Rough Stuff
by Maxine Mayer

 

10/11/97


I'd learned through coded Watcher News Bulletins on the web about Magda Rasmussen's untimely death at the age of forty-five in an automobile accident. Immediately, I traveled from Paris to Stockholm to see her husband, my old friend, the Immortal Edward Rasmussen, formerly known as Erasmus Minor. He was half my age - only twenty-five hundred years old - and had been a notable Warrior Immortal for millennia. A lean, mean killing machine, once upon a time. I knew he no longer was that man. He'd changed. His wife's death would probably unhinge him, for a time. I owed Erasmus a great deal, so I went to him to see what I could do to help.

"Methos! What are you doing here?" Erasmus asked, opening the door to his small elegant house in the suburbs of Stockholm. He wasn't carrying his sword, he wasn't dressed to kill. He looked beat, his short-cropped white hair fitting well with his ageless old face, cut and scored with deep lines as though once long ago someone had taken a carving knife to it. An attractive man, he'd achieved First Death at forty. Today, he looked sixty. Or every year of his twenty-five centuries. Take your choice.

"I heard about Magda, Ras. May I come in?"

"You betcha." He was on automatic pilot - actually shook my hand and spoke to me as if I were simply a guest who'd arrived rather late for his wife's wake. "There's beer, probably other things left over from the memorial gathering. Wine. Food. I dunno. Take whatever you can find. Thanks for coming."

"Least I could do, Erasmus, after the help you gave me a while back." He waved a hand dismissively.

He showed me into his study, a small room off the hallway, lovingly appointed with every sort of antique bookcase, desk, chair, bricbrac, painting. At the moment, the room was a mess. Papers everywhere. Books scattered on the oriental rug. The computer turned on, screen saver blinking, a black-and-white geometric pattern. The smell of cigarette smoke, both stale and fresh, hung in the air. Last time I'd seen Ras he'd stopped smoking. Apparently, Magda's death had been a signal for him to start up again, in spades. There were three saucers on different surfaces, each overflowing with cigarette butts.

"Call me Edward, Methos. Erasmus Minor doesn't exist anymore. I haven't been that fellow for a very long time - since Magda and I met twenty-five years ago."

"Wrong, Ras. Erasmus Minor's who you are. Edward Rasmussen's the one who doesn't exist," I said as I cleared some books off a leather chair and sat in the space I'd freed. "Magda was lovely. Simply - lovely. It was a privilege to meet her."

His eyes took on a dreamy look. "We were already talking about moving on. Away. Spoke about New York. An open city, a gathering place for all nations. More Swedes in New York than in Stockholm, I think. We'd leased a flat in Manhattan, so we could house-hunt at our leisure." He turned to me, his voice plaintive, anguished. "But Methos, she still looked so young, younger than me - we might have stayed here in Sweden for another five years, ten ...."

"Now, you will move away."

"I can't leave her alone here, Methos - in the ground, broken, cold -"

"What do you propose to do - move in with her?" That was harsh, I admit, but the sound of him, so lost, so frightened and alone, reminded me of how I'd felt when Alexa died. And I'd only known Alexa a few months. I remembered other Mortal women I'd loved and lost. This mood Ras was in did nobody any good. "You've got to get away from here, Erasmus. Quickly."

"What? I can't leave her yet -"

"You can come back. But - we'll talk about it again tomorrow." I could see he wasn't ready to move along. He was still drifting. "For now, I'll get to work in here. This room's a mess."

"Magda would have hated this disorder. Me smoking. I just haven't felt up to cleaning. Or letting a stranger into the house to do it for me."

"So I see." I glanced around and noticed the small table he'd fitted up as a bar. "What's your poison, Ras? Scotch or rye?"

"Brandy."


I coddled him for precisely one week, then managed to drag him into his office so he could close things down, transfer funds to New York and Switzerland, make arrangements to go out-of-business. A one-man accounting firm doesn't require much in the way of goodbyes but he did have clients who must be notified that he was relocating to New York City.

He also had a secretary to pension off. I recognized her from the files. She was one of ours - a Watcher - though I'd never met her. I asked her privately whether she'd be following Ras when he moved. She said they'd assign someone else. Her English wasn't good enough to make the transition. Not a by-the-book sort of woman, she nevertheless was relieved to be rid of this assignment. She'd loved Magda and Edward - and the kind of man Erasmus was, while he'd lived with Magda. She was aware Erasmus might revert to his old ways, now that his wife was dead. And she knew she was unsuited to be a Warrior Immortal's Watcher. She'd never keep up with that lifestyle. I was impressed with the woman's acumen and detachment. The pain she hid masterfully, valiantly, wasn't lost on me. The Watchers honored Erasmus Minor when they chose her. The severance check Ras gave her was so large she'd never need to work again. But she would, of course - she was a Watcher. She'd be reassigned, and soon.

I sent Ras' personal items and some clothes ahead by private jet - I have friends with lots of money. Then Erasmus and I flew to New York City, two weeks to the day from when I'd shown up on his doorstep. It was October, and New York was having a spate of fine weather. Unfortunately, the weather - and anything else external to his grief - was lost on Erasmus.

We were at dinner in an expensive restaurant on the East Side, close to Ras' flat, when he finally came out of his gloom long enough to ask me a question about my life. We'd been in New York for several weeks. I was gratified to know he was beginning to heal.

"How's it going with you and your friend MacLeod, Methos? You in touch? He seemed like a nice sort, on the phone. In the files."

"Warrior Immortal," I muttered in reply, between bites of food. "Good man. We fight all the time - words, not swords. At the moment, he's off his rocker."

Ras' eyes widened. "And you're here, with me? Not helping him?"

"Nothing I can do for him. He got it into his head that the Millennium's here and he's the Champion chosen to fight a Demon over the Fate of the World. Killed his student, man named Richie Ryan." Then I explained, "It was part of the deal we made to defeat the Demon - that Mac and I separate. That's where you came in, last time around."

"I thought you two got back together."

"We did, thanks to you. Then we parted again, got back together again. Haven't seen him in a long time. Right now, he's in Paris." I gestured. "Apparently, our 'deal' didn't work the trick. I think he's finishing off the Demon himself, as we speak."

"Methos - why are you here, in New York, with me? When it's so clear your friend MacLeod needs you?"

"Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies," I quipped, wiping my mouth with a napkin and taking a sip of my brandy. "It's a long story. I'll regale you with it some time. Some other time."

Ras squinted at me as he withdrew another cigarette from his pack and lit it with a disposable lighter. I made a mental note to remember to buy him something fine, soon. God knows where his quality lighters were, he'd stopped smoking so long ago. Probably in a drawer somewhere, in his house in Stockholm.

He tried again. "They tell me you took down Kronos and the other Horsemen. That true?" He knew my ancient history but not the details of my recent past. "Quite an accomplishment."

Bluntly, I told him, "I didn't kill Kronos. Mac did. He killed Caspian as well. I took Silas down. Yes, an accomplishment indeed."

"They tell me it was a Double Death - Kronos and Silas. A Double Quickening."

"Hmm. Yes. Spectacular, if you're into special effects."

"Methos - you and Kronos -"

I looked at him defiantly. "What about me and Kronos?" When he didn't reply I said, "Our bond was gone. Our brotherhood was long past. But he hadn't changed. He was still seeking to rule the world, still making unspeakable plans to achieve that goal. He needed to die. I simply couldn't do it myself. So - Mac did it."

"And you're okay with that? No thoughts about revenge?"

"Revenge?" I frowned. "Against whom?"

"MacLeod."

"You're daft! I planned it all! Kronos needed to die. They all did. Between MacLeod and me, they all died. Why on earth would I want revenge?"

"You sought out Kronos and the Horsemen and planned their deaths? After thousands of years? Why?"

"No, of course I didn't do that. But when Kronos showed up -" I shrugged, "it was time."

Ras nodded. "I see." He paused. "Still, seeing Kronos again must have brought back a lot of memories. Not all of them bad. You were good friends, brothers, once."

"We were lovers, once," I retorted bluntly. "I've changed. He liked the old ways best."

"So - nothing stirred? No memories beckoned? No desires?"

"What are you doing, Erasmus? Let it be!" My eyes must have blazed because he backed off, raising one hand in a gesture of surrender and retreat.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to open wounds. I guess - misery loves company. Your Mortal friend Alexa wasn't your only lover who died recently. Kronos. And I heard about Byron. They both lost their heads at MacLeod's hands. The thought came to me that you might want revenge. But I shouldn't have spoken. I was out of line. Forgive me, Methos."

"Nothing to forgive. I simply hadn't considered it in that light."

I recalled the couple days I'd spent defending Byron to Mac. Awful. Nothing left of the Byron I'd loved.

But Kronos? Remembering the few days I'd spent with him, I smiled. "Kronos was the same, Erasmus - alive, dynamic, exciting, wicked, passionate. Insane. The same as always. As I remembered him. As you knew him. No different at all."

"You weren't tempted though, to fall in with him, actually be a Horseman again?"

"Not for a moment. I've changed. Everything I did was directed toward one goal. Two - actually. Getting rid of the Horsemen and protecting MacLeod while I did it. And Cass, of course."

"So you weren't tempted?" He was insistent. Ras knew me well, from the old days. Knew himself, too. Knew how much remains of who we are, when we move on.

I think the brandy loosened my tongue. I told him, "I was tempted sexually. Yes."

"Truly? You surprise me, Methos. On the heels of a Mortal female lover. Then a chivalrous gentle man like MacLeod. Tempted by Kronos?"

"I'd had a taste of the dark side, recently. Well, not so recently. A year or two back. Even then, it was - insidious. Brought out the vicious in me. Fond memories."

The waiter took away our plates and we ordered coffee. After it arrived - hot, black, excellent coffee - Ras continued our talk. I'd drifted off down memory lane and was startled to hear him speak.

"Methos. A taste of the dark side? When? How?"

"Dark Quickening. Mac's, not mine. He - raped me. I wasn't altogether unwilling, as you might imagine. It wasn't the real MacLeod, of course, though he's not a 'gentle' man. He's a barbarian, after all. But our lovemaking since has been - tame. Comparatively. I'm sure he doesn't remember."

"But you remember."

"Yes. Oh yes."

"Kronos - always he was like that. With men, with women. I remember once," Erasmus continued, "we met you on the road, in Iran - what we'd call Iran now - I think it was. Dragging your slaves behind you. We made camp together."

"I remember," I told him.

"That night, I heard the screams from Kronos' tent. It sounded as though someone was being disemboweled."

"That was just Kronos, introducing his newest slaves to the pleasures of love. They seldom lasted long, under his skillful ministrations. I was hardier."

"You couldn't be killed."

"Neither could he." Ras lifted an eyebrow. "The rough stuff went both ways, you see, Erasmus. He wasn't the only one of us who liked it rough. I gave as good as I got - with Mortals, and with Kronos."

"I see."

I took a deep breath. "What happened with MacLeod brought it back. All of it. Then, when Kronos showed up -" I shivered. "Kronos never realized what was tempting to me. With what he might tempt me. It was never the power or the freedom. It was him. Kronos himself. Lucky for me, he never caught on. No self-confidence," I concluded with a smile.

Ras laughed. "Kronos! What a bastard! Lots of charm, though, I admit. True enough!"

I smiled again. I didn't tell him how gratified I was that he'd laughed. A first, since Magda's death. I simply stored away the fact, and considered what other stories I might tell, to bring a smile to his lips.

And I recalled, as well, that Erasmus was no slouch in the rough stuff department either, in his day.


After dinner we took a long walk, south on Third Avenue, then west across Forty-Second Street. South again, down Fifth Avenue, toward the Village. I could sense Erasmus' agitation warring with his grief and pain. Our talk of rough sex had titillated him, as it had me. I tingled. I was aroused. A partial erection accompanied me as we walked and I wondered where our feet would lead us. Clearly, towards those dark streets where sex was cheap, but not free. Never free.

Apparently, we'd both considered and discarded the idea of doing anything with each other. Too many complications. Neither of us was free. I was bound to MacLeod. Ras was bound to mourning. Beginning a liaison with me would be absurd and dangerous for Ras. For me - with my heart engaged elsewhere, as it were - it was impossible.

But a little light musik wasn't out of the question.

The closer we got to Greenwich Village the more ominous and dark our silence became. We went west again, towards Christopher Street, then even farther west, to the edge of the river under the highway. There the dark was filled with silhouettes of beautiful young men whose only wish was to earn a buck doing unsavory things with other men. One look at Ras and me would be enough to draw them in droves. It wasn't often such lovelies as we were put our hands in our pockets to pay for sex. Ordinarily, men like us got what we wanted for free.

But not always.

Not what we wanted tonight.

Not the rough stuff.

Usually, there was a price attached to that.

Usually, the price we might pay the boys in the shadows was a lot cheaper than the price we'd pay at home.... No. Not "usually." Always.

I murmured to Erasmus, "Meet you back at your place."

"I'll find a taxi," he replied, slipping off into the shadows with a beautiful blonde youth.

I searched the darkness carefully, looking for someone vaguely like Kronos, vaguely like Mac. Vaguely like what I wanted, needed.

I searched in vain.

Here, there were no Immortals. Here, there were no vital, vibrant persons. No men of valor, honor, power, joy. Here, there was nobody evil. Nobody good. Here, there were only lost souls.

Including me.

I allowed a dark-haired boy to massage me to climax, nothing more. By the time I'd chosen him, even the thought of his mouth on me filled me with disgust. My heart was overburdened with loneliness and despair. Whatever longing for the "rough stuff" I'd felt when Ras and I were talking earlier, it was gone now. I didn't have the energy to take an active part in the sex act, let alone dominate.

It was unendurable, how little I enjoyed what we did, the dark-haired boy and I. Unendurable! Intolerable!

I missed Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Desperately.

Maybe I'd told Mac the truth after all, when I'd said I'd changed. Maybe "rough stuff" wasn't what I wanted anymore. Not without love.

God damn him! He better hurry up and defeat that Demon! Because we had a lot of talking to do.

It was time for him to know the rest of it. As he'd put it, what kind of "game" I was playing. At least, he'd thought he wanted to know that but I'd never told him. Couldn't speak of it. Not to Mac. Not to Mac.

Now I knew it was time - might be the time - to tell him everything. What he'd done. What I'd done. What it meant, for us. All of it.

It's become a by-word of the last few decades that lovers should tell each other everything about themselves. Their lives, their pasts. Their sexual preferences, needs, whims, fantasies. Openly, freely. I'd always believed this was one more instance of twentieth century insanity, idiocy.

Now, I thought, maybe I was wrong.


In the morning I caught up with Ras in the small coffee shop at the corner of 70th Street and Second Avenue where we'd been eating breakfast most days since we arrived in New York. He beckoned me to his table and called the waiter. I gave my order for coffee and a croissant, then slouched back in the booth.

"Was it as good for you as it was for me?" Ras joked, a smile on his lips but not in his eyes. He was in pain. When you've known real love, sex without love isn't funny.

"Better!" I rejoined, shaking my head. "I cannot believe two men as old as we are could be so stupid! It's incredible!"

"Come on, Methos! Don't beat yourself up over it! We got ourselves hot and bothered talking about the past. We got our rocks off. Everything doesn't need to be an idyllic fairytale."

"It needn't be a horror story, either, Ras! Last night was a nightmare!"

"You should talk to your friend MacLeod. He's got what you need - even if he doesn't know it, or want to have it."

"You don't understand about MacLeod, Erasmus. He's not like us. He's - it's all he could do to accept the fact that he's in love with me. With a man. That he's sleeping with me. Everything else, he pushes away. Treats me like I was a woman. Gently. Teasing. Caressing. He's not even as tough on me as he might be with an Immortal woman. He babies me, coddles me, worships me. It's - ridiculous."

Erasmus smiled with genuine warmth and delight. "I think you've got something there, Methos. The man loves you. How long's it been, brother? Since someone cared for you like that - someone who knows who you are, who you've been? Don't knock it!"

"He's a beautiful Boy, Erasmus. He is. I know that."

"But -"

"But he's a Green Boy. He doesn't know who I am, or who I've been. He only knows - facts. And me," I added viciously, "I'm so good at hiding, I'd nearly forgotten, myself!"

"You remember now, though."

"I do."

"Your friend should be told what he did during his Dark Quickening, Methos," Ras insisted with absolute conviction. "He should be dealing with it. Digesting it. Guarding himself against doing such a thing again."

"You're right, Ras." I sighed. "Mac hasn't got a clue that he could do something like that - rape someone. Even the French woman he slept with during those days - she was willing, at first. He lost it completely, with me. And blocked it, immediately."

"You'll be doing him a good turn if you tell him what he did to you."

"Maybe."

Maybe.

Of course, I'd always believed that Ras and Mac had a lot in common. More than I had with either of them. They were "good" in a way I'd never be. "Heroes." I knew that. It's what gave Ras' words added meaning for me. Showed me angles that didn't leap to my mind when I considered a problem, but might leap to Mac's mind. Ras thought the way Mac probably thought.

I corrected myself.

Ras thought as Mac might think - about somebody else. How Mac would react if he heard such a thing about himself - that he'd raped a man - well, that was another question entirely. We're none of us perfect. And nobody wants to know that. They'd likely kill the messenger.

"Methos - if you love him, you've got to be straight with him. If it destroys what the two of you share - then so be it."

"Easy for you to say."

"Not easy. Simply, necessary." Ras looked at me intently. "It's for your good, too, Methos. You told me what tempted you, with Kronos. I'm sure MacLeod must believe the temptation was to power. I think it would do you both good if he learned the truth - how personal the temptation was. And that it's one that might easily be fulfilled - by him. Without harming anyone. Without loss of honor."

"Yeah. Yeah." I couldn't bring myself to say he was right. I wasn't sure he was right. Besides, what the hell do I know about honor?

"You ready to go back to Paris yet, Methos?"

"I'll talk to Joe - Mac's Watcher. If this Demon stuff is done with, I'll think about it."

"What's your beef with Demons? Why won't you help him now?"

"I can't." That was the truth. I didn't believe. I couldn't help. Afterwards, maybe I could help. Now, it was impossible.

I hoped to heaven the Demon stuff was overwith. God, how I hoped that! Because I needed to see MacLeod again. If I spent one more night in the shadows with a dark-haired boy I didn't love, that would be one night too many.


Erasmus Minor was a wonderful accountant but computer illiterate. He could scarcely enter figures into a pre-existing form. He knew nothing about programming. Nothing about hardware. Didn't have a clue how to hook up his modem to a separate telephone line. I don't know who fixed him up with his home computer back in Stockholm, but he needed a lot of help here in New York. I stayed with him for a couple months, getting everything started for him, transferring programs and data, teaching him new software I picked up on my jaunts through the city. It was a way of easing him past his grief, turning his mind to something else, something different, new.

I bought a lot of computer paraphernalia for myself as well. It'd been a long time since I'd thought about anything but the Game, the Watcher reports, and MacLeod. It felt good to be in touch with other computer geeks and learn what was new.

A lot was new. This century - a lot was always new. I wondered if I'd be able to keep up, or if I'd fall by the wayside, at last outdistanced by the march of time. At heart, I was a long distance runner, a marathon man, not a sprinter. This century - a portend of the future - called for both. I worried - not for the first time - whether I could adapt, be both.

I worried about MacLeod too. He'd got this far. But his four hundred years were only a drop in Time's bucket. The Gathering was so far off. Could he go the distance? He'd shown signs of cracking, losing his focus, of profound dysfunction, in these few years since I'd known him. I couldn't protect him, not from everything. Not from himself. How'd I bear it, if he didn't make it, if he didn't survive?

I worried about us. Us. Me and him. A laughable item. The simple relationship we had now. This sex business. It didn't make sense. It wasn't practical. None of it. Not the love, not the sex. It wasn't calculated to bring either of us into the twenty-first century, heads on our shoulders, let alone, to the Gathering! It wasn't calculated at all.

Our love was a terrible distraction to me. To Mac, it was like being squeezed and wrung out to dry, every day. When - or if - I added this new wrinkle about rape and rough stuff to the laundry, God only knew how he'd react. It might throw him so off balance he'd be at risk in the Game. Which was unthinkable. I wished only to protect him, but instead I put him at risk, endangered him. I couldn't afford that. He was too important to lose.

Whatever that meant.

I forget what I meant when I'd first said that to Mac. That he was too important to lose. Did I mean, in the Game? Or did I mean, to me?

Didn't matter. Whichever I'd meant, I'd protect his head at the risk of my own - and had, more than once.

Now, I was contemplating telling him something so - alien - to his spirit, to who he believed he was, and who he wanted me to be, that I knew it would put him at risk just to hear it. Rough stuff! Cripes!

But Ras was right - Mac started it. Somewhere inside him was a man who could rape a friend, a male friend, someone trying to help him, and block it out, as though it never happened. Make no mistake, Mac raped me, not some other guy, not some Evil Immortal he'd taken in during his Dark Quickening. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod raped me, in a room we shared in an isolated country inn, the night before we reached the Holy Spring. Nobody else.

I'd permitted it. Yes, because I wanted him, loved him. But also, if I'd stopped him - I could have stopped him - I'd have lost my tenuous hold on his soul. I couldn't have effected his "cure" at the Holy Spring. So I didn't allow what happened to me at his hands to deflect me from doing what I intended to do to him, with mine. I was going to save him. Either that, or I'd be forced to kill him. Killing him - well, that was unthinkable. I had no choice. Save him it must be.

What's a little rape in the face of killing MacLeod? Nada. Niente. Zero. Less than nothing. So I felt then. So I believe now.

And I'd kept what he'd done a secret from Mac. At first, because I thought his hold on sanity was too precarious to take in such a thing. Also, I was embarrassed. Yes. That too.

Then, time passed. More and more time. Clearly, he was healing, had healed. So I kept what he'd done a secret from Mac because I didn't want to reopen the wound.

Finally, the unimaginable happened. MacLeod let himself know that he loved me, wanted me. We became lovers. I couldn't speak of the rape to him then. He thought of our love as something noble - like warriors of ancient times. Something out of a storybook, or an old myth. Beautiful.

No place in that picture for a crazy Green Boy raping the oldest Immortal in captivity. Not to Mac.

Was what Erasmus said true? Did the fact that I missed the wildness - the power and freedom of sex as it had been for me centuries ago - give me the right to open up this can of worms to MacLeod? Or did Mac need to know because he'd done it, raped me, and must face it, for some indeterminate reason?

I couldn't get clear on what I thought.

Probably, under all my indecision, was the fear that Mac wouldn't want me anymore, if he knew what I was, what I liked, what I needed. And I didn't really need the rough stuff. Did I?

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I'd lived by that rule - do nothing, first among all my rules - for millennia.

It wasn't broken. Why was I thinking of fixing it?

Was I bored? Looking for trouble? An unsettling idea....


"Methos, phone for you!" Erasmus called out to me from the computer room. I was sitting in his living room on the new sofa I'd picked out for his flat in New York. I'd been surfing the TV channels, unable to find anything I wanted to watch, while Ras continued to heal as he soaked up the knowledge I transmitted to him about computers - soaked it up like a sponge. I hoped for more for Erasmus than simply his healing from grief. Hoped what he learned would help him survive into the new millennium. It was a start. "It's your friend Joe Dawson."

Joe! My heart began to pound. Two months, six days, seven hours, fifteen minutes, I'd spent in this city, waiting to hear from Joe that Mac had defeated the Demon and was back to normal. Pray God, this was the call I'd been waiting for!

I took the cell phone from Ras and waited until he'd left the room. I sat up straighter on the couch and said, "Joe, it's me."

"How's tricks, Methos?" What a pleasure to hear the old goat's voice again.

"No tricks. How's by you?" I replied, the rhythm of New York speech patterns already distorting mine. We both knew it wasn't Joe's health and welfare I was asking about.

"I think - now, don't quote me on this, Methos - I think Mac's okay now."

"But you're not sure?"

"With him, who could be sure! But, yeah, temporarily, for the moment, until the next time - he's okay."

"Good, Joe. Thanks for letting me know."

"Oh - and I'm calling from Seacouver, in case you're wondering. MacLeod and I flew back here together last weekend. You can come home now, if you want." I could hear how much Dawson missed me. I missed him, too.

"I could've gone home any time, Joe, if I knew where home was."

"It's where your friends are, Methos. Mac, me, Amanda - used to be, Richie...."

"Amanda's in Seacouver - with Mac?" Okay, so I was jealous. We're none of us perfect.

"No. But she'll be here soon, as soon as she learns you're back, Methos." Joe had his own theory about Amanda and me. So far, he'd never been able to convince me he was right.

"You know about Rasmussen's wife?"

"Sure. I put the message on the Hotline myself. It was good of you to go to him, help him out."

"He helped me when I was thinking of getting myself bumped off, Joe. Just returning the favor."

"That never woulda happened, old friend. You know it and I know it." I didn't reply. The Watcher took a deep breath and asked again, "You coming home, Adam? Mac's okay, but he's had it rough. He sure could use a little TLC."

I winced. "TLC? Is that what I'm good for, Joe? And here I thought I'd made it clear, there is no Adam Pierson. No shy boy with the jokes. I am Methos. Always have been, always will be." I'd lost my temper. My last words were spoken on a rise in pitch and volume.

"Whoa, Methos! Sorry! What's eating you, pal? It's just an expression - TLC. Tender loving care. He needs you because he loves you. He even broke down and said it to me, the other night. That he misses you. What's your problem?"

"Sorry, Joe. No problem. I'll be along in a while. Most likely. Probably."

"Ambivalent, ain't we, kid?

"You always did know how to minimize things, Dawson."

"You need a friend, I can be in New York in twelve hours, max. Hell, I ain't even unpacked yet."

"No. Not necessary. I'll be along. Ras is doing well. Doesn't need me any longer. Couple days to tie up the loose ends here, and I'll be home. Save me a warm beer."

"You got it, pal. Looking forward to seeing you."

"Me too, Joe. Take care."

"Always do."


I'd just put down the phone when it rang again. I answered it. "Rasmussen Limited."

"Methos?"

"Mac." Oh God. That voice. I couldn't breathe, for a moment.

"Joe gave me your number. Is everything okay with your friend? How's he holding up?"

"He's fine, Mac. As well as could be expected, in the circumstances. You know the drill. One Mortal woman shoved into the ground, one Immortal man pretending he still wants to live forever. Swearing he'll never take another Mortal lover, blah blah blah. The usual. Ras is just dandy, MacLeod. Just peachy, as Joe would say."

"Methos -" Shock, that I could speak so callously. Acknowledgement, that what I'd said was true.

"Sorry. Got carried away. Death's rough. But Erasmus will be fine. Busy learning everything he never wanted to know about computers. He's started working again, taking on new clients. Put an advert in the Watcher Gazette for a secretary -"

"Methos!"

"Just joking. But that's what he had before, a Watcher secretary. I suppose it's handy for everyone. Particularly if Ras stays out of the Game, the way he intends to do, now. At least, those are the kinds of noises he's making. He'll stay out of the Game, to honor Magda's memory, blah blah blah -"

"Is there a chance in hell you'll just shut up, Methos!" I could hear the blaze of anger in his voice. He'd always had a temper. But now he was healthy, fit, so he could let himself express whatever he felt. Nevertheless, when he spoke again the anger was gone and his voice was gentle, kind. Loving. As if he were talking to a child who needed his protection. Or to a woman who was entitled to his chivalrous concern. "You want me to come there - to New York - help you out with him? You sound like you're ready to explode. I can help. I can take some of the pressure off you, some of the burden of being good -"

"Supply the TLC in my place?" I retorted sarcastically.

"Whatever it takes, Methos." Patient reasoning with a child, a woman....

Ras thought Mac knew me and loved me. How wrong could a man be?

"Yeah. You know - yeah - that sounds good. I'm not ready to go back to Seacouver just yet. 'Home,' as Joe calls it."

"It is our home, Methos - Paris and here."

"Maybe."

"I'll get the details - your address - from Joe. Stay put. I'll be there soon. Wait for me."

"Mac - you don't need to do this. Erasmus is nothing to you."

"But you're everything to me, Methos. So - I really do have to do this. Wait for me."


"He's coming here," I said to Erasmus, who'd joined me in the living room when I'd hung up the phone. My hands were shaking.

"So I gathered. He really cares about you, Methos. I'm happy for you."

"Where'll we put him?" I joked, looking up at Ras with a grin. There were half a dozen bedrooms in the flat.

"Thought he'd bunk with you."

I twisted my mouth. "Well, all right. If you insist."

"I insist," Ras said, grinning. "How 'bout a brandy? To celebrate."

"What are we celebrating? Mac's impending arrival or the impending doom of our relationship, if I tell him the truth about - things?" There was a certain freedom in talking to a man like Ras - someone who really did know who I was. Maybe it wasn't love, but it sure was friendship. At least Erasmus recognized me as an equal.

"Neither. We're celebrating the fact that we've survived one more time. Because we take care of our own."

I clinked my glass against his and repeated solemnly, "We take care of our own. Has a nice ring to it."

Sometimes it was true. At any rate, the sentiment sure beat the hell out of that other phrase with a ring to it, "in the End there can be Only One."


Mac didn't phone from the airport - he simply - arrived. Not even carrying a flight bag, he had only the clothes he stood up in. He looked wonderful, if a bit thin. He'd cut his hair quite short - had it styled really modern - but otherwise, he was the same. Same black raincoat, white shirt, black slacks and shoes. Same olive skin and dark brown eyes. Same tentative smile.

I'd decided, while I waited for him to come to New York, that I'd tell him the truth about what he'd done to me during his Dark Quickening - the rape. At least that much. More than that, I wasn't certain. About the "rough sex," I'd play it by ear. From how he reacted to the initial revelation, I'd decide what else he could handle immediately. Because some time he'd need to be told everything. It was only a question of when. For both our sakes, it needed to be out in the open. For our friendship, our love, to continue to mean anything real, I'd have to be open with him, tell him the truth. Risk the truth. He had to learn who I was.

"Good to see you, Mac. Come in." We didn't embrace. It was as though we were strangers again. My God.

My decision made, I was stunned by the way our relationship wasn't at all as I'd remembered it. But I wasn't going to rethink my resolve to tell Mac about his Dark Quickening. That much, he needed to know. If an opening came to speak, I'd take it. Or I'd make it. No question.

He walked into the apartment ahead of me and I had a chance to look at his back. Without the long hair he looked naked, his neck so vulnerable it frightened me. I worked hard to throw off those thoughts. I introduced him to Erasmus.

"Sorry for your loss, Edward," Mac said, clearing his throat. Sounded like he hadn't spoken in years.

"And for yours, Duncan," Rasmussen rejoined, telling MacLeod with that simple phrase that he knew all about Richie Ryan's death, and didn't blame Mac for it.

"Thank you." Then Mac simply stood there, still as stone.

I asked, "Would you like something to drink, Mac? A scotch?"

"Thank you, no. Maybe - tea, if you have any."

I looked at Rasmussen, at a loss. He'd done the food shopping. I had no idea if we had tea.

"You betcha. I'll brew up a pot," Ras replied. "Chinese, English, Indian? What's your pleasure?"

"Anything. Strong. No milk."

"You got it." Ras went into the kitchen and left Mac and me alone, standing in the middle of the living room.

I bit my lip. Swallowed. "This is a big flat, MacLeod. Care for the grand tour?"

"No thank you, Methos." He looked at me. "I've missed you. There's so much I need to tell you - things I've learned this past year."

"Sure, Mac. Plenty of time for that. Have a seat. Mi casa -" I choked.

"Yes. I know." He took off his coat and put it over the end of the sofa. He was carrying his sword again. I breathed a sigh of genuine relief. Thank God for small blessings! He sat down in a leather chair.

"Rasmussen's all right now, I think," I remarked, just to have something to say. "It'll be decades before he's really prepared to go forward, of course. Accept someone new into his life. But - as things go, for us, he's okay."

"I can see that, Methos. Twenty-five years with a person you love - it's a long time. It doesn't simply - disappear - because they've died."

"No. It doesn't." Was he thinking about Tessa? He'd been with her for more than a decade. Had he ever really move on, from Tessa? To love again? Did he still love me? Had he ever loved me?

"I know now, that it never disappears, the love. Never. It's inside, always."

"Yes, Mac, I know." What the hell was he getting at? Had he come here to tell me he didn't love me, had never loved me? Couldn't forget Tessa?

"While I was in the monastery -"

"Is that where you've been?" I interrupted.

"I thought you knew."

I shook my head. "I didn't ask. I thought you might go to Holy Ground. But I wasn't certain."

"Yes. That's where I went. Holy Ground. I was there for a year, Methos. Richie never left my thoughts. Never. No matter what I did. Meditation, kata, silence, chanting, fasting, prayer. Richie was still with me, inside."

"I'm not sure what you're trying to tell me, Duncan," I replied quietly, "but if that's true, you're fortunate. When they fade from memory - the ones we lose - the pain is worse."

"Maybe."

Finally, I had to know. With a show of the old bravado I asked, "Think about me at all, while you were in the monastery, Mac? Or was it 'out of sight, out of mind?'"

He stared at me. Answered without a moment's hesitation. "I taste your flesh on my tongue, Methos. Hear your voice in my head. Always." He grinned. "You don't know how distracting you can be. All your old lines, your jokes, slipping into my thoughts at the most inconvenient moments. Spoiling my reach for sanctity. Thwarting my search for peace. You're a damn devil, Methos. But you didn't let me forget who I am. You kept me in my place." He nodded. "That's good."

I looked away from him, rubbed my eyes. When I looked back, Rasmussen had returned bearing a tray with tea for three. Just as well. I didn't think I could speak after what Mac said. Any distraction was welcome.


Later, the three of us went out to dinner. Our talk was awkward, with Ras holding up more than his end of the conversation. Mac and I were pretty much tongue-tied.

After we'd eaten - and without taking coffee - Erasmus excused himself in a gesture of kindness and discretion and went home alone, leaving Mac and me in the restaurant with our thoughts and snifters of brandy. Duncan had already imbibed more than his share. It was time for us to get reacquainted - in that, I agreed with Ras.

"No more cigars, Mac?" I asked him with a grin.

"Not for a while. Nothing to stop me smoking one now, though," he told me, signaling the waiter and purchasing a very expensive cigar.

He let me light it with a slim gold lighter I'd picked up for myself when I bought one for Erasmus, and which I placed by his plate without remark. He didn't fuss over the clipping and other esoteric rituals he usually fooled with before he smoked, but I imagined he didn't have his tools with him. I watched him with undisguised interest, trying to discern what - if anything - it all meant. Duncan drinking brandy. Duncan smoking a cigar. Duncan calm, not avoiding my eyes. Had to mean something, didn't it?

He noticed I was studying him and asked, "What?"

I came to myself with a start. "You were away a long time. Familiarizing myself again," I lied.

"Yes, it was a long time. Had my first taste of hard liquor in a year the other night, with Joe."

"Ah, I see. But you're still smitten with tea?"

He smiled. "Not really," he replied, glancing towards the brandy bottle and lifting his glass to his lips.

"Anything else you've been doing without?" I asked.

"Like what?" When I didn't answer he said with another smile, "You mean, sex?"

"If the shoe fits...."

"It fits," he told me grimly. "Tightly." His nostrils flared as he took a deep breath. Then he joked, "Amazing, what a man has to give up to defeat a Demon."

"If you say so...."

He didn't reply. With one phrase I'd exposed the grounds for our separation - his faith, my lack of faith. It was over, for now. But it would never really be finished. There'd always be a next time, as Joe'd pointed out. For Duncan MacLeod, there'd always be another Demon, another Cause, another Battle with Evil, to take him away from me.

But he was here now. For the moment. I didn't intend to let him get away. Not for a long time. And certainly, not with his celibacy intact.

"Mac -"

"Hmm? What?"

"I've missed you, too. Thought about you." Give a little, get a little, ground rules. I was aroused now, my desire alive in my groin, in my throat. Finding it hard to speak. I sighed on a shudder. "Celibacy sucks," I added, another lie in my endless stream of absolutely necessary, utterly unnecessary lies implicit in my remark. That I'd been celibate too, while he was away.

"Then, we should go now. You can give me the grand tour. Erasmus' apartment is so large." He grinned. "I bet there's lots of bedrooms."

"Oodles," I told him, standing and taking some bills from my pocket - enough for our check, the waiter's tip, and possibly, a trip to the Riviera for the maitre d', I didn't care - and throwing them on the table.

Duncan put his cigar in the ashtray, slipped the lighter into his pocket, and stood. His voice was hoarse when he ordered, "Let's go."


Ras' flat was dark when I let us in. I'd set up my bed in one of the rooms far from the front door, far from the living and computer rooms. A long way from the kitchen. In other words, out of the line of action. Anticipating I might need the privacy. Hoping I would.

I hadn't put anything else in my room but the bed and a three-way lamp. The linens were chosen with Duncan in mind, long before he'd offered to come to New York.

He followed me down the hallway and into my room, carefully closing the door behind him.

And that was the last of "carefully" I got from him that night.

He slammed me against a wall and - what can I say? - devoured me. There's no other way to describe it. He devoured me.

Every which way, repeatedly, without pause, without diminishment of sexual arousal, after each time. It was like what his old friend Charlie Desalvo would probably have called a knock down, drag out fight - if I'd been putting up a fight.

Without words. Without any help from me, to begin with. Without any regard for me, except for some kind of inchoate reach to imbibe me, I suppose. Take me over. I don't know.

But he knew it was me. Not a child. Not a woman. Not Adam Pierson.

Me.

Methos.

Duncan's bigger than me. Stronger than me. Not tougher - but definitely in better shape.

If I weren't willing, there'd be no other word for it but rape.

But I was willing. So it wasn't rape.

He was focused, wild, incredibly powerful.

I couldn't have asked for better if I'd spent years telling him exactly what I wanted.

"Rough stuff" didn't begin to describe it.

No. I think the word I'm looking for is love.


In the morning we both simply stayed where we'd finally landed. On the bed. Alongside each other, facing the ceiling. Neither of us had slept. We were silent. But it was a companionable silence. Eventually, we both turned our heads toward the window to watch dawn seep through the slats of the lowered blinds. When the room was bright with daylight I reached over Mac's body to turn off the three-way lamp. As I moved back toward my side of the bed he brushed his lips along my shoulder and down my arm, a gentle kiss.

So I knew he was himself again - whoever that was. Satiated. Happy. In balance. Good.

I spoke first. "You remembered after all, Mac, didn't you?" I'd realized he'd remembered, knew it almost immediately, last night. I was off the hook, my decision to speak of the rape no longer necessary. I didn't need to make a decision whether to tell Mac about my sexual preferences either. Not anymore. Off the hook on all counts. Thank God.

"I remembered you, Methos. I never forgot what I did during my dark time. But I'd blocked you out. While I was away, I remembered your response. Thought about it. Then, I thought about Kronos. You spent a lot of time with him, in the Bronze Age. A thousand years," he remarked quietly, gently, awe in his voice. "A thousand years. Didn't try to get away. After Bordeaux, I knew you could have, if you'd wanted to." He cleared his throat. "I put two and two together -"

"And came up with -?"

"Four." He chuckled. "No pun intended. The kind of man Kronos was. The kind of man you were. The times were different. You were different. Sure. But not so very different...."

"What'd you mean?"

"You could have stopped me, during my dark time. I didn't know who you were, then. Didn't realize your - power. I thought you let me hurt you - take you violently - because you were afraid of me. Let me smash you, throw you over a wall, because you weren't strong enough to stop me."

"I could have stopped you, Mac. Any time."

"I know that now." He smiled. "Guess everything's got an upside - even the Horsemen. I can't believe I threatened you, told you that you might become like me, if you killed me - be dominated by a Dark Quickening -"

"Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'maybe there's more room inside me,' doesn't it, Mac?"

He nodded. "I'd never have put things together, if I didn't find out about you and the Horsemen. If I hadn't known Kronos."

"Your point, Mac?"

"During my dark time I didn't know you. I didn't know you loved me, or wanted me. I had no idea you could have stopped me from brutalizing you, raping you. I didn't know - your power," he repeated. "You were Adam Pierson to me then. Not Methos. Never - I never could have made the connection - if you'd done something different back then. If you'd tried to stop me. Then, later, I thought you didn't stop me only because you wanted to save me from myself."

"That is why, Mac."

He shook his head. "Not the only reason why." He looked at me. "You liked it."

I didn't reply. There was no point denying it, and I'd proved otherwise repeatedly, last night. Also, given as good as I got.

"Methos?"

"What?"

"Thank you for not trying to force me to remember what I'd done."

"You already knew, somewhere inside."

"You've been a good friend."

"I try."

"Yes, you really do. It's not always easy for you, either."

"MacLeod, I love you. I'll die trying."

"Not if I've got a say in it." He took me in his arms. "We take care of our own."

"Got a nice ring to it, Mac," I muttered into his chest.

"I like it," he answered, his mouth on my hair.

"So do I." I thought about Erasmus. "Helping Ras begin to get past his grief - it's been a blessing for me, Duncan."

"We'll stay with him for a while, if you want, Methos. There's no hurry to get back home."

"I'd like to stay for as long as he needs me. He's a good man, Mac. I learned more about you than I'd expected to know, just by being around a good man. More about -"

"Yes?"

I chuckled. "More about what it means to be 'straight' rather than devious. It's been a revelation."

"We're no better than you, Methos."

"You are. Both of you. But it's not so important - who's better, who's not so good. The love is what's important. The caring. Taking care of our own." I lifted my head so I could see his face and told him very seriously, "I'm all for that. Very much so. Surprise surprise."

"I knew you would be, Methos. It's more who you are than you want anyone to know. Matter of fact, I've taken it as my motto."

I said, "It's not as easy to do as it might sound, MacLeod. What about the Game?"

"Fuck the Game."

"What about the others, not our own. The Mortals? Will you forget about them? Or take care of them, too?"

"If I have to...."

"Oh, you'll have to, Mac."

Fiercely, he reiterated, "We come first, Methos. From now on. You and me. The other Immortals. We're supposed to be Immortal. But too many of us die. Too many."

"That's rough, Mac. Death's always rough. But you've always done what you could to help your Immortal friends -"

He cut me off. "That's not good enough - too much room for mistakes. I'm putting us all first. Immortals. Not just our friends. All of us. I'm putting us first, now."

"First. But not only?"

"Then - after us - the Watchers, the Mortals."

I lifted my head and stared at him. I frowned. "Doesn't sound like you, MacLeod, not the real Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Putting your kind first. You shouldn't take up causes where you can't deliver."

"I've changed."

"Mmhmm," I answered, skeptical.

"You'll see." Then he kissed my forehead and pushed off the bed. He drew on his trousers. "I'm hungry. I think I hear your friend moving around, too. Bet he's hungry. Where's the kitchen?"

"You cooking?" I asked, getting out of bed and grabbing my slacks.

"You eating?"

"You betcha!"

"Lead the way!"

 


End