This originally appeared in Futures Without End III. I'm very grateful to both Melina and Maygra for allowing me to be part of such an exceptional zine and for having been so enthusiastic about my early stories that I just kept writing <g>. And extra thanks to Melina for the final polish and last minute confusion wrangling.

As always, this is for Killa and Rache, my partners in crime and the very best of friends and betas. They keep me going and writing. I also dedicate this in part to Merry Lynne, who let me keep my almosts, though not without a fight, and whose HL renaissance is bringing joy to my heart and laughter to my lips on a daily basis. I'm laughing with you, hon, really <g>.

November 9, 1998

Of all the things that had changed, sometimes he missed the absolute darkness of unelectrified night the most. The lights of Paris pierced through the mist, denying any possibility of imagining he was anywhere but the late twentieth century. It was the same with the smells. A lot of people complained about the smell of exhaust and factories, but in some ways Paris smelled cleaner now than it had in centuries; the odors just tended to be less natural. For himself, he wasn't sure there was much to choose between open sewers and car fumes.

The fog, which had settled in on the river, left the air and everything it touched chilly and damp, and diffused the light from the street lamp at his back into a soft glow. He sat in one of the deck chairs, his empty glass dangling in his hand, listening to the muted sounds of laughter and quiet conversation from inside. The gentle rocking of the boat was almost soothing, more obvious on deck than it had been inside.

He'd needed to get out into the open air, away from the intimate setting of Mac's little dinner party, his celebration of friendship and survival. It had all started to get a bit emotionally claustrophobic for him. Methos had been away from this little coterie for months, and he kept feeling like he was standing outside looking in at something unknown, yet oddly familiar. Then he'd lose track, throw a quip for Mac to catch, and be surprised at how easy it was to just slide back into the groove. Less than two weeks and already Mac had almost lost his head once. The more things change....

He listened to the gentle slap of water on wood, the whisper of tires on slick pavement, wondering why he felt so...dissatisfied. After all, he'd gotten what he wanted, hadn't he? Everyone had survived Mr. Liam bloody O'Rourke, even that stubborn excuse for a hero, MacLeod, in spite of himself. And to top it all off, Mac had finally figured it out, hadn't he? Methos had received the acceptance he'd demanded.

I don't know who or what you are, Methos....

Of course you don't, you idiot, Methos mused, not without a certain amount of affection. Not after I climbed down off that pedestal you had me on, refused to be the wise old man. Like a sodding Pez dispenser, push the right button, and out pops the answer. That was never who I was. Who I want to be.

Okay, so Mac's declaration had been a little more fumbling, a little less warm than those he'd made to Joe and Amanda, but that was to be expected, wasn't it? They'd had time to adjust to this new incarnation of MacLeod, and they hadn't started from the strained, just-beginning-to-ease awkwardness that Methos and Mac had been struggling with at the point Mac -- what? Lost his marbles? Fell prey to some millennial demon? The former was easier to accept than the latter, at least intellectually, but Joe had been pretty convincing that something more had happened than yet another Immortal losing his fragile grip on reality.

And barring Mac's insane attempt at suicide at the hands of a vengeful Irishman, he seemed okay; actually, that was probably proof in itself that he was pretty much normal -- for Mac. In any case, his continued efforts to rip out the wall that had been building since Kronos' and Cassandra's appearances should have left Methos feeling less out of sorts than it had. A little warmer. Instead, he felt a chill that didn't come from the damp mist.

He sighed. Coming back to Paris had been a very bad idea. A year and a half he'd been gone, travelling a bit, teaching a bit, not thinking about MacLeod going insane more than anything else. And then the flag he hadn't been able to resist placing in the Highlander's Watcher file had been tripped in May. He'd tried not to think too much about the tremendous sense of relief that had settled into him just knowing Mac had surfaced, and he'd stayed away from his file after that...more or less. Then he'd spent even more time reassuring himself that no, he was fine, and he indeed would not like to give Mr. Dawson a quick 'hi, how are you, and oh, by the way....'

Bad enough Joe had caught him trying to access Walker's file without having to watch him smile as Methos asked about MacLeod. Although the former wasn't exactly an accident, was it? He sighed again as he watched someone walking his dog along the quay. No matter how good a liar he was, he'd lost the art of lying to himself quite so deliberately. Pity, that. Self-deception could be such a useful talent.

He still wasn't sure he was glad he'd kept in touch with a couple of his fellow post-doctoral students. He tilted back in his chair, looking wistfully into his empty glass, not quite ready to head back into the Highlander's lair. His breath left faint misty outlines in the cool night. No, honesty, the bitch, again made him admit that by the time he'd been offered the job, it was too tempting to pass up. He hadn't even had to think about it too hard. But he'd taken it slowly, going by Joe's first to sound things out, settling into his new apartment, taking up the teaching load that kept him busy enough to prevent him from thinking too much about going by the barge. Oh, he'd expected Joe to put his hand in -- he just hadn't expected it quite so soon. And he hadn't expected it to go the way it had.

November 5, 1998

He sensed him before he saw him and saw him before he heard him. As Methos walked down the steps into the club, his gaze went straight to Mac, easily finding him over and through the relatively few people there on a weeknight, even though the lights were low. Back angled to the door, coat over his arm, Mac stood talking to Joe, who sat slightly pushed away from the table, one hand on his cane as if preparing to rise to his feet. That probably meant it was about time for the second set to start.

Methos' first thought was Joe didn't tell me Mac'd cut his hair. His next was that Mac's neck looked far too vulnerable and exposed rising above his dark blue sweater. His third was untranslatable and had to do largely with the idiocy of a certain very old Immortal. He thought about turning around and leaving, but Mac already knew he was there -- without a doubt Joe had told Mac he was expected -- so it would only make a later meeting more awkward. Still, he hesitated and barely had time to start moving again before Mac finished turning around to meet Methos' eyes.

Mac's smile seemed genuine, if slight, but the warmth of his eyes was guarded by something Methos couldn't quite decipher. It wounded, even though there was less caution than Methos had expected. Whatever the welcome, just seeing Mac felt incredibly good. It was astonishing how good it felt, though Methos wasn't sure why it should have been such a surprise.

"Where the hell have you been?" Joe's welcome was as forthright and direct as the man himself. "You were supposed to be here two hours ago." Methos wondered if the interfering old coot had coordinated this meeting. It wouldn't surprise him a bit. Only a few days since their little unscheduled holiday together, and in the interim, Joe had been dropping hints like a pigeon decorating a statue. "Evening, Joe, MacLeod. You just arriving?" He nodded at the coat Mac had draped over his arm, looking him over briefly, resisting the desire to stare. He looked good -- leaner, but fit, and the new haircut was flattering. Methos flushed slightly as Mac returned the favor, but with more intensity. He felt a little self-conscious in his jacket and slacks.

"No, actually, I--" Mac tossed his coat down on one chair and pulled a second out to sit. "Join us?"

Methos didn't miss the look of satisfaction on Joe's face. Bingo. He ignored the glimmer of warmth he felt knowing that his arrival had forestalled Mac's departure.

"You didn't answer my question, and you've got--" Joe looked at his watch, "about two minutes to explain before I have to get back on stage." He beckoned to the waitress.

Methos walked around to sit next to Joe, feeling better with a table between himself and MacLeod. "Sorry, Joe, if I'd known we had a date, I'd have been sure to call." He cocked his head mockingly at the other man's snort. "Our departmental dinner ran late, and I didn't think it would be very polite to abandon them to join the boys down at the local pub, especially since I'm the new kid."

"Department dinner?"

Methos glanced up briefly into dark eyes, then used shrugging out of his coat and hanging it on the back of his chair as an excuse to look away. "Yeah, I took up a temporary position at the University when one of their professors went into premature labor. The scheduled substitute hadn't planned to be available for another month and couldn't get out of her own current position without a lot of trouble, so...." Methos wondered if it sounded like he was over-explaining, because it sure felt like it. He shrugged. "It's a job. Yeah, I'll have a...just bring another glass, thanks," he said to the waitress as Mac tilted the whiskey bottle in his direction. "Anyway, I couldn't call until I was already on the way here, so...."

Joe pulled himself up. "Yeah, well, you can make it up to me later. Now I've gotta go keep the masses entertained."

"Break a leg, Joe." Methos returned his sneer with an innocent look, taking the glass the waitress brought him.

Mac shook his head as he poured Methos a drink. "Only you."

Methos watched Joe leave, not quite ready to see those dark eyes on him again. "Only me, what?"

The only answer was a snort. Methos thought idly that he'd missed that incomprehensible sound.

They listened to the musicians tuning, then sat in a more or less companionable silence through a couple of songs. Blues filled the air, but the musicians' mood seemed mellow, allowing conversations to continue uninterrupted. It was soothing, and Methos found himself relaxing a bit. This was the first time he'd been able to make it to one of Joe's sets since he got back in town, and he found he'd missed Joe's music, too.

He watched the musicians, watched the waitress flirt with the bartender, and the whole time he was aware of Mac's considering gaze repeatedly returning to him, but he refused to turn around until he'd finished sipping his drink and had to, to get a refill. He glanced briefly at Mac, confirming the gaze, before placing his elbows on the table, fingertips of both hands holding his glass. He stared at the amber liquid, waiting for Mac to get whatever it was he was wanting to say said.

He felt hunched over, but he couldn't quite bring himself to sprawl back in his chair as he once would have. He was too tightly drawn together for that, almost nervous, though he hoped it didn't show. He didn't like being nervous around Mac; it was an unaccustomed sensation, and it made him too vulnerable. But it had been a long time, and he wasn't sure of his welcome. Things had just started to ease when Ryan's very messy death had changed everyone's lives. He hadn't seen Mac since that night, a very long year-and-a-half before. You wouldn't think, at his advanced age, that eighteen months could seem so very long, but.... He shied away from the thought. Whatever the reason, it had been a very long time, and people change.

Finally, Mac's silence got to him, crawling under the patience perfected by centuries of use and shoving it aside. "Something on your mind, Mac?"

Mac's eyes gleamed with amusement. "Nothing much. How have you been?" His warm voice betrayed nothing but curiosity, as far as Methos could tell.

"Oh, fine. You know me, I try to stay out of trouble." He winced inside, wondering if Joe had told Mac about their recent escapade. It seemed likely, even though Joe was more prone to pulling information out of people than offering it, at least not without some congenial arm-twisting. He realized that Mac was still watching him, shaking his head.

"That's not what I hear."

"Somebody's got a big mouth."

Mac's mouth curled slightly at one corner. "Joe loves a good story."

"Well, it wasn't that good. He needs better material." He was pleased at the brief smile flashed his way.

Mac was quiet for a moment. "I know you don't like to do that."

Methos flashed to Walker. Just because I don't like to fight, doesn't mean I can't. "I've nothing to prove, Mac, but sometimes they won't take no for an answer, will they?"

"No, they won't."

They sat and listened to Joe and the band for awhile, even that brief exchange easing some of the discomfort between them, unused conversational "muscles" stretching as they felt for the rhythm of an exchange that had once flowed so naturally. Methos noticed that Mac was nervously tapping one finger on his glass, and he wondered what was on his mind besides "nothing much."

"Mac, you--"


They both laughed uneasily. "Go ahead," Mac said.

Methos shrugged. "Wasn't anything, really. I was just going to mention the hair."

Mac ran one hand through his hair self-consciously. "Yeah."

"It suits you."

"Thanks. was time for a change." Mac swallowed down his whiskey and poured himself another, offering the same to Methos, who shook his head.

"Yeah, gotta keep up with the times. You were starting to look a little out of step, you know?"

"Thanks. That means a lot coming from someone so up on the current trends," Mac said with only the faintest hint of sarcasm.

"I'll have you know that in some areas I'm considered on the cutting edge."

"I think they just mean the sword."

Methos smiled. "Very funny." He sat for another moment or so, and when Mac remained silent, he prompted him. "What was it you were going to say, anyway?"

Mac's smile faded, and Methos wished he'd kept his mouth shut. He watched as Mac took a breath, frowned, and then shook his head, very slightly, as if trying to get rid of a fly buzzing in his face. When he spoke, Methos was almost certain it wasn't what he'd originally intended to say.

"Walker wasn't after you because of the Game, was he?"

Methos blinked at the question, his interest piqued, and shook his head, swallowing another drink. "No, not really; it was personal. The man knew how to hold a grudge. Although I'm sure he wasn't averse to the idea of my Quickening, either. Why do you ask?"

Mac shrugged, frowning down into his glass. "I don't know, really. Various things."

"Mac...Joe told me about you deciding not to carry your sword."

He smiled tightly before he echoed Methos. "Somebody has a big mouth." He looked up through his lashes. "Are you gonna yell at me, too? 'cause Joe and Amanda have already had their turn."

Methos shrugged one shoulder, lying back in his chair a bit. "He said you took it back up."

"Yeah. World doesn't let you alone. And...I wanted to live."

Methos looked at him in surprise, but Mac didn't look up, didn't make any other indication that the words he'd chosen had any significance for them. Methos exhaled slowly and said lightly, "There can be only one."

"That's what they say." Mac stared down into his glass again, as if looking for answers, swirling the golden liquid slightly before taking another drink. Then he looked up, his eyes following a couple who had just walked in.

Methos didn't think he really saw them; Mac's gaze was still turned more inward. He looked around himself, noticing that the club had filled up a bit, a soft murmur of conversation and the clink of glasses underlying the instrumental piece the band was currently playing. He turned back when Mac spoke.

"You think it's true?"

Methos sighed inwardly. He filled up his glass, figuring he was far too sober for this kind of discussion. "What's truth?" He cocked his head slightly, but Mac just looked at him silently. He took another drink before answering. He wasn't comfortable with the change in subject. He'd pondered these questions in his time, before resigning them to the sphere of intellectual puzzles, hypothetical questions that had no answer and were good only for mental exercise, along with questions concerning the existence and nature of God, pixies, and whether the French would ever admit that California could produce a decent wine. "If enough of us believe it, it doesn't matter whether there's any basis to the myth, does it? At least until one of us reaches the end and finds out otherwise?"

"Yeah, but do you think there's any Prize? Do you think there's any point to headhunting?"

"I don't know, Mac. There are times I'd swear that someone's Quickening gave me an edge I didn't have before I took it."

"So...why did you stop?"

Methos looked at him. "Who says I did?"

"You're the one who's always 'getting shy,'" Mac said, no accusation in his tone.

"Okay, you're right, I don't go looking for fights, mostly because you can't guarantee who's going to win. I prefer the odds to be really long in my favor before I throw the dice."

Mac smiled, rubbing one thumb along the edge of his glass. "How many Immortals do you think are like that? How many do you think actively play the Game?"

Methos blew out a considering breath through pursed lips. "Hell, I don't know." He thought for a few moments. "I suppose few enough, really. Most new field Watchers complain early on about how boring Watching really is. They're expecting fireworks and explosions -- literally. It disappoints them how dull most Immortals' lives are."

Mac nodded thoughtfully. "That's kind of what I wondered. Although I can't say that my life is particularly boring."

"Well, you are kind of the exception to the rule, you know. Joe has quite a bit of status in Watcher circles because of you." He grinned at the startled look on Mac's face.

"What are you talking about?"

"Joe's never told you?" Methos shook his head sadly, tsking softly. "Oh, they have betting pools on all kinds of things: whether various Immortals will come to blows if they come within a certain range of each other, whether one or the other of them will try and talk it out if they do, how long a given fight will last, who'll be the winner...and different Watchers gain a sort of status based on the reputations of their Immortals. I used to have a pretty good rep myself for handicapping."

Mac looked both fascinated and appalled. "You--? That's--! That's revolting!"

Methos shrugged, looking somewhat less cheerful. "We aren't quite real to them, Mac, even the ones who aren't like Horton. Individual Watchers can become very possessive of "their" Immortals. Even Joe's not immune." He refilled his glass, looking over to see that Joe was deep into his music, eyes closed, his head tucked over his guitar, body moving with the beat. "And the way we live, even if we do try and stay out of the Game as much as possible.... You're right. In my experience, especially these days, most of us don't 'play the Game.' Most of us aren't driven by that, anymore than most mortals are driven by a desire for world domination." He topped off their glasses and saw that Mac was intently focused on him. It was a heady sensation, after so long without that attention, and it led him to be more expansive than usual. Besides, it seemed a safer topic than most -- less personal.

"Most of us are just trying to get through the day, the week, the month -- the century. However, something about our mythology, about the Game and the Quickening and the Prize...some of us seem to end up feeling like we have some sort of divine sanction that lets us pursue our grudges and quarrels without regard to petty mortal notions of justice and decency." He noticed that Mac was no longer smiling. "Walker wasn't headhunting because of the Game, but because of the Game, any reason to want me dead was as good as any other, and any reason is justified before the Game."

Mac leaned back in his chair, fiddling with his glass, three tiny lines between his brows betraying his concentration. "And what about those of us who set ourselves up as judges for those who don't value life at all?" His voice was carefully neutral. "What right do we have to put ourselves above mortal law?"

Methos chose his words carefully. "It's a theory. It's all just theory, Mac." He took a deep breath. "We all have to make our choices -- and then live with them. And maybe, if some are going to flout mortal law, others have to make sure they don't get away with it."

Mac sat forward, leaning on the table. "But who has the right to make those decisions?"

Methos sighed in aggravation. "It's a good question. One of the best. Right--"

"Yeah, I know, right up with the chicken and the egg." Mac looked frustrated.

"It's the same question, Mac. I can't give you any answers."

"I know. It's just-- How many friends will I end up killing? So many people in the last few years--"

"I'll say; it's nearly impossible to get a decent bet on your odds. Your handicap is criminal." Methos deliberately spoke lightly, unable to resist, wishing desperately he'd just gone home.

Mac just glared at him sharply and continued, "--but very few of them seemed interested in the Game, as such. Like you said, personal grudges, individual quarrels...." He paused, swallowing. "What if the Game is something we made up, just to justify our own personal desires and vendettas? Our own judgments?"

"Then...I'd say we're part of a fine tradition of self-justification and rationalization." He looked down at his drink, trying to decide if another was in order. He was more than ready for this conversation to end. Didn't Mac know he had no answers? No matter how often Mac asked him the questions.

He could feel Mac's steady gaze on him, willing him to look up, and when he finally did, the look of mingled need and sorrow in Mac's eyes nearly did him in. The furrowed brow, the serious cast of his face, woke a long-buried desire in Methos to pull him close and try and soothe away his confusion.

Instead, he relented and tried to give the only answer he could, knowing it was cold comfort. "Mac, there is no way of knowing. And whatever you believe, it won't stop them from coming, if they want to come. You just have to decide how you're going to deal with them when they do."

Mac was silent for long minutes, and Methos had just decided that the cheery, philosophical conversation was at an end when he spoke again.

"Richie didn't want any part of the Game." Mac looked grim. "His death had nothing to do with the Game."

Methos was startled, the evocation of Ryan's name raising his ghost between them, along with the manner of their parting a year and a half before. He remained silent, for once utterly unable to come up with something to say and unwilling to give in to flippancy, the remembered pain on Mac's face too close to the surface.

Mac looked up at him briefly, smiled a troubled smile, and looked back down. "He talked once about racing starships together when he was my age."

Methos remained silent, his normal facility with language again deserting him, a burning ache in his chest.

Mac breathed in once, slowly, and looked at him. "I'm sorry, Methos."

Methos looked at him in surprise.

"After I...subdued Ahriman, I didn't want to have anything to do with the Game, with fighting, with killing. I put away my sword, and I thought that would be enough. If I didn't play, there could be no Game. If I hadn't played, Richie wouldn't be dead. But it didn't stop.

"I once asked you 'who judges me.' It took me awhile to figure out that in any way that matters, we judge ourselves." He looked back down at his empty glass. "I judged myself in Richie's death. wasn't fair of me to ask you to be my executioner." Mac looked back up, his eyes still troubled, but steady, and Methos realized how much thought had gone into this. "I've been asked to do that too many times. I know how it feels, and I'm sorry I did that to you."

"Mac, you didn't-- You weren't--"

Mac smiled slightly. His voice was rough when he spoke. "I know. And I'm still sorry." He reached over and laid one large hand on Methos', squeezing slightly.

Methos stared down at the large square hand lying on his. It was shockingly intimate, and he had trouble breathing. The touch, the words, and Methos remembered the soul-deep revulsion, the absolute denial that had possessed him when this man, a man he valued above...above so many he had known, had held up his sword to Methos, mutely begging for a swift, clean cut. He remembered working with Joe to clear the body, then watching Joe's solitary, drunken wake, bundling the Watcher into his bed, heading for the barge only to find it deserted, things tossed around, broken, as if someone had been raging about the room. He had been convinced that Mac had succumbed to some sort of insanity, and looking in his eyes now, he saw the remnants of remembered madness and the memory of the pain Mac had inflicted on others -- and he wanted to say something, anything, to ease that look.

"Maybe...maybe demons do exist, Mac."

"Oh, they do, Methos." Mac smiled grimly. "Some of them are even human."

The words, combined with the warm hand on his, caused the tightness in his chest to ease. Whatever had been the cause, the man before him now had been through a great battle and had come out on the other side stronger still, as the warrior he was. And he realized that Mac had done this very deliberately, setting him at ease, working his way around to bringing up those last events. Now it was there between them -- they didn't have to dance around that, at least. He laid his other hand on top of Mac's, returning the pressure, holding Mac's hand between both of his. In response he received one of the sweetest smiles he'd ever seen on that handsome face. It made his chest ache in an entirely different fashion.

It wasn't the worst thing between them. They had other, more human demons that lived there. And they might not talk about it much, about any of it. But there suddenly seemed to be a few more possibilities in the world.

"More champagne?"

Methos started, looking over into strangely calm brown eyes. He hadn't even heard the door opening, or the steps heading up to the deck.

After what he'd gone through, you'd think MacLeod would be a more...stirred up...but he seemed alarmingly at peace, had been when he'd called this whole shebang together a couple nights after walking off from O'Rourke's corpse, muttering something about "Never again."

For a while, Methos had figured he'd gone walkabout again, wondered what he was going to do with himself with the Highlander gone, and hadn't he felt pretty pathetic? He'd tried to tell himself that if Joe hadn't gotten back unexpectedly that day, hadn't wandered in during Methos' hack job, he'd have kept himself to himself -- but he knew better. Since when had he been able to stay away from Mac? Oh, he hadn't headed straight back to Paris after he knew that Mac had resurfaced, that whatever demons he'd been facing seemed to have been vanquished. He had more pride than that. It had been, what, five months? before he told himself he really had to get back to his life, stop this meaningless running around. And since when had his life been brown-haired and brown-eyed?

He still missed the hair. He looked up at the shorn head standing patiently in front of him with an open bottle. "Pulling out the reserves, Mac? Don't mind if I do." He let Mac pour him a glass, then lifted it in a toast.

"To not understanding."

Mac smiled. "Me, or you?"

"Does it matter?"

"I suppose not." Mac put the bottle down on the table before seating himself next to Methos, turning the chair around and straddling it, leaning his crossed arms on the back.

"Where are the others?"

"I think Amanda's regaling my Watcher with tales of indiscretion from my youth, if his drunken giggles are anything to go by. I judged that my presence was superfluous." He waved his glass around for emphasis before sipping from it.

"You were embarrassed."

Mac grinned. "You understand me too well." He paused, the amusement in his eyes dimming. "I'm not sure I understand you at all."

"I gathered as much." Methos' voice sounded dry, even to himself.

Mac looked at him, his head tilted. "I thought you'd be pleased about that. At least the bit about finally giving up that whole 'I know you better than you know yourself' routine."

Methos stared out over the barge. "You'd think I would be, wouldn't you?" A fish flipped and landed back in the water with a soft splash.

"So, what's the problem?"

"I'm not your bloody teacher, you know."

"Yeah, you keep saying that. Not your fault that knowledge just rolls off you in your wake." Mac's tone was pointedly serious.

"Oh, get over yourself."

"I will, if you will. Why are you sitting up here brooding? You angling for my job?"

"I've spent too much time with you, obviously."

"Oh, not nearly enough, I'd say."

Methos looked at him sharply, but Mac was looking down into his nearly empty glass.

"After all, I've just figured out how little I know you, and I'd like to, very much." Mac's voice was deep, quiet, containing much more emotion than was clearly expressed by the words.

As Methos watched in surprised silence, Mac tossed off the last of his champagne and reached for the bottle to refill his glass, then set the half-empty container on the deck between them. Then Mac turned towards him again, and Methos could see his diffident smile. He smiled back, warmed by Mac's words. "Sounds good to me."

Mac turned back to stare out over the river. "So, did I give you what you wanted?"

"Amanda gets reassured of her worth to you, Joe of his place in your life, and I get to be secure that my status as world's oldest puzzle remains intact, is that it?"

"Something like that. Mostly I wanted to tell those who mean the most to me where they are in my life." He took another drink. "I finally figured out that I don't have all the answers -- and neither do you. And I decided it wasn't very fair of me to punish you for that."

"About bloody time." Methos drained off his glass and held it out. "Give me some more of that."

Mac poured him another glass silently.

"And what brought you to this revelation?" Methos leaned back in his chair again, idly watching the boat that passed them and caused the barge to rock slightly.

"Oh, I dunno that it was any one thing." Mac paused, dragging one heel along the deck. "I've had a lot of time to think since...." He trailed off, then continued on, knowing Methos would know what he meant. "Then I had this dream, in the train yard. After O'Rourke shot me."

"Your life flashed before your eyes?"

"Not...exactly. A life, maybe. Actually, everybody else's life. It was supposed to be what everybody's life would have been like if I hadn't been there. If I'd never been born."

Methos laughed. "Isn't it a bit early for It's a Wonderful Life?"

Mac looked at him blankly for a moment, then smiled. "I never even made that connection."

"Well, it's not that great a movie, in my opinion."

"It makes for a very...interesting near-death experience." Mac looked thoughtful.

"So, what happened?"

"A lot of things. None of them very good. But it gave me a lot to think about, about how I view my life, my friends. It made me decide that I shouldn't assume people know how I feel about them. And I think it was the last piece of the puzzle for me where you're concerned." He sipped his drink. "Finding out about the Horsemen.... I was really disillusioned, you know that?"

Methos felt a flare of irritation. "What, finding out I was human after all? Illusions are dangerous things, Mac."

"I guess. I guess I expected that five thousand years was enough time to come up with something a little more sophisticated than stalling for time." Mac looked at him curiously, not reacting to the annoyance in Methos' voice.

"What are you talking about?"

"That day in the dojo."

Methos thought about that. "You mean Cassandra?" He was uneasy about the turn in conversation, but he didn't want to disturb the fragile new threads of understanding that had developed since his return to Paris. Maybe they could talk about this without stirring up the mud too much. After all, if he was going to hang around, it was going to come up sooner or later. And not hanging around...didn't seem to be his favorite option, anymore. As if it ever had been.

"Yeah." Mac looked out over the water, rather than at Methos, as if sensing Methos' uneasiness.

"I really prefer to avoid fighting as much as possible. I wasn't thinking."

"You were just reacting."

"Exactly. But if I had thought...I'd have done the same thing."

"Would you?"

"Yeah. What good would fighting her have done? Chances are I would have won, and...." He trailed off, knowing Mac wouldn't like what he had to say.

"And what?" Mac watched him, as if gauging his response.

"And what would you have done then?" Methos tossed the challenge to him.

Mac looked both thoughtful and curious. "It would have been a fair challenge."

Methos shook his head and took a drink of his champagne. "You would have expected me to let her go."

Mac nodded, almost reluctantly. "Probably. Just like she let you go when it came down to it."

"I'm not sure I could have done that for you."

Now Mac looked him in the eye, and in spite of his earlier claim of having decided he didn't know Methos very well, he looked fairly confident of what he said next. "I think you could -- but not for me. For yourself. You didn't want her dead."

"Don't fool yourself, Mac. I'd have killed her," Methos said, shaking his head at Mac's oddly charming innocence where he was concerned. He'd have thought that the revelations of Methos' past would have cured him of that, but there was no accounting for Highland stubbornness. And at the same time that it bemused him, it warmed him to think that Mac had somehow retained some of his high, if delusional, opinions about Methos.

"If she gave you no option, of course. But that's why you asked me to do something, wasn't it?"

Methos blinked in surprise. "Maybe."

Mac took a drink, refilled his glass. "Would you have told me, if she hadn't been there?"

"Told you what?"

"That you were in trouble?"

Methos watched the lights of cars driving along, thinking about the question. "I don't know. I hadn't planned to. But a lot of things I don't plan seem to happen around you."

"Well, at your age you can't be too careful about becoming complacent." Mac paused before speaking again. "Would you?"

"I don't know. Would it have made any difference?"

"I don't know. I suppose it depends on what truth you'd told me."

"I probably wouldn't have told you about Cassandra, you know. I think she loomed larger in Kronos' life than she did in mine."

"Really?" Mac's tone was disbelieving.

"I don't think I'd thought of her in centuries until I ran across her in your chronicles."

"I doubt she'd like to hear that."

"I doubt she'd like to hear anything I have to say."

Mac turned and looked at him, remembered pain in his face, and in his voice when he spoke again. "It wasn't about you, Methos. I don't think it was about Cassandra, either. It took me a long time to figure that out, why I could forgive John Kirin, who'd betrayed me personally, but I couldn't get past the fact that you'd let me down. That you turned out to not be the person I thought you were."

Methos felt cold fingers twining through his gut. "Well, we all have our burdens to bear."

Mac winced. "Let me clarify that. I was angry; you might have figured that out. But I thought I was angry just because there was this whole, incredibly huge part of you that I didn't know about, that seemed to contradict everything I thought I knew about you."

"Yeah, well, bloodthirsty apocalyptic figures and founts of wisdom can be hard to reconcile."

Mac's mouth tightened, and Methos felt surprisingly little pleasure at having pierced his serenity. Then the calm was breached, and Methos felt caught in a sudden storm, Mac's steady tones betrayed by the intensity with which he spoke.

"Can you stop being a smartass, just this once?" Mac breathed deeply, running one hand through his hair as he bowed his head, as if he couldn't look at Methos right then. "Did it ever occur to you, just once, that maybe, just maybe I was hurt that you didn't trust me? That the realization that you thought so little of me, that you thought I wouldn't be able to accept you if you let me know who you had been, cut so deep that I felt like my guts were crawling out of my body? Did it ever occur to you?"

Mac turned back to watch him closely, but Methos couldn't find breath to speak.

"It didn't, did it? You were so sure that I wouldn't be able to deal with it that you decided to preempt the possibility. You thought you knew me so well that you just took the choice right out of my hands. No need to bother idiot MacLeod with this choice, I'll just make it for him."

Methos was mesmerized. He shut his mouth with a snap when he realized it was hanging open, but he couldn't think of anything to say, rocked by the depth of feeling that Mac expressed.

Mac looked at him in surprise. "That's it, isn't it? You weren't sure of me, so you decided to make sure of me." He stood up and turned away in frustration. "You know, I was never sure if you were trying to drive me away, or make sure that I followed."

Methos wasn't sure what prompted him to speak when he was quite sure he'd decided he had nothing to say. "I...I'm not sure myself. I really do push me sometimes, Mac. I go in knowing exactly what I'm going to do if you do what I expect, and then it all goes to hell. You seem so damn predictable, but...." He knew he was repeating himself, but he couldn't seem to find anything else to say as he watched Mac stalk over to the rail to stare out over the water.

"You knew I'd come after you. You had to."

"Not at the time, no. Later I figured I should have known, should have realized that you'd go along with Cassandra."

"Oh, thanks a lot!"

Methos sighed. "I meant that I knew you wouldn't let her just come after us on her own -- for whatever reason."

Neither of them spoke for several long moments. Methos heard a car door slamming down the street, setting off a chain reaction of barking that mingled with the sound of Amanda's laughter drifting up from downstairs. He'd had to work to keep her from following Mac when he'd stalked off after O'Rourke's death. They'd ended up back at the barge, waiting. Methos had had a few bad moments remembering Richie's death, but Amanda and Joe had unintentionally distracted him, each of them wanting to be the first to tell Mac that he was never to do anything like that again. Even now, the absolute pointlessness of such a thing made him smile.

"You know, I tried to convince her you'd changed."

For a moment, having lost the thread of conversation, Methos thought Duncan meant Amanda. "You mean Cassandra?"

Mac nodded.

"I can't imagine you met with rousing success."

Mac shrugged. "I asked her if she'd ever thought about it. She...doesn't have a very open mind where you're concerned. At least, she didn't."

"With good reason, you know." Methos had long since come to terms with his past, but he knew all about having it come back to haunt you.

Mac shrugged, tossing back his drink. "Maybe. I don't think she carried it with her all these years, though. I mean, I think she was at peace, thinking you were all dead. It was just being confronted with it know how things can seem so immediate again, all the old feelings and pain. I wonder if Kronos didn't lure her along, arrange to have you all back together again."

Methos decided not to let Mac know that Kronos hadn't known that getting them all back together was possible. "It would be like him. He could carry a grudge a long time." He was slightly stunned to be sitting there, almost casually discussing the man whose appearance had torn apart their friendship.

Mac turned around and settled on the railing, watching him. "I did feel like you let me down. Like you lied to me."

Methos felt an unwanted and undeserved pang of guilt that transmuted into sharp anger. "Excuse me for living. I'm not here to hold you up, and I'm not going to sit you down and dig up every little thing in my past that might cause trouble."

Mac shook his head. "Lord, I don't know that I even want you to! My own past is plenty to deal with, obviously. I'm not saying that you did, at least not deliberately. And I'm not talking about Cassandra, or even Kronos. I'm talking about you and me. You did everything you could to get me to leave."

Methos laughed harshly. "Damn fine job I did of it."

"Didn't you? Whether you say you don't know, or not?"

"I seem to remember you were there at the time."

"No, I mean weren't you trying to get me to leave? You said that you should have known I'd follow, but did you?"

"When?" Methos knew he was stalling.

Mac continued on as if he hadn't heard the question. "It was a very good speech. I couldn't get past the pain at the time, but later I realized that it was a very good speech. Hit all my buttons just right." He sipped his drink. "I'm at a disadvantage that way, you know. You really do seem to know me pretty damn well. It feels like I'm always a few steps behind you, being led along."

Methos smiled uneasily. "You do okay." There were strong emotional currents in the air, but somehow it didn't have the feel of undefused violence that he might have expected from this conversation.

Mac smiled back. "Thanks, but it doesn't feel that way. You've spent the last few years being an enigma, saying one thing, doing another -- I don't know if you've been trying to convert me, educate me...." He gestured helplessly. "If you'd just stop with the wise man routine you say you don't do, telling little parables from which I, as ardent student, should draw answers and life lessons...."

"I do no such--"

"The Christians and the Lions? Your friend and the Inquisition?"

Methos felt a little sheepish. "Ah, but Grasshopper...."

Mac rolled his eyes. "And then there are all those discussions that try to subtly sway me to your way of looking at things. For someone who doesn't want to be a teacher, you sure do a whole lot of trying to educate. And yet I know you know that you'll never convince me that there aren't things worth dying for. Especially if I go by do as you do, not as you say." He smiled at Methos. "You talk a good game, but you're a lousy example."

"I don't want to be an example." He sounded petulant, even to himself.

"Then what do you want?"

Caught offguard by the question, Methos spoke without thinking. "Maybe I just want to be your friend."

"Maybe that's all I need you to be." Mac's voice was rough.

They sat there in silence for long moments, the truth of the exchange a palpable presence, something long unspoken now out in the open. Methos wondered if his vulnerability showed.

"Mac, it was all true."

"I know." Mac tossed off the rest of his glass. "What's your point?"

"I didn't lie to you."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Haven't we done this part already?"

"You never really answered the question."

Methos knew when Mac smiled that he looked caught.

"Thought I wouldn't notice, did you? Tough. If Cassandra hadn't come in, would you have told me? About being in trouble? About Kronos?"

Methos was silent, turning to put his glass down out of the way. "Probably not."

"Why not? Were you trying to protect me again?"

"I don't know."

"I don't believe you." In spite of the topic of conversation, Mac's tone was indulgent.

Methos decided another attempt at deflection couldn't hurt. "You're taking this all very well."

"I've had a lot of time to think about it, to wonder whether you were right or not."

"About what?"

"About knowing how I'd react."

Methos inhaled and opened his mouth to speak, but he was interrupted by an opening door and footsteps coming up the steps from below. He felt a surge of gratitude, since he wasn't sure what was going to come out of his mouth next. With any luck, the distraction would end the conversation -- for now, at least. He stood, thinking about cadging a ride home, which would postpone the talk indefinitely, give him time to think -- or come up with ways to avoid the issue entirely.

"Ahoy up there!" Joe called out. "Where's my host? I want to say goodnight, and this kind lady has graciously offered me a ride home." Amanda came up behind him, pulling on her coat.

Mac looked at Methos in time to see his speculatively raised eyebrow, and he grinned, sliding off the railing to say goodbye to his other guests. "Don't go anywhere this time, okay? We're not through."

Methos felt a goofy kind of warmth seep into him, knowing that Mac was deliberately echoing his earlier, harsher words. Besides, he hadn't really been ready to leave yet. He walked over to shake Joe's hand and accept an invitation to the club later in the week, and to get a hug and a kiss from Amanda while Mac saw Joe down the causeway.

"Everything okay up here?" Amanda looked up at him, head tilted questioningly, eyes concerned.

"I'm surprised you're leaving so soon."

She smiled. "I have an early flight out in the morning. I had some business to take care of before I was so rudely interrupted, and while I managed to postpone it a bit, it won't wait any longer." She stroked her hand down his sleeve. "Besides, I think he's okay, now."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I've been worried about him, all that stupidity about not carrying his sword; I was just sure he was still trying to get himself killed, after -- " She broke off, looking sad.

Methos pulled her close and rubbed his cheek along the top of her head. "I think he's okay."

She pulled back and sniffed. "You're staying?"

"For a bit, I guess. He's in a talking kind of mood, and I think I can put up with it for awhile."

"Good. You guys need to get things worked out, whatever's happened between you. And no, I don't know." The drawn-out lilt at the end of her sentence almost, but not quite, turned it into a question.

"Goodnight, Amanda. Have a safe flight." He kissed her cheek.

She scowled, then smiled. "Thanks." She hugged him tightly.

"Amanda!" Mac called from the embankment as a taxi pulled up.

"Coming!" She looked back at Methos. "Take care of yourself?"

"I always do."

She grinned in acknowledgment and was off down the causeway. Methos watched as she wrapped herself around Mac for a more intimate farewell, and he could just see the indulgent smile on Mac's face as he bundled her into the taxi and waved them off. Then Mac turned and looked up at Methos. Methos could tell by the expression on his face that he wasn't letting go of the conversation, much to Methos' regret, and some of the warmth he'd felt slipped away. It had been a long time in coming, but he wasn't sure it would do anything but hurt them both more. And he didn't want to hurt anymore, especially not where Mac was concerned.

He sat back down before leaning over to grab the nearly empty champagne bottle, upending it into his glass, not watching as Mac strode up the causeway, coming to a halt standing in front of him. They stayed that way for long moments, Methos resisting the urge to look up, thanking his long life once more for its lessons in patience and concealment. He hoped he didn't look as uncomfortable as he felt, hoped as well that this time he could withstand Mac's gaze. But Mac spoke first, forestalling the test.

"So, where were we?" Mac leaned back against the low roof next to Methos and crossed his arms.

"Sorry, can't remember."

Mac grinned. "Nice try."

"I don't suppose I could get you to change the subject, could I? Tell you raucous stories from my youth?"

"Oh, that's tempting. Maybe another time. But I think we have to -- " He stopped at Methos' raised eyebrow. "Okay, I think I have to get some things out in the open. I want to move on, Methos, and I want to clear things up between us, as much as I can."

Methos felt a twist in his belly at the finality of Mac's words, wondering what exactly moving on meant. "Talking doesn't solve everything, Mac."

"Neither does not talking, Methos."

"You're saying I don't have a choice?"

"Of course you have a choice. You can always leave...but I hope you won't."

Methos looked up into those dark eyes. "You don't play fair, you know."

Mac grinned. "All's fair in love and war," he said cryptically.

Methos felt breathless. "And which is this?"

Mac shrugged, his lips twisting in amusement. "That's why you have to stay. I'm still figuring that out."

He looked into Methos' eyes, his smile deepening again, his gaze roaming over Methos' face, and Methos knew he couldn't leave if he wanted to.

"So, I was saying earlier that you know me pretty well. You seem to have a remarkable facility for nudging me along, for knowing what I'm thinking." Mac crossed his ankles, stroking one hand up and down the opposite arm. "But what if you were wrong? What if I could have coped with learning your deep, dark secrets? What then?"

Had he even considered that? Dismissed it as too big a risk? "It doesn't matter at this point, Mac. It's in the past."

"You were so sure you knew how I'd react, so sure I'd push you out of my life, you never gave me the chance to find out."

"Mac, I--"

"I resent that. You know that? I really resent it."


"I mean, you may have been absolutely right. After all, it took me a few days with Kirin -- but then, his war crimes were a bit closer, a bit more personal than yours." Mac looked at him. "Do you really think I'm such an asshole?"

Methos shook his head. "Mac, I--"

"I mean, okay, it would have been a shock, and I doubt you would have known to mention Cassandra specifically, so that still might have been a touchy situation, but still--"

Methos' frayed patience broke. "Well, it doesn't exactly come up in conversation, does it? 'You know, that reminds me of the time I was a murdering bastard. Did I ever tell you about that?' Not exactly a party pleaser."

"I suppose not." Mac looked down at his hands. "Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Think I'm that much of a bastard, that I wouldn't have been able to handle it?"

"Mac, I...." Methos stopped.

"I think you're developing a stutter." Mac looked at him. "Why didn't you give me a chance?"

Methos sighed. "You're pretty well-known for not having a lot of sympathy for people who take life too lightly. Especially Immortals who are a bit too casual with mortal lives."

"And you thought I was too callow and judgmental to figure out that maybe, just maybe you weren't the same person you were all that time ago? That just maybe you weren't putting on an act for us all, lulling us until you could take up your bloody mantle again? Give me a break!" Mac's face, smiling and warm just minutes ago, was hard and angry.

Methos looked down his nose at him, his lips a thin line, certain that war had won out, exactly as he'd expected. He decided he was unwilling to prolong the agony, having always favored triage and the abandonment of lost causes. "Wouldn't you say," he said clearly and precisely, speaking through a throat that felt dry and tight, "that time's proved that one out?"

Mac stared at him as if he'd been slapped, then pushed himself up. "Fuck you. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on." He walked a few feet down the walkway, then stalked back, still holding his glass. He lifted it, looked at it, then smashed it against the wall while Methos watched him, impassive, braced for the return blow.

"Listen, you idiot, I wasn't reacting to the damn Horsemen, okay? I was reacting to you. To finding out that you didn't trust me. And that all that time, you'd kept this whole dimension of yourself a secret, after we'd talked about so many things, shared so many things. You spent a fifth of your life with this man, and he never comes up in conversation? The whole life just ceases to exist? God!" He paused, breathing heavily.

"It was my life, MacLeod! It wasn't any of your business!"

Mac turned and stared at him, his pain palpable. "Don't you get it, Methos? Don't you know that's why it hurt so damn much? It wasn't about Kronos; it was about us." Before Methos could react, Mac was off again and heading downstairs.

Methos sat there after the door into the barge slammed shut, bewildered by the sudden turns in Mac's composure. He sat in the stillness, watching the light skittering along the surface of the water, uncertain what to do. It was about us. He considered getting up and leaving, just walking away before any more damage was done, but something held him back. He felt too vulnerable to continue with this, but he was afraid that if he left he might not come back -- and the last eighteen months had been too lonely, a feeling that had subsided in the last couple of days. Still, he hesitated until he couldn't ignore the cold night any longer. Taking a deep breath, he picked up his glass and the empty champagne bottle and headed down the stairs.

Methos shivered in reaction to the warmth of the room as he came in from the outside chill. Mac had built up the fire, and it crackled and snapped its heat throughout the chamber, casting flickering shadows here and there, as did the gentle candlelight from the tall sconces scattered around the floor. Soft jazz spilled out of hidden speakers, and Methos saw that Mac had cleared away the empty glasses.

Mac was leaning against the bulkhead, staring out a porthole. He didn't react as Methos walked into the room, just sipped the glass of Scotch he was holding. Methos wandered over to the kitchen counter and poured himself one, draining half of it and refilling before moving over to the low box couch, not sure what to say, not even sure what he was doing there. He breathed in deeply, faintly smelling the oil and wood odors of the barge itself, the hot scent of the candles, and the remnants of dinner, and underlying it all, the scent of the man who occupied it.

He let the air out slowly. Things had gone downhill so fast. He should have known that anything they had to say to each other would always come back to Bordeaux, to the megalomaniac that had changed everything for them. Sunk in his own thoughts, he started when he heard Mac's low, rough voice.

"After it was over, you were so different, like the part of you that was Adam Pierson had gone away, and I wondered if I'd ever really known you at all."

Methos kept quiet, not sure how to respond.

"And then I thought about Alexa, about how you were with her. I thought about our meeting, you admitting who you were, offering me your head...about how you always seemed to be there for me when I needed you -- even if neither of us could have admitted that." He turned his head to look at Methos. "I wondered why. Why you kept coming back, what you wanted from me. I couldn't see why this five-thousand-year-old man would need my friendship, my...acceptance. After Kronos...I wondered briefly if you needed my acceptance of that, if somehow my being able to accept you after that would mean something special to you...but you didn't, did you?"

It was hard for Methos to say anything, and his answer sounded thick to his ears. "Need it? No. Not really. It's been a very long time, Mac."

Mac smiled grimly. "For you. It took me a little longer than we had at the time."

Methos just looked at him for a moment, feeling that insidious warmth that warmed him from the inside out, then continued, wondering at the inexplicable urge to stick his neck out again. "I might not have needed it, but...I wanted it."

The look Mac gave him warmed him further, but his words were cooler. "But you didn't expect it."

Methos sighed, remembering the earlier part of the conversation. "I've learned not to expect too much. It makes things...easier. It may not be fair, but...."

Mac looked at him with a fond sadness. "We've got to find you a better circle of friends, you know that?"

Methos ducked his head, contemplating his drink, but smiling slightly.

When Mac spoke again, his voice was more strained, more serious. "I think...I think that accepting the darkness in you, what you'd done...meant that I had to come to terms with the darkness in myself, and I wasn't ready for that." He turned back to stare out the porthole again. "I started to wonder, if that could happen to you...maybe it could happen to me."

"You're not me, Mac. I've never been the kind of man you are."

Mac turned an intent gaze on him. "People change, Methos. I knew that, but you made it clearer. For better, sometimes for worse. But I realized that part of the lesson I had to learn from you, part of what it meant to accept you for who you are, was to accept myself -- good and bad."

He paused, looking back out the window. "Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe what I had trouble dealing with wasn't you, at all, but something in me. Dealing with Ahriman...I had to accept myself. All of it, good and bad. I had to recognize that whatever I did at Culloden, or under the influence of the Dark Quickening, or under Ahriman's was still me. I have to accept it, learn from it, and move on, not let it control me."

Methos was quiet for a moment, trying to figure out the best response. "That's part of surviving."

Mac's teeth flashed whitely. "Maybe so. Maybe you'll teach me that lesson yet -- but you'll still never convince me that there aren't things worth dying for."

"There are a lot of things worth living for."

"Yes, there are. I'm just not convinced that living just for the sake of living is always one of them. I don't know that I think you believe it, either."

"It's what's kept me going."

Mac looked over at him and smiled. "I'm glad."

Methos felt that shock of warmth again, cutting through the emotional confusion of the evening.

"We're quite a pair, you know that?" Mac said.

"In what way?"

"We fight, thwart each other, match wits, test." Mac took a drink, looking at Methos speculatively over the rim. "Do you test me? You know, if you're not my teacher, you don't get to test me."

"Trust me, Mac, there's no test," Methos said, wondering if it was true.

"Then why do I feel like there is? Why do I feel like I fail, over and over and over?" Mac walked closer to Methos. His question sounded almost like a plea.

"Maybe because you're still trying to live up to some noble image of me you've created!" Methos surged to his feet, unable to keep still, feeling Mac's closeness pushing at him like some sort of magnetic repulsion. For some reason, letting him get too close seemed like a bad idea. "I don't know, Mac. We all have our own demons. Maybe yours push you a little too hard."

"Or maybe I'm just trying to live up to your image of me." Mac smiled when Methos stopped to look at him. "It's damn hard work."

"What image would that be, exactly?" Methos asked carefully.

Mac laughed. "You know, I start to think that maybe you don't know me as well as you think you do. You put me up on my own pedestal, looking for some kind of inhuman nobility, some kind of storybook hero, and then you try and tell me that heights are dangerous, and I could fall." He walked closer to where Methos was standing, and Methos didn't seem to be able to move. "I'm not sure you know whether you really want me to change, or not." He looked into Methos' eyes, his own bright with amusement. "Do you?"

"Don't be an idiot. Why on earth would I want you up on a pedestal?"

Mac shrugged. "Hell if I know. Why don't you tell me? Why am I 'too important to lose?' What is it about me that makes you think I'm the best of us? If that's not having pretty high expectations of me, I don't know what is. It's like you've already awarded me the Prize, and you're damn well going to make sure I live to collect it." He smiled. "That's comforting, in its own way. At least you'd have to stay around to make sure." His voice lowered, his tone rich and mellow. "I could live with that."

Methos flushed. "I just don't want to see you throw your life away on some pointless cause, that's all."

"I'm not sure you get to decide what's pointless for me," Mac said. "Why is it so hard for you to accept that those very things you think make me foolishly honorable are the same things that attract you to me?"

Methos stared at him. "What on earth are you talking about, MacLeod? I think you really have lost your mind."

"Have I? Am I crazy to think that there's got to be some reason you keep turning up in my life, something more than propinquity, or amusement value? Or even a desire for simple friendship?"

Mac didn't move any closer, staying a few feet back from where Methos stood, but Methos felt trapped, anyway, his heart speeding up, his breath coming faster. He struggled to maintain his calm. "Don't be ridiculous."

"Why would it be ridiculous? You have to admit, we've always had a strong effect on each other."

Methos shrugged with deliberate casualness, moving over to refill his glass -- and to get away from Mac. "So do animals fighting over females, or territory. Maybe we just push each other the wrong way." He turned around to find Mac right behind him and stepped back until he was up against the counter.

"It doesn't feel like enmity to me. Does it to you? Or are you just more comfortable viewing us as potential enemies? Me the hero, you the villain. There can be only one." He took a step closer before speaking again. "After all, heroes don't fall for the villain, do they?"

Methos' heart lurched uncomfortably at that, his gut churning, the heat from Mac's body palpable even through Methos' clothes, and he pushed past Mac so he could breathe. Unwilling to rise to Mac's level of intensity, unable to respond seriously to such a ludicrous statement, he took refuge in speech. "Of course they do. Just look at arch-enemies; they care more about each other than anyone else in their lives. Love and hatred are both fueled by passion; you get too close, you can't tell the difference." Too late, Methos realized that he hadn't helped matters.

"You can't tell me you hate me, Methos. I won't believe it. And if you don't hate me...." His voice trailed off.

"I didn't mean anything like that. I was just pointing out the error of your statement."

"I see."

Methos wasn't sure what it was he heard in Mac's voice, whether it was discomfort, or amusement. He turned to see Mac leaning back against the counter himself, those dark eyes on him again, considering him, as if Mac was debating whether to let him get away with his statement.

Apparently deciding he would, Mac's next comment was more casual, though it had an odd edge to it when he asked, "Is that what happened with you and Kronos?"

This time, Methos' discomfort flared into anger, subsiding quickly into a weary ache. He didn't want to get into this again, knowing it could only end badly. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Let's not--"

"I-- I'm sorry. Yeah, you're right. It's...none of my business." Mac turned away, walking over to throw some wood on the fire, backing down.

Methos felt both relieved and disappointed, and found himself pursuing the conversation he'd wanted to avoid, remembering Mac's words to him on deck: Don't you know that's why it hurt so damn much? Maybe it still wasn't his business, but.... "It's not that, Mac, it's-- It wouldn't make any difference. You know that.'s not an explicable thing. How could I possibly make you understand what it's like be with someone that long?"

"Too much commitment, huh?" Mac stared down into the fire.

Methos winced, thinking that it was a criminal understatement. "Something like that."

" much of it was simply to have something that endured?" Mac looked at him.

Methos heard the wistfulness in Mac's voice and took a sharp breath, the comment piercing him in a manner that was not entirely painful. "I honestly don't know."

"Is he part of the reason you...stay away from other Immortals?"

Methos wondered if he imagined the intensity in Mac's voice. He sat back down while he thought about his answer. "Probably. It's ironic, but I think it's harder for us, for Immortals, to change -- and if we don't change, we die. It's...too easy to stagnate with another Immortal, hard to immerse yourself in the present, because you look at them, and you see the past brought to life -- and you can lose yourself in that. And what happens to a man who starts to forget who he is? Who loses his grasp of himself inside someone else?" He took a drink before continuing, memories drying out his throat.

"You get to know each other so well you don't even see each other anymore. And then one day you wake up and realize that you're complete strangers. That you're even a stranger to yourself." He realized he'd said much more than he intended, revealed so much more, but he couldn't regret it. Some deep part of him wanted Mac to understand; he just wasn't sure if it was his self-destructive aspect, or his survival instinct. Getting involved with other Immortals was a really bad idea. Another lesson Mac hadn't learned very well yet.

Mac was quiet, considering Methos' words before he spoke again. "In, whatever it was, you were together again."

Methos looked at him sharply. "With him?"

"Caspian and Silas weren't there, but the two of you were doing a good job on your own."

"How...illuminating. And how did this come about?"

"Horton. He killed a woman you loved, another Watcher who hoped that revealing you to him would make Horton understand that Immortals weren't evil."

"Sounds like a brilliant girl," Methos said dryly.

"She was trying to protect you. Instead, she died, and you almost did, too -- until Kronos arrived like the cavalry."

Methos pondered this revelation. "And what do you think this means? Do you think I'd have picked back up with Kronos, given the right circumstances?"
"I...don't know. I'm not sure you do, either." The last was questioning as Mac turned to look at him again.

Methos looked at him, then shook his head slightly as he looked back down. "I would never attempt to predict exactly what I might do in order to survive."

Mac shook his head. "This was different, Methos. This wasn't survival, it were just like Kronos, cold, ruthless, reveling in the destruction, the power...."

"How attractive." Methos felt cold inside again at the image Mac painted.

"And killed Richie."

"I killed him?" Methos looked at him in surprise.

"Yeah. And I felt so much anger, such rage.... I wanted to kill you. And so much pain...."

Methos waited, hearing the echo of that pain in Mac's words, realizing that he was talking about more than his vision.

"All those feelings that I never let myself feel towards myself for killing him."

"It wasn't--" Methos wasn't sure exactly what he was going to say, how he was going to reassure him. In spite of Joe's belief, he still had some trouble with the idea of an ancient demon having driven Mac's actions. It would be so easy to believe, much easier than the alternative, which scared him to death. He wasn't sure he could handle losing Mac to the kind of instability that preyed on too many Immortals.

"I know. In a way, it wasn't me. But it was my fault, still. I was a tool, but I let myself be used." He smiled tightly at Methos. "That's what I've been thinking about for the last couple days, among other things, why my mind made you the tool of Richie's death, why all the people I saw in my vision were lost without me in their lives." He hesitated, then spoke again. "Have I always been so incredibly arrogant?"

Methos looked up at him, squinting. "Sure you want me to answer that?"

Mac flinched slightly. "I think you just did."

Methos relented. "I think...being the kind of man you are requires a certain amount of arrogance. And it's not like I don't have my share, you know."

"And what kind of man is that?" Mac ignored the last part of his statement, moving to set his glass down on the table.

As he thought about his answer, Methos recognized that there was more than a trace of truth in Mac's idea that he had built his own pedestals, and the thought shook him. When exactly had Mac become that important to him? "The kind of man...who cares about doing what's right. The kind of man who was raised to care for other people."

"And what's your excuse?" Mac's voice was soft.

Methos felt an odd twinge and retaliated snidely in self-defense. "Oh, don't go making me as noble as you are, Highlander."

"Don't go making yourself into the romantic villain, then, Horseman."

Methos wasn't sure whether to laugh, or throw a fit, until he saw the humor in Mac's eyes, and he recognized the desire to lighten the conversation. "But what's more romantic than Death? And on a horse, yet?"

"You have a point." Mac smiled.

Methos paused, not quite sure what he wanted to say. Needing to move, he got up and walked over to stir up the fire before he spoke again. "I mean it, Mac. I'm not noble; I'm not a hero. I know it's hard for you to accept, but I'm just a guy. A really, really old guy who's done a lot of things you don't want to know about." He picked up his drink again and thought about reclaiming his seat on the couch, but decided to remain standing, the odd tension in the room making him restless.

Mac smiled slightly. "Ah, self-indulgent wallowing; I thought that was my territory."

"Yeah, well, you're obviously growing on me."

"Good," Mac said.

Methos raised an eyebrow.

"It's nice to know it's mutual."

Methos felt the tension ratchet up another notch. "You're welcome," he said sarcastically. "Anyway, I'm not the villain in this reel, oh Dark Avenger. I'm more of the heedless sidekick."

Mac moved closer, eyeing him up and down. "You'd look pretty cute in the tights."

Methos felt breathless again, caught by an odd mixture of panic and anticipation. "Well, holy hand grenade, Mac. You say the nicest things." Off balance, he blundered on. "I did always wonder about the Boy Wonder and his Caped Crusader. I think it was the costumes."

Mac smiled. "And what about us?"

Methos' breath caught at the abrupt change of direction. "What do you mean?"

"Did you ever wonder about us?" Mac moved to stand next to him.

Methos could feel the heat from Mac's body again. His heart sped up, and he couldn't look at Mac, staring down into his drink, instead. "Maybe. Once or twice. In idle moments."

Mac's voice was a little unsteady when he spoke. "I have. A lot. I...I think that's why it hurt so much."

Methos turned to him. "Duncan, I'm s--" He was stopped by Mac's fingers on his lips.

"Shhh. I'm not looking for any apologies, Methos."

His eyes were on Methos', his fingers still touching Methos' mouth, and Methos felt a mad desire to touch his tongue to the tips. Then the fingers were sliding along his lips, outlining them lightly before the broad palm curved around his cheek, the rough thumb taking up the task of tracing his mouth. He was grateful when Mac's eyes dropped to watch what his thumb was doing, though his breathing was still unsteady. With a jolt, he realized that Mac's was, too.

"You're right, Methos. Talking probably isn't going to solve anything." Mac's mouth curved slightly. "I guess I was hoping that we could get this all behind us, move on to more important things. But it is behind us, isn't it?"

"What--" When he spoke, his lips brushed more firmly against Mac's thumb, and the desire to pull it into his mouth was almost impossible to resist, so he reached up to catch Mac's hand, holding it away from his mouth, but not quite pulling it away from his face. "What kind of important things?"

Mac's smile widened briefly, then the touch of his thumb, which Methos already missed, was swiftly replaced by his mouth, pressing lightly once, then twice, clinging slightly before Mac pulled back, leaving his hand to frame Methos' chin. "Things like that. Am I moving too fast?"

Methos shook his head slightly, running his tongue over suddenly dry lips, dizzy from the emotional turmoil in and around him.

"Good. more apologies, on either side, okay? We're square, everything's cool, yes?" He nodded as he spoke, and Methos found himself nodding along with him. Then Mac frowned slightly, and Methos found himself wanting to reach up and smooth away the little creases that formed.

"We hurt each other, because neither of us knew if we could really trust." Mac slid his hand down along Methos' throat, and Methos arched into the touch as Mac spoke again. "I'd like to change that, if you'll let me. If you'll help."

"I...suppose I could work on that." He felt the rumble of his voice against Mac's palm and barely noticed that Mac took the glass from his suddenly stiff fingers to set it down.

And then Mac moved forward again, and it seemed like the whole evening had been leading to this. All the intensity, all the dancing with words and trying to find explanations -- it all dissolved into this kiss.

It was warm and soft and inviting, but not demanding, and all the tension Methos had been feeling suddenly seemed to turn on the meeting of their lips. There was a hint of passion in it, but Mac was letting Methos set the pace, letting him choose. And if he hadn't quite admitted it before, the choice was suddenly quite clear. He slid his hands up to tangle in Mac's hair, sparing a wistful moment to miss the length again. But only a moment, and then he was quite too busy to worry about such unimportant details.

His response seemed to wake Mac's ardor, as if he'd only been waiting permission, and then Methos was drowning in moist heat and the smoky taste of Scot-filtered Scotch. This time there was open passion -- and hunger. Mac held nothing back and expected nothing less of Methos, and Methos found that he had a hunger to match, all of his curtailed desire and sublimated need rising to feed off that kiss. He was pulled close as Mac's hands sculpted the muscles of his back, shaping him anew. He was swimming in the heat and scent of Mac's body, and when an avid groan reached his ears, he wasn't sure who had let it escape. His body urged a fierce response, overriding the warning bells his more reluctant mind was vainly trying to ring before it capitulated as well.

He slid one thigh between strong legs, pressing against an answering hardness that instantly dispelled any thoughts of wishful thinking and set him to rubbing helplessly, wishing that Mac's hands would pull him tighter still. One of Mac's hands slid into Methos' hair, tilting his head, while the other curved over his ass and pulled him in tight, as if Mac had read his mind. The blunt fingers massaged him through his slacks, triggering new aches and new desires. Then he was gasping for breath as Mac's mouth moved along his cheek and over his ear to press hot kisses up and down the sensitive flesh of his throat. Nothing more intimate, yet Methos knew he could come from that alone. The thought had him shivering uncontrollably.

I guess the rutting males metaphor wasn't too far off, Methos thought muzzily, moaning at the feel of Mac licking and nipping at his throat, the increasing intensity of the touches accompanied by the rough thrust of Mac's thigh against Methos' painfully aroused cock. It was as if their mutual admission of desire had burned away any restraint they might have had, though Methos had a faint suspicion that Mac was less surprised by the whole thing than Methos himself was. Though Mac's passion was undeniably real, Methos sensed that he was capable of more control than Methos could find in himself. He slid his hands up under Mac's sweater, only to find the touch of heated skin more undermining to his own control than to Mac's, although he was pleased by the sultry murmurs that reached his ears.

"Touch me."

Methos shivered as the words were whispered hoarsely into his ear, followed by a probing tongue that sent warm shocks through him. "Duncan--"

"I want you to touch me, Methos."

At that moment, he couldn't have named anything he wanted more himself. He slid a hand between them, fumbling with Mac's belt, pulling his pants open roughly before gently, teasingly sliding his palm along the hard length of flesh under Mac's briefs. That earned him a sharp nip on his earlobe and an exquisitely pleasurable thrust against his own straining cock.

"God, you are such a tease."

Sliding his hand further down, he cupped his fingers under Mac's balls, pulling them up to lightly press and squeeze them against Mac's cock, earning a throaty moan and a sucking, biting kiss at the curve of his throat that had him sliding his hand up roughly and plunging it in against bare flesh.

The sound Mac made then was totally incoherent and eminently satisfying. And then Methos wrapped his hand around Mac's cock, craving the other man's pleasure as much as his own, his mind still numb with disbelief that this oft-dreamed of, vainly hoped for intimacy was actually happening. He squeezed, and Mac pressed his hips up, urging more. Methos responded, sliding his hand along hard flesh, feeling the brush of sweat-dampened skin and wiry hair, both stimulating his own desire.

A hungry growl, and Mac was working his passion out on Methos' throat again, sending shocks of pleasure straight to Methos' greedy cock. His stroking hand, caught between the press of their hips, added to his own enjoyment, and he was too soon over the edge. He stilled, feeling the pleasure shuddering through him, everything dimmed so that his whole focus was on his throbbing cock and the press of Mac's body against him. He arched, groaning, hips pressing as he spilled, then dropped his head forward, his body liquid with release.

Mac's whimpers were his first sign that his own pleasure had turned to Mac's torment. Lost in his climax, he had stopped his stroking, and Mac was breathing deeply, patiently. He continued to brush his mouth along Methos' neck, sending small jolts through Methos' over-sensitized body, but the tension of his own body revealed his need. Raising his head from where he had dropped it onto Mac's shoulder, Methos found Mac's mouth, drinking in the whimpers that changed to satisfied moans as he sought and found the other man's rhythm, breathing in the scent of their mingled arousal, his body still tingling with his own dazed response, his mouth now seeking to satisfy.

Then Mac pulled back to gasp and groan, sharply thrusting once, twice, three times into Methos' slippery hand as he came. Methos felt the warmth of semen spill between them and found his mouth watering, his eyes rapt on Mac's face, which was contorted into that oddly pained look of orgasm.

It was a sight Methos had never thought to see, and it was beautiful.

He continued idly and loosely stroking until Mac's hand caught his, small aftershocks indicating that the touch had become too much to bear. Staggering slightly, Mac pulled him down onto the couch, disregarding any potential staining of the upholstery.

Mac lay there with his eyes closed, and Methos watched him, drinking him in, inhaling him, being with him in this entirely new and unexpected way. The tension between them had vanished, at least temporarily. Anticipation and anxiety had transformed into satiation, though it probably wouldn't last. Sex didn't solve everything, any more than talking did -- but it felt like everything was better. His older, wiser self was quick to assure him that the fact that their entire relationship had just become delightfully complicated was sure to produce more anxiety once they were past the satisfaction of the moment, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

He reached out and brushed a heavy lock of hair from Mac's face, smiling himself when his caress prompted a slight upward quirk of Mac's lips. He was unable to think of anything to say, and yet he found his mouth opening and words coming out, regardless. "I suppose you know that you're going to have to pay the dry cleaning bill for these slacks. And loan me something to go home in."

Mac's eyes popped open, startled, and then he was laughing, and Methos was laughing with him. It was a wonderful moment, both of them relaxed and unguarded, years of mutual uncertainty resolving into the certainty of their mutual need. Then they weren't laughing, they were looking at each other, and though the tension had eased, Methos wondered what they hell they were going to do now.

Mac apparently had some ideas as he leaned over to kiss him again -- and Methos decided it was a pretty fine idea, losing himself again in the once more gentle, searching mouth. Then Mac pulled back and looked him up and down, bringing a hand up to rub against the damp front of Methos' slacks. "I'll worry about that in the morning, if that's okay with you?"

Something inside Methos sparked to sizzling life again at the look in those dark eyes, and he nodded wordlessly.

"Good." Mac kissed him again, leisurely, his tongue lazily learning Methos' responses while his hand dispensed with shirt buttons until it could curve warmly along Methos' ribs and flick a thumb idly against his nipples. He could feel Mac smiling against his mouth when the latter brought a gasp of response. Then his mouth replaced his thumb, and all of Methos' nerves awoke from their state of post-orgasmic contentment into ravening life again.

He moaned contentedly, stroking his fingers along Mac's cheeks and neck, sliding them through his hair, oddly surprised at how little time it took. "You've cut your hair." He was as surprised at the words as Mac seemed to be when he looked up in fond exasperation. He could feel himself blushing. He'd never thought of himself as a hair fetishist before, but Mac's haircut seemed to occupy an inordinate amount of his attention lately.

"You've only just noticed? No, wait, we've been through that already. Or are you planning on fixating on it?"

Methos smiled. "Yeah, I think I might. I guess I just always thought there'd be more hair."

Mac's smile dimmed, but the look that replaced it took Methos' breath away. "Always? In those idle moments?"

"Yeah." He stared down at Mac, the dark head resting with his chin on Methos' belly, his body extending down onto the floor, his arms braced on either side of Methos' hips. "Is that really comfortable?"

Mac grinned. "Oddly enough, yes. I think almost anything would feel comfortable right now." He kissed Methos' stomach. "I could grow it back out, you know."

Methos caught his breath at the implicit promise, something he wasn't quite ready to respond to, yet, nor ready to dismiss. He shrugged. "I like it the way it is, it just takes some getting used to."

"Ah. Good. I'll let you have as much time as you need." Mac kissed his belly again, then climbed to his feet, seemingly unaware of his rumpled, exposed state. He held a hand out to pull Methos up, giving him another quick kiss when he'd succeeded. "C'mon, I think we could use some cleaning up."

He steered Methos to the bed. "Get out of your clothes, I'll get something to clean you up with."

Methos flushed, and Mac grinned. "Hey, I'm flattered."

"Gee, thanks." Smiling wickedly, Methos pulled him in, his mind clear enough to focus on wiping the smirk off Mac's face. When he pulled back, Mac looked merely stunned and had to clear his throat several times before any sound came out.

"I'll, uh, just go get that...." Mac smiled again, tripping slightly over his shoes as he backed up. "I'll be right back."

Methos sighed in satisfaction as he stripped off his soiled clothing, watching Mac move to the galley and back. He laid back on the bed as Mac returned, caught by an unexpected shyness as he saw the heat in Mac's eyes as they ranged over him. He held out his hand for the cloth, but Mac shook his head, then sat and carefully wiped him clean, and Methos wasn't sure if it was the warm heat of the cloth or the look on Mac's face that sent shivers through him. He felt vulnerable again, but this time it was a pleasurable feeling.

Then Mac bent and kissed him lightly. "I'm going to put the candles out, you wait right here."

"What else am I going to do? You've got my clothes. Speaking of which...." He tugged on Mac's sweater. He knew he wasn't alone in feeling vulnerable as Mac flushed, but stood, and stripped his clothes off, watching Methos as he did. His actions were matter of fact, not teasing, but no less enticing for that.

He was leaner than Methos remembered from those few times he'd seen him before, sparer. No less powerful, no less attractive, but streamlined, as if his trials had refined him and pared him down to the essentials.

"I wasn't expecting this, you know." He looked up into Mac's eyes.

"I know. I...I didn't know if you'd come back."

Methos smiled slightly. "Neither did I. I should have known better." He smiled in response to the grin his words elicited. "Go on, get the candles."

He leaned up and watched as Mac padded around the room, extinguishing the candles, banking the fire and putting up the screen. He was completely unselfconscious, primal, and maddeningly beautiful. Methos shook his head, wondering when exactly he'd lost his mind and deciding he'd wait for morning to look for it.

Mac came back, emerging out of the darkness of the main area of the barge, looking nothing like a rising god and entirely like an all too human, all too desirable man. Methos slid to the side of the bed as Mac blew out the last of the candles at the base of the steps, the light coming through the partially closed blinds casting gentle shadows on the bed. He felt awkward again, not sure what to say, what to do. Their talk had so quickly turned physical, and the very ease of it was oddly uncomfortable.

Mac seemed to have no such problem, though, sliding next to him, pulling up the comforter to shelter them and pulling Methos close, dropping a kiss on his awkward lips. "Relax, Methos. This can't be all that new."

"In general, no. With you...." But the words eased his discomfort, and he was distracted by the easy slide of Mac's legs against his, the hands that drifted over bare skin. He rolled on top of Mac, looking down at him, enjoying Mac's contented smile and responding with one of his own before bending to taste those smiling lips. Soon kisses turned more passionate, their bodies sliding together now easily, now clumsily, trying to find rhythms that didn't collide. Methos pulled his legs up to give him leverage, straddling Mac's hips, and then it was there, a smooth, rocking motion punctuated by sighs and moans, a rhythm like the rocking of the barge on the river.

The cloth was cold this time when they used it, but Methos was so close to sleep he didn't care.

It was barely light when he awoke, and it took him several moments to realize not that he was alone, but that he shouldn't be. He lay there for a while, thinking back over the night before, wondering what had been left unsaid that would ambush them later, what madness had possessed them both, and whether it was a Dionysian moment that Mac was even now regretting in the cool dawn light.

He could tell that Mac wasn't far away. Coffee scented the air, and although he couldn't actively feel his Presence, there was a...lack of it that was missing. Climbing out of bed, he hunted around until he found a robe, pulling it on along with a pair of thick socks before braving the chill outside air where he assumed Mac was brooding. He found him at the bow, leaning on the low roof and sipping a cup of coffee, staring off into the lightening sky.

"Care to share?" He moved towards the prow.

Mac turned and smiled. "You could have gotten a cup of your own."

"I would have had to take my hands out of my pockets to do that." Methos started to settle in next to him, but Mac pulled him in against his chest, sliding one hand around his waist, bending to kiss the spot where throat and shoulder met. Methos shivered in remembered and renewed pleasure.

"Your pockets?" Mac tugged lightly at the robe with his teeth.
"You owe me, remember?"

"Ah, yes. I believe I do. You're going home in my robe?"

Methos settled back against him. "I'll swap it later."

"Mmmm." Mac sipped his coffee, sighing when Methos cleared his throat. "Help yourself."

"Move it closer, then."

"You've got to be kidding."

"My hands are cold. If you'd stayed in bed like any normal person...." He drank from the cup as Mac held it for him."I couldn't sleep." Mac set the cup down on the roof and wrapped both arms around Methos, tucking his head against Methos' cheek.

"I see. Because of this?" Methos shrugged, indicating their closeness.

"No, not at all. I slept very well because of this. I just woke up early." Methos could hear the smile in his voice.

"Then what?" He tilted his head as Mac nuzzled his throat. This all seemed too easy, and he didn't trust it. Whatever had woken Mac up, he was sure that it involved him somehow. They were alone in the early light, apart from the occasional early delivery truck and a couple of masochistic joggers braving the mist-slickened pavement. "Mac, what is it?"

Mac cleared his throat, and Methos knew that he was right.

"I'm thinking about selling the barge."

For a moment, Methos couldn't hear anything but a strange rushing in his ears, which he finally figured out was the rush of his own blood, pushed by a suddenly overactive heart.

"I sold it once, you know, but it didn't stick. I couldn't let go."

Methos nodded, thinking fast, clamping down on his growing anxiety. "I'm assuming you don't mean you're just going to trade it in on a flat, or a house in the suburbs."


"I see." Methos was quiet, assuming that Mac would say more when he was ready.

"The dojo is already sold."

Methos nodded again. "Yeah, I knew that. Joe took care of it while you were gone, didn't he?"

"Yeah. I left him a note. I didn't think...I didn't think I could go back there, after Richie...."

Methos pulled a hand out to squeeze Mac's arm. "I'm not surprised."

"I think I've held on too long here. After Tessa died, I sold the store, but I wasn't ready to let go completely. I'd gotten so used to being settled, I forgot what it was like to feel the wanderlust."

Methos understood completely, but he didn't say anything more. He was too busy keeping a rein on the feelings roiling through him, leaving him slightly nauseous.

"And then, before I ended up in Malaysia, I started to remember." He paused, and his arms tightened around Methos. "I almost didn't come back to Paris at all. I knew I had to, but...then I realized that if Ahriman was real, it didn't matter where I went. No matter where I went, I'd take him with me, until I'd faced him." His arms relaxed, as if it were his memories he'd been holding on to.

"And afterwards, I just...waited."

"For what?" Methos craned his head around to look at him.

Mac simply shrugged. "I don't know. I came out of that fight more centered than I've felt since Tessa's death. I lost part of myself when she died. I haven't really felt complete since then. But after was like I lost a different part. I felt...unconnected in some way. I was so tired of the killing, of the fighting...I'd forgotten who I was. What I was. I'd started focusing on death, rather than on the living." He squeezed Methos tight again. "I'd forgotten that relationships are two-way."

They were quiet for awhile, then Methos asked the question that was uppermost in his mind. "So, when do you think you'll start on this journey? Where are you planning to go?" He was pleased that his voice sounded quite steady and unperturbed.

Mac shrugged again. "I suppose that depends."

"On what?"

"How long is your contract at the University?"

Methos could tell that Mac had pulled back to try and see his expression, but he knew that his face was blank, as blank as his thoughts. "Why do you ask?"

Mac settled against the roof, spreading his legs to pull Methos back more firmly against his chest. "Well, I was kind of hoping to have company. You said you'd tell me some stories of your raucous youth, and I figured they'd go better in the appropriate backgrounds."

"I see." Methos mind was no longer blank; now it was a riotous whirlwind of ideas and images, none of them settling long enough to develop into coherent thought. "Does Joe know about this plan of yours?"

"Nope. You're the first I've mentioned it to." Mac sipped from the cup he'd picked up. "Gah, it's cold." He set it back down. "He's my Watcher, not my keeper. Let him figure a few things out for himself."

The silence extended for a few more minutes.

"You know, if you don't want to go, I'll understand."

Methos shook his head. "It's not that, Mac, it's...I never expected this. Any of this."


"No. Flights of fancy aside, it just...I don't build sandcastles in the air."

"That's okay, I'll teach you. How about in the sand? I hear Egypt has a lot of sand."

Methos smiled. "Give me awhile to think about it, okay?"

"How long?" Mac put his hands on Methos' shoulders and turned him around, looking into his eyes. "Is ten minutes long enough?"

"I'll let you know in ten minutes."

Mac smiled ruefully, stroking his hands up and down Methos' back. "Okay, okay. I'll work on being patient." He stood up, pushing Methos back and picking up his cup. "C'mon, let's go below where it's warm."

Methos obliged, moving towards the stairwell, then stopped, but didn't turn around. "Mac?"


"I couldn't leave before the end of January." He continued down the stairs, smiling to himself as he noted that it took a few moments for Mac to follow.

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