unconscious step toward him, anchorless and desperate to find something solid to hold on to. "Then why? If you want me to live so badly, then why'd you leave when I needed you most?" His voice failed him, giving way to a rough whisper. "When I most wanted to die?"

He saw the faint tremor, quickly suppressed.

"That's it, isn't it."

Methos didn't answer. His face was in deep shadow. MacLeod took another step toward him, feeling the anger slip away like insubstantial mist.

"Isn't it?"

"Yes," Methos murmured, so low it was barely voiced. "Mostly."

"Mostly?"

Methos closed his eyes, and sighed. "You said it yourself, Highlander. I've made a habit of interfering in your life. Giving you what you need. I can't seem to help myself, and I couldn't trust myself not to do it then -- give you what you needed, I mean. But I couldn't. Not that. Not that." His eyes opened then, darkly mirroring the same hurt, the same betrayed trust. "How could you ask me to?"

MacLeod felt the heat again, threatening to finally escape. "That's why you were so upset about me going to face O'Rourke alone. Why you were going to leave tonight. You thought I still wanted to die."

Methos' head came up. "Didn't you?" It was a demand, an accusation and a plea all at once.

MacLeod saw then how bone-tired he was, the sharp features shadowed by a profound exhaustion that mirrored his own. Something small was giving way inside of him, some last line of defense standing between his sanity and what he felt for this man, what he needed most.

Feeling curiously weightless, MacLeod found himself moving again, closing the space between them. "Maybe," he murmured, a hint of light surfacing.

Methos held himself very still. "And now?"

They were very close. Almost touching. "No," he said gently. "Not now."

"Why not?"

"Because now I know, Methos."

"Know?" he repeated in obvious confusion.

Heedless of the way his eyes were stinging, MacLeod found a smile for this most contrary, most confounding, most remarkable of men. "Now I know how much you love me."

Seeing the absolute astonishment, MacLeod chuckled a little, unable to help himself. How he loved catching Methos off guard! Deciding he was on a roll, he gave in at last to the impulse he'd been controlling for hours: he reached out for Methos and pulled him hard into his arms.

And in spite of the singing in his heart, in spite of his certainty in the truth of his words, he was still surprised when Methos awkwardly, cautiously -- hugged him back.

"Come home with me, Methos," MacLeod said when the other man pulled away at last. "Please."

Methos looked at him as if he'd gone out of his mind. "Come home with you," he repeated.

"Yes."

"To the barge?"

"Yes. I need sleep, and so do you. Come home with me."

"Amanda's at the barge," Methos pointed out.

"So what? If she is, she's probably still asleep."

"That's hardly the point!"

The man's obvious discomfiture made MacLeod grin like an idiot. He didn't care if he looked like an idiot; he felt happier than he had in his memory. "What is your point?"

"MacLeod -- "

He stopped Methos' protest with a touch, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder. He left his hand there and sought the other's gaze, letting the simple longing show. "Look, Methos, I don't care. I just want to go home. Come with me. The rest will work itself out."

Methos stared at him. After a long moment, something like wonder touched his face. He nodded wordlessly.

MacLeod gave the shoulder another squeeze and let him go. Knowing better than to press his luck, he turned for the door before the smile could creep back, the lightness of spirit he couldn't quite keep inside.

He stepped out of the warm dark church into chill grey morning, scenting rain in the air. His senses seemed to be on overload, with that slightly skewed hyper-awareness that came from pulling an all-nighter. The fog had cleared, but heavy clouds lay over the city and a steady breeze lifted the hairs at the back of his neck. He could feel Methos close behind him.

Leading the way to the car, he was surprised to realize it had been only yesterday that Amanda had appeared at his door out of the blue, two sacks of wine and comestibles in her arms. Only last night had he fought O'Rourke, taken the quickening that had left him so strangely numb and adrift. Now he felt the opposite: deeply connected to the world, alive for the first time in a very long time. Alive, with Methos, on this beautiful, grey morning in Paris -- which for all the painful memories it held was still his favorite city in the world, still home.

It seemed unbelievable now. Had he really believed he'd seen Fitzcairn? In... what? Some sort of vision? Ravings of a madman, more like. Deluded fantasies of a man so desperate to believe in his own worth that his hubris had taken face and form in an unconscious hallucination, casting him firmly in the role of savior to everyone he knew.

And avenging angel, he thought, remembering the rage, the hate he'd felt just before that final, fatal swing.

He started to unlock the passenger door of the Citroen, but found he had stopped in mid-motion, staring at his hands as if they were a stranger's.

"Mac?" Methos prompted gently.

"I killed you," he said.

"What?"

He looked up, for some reason needing to tell him about it. "With Kronos' sword."

Methos shook his head bemusedly. "You're losing it, MacLeod."

How could he explain? He couldn't. He had to, now. "When I got shot, earlier," he began haltingly, "I saw something. An hallucination, I guess, but it was more than that. It was -- it felt real."

Methos was listening, though his expression said he wasn't yet convinced MacLeod hadn't gone around the bend. He turned and leaned against the car, crossing his arms casually. "Go on."

"Fitz was there. And Tessa, and Richie. Fitz was trying to tell me something, trying to show me that I had made a difference in the lives of the people that I cared about."

Methos started a little at that. "Do you really believe otherwise?"

MacLeod lowered his gaze. "No. Maybe. Doesn't matter. What matters is, I killed you."

"I assume you mean -- permanently."

"Yeah."

Methos digested this for a few moments.

"Was it... like before?" he asked finally, gently.

"What do you mean?"

"Like at the racetrack, Mac. Was it like that?"

MacLeod met the probing gaze. The hazel eyes were storm-green in the grey morning light, the color of the sea. It felt like they were taking him apart, examining every dark place in him and accepting, without censure.

"No," he said hoarsely. "Not like that." The truth. Tell him the truth. "You were -- with Kronos. I was angry. Furious. I meant to do it. I meant to take your head, and I did it. And it felt good, Methos."

To his amazement, Methos did not react with anger or any other visible emotion. He only nodded slightly, thoughtfully.

"I must have done something pretty dreadful," he said.

MacLeod found himself nodding back. "Yes, you did."

"What was it, mind if I ask?"

"You killed Richie," he said without thinking.

"You must have really hated me for that." Still not angry. "You loved him very much."

"Yes." A little unsteady, but it was a relief to say it.

"And it felt good because I deserved to die, for killing an innocent man like that. For killing Richie. Someone had to pay for that."

As if the words freed something, for just a moment MacLeod tasted again that sweet, satisfying rage, that righteous hatred that had driven the swing of Kronos' dark and deadly blade. "Yes," he whispered fiercely.

Methos' gaze sharpened, suddenly merciless. "But I didn't kill Richie, did I?"

MacLeod straightened under the weight, an unconscious gesture that had become second nature. He met that look without flinching. "No, you didn't. I did."

Oddly, Methos only looked at him, as if waiting for something.

And then it hit him, what realization Methos had just led him to, and the astonishment washed over him in a slow wave.

Seeing him realize it, Methos tilted his head curiously. "Didn't you once tell me you knew Freud? I'm surprised he didn't teach you anything."

MacLeod blinked, recognizing belatedly that he was probably wearing a very foolish, very dazed expression. "You'd have made one hell of a psychoanalyst," he said at last, when he could trust his voice.

Methos shrugged. "The pay's not bad, but you have to spend the whole day dealing with people crazier than you are."

"Which for guys like you and me is really saying something."

"Exactly." And Methos smiled, that rare, unselfconscious smile that could charm a dying woman or a dour Scot into smiling back. Without thought, without any foreknowledge of what he meant to do, it was then that Duncan MacLeod put his hands on the car roof on either side of Methos, leaned forward, and kissed him.

So sweet, to kiss him, so sweet after so long, warm curling honey starting in his belly even before he'd really begun. It spread and sank through him deliciously at the first shared breath. Then that tender bow-shaped mouth met his again as if it had been waiting for him, opening gently for him, and with a kind of fatalistic helplessness he became aware that he was already lost -- that he had been for a long, long time.

A slow, gentle caress of his mouth on those soft, responsive lips. Then a breath, as if it were a dance, with music guiding him and telling him instinctively to close his eyes, and breathe, and then to move again into that warm joining, the sweet taste of him.

Methos had put his hands on MacLeod's hips and pulled him close, no more than that, but now MacLeod found his grip on the roof of the car was a necessary support. He sought Methos again, and was met, and this time they did not merely touch but instinctively flicked tongue to tongue. Something utterly electric pulsed low in MacLeod's belly, and he made a sound that made Methos repeat the motion, their tongues brushing once more and this time, caressing lightly.

And Methos shuddered against him, and groaned, and leaned his forehead on MacLeod's shoulder. "Christ, Duncan," he breathed.

Their faces touching, MacLeod found himself undone by the kiss, by his name, by the overwhelming awareness of Methos, hard and hot against his belly, the scent of him utterly intoxicating. "I want you," he whispered against the soft brush of his hair. "Make love with me, Methos."

The hands tightened on his hips, a fierce squeeze in answer. Methos had gone still against him, not even breathing. Then, at last, he sighed a little and turned his face into MacLeod's neck. "I think you'd better take me home, or we're gonna get arrested for sure."

With difficulty MacLeod managed to get the car door open. His hands were shaking, the reality almost more than he could encompass. He couldn't look at Methos. Could barely breathe, for the awareness that was sweeping through him in waves, the knowledge that soon, very soon he was going to be making love with Methos. Even the words had him aflame, his whole body feverish with chills. Had he really said them? He was hard and ready just thinking about it. As soon as he opened the door Methos got in, seemingly calm save for the heat that was coming off him in palpable waves. MacLeod shut the door and started around to the driver's side.

He was a little better off by the time he got in and put the keys in the ignition, but not much. He started the car. Then had to close his eyes for a moment as he realized that in the close quarters of the car, he could just barely pick up the scent of wool from Methos' coat, and under it, the scent of his arousal.

"What are you waiting for?"

MacLeod gently blew out the breath he'd been holding. "Not sure if I can drive," he admitted.

"You'd better."

"Don't want to kill us."

"It's only half a mile, and I'm going to kill you myself if you don't step on that gas pedal."

MacLeod nodded, and stepped on it.

The same thought occurred to them both, belatedly, as they pulled up alongside the barge. They had forgotten about Amanda.

"Shit," Methos swore, in a tone that sounded close to violence.

"It's all right," MacLeod hurried to assure him. "I'll talk to her."

Methos shot him a disbelieving look. "You've gotta be kidding me."

MacLeod shut off the engine. "No, really. It'll be okay, she'll understand."

"If she doesn't, you'd better be prepared to lock her in a closet because otherwise, I'm having you right here in this car."

The low, gut-wrenching wave of heat that washed through MacLeod nearly made him double over. He gripped the steering wheel, trying to breathe, finally giving Methos a plaintive look. "You're not helping." Looking at him had been a mistake, though, because then he could see the way those sweetly bowed lips had gone red with desire, the way heat flushed delicately across pale cheeks and throat, the way the gold eyes glittered with promises.

"Come on," Methos said, opening the car door, "we'll go together."

They were halfway up the gangplank when MacLeod stopped, realizing. "She's not here."

"There is a God," Methos breathed, in the tone of a true believer.

MacLeod turned back, apprehensive. "Yeah, but what if she went out for croissants or something? We'll have to wait 'till she gets back."

But the man who met his worried gaze bore no resemblance whatsoever to mild-mannered researcher Adam Pierson. The look Methos wore was feral and hungry, and promised dire consequences to any hapless thief who might get between him and what he wanted. Namely, one Duncan MacLeod.

"The fuck we will," he said matter-of-factly.

MacLeod's concern for Amanda's sensibilities evaporated like so much mist, and he found himself nodding agreement. "We'll lock the door."

It was immediately clear that Amanda hadn't gone for croissants. They found the note on the counter, held in place by an empty champagne bottle containing a single pink rose. The evidence of their earlier celebration had been cleared away, and all other sign of Amanda's presence was gone -- save for the faintest trace of CoCo Chanel on the folded square of paper.

 

Duncan,

Whatever happened tonight, don't give up. I believe in you. Both of you.

If you need me, call. Joe knows where.

All my love,

A.

 

MacLeod showed Methos the note, feeling an entirely unexpected sadness. Amanda had been a touchstone for him for a very long time, and though she had stayed away for the past year and a half, he had understood. She was a brightness in his life, not built for dealing with the dark places in his soul. He had always known that, and had loved her for the light she cast, because it made the dark times easier knowing there was one wild star in the world he could not dim.

She would be that still, he knew, but something told him this leave-taking was different. That whatever they would be to one another in the future, this part of what they had shared was over. And he couldn't help grieving a little for that, though he wouldn't have changed it.

"You okay?" Methos asked softly.

MacLeod folded the note and put it back where they'd found it. "Yeah." Looking up, he found a guarded look on Methos' face he didn't much care for. "More than okay," he reassured, finding a smile to go with the words.

Methos didn't smile back, and there was an awkward moment when MacLeod felt a sinking despair that it wasn't going to work; that they'd been given only that one momentary window of intimate connection, and no more. In all the years of their rocky friendship, they had been lucky to exist in a room together for an hour without one or both of them inflicting critical damage on the other. What had he been thinking of?

For that one moment he couldn't cross the gap, couldn't make his thoughts fit around the picture of himself and Methos -- Methos! -- touching one another in love, making love as if it were something sane they could consider seriously.

Then Methos dropped his gaze, a faint stain of color touching his skin. And the feeling bloomed low in Duncan's belly, winding heat up through his center, and he remembered viscerally what it had been like to kiss him, to feel Methos hard against him, to know what he tasted like.

"Duncan," Methos began uncertainly, "maybe -- "

As if it released something, the ache of wanting broke like a summer rainstorm, suffusing Duncan with a wash of heat. "No," he breathed, reaching out to touch his cheek, the exquisite line of his jaw. "No maybes. Not any more."

And Methos looked up and caught his intensity, was caught by it, eyes widening as it visibly took him over, setting him alight with the same sweet fire. Duncan saw it spread in a delicate flush from the hollow of his throat to his hairline, could almost feel Methos' heart speed up to match his own accelerated pulse.

And it was easy then, so easy to take that extraordinary face in his hands and kiss him again, to surrender to the incomparable feel of those hands cradling his head fiercely, fingertips lacing in his hair.

They dissolved swiftly into a deep, open-mouthed consummation of lips and tongues and breathless heat. Their kissing before had been only a promise of this, the earlier intensity only a whisper of this hot, unbearably overwhelming melting of his whole being into Methos. Eyes closed, his body turning into a conductor of raw current and thick, honeyed pleasure, Duncan found himself tracing the soft wings of his eyebrows, the utterly erotic brush of slightly-damp hair at his temples. Something was happening to him with Methos' kisses. He felt as if the need for that hot mouth was taking him over. It rose unbearably higher with each endless melting of their tongues, satisfying something deep and hungry within him even as it stoked his craving for more, until he was groaning soft incoherent pleas with each withdrawal.

Methos was no longer content with holding him still, but was fervently trying to pull him closer. Then Methos moved, pressing himself full-length against Duncan in a sinuous, insistent motion that forced them to break off kissing, both of them shuddering at the rush of urgency.

Duncan tried to make himself stop, put a little distance between them. He thought he was going to burn up in spontaneous combustion if they didn't stop, at least for a moment. But then Methos was on him again, merciless, backing him up a step, two -- and Duncan could only moan into the kiss and let himself go on melting into that demanding embrace. Methos' heat reached him, penetrated him through their clothing, the lithe form pressing itself into him with sensuous, devastating abandon. Unthinking, Duncan gripped that hard body closer, hands slipping beneath heavy fabric and spreading against damp silk at Methos' back.

Methos made a sound against his mouth, a short, needing, answering plea. He backed off fractionally, struggling to get his coat off in between shorter kisses, no less passionate. With Duncan's help he was able to get free of the sleeves and they dropped the coat without thought for the priceless sword tucked in the lining; free of the encumbrance, Methos flowed once more into his fervent, overwhelming takeover of Duncan's body.

Duncan hit the wall with a dull thud and with the added support Methos at last had what he wanted. Unable to think, or do anything except what was demanded of him by those devastating hands, Duncan felt his head pressed back, his hips angled slightly, and Methos was between his thighs, rubbing himself urgently against Duncan's eager sex even as his tongue stroked counterpoint in Duncan's mouth.

Breaking off again, Duncan moaned a plea for mercy even as Methos froze against him, trembling, gasping his own need. "Good lord," he groaned against Duncan's shoulder, fighting for control. "This is not gonna work." And with a wrenching effort, he pulled out of the embrace.

Duncan made an involuntary sound of protest, reaching out, so close he couldn't think beyond the need to feel Methos against him, as close as they could possibly get, as fast as they could possibly get there. Methos soothed him, one hand stroking back through his hair. Needing so much that he couldn't put shape or name to what he needed, Duncan closed his eyes and turned his face into Methos' palm, tongue tasting him there. He felt a shudder go through Methos in response, and the hand was pulled away.

"Sweet jesus, don't, Duncan. Don't." Duncan opened his eyes and saw that Methos was in little better shape, his breathing ragged, his obvious arousal matching Duncan's own rigid heat. He was fighting for control, succeeding a little better than Duncan was, but not by much. Methos put up a hand as if to ward him off, backing up another step. "Give me a minute, or I'm gonna be humping you up against the wall right here, clothes and all."

Duncan's cock throbbed, tingling excitement chasing through his belly and thighs. "Methos, yes." He clenched his fists, leaning against the wall because his legs wouldn't hold him. "I don't care. Please -- I don't know if I can wait." Saying it, he shuddered, realizing how true it was.

The hazel eyes went wide, nostrils flaring, breath catching in response. Then Methos blew out a breath sharply and hugged his arms around himself, backing up another two steps. He turned away, taking deep, unsteady breaths. At last he pointed toward the bed, not looking at Duncan. "Get over there, now," he said hoarsely, not without a certain gentleness, but in a tone that demanded capitulation.

Surprised to find he could walk at all, Duncan obeyed. He was excruciatingly aware of every place his clothing touched him, every fiber teasing his over sensitized skin, but he managed to cross the floor to the steps and negotiate them successfully.

"There," Methos said, when he was two steps from the bed. "Right there."

Duncan turned, finding the other's eyes on him once more. Methos was perhaps ten feet away, looking up at him with such intensity that Duncan felt tangible heat wherever that gaze touched him.

Aching for Methos to kiss him again, Duncan let his own eyes speak his need, reaching down to brush one hand over the arousal he knew was more than evident through his trousers. "Please," he whispered.

Undone, Methos came up the steps as if compelled, drawn to him, at last enfolding him in an embrace as if without thought. "I have wanted you for so long," he whispered fiercely, for that moment only holding him as if he were infinitely precious, infinitely loved. "I want you so much." Duncan held him back, feeling the unsteadiness, his uncertainty.

Duncan pressed his lips to the soft hollow at his temple. "What is it?"

Methos held tighter, unable to voice it.

"Methos." Duncan ran his hands over the taut muscles of his back. "It'll be all right. I want you to." He kissed him softly, at the tender hollow below his jaw, stroking fingertips through his hair. "I want you to."

Methos pulled back, searching his gaze. And finding what he needed there, he let go of the uncertainty, and their eyes held as, without speaking, Methos reached out and began unfastening Duncan's belt.

Lost in that strange, molten passivity that came over him whenever Methos looked at him like that, Duncan let himself be slowly undressed. The supple hands seemed to mark him and own him as they bared his skin, each touch arousing and soothing with intimate heat, until he stood naked in the soft grey light from the porthole, breathing unevenly, body singing and flushed, longing for more.

"God, you're beautiful, Duncan," Methos murmured, running palms lightly over the planes of his shoulders. "You are so beautiful."

"I want ta see you," Duncan murmured back, and Methos didn't stop him when he began unbuttoning the black silk shirt. But when he had it open and slipped one hand inside, across the planes of his stomach and up, brushing one taut nipple, Methos closed his eyes and stilled, catching his breath.

"Better stop that," he whispered, catching Duncan's wrist gently and pulling it away. "Much as I'd like you to continue."

Duncan wanted badly to touch him again, to feel again that helpless response. Addictive -- utterly addictive. It only made him want much, much more; it made him want to push Methos down onto the bed and kneel between his thighs and make him crazy, make him writhe and cry out and moan his pleasure and spill it uncontrollably into Duncan's mouth.

He kept his hands at his sides with difficulty, aching with the images that spun erotically through his mind. Later, he told himself fervently. Time for that later.

"Do you have anything?" Methos asked quietly, and it took Duncan's brain a moment to connect.

"In the drawer," he answered, nodding toward the built-in at the head of the bed. The chills chased over him again. Methos inside me. It had been a very, very long time since he had done this, and he was glad because he realized he couldn't remember the last time. He felt a little nervous but mostly he wanted, with a deep urgency.

Methos nodded slightly, and shrugged out of his shirt, letting it slip to the floor as he bent to remove his shoes. Duncan's breath caught, as the filtered light traced and shaped the graceful curve of him, painting Methos in pale silver and shadow. Rain was falling against the deck now, and reflected droplets on the glass cast pearls of light on Methos' skin.

Hearing the sound he made, Methos glanced up. But catching Duncan's expression, he ducked his head again and pulled off his shoes, not looking at him, suddenly shy.

Duncan moved closer, instinctively reaching out to brush his hand over the back of Methos' head, the curve where the muscles of neck and shoulder met. Methos looked up, startled. Duncan stroked him there again. "Do you not know how amazing you are?" he asked softly.

To his delight, Methos blushed, a genuine flush of embarrassment coloring his face and, Duncan noted with interest, spreading further south. "Come here," he said huskily. "I want to know what you feel like. I want to feel you."

Naked to the waist and barefoot, Methos rose wordlessly into his arms, slipping his warm hands around Duncan's waist. And they were kissing again, the same slow, hot dissolution, as if they had never stopped. The intensity broke over them like the sea, deep and familiar and irresistible. In another moment they abandoned breathing in favor of low, harmonic sounds of wanting more of each other, more, all there was to have if they could. Methos had one hand spread possessively between his shoulder blades, the other slipping down along his ass and the backs of his thighs, just stroking him there.

Duncan struggled to unfasten the black trousers with shaking hands, unwilling to let their mouths part. At last Methos broke away a little, letting them both breathe, letting go of Duncan long enough to get the trousers unclasped, unzipped. Then he reached for Duncan again, one hand moving down between them, the other encircling from behind, making Duncan gasp softly at the intimate touches on the insides of his thighs.

"You're gonna kill me," he panted.

"Then get these damn things off of me, and let's die happy," Methos growled back.

Duncan slipped his hands under the waistband of Methos' pants, groaning softly when he felt the smooth curves of him, his skin softer and finer than the silk he wore. Methos fit perfectly in his hands, the firm curves of his ass, the sloped strength of the muscles at his waist, the tender hollows of his flanks. With a sinuous motion Methos let Duncan free him from the layers of silk.

Before Duncan could regain the presence of mind to breathe, Methos gathered him close and pressed Duncan's sex into the hollow their hipbones made, letting his own hot arousal push insistently into Duncan's belly. And with no encumbrance to stop them, no barriers between them, Methos sighed his pleasure and rubbed skin against skin, kindling desire to desperation in the space of a heartbeat.

"Oh, God..." Duncan breathed, closing his eyes, shuddering with the pleasure that threatened to take him over right there. "Methos -- "

Hearing the warning in his plea, Methos took mercy and let him go, urging him backward. "Lie down, Duncan."

Yes, Duncan thought, dizzy and disconnected in the euphoria of anticipation. Oh yes, please, now. Lying back against the bed, the coolness of the duvet was an almost unbearable stimulation on the backs of his thighs, his neck.

Methos knelt over him. Duncan had no words for the sight of him in that moment -- doubted there were any. The ancient, ageless beauty in him was utterly humbling, and more than a little terrifying. But it was also just Methos, elemental and pure, the same elusive, feral innocence that he had always felt, the same essential core that had sparked that first instinctive leap of insight on that long ago day, when they had first met.

He reached up and found the edge of the drawer. Opening it and finding the small bottle inside, he handed it to Methos wordlessly. Methos took it with a sidelong look, lashes casting his eyes in shadow. "You're very eager," he murmured, pouring a generous amount of the essential oil into his cupped palms. But the teasing couldn't hide his wonder at the fact of Duncan's unconcealed desire for him.

Duncan didn't know where his courage came from, or why he felt only this singing lightness when he had every reason in the world to be terrified of this, of making himself so utterly vulnerable to the one man who was probably more dangerous to him than any other. He knew only that his need was greater than his fear. Reaching up, he cupped Methos' hands with his own, drawing them down and guiding the joint caress as Methos spread the oil on himself, Duncan's own hands curled over and around his slippery grip. Methos shuddered at the pleasure, and Duncan felt an answering stab of heat.

"Please, Methos. I need to be with you. I need you inside me."

"You know, don't you?" Methos said hoarsely, releasing him. He stroked Duncan from belly to thigh as if gentling him, though Duncan felt the touch like electric current. The hungry look was back, the one that set him aflame. "You know what you do to me, and you do it on purpose."

Aching with the sweet knowledge that he did not have much longer to wait, Duncan smiled. "What do I do to you?" he dared. "Tell me."

"Think I'll show you instead," Methos said in that dark, unsafe tone that made Duncan's blood run hot, as it always had. And when Methos bent over him and claimed his mouth again, spreading Duncan's thighs with his knees, Duncan could only voice his pleasure incoherently, could only answer the hot, silken shaft with his own. The feel of Methos against him, slick with the oil and their own arousal, was possibly the most erotic sensation Duncan had ever felt.

But in the next instant, he felt something infinitely more erotic, infinitely more devastating. For it was then that he felt Methos let go in some crucial, indefinable way, felt Methos kissing him with his whole soul, his whole heart, kissing him deeply, with a love so honest and strong that it hurt -- and Duncan knew he had been utterly blind not to have seen it before, utterly a fool.

Methos broke free and looked down at him, eyes hot with consuming desire and tender with profound trust. "Now you know," he said softly, sage-scented hands framing Duncan's face, tracing his cheeks and jaw.

Now I know, Duncan thought, feeling it resonate in every part of him, as deep as any belief he had ever held.

As if the lowering of barriers had taken Methos' control with it, his eyes were dilated almost black, breath coming shallowly. Duncan pulled him down into his arms, soothing him with the touch of his hands, his lips, feeling him trembling faintly with need and the intensity of what he had done, what he had given. Duncan ached to give something equal in return, but as soon as he thought it he knew he never could, because there was nothing. Now I know how much you love me.

So he gave what he could, coaxing with his hands and his mouth and his body until Methos sheathed himself wholly in Duncan, crying out his pleasure on a breathless sob that made Duncan moan in answer.

For a long moment, neither moved. Nor did either make a sound, save for Duncan's shallow panting as he strove to adjust, and the counterpoint of Methos' deep, even breathing as he fought for control. Rain drummed on the windows.

And then Methos did move, with a long indrawn breath -- and stillness wasn't an option any more, nor was silence, nor control.

In rhythm they began to move together, Methos holding his hips and shifting him with each deep stroke, until he was cradled on Methos' knees and it felt like Methos was reaching all the way to his heart. Duncan had to cry out, couldn't stop himself as each hot, slick penetration sparked pleasure so intense the withdrawals in between began to feel like pain. Each deep cry was answered by Methos, whose eyes were closed, head thrown back.

It still wasn't enough. Arms flung wide, fists clenched in the bedcover, Duncan wrapped his legs around his waist and forced Methos in deeper, did it again -- and with a broken wail in a language Duncan didn't know, Methos fell forward and drove into him with short, savage thrusts that battered him with vicious pleasure. He would have begged for mercy, if he could have spared breath for it.

Then, unexpectedly, mercy came: Methos seized his cock in one slick hand. The oiled friction drenched Duncan in waves of pleasure, building intolerably until he couldn't hold it back. He shouted hoarsely as it took him, flooded through him and released him gasping, on the other side -- in time to see color suffuse Methos' skin in a delicious flush. Still shuddering his own orgasm he stared, transfixed, at the utter abandon on Methos' face as he came, sobbing out his own pleasure, riding the tide of it in visible waves until the last tremors faded, and he collapsed heavily into Duncan's arms.

The steady sound of the rain had washed Duncan into a torpid state somewhere between waking and sleeping. Methos had moved only far enough to burrow part way down into the warm space along Duncan's left side; he was sprawled face down, one leg entwined with Duncan's, his nose buried happily in Duncan's armpit.

No small thing, that nose, but Duncan was entirely too comfortable otherwise to move him. He found a wealth of rewards inherent in his current position, and he didn't want to give them up just yet; not even for sleep, which he badly needed.

First, he had a very good view of Methos' face -- the part of it that wasn't nuzzled into his armpit, anyway. He had already memorized the delicately curling crescent of those long, thick lashes, the way they curved against the pale cheek, the way they weren't quite black, but a softer color, like coal dust. Visible too was the tender curve of his mouth, still reddened and flushed from their loving. The soft in and out of his breath was warm and sweet against Duncan's skin.

Lower down, one elegant hand was spread against his chest, right over his heart, as if Methos wanted to keep the rhythm of it while he slept. The other hand was curled between them, pressing gently into Duncan's side.

Of particular interest was the sculpted line of pale thigh where it crossed Duncan's hips, tempting him with thoughts of future pleasures. The curve of his ass was just hinted at, disappearing out of view.

His most recent diversion was the discovery that he could move his right foot just far enough, without disturbing the sleeper, to gently stroke the finely made arch of the one pale foot within his reach. The results had been gratifying. He had found that five thousand year old men were particularly susceptible to stroking of that region of the body, emitting a most pleasing sound of delectation, very faint, much like the purr of a cat. He tried it once more, just to test the theory; sure enough, Methos hummed faint approval, snuggling very slightly closer.

On impulse, Duncan found himself whispering, "Methos?"

"Hmm?" came the sleepy murmur from the warm burrow Methos had made for himself.

Now I know.

It would keep, he realized, thinking better of the impulse. The words could wait for another time. It wasn't as if Methos could really be in any doubt.

And besides, Duncan wanted to be able to see his face.

"Nothing," he murmured back after a moment, smiling as sleep finally crept over him, pulling him down into soft, rain-grey darkness.

E P I L O G U E

The morning showers had blown over, finally. The sun was shining enthusiastically as Amanda stepped out onto the Avenue Montaigne, but it did little to improve her mood. Her usual prescription wasn't quite working, she concluded with a dissatisfied sigh. She'd been shopping for almost four hours, and she still felt like her heart had been run through with a dull blade.

She knew she'd done the right thing -- maybe the rightest thing she'd done in a very long time. It helped, a little, knowing that. And of course, there was always the hope that when the two of them settled down a bit there'd be room for a third now and then.

It was a somewhat cheering thought, but it couldn't ease the certainty that things would never be the same. Deep down, she'd always known it would happen; it had happened before, once or twice. But never before had Duncan given himself wholly to another Immortal the way she sensed he could with Methos. That kind of love between their kind was so rare, so impossible, and such a big, overwhelming thing that when it came, you took it and held on tight with both hands. She knew. She'd had a taste of it, and knew she'd been lucky for every moment.

She tightened her grip on her shopping bags and shook the sadness off before she could get really maudlin. When Ungaro and Christian Dior couldn't cheer her up, the day called for drastic measures. All the haute couture in the world was not going to help this mood, when what she really felt like doing was sitting down in a park somewhere and having a good cry.

No, she told herself firmly, what she really needed to do was go and get herself a full, head-to-toe makeover. And not just a trim either, but something dramatic: cut, color, style, manicure -- the works.

Yes, she thought, feeling better already. Just the thing. A makeover, and maybe a change of venue, too. At least for a little while. This side of the Atlantic had been getting a little stale, now that she thought about it.

And also, now that she thought about it... why not blonde?


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