This story originally appeared in Crossed Swords & Senses. Originally betaed by elynross. It's been edited since that version, and I hope it's slightly better and less self-indulgent. Duncan/Methos, NC-17... more so than I've written in a while. Hey, look at that! Porn.

by Killa

September 1996

Methos stood on the curb below De Salvo's, scenting rain in the wind and thinking that whoever said the first step was the hardest had known what he was talking about.

Four floors up, the loft's windows reflected the iron gray sky like mirrors, pale and bleak, unencouraging. Outside sensing range, he couldn't even be sure that MacLeod was home. Still, instinct and knowledge of the man's habits told him chances were good. The hour between afternoon and evening classes might find him sitting at his desk drudging over this paperwork or that, head bent, brow furrowed in concentration, profile gilt by the small desk lamp like some Dutch painting.

The image flashed through Methos' mind, vivid and compelling. A hundred such images had kept him company on his travels the past few months. It had become a way to pass the time, imagining where MacLeod was, what he was doing. What sort of trouble he was getting into, without Methos there to get him out of it. Even with that deliberate distance between them, Mac's presence had been tangible in Methos' thoughts, dogging his footsteps halfway around the globe, shadowing his attempts to gain perspective and consider the events of the past year with some objectivity. In the end that awareness had brought him full circle, and he'd found himself once more embroiled in the constant melodrama that formed the Highlander's day-to-day existence.

This time, at least, Mac's pup of a student had cleaned up his own mess, more or less. Methos supposed that was progress. Besides, he admitted to himself, the distraction provided by Ryan and Methos' own peace-loving namesake had proved a convenient stalling tactic.

A gust of wind swept down out of the alley, and he pushed his hands deeper into the pockets of his jeans; still he delayed, knowing that once he crossed this street, once he climbed those stairs, things would never be quite the same. Whatever else might come, after tonight he wouldn't be able to maintain the illusion of detachment. Not with Mac, probably not with Dawson or the Watchers—certainly not in his own mind, not any longer.

He'd known since leaving Tibet what he meant to do; he'd made the necessary decisions weeks ago, in the quiet of a late summer afternoon at the roof of the world as he'd wandered the monastery gardens. He'd found no easy answers there in the two months since he'd left Paris, no earth-shattering revelations regarding the question of who and what he had become, or was becoming. That was no surprise, of course. He'd never found answers to the big questions of life in any divine strike of inspiration. Answers, when they came, were usually hard-won and ambiguous at best. The only one that seemed constant was the undeniable feeling that had been with him since that first day when MacLeod had walked into his flat—the one that told him his path lay with this man, that whatever came of it, he had found something he hadn't even known he'd been looking for, and he had to play it out.

After a year and a half of listening to that feeling in spite of his own doubts and better judgment, he was no closer to trusting it, and though it had carried him from Paris to Tibet to this street corner in Seacouver, he was still inclined to put it down to wishful thinking, or maybe senility. What finally tipped the scales, he had to admit, was pure curiosity, and the inescapable desire to know how the story turned out. It had always been his Achilles' heel; he couldn't seem to help being fascinated by possibilities. And that was the crux of it, wasn't it? Because he and MacLeod between them were nothing if not possibility... Infinite possibility, just waiting to happen. As different as the sun and the moon, and as inextricably linked.

Dusk was closing down early around the city, the sun fighting a losing battle against the heavy clouds; above, a light came on at the window of the loft, warm and inviting against the gloom. Methos reminded himself that he'd made his decisions. Now it only remained to be seen whether Duncan, too, might be open to possibilities.

As he started across the street, the clouds succumbed to their own weight at last, and a chill, steady rain began to fall. Methos smiled, thinking that someone was probably trying to tell him something.

MacLeod greeted him at the door with sword in hand and a familiar frown of exasperation that Methos recognized as all bark and no bite.

"You know, they’ve got this wonderful new invention called the telephone. Perhaps you've heard of it."

For some reason, that gruff, irritated greeting improved Methos' mood immensely. "Newfangled contraption," he shot back with a straight face. "It'll never catch on." He breezed through the door, ignoring the sword and hanging his coat on the rack as he passed. "That smells fantastic. What is it?"

Expression wary, Mac watched him come in. "As it happens, it's soup." Methos fought a smile. It was so much fun watching him pretend to be annoyed. He wandered into the kitchen and peeked into the pot. The delicious odors of crab, shrimp, fresh tomato, and red pepper wafted out. "Looks like you've made enough to feed a small army," he commented, giving Mac an innocent look. Mac practically rolled his eyes.

"Guess you're in luck, then, aren't you?"

Methos let the smile reach his face. "Guess so." Mac opened his mouth as if to make some sarcastic remark, and Methos forestalled him, revealing the bottle of wine he'd concealed behind his body. "Chianti Classico. Think it'll go?"

The look on Mac's face was a reward in itself, and Methos began to think that maybe there was a chance this would work after all. He'd meant it as a peace offering, a deliberate reminder of the spring, those weeks in Paris when it had been just the two of them hanging out, playing chess and watching old movies, covering what felt like every square inch of the city on foot. Neither of them had felt much like going out to eat at the end of those long afternoons of walking, and so it had become a standing arrangement: MacLeod would cook, and Methos would bring the wine.

"It's perfect," Mac admitted at last. He studied Methos for a long moment, the planes of his face altering, rearranging themselves along gentler lines. "You could just ask, you know," he said in an entirely different tone.

Methos felt his heart kick, warmth spreading outward in response to that look. Ridiculous. Must be more nervous than he'd thought. "Yeah, but what fun would that be?"

"Right." Mac wisely turned away before they could end up grinning at each other like a pair of idiots; he got out a knife and a loaf of french bread and began slicing it. "Why don't you open that and let it breathe? Soup's just about ready."

They ate at the island, talking companionably of Mac's current project: restoration of an historic building he'd bought a few blocks away. The spicy soup and red wine proved a perfect prescription against the rainy night, and they began to find their step together again, an echo of those long, comfortable evenings on the barge.

The wine helped, the conversation turning eventually to more personal subjects. Mac seemed a little down, and when Methos asked him about it, he admitted Ryan had left town the previous afternoon, and he hadn't been altogether ready to let the kid go.

"He needs to stretch his wings, Mac." Methos poured the last of the chianti into Mac's glass, then leaned casually against the counter, sipping the last of his own wine and regarding his friend across the bar. "False starts aside, he's got the right idea. You've been a good teacher to him, but he needs to find his own way if he's going to make it."

"I know that. But does he have to take it to extremes?"

Methos smiled faintly at the age-old parental complaint. "You're a hard act to follow, in case you hadn't noticed."

Mac made a face. "So he's told me, more than once. I just don't know if my heart can take it."

"You'll live." Methos shrugged and finished his wine. "He's a tough kid."

Mac's eyebrows rose at what was, for Methos, a glowing compliment. "I think Tibet was good for you." He hesitated a moment, as if debating whether to broach the subject of what had happened in Paris. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

Methos met his gaze, acknowledging the unresolved conflict that still lay between them. "In a way. As much as you ever do, I suppose."

Mac nodded. "I'm glad," he said simply. "I wasn't sure if I'd see you again."

"And here I am like a bad penny."

The dark eyes held his, warm and sincere. "Pennies mean good luck, too."

Methos snorted, getting up and carrying his dishes to the sink to cover the warmth in his face. "If you can still believe that after all we've been through, you're more of an optimist than I gave you credit for."

"Sue me," MacLeod said, his mood palpably lighter than it had been an hour before.

When they'd cleaned up, Mac broke out the scotch and they retired to the sitting area, the mood lighter. The detente they'd reached remained unspoken, but it was no less tangible for that.

"What I can't believe," Mac was saying, "is that he lasted as long as he did. It's hard to imagine how an Immortal survives without a sword—especially an Immortal calling himself Methos."

"The mind boggles," Methos agreed acidly. "You'd think someone would have whacked him years ago for being such a sanctimonious prick, if nothing else."

Mac looked at him oddly. "What'd he say to you, anyway?"

"What do you mean?"

"Two days ago, you couldn't have cared less if he went around preaching the gospel of peace and love in your name till the cows came home. Then you go talk to him, and you change your tune. I'm just curious what he said to you to get you so worked up, that's all."

"Who said I was worked up?" Mac just looked at him, eyebrows arched as if to say, Oh, really? "Stop that," he said irritably.

Because you were listening to him, he might have said. Because I was afraid— He took a deep swallow of scotch, but Mac was still watching, curiosity written all over him. Methos snapped. "It was just a bit much to take, okay? That smug, holier-than-thou attitude. And his transparent little manipulations. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a hypocrite."

"He got to you, too, did he?" Mac shook his head. "I felt so stupid, letting him manipulate me the way he did. Using Darius against me. But the really annoying thing was, he was right. Hypocrite or not, he had a point."

"Yeah," Methos agreed morosely, dousing his resentment with more whisky. "Listen, can we talk about something else?"

"Sure." Mac smiled. "What would you suggest?"

He waited. After a moment, he raised one eyebrow, and Methos' mouth quirked in spite of himself. "Doesn't take long for us to run out of safe subjects, does it?"

"Didn't know there were any safe subjects where you and I were concerned."


They sipped at the whisky, listening to the rain. Methos thought about what he'd come to say. Thought about bringing it up, what the look on Mac's face might be when he did.

"Mind if I put on some music?" he said instead.

"Help yourself."

Methos took his time going through Mac's CDs, settling finally on a recording of Segovia. The intricate, minor key spill of Spanish guitar filled the loft. Mac had gotten up and moved to the window, where he stood watching the rain, nursing his drink; Methos went back to the coffee table and gave himself a refill, making a conscious effort to relax.

This shouldn't have been so hard. But the pattern of shift and parry that had dictated their friendship for so long was too ingrained, proving difficult to break.

He straightened and closed the distance between himself and MacLeod, thinking that if half a bottle of wine and two glasses of scotch couldn't do it, nothing could. He was feeling it now, a pleasant warmth in his belly and extremities, a euphoric buzz in his head. How had he let this become such a big deal? It shouldn't have been. Just a casual thing, nothing that needed to be made into more than it was.

Only nothing was that simple with MacLeod, was it? Nothing had ever been casual between them. This was no different.

This is ridiculous, is what this is. Just tell him. He stopped a few feet away, silently clearing his throat.

"Must be a doozy," Mac said quietly, not turning.

Methos blinked, the deep breath he had taken arrested in his throat. "I beg your pardon?"

"Whatever you've been wrestling with all night. Must be a doozy." He did turn then, expression carefully neutral. "Just tell me, Methos. How bad can it be?"

Relieved that the door had been opened for him, Methos shook his head, some of the tension leaving his body. "Not bad, Mac. Good, I hope. Nothing so dire as what you're imagining."

"Then why can't you just tell me?"

"The truth?" He smiled. "I'm afraid you'll say I told you so."

After a moment, Mac smiled, too, the line of his shoulders easing. "Sounds promising. I'll try to restrain myself."

And Methos supposed it was now or never. "I've decided to leave the Watchers," he said simply. "And I put down a deposit on a flat today."

Mac went still. "Here?" he said after a long moment in which he visibly tried to process that. "In Seacouver?"

Methos nodded, waiting. Watching MacLeod digest those two facts, turning them over in his mind. "Not what you expected?" he asked at last, when the silence had gone on too long.

"I'm just... I'm surprised, that's all. What made you decide to leave the Watchers?"

"You were right," he admitted. "I'd been living as one of them for so long, I'd forgotten what I was. The writing's been on the wall since I met you, anyway. I knew that a year and a half ago. I just wasn’t ready to face it."

Mac went back to the couch and sat down, looking like he needed the support. He tossed back the rest of his drink and poured another—not exactly the response Methos had hoped for.

"I thought you might be happier about this," he said mildly, keeping a tight rein on his rising sense of misgiving.

MacLeod looked up, but his expression was shuttered now, wary, as if waiting for the other shoe to drop. "For some reason, I figured when the time came for Adam Pierson and the Watchers to part company, you'd just disappear."

"I thought about it."

"And instead you're renting a flat in Seacouver."

Methos didn't answer that. But he didn't have to, did he? His reasons were self-evident, and any denial would have been painfully transparent. Their eyes held, the challenge met unflinching, an acknowledgment that didn't need words.

"What exactly is it about this idea that's bugging you, Mac?"

He didn't deny it, and Methos knew that he'd been right to be apprehensive; Mac seemed to be debating, deciding whether or not to say something Methos doubted he really wanted to hear.

Methos looked at his whisky, then set the glass aside. "Come on, MacLeod. Don't keep me in suspense."

Resolution firmed in Mac's face, and he leaned forward, cradling his own glass between his knees.

"I'm just thinking about what you said to Richie," he said. "About the other Methos offering Richie his life because he knew Richie wouldn't take it. I've been thinking about it a lot, Methos. There's one born every minute, you said." He was watching Methos' face for any reaction. "Were you talking about me?"

Taken aback, Methos didn't make the connection for a moment. A cold night in Paris, thick fog under a bridge by the Seine. Duncan's sword at his neck. It felt like so long ago.

He fought the urge to swallow, and forced himself to calm. "I was talking about Ryan," he said evenly, buying time. "I thought that was obvious."

But Mac was relentless, his expression a study in hopeful, stubborn determination shadowed by doubt. "You know what I'm asking you. That night, under the bridge." The lines of his body were stiff, as if it hurt him to say it. "Was it all a setup? An act?"

Methos felt cold, a chill that seemed to start in the center of his chest. He'd been here before. Too many times. "Does it really matter now?"

"It matters to me."

Equally relentless, Methos met his gaze, steel to steel, not sparing him. "And what if I told you that it was? That I lied to you that night, put your sword to my neck because I knew you were far too honorable to do anything about it, that I did it because I wanted to win your trust and that seemed the quickest method? What then?"

"Is that what you're telling me?" Mac asked roughly.

So bloody vulnerable, so stubbornly determined to have the truth, no matter what it cost them. The cold feeling had spread, slow ice squeezing Methos' heart. Wasn't it enough that they could be together like this, that they were still friends in spite of everything that had happened? Didn't what he'd said count for anything? Oh, my friend, please see what you would risk.

"Didn't your mother ever warn you about turning over stones?" he asked bleakly.

"I'm sorry, Methos. But before we pick up where we left off, I just... I need to know."

Of course he did. Of course. Had he really thought MacLeod's trust could be restored with a statement of good intentions? Methos looked at his hands, cursing himself for becoming so complacent, for ever letting himself believe things could be easier between them. He'd forgotten that MacLeod was a man quick to trust and slow to forgive, and that he did not give his trust by half-measures. He wanted to know where he stood. And despite the fact that Methos understood his reasons, anger sparked in him, a dangerous cinder in his belly. After all they'd been through, all Methos had risked for this man, all he risked just to be here at all, MacLeod still needed to ask? He felt as though he'd been sleeping for months and had just woken up to find the business end of a sword at his throat.

Which might be, it occurred to him, the perfect way to make a point. He drew a deep breath. "I want you to do something for me." Not waiting for Mac to answer, he went to the front hall and got the katana from Mac's leather coat. The carved hilt felt warm in his hand. Mac had risen to his feet and stood waiting for him, watching as he came back and brandished the sword. "You do trust me, right?" Methos said, smiling wolfishly, the irony as sharp-edged as the steel.

He could see that rankled, but Mac said nothing, only lifted his chin and stood unflinching as Methos, both hands on the hilt, brought the gleaming steel gently to rest against the strong curve of his throat.

"All right," Methos said mildly, "now tell me. How sharp is this sword of yours?" He touched the very edge of the blade to the smooth skin, raising a delicate line of blood no deeper than a paper cut. Mac's nostrils flared, eyes shifting from Methos' double-handed grip to meet his.

"At the moment," Mac grated, "very."

"Right, but let's say, comparatively speaking. A Japanese katana is made up of... what? Maybe a million layers of folded steel?"

"Something like that."

"Rumored to be able to cut through stone, bamboo, iron—certainly a little flesh and bone won't present a problem, am I right? One jerk of the wrist, right through the jugular and off with his head!"

Mac did not look overly amused. "So what's your point?"

"Okay." Methos spread his feet slightly for leverage. "We fought. You lost. Now you're unarmed, and I've got this very sharp sword to your throat. I'm going to take your head. How are you going to get out of it?"

The dark brows knitted. "I— "

"No, don't tell me. Show me, MacLeod. You trusted me, but now it turns out I'm not such a good guy. It was fair combat, after all, and I've decided I'm going to kill you. Show me how you get out of it."

It didn't take long. They stood frozen like that, eyes locked, for only a few moments before Methos read the recognition in the other man's face, the acknowledgment of the obvious fact: if Methos really wanted to take him, there was nothing Mac could do to stop him. Whatever else Methos might have hoped to prove that night, for that one moment he'd trusted MacLeod with all that he was.

Seeing that he understood, Methos eased up on the sword.

"You see? In the moment of truth, it does still come down to essentials." He looked meaningfully at the katana. "Now, you tell me what matters."

Mac made no move to get away from the blade, but his gaze was troubled, wrestling with it as Methos wrestled with his own sense of futility. So many times they had faced one another like this, and every time Methos was sure it would be one time too many. One day, it would be. He knew that. So why did he fight it so hard, knowing the inevitable?

At last Mac stepped back a little, and Methos let the sword fall. Feeling an aching heaviness, he watched Mac turn away and move to the window, brow furrowed in thought. Methos wanted to laugh—or maybe that wasn't suppressed laughter making his throat hurt.

He felt the core of his resentment melt away and could no longer pretend that it was only anger he felt, could no longer avoid facing why the question had galled him so, why it hurt so much to know MacLeod still doubted him. In spite of all his brave intentions, the truths he'd chosen to reveal tonight were not the whole truth, not by a long shot. Duncan MacLeod was one of the most intuitive men he'd ever known; if Mac's instincts warned him against trusting Methos too far, they were very likely right on target. You are one calculating son of a bitch. Still true. And if Duncan had been wary of his motives in the past, how many times had Methos given him ample reason? It came home to him what price they'd both paid for the game he'd played with Duncan, the way he'd deflected his own dangerous feelings with quips and jabs and misdirection about his priorities at every turn. In a moment of clarity that left him shaken, he saw what price they might one day pay if he let things go on this way indefinitely.

When the silence had stretched too long, Methos laid the sword aside and closed the distance between them, swallowing against the ache that had risen in his throat. "Sorry you asked, are you?"

Duncan looked up, the intensity of his gaze thrumming through Methos like a live current. For a long moment he didn't answer, his expression painfully open; he looked at Methos as if really seeing him for the first time.

"No, Methos," he said at last. "No, I'm not sorry. I needed to know." The lines of his face shifted into something entirely different, something too much like naked honesty for comfort. "Did you have any idea what it meant to me?"

The blunt courage of that admission felt like a blow. "And now?" Methos asked before he could stop himself. Somewhere a voice warned that they really had drunk entirely too much, that they had long since passed into unsafe waters, but he couldn't seem to stop himself from answering that straightforward candor with his own.

Duncan's gaze fell to that vulnerable spot on Methos' neck, just where his sword had rested that cold night. Like an afterthought he reached up, almost brushing the place with his fingertips, a not-quite-touch of breathtaking intimacy. Methos felt it like heat against his skin. Duncan didn't mean that look, did he? Not the way Methos was feeling it, all the way down to his knees—no, that was the whisky, sure it was. So why was his heart suddenly pounding, making it hard to breathe?

"Thank you," Duncan said unexpectedly.

Methos blinked. "What for?" To his relief, it didn't come out sounding as off-balance as he felt.

"For being honest with me." The generous mouth quirked, as if Duncan were laughing at himself, at his own stubborn insistence on the truth. "Funny how that's so much harder for us than trusting each other with a sword, isn't it?"

Methos shook his head wryly. "You say that like it's news."

Duncan looked up then, and the faint smile was still there, but it was painful, the eyes revealing a wistful hope that went right through him. "Think we could work on it?"

Oh, Mac. Do you know what you're saying? Something about that unguarded feeling sparked an answer in Methos he couldn't control. They were standing too close for comfort, for Methos' sanity, far closer than two men who felt only friendship for one another should stand. The scent of Mac’s body brushed his senses, warm and heady and faintly like cloves.

He knew then that he'd been right about dangerous waters, because he found himself fighting the urge to do something irrevocable, unsafe heat blooming in him. "Now that you mention it, there is something I've been meaning to tell you," he heard himself say, breathless and reckless all at once, and what the hell, nothing to lose now, nothing to stop him in the face of the heavy heat that had spread through his limbs, the sweet ache of hunger between his thighs. Duncan's eyebrows drew together, questioning, and Methos reached out, took Duncan's hand and drew it down, cupped it in his own and pressed it against the ache, pressed himself into Duncan's palm, never relinquishing their shared gaze.

A soft, sharply indrawn breath told him that he had surprised Duncan after all. The dark eyes widened, his nostrils flaring faintly. For an instant, Methos thought he'd miscalculated; he could see a hundred questions flicker in Duncan's eyes, a hundred possible responses considered and rejected in barely more than a second. Duncan had gone absolutely still, tension coiling in all his muscles, drawing taut against Methos' grip. But he did not, quite, pull free.

That broad hand resting against his aroused sex made Methos' heart race, made heat curl in his belly and a faint sweat break out at his pulse points. He forced himself to calm, waiting. Letting Duncan feel the hunger he felt, the pulse of blood, as honest and direct as he knew how to be.

He felt it when it happened, the moment when something shifted, the tension between them changing indefinably. Duncan's body language altered, the lines of his face easing subtly, eyes nearly black as his pupils dilated. "I'm listening," he said, voice dropping into a register that made Methos tingle in places that hadn't tingled like that in a long time. In the same moment Duncan shifted ever so slightly closer, his hand tightening against the solid eagerness of Methos' erection, and Methos felt his breath catch hard in his chest, skin flushing all over his body as that look seemed to penetrate him in one slow, effortless thrust.

It was a dare, and he read it as such; the next move was his. He didn't have to think about what it would be—he'd fantasized about that mouth for too long to pass up the chance, especially if it might be the only one he was going to get. Slipping his hand along the back of Duncan's, lacing their fingers together between his own thighs, he leaned forward. Duncan's lips parted slightly, anticipating him.

Heart pounding, Methos closed his eyes and slowly closed that last inch of separation, letting the tip of his tongue touch the warm velvet of Duncan's lips, at last giving in to his hunger for the feel of that soft mouth against his.

The kiss lasted only the length of a heartbeat, but Methos felt it like a brand, the heat sliding through him effortlessly, taking thought with it. Duncan's hand tightened on his sex again as if by instinct, and it was all Methos could do not to give voice to his own purely instinctive response. For just an instant, he felt the delicious brush of Duncan's tongue against his own.

Then it was gone, and Duncan was drawing away. Trying hard not to betray how much it had shaken him, Methos opened his eyes and met that dark, questioning gaze. He felt the flush in his cheeks, between his legs, and knew his hunger was written all over him.

He wasn't prepared to see the answering flare of desire, Duncan suddenly as breathless as he. Feeling the impact of that shared, helpless response, Methos opened his mouth without any idea of what he was going to say; before he could, Duncan moved, his other hand finding the back of Methos' neck, closing the distance between them again and taking Methos' mouth with forthright, insistent urgency.

This time their tongues met, caressed hungrily, a tender, merciless assault. Methos made a faint, imploring sound and pressed himself into the hand that gripped him, kneaded him exactly the way he wanted it to, the knowing pressure making his knees weak. He found the front of Duncan's shirt and gripped it to keep him close. They kissed for long, dizzying moments, blind and lost.

When at last they broke for air, Methos found himself grinning, the pounding of Duncan's heart against his fists a sweet, furious rhythm that made his blood sing.

"Well," he said brightly, relief he couldn't hide spilling out. "I guess that settles it. Looks like honesty is the best policy, after all."

"Always worked for me," Duncan said, mouth reddened, eyes heavy-lidded and glittering, his voice a soft, very masculine purr that did dangerous things to Methos' nervous system.

"I don't doubt it." Methos rocked gently into Duncan's solid grip. The zipper of his jeans bit deeper into his swollen sex, the pleasure-pain of it making him ache. "You planning on doing anything with that, or you just keeping your hand warm?"

With the barest quirk of his mouth and a swift twist of hand and wrist, Duncan reversed the direction of his hold on Methos, fingers spreading against Methos' belly and curling over the frayed waist of his old jeans, fingertips brushing the naked tip of his cock, bare beneath the denim. The jolt of pleasure sparked up through Methos' center, a lightning strike of intimate contact. Breath catching hard, he was stripped and pinned by the intensity in Duncan's eyes, unresisting as those strong fingers curled tighter against him, drawing their hips closer.

"Depends," Duncan said huskily. "What'd you have in mind?"

Methos tried to find the presence of mind to put words to the hot kaleidoscope of images roused by the question, but it was impossible to think in the face of the inescapable fact that Duncan MacLeod was touching his erect cock, that even now the man was rocking his hand ever so slightly back and forth, the backs of his fingers soft and warm, gliding against the swollen, sensitive ridge. "Jesus, Mac," he groaned, closing his eyes as spiraling sensation flooded him in a wave. He found himself clinging to the hand that brought him such sweet torment, breathing the heady, warm scent that rose from the open neck of Duncan's shirt. "Have mercy on a guy, will you?"

Duncan chuckled, and Methos knew he was in trouble. "After what you've put me through? Not bloody likely. Come here, and let me taste you."

With that, Duncan's fist clenched in the fabric of his jeans, pulling their hips together and nudging the answering hardness of his sex firmly against Methos, pleasuring them both with the rocking motion he set. Somehow he'd gotten Methos backed up against the counter. God, the heat of him. Methos could feel him through the layers of fabric, hard and hot and so ready for him. The aching desire to taste him dissolved into a haze of other delicious, tactile fantasies as Duncan found the vulnerable pulse point at his throat, biting gently. Duncan's knuckles rubbed harder against him, satisfying the ache even as they stimulated him further; the other hand cupped Methos' nape, urging his head back, baring more of his throat to the melting heat of Duncan's mouth. Methos gave way, blind, having trouble thinking beyond the question of whether or not he could come just from the sharp pressure of Duncan's teeth against his skin.

If this went on much longer, Methos thought distantly, he'd be past the point of no return. He rallied and pushed Duncan off a little, enough to get his hands between them. He found the buttons of Duncan's shirt and started working them free. Christ, he felt good, all solid muscle and heat beneath the velvety silk.

He bared smooth skin dusted by silky black hair; Duncan watched him, fingertips resting against the back of his neck. "How long, Methos?" he asked softly, as the last button came free and Methos slipped his hands inside Duncan's shirt, laying them against the smooth warmth of his belly.

"Too long," Methos confessed, leaning forward to breathe him in, nuzzling against the curve of his neck, spreading his fingers to touch as much of Duncan as he could. "Don't tell me you never guessed."

Duncan shook his head, bemused. "Must be losing my touch."

But his hands were warm and generous, and Methos shook his head. "Not that I noticed."

He'd known that there would be sparks upon sparks between them, but nothing in his fantasies had prepared him for the heady release that came with revealing himself to this man, the seductive, overwhelming temptation to let go of all inhibition and bare himself down to the bone. He closed his eyes and found the hollow at Duncan's throat, tasting him, blind. His fingertips brushed Duncan's nipples. The shiver that ran through the other man's body touched something dark and hungry at his core.



Methos brushed his lips and nose against the tender spot at his throat, then against his ear, tracing the curves there, listening for the soft, telltale catch of breath. "What would you say," he said huskily, "if I told you I wanted nothing more than to get you naked on that bed with your cock down my throat?"

Duncan went still against him. He drew back, eyes hot, then bent to kiss him, a fervent, enthusiastic assent that ended too soon. "I'd say you were very old, and wise, and who am I to argue?"

They undressed their way across the loft, a distance that had never seemed quite so great. Duncan teased him shamelessly, grinning as he discarded one item of clothing after another, revealing an insufferably arrogant streak that Methos had long suspected. Stalking him with focused intent, Methos' own disrobing was efficient, purposeful, concentrated on the goal of getting as much of his naked skin pressed against Duncan's as he could, as quickly as possible.

His imagination, vivid as it was, hadn't done justice to the pure animal grace of the body revealed as Duncan stripped away the silk shirt and soft trousers, the heavy, beautiful cock jutting as Duncan moved, muscular hips and thighs drawn in powerful lines that promised things Methos' body responded to with instinctive heat. He revised his assessment, supposing a little arrogance wasn't unwarranted.

"Mind if I open the window?" Duncan asked.

Methos shook his head, watching. Shadow droplets traced delicate patterns on his skin, reflections of the rain that spattered the glass. The fluid ripple of muscle and easy grace as he pushed the window up made Methos' mouth go dry; disgusted with himself, he turned away and busied himself pulling the covers back.

The pattering sound of the rain washed into the room, and with it, a cool current of air touched by the faint smell of the sea. Without warning, he found himself at a moment of excruciating awareness, a year and a half of unspoken attraction, frequent contention, and unexpected kinship crystallizing with painful clarity into the here and now, the two of them stripped bare in more ways than one, risking far more than just a friendship.

Turning his back didn't help much; his awareness of Duncan behind him was total, like sunlight rippling over his skin, making him feel overheated in spite of the coolness of the rain. Arousal ebbed and flowed in him, a deep current of unspoken needs rising closer to the surface with every breath he took, every moment they delayed. He should, he knew, try to get some kind of handle on it. Trouble was, he'd never had much impulse control where Duncan was concerned. For the first time in a very long time, something reckless was stirring in him, something that didn't care about what was safe, or sane, something that remembered the seductive freedom that came with letting go and trusting someone else to catch you.

Velvet-warm skin brushed the length of his back as Duncan's arms closed around him from behind, rigid heat pressing against the cleft of his ass. Methos shivered, pulse leaping in response to that whole-body caress. He hadn't realized he'd been waiting for it until he found himself wrapped in aroused, merciless MacLeod, big hands closing gently over his peaked nipples, the soft heat of lips and tongue pressing against the sensitive bundle of nerves at the back of his neck. The wave of pleasure shuddered through him, responses waking from long hibernation. He groaned softly and leaned into the solid strength behind him; he found Duncan's hips, pressing him closer.

The incendiary pressure of Duncan's mouth left his skin, replaced by the soft warmth of his breath. "What do you want, Methos?" An edge of urgency licked his voice now, the sound of it stoking the heat in Methos' belly. "Tell me what I can do."

Achingly hard, Methos freed himself from the easy embrace and turned, lowering himself to stretch out on his back against the cool sheets, shoulders propped against the pillows. He wanted no more delays; his desire to get Duncan's cock against his tongue had become a bit of a fixation. He opened his arms. "Come here," he demanded hoarsely.

Duncan came to him. Intent now, eyes dark with his own desires, he knelt beside Methos, then moved easily to straddle his waist. The warm satin of his thighs and that lush, fuckable ass, the weight and heat of him, were exactly as Methos had imagined. He spread his hands against Duncan's hips, holding him still for a minute, looking his fill.

"Like what you see?"

Duncan's voice was rough, as if this was turning him on as much as it was Methos. The thought jolted Methos' already racing heart up a notch, and he was painfully aware of the taut sweetness of Duncan's ass pressing gently against his bare skin. Daring to brush tentative fingertips along the tantalizingly warm, satiny cleft, he looked for hesitation or discomfort in Duncan's eyes. Instead, the subtle caress sparked new heat, an unconcealed hunger that made Methos' heart thrum hard against his ribs. Oh, Duncan, you are just full of surprises, aren't you? Unable to resist, he traced the same path again, this time curling his fingertips deeper into that welcoming heat; faint goose flesh appeared on Duncan's belly and spread over his arms, his nipples drawing taut. Following that sweet flush of visible arousal, Methos drew patterns with his fingertips up and down the firm musculature of his belly and flanks, torn between wanting to get him face down, legs spread, and fuck him senseless, and wanting to slowly torture him with pleasure until that fierce control snapped and Duncan roared and threw him down and rode him into gorgeous oblivion.

With a laugh, he finally let out the breath he'd been holding. "God, I want to eat you alive."

Duncan shifted against him, displaying himself more fully to Methos' avid gaze. "Nobody's stopping you."

Defeated, Methos groaned. "Come here, then, and let me at you." Not waiting this time for Duncan to come to him, he rose up, wrapped his arms around the man's hips and pulled him close, eyes closing of their own accord as he breathed Duncan in and rubbed his face against the heat of his sex.

Duncan shuddered in Methos' arms. Methos made a faint sound of encouragement and rocked back, pulling him off balance; driven now by instinct and base need, he opened his mouth and pulled Duncan to him, sought and found what he'd thirsted for, urging Duncan to sheathe himself in the heat of his mouth. He felt Duncan catch himself against the low headboard, bracing himself; at last, he gave in to Methos' urging, let Methos take him deep against his tongue and throat without mercy.

"Oh, Christ, Methos—" It was sweet and uncontrolled, barely a whisper. The combination of gratified surprise and the urgency of Duncan's first helpless thrust made blunt pleasure throb hard between Methos' thighs. He hadn't been ready for it, and struggled to breathe as Duncan's cock slid deep into his throat; he found he was trembling on the edge of sudden orgasm, oxygen deprivation pushing him close, electricity sparking from every stimulated nerve and coiling hotly through his whole body, nipples and belly and thighs. Muscles he'd forgotten adjusted automatically, knowing how to yield, how to allow the penetration, even encourage it. Poised on the knife edge of his own pleasure, Methos closed his eyes and let Duncan take him, grabbing hold and urging him on.

God, he was beautiful, hot and salty-sweet and slick with his own arousal; he tasted so good that Methos moaned faintly, his tongue working against Duncan's eager sex, pleasuring him for all he was worth. Panting harshly, Duncan withdrew enough so that Methos could suck on the head, tongue playing over the sensitive underside. Duncan made a sound like pain and rocked back and forth slowly against the stimulation, thighs trembling as he fought for control.

Wanting him desperate and begging, Methos held still, bracing him, his tongue seeking every sensitive spot and nerve he could find. He was barely aware of the sounds he himself was making, hungry and approving.

"Jesus, you love this, don't you?" Duncan's voice drifted down, crooning and dark with erotic promise as he forced himself to stillness, letting Methos' tongue caress him. "Your mouth is so soft..." A brush of fingertips glided softly along Methos' jaw, his lips, tracing the shape of his mouth where it was stretched wide. Shivering under the unexpectedly gentle touch, Methos pulled back, opened his eyes and sought Duncan's, their gazes locking as he licked a sweet surge of fluid from the tip of Duncan's cock and stroked it down along the flaring ridge. It was Duncan's turn to shiver then, but his eyes never left Methos'. What a picture he made, face flushed, chest heaving, sweat glistening against the deep bronze of his skin.

Methos took him deep again, bit gently at him, feeling the resulting jolt of pure erotic current as if it ran through his own body. Duncan's breath seized hard in his throat; he closed his eyes and made a meltingly vulnerable sound. For an endless moment he trembled on the edge of his self-control. At last he shuddered, thrusting deeper as if he couldn't stop himself.

Driven past the point of restraint by the exposed sound of surrender in that voice, Methos took fierce possession, urging him with insistent strokes, finding the strong rhythm Duncan's body sought and rocking him into it, no clemency offered.

He felt it, the moment when the surrender became total, something giving way, the muscles of hips and thighs beginning to clench and release by pure instinct in his fervent embrace, the low, prayerful sound of Duncan's voice breathing his name like an invocation, barely audible, so unguarded Methos felt his heart squeeze against the quiet knife thrust of his own helpless response. He moaned his encouragement, urging Duncan to let go, let it take him, flying now on a terrifying kind of euphoria. No question about it, he was going to come just from this if Duncan kept saying his name like that.

Duncan was close to coming, too, beautifully unresisting. Whatever subtle struggle for control, whatever contest of wills Methos might have expected, he found only willing enthusiasm and trust as Duncan slid again and again into his throat, slick and effortless and sweet; Methos struggled to keep hold of the dangerous, painful feelings of tenderness that rose in him, the desire to shelter this man against his own terrible vulnerability—even if watching him come would probably be all it would take to send Methos over himself.

Suddenly desperate not to let it end, he broke for air and let himself look.

Duncan leaned over him with arms braced wide, muscles clenched in splendid relief. His eyes, dilated and heavy-lidded with a look of rapt concentration, squeezed shut when Methos let him go, a harsh sound of protest escaping him. Faint tremors wracked him.

The eyes stayed closed only a moment, then they opened again and found Methos', blazing his hunger, communicating volumes about how much he liked what Methos was doing to him, how badly he needed to be inside again. He let out a shuddering breath.

"Why'd you stop?"

Not a demand, a plea. Oh, so beautiful, the ragged hunger in his voice.

"Didn't want it to be over yet," Methos said, sounding pretty ragged himself.

Duncan rocked gently against him. His gaze rested hotly on Methos', not hiding his urgency. "Tell me what you want."

"To watch you come." The words escaped him without thought, the simple truth, and he realized that worse than the protective instincts Duncan roused in him was the temptation to match him truth for truth, trust for trust—the deep, inexplicable urge still there. Fear and truth and need coiled in him with painful intensity, a throb that went straight to his cock, seized in his chest. "Mac—"

Something dangerously close to understanding sparked in the dark eyes, and before he could betray himself further by whatever he would have said next, Duncan shifted down, mercy embodied, and took his mouth with tender force.

Methos groaned into the kiss, feeling himself start to come apart. Oh, God...

His hands came up to wind in Duncan's hair, begging wordlessly for closer, deeper, more. Duncan gave it to him, hot tongue possessing him, claiming every inch of his mouth, insistent, perfect, unbearably intense; the intensity spiraled, turned in on itself as Duncan at last brought their cocks together, slick heat and slippery friction. Lost, panting into Duncan's mouth, Methos thrust harder against him, shuddering at the hard slide of Duncan's sex against his own.

Duncan's mouth broke away from his, breaking the rhythm, and it was all Methos could do not to groan his disappointment. "You want to watch me?" Duncan growled against his neck, sliding himself against Methos' begging cock just a little too slowly, a little too gently.

"God, I don't care. Just something. Anything."

Cool air touched him instead of hot skin, and keen protest ached between his thighs. He reached for Duncan's hips, wanting only to feel him again, to thrust against the slick-hard-satin-soft heat of him, but Duncan sat back against his thighs, watching him with that dangerous, heavy-lidded gaze.

"Methos," he said huskily. And then took himself in hand, caressing himself with a negligent, incendiary motion of hand and wrist, eyes glittering. "Watch."

One stroke. Two. Unable to help himself, Methos caught his breath and watched, the big, square hand fisted around Duncan's flushed length, the swollen tip glistening with fluid, peeking at him and then disappearing with the slow upstroke, the back of Duncan’s hand barely grazing him on the downstroke—

It came home to him that Duncan really meant to do this, really meant to make himself come like this, open and knowing and utterly without shame. He wanted to protest, wanted to get Duncan back down where he could kiss him some more, could rock them both into sweet oblivion together, but he was so bloody magnificent like this—jaw clenched, breathing hard, muscles flexing and releasing and glistening with sweat as he began to thrust harder into his own rough grip—that Methos could only watch, certain in the knowledge that Duncan was going to come on him and he was going to go off like a rocket.

Duncan made a faint sound like suffering, a tremor running through him, eyes squeezing shut. "Methos." It was a whispered plea that Methos felt down to his toes. Reacting on pure instinct, he sat up, pulled Duncan to him, hand closing on the back of his overheated neck, holding him close as if sheltering him against the storm that threatened to crest within him.

"I'm here," he said hoarsely, not knowing what made him say it. Duncan buried his face against Methos' neck, shaking like a man possessed, coming with a raw, wrenching cry that went straight through Methos. Duncan spilled hot and slick over his own hand, over Methos' belly, his musk sweet and powerful.

Nothing had ever felt as good, nothing had ever turned him on as much as feeling Duncan come against his belly and thighs and starved sex. Desperate, Methos needed to move, but the weight against his thighs made movement impossible; if he tried to free a hand to work between them, they would overbalance. They clung together, Duncan lost in waves of completion, Methos suspended in trembling almost-ecstasy for what felt like forever. "Mac, please," Methos gasped at last, aching for contact. Just one stroke would do it.

Duncan drew a long, ragged breath, lifting his head from Methos' shoulder as if dazed. Then he blinked and was back with Methos, fully present in the here and now, flushed and bright-eyed and wondering. "Methos," he breathed.

He moved, then, taking Methos' face in hands still slippery and fragrant with his come, kissing him fervently and pushing him back against the pillows. Unhesitating, he rocked forward against Methos' thighs and—oh, God—reached to hold him, pushed back against him, taking Methos inside himself in one slow, effortful, blindingly hot stroke.

Methos wasn't ready, couldn't have been ready for that, for the tight velvet sheath that closed down around him, the unbelievable heat and softness that gripped him with that first shock of penetration. For long seconds his nervous system went on overload, struggling to make sense of the information it was getting, like the breathless, heart-stopped feeling of vertigo that came just before a Quickening. He suddenly found himself without parachute or safety net, suspended at a dizzying height, painfully aware that it was one from which he could not afford to fall.

Then, he remembered to breathe. Felt Duncan's heartbeat, fast and hot and all around him, holding him close.

A rush of devastating pleasure swept over him, wrenching a groan from him. Deep within Duncan's body, he moved, thrusting against that sweet, gripping heat because to do otherwise would have killed him. Duncan moved in answer, pushing hard into his thrusts with soft sounds of satisfaction against his mouth.

A few quick, steady strokes were all it took, all he could stand. Methos felt the world begin to splinter apart around him, felt his body begin to shudder hard into a release so intense it felt like dying; he fought it, struggling against the wordless fear within him that once that deep, implacable wave crested, it might just go on forever.

A well-placed concern, as it turned out.

He was only dimly aware of soft lips against his ear, murmuring encouragement, or maybe comforting him, on the long, falling descent.

He woke alone in the bed, his body holding a sense-memory of warm skin pressed against his. Music played softly. The window was still open, and it was quite cool in the room; above the soft strains of Mozart, rain fell steadily against the fire escape. The enticing fragrance of coffee and cinnamon wafted from the direction of the kitchen.

Methos couldn't remember the last time he'd slept so soundly, or woken to such an all-pervasive feeling of contentment. Whatever strength of will it would have cost him to resist the comfortable, many-layered pleasures that came with lying in MacLeod's bed, curled up in Mac's thick comforter against the chill while MacLeod himself puttered in the kitchen not far away, keeping unofficial watch as Methos slept—he deemed it a price too high to pay. Strength of will could come later. For now, he drifted on the gentle waves of that contentment and watched the rain fall, letting memory imprint this night as deeply as he knew how.

Least tangible, and most dangerous to them both, he knew, were the truths revealed in those fleeting moments of unexpected faith in the dark; but those, most of all, he would remember, whatever else might come.

“You awake?”

Mac’s query was soft, a new knowledge in the deep voice that stirred Methos’ blood, drawing his gaze back from the window. He smiled with his eyes, and Mac took it as an invitation, sitting on the edge of the bed and setting a steaming cup down on the nightstand. If he felt any awkwardness, he didn’t show it.

“I made coffee. Thought you might like some, too.”

“Thanks.” Methos sat up, but made no further move from the comfortable pressure of Mac’s thigh against his, warm through the layers of cloth. "What time is it?"

"Just after midnight. You were out for a couple of hours."

The note of simple intimacy, of familiarity in the deep voice, satisfied a quiet hunger Methos had denied in himself since they’d met. He could deny it no longer. Feeling painfully exposed, he picked up the cup and cradled it in his hands, grateful for the diversion it offered.

It wasn't fair, really. He shouldn't be allowed to look like that, not now, that thin white T-shirt that might have been pedestrian on anyone else, the old jeans that looked liked they'd been made for him, like they'd be soft to the touch. His hair was loose on his shoulders and curled softly, still damp from the shower; the clean scents of soap and shampoo mixed with the earthier scents of sex that pervaded the bed, a heady perfume that woke the memory of that willing body shuddering in his arms, the hot spill of Duncan's release against his stomach.

As if reading his thoughts, Duncan regarded him sidelong with a heavy-lidded gaze, a hint of color suffusing his dark complexion. "Sleep well?" he asked, his tone carefully neutral, that look anything but.

"Mm," Methos conceded, feeling heat in his own face.

"Good. You looked like you needed it."

A moment came and went in which he should have met the other man's gaze, and didn't. He concentrated on his coffee, far too aware of Duncan watching him, of his own nakedness under the bedclothes.

When he made himself look up again, a smile was playing about Duncan's mouth, amusement glinting in the dark eyes. Methos felt something squeeze around the region of his heart.


But Duncan only smiled that not-smile at him, saying nothing.

"What's so funny?" he demanded, beginning to be annoyed.

Duncan, refusing to be contrite, just met his gaze steadily, eyebrows arching. "It's not the end of the world, you know."

"Well, of course not. I never said—" Methos broke off. He opened his mouth. Closed it again. Genuinely irritated now, he snapped, "Don't you have a grail that needs finding, or a kitten to rescue from a tree, or something?"

"No holy quests before nine a.m., at least," Duncan said seriously, but his eyes were still laughing, and something turned over in Methos' chest. He'd never seen Duncan like this, never known this Duncan who smiled with his eyes and his whole body, who teased him and brought him coffee and understood his fear. God help him.

Unexpectedly, mercy was granted, and Duncan rose from the edge of the bed. "You know where the shower is. Help yourself, if you like." He left Methos looking after him, stomach sinking fast. Had he really thought that he had nothing left to lose? And from the looks of things, Duncan was no better than he at containing this...thing that was happening between them. Had happened. Would happen again, as surely as the sun would rise in the morning.

Maybe sooner than that, a small voice suggested, watching him go.

Declaring a moratorium on that line of thought, Methos abandoned Duncan's bed and escaped to the relative safety of the bathroom.

But in the shower, his thoughts ran in circles, finding no resting place save Duncan's name, the way he'd trembled under Methos' hand just before he came, the way he'd tucked his face against Methos' neck. After such knowledge, what had he expected? He knew his own nature, as well as anyone could. He knew his vulnerabilities. He'd even told Mac a version of the truth—warned him obliquely how he felt about forging a permanent connection with another Immortal. Warned them both. Christ, he should have known better. Given the realities of the lives they led, it would be the worst kind of foolishness to think there could be any kind of refuge here, any kind of safety.

So why did he feel as though something deep within him had finally, at last, come home?

Leaning his weight on his arms, he closed his eyes and let the hot water run over his neck and shoulders. Buy time, he told himself, and held on to the thought. A little time and space to breathe, and think. Focus on that.

Duncan was sitting in the big armchair reading when Methos emerged from the bathroom. He glanced up, eyes flickering only briefly over Methos' towel-clad form, a subtle appreciation that Methos would probably have written off as imagination before tonight. It was, he had to admit, extremely gratifying—and as good as an invitation. His resolve faltered, an image flashing through his thoughts in which he crossed the open floor to Duncan, dropped the towel from around his waist and climbed into that chair with him.

His eyes were on his book now, but Methos could feel the awareness between them, the charge of heat that sparked just from the two of them being in a room together. How long had it been since anyone had gotten under his skin like this, made him feel like such a horny teenager? As if he even remembered what that felt like. And how long since he'd had a shield brother to guard his back?

But he couldn't think about that, not yet.

Duncan had laid his clothes neatly over the back of the couch. Predictable. It touched him in a way he wouldn't have admitted unless tortured, but he pushed it away and pulled the jeans on, feeling a little less exposed with that partial armor. T-shirt and sweater followed, and as he tugged the sweater down, he saw what he'd missed before: Duncan had put fresh sheets on the bed.

Be careful what you wish for. Haven't you learned that lesson by now?

Mac was watching him openly now, and he met Methos' look with a wry, self-deprecating quirk of eyebrows and mouth that took in Methos' state of dress and said eloquently, can't blame a guy for trying.

There might have been something else in his expression, too, but before Methos could put a name to it, Duncan got up and took his cup and saucer into the kitchen.

For a moment, Methos came close to following him. It was a near thing, and he knew that if Mac had pushed it at all, asked him, touched him, his hard-won resolve would have deserted him. He didn't, though, and Methos knew now that he wouldn't.

He took his time putting his boots on. Soon enough that, too, was done, and at last he gave in to the inevitable, getting up and going to lean on his folded arms against the counter.

Mac's attention was ostensibly on what he was doing, and Methos was free to watch the play of muscles under the thin cotton as he put the milk away, the smooth brown skin of his forearms as he dried the countertop. Finally, there was nothing left for him to clean or put away. He turned then, leaned his hips against the edge of the sink, weight resting on his hands.

Sometimes Methos forgot to notice what Mac looked like, and saw only MacLeod, his friend, sometimes nemesis, and general pain in the ass. Other times, the man's beauty took his breath away. This was one of those times, and it was not helping.

Methos cleared his throat at last. "Well, this is awkward, isn't it?"

Mac shrugged easily. "Doesn't have to be. We could even do it again some time." His eyes smiled when he said it, and Methos relaxed a little.

"You think?"

"Couldn't hurt."

A disbelieving laugh tried to escape him. Oh, the folly of youth. "Famous last words," he said ruefully.

But Duncan wasn't smiling now. Their eyes held for long moments. It was on the tip of Methos' tongue to make light of it, but something in that expressive face demanded better.

He swallowed. "I didn't exactly plan on this," he admitted.

"Could have fooled me."

Methos smiled in spite of himself. "You know what I mean. You said it yourself. Our track record isn't particularly stellar. Adding sex into the mix is rather like pouring napalm on a fire, isn't it?"

"So...we'll manage."

"You really are turning into an optimist, aren't you?"

Duncan looked hard at him. "I don't regret it, if that's what you mean."

"No, I—no. I just..." He drew a deep breath. "I just think we ought to give it some time. Think about what we're doing."

Slowly, Duncan nodded. "All right. If that's what you want."

A part of Methos ached with a sharp pang of denial, insisting that it wasn't at all what he wanted; he clamped down hard on the feeling, refusing to acknowledge it. He wanted to take the words back, go around the counter, haul the other man back to bed, and keep him there for at least the next month.

"We've got time," he said, not sure which of them he was trying to convince.

"Sure," Duncan said easily. "I'm not going anywhere."

The knot in Methos' stomach eased a little. "Neither am I." He should go now, he thought. "Come to think of it, I could use a hand moving tomorrow. It's not much, just books and computer stuff mostly."

"A-ha, the truth comes out. You just want me for my body."

Methos shrugged, unapologetic. "Hey, I'm a pragmatist. What did you expect?"

Mac chuckled a little at that. "Fair enough. You have to do something for me, then. Come to the tournament tomorrow tonight."

"Oh, come now, that's not fair."

MacLeod smiled. "Think of all the kids you'll be helping."

"Don't start," Methos said in disgust, but he knew when he was outflanked. It was that smile, the one that always got him in trouble. Don't you want to see Gina and Robert live happily ever after? He made a face. "All right, you win. You help me move, I come watch a bunch of adolescents beat the crap out of each other in the name of community service. Whatever makes you happy."

The bastard was grinning at him now. "You're easy, you know that?"

"Don't gloat, MacLeod. It isn't pretty."

Mac tried to look contrite. "Wouldn't dream of it."

Methos found himself fighting an answering grin, and somehow, everything was all right.

"It's late," he said at last. "I should go."

"You know you're welcome to stay," Mac offered, serious now.

For a long moment, Methos couldn't answer for the tangle of his own conflicted impulses, the ache of wanting what Mac offered like a sweet draught of liquor that burned going down. He smiled faintly and pushed himself away from the counter. "Thanks, Mac. I'll...keep it in mind." He stopped himself before he could say more, turning towards the door, finding his coat, and shrugging it on.

He half-expected MacLeod to stop him, but he didn't, just watched Methos raise the lift gate and step inside, watched him pull the cage closed, then pressed the button for him. "Be safe," was all he said, a gruff admonishment as Methos started down.


The End

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