by Killashandra


Story number three in the series that seems to have a mind of its own, and this will definitely make more sense if you've read Duet and Nocturne first. No sooner did I get halfway through the Valkyrie one than Methos informed me I was getting ahead of myself. "What about that mess with Jacob Galati?" he says. "Can't forget that!" Now if Duncan tells me I have to write a story about "Haunted," I'm bailing. Thanks and hugs to Ellen and Melina who patiently let me ramble on about One Minute to Midnight at length without smacking me.

This story contains homoerotic content and is rated NC-17, so if such things offend you or you're under 18, please don't read it! Not beta'ed, flying without a net this time (or is that falling?) but the gracious Luminosity was kind enough to act as my spotter.

The sky was turning grey with morning as MacLeod stole along the wall, keeping to the shadows. His body ached in every joint and muscle. Where was the blasted gate? Spotting it at last, he ducked through, the back of his neck prickling hotly at the exposure. He still half-expected to feel the impact of a slug in the back, a spray of burning machine gunfire slamming him to the ground.

But he was outside the wall now, perhaps only a hundred meters from his car, and nothing stirred save the light breeze in the silver birches overhead.

Delayed reaction set in as he crossed the open ground toward the copse of trees, and he felt his limbs start to tremble slightly, the aftermath of the killing rage that had gripped him a few short minutes before. Thinking of it, he felt sick. Soul sick. Heartsick. He had wanted to kill Shapiro. With everything in him, he had wanted to punish the man, to obliterate him from the face of the earth for what he had done, what he would have done. Sweet, passionate Jacob -- dead. The grief welled, his breath catching on a rush of exhausted tears he wouldn't permit to escape. Not yet. Not here. Better to get away, to give Joe time to try and make sense of the chaotic mess the Watchers had made for themselves. Remembering that he'd left Dawson in there alone, MacLeod felt a moment's remorse until he remembered the gun, the way Dawson had pointed it at him, and that it had been Joe who had sold Jacob to the wolves.

He was still wound up tight as a tripwire, the desire to pound his fists repeatedly into something solid almost overwhelming. He tried to draw calming breaths to center himself, but the helpless outrage slithered and coiled in him like a great, black serpent, squeezing his insides every time he thought of Shapiro, of the closed, condemning expressions on the faces of the men and women who had helped to kill Jacob, had hunted MacLeod himself like a rabid dog. He'd thought it was over at last when he'd finally killed Horton. Now the cold truth lay heavy in his belly, a stone of poisonous rage wrapped in despair. After tonight, nothing would ever be the same.

Because Jacob had been right. MacLeod had trusted, foolishly. Had forgotten what he was, what Dawson was, and how ugly, how deadly such fundamental differences could turn with only the slightest nurturing, the smallest exposure to the light. He was guilty of it himself. Shapiro wasn't the only one who'd used words like 'us' and 'them.'

He knew, now, that as long as men like Horton and Shapiro hunted his friends, as long as he lived in the battle zone, he would never really be free of the darkness in his own soul, the hate. That brutal, dangerous other self had been very close tonight, shadowing his footsteps, grinning that ugly, terrifyingly hungry grin over his shoulder, laughing his grim approval as Duncan had shoved the gun against Shapiro's skull.

How long had it been since he had been truly sane?

With the thought, the suppressed, roiling energy of the raw quickening spiked along his spine and he had to lean against a tree for a minute. He hadn't absorbed this one well, his mind locked in denial as it had been, his whole being recoiling in violent horror. It was always worst when you fought the inevitable, but sometimes the instinct was too strong and you were left struggling with the aftermath for hours, even days.

It had been like that with Coltec, too.

At last the wave of nausea and disorientation eased, and he pushed himself away from the tree by an effort of will, scanning the wall and the grassy slope behind him. He'd left his car well concealed from the front entrance of the mortuary and he didn't think he'd been followed -- but he was in no hurry to test that theory. Seeing no one, ignoring his body's protests, he turned and made his way deeper into the trees.

About thirty yards from the car, a thrum of Immortal presence sang a warning at the base of his skull.

Methos fought the urge to glance at his watch, knowing without looking that it had been over an hour. Dawn was beginning to break over the city and the moon had nearly disappeared against the steadily lightening sky. Knowing that it was too late to halt the events he'd helped to set in motion yet unable to make himself leave without knowing the outcome, he'd settled for waiting outside the wall, grimly aware that this time there'd be no quickening if anything went wrong. It was out of his hands; he would just have to trust that MacLeod could take care of himself.

And so here he sat in the passenger seat of Mac's parked car, doing nothing. As he should have done from the beginning. If he had, Jacob Galati might still be alive. If he had, maybe Mac wouldn't have turned on him with grief and betrayal written in his face, his voice.

On the other hand, if he had done nothing maybe Shapiro and the Watchers would have killed MacLeod already, and that would have been Methos in there going after Shapiro with murderous intent, belying his claims to Dawson that he'd given up revenge as a pastime.

He was just beginning to seriously consider some equivalent demonstration of rash foolishness when he felt the buzz, uncharacteristically discordant, infinitely welcome; a moment later MacLeod appeared at the edge of the clearing, looking ragged and close to dropping. Some darkness flickered over the other man's face when MacLeod saw him, before the Highlander guarded his expression and came toward him.

Methos got out of the car, fighting his own conflicting impulses. Intellectually, he knew very well that they were all to blame for the tragedies of this night and that measuring out degrees of fault would get them exactly nowhere. Useless to get angry at Mac for being what he was, for acting according to his nature. And yet, seeing him, the relief sparked a familiar frustration in Methos, born of the knowledge that it was MacLeod's very nature that would someday get one or both of them killed, and now the certainty that this brief time of peace, the illusion of comfortable friendship between them, was over for good.

"He's dead?" Methos asked evenly, steeling himself for the answer and what it would mean for all of them.

"Shapiro?" MacLeod's lip curled with the name. "No." His voice was rough, a splintered sound; he shook his head, bitterness shading his tone. "No. It's over."

Methos permitted himself a small measure of relief. "What about Joe?"

MacLeod's face set. "Joe doesn't need my help. He's doing just fine on his own." He started around the car toward the driver's side, then stopped, feeling around the pockets of his jeans.

"Looking for these?" Methos held up the keys to the Citroen. They'd been in Mac's coat, left behind on the steps outside the mortuary. In his coat, with his sword, also left behind -- a concession to stealth and mobility in the darkness.

MacLeod held out his hand.

Methos looked him over, seeing the strain and borderline exhaustion beneath the precarious control. "Tell you what," he said easily, "how about I drive?"

"Methos." The warning was crystal clear. Whatever had gone on in there, MacLeod was in no mood to be pushed. "I don't need a babysitter. Give me the keys."

"I'm not sure that's such a good idea."

"Well nobody asked you, did they?" MacLeod's control frayed, a faint shudder running through his frame. He kept a grip on his temper with a visible effort of will. "Look. I'm not gonna argue with you. It's been a long night and I just want to go home."

"Then let me take you home," Methos reasoned. "If not for your own sake then for the other drivers on the road. You look like a car wreck waiting to happen."

Something dangerous glinted in the dark eyes and MacLeod took a step forward, prowling grace in every line of his body. "Worse than that, if you don't give me my keys."

The unspecified threat made the short hairs stand up on the back of Methos' neck, his blood warming in answer. But then the shudder touched MacLeod again and Methos realized the tremors were nearly constant now, in spite of the effort the other man was making to control them. Searching the dark gaze, he saw at last the silent plea, the vivid anguish beneath the unspoken accusations.

Determined now, he opened the passenger side door, and stepped back. "Please, Mac. Just get in, and let's get the hell out of here. We can argue about it when we've put a few kilometers between us and our Watcher friends. Okay?"

Maybe it was the 'please,' or the telling huskiness in his voice when he said the Highlander's name. But to his relief, after searching his face for a long, tense moment, MacLeod gave in and stiffly, wordlessly, moved past him and got in the car.

As Duncan had feared, the nerve-jarring waves of disorientation were getting worse, not better. He badly needed to be alone, to center himself, open himself up to the energies struggling to find a ground in his body, to the intense currents of rage and grief that washed over him, only partly his own. Impossible to focus with Methos beside him. Normally he found the presence of that powerful aura mildly energizing when he was aware of it at all; now it was acting on him like electronic feedback, setting his teeth on edge.

The underlying anger -- very real and very much his -- was still there, too, and not helping. A muscle in his jaw twitched as he resisted the urge to look over at that sharp, familiar profile. Not Methos' mistakes that had gotten them all to this point, but his own. Not Methos who had colluded with Dawson all these years. Not Methos' hand on the sword that had killed Jacob.

But dammit, Methos was the one who had tried to walk the line between Watcher and Immortal -- and because of that refusal to choose, someone else Duncan loved was dead.

Darius had tried so many times to show him the way to nonviolence, but the warrior in him was too deeply ingrained. He didn't know how to keep from choosing sides, not when your back was to the wall and all the choices were taken away from you. He'd wanted with all his heart to believe Darius was right, but in the end... in the end, he'd left Darius and gone to America because when push came to shove, he'd never really been able to get the hang of it. When the wolves came, you fought, if they forced you to it. War was war.

Blood for blood, MacLeod. His thought echoed Jacob's words too closely. A hot wave of pressure stabbed pain through his skull; he had to grit his teeth against it, ride it out.

Beside him Methos drove in silence, inscrutable as ever. Whatever he thought about the events of the past few days, whatever he felt, he was all focused practicality now. Duncan didn't honestly know why he'd expected anything different. Methos had said it himself: he was a pragmatist, first and foremost. So why had it hurt so much, surprised him so badly, to realize the vast gulf in understanding that still lay between them?

"Why don't you just get it out of your system, if it'll make you feel better?" Methos said mildly, not looking at him.

A warning prickle of heat flushed over Duncan's neck. "I beg your pardon?"

"You know. Whatever it is that's eating at you. You're just stewing over there, I can feel it. Just say what you've got to say to me and we'll take it from there."

Nonplussed, Duncan stared at him for a long moment. At last the hazel eyes turned in his direction, reflecting the rising sun in a glint of patient, enigmatic gold before turning back to the tree-lined road.

Too many thoughts and feelings rushed to the surface then, a confusion of old needs and fresh pain, tangled up with the events of the past few days into an incomprehensible snarl. And perhaps it was the long weeks of uncertainty, the drawn-out pleasure and torment of having Methos close yet kept at arm's length, his grief for friends and peace lost or the raw, unsettled quickening still coiling within him, but Duncan found himself suddenly on the edge of some purely emotional response -- some catastrophic betrayal of vulnerability that would surely prove disastrous.

It lasted only a second. One painful, attenuated second that felt like falling, or breathing water -- then sanity kicked in, and self-preservation, and Duncan bit his tongue, hard, and turned his face to the window.

"Just let it rest, Methos," he managed at last. "I think we both know nothing we say is going to change anything."

He felt those eyes on him again, but refused to turn.

"So you are still angry," Methos said evenly.

"I said let it rest."

For a moment, he thought Methos would. Thought one of them had the presence of mind, the self-control to prevent the dangerous conflagration building between them -- because Duncan knew he didn't, not now. It was up to Methos now, and he had damn well better just let it rest.

Methos pulled over and stepped on the brake.

"It was him or you, Mac! What was I supposed to do?"

The spark caught, Duncan helpless to prevent it. He turned on Methos, the words spilling out of him of their own volition. "You were supposed to trust me! Not go behind my back!"

Methos shot him a look of disbelief. "Trust you to what? Perform a miracle? Get yourself killed?"

"I was trying to keep everybody alive!"

"You're delusional. Somebody was gonna pay for Shapiro's son one way or another. The only question was who."

"Well I guess we know the answer to that one, don't we?"

"Oh, you are really pissing me off now. You want me to apologize for giving a rat's ass what happens to you? You'd rather I'd washed my hands of the whole mess and let Galati throw away both your lives?"

Methos' voice had risen, his cool detachment broken at last, but Duncan's pain and frustration had pushed him past shouting into a deadly, quiet calm.

"No," he said hoarsely. "I'd rather you'd been honest with me from the beginning. I thought I could count on you." He looked at Methos, feeling as though he were seeing him clearly for the first time. "At least now I know where I stand."

Methos had gone pale. "You can't be serious."

Heat rose in Duncan's throat, the calm slipping away as fast as it had come. "Why? Because I was naive enough to think that we were on the same side?"

"We are!" A car whipped around them, horn blaring; Methos ignored it. "You're the one that dragged me into the whole mess to begin with, remember? 'You owe him, Methos.' Ring a bell?"

"You had no right to pay for my life with Jacob's. He was my friend!"

"Yeah, well if you're looking for someone to point fingers at, I suggest you remember which of your friends was so bent on revenge he forced Shapiro's hand. Because it wasn't me!"

A powerful shudder seized Duncan as the tide of emotion crested, triggering a low, gut-wrenching wave of disorientation. Too much, finally. He clenched his fists on his thighs and bowed his head, closing his eyes as the spasm worked its way through him, leaving him trembling.

And as it ebbed, he knew -- Methos was right. He knew he was being unfair, knew he didn't really mean half of what he was saying. Probably, Methos didn't either. It was just too much, and like an old married couple, they had taken it out on each other.

The thought breached some limit of his endurance, and he made a sound like a laugh, painful and low in his chest.

He looked up.

Methos' face underwent a series of almost comical shifts, from indignant fury to confusion, concern, and finally a kind of disbelieving comprehension. Their eyes held for a long space of heartbeats.

At last Duncan found his voice. "Do you think if we tried really hard, we could forget everything we just said?"

Methos blinked. Some of the tension left him, his mouth twitching almost imperceptibly. "Probably not." He considered. "But...we could put it down to extenuating circumstances."

"You think?"

"I'm game if you are." Methos looked him over critically. "Listen, are you okay?"

"I will be," Duncan said evenly, making himself unclench his fists.

But the hazel eyes saw too much, as they always had.

"This one was hard for you, wasn't it?"

Duncan looked away, out the window, the other man's unexpected compassion undermining his resolve. "You could say that," he managed, before grief closed his throat. The morning sun was gold on the trees, turning their new spring leaves a pale, translucent green. He drew a deep breath.

A warm hand closed on the back of his neck, the touch as gentle and intimate as any he had ever known.

"It's okay," Methos said huskily. "I know you loved him, Mac."

And he kept his hand there, not saying anything else, while Duncan pressed his own hand to his mouth and finally let the tears come.

The rest of the drive to the barge passed in silence, though the tension between them had melted away as if it had never been. Methos was wiped out both physically and mentally. Whatever a life with Duncan MacLeod in it might be, it was never boring.

The emotional release appeared to have done Duncan some good at least. He seemed steadier now, no longer racked by the constant low-level tremors. Faintly embarrassed, he hadn't yet been able to look Methos in the eye -- but he'd get over it. Methos figured they were about even now.

He glanced at the Highlander, fairly disgusted at himself for the way his heart squeezed at the memory of touching him, the way his body warmed with the comfortable intimacy of the shared silence. He'd reached out to Duncan's pain instinctively, unable to do anything else -- but he'd never expected to respond the way he had. Never expected to find himself turning outward again for the first time since Alexa, finding a healing he hadn't known he needed until it was in his hand, bright and warm and terrifyingly seductive.

Trouble was, it didn't change anything. Such peace as they had found was doomed to be temporary; if nothing else, Shapiro and Galati had brought that lesson home. If he stayed in Paris now, he'd be forced to choose, sooner rather than later: Adam Pierson, or Methos? The Watchers, or Duncan? He knew now that he'd be deluding himself if he thought he could exist in the same city with MacLeod and not see him, not talk to him. Yet to leave the Watchers and take up his sword again -- everything in him balked at the thought.

Getting ahead of yourself, aren't you? he thought wryly. It's not as if he's asked for a church wedding. And as for what he had asked, well, that was telling, too, wasn't it?

I'd rather you'd been honest with me from the beginning.

Whether or not Duncan had meant all of the accusations he'd hurled in the heat of anger, there was a certain amount of truth in what had been said, on both sides. It was past time Methos stopped fooling himself that the game he'd been playing with MacLeod was anything less than a path to disaster. He hadn't even known he was jealous of Galati until he'd watched Duncan cry for the man. How blind could he be? And what part had that jealousy played in the choices he'd made? It didn't even bear thinking about.

Too soon, they reached the barge. Methos parked the car on the quay and turned the engine off, aware of his heart beating too fast. Every goodbye got harder -- and that in itself confirmed what he already knew, what he'd known from the beginning. Play with fire, sooner or later you were gonna get burned.

He looked over at MacLeod.

"You're leaving," Mac said matter-of-factly. And met Methos' eyes with no accusations in his own, just bleak, grim certainty. "Aren't you?"

Methos said nothing, but MacLeod nodded as if he had. God, those eyes, so resolute and revealing -- they were almost more than Methos could take.

"You don't have to, you know. It's time I went back to the states anyway. If Richie's gonna come home, that's where he'll go. I should be there. You don't have to leave Paris."

Methos sighed. "I've probably stayed too long as it is. Time to get away for a while, head East, sort some things out. Figure out what Adam Pierson wants to be when he grows up."

That earned him the smallest shadow of a smile. A sweep of lashes veiled the dark eyes. Methos looked at his hands, and there was a long silence, less comfortable than the one that had gone before.

At last MacLeod cleared his throat, shifting slightly. "Would a few hours make any difference one way or the other?"

Methos' breath caught. He looked up.

And oh, he wanted what Mac was offering, wanted it so much his teeth ached. A few hours wasn't so much to ask for the memory he'd be able to carry with him. It had been so long since anyone had touched him -- and much, much longer since anyone had touched him the way Duncan had. At the thought, his body seemed to wake from a long hibernation, telling him in great detail just how much it approved of the idea.

But that was the catch-22, because how, at the end of those few hours, was he supposed to make himself get up and leave?

Methos leaned back against the seat and chuckled softly, mostly at himself. "Ah, Mac. What am I going to do with you?" He shook his head regretfully. "Do you have any idea what a bad idea that would be?"

"Is that a yes?" Duncan asked, mouth quirking upward, eyes not letting Methos off the hook for a moment.

Damn him. And damn me too, for a fool of the highest order.

"Yes, that's a yes," Methos said at last, knowing he would live to regret it. "But when the men in white coats come for me, you're coming too."

The smile Duncan gave him was worth the price of admission.

The long rays of morning warmed the room through the portholes, pooling on the wood floor, and Duncan stood in one of those circles of light letting Methos undress him with quiet, unhurried care.

Those hands, deft and gentle and as warm as the sunlight itself, soothed him with a kind of muted, euphoric pleasure. And the look on Methos' face -- perfect, focused concentration as he pulled Duncan's sweater off, palms skimming his shoulders and chest. Duncan felt his nipples draw tight, begging for touch. Methos only gentled them for a moment with his fingertips before his hands moved to Duncan's belt buckle.

Surreal and awe-inspiring, to have Methos touching him in daylight; Duncan was afraid to breathe, or move, for fear he might wake up. When Methos opened his jeans, hands slipping inside to free his lengthening sex, he swayed and had to brace himself against the other man's shoulder.

"Boots off," Methos murmured, withdrawing the arousing caress. He steadied Duncan with one hand at his waist as Duncan obeyed; when he'd done as Methos had asked, Methos stripped his own sweater off and touched Duncan's cheek. "Come on."

Methos led them to the bathroom and turned on the shower, then turned to slip his hands inside Duncan's jeans, his touch both enflaming and reassuring as he pushed them down. Without awkwardness or any warning at all, he sat down on the lid of the commode, stripped the jeans off, wrapped his arms around Duncan's hips and took him in his mouth.

That moist heat closed around him, Methos' tongue undulating softly against him -- with a groan, Duncan closed his eyes, threw his head back and let the hot sucking take him down, take him to a place of dark, mindless ecstasy.

The touch of Methos' tongue might as well have been a flame of pure stimulation acting directly on the pleasure centers of his brain. He could stand only a few moments of that intensely erotic sensation before his orgasm took him with quickening force, clenching deep in his gut and leaving him gasping, shuddering in a boneless slump over Methos' shoulders, holding on for dear life.

"Better?" Methos said breathlessly, when he'd pulled back at last and let Duncan's half-hard cock slip out of his mouth.

"God, yes." Still panting with the aftershocks, Duncan bent his head to Methos', his forehead resting against spiky-soft hair. He drew a deep breath, trying to steady his racing heart. For the first time in hours, he felt whole, felt like himself; the edgy feeling of raw, unrelenting agitation had eased at last. "Thank you."

Methos chuckled softly, squeezing his haunch. "My pleasure, believe me."

Duncan straightened up with effort, catching Methos' eye. "You're very good at that."

Color rose in the other man's face, much to Duncan's gratification. "Would you believe beginner's luck?"

"Not likely," Duncan said dryly. "Come on, that looks painful." He pulled Methos to his feet, reaching for the buttons of the other man's jeans.

"Tell me about it." Methos' breath caught at the pressure of Duncan's hands, his arousal straining at the denim. A tiny spot of moisture stained the dark fabric; brushing the slickness with his fingertips, Duncan felt himself stirring again. He met the hazel eyes once more, held them as he knelt between Methos' feet and undid the laces of his boots. Methos was breathing hard, gripping his shoulders for support as Duncan finished unbuttoning the jeans, pulled them down by the belt loops.

It was the first time Duncan had seen Methos naked in full light. His gaze swept the sculpted thighs, the supple line of hip and flank, the proud, flushed curve of sex framed by dark curls, the narrow waist and broad, well-formed shoulders. Christ, but he was finely made for a man.

Methos was watching him with amused eyes. "Not exactly your usual poison, eh?"

Feeling both self-conscious and aroused, both awkward and sure, Duncan rose to stand before him. "No," he admitted. "But you are very fine to me, Methos. I've no regrets."

"Hmm," Methos murmured. "Not bad, Mac. I almost believed you." He touched Duncan's hair lightly, reaching to free it from its clip.

And Duncan found he had no answer for that, so he took Methos' face in his hands and kissed him, finding the taste of his own musk on Methos' tongue.

They fit together as if meant to, just as it had been the first time, and when Duncan pulled them into the shower Methos went willingly, body clinging to Duncan's as closely as movement would allow. Under the spray, Duncan kept their mouths pressed close, tongues deeply mated, keeping Methos busy so that he could maneuver him where he wanted him against the tile. Methos' cock nestled hotly in the curve of his hip, arousing as hell; his own nudged up against it, enthusiastic and welcoming. Methos shuddered faintly, breaking free of Duncan's mouth.

"You're gonna scrape my skin off," he gasped, rubbing his smooth cheek against Duncan's rough one.

Duncan nuzzled the exposed ear, letting the prickle along his jawline raise goose bumps down the other man's neck. "Is that a complaint?"

"Not exactly," Methos admitted, in a distracted tone that Duncan liked a great deal. "Just thought I'd better say something before things got out of hand."

"And what's wrong with out of hand?" Duncan reached between them to cup Methos' sex hard against his palm. Methos closed his eyes and gripped his arm, thighs spreading further apart as if making an offering.

"Nothing," he managed, fingers kneading Duncan's biceps as he reached down, wrapped Duncan's hand in his own and pressed it tighter against his arousal. "Forget I said anything."

"Whatever you say," Duncan agreed, and bent to suckle the lovely pale arch of his throat, keeping his hand pressed hard up against the man's cock and drawing a fiery, delicious red mark to the surface of Methos' skin until a groan escaped the other man, sweet and yielding. Driven past the point of restraint by that incendiary sound, Duncan wrapped his hand around Methos' cock and let Methos set the pace, their joined grip swiftly growing slick with Methos' arousal. The fingers of Methos' other hand clenched on his arm with bruising force, a broken gasp escaping him, and Duncan pushed him up against the wall, coaxed the orgasm from him with a squeeze of his hand and a warm tongue pressed at the hollow of Methos' throat. The low, raw cry the other man gave nearly sent him spilling after.

Spent, trembling faintly, Methos held on to him and tried to catch his breath. "Jesus, Mac -- "

"Shh, easy. Don't hyperventilate on me."

"Easy for you to say."

Half-dazed with pleasure, Methos let Duncan wash his hair, let him spread the lather over his chest and shoulders; when Duncan massaged the fragrant foam into the base of his skull, his nape, Methos leaned forward, eyes closed, and rested his forehead against Duncan's collarbone.

"Not going to sleep on me, are you?" Duncan murmured near the other man's ear, when he'd rinsed the shampoo away and Methos was practically a boneless puddle against him.

Methos' head rocked back and forth. "Mmm, no, pretty sure not."

"Good," he said huskily, rubbing himself gently against Methos' thigh. "Because I was hoping we might take this to bed."

"Sure. No problem. With you one hundred percent, Mac." Methos lifted his head as if it were very heavy. "You might have to carry me, but I'm with you."

Duncan nipped at his throat. "Don't tempt me."

Methos offered no help save the languid, inflaming caresses of his tongue in Duncan's mouth as Duncan rubbed him dry. At some point Duncan forgot about the towel, just closed his eyes and kissed him for a while, trying not to think about how much he would miss this, how much the memory of this moment would hurt when he was alone again and Methos was gone.

When he couldn't hold the moment any longer and had to break free of that knowing mouth, the other man leaned against him, stroking his hair softly.

"Pure chemistry," Methos said. "That's all it is with us. You know that, right?"

"I know."

"That and maybe temporary insanity."

Duncan nodded agreement. He turned his head, pressing his lips to the pulse at the other man's wrist. "Feels good though," he murmured after a moment, breathing softly against the skin there. "Doesn't it?"

His arousal had abated, and a painful tenderness had risen, the old loneliness he had lived with for so long a tight fist in his chest.

"Come on," Methos said huskily, taking his hand. "One for the road, Mac. Let's make it count."

In silent accord, Duncan let himself be led from the room.

Methos reminded himself that he had known what it would be like, to have Duncan's cock inside of him again, to give himself over to that stunning, painfully exquisite feeling of falling, the whole-body surrender that Duncan's sharply focused lovemaking demanded. He had known, he'd chosen it, and chosen to pay the price -- but oh, jesus, he hadn't really remembered. Not where it counted.

And to feel him, strong and sweet and insistent inside of him, hot and damp and tender on top of him while the sun warmed them and haloed him in gold -- that was nothing Methos could have prepared for. All he could do was hold on, and pant his profound gratitude, and try to hold himself together as the world came apart around him.

Balanced on the knife-edge of his own pleasure, Duncan refused to give Methos leverage to move. He seemed to have descended into a trance state, eyes closed, shoulders holding Methos' thighs open as he rocked steadily back and forth, brushing Methos' prostate with each thrust yet never quite hard enough to satisfy. "Please, Mac --" Methos gasped at last, when the slow, torturous pace became too much for him to bear. One fist clenched in the pillow, he reached to touch himself in desperation only to feel a broad, callused palm there ahead of him, closing gently over his sex. He curled in on himself with the pleasure, a soft, pleading sound escaping him as he grasped the other man's wrist.

Dark eyes opened, hot and lost, fevered with the effort to make it last. "Now?" Duncan asked roughly, a tremor running through him as his concentration faltered.

"Fuck, yes -- " Shuddering as the words triggered an instant, wholehearted assent deep within him, Methos gave himself over to necessity and let go of what restraint he had left, clinging gratefully to Duncan's wrist as that warm hand began to jerk him off in rough, perfect rhythm. And miracle of miracles, all at once he could feel Duncan with him just as it had been that first time, that same open, honest willingness that promised to follow wherever Methos led, the heavy, rocking thrusts answering his body's deepest cravings at last, at last, and when he couldn't hold back any more, when at last he came, spilling hot and urgent between them, he gave a groan of pure, relieved surrender that found its answer in the choked, broken cry Duncan made against his neck.

A long, blissfully suspended space of time passed before they moved apart, bodies cooling, limbs heavy with sated euphoria and more ordinary exhaustion. Methos knew he should get up, knew that every minute he stayed only made it harder -- but it felt so good to lie here with him in the hazy morning sunshine, to feel Duncan's warm, heavy nakedness beside him, pressing close.

When sleep came for him, he went, deciding some battles it was better to lose.

Duncan woke to the sound of rain and an inexplicable feeling of sadness.

Grey pearls of shadow rolled down the wall, across the long floorboards beside the bed, pooling and then separating in delicate rivulets. Judging by the soft light at the portholes, it was early evening. So what was he doing in bed?

In another moment memory returned, and with it the reason for the heavy sense of loss he felt, as bleak as the hollow patter of rain on the deck above. Turning over confirmed it: he was alone in the bed. Where another warm body had lain, now his hand encountered only cooling sheets.

Not gone, though. Not quite. His eyes found the other man's outline in the shadows with unerring instinct. He pulled the duvet around him and sat up.

"Going off into the night?" he asked quietly, voice rough with sleep.

"Just going," Methos countered, eyes gleaming faintly in the fading light. He stood silhouetted by the doorway, with the air of a man who'd been standing there too long. "It's only a matter of time before someone at Headquarters starts wondering where Adam Pierson wandered off to."

"Better get moving then," Duncan agreed.

The shape in the shadows didn't move.

"You be careful, okay, Mac?" Methos said at last, a warning in his tone that warmed Duncan clean through, and hurt at the same time with a clenching, bittersweet ache. "I mean it."

Duncan hadn't wanted to ask, hadn't known how to ask whether he would see Methos again. But somehow, he knew he'd just been given a promise as binding as any he could have sought.

"You too, old man," he said when he could, but the figure in the doorway was already gone.

In the days after Methos left Paris, Duncan took to going for long walks along the river. Worn out in body and spirit, pensive and melancholy in his solitude, he felt as though he were gathering strength for the weeks and months ahead. He had the feeling that something was waiting for him in the states, and though he had no reason to think the feeling prophetic, he had learned long ago never to disregard his strongest instincts.

His grief for Jacob had faded, but with the passing days he became more and more certain that his friendship with Dawson must end, once and for all. That did grieve him, deeply, but there was simply no other answer. How many people had to be hurt, how many had to die before they faced the cold fact that their worlds could not and should not intersect? No more, he promised himself grimly. No more. The price had already been too high.

He missed Methos more than he would have believed possible. When after three days he'd walked by the bookstore, unable to stay away any longer, the absence of Immortal aura had felt like a hollow echo in the absence of music. That was the day he'd made plane reservations and started putting things into storage.

Today, his last day in Paris, he'd gone to say goodbye to Tessa. "Paris is our city," he'd told her, kneeling beside her with his coat spread out around him. "I haven't forgotten. Take care, sweetheart." And he'd walked home slowly, letting memories of happier times keep him company on the way.

So it was that he reached the barge, and found that Joe Dawson was almost upon him before he'd noticed the Watcher's approach.

"Hey, Mac!" Dawson called with forced cheerfulness. "War's over. Jack's out. I'm back in. And I think we're gonna be able to pull the Watchers back together again."

Duncan had known that he would have to see Dawson again, had known that it would be difficult -- but he hadn't expected the deep, instinctive surge of resentment he felt, the betrayal, even now.

"I'm happy for you," he said bitterly, thinking of Darius, of Jacob, both lost to him now. Of Tessa, who might still be alive if not for the Watchers. Of Methos, maybe lost as well in the wide world.

"Have you seen Methos?" Joe asked, as if he'd read the thought. "I went by his place. He's gone, and no one seems to have any idea where he is."

Duncan looked away. "And you're surprised at that?" When Dawson didn't answer, Duncan prompted, "Is there something you wanted?"

The Watcher tried a conciliatory tone. "I thought maybe I could buy you a drink."

Duncan knew he should put an end to this now, knew he should break with Dawson once and for all. But the reminder of their shared past, the hard-won friendship that he had trusted in too well, tasted like ashes, and he found the words wouldn't come. "No thanks," he said, all he could manage as he started to walk away from the man he'd once called friend.

Dawson's voice called after him. "Maybe later!"

As alone as he'd ever been, Duncan MacLeod kept his back straight, his eyes forward, and just kept walking.


 The End