|Full of Grace
With thanks to Mona, Maxine, and Sarah MacLachlan for inspiration, and to Maygra, Melina and Ellen for letting me be a part of their wonderful zine. This story originally appeared in Futures Without End II.
This story is SLASH and contains homoerotic content, so if such things offend you, please don't read it! You've been warned.
It's better this way.
I knew that four years ago, and still I kept coming back. Even when I thought I was running, every step I took brought me back to him, moth to the flame, needle to the magnet, river to the sea. It'd be funny if it wasn't killing him. Me too, for that matter.
It's better this way. I'm operating on the premise that if I say it enough times, I'll believe it and be able to make my feet carry me out that door.
I wish I could make myself believe he will forgive me for this.
He's sleeping now, breathing evenly in my bed, his soft hair on my pillow. Only twilight to see him by, and still he is more beautiful than I remembered, his skin dusky and fragrant with his musk and mine... god, I can smell him on me and it is the most wonderful smell. I have been alive for five thousand years, and I have never known anyone like him, never felt anything quite like what I feel with him, never risked as much for anyone as I have for him.
Never been so close to transcending what I am as I have been with him.
But that was a dream, of course. I know that now. Understandable, I suppose, that I should have seen what he was and felt the hope, that I should have seen my salvation in him, that I should have loved him. Most of all that I should have loved him.
I'd planned to love him, had known for years that I would. That's how I work; I can't help it. I'd planned for the contingency of loving him and still wasn't prepared for what happened in the first moment that he saw me -- the look written in his eyes and every line of his face -- that single, overwhelming moment of surprise, unmistakable. I'd missed the other half of the equation.
I didn't expect him to love me back.
It threw me so badly I lost my mind for a while -- did things I hadn't done in thirty lifetimes. I risked things. Got involved. I killed. For him. Was that redemption? I didn't pretend to know, but it sure felt like it. I fought for him and remembered what that was like, and it felt so good I kept doing it. Even when it hurt, when it cost me, I fought. Against Kristin. For Alexa. I loved and I hurt and I was alive, and underneath it all, Duncan MacLeod loved me. It sure felt like redemption. How blind I was not to see the cost -- to him.
I never meant to hurt him. If I didn't tell him everything, it was because I believed in the person he saw more than I believed in the person I had been. If I pushed him away when my past came hunting, it was only because I couldn't stand the idea of Kronos touching him. If I lied to him, it wasn't a choice I made consciously. It wasn't a choice at all. I wish he could have understood that much, at least. It was a survival instinct, born out of the simple fact that I couldn't bear to lose his trust.
And I was right -- it almost killed me when I thought I had. After Bordeaux I curled up in my flat, in my bed, and nursed my wounds for over a month. Didn't see anyone. Barely went out for beer. If Amanda hadn't come and lit a fire under me, I honestly don't know where I would have found the courage to face him again. And when I did...
I should have seen it coming. Should have known that once he'd given his heart to me, it was mine for keeps. All he'd wanted was for me to take that first cautious step, and he was ready to go the whole rest of the distance by himself, if necessary. He fought it so hard, but he came to me anyway, inch by cautious inch, with his eyes wide and his body tensed for flight, like some wary, starving dog to a stranger's hand. We met for drinks, walked together, went to exhibits and bookstores together. And we talked. Not about what had happened, but not small talk either. We talked like we had before, about everything under the sun -- and everything he felt was written out so plainly for me to see. He loved me, and he needed his friend back, whatever it cost him. It was that simple. That complicated. He broke my heart, the way he fought for our friendship with his warrior's courage, determined to win back the ground I'd thought forever lost.
What a fool I was to forget that no battle is ever won without a sacrifice. What a fool not to know the cost he'd paid wasn't his faith in me but his faith in himself.
He needed me. Needed to believe in me. But it was impossible for him to reconcile the friend with the betrayer. The trust with the lies. It wasn't written in his book to love without trust.
What that meant was that in his mind the betrayal had to become his. The lack of trust had to become his. I'd lied, yes, but it was because he hadn't trusted me enough. I'd betrayed him, yes, but he'd betrayed me first by turning his back on me. Maybe there was even some truth to that. Even if there was, it doesn't change the enormity of what he gave up to be able to love me again. His core of certainty. His rightness. His confidence in his own judgment. Everything that had made him so dangerous to me, so magnificently terrifying. I didn't see it. I took the gift and never thought to ask the price.
Then he killed Byron.
It might have been the right thing to do. Even the necessary thing. Byron wanted it. Joe wanted it. I could have stopped him and I didn't, because I knew that if it hadn't been Duncan it would have been someone else, and soon. My old friend had been dying for a long time, and nothing I could have said or done would have changed that -- I'd seen that look before. It was a kindness to end his pain.
But Duncan didn't do it for that.
I thought so, at first. I'd been blinded. Joe had. Maybe even Duncan himself had. It wasn't until afterward that I understood that there was nothing of mercy or justice in it. It was pain that drove his sword. Pain, and jealousy, and rage he'd never allowed himself to feel. I did that to him. His love for me did that to him.
I think he did know. Somewhere, deep inside, I think he knew...because he started to change after that. Started to pull away from me a little, pull into himself. Joe and I got worried, and it was Joe who called Ryan. My idea. Don't think for a moment I've forgotten that it was my idea.
You see why I can't stay?
What weapon did he have, if not his faith? Who could he trust, if not himself? Certainly not me.
Most certainly not me.
God, even now I can hardly bear to think of it. Of him, facing that darkness in himself, stripped of all defenses, alone because I didn't understand anything, anything at all. What good is it to live five thousand years if you are still, at the end of it, so blind you can't save the one bright thing, the one brave heart in your life?
I went to him after Ryan died. It was maybe the hardest thing I'd ever done, going to him that night. Because I knew I wouldn't be able to say no if he asked me again. If he begged me. I didn't even carry a blade because I was so terrified he'd beg me -- that tells you something, doesn't it?
He wouldn't talk to me. Wouldn't even look at me. I was crying myself in the first five minutes, but his eyes were dry, and he was cold as ice. Duncan, whose heat can warm any heart, whose love is like deep, slow burning embers, whose anger can burn as hot as a star. Cold as ice.
"Go away, Methos," he said. I still remember the way his voice sounded when he said that, as if saying my name was in itself exhausting. Go away, Methos.
I thought he was angry at me for denying him the release he'd asked for. For not believing him about Landry. For any of the plethora of reasons he had to be angry at me. I pleaded with him to get mad, shout, hit me, anything that would let me know he was going to get past this, that he wasn't going to just go out into the night and let someone take him down at the first opportunity.
Finally, he looked at me. Told me rather gently that he wasn't angry with me. I believed him because I saw in his eyes that there wasn't room for anger, any more, or anything else but pain.
"Then why?" I pleaded, knowing I'd already lost him. "Why can't you let me be here for you now?" I just wanted to put my arms around him and let him cry, too. Just that.
He shook his head. "Methos..." His voice cracked, just a little. "Don't you see? I killed Richie. I don't get to take what you would give me. It's not right." He was so intense. And so sure. I hadn't seen him so sure about anything in months. "I don't want to be comforted for this."
I didn't make him ask me again. I went away. When I came to check on him two days later, he was gone.
I'm sitting a few feet from him, close enough to see the fine shadow of his eyelashes against his cheek. Not moving at all. Not dreaming. Just...at peace. Deep in a place where I can't go, where I can't touch him or hurt him yet. A place where he doesn't know that last night is all we can ever have, all I can ever let us have. I never meant to hurt him. But I have done damage beyond measuring, and I don't know how to undo it except to leave.
He's really out, sleeping more deeply than I've ever seen him. Usually he sleeps like me, alert to the slightest sound; tonight he's so far under that I can't help but wonder if he's gotten any rest at all the last few days.
So hard to leave him like this. I don't like thinking of him so vulnerable.
The paper before me is blank. I have to write something on it, I've realized. Before I can go, I have to come up with the words that will make him understand -- at least enough so that he won't try to follow me. I don't fool myself that words will make it hurt any less or make it possible for him to forgive me. But maybe if I can find the right ones, I can make it possible for him to let me go.
As soon as I write his name, the wave of feeling comes, and I can't see any more to write.
I don't want to go. Don't know how I will. Right now I just want to curl myself around him and breathe him in and know that he's still alive, still whole, that Liam O'Rourke and the rest of the bastards of the world haven't gotten him yet.
I never should have let myself touch him. So much worse. So much harder to do this now that I know what he tastes like, what he feels like from the inside. What he sounds like when he comes. When he breathes my name like a prayer for mercy.
God, it hurts. I love him so much -- why did I let myself love him so much?
No, I can't write that. Not if I want him to stay away, I can't.
I could do it, I tell myself. I could put down the pen, take off my clothes, and get in the bed with him right now. Could hold him as if he were mine, could sleep against his broad back. In the morning, we could wake like that and he would never have to know how close I came to leaving.
Even just one more day. One more night. A few hours, to carry with me forever. What would it matter in the long run?
Dangerous, dangerous thoughts. I know if I give into temptation, if I make love to him again, let myself know him like that again -- I will never leave.
I force the memory, holding onto it for resolve. No one else dies because of me, he said. And then he proved it. He knelt down on the ground and let an enemy put a sword to his neck, right in front of me. That's twice now a gun in my hand has stopped him from giving up his life. How many more close calls do I get before I don't get any more?
I didn't want to be his teacher. I just wanted him to survive, that's all. But if I thought that loving him could change me, why didn't I see that the reverse was also true?
It wasn't all me, of course. Losing Darius, and Tessa, and Fitzcairn, all took their toll on him. But I was the one who made him doubt himself. I was the one who hurt him, who isolated him without even realizing it. I was the one who made him need me so much that he would give up everything he is to be able to go on loving me.
I have to believe that if I go, if I leave now, he will be all right. That if I go far enough, stay away long enough, he'll get back what he once had. That faith. That certainty.
I stare at his name on my piece of paper and try to believe it.
He came to me tonight, at last.
I'd waited so long and still he surprised me. Me, the master planner, utterly unprepared to come home from the market in the late afternoon and find him sitting on my doorstep, his hands clasped loosely between his knees and that hungry, needing look in his eyes.
Something in me just came apart when I saw him there. I knew what that look felt like from the inside. And I'd missed him so much -- more than I'd let myself know until that moment. Almost a week since he'd taken O'Rourke, and I was still hanging around Paris, still hoping there was something we could salvage of the mess we'd made of our friendship.
I certainly hadn't let myself hope for this.
For once I said the first words that came into my head. "Been waiting long?"
"Yeah, I have," he said, smiling a little. "About four years, I'd say."
I could hardly look at him then. "You want to come up and have a drink?" I asked, my voice coming out hoarse.
He stood up, put his hand against my neck, his warm hand that made me ache unbearably, wanting more of his touch.
"No, Methos," he said gently. "You know what I want."
We were kissing by the time we reached the landing, my parcels forgotten on the stairs.
When we were naked and panting in each other's arms, when I'd buried myself in him so deep I never wanted to come out, he cried. He hadn't come. Wouldn't come. He seemed determined to make that first joining last forever, and he didn't care if he killed both of us doing it. When I thought I couldn't take any more and was ready to beg for mercy, he held me to him and cried, his tears hot on my neck, his sobs shuddering through him like soft waves of release, and still he didn't come.
"What is it?" I gasped, out of my mind but trying hard to be there for him, to hold him against the sadness.
And he kissed me, tasting like salt. "Don't die, Methos," he whispered first against my mouth, then fiercely against my neck. "Don't die. Don't ever die. Promise me." He pulled back and looked into my eyes, searching for the promise.
"I can't" I said helplessly. "Duncan, you know I can't."
But he just shook his head. "You can. If anyone can, you can. Promise me."
His eyes were so bright, so deep. He trusted me. With everything in him, for that moment, at least, he trusted me. And before I knew what I was doing, I said it. "I promise."
When I'd said the words he closed his eyes, pressed tighter against me and came, my name on his lips, his heat spilling between us, his spasms taking me over in seconds and spinning me out into a sweet, powerful release of my own.
After, I lay there gasping, my whole body alive with the feel of him, with the pleasure of him. But even as the pleasure waned, something deeper rose up in me, hot and tight in my throat, and all I could see was him kneeling, head bowed, the glint of steel against his neck. I locked my arms around him, suddenly afraid. It couldn't be true, that he could trust me like that. I couldn't bear for it to be true. Because if it was true, if he was right, I'd have to keep my promise. And that meant...
His eyes were closed in satisfaction, his face transcendent in the fading light.
"Duncan," I breathed. Almost immediately I got a grip. I told myself I was losing it, that my fear was getting the better of me... an understandable reaction to what had happened with O'Rourke. That's all.
Then he sighed and looked up at me, his eyes so tender. So kind. "Shh," he said gently. "It's all right." And I knew I'd been right to be afraid. Knew the choice he'd made, what it had cost him to come to me. He smiled at me, face shining with the promise I'd made, the lines of tension gone for the first time in as long as I could remember.
"I love you," he said, as if I needed the words to know it.
In my hand is a piece of paper with his name on it and nothing else. It occurs to me that there is probably nothing I can say that won't make things worse. I know him. He might take anything I say as encouragement. I can't have him following me -- I know I'll never be able to leave him a second time.
In my agony of wanting to stay and needing to leave, it takes me a moment to realize that he's awake. Propping himself up on one elbow. Looking at me, his eyes very large and dark in the shadows.
"Methos," he says. Just my name, velvet soft.
My mouth has gone dry, and I can't look away.
"What's the matter, old man?" His voice is rough from sleep. "What's going on in that mind of yours?"
I try for nonchalant, but he's already taking in the fact that I'm dressed for the cold. Before I can open my mouth to speak, his eyes have come to rest on the paper in my hand. Numb, I watch him reach out and take it from me, watch his eyes fall upon that single, damning word; he sits up slowly, the sheet falling down around his waist. Under it, he is naked.
For what seems like a long time, he doesn't say anything. I'm cold inside, unable to move, or speak, for once without any idea of what will come next. There's fear, but also something else...something like relief. It hits me that I've been delaying, hoping for this very reprieve, for his anger, his hurt, anything to keep me from going.
He looks at me, finally. A muscle in his jaw twitches, but if he's angry with me he hasn't let it reach his eyes. Only sadness there, and something else I can't read, something that scares me more than his rage ever could.
He asks simply, "Why?"
I can't look at him, so I look at my hands. My voice is hoarse. "Don't make this harder than it has to be."
His answer is low, curling around my insides. "I'm not the one with his coat on."
I don't know whether to laugh, or cry. A sound somewhere in between the two escapes before I can swallow it. "You know why, MacLeod. It's as crazy now as it ever was. It's gonna get us both killed -- if we're lucky!"
But he's shaking his head. "No."
He is unbelievable. "What, just like that? Just 'no?'"
"You heard me. That's not why. Now you want to tell me the real reason?"
Unable to stop myself, I've risen to my feet. "You want a list?" My voice has risen, too. I don't even know why I'm getting angry.
As if that's what he was waiting for, some answering darkness flickers in his face, gathering thunderclouds. "If you're gonna walk out on me -- on us -- yeah. I want to know why."
I've been saying it over and over to myself, and the words come without thought. "It's better this way."
Rising up, shifting to his knees, he is too close, taking up my space in a way I don't think I can deal with. "Don't do that, Methos. If you have to go, all right. But don't pretend anything's better when we're apart. We tried it that way, and look where it got us."
"Oh, I dunno, seemed like I was doing fine without you dragging me through the wringer every other day. Seemed like you were, too."
"You're wrong. I wasn't fine. And you know what, old man? I don't think you were doing so great either."
"Yeah, well, everything's relative." I'm closer to the door now, but he's getting up, coming after me, his nakedness notwithstanding. God help me. He spreads his hands in my peripheral vision, as if that can make him any less of a threat to me. It's only then that I realize I've broken out in a cold sweat. I close my eyes against the sight of him, and all at once, I can't hold back the plea. "Please, Duncan, just let me go."
I can feel him right behind me. "Who're you running from, Methos? There's no one here but us. What are you so afraid of?"
I want to deny it, but I can't lie to him. Not now.
"Look at me," he says softly, and I do. "Talk to me," he urges, taking my heart in his hands.
Heat rises, and I fight it back. "I'm sorry. I thought I could do this."
"Yeah, so did I." He swallows, and I see how close he is to tears. His mouth has turned down at the edges, the way it does when he's trying not to cry. "What changed?"
The voice that answers him is small, a stranger's. I don't recognize it.
"I got scared."
What has he done to me that I can't lie to him?
He makes a sound like a laugh, eyes brighter still. "I know how that feels," he says softly, as he comes close enough to touch me. "Methos..."
He is naked, and I am clothed from head to foot, but it feels like I have no protection from him, none at all. He is so far inside me I can't breathe.
Something snaps. "I can't stay with you, can't you see that? I can't be what you want me to be. I'm not that person, MacLeod -- never will be!"
He stares at me for long seconds. His eyes narrow. Dangerous. "And who is it that you think I see, exactly, when I look at you? You think I don't know who you are? You think maybe I'm in love with somebody else?" He takes another step toward me and I fall back. The thunderclouds have risen now, promising a storm. "Maybe you think it's Adam Pierson I really want. Or some other Methos, not the real thing."
I'm breathing hard, trying to get a grip. Don't back down before him, you can't. Don't back down. Breathe. Think.
"I'm close, aren't I?" he says roughly, raising the hairs on my arms.
Then I hear him draw in a sharp breath.
And suddenly, he isn't angry. Instead, he is gentle with me, and that's worse because it makes me want to give in, to let him in. "Come on Methos, tell me the rest. Tell me what a fool I am. I'm used to it by now, I can take it. Tell me what a fool I am for thinking I could ever count on the real Methos for anything that matters."
Chills running over me now.
"That's it, isn't it? That's the message I'm supposed to get here?"
I can't answer, but my stunned expression has already answered for me.
He's almost smiling now. Merciless. "I have an idea. Let's test that theory. You ready?" His eyes search mine intently, taking me apart and putting me back together again in some configuration of his own making.
Then his hand, warm on the back of my neck. His face, close to mine. His voice, low and sweet and fierce.
"I believe in you, Methos. I have faith that you will follow your heart and not your fear. I trust that you won't leave me -- not when I need so much for you to stay."
When he lets me go, when he steps back, I breathe again, a gulp for air that leaves me lightheaded, anchorless. Does he know? Can he know what he is doing to me?
Moonlight spills through the windows now, sculpting him like some dark god I can almost believe in. It's his eyes that ground me. His eyes, deep and full of that certainty, that unwavering faith I'd somehow imagined he'd lost.
"I won't stop you again," he says huskily, glancing toward the door. "If it's what you want."
I'm lost. His voice does me in, that same low, soft voice he first used to say my name that day in my flat. The words he has said to me in that voice are imprinted so deeply on my heart. Methos. Why'd you lie to me?
You know what I want.
I just shake my head, closing the distance between us again.
"No. Duncan -- no." My fingertips trace his shoulder, the perfect line of his neck. I spread my fingers against his cheek, the hollow of his throat, combing fingertips through his soft hair. "It's not what I want."
His hands have found their way inside my coat. He's holding on to my sweater, turning his face into my neck. His lips brush pulse points, no mercy for me at all. "Then tell me what you want, and it's yours."
God help me if he ever figures out what that voice does to me. Or maybe he does know. Maybe he does.
The rough-soft rasp of his cheek makes me lean against him, lean into his strength. I can feel how tightly he's holding me, but it isn't enough, and I pull him closer, breathe him in like I'm drinking something pure and fine after a long drought. The skin of his neck is warm satin under my hands. "You know what I want," I tell him hoarsely, feeling him react the same way I did to those words, the same hot flush that I felt when he said them to me.
But it isn't enough now, and he lifts his head, kissing me softly, taking me apart with his kiss.
"Tell me anyway," he says when I'm breathless.
And I find myself believing -- with utter, perfect certainty -- that if we live a thousand years, I will never get enough of kissing him.
"You and me. Together. I want us to be together."
This time his mouth is hotter, his tongue tasting me until I moan softly and let him in. This time when he lets me breathe I am trembling, my need for him so fierce just standing up is a challenge.
His fingers are laced in mine and I'm holding on so tight I have to be hurting him. But he smiles for me, eyes turning up at the corners, that rare smile I have seen only a handful of times, most often in dreams. "See? That wasn't so hard."
"That's what you think." My heart is racing.
Then he is taking my coat off, and my breath catches. His smile doesn't entirely fade, but it's becoming something else, something that makes me feel hot all over and shivery at the same time. "You know what?" he says, eyes on his hands as they slip down my sides to the hem of my sweater. His fingertips burrow under the sweater and find bare skin. "One of us has got far too many clothes on."
I feel like I'm floating, like I weigh nothing; I suddenly cannot contain my happiness at knowing I don't have to leave him.
"What's so funny?" he asks, a little frown between his dark brows.
"Nothing, Mac. It's nothing." I kiss the frown away, a peace offering. "Just that when you're right, you're right!"
Later, we lie together in my bed. His hand moves over my back in slow, rhythmic strokes, and I drift near sleeping, my ear pressed to his chest.
"You know, you don't get to choose what anyone else believes in," he says softly, tilting my chin up so I have to look at him. "You taught me that. You live with it. You accept it. Your words, Methos."
I cup my hand against his neck. His warm, smooth, vulnerable neck. It still scares me, badly, to think of him trusting me so much -- and from where I stand, I've done precious little to deserve it. But I can deny him no more now than I ever could.
"Okay," I give in with a sigh. "You win. Only, promise me one thing."
He doesn't hesitate. "Anything."
I am measuring his heartbeats, strong and fast, against my palm. I know he cannot promise me this, no more than I could when he asked the same of me -- but I ask anyway. "Just promise me."
His hand goes still against my back; I know he understands what it is I need to hear.
"I promise," he says solemnly.
And in spite of the fact that we both know it's impossible, just this once, I think I'll take it on faith.