Disclaimer: Characters herein belong to Panzer/Davis and Rysher Entertainment and are used with no intention of profit or of copyright infringement.

 

 

Misce stultitam, consiliis brevem:
Dulce est desipere in loco.

Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans:
It's lovely to be silly at the right moment.

 

The sheep were bleating, anxious to be out of the fanks; Duncan ignored them. His uncle would be righteously angry, but his uncle wasn't here, and Duncan was having a very pleasant dream.

Grazing sheep in the high pastures during the long summer days was work for boys, but long as the days were, the nights were short and it wouldn't hurt the sheep if he slept just a little longer. He could ignore his cousin snoring warm beside him.

The noise Jamie had been making was soft and rhythmic and that had been all right, but now the selfish, great oaf was taking more than his share of the cot. He'd pushed Duncan right to the edge, and strange, it was bitter cold for all it was mid-summer.

Much as he wanted to, Duncan decided not to give him the good dunt in the ribs he deserved; Jamie was sure to wake up roaring and thump him back. It was too early, even for the pleasure of beating on his cousin, but if the lout kept shoving against him Duncan was going to fall right off the edge and into The Pit...he could feel it yawning beside him and he was going to fall in. He was right on the precipice of the hell that Father Paul was always talking of. What he'd been dreaming was a sin, and it was cold, and he was sleeping late, and sloth was a sin, and the ewes were bleating, and his cousin rolled against him again and Duncan was falling...

Well, if Duncan MacLeod was going to Hell, he was surely going to take Jamie MacLeod with him. He scrabbled wildly at the edge and caught it just before he fell to Hell entirely. Panicked, he opened his eyes and saw the floor a foot from his face. Not the rough-groomed earth of the shepherds' croft where he and Jamie had spent their young summers, but smooth finished wood. He was in bed in the loft in Seacouver, it was January, and it was damned cold.

MacLeod spread out his hand against the hard pine; no vibration, the building's pre-war furnace had died sometime in the night. He tried to push himself back onto the bed but somebody was snuggling tight against him and he had no leverage. Whoever it was was staying right where they were. Giving in to the graceless inevitable, Duncan MacLeod fell out of bed, as he went down he twisted to avoid cracking his head on the nightstand and fetched up flat on the floor.

Jamie MacLeod had been killed stealing cattle from the Frasers when he was nineteen. That was a good way to die if you were a MacLeod, but that was almost four hundred years ago. It seemed of late he was frequently dreaming of home, and they were vivid nightmares, hard to wake up from. So he lay on the cold boards, letting the chill drive away the clinging misery of the last one, until the band of his sweats was digging sharply into his hip and the need to piss was urgent. Then he let himself consider the present. He hoped he could find the maintenance contract on the furnace. And he was damned sure he'd gotten into his bed alone.

MacLeod got up on his knees. Something as vaguely man-shaped as a mummy, and as well wrapped in MacLeod's plum-colored sheets was occupying his side of the bed. It was snoring softly but, other than that, the only evidence of its being human that MacLeod could see was a quiff of dark hair that showed in the gap between pillow and comforter.

"Methos!" he snarled.

If any man deserved the drubbing that Jamie MacLeod would have gotten in the same circumstances, it was the world's oldest immortal. The regular snoring hadn't even been interrupted by MacLeod's tumble from the bed.

World's oldest, most self-centered piece of luggage... he mentally sneered at the bindle in his bed. With the survival instincts of a gnat.

He didn't want to think what it said to his own chances that he had slept through someone getting into bed with him in the first place, and then, from the looks of things, spending the night almost on top of him. The bedside clock read seven-thirty and his breath steaming in the cold air reminded him of the essential problem.

"Methos!" he called again, louder, more impatiently, and was rewarded by the other man poking his head, tortoise-like, from under the covers.

"'S cold," he announced.

"Thank you, Edward R. Murrow, for the news flash." MacLeod applauded the effort.

"Make some coffee?" That plaintive request apparently said it all as far as Methos was concerned. He composed his head on the pillow, instead of under it, but his breathing immediately resumed its oblivious regularity.

MacLeod clambered to his feet, girded the sweatpants over his loins and went to make a pot of strong coffee. He didn't have to like it, but four hundred years of living had taught him to recognize the inevitable.

Forty-five minutes later he was rapping viciously on the dead thermostat. Hitting it wouldn't produce any heat, but it did relieve the urge to kill someone after the plumber, the one whose advertising had promised "Emergency service -- 24 hours a day," told him he could have a man there tomorrow...maybe. Bad cold snaps weren't unknown in Seacouver, despite its mild climate, but the headlines of the papers he had fetched up all gloated about "possible record lows" and the suppliers of heating services had become arrogant in their power.

Giving up on the dead thermostat he walked over to the window and looked out on streets empty of traffic. This promised to be one of those days when the sun would be as pale as winter butter, the sky clear cerulean blue and the water sprays in public fountains would glisten -- frozen in mid-air. It was fortunate classes in the dojo were between sessions; he could go back to bed if he could find some room in it.

By the sofa, Methos had left four empty beer bottles and a mess of boots, books and clothing strewn around. He's made himself at home damn fast; you should've pitched the bugger back into the street when he showed up without calling. But MacLeod knew he couldn't have resisted Methos' assumption of a welcome any more than his own pleasure at seeing him at the door. I must be a sucker for ancient mysteries. A trailing sheet and a pillow on the floor were evidence of his progress from there to the bedroom last night when the heat had gone out. The blanket was probably in the mummy wrappings.

He closed his eyes, leaned his head against the windowsill and breathed in the familiar perfume of the coffeemaker gurgling to its conclusion. The air in the room was cold enough to raise the gooseflesh on his skin but he ignored it. Sometimes, you just need to see a familiar face. The lost feeling of his dream was still inside, an ache that loitered somewhere around his heart. Missing the sheer animal comfort of sleeping curled around another warm body was the worst thing in the world. There were times with Connor and Fitz and with...

Tessa... He ruthlessly suppressed the thought, straightened and went to pour two mugs of coffee. I should go and visit Connor. Times past, it never would have occurred to two people not to share a bed -- for warmth if nothing else.

Well, you don't miss the fleas, the lice and the bedbugs, do you? Remember how much livestock you could take away from some homesteads? And that for free. If you're going to be so bloody sentimental, remember no soap, no deodorant -- and those amenities you kept next the bed? Smelt like violets, didn't they? Days like this piss would freeze in the pot.

He turned the burner off under the pan of milk, poured it into mugs with coffee and a couple of round spoonfuls of sugar.

Deodorant's an American obsession, anyway. Nothing wrong with a good healthy human smell, is there? Different times, he informed himself, different standards.

And what times and standards does that antiquity, who's making himself at home in your bed, keep to? Did they sleep alone in Babylon or Ur of the Chaldees?

I don't know, come to think of it. He picked up the mugs and the newspapers, determined to reclaim his self-possession or at least half of the bed. I could ask.

Methos was in exactly the same position MacLeod had left him so he set the cups down, turned on the bed light, and gave the sleeper a less than gentle shake.

"Shove over, will you?" he barked, in his parade ground voice. "And give me some of my covers back." Methos rolled over just far enough that MacLeod could climb in and pull a portion of the comforter over himself. MacLeod, suddenly struck, recognized an old soldier's economy of energy in the gesture. After a moment with no sign of further activity, MacLeod adjusted the pillow so that he could sit and read and got in knowing that nothing he did was going to disturb Methos until Methos wanted to wake up. He had slept in the mud with someone's stinking feet in his face often enough to appreciate what that kind of dedication to unconsciousness meant.

When he'd settled himself, he discovered that the place Methos had vacated was almost hot, the man gave off heat like a coal stove, and had a faint, slightly resinous scent like amber. "Thanks," he said, ambushed by the rush of affection that he knew he had been trying to defend against from the moment he woke up, "wish I'd had you beside me in France." There was, of course, no reaction from the sleeper. MacLeod opened the paper and began looking for political cartoons.

Later, somewhere between the Times' Op Ed and the Herald Tribune's International Affairs, the other immortal turned over again and curled up around him. After re-reading a two-page feature on the proving of the Tsar of Russia's remains, and realizing that he couldn't remember a word of it, MacLeod put the paper down and turned to the enigma beside him.

Methos' face was tightly barricaded by his fierce intelligence when he was awake, but now it was open to all the scrutiny that MacLeod cared to give it. Without being caught staring, MacLeod could study the long angular jaw and sharp blade of Methos' nose. He could, if he liked, touch a finger to the flexible mouth that was for once both parted and quiet. You're drooling. That's lovely. And look at the feathery arcs of those astonishing lashes sweeping across the sharp cheekbones and seeing, beneath dark smudged lids, the tiny ticks that betrayed REM sleep.

Do I want to know what dreams a five thousand-year-old man endures, when I can't bear my own?

But it was the practical looking hand curled beneath Methos' chin that caught his attention for the longest time. Despite the long square-tipped fingers, it was too muscular and callused to ever be the hand of a reclusive scholar.

MacLeod was thoroughly aware that the slender body pressed against his under the duvet was naked. Touched by Methos' vulnerability and aroused without conscious will, the hard proof of his response was pressing against his belly. He closed his eyes and shifted slightly to ease the pressure.

Bastard.

Who? Him, or you? The internal dialog started up again. If that were Jamie dozing there, you'd have woken him up to show it off. If it was Fitz, you'd ha' done each other a sweet favor by now. If it were...

It's Methos!

You don't think they jerked each other off in Babylon! he jeered at himself.

I know they jerked off in Babylon, and they probably wanked in Jerico.

Then why don't you touch him? What are you afraid of, it's not the age thing... his body jerked, jogging the sleeper ...or is it?

"It's Methos..." He began to rationalize again, unaware that he had spoken out loud.

"Why," said a cranky voice, from the vicinity of his right armpit, "do you keep jumping around? You're making me seasick."

MacLeod jerked and bent his knees and the papers began to slide around, most of them falling noisily on the floor. Methos laughed and got up on an elbow to watch MacLeod fumble after some of the sections. When he sat back up, MacLeod knew his face must be brick red because his heart was trying to escape from his chest. He made the mistake of meeting Methos' eyes and, after that, there was nowhere else to look, because something wickedly knowing and sweetly predatory was burning in them. Wordlessly they leaned toward each other and MacLeod could see the pink edge of tongue just behind Methos' teeth. Methos' hand was snaking under the duvet, reaching for MacLeod's cock. Those long, clever fingers were going to wrap around it and Methos' thumb was going to trace small wet circles around the tip...

The phone rang.

He saw Methos jerk in reaction to the shrilling almost before he heard it himself.

"Fuck," MacLeod said, trapped between carnal need and gross necessity. "That could be the plumber."

Methos blinked and drew back. "Answer it, Ajax." he said.

MacLeod's hand bumped the one still full mug of coffee making it slop and then knocked the clock over into the spill as he fumbled for the phone.

"Mac- MacLeod here," he stuttered when he finally got the phone to his face. There was an evil chuckle close to his ear as Methos levered himself further upright.

"Is Pierson there, MacLeod?" Joe Dawson demanded.

Oh, fuck, double fuck! Who needs the Reverend Father when you've got watchers?

"Good morning, yourself, Joe," MacLeod caroled to Dawson and glared over his shoulder at his bedmate. "Yes," he said pointedly, "he is." Methos made a face, thieved the pillow out from under MacLeod's back and crammed it over his head. MacLeod didn't blame him. As much as he liked Dawson personally, at times like this the whole concept of watchers was unbearable. "Is there a problem?"

"Yes, there is," his recording angel snapped back at him. "You tell him next time he pulls a stunt like showing up out of the blue to call me, so I can cover for him. We had a trainee on you last night, and he was ready to report an unidentified immortal. Fortunately I recognized the description and gave him something else to think about."

"Yeah, like what?" MacLeod said suspiciously.

"I told him you occasionally picked up rough trade and gave late night fencing lessons." Relating that obviously cheered Dawson up considerably.

"You know what, Joe?" MacLeod snarled into the phone. "You guys are a bunch of peeping perverts." Methos lifted the pillow and looked up at him.

"Did you think I do this for the high pay and all the glory? Jeezus Christ, where's your sense of humor, Mac? I said I covered for you." Dawson sounded hurt and MacLeod immediately felt contrite.

"Sorry, Joe, but sometimes it's too much like 'Big Brother' is watching me."

"I know, I'm sorry, but if Adam Pierson gets himself identified as Methos or even as an immortal, the shit's gonna hit the fan for all of us."

"Tell me about it."

"Tell him about it. Look, Mac, I'm not trying to tell you what to do." MacLeod could picture Dawson's face as he told that lie. "And I know it's hard for you guys to have friendships. All I'm asking for is a phone call, so I can redirect the troops."

"Here, tell him yourself." MacLeod shoved the phone at Methos and forced him to take it; there was no reason the cause of his discontent should be left out of the loop.

Methos still had his pillow so MacLeod flopped down and crossed his arms over his head. It was a waste of effort to hope Dawson was going to ream out the ancient immortal. Not a chance of it; on the subject of Methos Joe turned into silly putty for not one good reason that MacLeod could see.

Get honest with yourself, MacLeod; he got to you, too, from the moment that you met him. His mockingbird's voice picked up where it had left off.

He's not dangerous...

Then neither, the voice hooted, is embracing an atomic bomb at ground zero.

He started over.

He's not dangerous to me, but he's been here less than, he glanced sideways but the clock was still face down in the spilled coffee -- less than twelve hours, and I'm beside myself.

"Hey, MacLeod," Methos interrupted him, "Joe says, the show you guys are going to opens at noon, you're supposed to pick him up and he wants me to come with you." Jolted, MacLeod grabbed hold of the reminder of long-standing plans like a drowning man a life preserver, but he glowered at the entreaty on Methos' face. "Dinner is on him," Methos added.

"And heaven forfend I come between you and a free meal." MacLeod gave in. "Ask him if he knows a commercial plumber."

"Joe, Duncan MacLeod graciously thanks you for the reminder and says, 'do you know any plumbers?'" Methos paused while Joe obviously asked what had gotten into MacLeod's scotch bonnet. "There's no heat in the building; he was hoping you were a plumber." Methos picked the comforter up from MacLeod's waist and looked under. "Well, the shadow on my sundial says it's almost eleven." MacLeod swung a fist at him and grabbed back the cover. Methos stuck out his tongue.

Killing them both would be a service to all immortals.

"No? See you in a bit." Methos leaned across MacLeod's chest to replace the phone on the nightstand. As the phone fell in its cradle his head dropped to MacLeod's left nipple and he bit it hard.

MacLeod almost arched off the bed; he grabbed the back of Methos' neck and clamped him in place until he had apologized by licking the sore spot thoroughly. But when Methos reached again for the swelling mound of MacLeod's sex, the highlander caught his hand. He wrapped his arms around the other immortal, hugging him to his breast, and Methos stayed there with his head tucked into MacLeod's shoulder, letting MacLeod pet him. After a while he asked, "What are we doing?"

"We're waiting," the highlander said softly, remembering the fog and the dark under the abutments of a bridge by the Seine. Joe's phone call had reminded him of more than a forgotten engagement. "What time did Joe say?"

"An hour." Methos pushed against MacLeod's arms and MacLeod let him sit up. "It's less than that now. Want me to take the first shower?"

As soon as he said it, MacLeod remembered that the water in the tank would have been cooling for hours but there might be just enough for one warm shower. "No, you're the guest." MacLeod sat up blocking the easiest way for Methos to get out of the bed and put a leg on the floor. "Stay here, you haven't drunk your coffee."

"It's cold and you spilled it," Methos pointed out and began to kick free of the covers.

"So what? I made it especially for..." Methos lunged but MacLeod was faster. The highlander was slamming the bathroom door before Methos was halfway across the room. "That's what you get for stealing the covers," he taunted over the rattling doorknob.

"MacLeod, it's freezing out here," Methos wailed and pounded on the door. "I have to go."

MacLeod lifted the toilet seat, lowered the band of his sweatpants and began to loudly relieve himself.

"What did you say? I can't hear you." He called.

"I'll piss through the keyhole," Methos shouted.

MacLeod responded by adjusting his pressure and his aim to produce more noise. Then he flushed and pulled open the shower curtain.

"Rotten bastard." There was pain in Methos' voice. "I'll piss in the kitchen sink."

"Go use the one in the dojo, the door's not locked." MacLeod relented, completely certain that Methos would make good on that threat. He listened but didn't hear the sound of retreating feet. "Methos?"

"MacLeod." There was a very different timbre to Methos' voice when he answered; a note as dark and sweet as buckwheat honey that seemed to penetrate MacLeod's body. He went over to the door and leaned against the paneling.

"What?" he said, his voice was ragged in his own ears.

"You do want me, highlander. Don't you?" Methos sing-songed it like a kid with a teasing secret and MacLeod couldn't keep himself from laughing.

"Aye, mo chridhe, I do."

What Methos said then, in guttural words in that same sweet tone, was in no language that MacLeod could put a name to.

The day had turned out much as MacLeod had predicted it would, bright and cold as a diamond. As they walked past the Italianate reflecting pool that graced the north side of the park, Joe and Duncan used the time demanded by Joe's deliberate pace trying to extract an explanation for Methos' unannounced arrival in Seacouver. The white plumes of their breath shot into the air as they spoke.

On most days, the long pool mirrored the sky and the grand Palladian building at its end; today it was opaque with ice. People, bundled against the cold, hurried by them on either side except a man wearing a toga who bumped into Joe and apologized, "Sorry. My fault, I'm running late and not paying attention."

Methos, checking out his anachronistic dress, said, "quidquid agas, prudenter agas," as they all hesitated making sure Joe had his footing on the treacherous stone. The man gave Methos a glance of distracted confusion, then hurried on, the hem of his costume flapping against the top of his hiking boots. "Et respice finem. Mentulus!" Methos shouted after him.

"What's with the fancy dress? I thought this was just an opening." MacLeod asked.

"Sometimes they've got classics and drama students doing living history at special openings now. It's supposed to 'enrich the museum experience for patrons'," Joe was obviously quoting from the literature, "and justify the membership."

"I thought we were going to a show, you didn't tell me we were going to a Museum," Methos said, still looking at the hurrying figure ahead of them and really noticing the building for the first time. "I hate museums." He looked at Joe and then MacLeod in turn. "I'm always afraid I'll see something of mine."

"Well, if you do, we can ask for it back," MacLeod said unsympathetically.

"Stop trying to evade the issue, Pierson," Joe said with an equal lack of compassion.

"All right." He gave in. "After that light show MacLeod and Kalas put on, every immortal gossip in Europe knew something was up. He hadn't been particularly discreet. And some of the watchers were the worst. Even experienced field agents, who'd watched their guy for years, would suddenly decide he was Methos. It was getting to the point that if someone reported one more sighting of myself to me, I was going to lose it and yell, "No, he isn't, I'm right here!"

"That's why you suddenly decided to take a vacation?" Joe asked skeptically.

"No, but it didn't help," Methos sighed. "Joe, you are lucky to be away from headquarters. Shapiro's had an attack of millennial hysteria and thrown the archives open to qualified," Methos made quotations with his hands around the word qualified, "researchers for a limited time. He's had the idiotic theory that analyzing the direction of other people's research could expose some immortals who've managed to evade the watchers."

"Such as yourself," MacLeod said.

"Exactly," Methos blandly agreed. "I think he really wants a line on what the Talamasca's doing. Anyway, do you know who's a 'qualified' researcher?"

"No," MacLeod said, "but you're going to tell us, aren't you?"

Methos gave MacLeod a black look and slipped an unobtrusive hand under Joe's elbow. "That guy, Constantine, who teaches at the American University in Paris," he said. "Now can we go in? It's cold out here."

Joe looked from Methos' disgusted face to MacLeod's enlightened one and surmised, "He's immortal."

"Exactly," Methos repeated, "they almost got a twofer. I got back from lunch and he popped out of the stacks looking like where do I know you from? Hugo was with me, fortunately. I have never developed Egyptian crud so fast in my life."

"Constantine's a pretty fair guy." MacLeod remembered the tragic Roman general. "These days he doesn't go out of his way to pick fights. He probably was there to do research."

"Probably, but I think I used to own him and..." Methos caught Joe's scandalized expression and tapered off until he was waffling. "Or, maybe, he owned me...maybe. Anyway, it just didn't feel like the right time for any 'remember whens'. I took a few days of sick leave and got on a plane."

"You think you used to own him?" Joe demanded as they walked through an entrance flanked by reproductions of Rodin's magnificent doors.

"Different times, Joe," Methos started defending himself. "Some times it's just what you do. I've been a slave myself, almost as often as..."

"Then how can you be so cavalier about it?" Joe interrupted.

"I'm not being cavalier. You have to understand..."

MacLeod had observed how easily any interaction between these two degenerated into a sandbox squabble and decided to cut the investigation into politically incorrect employment practices short. "You've got to admit, Shapiro's idea almost worked," he overrode them both to point out. "If Constantine had drawn on you, you would have both been exposed."

"People die of exposure," Methos said, bitterly. He turned from MacLeod to Dawson. "So I come here and it's freezing. And, Joe, you know MacLeod's so scotch that he doesn't have separate hot water for the loft? That's why I hated the second millennium... the last one, I mean. You just couldn't get clean and everywhere you went -- barbarians."

"Bitch, bitch, bitch." MacLeod was shucking off his heavy overcoat and muffler while Methos was helping Joe with his parka. He piled his things into Methos' full arms, ignored his outraged expression, and pointed him at the coat checker. "Come on, we're holding up traffic."

Despite the weather or because of it, the museum was a popular choice for the day. There was a crowd clustered around the coatroom as Joe and MacLeod stood nearby waiting while Methos took his turn.

"The amenities at Chez MacLeod not up to Motel 6?" Dawson asked.

"He didn't phone me either, Joe," MacLeod answered the unasked question, "just turned up last night on my doorstep."

Joe sighed. "To a watcher that's the Holy Grail. I would kill to be seeing this exhibit through his eyes." The watcher was silent for a moment, studying Methos' face and MacLeod wondered what he was imagining. Methos had arrived at the counter and was speaking to the cloakroom attendant as he handed over their coats. They saw the young woman start to glow in response to whatever he had said. "The last 'second millennium'," Dawson quoted, his voice sounded hollow. "Do you really believe that?"

"I have to," MacLeod answered as Methos came back. "Stay upwind of the Ancient One; he doesn't do cold showers."

"Ha," Methos sneered, cut between the two of them and tucked a hand European style into the crook of MacLeod's elbow. They crossed the entry hall with its huge round fountain. Mercury flew on the breath of Zepherus over its cascading water. "So what's this a preview of?"

"Something else MacLeod didn't tell you. This is the most important exhibit of Roman artifacts ever mounted." Dawson turned them to the right. "East atrium. Most of it's from the Porcini Museum near Pompeii," MacLeod winced, as the grip Methos had on his arm suddenly became viselike, "and the Vaticino Bank kicked in to celebrate the recovery of their collection. It was stolen three years ago and actually recovered before most of it was melted down. The real purpose, of course, is to attract attention to the condition of Pompeii itself."

"What do you mean?" Methos asked.

"Politics. It'll only take one earthquake before the whole shebang's history again. The UN has earmarked thirty million dollars for emergency work on the structures and it's gotten all balled up in with the Italian government. This is an attempt to focus international outrage about the situation."

"I saw the article in the Smithsonian Magazine," MacLeod said.

The museum wasn't open to the general public yet and the vast galleries that they passed were lit but roped off with velvet. MacLeod could see through the doorways what looked like an important show of nineteenth century French painters and he made a mental note to come back later. Joe was looking around in appreciation too at the Renaissance sculptures that lined the hall, but Methos was staring fixedly ahead and his hand on MacLeod's arm hadn't marginally relaxed its painful grip.

"Methos?" he said the immortal's name and Methos turned toward his voice but it was obvious he was somewhere else.

"It's all gone," he said obscurely and not to MacLeod. Then he started as though woken from a dream; they stopped in the middle of the hall. "What?"

"Are you all right?" MacLeod asked.

"Oh yeah." Methos looked beyond him to the steps at the end of the hall. "I just had the creeps for a second."

"I could tell you did." MacLeod suddenly remembered what Methos had said on the steps outside. "Are you going to be all right with this?"

"Yes, of course." The other immortal made a brushing gesture and shook his head. "It's just that art's all right as far as it goes, but... " He groped for a phrase, then gave up. " I just don't understand putting up a palace to display every petrified piece of crap some archeologist digs out of a dump. It's glorifying grave robbing." Methos noticed Dawson's disappointed face. "I'm sorry, it's how I feel."

"I'm sorry too; I thought this would be a lot of fun if you came along," the watcher said "Didn't they have anything like museums," it was his turn to struggle for an inadequate expression, "a long time ago?"

"Yes," Methos admitted a little sulkily, "at lots of temples you went to see stuff." He qualified the admission. "But that wasn't the point of going. Besides, it was important contemporary cultural stuff, like Helen of Troy's bra, Trajan's truss or one of the Sabine women's knickers. And, oh yeah," he remembered something, "In Corinth, there was a painting of the Rape of Europa at the Temple of Zeus that was pretty hot."

"Well if hot is your criteria," Dawson pounced, "I think we've got you covered. And," he opened a ticket folder and pulled out a card, "didn't you once tell me that dormice in honey were your favorite snack?"

"You're putting me on." Methos squinted at it suspiciously.

"Nope, like Julia Felix used to make." Dawson waved the card. "Stuffed with sausage, dates, and fish paste, and glazed with honey; they adapted the recipe from Apicius." MacLeod felt slightly ill, but he could see that it was appealing to Methos.

"Oh, hell," the older immortal gave in, grabbed the menu and started down the hall toward the sunken atrium, "nihil est ab omni parte beatum. Show me the dormice."

"What are dormice anyway?" MacLeod hissed to Dawson behind Methos' back as they followed.

"Arboreal rodents," Dawson hissed back. MacLeod stopped dead.

"Rats?" he hissed in disgust. "I'm not eating them."

"You eat frozen haggis, don't you?" Dawson hissed in frustration.

"No," the highlander snapped out loud, feeling that they were starting to sound like a pair of mating snakes. "That's disgusting."

"So where do we begin?" Methos had waited for them at the bottom of the steps and was looking around. The entrance to the east atrium had been framed over by a reconstruction of one of Pompeii's city gates. While there had already been an impluvium in the center, now several small tabernae had been set up around it to serve food and hot drinks to patrons as they came out of the exhibit. "Food first?"

"This way." Dawson indicated the left aisle and they went in that direction. Prints of the eighteenth century excavations and romanticized illustrations of the eruption had been blown up and mounted on the walls. "The Vaticino collection is straight across, but the main exhibit circles around the atrium. You come out on the right in front of the stalls and you get your dormouse on a stick."

"Promise?" Methos asked. He had been looking closely at the prints and he seemed to have decided to make the effort to enjoy the show. "So you guys are both members of this mausoleum? Do you wear funny hats together?" Both Dawson and MacLeod were going to pay for the effort.

"No," MacLeod said. "I do evaluate pieces for their weapons collection occasionally. You might want to take a look at it while we're here. They have some magnificent blades."

"No," Methos grimaced. "That would be too much like going to a trade show, this is bad enough."

The first gallery they walked into was full of climate controlled cases filled with mosaics and sections of murals. The warm colors of the Mediterranean appeared as fresh as they had been two thousand years before when the frescos were new. The art was, for the most part, scenes of food and dining and domestic life taken from the walls of private homes and villas, vivid evidence of the value of family to the Romans. The three men pushed their way into the crowd, gradually becoming separated as different things attracted them. It was the pictures of husbands and wives, painted with affection and respect easy to see in their faces that appealed to MacLeod.

Methos came and stood beside him as he studied the delicate portrait of a 'lady with a writing tablet' lost in creative reflection. "She committed adultery with a gladiator," he informed MacLeod, "and her husband sued for the right to fuck the guy in return. He won." He spoke loudly enough to attract the attention of nearby patrons then leaned close to MacLeod and stage-whispered. "Have I told you how great your bum looks in those jeans?" MacLeod heard a shocked giggle.

"Go away, ye gabbin' pest." He gave Methos a shove and for a wonder Methos did go away. MacLeod could feel the heat in his face. He looked around; most people avoided his eyes and there was no one he recognized, so he decided to ignore it. Besides, it was easy to get lost again in the romance and pathos of the everyday objects on display: a comb and mirror, a makeup case with tiny jars for ointments and colors, a pair of sandals, somebody's jewelry box, a wooden cradle. It hurt MacLeod to see that. You could look at these things and know the people who had owned them weren't lost to your understanding in time. They could have been your neighbor or the man you bought bread from. And they had all been gone in a moment.

There was a silver purse with a woven chain taken from a woman's hand. MacLeod could imagine that it had been a gift from a lover. The brief fantasy saddened him and he looked around for Joe and Methos, but they had moved into other galleries. He went looking, found them together leaning over a case; the comfort between the two men so palpable that he couldn't help trying to figure it out.

Joe was a handsome man by any standard, with his warm eyes and ready smile; he had one of the widest ranging minds MacLeod had ever come across, and one of the dirtiest. At the moment, he looked academic in corduroy and a black turtleneck; the handicap of his legs was completely irrelevant to the impression he gave of physical power. Methos, in contrast, was spare and hawk-like in his constant uniform of blue jeans and sweater. He looked like any of the loopier grad students that infested the university, although there were times when he moved his lean body in ways that struck MacLeod as anachronistic, although he couldn't have said why. Standing in front of a flat case, they could have been a teacher and his favorite student discussing the show.

Perhaps they were a teacher and student; he saw Joe laugh as Methos, gesturing, mimed some technique in use two thousand years ago and made a face. MacLeod felt a twist of something he hoped wasn't jealousy. Joe looked up, saw MacLeod and smiled.

"Hey Mac," he said. "Come here, you have to see this." They were looking at what had to be a surgeon's kit: needles, speculum, scalpel, forceps and scissors. "They must have shaken down every receiver of stolen antiquities in the world to put this show together."

"You mean the Society of Watchers contributed?" MacLeod asked and smiled sweetly at Dawson's scowl. Methos smirked and the senior watcher turned on him and poked a stiff knuckle in his arm as if to say, Watch that, you little hypocrite!

Methos danced out of range and into the orbit of two of the Living History performers who were walking through the gallery arguing loudly, their dialog interspersed with stilted Latin phrases. One was the man who had bumped into Joe outside.

Methos snapped Heia and began to stalk them, yelling at them in Latin. MacLeod recognized the word when Methos said mentulus again, but his clerical Latin wasn't up to the translation.

"What was that about?" he asked Joe who was laughing.

"Politics. They were talking about the noble Trebius Valens," the watcher said, "'saying that there was a sign on Poppea Minor's house that he's being recommended by sneak thieves, the whole company of late night drinkers and everyone who's fast asleep. Methos said something like, 'hey, numb nuts, he was a friend of mine', and something else that was too idiomatic for me to catch."

"Then it was rude," he said with certainty. "Do we have to rescue them?"

"Nah, they're paid, call it performance art. Besides, if he's telling the truth..."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

"Do you want to be the one who explains it?" Dawson looked meaningfully over the rim of his glasses. "Let's go see what's next door." The watcher indicated an alcove that people were tumbling out of flushed and giggling. "That looks like the hot ticket."

Joe's instincts didn't fail them; just inside the entrance was a life-size marble statue of a Venus. The goddess was caught in the act of removing her sandal by a small Priapus who was demonstrating the most fundamental form of masculine appreciation. The Romans had sex lives, and they weren't concerned about Christian family values.

Pioneering further, they discovered that the gods of love and commerce had a lot to say to each other. Brothel signs featuring both Venus and Mercury listed the specialties of the house. There were small paintings from the interior rooms combining humor with instructions to the unimaginative.

"My God, Mac," Dawson said at one point, "I haven't seen such an obsession with penetration since I was fourteen and Sharon Kominsky made me an offer I couldn't refuse."

MacLeod left Joe to the contemplation of an exquisite little statue of a satyr having carnal knowledge of a goat (the goat looked perfectly appalled) and went to study the mural of a man weighing his impossibly huge prick on a golden scales.

"That was in a middle-class home, Joe," he said, still in awe, when Dawson wandered over to share the view, "it's supposed to scare off evil spirits."

"How?" Dawson asked. "By making them feel inadequate?"

"I don't know. Wasn't it Cicero who said, that it doesn't matter how big your prick is, if your luck's bad?"

"Sour grapes." Dawson said. "You know, don't you, Mac, that he's going to want more than a little slap and tickle?" MacLeod ignored him and walked away to examine a selection of brothel tokens. Dawson followed him. "You heard me."

"Look at this, Joe, fellatio's cheap and up the ass costs the most. Do you know how many brothels they had in Pompeii?" He knew he was red and Dawson's face was the color of ripe cherries but the watcher looked bulldog determined. "All right, I heard you. What are you on about?"

"Methos. He's here for a something and what am I supposed to think when he's asked me twice if I've noticed those how jeans really show off your bum?"

"Joe, he's sending you up." The pitch of his voice made him cringe; he looked around to make sure they weren't attracting attention and side-stepped to another case, Dawson still in pursuit.

"Damn it, Mac, I am not blind or stupid. There're a lot of ways I'd kill for what's just come to your hand."

"What's just come to my hand, Joe? You tell me." The statement had touched a core of deep rage in him and MacLeod turned to challenge the watcher.

"Knock it off," Joe, impossibly, flushed a deeper shade of red, "you're not the Virgin Queen. I know you've been around the block a couple of times so don't act like I'm an idiot." Dawson was studying his face again and MacLeod suspected that he looked as hag-ridden as he felt. "What is it? I saw your face when you came flying in back there; green isn't your color, boyfriend. I'm just asking you to think about what you could be getting yourself into."

"I haven't been doing anything but, Joe." That was as much of an apology and an admission as he could manage. "So tell me, where did this sudden knack for embarrassing me all to hell come from?"

"I'm a man of many talents, MacLeod. Besides, how can you stand in front of those things and ask me that with a straight face?" The case they were arguing in front of was full of drinking cups. Each with a phallus fixed inside so that anyone drinking from it had to touch it with their lips. They both started laughing and moved away from the case.

"Joe, did you really just say," MacLeod looked at Dawson sideways, "that if Methos made a pass at you, you would take him up on it?"

"Damn it, will you give me a break? There's not a lot that I wouldn't give for the opportunity to sort him out." It was fascinating to see the number of shades of red the watcher could turn. "So yeah, if that's what it took, I might turn over or wear a bright blue bunny suit. Hey, I'm being honest, what's your problem, MacLeod?" Dawson retorted.

"He's not my job, for one thing," MacLeod said.

"Ouch." The watcher had the grace to look ashamed. "I deserved that. Look, there's something I need to say to you and I'm not being very clear so let's try another tack. How long do you think you would you have survived if Connor hadn't found you?"

"I have no idea." That was the oldest, deepest pain. "You know I was cast out of my clan, if he hadn't found me I'd have died. What does that have to do with Methos?"

"You were doubly lucky, Mac, that Connor was kin and a good teacher. It improves your chances of survival by a huge factor. MacLeod, most immortals don't usually live much more than a normal human life span," Dawson said.

"What do you mean?

"Averaged out, the life span of all the documented immortals is less than two hundred years," Dawson said.

"That can't be right," he protested.

"It is. Statistics show that the further an immortal gets from his own time, the more difficult it becomes to stay alive. It may be as simple as culture shock or some subtle reason that we don't understand. But the thing is, it seems like the best of you, the most human and involved, are the most vulnerable; it's the psychopaths that go on forever. "

"Are you saying that Methos is a psychopath?"

"No. God, no. I'm trying to point out that he's the exception to every rule governing immortals that I know. I can't believe that he's the only one," there was an odd expression in Dawson's eyes when he said that, "but we don't even have rumors of anyone nearly as old surviving today. Whatever the reason he has for letting you and me get near him, may be as simple as the fact that he's lonely and he fancies your bum but don't bet on it. Also," Dawson tipped his head and looked straight at MacLeod, "a lot of you guys lose the game when you're around four hundred. It seems to be a pivotal year."

"Now you're saying that I'm suicidal?" Dawson didn't answer. MacLeod turned away but the watcher put a restraining hand on his arm. He stayed where he was, looking at Dawson's hand clenched in the black cotton of his sweatshirt.

"Stop it," the watcher said and the highlander could tell that he was furious. "MacLeod, you are my job. It's just gotten really interesting and I'd like to keep it. Think about why Methos and now Connor have found ways to opt out of the game."

"Nobody can stay out of the game forever, Connor knows that." He couldn't meet Dawson's eyes, but he had to try and express his confusion. "Two months ago I came here to look at a bronze sword. It's shaped like a blade of grass and it's nearly four thousand years old. It was perfectly balanced but unbelievably heavy and I've only got the dimmest idea about how you could fight with that weapon and win.

"Joe, Methos was already a thousand when that sword was cast. Darius...Darius was the oldest immortal I've known and he wouldn't be born for two thousand more years. I can't get my mind around it. Methos drank all my beer last night and he's getting to me and I can't get my mind around that little detail." He looked at Joe in desperation. "I need to know, can somebody live that long and not lose himself? Is that what you're talking about?"

"Partly. But maybe, we should be asking who needs to live that long." Dawson started to add something but he looked over MacLeod's shoulder, gave MacLeod's arm a squeeze and mouthed the word incoming as he let go.

MacLeod turned; Methos was watching them from the other side of the disrobing Venus. He caught MacLeod's eye, licked his lower lip with a tiny quick flick of his tongue and cocked his hips just slightly in imitation of the Priapus, pumping back and forth with barely perceptible thrusts. Electricity sparked between them; MacLeod felt his cock swell and throb in counter point. "He's going to get us tossed out of here."

"Mac," Dawson whistled, "you must have been the world's first Ivory Snow baby. What's it like being the object of that one's intention?"

"Terrifying," he admitted. "By the way, our phone call was the only thing that saved my virtue this morning. Joe," he looked at Dawson, "do you know how easy it is to make you blush?"

"Is that a scroll in your toga, MacLeod?" Methos caroled as he came up to them, "or are you just happy to see me?"

"Speak for yourself, Mac," Dawson drawled and there must have been something very interesting on the ceiling before he said to Methos who was looking pleased with himself. "Did you let them live, old son?"

"I came, I saw, and I kicked some scholarly butt." The ancient man suddenly looked five years old. "And I'm hungry."

"I know, being a pain in the ass is hard work. How 'bout we give MacLeod a break and you and I do some dormice?" Dawson hooked Methos by the elbow and indicated the exit. "I don't want you to spoil your appetite though, I'm going to take us to the Prime Rib later."

"Mac won't know what he's missing," Methos objected.

"But I can imagine," MacLeod said, grateful to Joe. "I'm going to finish looking around here, why don't you meet me in the last gallery?" Methos looked like he wanted to argue. MacLeod tried bribery. "Bring me a glass of wine and I'll let you tell me about the dormice in grim detail." Methos still looked stubborn but Joe took a firm grip and herded him out the door.

Thank you, Joe...I guess. It takes your friends to really make you feel like you've been pounded on.

MacLeod decided to forgo the rest of the gallery. The room was too hot and too full of traps. He'd broken into a sweat and the shirt was sticking to his back. There were too many people, all whispering, giggling, wandering around trying to look sophisticated as they gawked at pornography in public.

He found his way to the rooms with the Vaticino's treasures. It was quieter here; visitors walked softy, sipping little cups of hot red wine and wore the reverent expression appropriate for church or for viewing gold, because that was what the Vaticino Bank had contributed.

There were some cases of blown glass objects so rare and old that time had dusted their translucent colors with iridescence. But there was literally a treasure. A complete set of gold utensils embossed with elaborate mythic scenes. Some slave, perhaps, had hidden it in the bottom of wine jars to protect it during the eruption. The slave had died, his master too, and two thousand years later a laborer in the excavations had found them. There were coins and gold objects and jewelry that had been found hidden or left behind or taken from the hands of the dead.

The old man has a point about museums and grave robbers. But you know if Gabriel or Amanda saw this they'd be planning to lighten this institution's moral burden.

Amanda would; Gabriel's dead. Remember?

Yes, I remember, and come to think of it, Gabriel did see some of this, in Italy, when the excavations started. There was a time, he designed dresses and whole rooms based on the things they found in Pompeii.

Gabriel's death and the circumstances of it were uncomfortably close to Joe's prediction of an immortal life span; he didn't want to think about that. There was a sign said that the entire peristyle of the 'House of the Brothers' had been installed in the last alcove. He walked around the corner.

Here the colors on the walls were cool and the painted landscapes wild. The trees and shrubs didn't look Mediterranean to MacLeod's eyes; he saw what could have only been a roe deer peeping shyly through the trees and it reminded him of home. Some soldier, who served in Britain, must have painted it himself or described it to the artist. The labels said that the wall decorations were reproduced from one of the oldest private homes uncovered in Pompeii. The fountain, shrine, couches and sculptures were original. He stood, turning until he saw the centerpiece of the peristyle.

Oh, hullo! If you came in here to get away from sex, Mac, you made the wrong turn.

If Michaelangelo's David had climbed off of his pedestal and gotten stinking drunk and debauched, he would have looked like this wild faun sleeping in the aftermath of orgasmic pleasure. It was the most undisguised sexual thing MacLeod had ever seen and one of the most beautifully carved statues.

You're too obvious, old god. What kind of house could keep you as a domestic spirit? MacLeod walked around it, wondering. I'll bet you're what Sam Clemens meant when he wrote 'there are things in Pompeii no modern author can describe.'

The faun lay on his back, his neck, chest, belly perfectly sculpted. One of his arms flung behind his vine crowned head; the other hung down at his side, though the wine cup was long gone from his fingers. His legs were spread wide, exposing the powerful muscles of his inner thighs and a neat cock that lay snug over a scrotum that looked velvet soft despite being carved of stone. Below, MacLeod could see, the sculptor had accurately carved the deep cleft and swell of his buttocks.

Vesuvius probably saved you from the fires of the righteous. He thought of the many classical marbles had been burned to make lime.

He looked in the faun's face. Cold white vines tangled in marble hair around a face that was wide and flat with a pointed chin and cheekbones prominent enough to give it an exotic appearance. The sculpted features were too strong, too individual, for this to be anything other than a portrait.

The brows were straight, although the eyes tipped slightly, and even in repose a small worried crease pressed between them. The nose was straight and emphatic. The mouth was curved, sensual and slightly cruel, but it suited the rest of his features. The entire effect was terribly, almost unnervingly, familiar.

Where have I seen you before, little god?

MacLeod tried to envision the faun as a living man, with olive skin and hot brown eyes, but that wasn't right. The face stayed stubbornly locked in pale marble and the memory out of reach. He could only conclude that, unlikely as it was, he must have seen a picture in a book and forgotten.

He could hear Joe and Methos coming to find him. Still caught up in the faun's spell, he lifted his head. A little maliciously, he wanted to see their first reaction when they came around the corner and saw the statue for the first time.

But he didn't see Joe's smile. MacLeod was staring at the painting on the one wall that he hadn't noticed before. It was Dawson yelling in hurt surprise, that brought his attention back to the other two men but Methos was gone. He had crashed into Joe, spinning the watcher around and almost knocking him down in a panic to get out of the room. There was spilled red wine all over the floor.

"Adam!" Dawson was calling after Methos. There were guards hurrying over to help, fussing and promising to call for a mop. MacLeod could see the confused frustration in Joe's face as he turned to him for an explanation and MacLeod could only help him turn and look at the double portrait that had distracted him. Damaged though it was, one of the figures could only have been Methos.

"Shit! Mac," Joe said and gave him a shove, "don't stand there gawping like an idiot, go find him." MacLeod ran.

When he found Methos, the other immortal was alone in one of the cavernous French galleries. MacLeod approached slowly and sat down on the opposite side of the bench he was hunch on. They looked at each other. Methos was pale and his hair looked damp and spiky.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"Yes," Methos said, "apparently my tolerance for honeyed dormice has decreased over the years."

"I told Joe you were going to do something to get us tossed out of here."

Methos' mouth twisted, he shook his head and indicated the painting filling the entire wall above them. "We should have skipped the crap downstairs. Is that a metaphor for immortality or what?"

MacLeod twisted around, looked up and recognized the scene. In a storm of violent brush strokes and dark colors, Dante and the shade of the poet Vergil were being rowed across the Acheron, the river that flows to the lake of fire at the center of hell. The poets' small craft was besieged by drowned souls of the dead. Bodies rose through the surging black water, their faces twisted and tortured with despairing rage as they tried to swamp the boat. One, who had hoisted himself out the water, was gnawing the wooden prow in the frenzy of his dementia. The Florentine poet's face was a mask of horror as he looked at what those dead had condemned themselves to. Only the face of his Roman master was calm.

He looked back at Methos' stark profile. "What does it mean?"

"They're leaving the first circle of hell, leaving all of those souls whose greatest sorrow is that they have no hope of death," Methos told him. "Only a mortal would not have made that the tenth circle."

"You lived there, didn't you?" MacLeod kept his gaze on Methos.

"Pompeii or Hell?" Methos snorted softly and closed his eyes; his body was rocking slightly. "Yes, for a long time."

"You weren't there during the eruption?" MacLeod said.

"Wouldn't that have been a bit much? No, you can't stay somewhere all the time. Not even you, MacLeod. I went back when I found out but it was still hot; bombs were still getting spit out and you'd get clobbered if you weren't careful. We tried to find the house, but buildings collapsed on my workmen and there were rooms filled with poison gasses. It was impossible."

He made that odd brushing gesture again, as though he were tossing something away. MacLeod thought of the wanton spirit that had inhabited his garden

"You went back for the faun?" he said.

"And other things."

"Who was he?" MacLeod had to ask.

At first he thought Methos wasn't going to answer him, the other immortal's mouth twisted so that it looked like he had tasted wormwood and he tried to speak twice before saying, in a voice so fragmented that MacLeod could barely make out the words. "My brother for over two thousand years."

"He's dead?" MacLeod asked gently. There was no way he could understand what Methos meant by 'brother' but he sensed a world of unspoken emotion behind it.

"Yes." Methos took a breath but he didn't relax, his face transformed itself again into a mask of grief and loss. "That was a joke, outside on the steps." His body was still rocking. "It really is just stuff."

"Not funny, you almost knocked Joe down getting out of there."

"Oh God, I've got to go apologize to him." The pupils of Methos' eyes were as opaque as ocean-tumbled stones and he was starting to take quick shallow breaths. MacLeod realized that he was close to shock.

"It's all right." He reached over, pulled Methos' head down and felt his body shaking. MacLeod held him for the long minutes it took for the convulsions to pass. The guard standing at the door could have been carved of ebony, for all the interest he appeared to take in them.

MacLeod held on until Methos was quiet, breathing normally and his body leaned heavily against his. He held on until an arm slipped around his waist and Methos nestled closer, so close to MacLeod's ear that the highlander could feel the puff of warm air with each word as he spoke. "Why didn't you let me touch you this morning?"

Overwhelmed by the other man's loss and the memory of his own need, MacLeod hugged him tighter and buried a kiss in his hair.

"Gentlemen." The guard's footsteps had a deliberate sharpness in the empty room. He came within ten feet of the two men and stopped. "This isn't the place for that."

Methos squeezed him, gave a choked laugh and pulled away. "You were right, Mac, now can we get the flock out of here."

They were all quiet during the drive to the restaurant, but Joe looked ready to burst and Methos had brooded in the back seat of the Thunderbird. Joe's connections got them a secluded table and an efficient waiter and MacLeod hoped food would settle everyone's nerves and make it easier to talk about what had happened but the watcher couldn't wait.

"That was you back at the museum, wasn't it?" were the first words out of his mouth as soon as the waiter had gone. "Tell me about it?"

"Joe, you are the perfect fucking watcher." Methos said quietly. "You'd take notes at the last trump." MacLeod heard the soft rattling sound as he spoke but Joe was oblivious to it. Sometimes, he reflected, that's all the warning you get.

"You know it," the watcher said. "Talk to me."

"No," Methos said. "You're a member of an organization that has no reason to exist, except to stick its nose in where it has no business."

"My business is to try to understand you." Dawson spoke his frustration.

"Leave me alone. You don't know anything, you just think you do. You don't have a clue. Neither does MacLeod. He's immortal, but other than that there's no difference between the two of you."

"Give us one." Dawson begged.

"Are you going to record this and report it?"

"Not officially, you know I wouldn't do that to you."

"But you'll record it?"

"Look, I saw the painting, I just want..."

MacLeod saw something ugly springing to life in Methos eyes. Too much had been exposed today, too fast. "The fresco," he interjected and got Methos' attention. "A fragment of a fresco in the Roman exhibit." Methos hadn't seen it; MacLeod continued, "it was you -- bad hair cut, but the nose is distinctive."

Methos took a breath to speak but stopped, looking as if he had just been told he'd gotten the wrong answer to 'what is one plus one'. He stared at the table, unconsciously scrubbing a knuckle under his nose, then half-smiled as though at a memory. "There was a portrait," he finally said. "I'd forgotten. I owned the house for the better part of three hundred years. After a while every wall got painted -- some of them a lot."

The watcher should have let it go but he had been hurt and he had cause to be angry too. "None of this is in your chronicles, I just want to know..."

"Leave it alone. Can't you understand, Joe?" Methos interrupted. "It was just one of those times when there was enough to eat and, for the most part, nobody wanted to kill us. I got married -- more than once. There were new things to learn and we didn't fight in any big wars. That does not make exciting history but it's as good a definition of peace as I know."

"I think you've been diddling the chronicles longer than anybody knows. All I want to know is what..." The immortal's expression became frightful. MacLeod wondered how rage on a man's face could be so distinctly black.

"Dawson, you cunt lapper," he exploded. "It's my life, not your fucking chronicles, and sometimes I just want it back." He raised his fist and MacLeod prepared to intervene physically. "I don't care what part. It doesn't matter. In a hundred years or five hundred years, I'll want this back." While he was speaking he kept staring at Dawson as though he hated him. "I'll be walking down a street, I'll see you, Joe and I'll call your name and you'll have been dead for..." Methos opened his hand and caught his breath. Except for a livid spot on each cheek, the immortal had gone as pale as the watcher. "God knows why I'd even want to talk to you."

"God knows why," Joe agreed. He was looking just as fiercely back at Methos.

The arrival of the waiter with a basket of crusty bread and a bottle of Beaujolais broke up the staring contest. MacLeod took the loaf and started tearing it apart. He felt like an eavesdropper on a conversation that he hadn't wanted to hear and a disinterested observer wouldn't have been able to tell which of the three of them looked sickest.

Then Joe got a funny look on his face. "Cunt lapper? Guilty as charged, Methos, but what gave you the clue?"

"The smug expression on your face," Methos, eyes were slitted nearly shut but Joe started laughing. MacLeod buttered the chunks of bread he'd created.

"Was that the worst thing you could think to call me?" Joe asked.

"It would have been in 54 BC," the immortal said.

"Is that what mentulus meant?" Joe sounded as though he were honestly curious.

"No, 'cock sucker' would have been a compliment," Methos said in a tone so arch that MacLeod itched to slap him.

"Knock it off, both of you!" MacLeod roared slapping his hand down on the table; all of the silverware jumped. "Joe, stop provoking him; and you eat," MacLeod ordered, setting the plate of bread down in front of Methos. "You didn't even get a cup of coffee this morning." MacLeod poured a glass of wine and, as he set that down next to the plate, Methos caught his hand under the table.

"Whose fault is that?" Methos jibed.

"I wouldn't know." MacLeod squeezed Methos' hand hard enough to make him wince. Joe snorted. Methos threw his head back, the muscles of his jaw working. It was impossible to tell if he was trying not to laugh or not to cry because it could have been either.

"I'm sorry, Joe," he finally said and he was definitely not crying. "I am so sorry. I didn't mean to knock you about." That didn't seem to precisely cover the emotional territory, but MacLeod decided that, under the circumstances, it was an acceptable apology.

"Hey, no harm, no foul." The watcher looked abashed.

"Eat," MacLeod ordered. "You're going off again."

Methos lowered his head; his eyes were red with unshed tears. "I could get us tossed out of here too."

"Later," MacLeod promised and Methos smiled at him, but it was a pretty watery kind of smile.

Joe gave him a look as he poured wine into the remaining glasses that plainly said, later for you too, if I find out you didn't tell me something, but the watcher picked a full one up and held it out to him. "Blessed are the peacemakers, MacLeod, for they shall catch flack from both sides. I'm sorry too."

Methos picked up his glass. "I'll tell you one thing about Pompeii," he said sighing. They looked at him expectantly. "It was warmer." It wasn't funny but it was Methos.

The waiter brought salads, then steaks with garlic potatoes and they ate. MacLeod kept a weather eye on Methos as he ate until there was nothing left on the other immortal's plate but blood stained scraps of potato skin. A tacit consensus kept the conversation on less volatile subjects throughout the meal.

When the second cup of coffee was served Dawson said, "You know, this has been a blast, fellows, but I have a business to run and the band's playing tonight." He looked bemused. "If you guys want to stay over, you can sleep in the back room. It'll be warmer than the loft."

MacLeod shook his head. "We'll see; I have to be home if the plumber condescends to come in the morning but maybe the Ancient One needs to consider his old bones." He gave Methos a way out, if he needed it, that the other man didn't acknowledge. He finished his coffee and stood up. "I'll go get the car and meet you two out front."

It took longer to get the car around to the front of the building than he expected, and when he did, he didn't see the others at first. Then he spotted them just inside the door; Joe was holding Methos, rocking him like a father comforting a heartbroken child. Knowing he was apart from what was happening between them, MacLeod waited until they had separated before he touched the horn.

Joe's was on its way to being tropically hot and noisy and MacLeod was checking out the room, Methos perched on the stool beside him. Dawson had served them himself and gone to set up the band. "Have I put myself completely beyond the pale, Mac?" Methos asked.

"I think you should be whipped," MacLeod said. Methos looked at him. "But I do consider that there were extenuating circumstance."

"You know if you live long enough, you can get blind-sided anywhere, but going to museums is just stupid. Thanks for catching me back there, by the way, I wouldn't hurt Joe for the world, but sometimes it makes me nuts."

MacLeod reached over and pulled Methos against his shoulder for a quick hug before letting go "I know what you mean." He twisted around to look at the stage. Dawson was adjusting the stings on his guitar. "Joe is amazing, but I can't help wondering who watches the Watchers."

"I do." Methos laughed when MacLeod raised his eyebrows. "Joe is amazing, he's keeping my secret and it's driving him nuts. But he just doesn't like the idea that I'm a nobody, he wants me to turn out to be Zarathustra or Methuselah or the man who invented cheese or something."

"I don't blame him. After five thousand years, Methos," MacLeod took leave to inform him, "it just doesn't seem likely that you would have always settled for being Nobody."

"Somebody died, Nobody lives," Methos said.

And sometimes build houses with gardens, MacLeod thought. The band had finished its sound check.

"Was that statue really in the middle of your garden?" he asked. The other immortal ducked his head; his eyes were shaded as though he were looking into the past, but he looked up at MacLeod his eyes were laughing.

"Yes. It must have blown a few enlightened minds when it turned up."

"It's still pretty challenging," MacLeod said. He saw Methos' lips twitch involuntarily before he turned; the first chords were demanding their attention.

Joe had hitched himself up on a stool. Stripped of his academic disguise, in a black tank top that freed his arms and shoulders, he looked like a blacksmith bent over his forge playing the Stratocaster. MacLeod wasn't quite sure how it happened but when a blonde with a generous mouth smiled at him, he asked her to dance. He hadn't intended to, just have a few drinks and go home, but nobody could have stayed still in the presence of Joe's music, the rhythm got inside you. At some point the blonde turned into a tall, bosomy woman with light brown hair, and then into a black woman with tiny braids that stood out from her head like a peacock's fan. When he tried to count the beads in her hair, she laughed at him. Men and women brushing him shared intimate touches, as they spun and he caught whiffs of perfume and the acrid scent of reefer amid the smells of beer and heated bodies.

He lost the black woman and was dancing with the brunette again, in front of the stage. The sheer volume of the chords Joe pulled from his guitar was piercing him with an awful pleasure when someone laid possessive hands on him. He turned around and Methos was laughing in his face, pulling their hips together and spinning them around crotch to crotch. As MacLeod whirled, he could see Joe grinning, the light glinting off of his crooked front tooth. The watcher was carefully looking somewhere else. MacLeod wondered if it was obvious that he was aroused. Then Methos let him go and disappeared into the crowd; MacLeod caught an occasional glimpse of him later among the gyrating bodies dancing with the black woman who had been MacLeod's partner too. Their hips thrust rhythmically, hands moving like butterflies in some ancient and utterly compelling pattern. MacLeod was amazed that so spare a body could be so sinuous in motion.

When the set was over, he was hot and dripping and needed a beer. Methos had claimed a table earlier and was sitting there with a bottle in his hand. The amber glass looked wet and cold, so MacLeod snagged it away from him and rolled it over his face and neck. He took a long pull from it before he handed it back. Methos looked at it as though he'd been given a dead mouse to hold.

"Thank you, Mac, that's disgusting." The table was full of empties, with no place to set it Methos gave up and finished it as MacLeod flopped down next to him and waved to the waitress for more.

"I didn't know you could dance like that," he said, "but I suppose for the first five hundred years or so, you guys had nothing but rhythm bands?"

Methos nodded. "That's right. Then we invented horns and blew them." He put the empty bottle to his lips and produced a hollow note, glancing at MacLeod to gauge his reaction. "And you know we used to really party down there at the temple of Dagon before we threw the sacrifices into the fire." His eyes stopped laughing as he said that. "Mac, you didn't answer the question that I asked back in the gallery."

For all the fussing and temper tantrums today, Methos had put up with more exposure than MacLeod would have ever thought possible. The answer is that Joe reminded me, as he has been doing all day, because he cares passionately about us both but...

"I know something even more than Joe knows it," he said, remembering the fog and the dark under the abutments of a bridge by the Seine. He fixed his eyes on the other immortal. "Whoever you may be, after five thousand years, Methos, there wasn't a chance in hell you were going to let me take your head that night in Paris."

And here we are, MacLeod thought, at the crux of any relationship between two immortals. How long can we navigate between the love and the likelihood that we'll have to try and kill each other some day?

Methos didn't deny it.

"I didn't know you, Mac. You led Kalas straight to me and I might have had to kill you both. We're still animals underneath it all. I rolled over and showed you my belly; you decided to protect me." Methos looked down making experimental puffs into his bottle. "I gave him a poor fight, and the arrogant bastard never looked past that. He would have killed me, so it never occurred to him that you hadn't." He blew softly into his bottle, evoking that low note again. "And that might have been the end of it. But I liked you."

"Later, you kept watching me over Joe's shoulder," MacLeod said.

"I trust him," Methos said simply. "And when it came to you, the parallel view was helpful. Besides," Methos' eyes flicked at him, "you've got to admit, it's a damn good set of shoulders."

"Tell him that," MacLeod said dryly, acknowledging his jealousy, "you might get a surprise." Methos smiled and lifted the bottle to his pursed lips again. MacLeod took it away from him and handed over one of the fresh ones to make up for it. "It's not only about letting go, is it?"

He had to ask because it seemed he was being challenged to fall in love with the ultimate pragmatist. But Methos had loved and been loved for over two thousand years by a man he still missed. Could that have happened if he was always calculating the odds and manipulating everyone around him? Or did he start doing that when his brother was gone and there was no one to protect his back.

"No, Mac. But it's an important lesson and if you're going to endure you have to constantly pay the price for relearning it. It's not life without risks; you just have to figure out which ones are worth taking." Methos' eyes were black as they looked into his and his fingers touched MacLeod's on the bottle that the highlander hadn't let go of yet. "I have to pee. Where's the bog?"

"Down the hall where we came in, on the other side of the coat racks." Methos lurched to his feet and disappeared in the crowd. MacLeod counted the empties on the table.

The band started to play again. He shook his head 'no' at invitations to dance and watched the bodies gyrate around him for a while. He watched Joe, noticing how the light silvered his hair as he bent over the guitar, making love to it. The car was parked behind the steps below the back door and their coats were hanging in the hall.

Methos was taking too damn long; he stood up and headed toward the back.

He didn't find Methos in the john, the door was locked; when he banged on it and yelled, a strange male voice told him what he could do with himself. A couple of women standing in the Ladies' line giggled at him. Methos' coat wasn't in the rack. Enough clues to deduce that Methos had gone outside; the alley was a known refuge for desperate men and, occasionally, desperate women.

He put his coat on, went out too and stood on the landing pulling it tight against the cold. Peering into the dense shadows the streetlight cast, he could smell hot piss and there was a plashing sound in the darkness on the other side of the Thunderbird. MacLeod grinned and went down the steps and found Methos was peeing against the bricks. He glanced over as MacLeod came down and took a swallow of the beer he had brought out with him. Stepping back from the wall, he adjusted himself so that the arc of piss glittered pink in the sodium light and made patterns against the wall. Show off, MacLeod thought, pretending that he'd never done anything remotely so common.

"That's very pretty, now put it away. If someone comes out, they'll want to play with it." And it's mine.

Methos finished his mundane chore, tucking and zipping with one hand. He came toward the car, swaying slightly. MacLeod stopped next to the driver's door, watching him. "I'm going back to the loft if you want to come. It'll be cold but I can think of a few things we could rub together to keep warm."

"You're not going to let me touch it, are you?" Methos teased. "You're just having me on."

"I hope so," he promised, smiling because his voice had cracked.

"Prove it."

Methos was near enough that MacLeod didn't answer; he put a hand on the back of the other immortal's neck, pulled him close and covered his mouth and kissed him. Methos' lips were cool and when he opened his mouth, the bitter yeasty favor of beer was still inside for MacLeod to taste.

He plunged in, feeling for every sensation in the sharp scrape of teeth and the wet wrangle of their tongues around each other. He could feel himself swelling and pushed it against the other man's body. Methos was making starved noises that sent lightning striking to the base of MacLeod's belly and his cock throbbed with every note.

When they had to break for air, it was too soon for Methos, and he complained by biting. MacLeod enclosed him in a tight embrace and comforted him with the blunt hardness of their erections rubbing against each other through their jeans. With Methos' head tucked under his chin, he buried his nose in the other man's hair, delighted by the damp softness and finding again the subtle scent that had perfumed his sheets that morning.

Methos raised his head and MacLeod kissed the precise indentation at the temple and painted the ridge of cheek with his tongue. He licked and bit his way to the nerves he knew laced the edge of a man's jaw. Methos, lost to sensation, tilted his head back, exposing the entire vulnerable length of his neck for MacLeod to use. He found the deep pulse high in the arch of his throat and began to suck there, trying to leave a mark that would last for more than a few minutes.

Methos sagged against him; glass scraped against the side of the bricks as he fumbled to get rid of the bottle he was still holding. It slipped from his hand and exploded on the ground beside them, spattering their boots with beer and nuggets of glass.

"It wasn't empty," Methos mourned, letting his head drop on MacLeod's shoulder

"We'll get some more," MacLeod consoled him, wrapping his coat around him, "later."

With the entire length of their bodies pressed together and the weight of the other man's head on MacLeod's shoulder, to an outsider they would have appeared to be standing still. But under his sweatshirt, he could feel Methos' hands become claws on his back, leaving fire where they scratched him. They raked lower and took hold of his buttocks, grinding them together; Methos pushed backwards until MacLeod slammed against the brick stair well.

Something gouged his shoulder blade but he could feel Methos' hands, stroking his cock, tugging at his belt, fumbling to get at him with a distracted urgency. MacLeod, just as much, wanted him to hurry and thrust out his hips to make it easier. Methos found the buckle, pulled it open and unsnapped his jeans. He pushed the denim roughly aside and MacLeod's famished cock jumped into the small chill space between them. The sound in his ears was his own voice begging Methos to touch it.

His hands still entangled in the fabric, Methos dropped to his knees and just for a moment, MacLeod could feel warm breath on his cock, then he was engulfed in a wetter more exquisite heat. He cupped the back of Methos' head, urging him to swallow all he could; fucking that warm haven of a mouth. The smell of beer and blood rose and filled his head. He tried to back away but the wall was behind him.

"No, mo chridhe, no! You're hurting yourself."

He tried to get Methos to pay attention to him. But Methos wouldn't stop; he knocked away the hand MacLeod put on his arm, tongued the length of MacLeod's cock and swallowed it again. Over the sound of his gagging breath, MacLeod could hear glass grinding into the asphalt.

Frightened, he reached down, got a grip on Methos under the arms and hauled him to his feet. Methos swung at him. MacLeod didn't wait to find out how far he was willing to go. He blocked, stepped close, and jerked Methos' coat down over his shoulders, entrapping his arms. Then he picked him up and dropped him on the trunk of the Thunderbird. Methos kicked him.

He almost escaped, but he got a graze on the thigh as he stepped between Methos' legs and pushed them apart. He punched a stiff hand into the other immortal's sternum, knocking him flat. There was a soft clang as Methos' head hit the metal. MacLeod put his hand on the other man's diaphragm and pressed.

"Stay put," he ordered, despite the fact that Methos had no choice.

When he was sure Methos would stay down, MacLeod lifted his knees and ran his hands over them, brushing away all the bits of glass he could feel. His fingers were wet and greasy when he took them away. He ran a slick thumb over Methos' lower lip and pushed it into his mouth, making him taste it. Methos squirmed to avoid it.

"Tha's a fool, old man." MacLeod said, his voice rasping in the dark.

"Put a feast in front of a beggar," Methos panted, "he'll gorge."

MacLeod wiped his hands on the calves of Methos' jeans, then leaned over and kissed the hollow at the base of his throat.

"The last thing I want to do is hurt you," he said kissing Methos and getting the flat taste of oil and blood. He put his tongue inside anyway and explored every part of Methos' mouth.

Methos made a blind, starved noise. His arms were still trapped by his coat, so he wrapped his legs around MacLeod's hips and began to pump back and forth against him. The highlander reached under him and lifted him higher up on the trunk. His cock was resting directly over the swollen one inside Methos' jeans and he thought he'd open the zipper and hold their two cocks together in his hand. But the sensation of the seam rubbing against him was so good that he let Methos do what he seemed to want. He could hear soft laughter as their hips started to pump more urgently against together. MacLeod made the mistake of looking down and seeing his cock, thrusting over Methos'. It was too compelling. His own hips working, MacLeod bent over; pulled Methos tighter against him and rode him.

His hair was coming undone from its tie and sticking where it fell on his forehead. He buried his face in Methos' chest, abandoned in every sense to the primal, rhythmic thrusting and the voice that urged him on. Methos' voice, crying and telling him how beautiful he was and how brave. Then he was pouring himself over Methos, spewing milky stars over the sky in hot, wet streams of ejaculate. He collapsed, all of his weight on the other man, deaf, blind and dumb.

When the ringing in his ears subsided and he could hear again, the first sound he heard was Methos' voice telling him to get the fuck off. He stood up, wobbling; his legs felt like rubber bands. A door hinge squealed above him but it didn't mean anything to his madly fizzing brain. Methos' back was arched and his legs were splayed, dangling off the edge of the trunk. That didn't look like it was comfortable to MacLeod, so he lifted Methos' thighs and began to massage them. The smell of semen was acrid in the cold air over all the other smells in the alley.

"Is that messy on the inside as it looks outside?" he said, looking at the shiny streaks and white spots that stained Methos' jeans. He suspected that sounded slightly dim as soon as he said it, and Methos kicked him in the knee to prove it.

"Yes, thank you very much. Now gerroff, some wowser just stuck his head out and got an eye-full."

"Do you mean," MacLeod started to snicker; he couldn't help himself and almost collapsed on top of Methos again, "that we are going to get tossed out of an alley?"

"Idiot. You can stay if you want and have this recorded in your damned chronicles." Methos kicked him in the thigh. "But I'm not, now help me up."

"Poor bairnikie." The drive home had been punctuated by Methos' bitching. MacLeod had been perfectly sympathetic...up to a point. "But you've got to admit you kind of did yourself."

"No, I don't. What does it take to get through that thick Caledonian scull? If you hadn't been so stubborn this morning it wouldn't have come to this -- so to speak." Methos said it before MacLeod could jump in. Methos squirmed on the seat. "Ick. It feels like a swamp; I'm going to be chafed for weeks." MacLeod snorted. "Will you stop making those disgusting noises?"

"Fuck," MacLeod said. He was cruising; looking for a parking place that wasn't on the other side of the street from the dojo.

"I was trying." Methos sulked.

"Not you, Dawson's puppy's still there." MacLeod pointed out a figure ostentatiously lurking in the door of the pawnshop across the street to Methos. "He must think he's Sam Spade."

"Fuck," Methos said and slid down the seat.

MacLeod made the turn. "I'm going to drop you at the back door and go in the front," he said. "Don't turn the lights on and wait for me by the freight elevator." He dropped Methos off, drove around and parked directly across from the building. When he got inside Methos was waiting for him, holding an envelope.

"This was on the elevator door." Methos handed it to MacLeod as they got in the elevator. MacLeod opened it and moaned. "What is it?"

"The plumber came, it's the bill." He showed it to Methos, who raised his eyebrows, impressed.

"Well, at least we won't freeze. But really, MacLeod, you should have the villain flogged."

When they stepped off the elevator MacLeod took Methos by the arm, went over to the thermostat, and pushed the lever. It responded with a satisfying click as somewhere deep in the basement a circuit closed and hot water started to rise. With Methos in tow, the streetlight outside was enough for him to find his way to the telephone.

"What are we doing?" Methos was, apparently, one of those people who couldn't help whispering in the dark.

"Getting rid of a damned nuisance." MacLeod phoned the police and, as a local business owner, reported a suspicious person. Then he towed Methos to the refrigerator. "You want a beer, or didn't you leave me any last night?"

"I think there's one left," Methos said.

"Then let's kill it off." He discovered the one surviving Sam Adams and pulled it out of its hiding place behind the milk carton. He shut the refrigerator door, let go of Methos, twisted the cap off the bottle and tossed it toward the sink where it pinged as it hit the stainless steel.

"You're catching on," Methos approved. They stood in the semi-dark and drank, passing the bottle back and forth between them. MacLeod could only see Methos as a shadow in front of him as he leaned against the island counter but he could sense the motion when Methos raised the bottle and hear the sound as he swallowed.

"Let's get you cleaned up," he said when the bottle was empty.

He took Methos' coat, pulled the sweater and T-shirt over his head and dropped them all, ignoring a protesting 'don't,' on the floor. He unsnapped Methos' jeans and pushed them down over his hips. Then he picked him up, much more carefully than he had in the alley, and set him on the counter next to the sink. Methos let him pull off his boots and finish removing the jeans without saying a word.

MacLeod got a dishtowel, soaked it and washed away the dried blood. He rinsed the towel and began to wipe off the residue of orgasm. From outside, blue and red lights started to flash around the walls and ceiling, highlighting the planes of Methos' face. MacLeod started to wipe the towel over Methos' chest, Methos shivered; his nipples looked like tiny buttons.

"I'm sorry it's cold," MacLeod apologized.

"It's all right," Methos said softly.

"Let me make it up to you?" MacLeod asked, meaning the whole day.

Methos pulled the clip out of MacLeod's hair and guided MacLeod to his breast for the highlander to warm each puckered nub with his tongue. Methos groaned and kissed the crown of MacLeod's head; threaded his fingers into MacLeod's hair, wordlessly begging him to stay where he was. The flesh in MacLeod's mouth was so responsive that he played from one nipple to the other with his tongue, teeth and fingers and Methos reacted into every lick, nip, and stinging flick with little sounds of pleasure.

Below MacLeod's mouth Methos' cock stood proud in his lap, MacLeod leaned down and ran his tongue wetly around the flaring rim, pausing at the most sensitive place, where the ridge curved up. He followed the curve and dipped his tongue into the eye, tasting juices salty and sweet, He took the entire head in his mouth, cuffed his hand around it. He let saliva flow, opened his fingers, lubricated the shaft and began to suck, loving the solid feel of it in his mouth.

Methos had been combing MacLeod's hair, now he twined two thick handfuls of it around his fingers and jerked.

"Mac, will you respect me in the morning?" he asked.

MacLeod had to raise his head or risk serious damage. "I'm no' respectin' you now," he snickered.

"MacLeod, I want more tonight than getting humped on top of a car and a blow job on the kitchen counter." He emphasized the point by yanking harder on MacLeod's hair.

"Jaesus wept, you can have the white wedding."

"Make it up to me on the bed, with the lights on so I can see your face," Methos told him.

MacLeod shook off the entangling fingers and let his coat drop on top of Methos' clothes.

"I can do that..." He lifted one of Methos' arms, butted into his stomach and half hoisted the man over his shoulder. "There's no need to be shy, just tell me what you want." But he hadn't quite got the leverage right, overbalanced and staggered back under the surprising weight almost tripping over his coat. Methos yelped.

"MacLeod, if you drop me, so help me, I'll gut you with a dull spoon."

"I am not going to drop you," MacLeod promised. Then he dropped him. Only far enough that his feet just touched the floor. Then he could bend down quickly and find a better lift point and when he straightened up Methos was firmly head down over his shoulder and they were coursing for the bedroom.

"MacLeod," Methos sounded like he was having difficulty breathing, but that might have been because he was laughing, "if you damage yourself before we get to bed, I'll tear your balls off."

"That's probably what the Sabine women said. Now, stop your squalling, ye frakie deil." In spite of his assurances, MacLeod was glad the bed was close. "You going on a diet," he promised as he located the edge of the bed with his knee. He dumped Methos off on to the bed, clambered on, and straddled him before his body had stopped bouncing. He reached for the bed light and turned it on. "Now I am going to shut you up tonight if I have to tie you down and stuff your mouth with something." He poked his thumb into Methos' mouth, then caught his breath as Methos sucked it in like a thirsty calf. "So don't..." he trailed off, fascinated by the greedy concentration on the other man's face. "Don't you want something more substantial?"

In the lamplight, Methos' skin was warm ivory against the purple sheets, his eyes luminous and green. He turned his head, releasing MacLeod's thumb with a soft popping sound, and smiled at him.

"Yes, but not to suck on," he said.

MacLeod covered Methos' mouth with a kiss, stood up and slowly took off his clothes. Boots, jeans, black sweatshirt, he stripped for Methos, who watched through half-closed eyes. His lashes hid whatever he may have been thinking but MacLeod saw him teasing himself from time to time, twiddling a nipple between two fingers as he watched. When MacLeod wet his lips with his tongue, Methos' cock jumped.

When he was naked Methos sat up and said, "Come here, I didn't get enough of that before."

MacLeod, cock jutting in front of him, went to him and Methos wrapped his arms around the highlander's thighs and swallowed the entire length of it. MacLeod looked down at Methos' shoulders working as he sucked, and stroked his hands through the short plush hair. Methos' tongue churred softly around his shaft and hands spread his buttocks, finding and massaging the ridge of muscle between his scrotum and asshole. He almost came then, his eyes rolled back in his head and he was blind.

Methos pulled away and said, "fuck me," as he nuzzled into the moist black hair surrounding MacLeod's cock. The voice was muffled but MacLeod heard him and pushed him back on the bed.

"Lie back, mo chridhe." MacLeod opened the drawer in the bed table, took out the tube of lubricant he kept there, took off the cap and the smell of oranges escaped into the room. He climbed on the bed and lay down between Methos spread thighs. "You promise to tell me if I hurt you?"

"I promise," Methos affirmed, "to scream like the bein shiedhe -- if you don't get a move on." MacLeod kissed Methos' nose, then he tucked his knees under and sat up, pulling Methos up so that the other's butt was resting on his thighs and the sex entirely exposed. Oh God. Put a feast in front of a bugger and he'll engorge, MacLeod thought irreverently.

He grabbed one of the pillows and stuffed it under the small of Methos' back, took the lubricant and squeezed a generous amount of white cream onto his palm and anointed himself. The cream liquefied as it warmed with his heat. For a moment he mated their two cocks together in his hand, the way he fantasized in the alley, greasing them both. Then he probed between Methos' buttocks, massaging the tight ring of muscle with a slick finger, feeling for incremental degrees of relaxation, until he could slip a finger inside easily.

Methos pushed down on it, impaling himself, fucking himself on MacLeod's finger, begging for more. Beads of sweat broke out on the highlander's forehead. He inserted his middle finger and turned both around inside the slick channel; a third finger and he found a harder, smoother place in the wall of muscle. The sound Methos made was almost one of pain. MacLeod pulled his fingers out and placed the blunt head of his cock at the opening. He leaned forward, raising Methos' hips, bending over him, pushing in, feeling resistance. Drops of his sweat fell into the other man's eyes and they must have stung from the way he twisted his head.

MacLeod said, "I don't want to hurt you, Love."

Methos grabbed him around the neck and rose up, trying to achieve the penetration he wanted for himself. He yelled, "God damn you, MacLeod. I'm not breakable. Fuck me."

Methos fell back; MacLeod breached his muscular resistance to find himself engulfed in a bright heat and a channel so tight he could barely move. He held on to Methos, stroking his thighs, the other immortal's breathing deep and harsh as his body struggled with the act of surrender to even a welcome invasion. They stayed like that, MacLeod had no idea how long, until he realized he was free to move and even then he began to move very slowly.

He took very small thrusts, barely an inch at a time until Methos was laughing and telling him that he wasn't going to break, really, and would you kindly, please, please, fuck me just a little harder, please. MacLeod laughed too and complied.

He lifted Methos' knees over his shoulders and began to take long strokes; rocking back on his heels, almost pulling out, rising up and plunging in deep enough that his shaft disappeared between Methos' buttocks. Methos eyes were glazed with pleasure and locked on his.

"That's my brave, bonny, black highlander," he crooned as he took one of MacLeod's hands and folded it around his cock. After an eternity, his voice ragged, he asked, "Will you come with me, Mac?"

"Yes," MacLeod said.

He could feel the urgency of the flesh in his hand. He came up again, bowed Methos over until the man was almost doubled under him, but he could reach his mouth and kiss it. He buried his head in Methos' neck and let the rhythm of the strokes carry them both. When Methos cried out and the muscles of his ass pulsed around MacLeod's cock, he came too. It seemed to go on forever, the soft pulsing, the white wet heat flowing out of him and filling the other man's body, hot fluid spilling over his hand and into Methos' hand.

Then it was over and he fell down on his heels, panting for breath, curling up with his head to Methos' stomach, piecing together the shattered parts of himself. He felt Methos' semen-slick fingers touch his lips. The older immortal held his cupped hand to MacLeod's mouth and the highlander looked up meeting old hazel eyes that were not dazzled by any kind of afterglow. He shivered and opened his mouth to speak but there was no time for any word; Methos insisted and he had to drink what was in his hand. It tasted bitter. When he put his head down on Methos' stomach again, the old, old man stroked his head and comforted him until the inevitable sadness passed.

A week later, Methos was back in Paris and MacLeod was back at Joe's in answer to a summons from Dawson. He wasn't ready to deal with the watcher's curiosity yet but be was feeling guilty about the phone call to the police and he went.

"The note said I was supposed to open it when you were here, Mac." Dawson produced a sealed package, from under the counter and set it in front of him. "It came this morning."

"What is it?" MacLeod asked.

"Why don't you open it and we'll both know," Dawson said, pulling a jackknife out of his pocket and handing it to him.

While Joe pulled a draft for another customer, he cut the tape, slit the paper and reached gingerly into the plastic peanuts. His fingers found something cool and hard. He pulled it out and set it on the bar. Joe came back and the two men examined it together.

"That's Roman," MacLeod said.

"Yes, it is," Dawson said; the watcher closed his eyes and shook his head. MacLeod glanced around, making sure none of the afternoon patrons was paying attention to them and the small terra-cotta lamp in the shape of a grinning daemon who lay on his back with his huge phallus curved out before him. There was a bowl in his stomach for oil and a hole at the tip of his prick for the wick. He could imagine the light it would have given off two thousand years ago to show lovers their way.

The bed had been redolent of male sex and sweat and under those funky warm odors were the faint, resinous notes of amber. After a quick wash, Methos had slept. But MacLeod kept the light on all that night, waking often to study the other man's face lying beside him. The radiators had pinged and clanged like a circus calliope as the heat came up and Methos had slept through it all, dreaming again. But MacLeod had thought you're still a fucking mystery. But I need this and who's to say you didn't need it more. I just wish I knew what I've given myself to and where will it take us in the end?

Dawson's voice intruded on his reverie, "Do you want to rub it, Mac, and see if there's a genie inside?"

 

The End. For the moment.

20 April 1999

 

Bark of Dante is the first part of Circle 'Round the Sun: a piece of fluff in eight parts.

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