Crosses to Bear
by Maygra de Rhema

continued from part one...


"Yes, Adam?"

"Look, if this gets out of hand, could we, like, try not to take care of it simultaneously this time?"


"Yeah, Mac?"

"Shut up."

"Oh, you two are going to make me throw-up," Joe Dawson said from his vantage on a park bench as the older Immortal broke down into a fit of what Joe would have called giggling had not the laughter been drawn up so deeply from his chest. MacLeod threw his partner a tolerant grin, digging his hands deeper into his jacket. The weather had decided to turn nasty after all, cooling air moving in off the bay colliding with the warmer air brought in from the river and further inland had raised a mist... fine and just this side of chilled.

"Lighten up, Joe," Methos snickered and sprawled across the bench next to him. Had Joe not known better he would have suspected the oldest living Immortal to be high on either drugs or drink or both but Methos had remained patently sober all afternoon and as far as Joe knew, the older man was not into recreational pharmaceuticals.

"I still think this is a nutty idea," Joe said crossly. Cross because he was cold which made his legs ache and because, despite twenty years as a Watcher, Joe Dawson had never been able to detach himself from the fights he witnessed. Vietnam had immured him to a good many horrors, but Immortals gave a new meaning to the phrase 'extreme violence.' Hopefully, this little party would turn out as Methos said and MacLeod intended, he thought idly, shifting his coat closer around his torso. Warmth spread across his aching thighs and he caught just a hint of a smile from gold-green depths as Methos spread his own coat across his business partner's legs without comment.

"And you," he shot at his benefactor. "I can't believe you're the one pushing for this little square dance. You hate fighting."

Methos leaned back against the iron bench, drawing one knee up and clasping his arms around the long limb. "Wrong. I actually like fighting, Joe. It's the killing I don't like," he said, his voice a little harsher than his previous light banter. "And since one inevitably leads to the other it's wisest to avoid both."

"Which you are patently ignoring," Joe said. "Am I missing some part of the discussion here?"

"Adam is of the opinion we should become a formidable duet," MacLeod said.

"Oh, Mac. That's almost poetry!" Methos snickered.

"What is it with you?" Joe asked, beginning to believe his co-owner was, indeed, on drugs.

MacLeod was also watching his partner trying to understand the giddiness. Methos met his eyes very briefly, dropping them again to answer Joe.

"No threat. No crisis. Think of it as a football match... soccer... "

"I know the difference."

"Just four relatively nice Immortals getting together for an evening spar." Methos said and Joe rolled his eyes.

"Speaking of which, want to warm up?" MacLeod asked with a casual smile.

The grin quirked Methos' mouth again as he got to his feet. They found an open space some twenty yards from Joe, a high point overlooking the bay. Behind them an overgrown tangle of brush and woods obscured the bluff from casual eyes, MacLeod's primary reason for choosing the site.

"Where's the second?" Mac asked shedding his coat and stretching. Methos dutifully pulled the small, slender blade from the obscured harness at his back. "Are you going to use it?"

"I certainly intend to carry it." Methos said, slipping the deadly thing back into its sheath and shrugging to resettle the weight.

MacLeod lunged at him without warning. A yelp and Methos staggered back, barely blocking the thrust, parrying the katana's edge away from his side and throwing himself off balance. He recovered quickly and barely in time as the Highlander came at him again.

The hazel eyes narrowed. Parry more fluid this time and managing a counter thrust that made MacLeod dance back a bit.

"Do you have a problem, Mac?" Methos asked, watching his friend warily.

"No. Do you?" Came the answer and then words were cast aside as MacLeod came at him quickly and with all the controlled strength his style of fighting demanded.

The laughter had faded from the gold-green eyes. Joe recognizing the signs indicating Methos was keeping a close rein on his temper. Had he not known the two men fighting he might have been concerned, and he was--slightly. MacLeod was not holding back, nor was Methos, and for one brief moment Joe was awed by the sheer artistry of two master swordsmen dueling.

"I'm sorry, Mac. Something I said?" Methos growled, the hazel eyes flashing after a close-in exchange that almost pulled Joe off the bench. This little spar was beginning to seem more dangerous that the one they had all come here to meet.

"Not exactly," Mac replied easily. There was a thin sheen of sweat on the dark face, but he was not even close to winded. Nevertheless, warming up had taken a decidedly darker turn. "More like something you haven't said."

"Are you two trying to settle a lover's spat?" Joe demanded. "Because if you are, I don't want to watch."

"What would that be?" Methos asked and then he turned the press of assault, lunging into the Highlander with the agility of a toreador. MacLeod parried downward and slipped past him. Methos swore and pulled his counter but a hiss escaped the Highlander as he cleared. He pressed his hand against a shallow slice on his side and glanced at his partner.

"Thanks for pulling that. Could have been nasty," MacLeod said easily.

Methos stared at the blood on his partner's hand and the angry flush faded from his cheeks. His blade came down as he took a step in, gold-green eyes wide with apology.

MacLeod grinned and wipe his hand on his jeans. "First blood. Your match," he said.

"Mac... "

Joe almost didn't want to watch but he did as MacLeod pulled his lover close by the nape of his neck and kissed his forehead. "You haven't fought anyone since Holly. I can be a little dense sometimes."

Holly? Joe had to think about the connection but it was revealed in the next moment as Methos relaxed against the Highlander. Relaxed. No longer the tight tension masked under laughter. The last fight Methos had been in had been with uneven odds, desperate choices and nearly killed him. Certainly had dulled his spirit for a time and resulted in a catharsis that had left the ancient Immortal re-examining everything about himself and the choices he made.

It never occurred to Joe that the oldest living Immortal might have become afraid to fight. That he might have a perfectly reasonable objection to wanting to engage in a battle, even without any real fear of losing his life. The details of the battle with Holly and his students were forever ingrained on Joe's mind as if he had seen it. He had certainly seen the aftermath. He had spent his share of time mopping up blood and vomit while Anne Lindsey and Duncan desperately tried to coax the battered body back into life--into a recognition of life.

Methos was no style and skill fighter. He fought to win. Regardless of the consequences or the cost. No wonder then he might be reluctant to lay his skills out on a contest where he might have to pull back, might have to control the conscienceless place he fought from.

He had pressed for the duel for just that reason. Joe necessary to keep not Nicholas and Jarrod within the rules, but Methos.

And Mac realized his partner might well pull back too soon in the duel with disastrous consequences. There was no place for survival in the Game for a man who couldn't fight with his head rather than his instincts and Methos had been dragged to the very depths of his primal fears in the last fight he'd been forced to.

Methos' head came up sharply, Mac's glancing over his shoulder a moment later. That Look revealing volumes to Joe. The rest of the party had arrived.

"All right?" Mac asked quietly and Methos nodded, then groaned softly as the Highlander captured his mouth in a brief , deep, reassuring kiss before stepping away from him to face their challengers.

"Quite the picturesque spot, Highlander," Nicholas commented removing his coat to lay it carefully over the bench on which Joe sat.

"I like it. You know," Mac said casually. "This could be just one on one. Your student doesn't look too thrilled about the prospect of fighting anyone."

"A reluctance he will need to learn to overcome, won't he?" Nicholas said, a grin on the handsome face. "Surely you don't deny your student the practice when he needs it or even when he doesn't?"

Methos choked down his laughter with a cough, dropping his head and regarding MacLeod from the upturned sparkle of his eyes.

"No," Mac admitted fighting his own grin. "Well, I suppose we should start," he said and moved, Methos shifting quickly in front of Nicholas with a barely repressed grin as Mac pulled his blade up to challenge Jarrod.

"Simultaneously?" Jarrod said, staring at MacLeod.

"It's a habit we've fallen into," MacLeod said, almost apologetically.

"You are both so confident... " Nicholas sneered, disappointment in his gaze as he raked his eyes over his slender opponent.

"I'm really good," Methos commented with a shrug and glanced at MacLeod. "He's better. You want him? You have to go through me first!" he said, and lunged, forcing Nicholas into a battle he hadn't prepared for and didn't want.

"Last chance to sit this dance out, Jarrod," MacLeod said.

"Spar?" Jarrod asked and relaxed when the Highlander nodded. "Well, then," and he made the first move. Duncan countered and grinned, not at the strike but that Jarrod, at least, still seemed to understand the word trust. Then he was occupied by the challenge. Despite his reluctance, Jarrod was actually very good. His style and pacing reminding the Highlander of his own student's style. Richie had ever been fast and quick, preferring to take his moments rather than wait for them. Jarrod was no different and he had the natural grace and speed to use such impetuous techniques.

The contest with Jarrod, however, was never in any real doubt. Natural and skilled he might be, and in time MacLeod might view him as a real threat, although he doubted it. Unless something drastic happened to the young man, he was not of a bent to be ruthless. Add another to the potential good guys, MacLeod thought, idly wondering if it would worth his while to try and lure the youngster from Nicholas. The circumstances of their encounter made MacLeod's blood sing. Sparring with Richie was a much treasured pleasure, but it was still, more often than not, a teaching exercise. Sparring with Methos was as much a battle of wits as blades, the older man's no-hold barred style involving MacLeod on a level he didn't often encounter, and those spars were more often draws. But only because Methos didn't fight fair--and sometimes not even decently. And more recently, those fights had triggered something else than a matching of skills and Mac had to consciously drag his mind back to his opponent and away from the very distracting image of his lover's sweat soaked body pinning him to the mat.

When first blood came, Mac disengaged immediately, and Jarrod fingered the slice across his upper arm with a rueful grin. "Terrence says my defense is weak," he said and without a word, slipped his blade into his jacket and retrieved his mentor's coat to wait.

"Some," MacLeod said, turning his attention to the other two combatants with narrowed eyes. "You spend too much time watching your opponent rather than reacting to him," was the last of the teacher mode Mac could spare.

Methos and Nicholas had moved past the testing stage of their bout. The Highlander was peripherally aware Joe had gotten to his feet, hand buried into the weighted coat pocket. Hopefully no more than for reassurance, but Mac was reassured by the Watcher's attentiveness.

Watching Methos fight was pure poetry. It didn't matter that he knew Methos felt the same way. Their styles were so different. Methos preferred close engagements then backing away, remaining so still and relaxed you would barely be aware he had just been a scant inch from a hard, cold edge of steel. That steady conservation of strength had been the undoing of more than one opponent--had thrown MacLeod off guard on several occasions.

So far, Methos had not drawn the second blade, but even as he waited for Nicholas to attack again, he switched the blade from his right to his left hand. The implication was obvious and Nicholas' eyes narrowed in annoyance. He was being bested. Not blatantly. Not to shame him, but to simply illustrate the fact that he was outclassed by several thousand years.

Which he didn't know. All he knew that was he was being bested by the student of the man he had challenged. MacLeod saw the shift in attitude, his whole body tensing as Nicholas launched himself at Methos. The steel collisions set off sparks as Nicholas backed his opponent up to the edge of the bluff. Joe moved to follow but MacLeod restrained him gently, his own heart pounding with his brother's as Methos let the man press him back.

The smile on Nicholas' face was strained, fixed. His goal only to get first blood. He had enough control not to let it roll over that point. Close in once more and MacLeod almost winced at the smile that appeared on Methos' face.

You are such a show off, Mac thought as he watched that supple body twist, gaining leverage from the side rather than behind him, and trap Nicholas' sword arm under his own. A step back and Nicholas was on his ass. His arm held tightly in those long fingers, a grip of steel that could numb the fingers. Methos' blade hovered at his throat.

"Blood or yield?" Methos asked, measuring his breaths, the chest forced to inhale slowly.

"Blood!" Nicholas grated out and Methos nodded and gave him the mark, a quick flick of his sword against the man's cheek. He immediately released him and stepped back, not offering his hand.

Nicholas rolled over and got to his feet. "You're no student."

"Sometimes I am," Methos said, not glancing away from the hard stare as the others approached.

"Adam Pierson. I'll remember you."

"By the time you do, I'll be someone else," Methos murmured and Nicholas eyes widened a bit at the expression in the gold-green eyes. He wasn't particularly empathic; he didn't recognize the weight of millennia in the eyes, but what he did see made him think twice. And then a third time as he glanced at the Highlander--meeting the steady gaze of the earth brown eyes that offered no threat but a warning.

"You might have been Templars at one time," Nicholas said accepting his coat from his student and sheathing the blade.

"Might have," Methos commented. "Keep it in mind," he added and Nicholas nodded slowly.

"So I will. Gentlemen, I believe I owe you dinner."

MacLeod stepped in, not unaware of the tension still radiating from the oldest Immortal's body. "We may take a rain check--next time you're in town."

"That may be a very long time," Nicholas admitted shifting his gaze to the Highlander once more. "But until then, a pleasure. Gentlemen." He gave a curt bow and turned away, Jarrod falling in step beside him. A moment before they disappeared down the path, Nicholas laid his hand companionably on his student's shoulder.

Joe laid the long coat easily over Methos' shoulders and the older Immortal pulled it close as if he were suddenly cold. MacLeod made no move to touch him until the tension eased with a visible effort.

"Well. That was fun," Methos said and the familiar grin twitched at his lips. "But I am in definite need of a beer. And a shower," he said and looked expectantly at Joe

Joe grinned at him, tense fingers finally loosing their grip on the gun in his pocket. "Hey, you're part owner. You want to pour out the profits, what am I going to do?"

The chuckle that escaped Methos was both real humor and relief. "Set 'em, Joe. I get too much foam out of the taps," he commented and then MacLeod did slip his arm around the slender shoulders, letting Joe lead the way back to the car.

They stayed less than thirty minutes with the barkeep. All of them needing the time to release the last of the anxiety the confrontation had summoned. But when asked, Joe turned them down for the promised dinner and the Immortals left, heading back to the loft rather than to any diner.

Inside, Methos tossed coat and blade aside haphazardly onto the sofa and sought a second beer, stretching out against the kitchen island like a cat, MacLeod wincing as he heard the vertebrae in his lover's back pop. Large hands sought the lower back to massage the tension there, and Methos curled his spine into the rub exactly like a cat--a big, languid, jungle cat.

"Shower?" Mac suggested when the long body finally pulled itself erect and turned to face him.

"It's an idea. A great idea," Methos said, then closed his eyes as MacLeod reached his hands out to frame his jaw, rubbing the tendons in his neck gently. Hazel eyes met dark brown ones, MacLeod's mouth pursed a little in concern.

"You think I was being foolish." Methos said, dropping his gaze as he caught the younger man's wrists.

"No. I think the cure was probably appropriate. I just wish I'd realized why sooner."

"Can't fight my battles, Mac. Internal or external. All you can do is help," Methos said softly. "And you do. You did. Thanks."

The smile came slowly, lingering concern chased away with a nod as Mac pulled his head forward. He had meant the kiss to be gentle but the blood still raced through him despite the beers and the breathing space. For Methos as well, MacLeod knew and he pulled away. "Shower?" he asked again and the older man nodded, eyes slightly unfocused, body taut again with a different kind of tension as he fought down the sudden need burning through him.

Methos preceded Mac into the bath, turning on the taps to bring the water temperature up but he never had the chance to turn the shower on. The bathroom door closed as Mac came in with fresh towels and nearly ran into his partner, catching himself on the slender shoulders, Mac's touch electrifying as the older Immortal turned. Any further thought of waiting fled under the accidental contact. Prepared-for contact could be controlled but this, this close brush of bodies severed any rational caution.

The challenges had brought them to an emotional and physical plateau. A glimmer of hope and a promise that together they were far stronger than apart. Not the heady and sometime terrifying power of a Quickening, but the surge of adrenaline, the absolute rush of survival was at least an adequate substitute for both men. Methos saw it in the Highlander's dark eyes as he felt his lover's muscles move under his sweater to support him. Gold-green eyes sparkled and narrowed, invitation and demand in the pale depths and MacLeod gave a barely perceptible nod as his own eyes went sharp in desire as Methos turned the water off.

There would be no waiting and nothing gentle or restrained about this joining. MacLeod pushed his partner back against the vanity, knee wedged between the muscled thighs as Methos struggled with the heavy fabric of his partner's shirt, trying to free it from Mac's slacks. But the cloth fit MacLeod like a second skin, molded to his body, to the muscles outlined under the dark cloth. Finally the older immortal jerked the fabric apart at the snap and grabbed a fistful of the black weave to pull it over his lover's head in a vicious yank, exposing the bronzed chest.

MacLeod lunged for him, mouth savaging the older Immortal's in a bruising exploration, then tearing his mouth away again to help his partner peel his own sweater and T-shirt off, the older Immortal's taut chest straining against the broad tanned hands at the first touch as lips and mouths and teeth and tongues once more sought each other for battle. Their mouths parted again as hands began roving, probing, testing... seeking.

Methos chuckled low in his throat as MacLeod freed the zipper and snap of his partner's jeans, hand plunging within the fabric to grip the older man's swelling cock and squeeze it until the laughter eased into a moan. Methos reached up and caught the Highlander's face to pull him into another kiss. He freed one hand to relieve the bulge pressing against the younger man's jeans, other hand caught firmly in MacLeod's hair to hold and position his mouth to allow Methos maximum access. He felt/heard Duncan suck in a breath as his hand fondled the heavy flesh, his own breath becoming harsh at the rhythmic pump and stroke of the Highlander's broad palm along his cock.

Duncan's erection brushed against his abdomen, sending a shudder of anticipation through Methos as he shifted his mouth to the strong throat, suckling at the pulse point there... and there... as MacLeod leaned into him. Under his hand the Highlander was stiff and hard and warm, flesh already trembling, seeping.

"You are so easy," Methos chuckled huskily, pressure and the rough drag of his fingers along the underside of the other man's hard cock sending a small spasm through the younger Immortal.

"Guilty," Mac growled, reaching past Methos for the shelf above the sink and a tube of lubricant, smearing some across his fingers. "Has it's advantages, though."

"Such as?" Methos asked, accepting the tube and a playful nip along his shoulder.

"I get to go first," MacLeod chuckled, both hands encircling the slender waist to pull Methos close, erections pressed together in an erotic tangle of flesh.

"Unfair," Methos complained, but the protest was lost on a moan and another bout of choked laughter as Mac pushed at his jeans. Shoes, socks and pants all ending up in pile with their shirts as Methos pulled down a couple of rolled towels from the rack and set them on the counter. He gasped in pleasure as MacLeod caught his outstretched arm and pressed him back, soft, determined mouth and equally determined fingertips nursing and teasing his nipples until they were swollen and hard, all the while pressing his groin against his lover's.

And then Mac pulled him forward, hard, bodies pressed tight as the Highlander backed them from the counter slightly, mouth seeking Methos' again, his other hand sliding across the hard muscled buttocks and between, seeking, probing and finding entry. Methos groaned as his own erection firmed, felt his hips thrust against Mac's fingers and hand. And then he pulled away, a soft plea escaping him. "Enough foreplay," he growled and Mac chuckled, his own sense of urgency growing. Methos reached back, hands grabbing the counter as he levered himself up onto the countertop.

"Oh. This is going to be interesting ," Mac said a little breathlessly, parting his partner's thighs and stepping in between them. But he was smiling, lust and desire and something softer in the dark eyes as he helped Methos position the rolled towels under his lower back. Mac caught him under his knees and pulled him forward, appreciative glance as the Highlander realized they would be face to face, the counter almost the perfect height.

Balance was precarious at first, lack of room frustrating, and the older Immortal was about ready to try for a position requiring less finesse, the delay necessary to optimize the position making his erection nearly agonizing. But the look on his lover's face banished any such idea. MacLeod preferred to see his partners, to watch their expressions. No complaints from Methos about the Highlander's lovemaking and he could see the anticipatory spark in the dark eyes. He wouldn't deny Mac the pleasure of seeing him or himself the joy of watching the Highlander on the edge of rapture. The sudden urge to feel overcame him and he caught MacLeod by the neck, mouth moving along the strong column of the Highlander's throat, fingers sliding through the dark hair on Mac's chest to skim the rise of his breasts and tease the dark discs as MacLeod had done his. His mouth roved upward, smiling against the dusky skin to nip along his lover's jaw then tease his mouth before moving again, light, feathery kisses laid underneath his ears and along his hairline while his fingers rubbed the hardening nipples until Mac was panting. Mac caught his wrists finally, holding him, his breath coming in harsh, short gasps.

"You want me, Mac?" Methos asked huskily, a shiver running down his spine at the blatant desire in the dark eyes.

"More than I want to breathe," came the harsh answer as Mac released him and gently pressed him back against the counter and wall, mouth descending on Methos' once more for a deep, searing kiss as his hands fumbled for the tube on the counter. "Tell me you want me," the Highlander said, pulling back, mouth hovering a breath away from his lover's.

"I want you more than life itself, Mac," Methos murmured and the kiss went gentle, not stalling the urgency just tempering it a bit.

The lubricant was cool and slick as MacLeod smoothed it over his skin then his partner's, pressing it inward, Methos arching slightly into the gently applied finger. He braced his hands as Mac lifted him slightly, felt the gathering pressure against his anus and took a deep breath to relax the muscles there, head falling back in response as the Highlander pressed inward. His breath caught at the exquisite sensation of being filled, pressure building in his groin and racing up his spine as his body stretched to accommodate the welcome intrusion.

Then the air escaped in a rush as MacLeod's hand closed over the tip of his cock, thumb rubbing the sensitive flesh under the head. He grew lightheaded, his breathing became short and shallow as his partner continued to slowly penetrate the warm cavity, muscles contracting involuntarily around his lover's cock. Almost chuckling again when he heard Mac groan in pleasure at the tight fit, despite the lubricant. He forced himself to relax again, allowing MacLeod to move slowly. The Highlander had to steady him, compensating for their position, but gaining confidence as Methos gasped then panted and then moaned again at the slow, steady intrusion.

And then the older Immortal flexed his knees when he could stand it no more, pulling Mac closer, shocking him into a convulsive jerk that drove his cock deep and hard into his partner's body. Methos' breath exploded from him in pleasure, body trembling and stretched and filled by the erotic impalement. A moment later he began moving and it was MacLeod's turn to moan as the strong back and hips and thighs encouraged the friction between them.

The counter and wall were solid and unyielding against Methos' back and shoulders, allowing no further backward movement and allowing Mac to hold him without having to bear all his weight. That balance granting the Highlander the luxury of using all his strength to plunge into his partner then withdraw, slow transition an erogenous counterpoint. Methos was grateful for the support, afraid he would collapse from pleasure and sensation were it not there. His moans were becoming steady, punctuated by gasps as his lover's rigid flesh sought to sink deeper and deeper with each thrust. The expression on Mac's face was exquisite. A little wild and breathtakingly beautiful in the sheer expression of masculine power; that of a man possessing his lover utterly. His head was back, short curls damp around his forehead and ears, full lower lip caught between his teeth, sweat sheening the bronzed skin, muscles in his shoulders and chest flexing and trembling as he held Methos' hips up, bettering his access.

Methos' own erection slid against the Highlander's tight stomach, the underside being randomly stimulated until Methos thought he would go mad beneath the assault on his senses, hips flexing involuntarily to meet each sharply pleasurable thrust. He was trying not to move, not wanting to alter the balance of weight or position they had found but at the same time his nerves were trying to react to signals from every sensitive part of his body, muscles were trembling in response to the flush of adrenaline, of racing blood, of strain. But either in anticipation or in their frenzy, the climb toward completion had plateaued just this side of release.

MacLeod was having the same reaction, growling in frustration as the stimulation was prolonged, drawn out, until it bordered on agony. His eyes locked with Methos' as if he could force his orgasm by will alone, the strong features tense and a little desperate, large frame trembling from strain and rapidly approaching fatigue.

It was too much for Methos to watch, to bear, and he gripped the vanity edge and pushed forward. MacLeod had to step back, Methos' weight suddenly bearing down on his lover's cock, the slender body held only by the strength of the older Immortal's arms and by MacLeod's grip on his hips. But it was enough, the additional pressure, the tightening of Methos' muscles around the Highlander's flesh pushing him over the edge. Methos' spine arched tightly, gracefully as the Highlander gave into the uncontrollable spasms, hips pumping in short, fast strokes as he spilled fluid into the tight channel. He heard his lover moan in something near pain, barely aware of the spasms crossing the strained chest, of the absolute tension in the tight stomach. He could only feel the strong muscles tightening, Methos' legs pressed tightly to the back of his thighs, groin grinding against his own and the harsh sound of his lover trying to get a deep breath as he held on to the counter with white clenched fists.

The convulsive shudders eased, MacLeod staggering under the force of his orgasm, cock still buried in his partner's body. He tried to move forward, to ease Methos back onto the counter, but he was more spent than he thought, as was Methos. He saw one brief moment of panic flash through the gold-green eyes as the older Immortal's grip slipped. Mac tried to catch him, swearing as they both dropped, Methos' shoulder and head hitting the counter's edge as their bodies parted. Mac felt his lover's body go limp before he hit the floor. The awkward tangle of limbs took long moments to sort as Mac lifted the dark head, hand coming away wet and stained red.

Unconscious, Methos' body released in a series of uncontrolled spasms and Mac cleaned him gently with a guilty appreciation for how he moved, even insensate. He wasn't dead, only out cold and Mac drew a deep breath in relief and fatigue and then a low, soft chuckle of mixed embarrassment and irony. Whatever urgency was left from their successful dance with danger had been burned out in that hard, desperate coupling. He cleaned himself up as well then settled next to his lover to wait until he regained consciousness, resting the dark head gently on his lap.

He stroked his friend gently while he waited, for once able to explore the pale sleek skin without being aroused by Methos' response to his touch. Not that he would have traded those responses for anything, but it was a sheer joy to be able to touch, to feel the fine silk of his hair, to be able to study the finely planed features without being distracted by the incredibly expressive eyes or the sensual movement of the lithe body.

It didn't take long. A soft sound, a hiss of near-pain, then a softer sigh as Methos recognized the Highlander's touch against his stomach.

"I don't think I've ever broken anything having sex before," Methos murmured, with a faint smile, eyes still closed. "You're just full of firsts for me, Mac," he said and finally opened his eyes. They were wryly amused, still a little darkened by pain. His lips curved upward slightly when Mac chuckled again.

"Maybe we should discuss new positions and locations before attempting them, next time." Mac bargained. "Since it seems we are going to have a long time together to figure out what works best," he added more softly and bent down. Methos met the promise halfway, mouth opening under the sweet pressure, passion and apology in the Highlander's kiss. "But I have to admit... that was definitely a position that has some merit. I'm still tingling."

It was Methos' turn to chuckle as he sat up, glancing down at his crotch. "I apparently had a good time as well. Can't remember that part though," he admitted and rubbed the back of his head gingerly. Mac leaned in, pressing a cool towel against the healing gash, dropping light kisses across Methos' shoulder, especially at the fading redness where he had hit the vanity. Then he slipped behind him, to pull him into a loose embrace.

Methos sighed again and let his body relax into the embrace, turning his head slightly to accept the kiss MacLeod offered. "I think I should make it up to you," Mac murmured against his lips. "Something you will remember." He moved. "But I want to do it where there is absolutely no chance of you getting hurt, or falling or having to strain or do anything except enjoy."

Methos trembled a little at the smoky passion in his lover's voice. MacLeod had made love, really made love to him before, the long drawn out sessions a much craved pleasure and a near addiction.

"I am all yours, Mac," he breathed. "You know that. You can do anything, have anything you want from me." Right down to my soul, Methos thought as they rose.

"I have all I need," Mac said huskily, arms slipping around his lover from behind, encircling his waist, his shoulders, as they headed for the bed, bodies moving in a slow synchronized near-dance. MacLeod stopped them, hands beginning a slow, studied exploration. Methos leaned into him, head turned as MacLeod nuzzled his neck, behind his ears. "I have your love, your friendship, your trust and most of all you. Here. Now," the Highlander said, voice thick with emotion as he reached down to caress and fondle Methos' groin, strong hands probing and teasing, spreading the dark curls, sliding along Methos' already hardening cock as the lithe body arched against him. His grip sure and strong for a moment before he propelled them forward again, pressing Methos back onto the bed and covering him.

His hands caught Methos', drawing them up and over his head as he pressed a knee between his thighs to open him, deliberately mimicking Methos' assault on his senses from the morning. His head dipped down to the hollow at his lover's throat, kissing the faint scar, suckling the stretched tendons as Methos extended his neck. His mouth followed the line to his sternum before turning his attention to the dusky brown nipples, moistening them, suckling, tormenting them gently with tongue and teeth until they were hard and swollen again, until Methos could not hold back his soft cry or restrain himself from pressing the softer flesh of his breast against the clever mouth..

Mac returned to the older man's mouth, coaxing his lips apart, tongue exploring the moist spice; Methos' unique taste stimulating his senses. He drew his partner's tongue into his own mouth, suckling it as well, answering the soft moan that escaped his lover.

He lifted his head and released the clutching hands, framing the narrow face with his fingers, studying the quiet gold-green eyes. God, he loved this man. Loved his strength, his humor, his maddeningly different view of the world, but mostly he loved Methos for the generosity of spirit contained in the slender body, masked by cynicism, by the dry wit, by anger on occasion, but masked only.

When Methos gave of himself there was no middle ground. It had taken two years for MacLeod to realize that. He had given his trust to MacLeod with no reservations. Even the Horsemen hadn't been withheld, not by deceit, only by lack of interest. The older Immortal kept proving it over and over. Even just moments ago when he had taken his strength and his own desires and cast them aside to bring his lover to orgasm. Granted, he hadn't expected to fall, he had only wanted to grant Mac the release he knew he wanted.

And Mac had been willing to let him walk away, had nearly shoved him away. That more than even the apology for the fall, directed his efforts to pleasure his lover. Time was something they might have plenty of or maybe only this night. Mac did not so easily forget the sword of Damocles. But it was not falling now. And love and trust went a long way toward making life worth living.

And now, under his hands was that same expression of trust, of submission--not weakness--but a willingness to take what was offered because it was important to Mac to give it. And that gaze, those eyes, the slightly swollen and parted lips, elevated Methos from a handsome, desirable man to something far less definable. Something akin to beautiful, but closer to awe-inspiring. An utterly masculine, irrepressible radiance of spirit poured from those eyes, released with every sigh, and soft murmur, every subtle shift in his body. That spirit so rarely seen, cloaked as it usually was under the necessary veil of anonymity. But it came through more and more strongly the longer they were together. Rarely in public--even with Joe--and only flashes of it elsewhere, such as during the duel earlier. MacLeod knowing exactly when Methos' opponent had realized what a huge mistake he had made --how badly he had underestimated the seemingly unremarkable, slender Immortal.

That Methos felt safe enough now with the Highlander to reveal his true nature was a powerful aphrodisiac MacLeod was finding. Methos was a skilled lover but he had no need of those skills with MacLeod though he used them on occasion. Getting to know the enigmatic Immortal, his moods and his secrets, his passions and his joys had proven to be a challenge and a pleasure and sometimes a curse. Having Methos in his bed was a bonus. Having Methos yield completely to him was a precious gift.

Methos submitted without protest, nothing to prove--no questions about gender, or masculinity, strength or equality. Just seeing him respond under the strong caresses brought MacLeod to an aching hardness again. His erection pressed against his lover's, heat to heat, and felt Methos part his thighs wider, expecting to be taken again, wanting it. He would be, but not like this. Mac kissed him again and pulled him upward. Glad for once Amanda was as playful and prone to experimentation as she was.

Mac found the oil and covered his groin, then approached his partner as Methos knelt, letting the Highlander direct this time. A pleasured sigh, not unlike the purr of a cat, escaped the older Immortal as the oil was spread across his buttocks, and MacLeod chuckled as he worked the lubricant inside him, Methos dropping forward on his hands.

"Not like that," Mac said softly, laying back, half sitting against the pillows on the bed before catching Methos' hips and pulling him back as well, against him. Methos trembled when he realized what Mac was offering, what he was asking, but he acquiesced, understanding finally what his lover had in mind.

Methos would have little or no control over this coupling as he spread his knees across Mac's thighs, facing away from his lover. MacLeod guided him, probed and readied him before drawing the tight buttocks once more onto his hard cock. He slid into Methos smoothly, smiling at the harsh sigh and gasp his lover voiced, then caught his shoulders and eased him back. Methos gave a little sound of pleasure as MacLeod's cock brushed and pressed against his prostate, the tremor running up his spine and exploding in his brain.

Then he was prone, the muscles of Mac's chest pressing against his back, the Highlander supporting nearly all of his weight. They raised opposite knees, Mac groaning softly at the shift but his hand sought Methos' erect flesh and began stroking him gently, squeezing and caressing.

He remained still otherwise, buried in Methos to the absolute physical limits of human flesh. Mac's mouth was at his throat and Methos turned his head slightly, reaching for the thick hair to filter it through his fingers, lip caught between his teeth, his other hand covering Mac's on his shaft. MacLeod used his free hand to caress and stroke his partner's chest, teasing the sensitive nipples. Methos felt the pressure build deep within him again as the stroking on his cock started to increase in speed and strength. His hips gave a small convulsive jerk and Mac took it as a signal.

"Oh, gods... " Methos moaned softly as the Highlander shifted within him, feeling the ripple of muscle under his back, against his thighs. His head dropped back as Mac paced his strokes and his thrusts to work together. Methos was nearly helpless, unable to aid his lover in bringing his goal to fruition unless he sat up and Mac caught his throat gently to prevent it.

MacLeod felt the muscular body above him begin to clench, shudders instantly translated from Methos' spine and into Mac's body. A warmth spilled over his hand, just a bit, the release still building and he felt Methos shudder again. So close...

MacLeod gripped him and rolled them onto their sides, felt and heard Methos gasp as the movement drove Mac's cock deeper in between the tight buttocks, Methos beginning to curl in on his need, body beginning to convulse in small involuntary twitches along his hips and stomach.

"Please... " A moan, a plea, a demand and a thank you all rolled into one. Methos was fully concentrated on the hot, throbbing need being generated under the slow assault. He was desperate for release and just as desperate to hold it at bay, every nerve, every muscle, every pore absolutely aware of Mac's presence, of his fire, of his love, and most of all his absolute control over Methos' body. He shuddered under the totality of his surrender, feeling there was nothing left him to yield, there would be nothing left of him when Mac finished this slow exquisite mastery. He wanted to scream or cry or both, but he was incapable of either. Mac was in him, around him, his scent pervading the air, his presence occupying almost the exact place Methos did. It was as close to becoming one with another person as Methos could recall in his fragmented ability to think. "Gods... Mac, please... " he begged as if he were begging for his life.

"I love you... " was the soft reply and MacLeod complied, seeking the sensitive spot at the base of his lover's cock and pressing, feeling the shudder start over and then a choked gasp as he released the point and Methos arched back again, pelvis thrusting against Mac's hand, fluid caught against the broad palm. He cried out and Mac stroked and held him again as the spasms eased, caressing his flank, his back and shoulders, his own need a barely manageable ache as the slender body gave in to the massive orgasm. Mac rose, drawing Methos up with him, catching the slender hips as Methos arched, his arms coming up and behind him to pull Mac's head down, the Highlander catching the edge of the seeking mouth and holding his lover as the body writhed helplessly under the continued stimulation. That response more than anything bringing MacLeod to completion and he flooded into his partner, gasping, and then awed as Methos sagged forward, nearly unconscious again from the force of their near simultaneous climax.

Finally it eased, MacLeod pulled Methos upward against his chest, settling them both back against the pillows. The older Immortal's dark head fell back, tucked against MacLeod's shoulder, flushed skin paling as minor tremors continued to race through him.

The bed was a mess MacLeod realized wryly, beginning to think rubber sheets weren't such a joke after all, since he and his lover couldn't seem to keep their hands off each other. He folded the coverlet back, still holding Methos and managed to jerk the under-blanket free to wrap it around his lover's cooling skin. Methos lifted his head, still trying for control over his body and his breathing.

"Are you sure you're only four hundred?" The older Immortal asked after a while, nuzzling his throat.

Mac chuckled. "Yup. Natural talent."

"Gods... good thing there's only one of you," Methos said, slender fingers digging into Mac's side to draw them closer.

"Think what two of me could do... " Mac teased.

"Kill me on sheer sensation... " Methos murmured.

"I had a really good teacher," Mac said affectionately, lifting his chin again to meet the teasing in the hazel eyes. "All I have to do is think about how you make me feel when you make love to me. Nothing like learning from a master." He kissed him, tone still amused but with serious undertones. "I've always wanted my partners to be fulfilled, to find release... but I've never had a partner who could bring me to orgasm by just watching. And that's about what you do, Methos. I take as much pleasure in watching you as I do in pleasuring you."

Methos went still, the hazel eyes closing and Mac suddenly realized he'd touched on something they hadn't discussed, something Methos wasn't sure he could from the tense reaction in his body.

"What is it?" he asked urgently, softly, caressing the sharp boned cheek.

"Nothing. Ancient History," Methos said relaxing once more. "Just something you said... the way you said it reminded me of something... unpleasant."

"Hiding from me?" Mac asked, not an accusation.

"No, Mac... just something I don't think about very often. A time I would prefer not recalling at all," Methos said and moved to pull away. Having just spent weeks and an entire day trying to ease the tension between them--and finding a resolution, Methos had no intention of introducing something out of his past to threaten their newborn compromise. The comment had caught him off guard--the implications aroused earlier when Mac had inadvertently triggered his arousal after the attack on the street. But it had nothing to do with MacLeod. Not the Highlander's fault that he liked to watch Methos surrender utterly to him. At least he did because he so much enjoyed giving his lover pleasure. Unlike... unlike others who had wanted to see the same responses for their own reasons. Not like Ikanos... He shut his eyes and pushed away, getting his feet on the ground beside the bed only to have MacLeod's arms close around him again.

"Tell me... ," he said and turned his partner, eyes widening and face tensing at what he saw in Methos' face before the older man could shutter it away.


Ancient, deep, unfathomable pain.

The kind people died from if they weren't Immortal.

Methos clamped down on it as Mac's eyes widened, not wanting even an echo of his own agony to mar the Highlander's handsome face. "Don't... don't press it, Mac. It's best forgotten," he said quietly. Pleading. But his begging had no effect as Mac gripped his shoulders.

"What happened? What was done to you?"

"You don't need to hear it, MacLeod and I really don't want to tell it... "

"Methos... Love... " Now the plea was on the other side.

Maybe it would be easier to tell... to speak of it. There was nothing that Mac could do. No enemy he could fight. Ikanos was dead... long dead...

"You know... when I was a boy, a young man... before my first death, I was a slave?" Methos said and Mac nodded. He did know part of this. Fragments of Methos' past coming out in conversations... in chance comments but never pursued because the older Immortal seemed reluctant to talk about it. Possibly in fear that Mac's reaction might once more echo his reaction when the Horsemen had intruded on their lives. The truth was the oldest Immortal had huge gaps in his memory and not just from his first century or two but later as well, when the millennia bore too heavily on him and he would lose himself for a decade or so or a century...

Methos took a deep breath. "What you see in me when you make love to me--I was trained to it, Mac. Taught and trained to... display myself for the pleasure of others. My master especially, but his friends... anyone he desired. It doesn't make the responses any less real," he added quickly, seeing confusion in the dark eyes, and suddenly fearing this was, indeed a huge mistake. But he had begun and Mac was tenacious enough to harry the story from him. "Ikanos taught me never to hide them. No matter what. Not ecstasy. Not pain. To completely surrender control. What I did for him was partly from fear but at the time I thought I loved him and that he loved me. I was wrong on both counts. What I do... when I do it for you, Mac, it's because I do love you and you love me and I don't have to worry about being in control. Don't think it."

MacLeod didn't look convinced as he settled back on the bed but his hand reached for Methos'. Fingers tangling together as he listened. The dark eyes were intent on his face, expression set but not angry or pitying or appalled.

Methos hesitated, concentrating on the feel of MacLeod's hand against his, very much aware of the Highlander's nudity--the perfect body completely at ease, the potency in the well honed muscles, and the strength in the dark, earth-brown eyes. The strength he had come to rely on recently. And he was aware of his own nudity, unable not to compare his long spare lines against Mac's solid, well toned grace, wondering how the Highlander could ever want someone...

Methos knew what Ikanos had wanted, why those same long lines had so appealed to the Minoan general, how the flexibility in his frame had been used for pleasure. But MacLeod knew nothing of Ikanos' manipulations, physical, emotional or mental. The Highlander loved his body... loved him... for his own reasons... and not just because of the response he drew from Methos or because Methos was the first male lover he'd taken for more than curiosity.

His descent into the comparison was not an escape from the topic, nor did it rouse any urges, sexual or otherwise in him. Trying to explain this to Mac was not going to be easy and he wasn't sure how far he could or wanted to go with the explanation.

"Ikanos spent years training me. He wanted to be able to bring me to an arousal with a touch. His reputation as a lover was nearly as notorious as his reputation as a strategist," Methos said, closing his eyes as Mac began stroking the inside of his wrist to encourage him. Gods... if he only knew. "I was his best student. He'd been doing it, practicing his art for years on other slaves, experimenting. Some of them survived it, most didn't. And then he found me. Not Immortal yet, but I would be. And he knew it. Knew he could take me further than he had any of the others and not worry about me dying. But before then he had to get the basics in. Set the patterns and response... re-map how I dealt with pleasure... "

"And pain... " Mac said softly and Methos nodded, looking up at him again.

"I was probably not more than sixteen or seventeen when we first met. I was slave to another household and was often bedded by either the master or the mistress--not unusual for the times. It was... pleasant, Mac. They were good to me and they wanted a willing body who knew something about lovemaking, but it was sex and companionship, not perversion. Neither of them were sadists, or not intentionally although Seves sometimes wanted a little too much, too fast. But he wasn't cruel, just a bit selfish and he would make it up to me later. He didn't have to. I was his slave but he treated me well and Marinas did too."

"Ikanos. How did he get you?" Mac asked and Methos shifted crossing his legs under him, trying to detach himself from the story.

"Seves and Ikanos were friends. Ikanos won some victory against somebody... I don't even remember. I was second in the household to a slave named Marus--being groomed to take over as steward someday. Planning the banquet for Ikanos was my first major duty and they were very pleased with the results. Ikanos saw me when he arrived. I don't know if he wanted me because I was attractive or because I was pre-Immortal. I was... thin. Well-fed and slave are kind of a contradiction in terms no matter how easy the household or what century. What ever it was, Ikanos asked and Seves said yes. Seves thought I was a skilled enough bed partner to please him. He gifted me to him for the night."

MacLeod's hand tightened slightly on the older man's. It had been hard enough to think of Methos as a slave to anyone. A deep ingrained loathing for the concept had set the Highlander on the abolitionist side of more than one conflict. Having seen it, witnessed the inhumanity of one man owning another made it all the more horrible to think of the strong, charismatic man in front of him being treated as an object, a possession... degraded and subjugated by a chance position in life. "What happened?" he asked softly, not really wanting to hear the tale but needing to hear it. So much of who Methos was now had been defined by how he had been raised, just as MacLeod was defined by the Highland clan that gave him his name.

The hazel eyes studied him anxiously for a long moment before Methos continued. "It is mostly a blur. I know I bathed him and he... made love to me first in the baths. He had Marinas give me one of her open sided tunics so he could... touch me during the banquet. Marus had to take over my duties. Ikanos told me after the bath that his only requirement was that I not resist anything he did and that I not... if at all possible... give in to an orgasm until he told me to. That was the first lesson--the first test."

Methos' voice had taken on a distant timbre, not hollow or cold, but separate from his usual soft baritone. More precise, almost clipped. "He probably fucked me three times during the banquet, in front of everyone. It wasn't quite an orgy but open displays were common enough, at private parties. Ikanos would bring me to the edge of orgasm and then stop me--sometimes by force--and then keep me on edge until he was distracted or I could no longer physically sustain the arousal. I'm not even sure I was completely conscious at the end of the evening. But he was pleased at how well I followed instruction. At the end of the evening, however, Marinas was furious. He had... marked me. Bruises, scrapes... and part of my appeal to Marinas was the paleness of my skin."

"So she intervened," Mac prompted.

"To some extent but Seves was the master and Ikanos was popular. And he was... beautiful, Mac. Immortally beautiful though I didn't know it at the time. And despite the pain, he was capable of drawing out responses that left me shaken. And he liked to see it... to watch me."

"Oh, God... " Mac said hoarsely, face paling.

"No! Mac, don't... it's not the same," Methos said quickly leaning forward to press his fingers against the Highlander's lips. "Mac, you like to see it because it moves you, because it pleases you to pleasure me. Ikanos did it for the control, for the power he had over me. Not for my pleasure. I don't want you to think there is anything even vaguely similar between what you do for me and what Ikanos did to me. Please," he said and Mac nodded after a moment but opened his arms and pulled his slender partner in close to his chest.

"All right. So we're different," The Highlander said kissing his temple. "Go on. How did Ikanos get you?"

"I'm not sure of the details. I became an obsession. Seves and Marinas wouldn't sell me to him, wouldn't allow me to go to him--or allow him access to me except on a very limited basis. There was a... plague--probably an influenza--that ravaged the city. Seves and Marinas died and he bought me when the household was auctioned. And then he started his training. He was gentle at first. Coaxing and teasing, breaking down any resistance I had and always the pleasure until I think I came to crave it--which was probably his intent. Then the lessons got harder. And I was learning, as I had with Seves, to run his household. He rewarded me with sex, with pleasure for doing a good job, with some privileges. Once he had me trained he began showing me to his friends, or letting them have me while he watched. At first that was all pleasure as well but somewhere... he was unstable, possessive and I think the idea that I couldn't die made it worse. He wanted more control... so.."

A faint tremor moved through the slender body and Mac held him more tightly. "He got the responses he wanted to both pleasure and pain. I could withstand nearly anything he did and stay more or less conscious--screaming was part of the deal. As with pleasure he wanted to see and hear my pain. Or not. Sometimes he wanted silence and I learned that as well."

"That's why minor cuts have no effect on you when you fight. This morning you didn't even seem to feel any pain," Mac said, putting the pieces together and his eyes narrowed recalling another reaction. "When I grabbed your wrists this morning... "

Methos nodded. "The responses are still there, Mac. Just buried. But after five thousand years I haven't been able to get rid of them," he said. He didn't tell Mac how often he, oblivious to those triggers, had evoked something in Methos' body without meaning to. Mac was tactile and his touches were ones that Methos didn't guard against. "Pavlov didn't invent the phenomena, Mac. He just gave it a name."

"Have I hurt you?" The question was soft, steady and Methos twisted to meet the anxious gaze.

"No, Mac. Never. They are buried for the most part and I have to be... receptive... completely comfortable. If I'm concentrating or angry, a touch does nothing. Only when I'm relaxed," he pulled away, olivine eyes watching the Highlander carefully as he came to a decision. Hard won as the lessons had been, Methos knew there was some good that had come from the teachings--because pleasure was still pleasure. It was the giver that made the difference and the reason.

"I want to show you something," Methos said.

"No! Methos, I don't need... "

"Hush, Mac," the older Immortal said kissing him. He pulled away and faced his partner taking the hands and turning them palm up "This is simple, Mac--what happened this morning. And you might even like what you see. Not to mention being a great time saver," he added with a faint smile, hazel eyes sparkling with a hint of mischief. He pressed his thumbs into the base of MacLeod's hands, pressing the nerve cluster there. Mac's hands twitched.

"Not really painful," Mac said.

"No. Now when I tell you, I want you to do the same thing to me, just that much pressure but not until I tell you, all right? Once we're done you can release my hands."

Mac nodded as Methos put his back to him, settling on his heels, and extending his hands behind him for Mac to take. His lover held the slender wrists easily, thumb just laying over the pressure point.

Methos took a deep breath and released it, forcing his body and mind to relax. His breathing became even and after long minutes he spoke softly. "Now, love," he murmured and Mac pressed gently and firmly.

Methos felt the gasp rise in him as those long trained sensations stirred, heat built deep within him and muscles responded to the ancient command. The feelings rose up, flooding his system with adrenaline, blood and nerves burning. The sensation filled him, tightening his chest, the muscles in his groin, breath caught for a long moment in his throat before the initial shock wore off and settled into a pulsating waiting need. He had forgotten how frightening it was to come to arousal so quickly, but it was too late now as he felt his spine curve back away from Mac and felt a second squeeze on his wrists before MacLeod realized what was happening.

MacLeod had never seen anything like it in his life--no exotic dancer, no sensuous woman could ever have moved so... At his touch, Methos had shifted, grace in the supple body as it arched, the bent knees parted. The arousal not quite instantaneous, but it was close. Blood was directed to the length of flesh and filled the heavy shaft. Methos' head dropped back to expose the long column of his throat, the body stretched but not tense, taut but not overwrought.

Without thinking Mac depressed the point on the wrists again and heard the gasp, saw the body tremble. He was both appalled and completely enthralled by the taut beauty of his lover's physique. He could have been a nude model for Rodin or Michaelangelo the way the lines of his frame flowed together. He wanted to touch him, unable to help himself as he reached for Methos. His hand slid under his neck, arm slipping across the proud chest and around his waist to support him as he captured the willing mouth. Methos was completely pliant but not limp. The hazel eyes were slightly glazed in unmet desire and arousal but he was still, making no sound when Mac's hand closed over his erection to ease it.

"Let go... " Duncan murmured as he coaxed him. Affecting as the display was, he could not separate the result from the training.

"Here... " came the whisper, slender hand guiding Mac to the base of his shaft, splaying the strong fingers and directing them against the pressure point underneath his cock. MacLeod held him, murmuring softly in his ears as the release came, almost as quickly as the arousal had. The older Immortal clung to his lover, Mac's strong arms secure and gentle, as Methos gave into the sudden outwash of feeling and emotion, of fluid and tension.

And Mac pulled him in tightly to his chest when it was over. He fought to get his emotions under control. A burning, nearly shameful desire leaping in him from what he'd just seen, emotions careening out of control: anger at the Immortal who had put Methos through so much for pride's sake, for power; anger at himself for the response he had in seeing the results; tenderness and love that Methos had trusted him to give him that sort of knowledge, that power of control over him, and a stark unflinching admiration that Methos had survived any of it to become the man Mac loved.

The older Immortal had said Ikanos had spent years training him--moving him from pleasure to pain and the morbid side of him wondered why and how Ikanos had desensitized the lithe, strong body to resist pain--but he dared not ask. He had seen Methos take deep wounds and shrug them off as if they were nothing and heard him howl in pain if he stubbed a toe. And he was still able to make jokes about it.

But this, this was sickening, a steady sense of revulsion sweeping over the Highlander even as he pulled the body closer. He knew about resisting pain. Understood control, physical and emotional, but to think such controls could be... set and triggered, programmed into flesh and blood.

Pavlov. If you kicked or struck a dog often enough it learned to flinch at the raise of a hand. Beat a child one too many times and not only will it fear you it will grow up to repeat the pattern. Treat a young man like an animal bred to perform and he becomes that animal.

That Ikanos had been so weak as to want to flaunt his excesses, made MacLeod ill. There was no decency in the act of displaying one person for another's pleasure, no humanity. It was not something MacLeod even wanted to try and understand.

"Damn," Methos murmured softly pulling away and watching the stony expression settling over MacLeod's face. He knew that look. Too much information--the differences between Methos' world and the Highlander's rising high and fast between them again.

A miscalculation. Misjudgment. One of these days he was going to learn that as much as Mac professed wanting to know about Methos' past, it wasn't really true. Best to limit it to points of history. His friend did not yet have the necessary coping mechanisms for Methos' personal life.

"Talk to me, Mac," he said, kneeling in front of the Highlander, hands resting on the other man's powerful thighs.

"I canna'," MacLeod started, closing his eyes and drawing a deep breath through his nose. The burr of his childhood always an indicator of strong emotion. "I know what ye're trying to express, Methos, but to think you'd react so to a touch... by anyone... "

"Not anyone, Mac," Methos said, a little sliver of hurt getting past his guard. "This isn't something I go around showing casual acquaintances--it's not something I've ever shown anyone," he said softly and the dark eyes met and held his. "I won't say I haven't reacted to another's touch, issued all unknowing by a lover or a friend, or even a casual encounter, but it's not something I acknowledged or introduced into a conversation."

The dark eyes grew wider. "No one? But to give over that kind of... control... "

"That kind of power?" Methos asked a little more harshly than he'd intended, but the hurt turned to fear turned to anger. He sat back on his heels and studied the darker man for a long moment trying to fight off the pain. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get through to the Highlander the depth of his commitment to him. He didn't want accolades or thanks, he simply wanted Mac to understand, to trust him as Methos trusted the Highlander. But it wasn't in the younger Immortal to willingly surrender that faith. Seeing it still, in some guarded recess of his heart and soul, as a weakness. "Well, you think about it, Mac," he murmured and slipped off the bed, heading for the shower. MacLeod staring after him knowing he had somehow cut the older man but not sure of the weapon he'd used.

He let out a frustrated moan and fell back against the pillows, hands over his face for a long moment as cursed himself in Italian and Gaelic for a good five minutes. He heard the water start, half of him wanting to join his lover in the bath and apologize in whatever way Methos would let him, but the other half needing to cipher out what he had done to hurt his friend in the first place.

It wasn't his reaction to what he'd seen--or was it? Methos had offered those triggers as a gift, as an explanation for what had happened this morning. And thinking back, Mac recalled other times... during spars or simple tasks when Methos had been aroused, or just reacted in such a physical way to a touch or a caress. It had been funny at times, a little exhilarating to have seen his partner so obviously aroused--but it had been the touch, not Mac's presence. Or had it?

"They are buried for the most part and I have to be... receptive... completely comfortable."

Idiot. MacLeod thought angrily at himself. He had been so blinded by his personal horror at what Methos had shown him he hadn't even thought about the why or the how. Accepting Methos for who he was and who he had been was still their biggest hurdle and MacLeod had stalled at the gate once more. How many times was Methos going to prove his absolute trust in his lover before the point found purchase?

And he was honest enough with himself to know the reason it was so difficult. In order to accept Methos' trust he had to offer his own and Mac was leery of doing so because Methos had failed that test so many times before.

But not recently.

"Damn. Dammit!" He snarled rising off the bed with a vengeful purpose. An apology was little enough for the slap he'd delivered, but it was a start. The water cut off before he reached the door and he hesitated, then reached resolutely for the knob and opened it to find Methos slipping into his jeans. The expression on the older Immortal's face was set and tense, the hazel eyes meeting MacLeod's briefly before looking away as he snatched up his shirt and sweater and boots.

"It's all yours," Methos said coolly, exiting the bathroom.

"Wait, Methos..., " Mac started, already realizing the seriousness of his error. Quite willing to curse the entire day, feeling trapped in an endless repetition, it seemed, of having Methos offer everything he was or had or hoped for and have MacLeod strike it down as unworthy or tainted somehow.

"Wait for what?" The older man snapped. "Wait for you to figure out that my past is irrevocably tied to our present? Wait for you to grow up?"

"Wait for me to say I'm sorry," MacLeod said evenly. "And I am. I reacted, Methos. I didn't think. You trusted me and I accused you of... "

"Of being a catamite? I was. Of being a whore? I was that too, I suppose... if you can consider food and clothing payment enough," Methos snarled. "But of trusting anyone else as foolishly as I do you? No. You can't accuse me of that, Highlander. Fate does not suffer fools gladly. Here." He thrust his wrists out at MacLeod. "Go ahead. Try it now, Mac. Just so you can be sure I'm not lying."

The anger radiating off the older Immortal was like a blow, the sense of near betrayal in the gold-green eyes too difficult to meet for long.

"I do believe you," Mac said trying to keep his voice steady, forcing conviction in every syllable, willing Methos to see the truth in his words.

The storm in the hazel eyes faded, to be replaced by something akin to weariness. "But it's not the same as trust, is it, Mac?" Methos wrenched his shirt over his head. "You know I'm not lying. Not at this moment. Not about this. But you don't know, you can't trust, that the next words out of my mouth will be the truth." He sat down to pull on his boots. "I can't force this, Mac. I can't fix it or make it right for you," he said as he bent his head to lace the footwear. "I can't change what I've done or said in the past. And I'll admit my track record isn't that great," he sighed and looked up. "I love you, Duncan. And I can't stop loving you because of this, and I won't leave you because of this, but it damn sure doesn't make loving or staying any easier."

He rose up again and came close, slipping his fingers through MacLeod's hair. "But don't put me in a position to lie to you. If you ask me about my past, I will tell you. Don't ask if you think you won't like the answers," he pleaded softly and kissed him gently, the anger burned out by a certain resigned understanding. "And don't ask me to stay. I need some time to deal with this as well, Mac," he added, knowing MacLeod better than the Highlander knew himself. "I'll meet you at the park at seven to run," he said and caught up his coat, leaving before MacLeod could say goodnight.

More wary--pausing to check the street before heading for the vehicle, and blade revealed in the heavy swing of his coat. Not caught so easily this time. But still not as sharp.

{{Then I have come at a good time, Teacher. Surely you weary of your long life to treat it so carelessly.}}

Pursuit much less rewarding than tracking, but there were no open veldts, no closed forests to pursue by scent and spoor. And then to halt at a small building... not far... but the parking not close. This would require swiftness and the Ancient would be warned--prepared to fight. {{Take the one now or gain them both?}}

The bonds between them were strong--or so the witch had said. And he had seen... One to the other. Ancient and Student? But that protection had been more.. it had been... intimate. And there is your weakness Teacher. Not one you had for me or I for you, but this... MacLeod. If your strength is as great and he can so hold it... then...


And Teacher first. Free, he is too wiley. Too unpredictable. But The MacLeod, this man of honor. {{He will not let you suffer long, Teacher. Nor will I make him wait long... But you and I--we have two thousand years to explore in our reunion... }}

And when you sense me, Teacher, will you fight or flee...? Once I knew the answer to that. {{ And now I must stoop to the commonalties of this age and be so crude as to give you no chance.}}

The prey slung only the one bag over his shoulder, the smaller, and then turned as he emerged, hand going for his sword, hearing the plosive sound one fraction of a second before the bullet took him in the back of the head.

So small a thing to do so much, the thought as inconsequential as the small slag of metal dropped into the bowl. More inconsequential than the gentle bathing the wound received, clearing the blood from skin and hair and then again when the healing finished and the Teacher began to wake.

The hazel eyes opened swiftly and fixed on a spot, the body unmoving except so minutely, subsiding when he knew he was awkwardly bound. The eyes narrowed at the hiss/rasp of another.

"I have missed you these many years, Teacher."

The greeting caused a flash of recognition as did the face when it appeared before him. And the tension... that fear so carefully and completely controlled.

"Suru. Radeen Suru," he said and the name was all that was needed to close the centuries.

"Andres now. I am the 20th generation of myself," Suru said with a broad grin. "All pharaohs are eternal." He stood to the side of the table, this slab. This altar. He could admire, as a hunter, a warrior, the stretched grace of his captive. But then, the Teacher had always been more animal than man. Crafty as the wild dogs, vicious as the she-lion... and so quick. That flash of speed and then rest... a cobra in its strike. And here, with his arms pulled tight above him (for those hands could slip bonds carelessly applied) and the legs and ankles bent beneath him. {{I remember Teacher, how many times you escaped. To be caught only to escape gain}}. Those legs would be numbing now even were the hands free. Thus the spinal cut. {{One cannot keep what one cannot catch. But I have caught you, Ancient. Again.}}

"And are you king still, radeen?" It was a slap but Suru took no offense. The Teacher will slap the student when it is necessary to learn. Or vice-versa.

The ancient kept his face turned away to recover from the blow. The pale, sharp cheek reddened by the strike.

"I am... president, will be the word," Suru said, but his grin had not faltered. "You have unlearned the lessons you would not teach, Teacher. To be taken so... twice in one day."

"And less than I expected from you. You didn't used to be so vulgar in your hunting. How did you find me?"

The face was turned to him again, those eyes smoldering with anger now.

"There was a witch in my employ. I have used her service before... And her anger and disgust were such that I could not get my worth of her. So I... asked her to unburden herself."

"Is she alive?" The Teacher was no fool. He knew this witch.

"She is. Though she might wish else. You were a kinder master than I," Suru said with a chuckle. "She knows that, now. But I have learned much, nonetheless. Of you. Of this... MacLeod."

There was no reaction. The eyes did not even flicker. {{ You are strong yet, Teacher. There has never been your match. But are you as strong...???}} "We begin anew, Teacher. Methos. You know this?"

And then the eyes did flicker, for a moment, the round eyed gaze of fear. But fear was not a weakness... not in this ancient. Fear was a weapon. A defense. But there were new methods to persuade.

"You need not fear the pike again, Methos," Suru said to calm that fear and then held up the hypodermic to rouse it again. A hand as dark as midnight clutched at his deltoid and twisted, waited for the muscles to distend and then pressed the needle deep. "But you need fear... " {{Suru murmured, that familiar hairless skull bending close, loam dark eyes in the dark face with the smile that could break hearts... or bones... }}

The drug, whatever it was, ran through him quickly... his heart speeding up and breath becoming short as the panic of asphyxiation bled over him. And then worse when he felt the large hands on him probing and he, unable to move for the fear of passing out. Not necessarily a bad thing, he tried to reason. Then a second administration, this one burning...

That moan, soft in denial, came sooner than Suru thought. But then the Teacher had never been one to hide his pain or fear. Stoicism was a luxury. He had taught that much.

Suru waited, settling onto the floor in a crouch. There was no furniture save pallets for sleeping and sitting and this covered pool--a fountain once where now only was the fountain support, the upright pole to which he had bound his Teacher. He had bought this huge empty house for its privacy and its separation from others. This room his favorite, cleared now of the foliage it should house. Perhaps he would fill it again.

He rose when the body grew quiet again, checking on the dilated eyes. It would not last long, this drug, but long enough. Long enough to gain answers.

But the questions yielded nothing save denial... a word or two here in answer. Drugs and the Voice then.

And still Methos resisted. Suru's patience infinite as he applied persuasion of an older kind, gaining those gasps of pain but no answers. That he had learned so much through the centuries and still this ancient resisted--and with more strength, not less

"You have found a reason to live, Teacher," he said, bending his head close to the strained, sweating face. "No longer do you dance away because death is too easy a reward for your sins." Teeth bit sharply into the tender lobe of the ear and Suru gained a hiss and a flinch and then a choked moan as the needle was produced again. "These modern things, Methos. These pharmaceuticals that tear at control and yet you resist them as well. Shall I then use them to give the illusion of submission and then draw your MacLeod to see it?"

The hazel eyes flashed. Progress made.

"So he, then, is your weakness. Should I render him as I have you and thus gain your submission?"

That strength rallied... Suru could feel it, taste it. It poured off the Ancient like sweat. A rough tongue reached out to savor that taste against the cheek, and then found the point to introduce the needle... the abdomen this time and the lips parted in pain.

Shock and terror and resignation mingling as the mouth savaged his. The massive hand in his hair to jerk his head back. A hand rubbing the tiny blood spot on his belly where the needle had slid through cloth to flesh.

"If I thought I would gain what you have thusly, Teacher. I would cut your flesh and eat it. To devour the heart of one's enemies is a kind of power. But we are not enemies, are we, Teacher? Tell me we are not... " the Voice coaxed, pleaded... the apology of a scolded child.

The thin lips moved to respond, the hazel eyes glazing under the drugs and the compulsion. "You may be my death, but I will be your unmaking." The voice raw with resistance and the eyes cleared then glazed again.

Suru frowned. Still too strong and the Teacher would unmake him...{{ I will not be a composite of us both, Ancient.}}

A mix of the old and the new. Blooding would weaken the body; drugs to weaken the resistance, and The MacLeod to weaken the will. He moved to unbind the wrists, dark eyes watching his Teacher fondly. Gentleness then Savagery. The balance of the two worked best. Make him flinch at the approach of pain, then relax under the surcease of it until he could no longer tell the difference. Time this took, but worthy time to have the power and not the personality when the head fell.

He pulled the arms down, the body lax, then used those wrists to pull him upright.

The gasp was unexpected. Suru thought the return of feeling to the strained thighs but this was more. Midnight eyes narrowed in the ebony face and then smiled at the panic he saw in the gold rimmed green.

"Ah, Teacher! That I had these pharmaceuticals two thousand years ago!" He chuckled and watched as the Ancient tried to recover mastery of his body. "You have kept secrets from me--but you always did. And this... " he pressed the wrists savagely and the body writhed, another sharp gasp escaping. "This is the key. Such work as this--'tis art."

"It is nothing! " Methos hissed, his breathing ragged as he sought for the anger.

"No, Teacher. Having found this control I will not relinquish it so easily." A strong grope along the denim covered groin and a moan and then the press of tender flesh. The body nearly curling in on itself. "And still I learn from you. Not violation but stimulation. Should I show this to your MacLeod. Would he appreciate the beauty of it?" The Voice demanded. "Despises... " It was out before the Ancient could stop it but there was no more, as teeth savaged the thin lip to bring pain for focus.

Suru nodded. "So he would. Young but powerful. This he could not understand. Or accept. But that he knows tells me all, Teacher," Suru said sadly and stepped to the side, drawing the arms across the tight chest and pulling his captive against him, the wrists still captured. Full lips pressed against his ear. "There is more than affection between you, Methos. I saw much this morning for he treats you as his. Well suited but too late. Is he the answer to this?"

Once more pressure and the body spasmed, shuddering in reaction. "Shall I give you release from this, Teacher? Or shall I summon him here? Shall I train him to this as well? I can think how it might be done..."

Silence fraught by harsh pants. He had driven the teacher into his strength again. No. To so treat this MacLeod would serve only to make the Teacher stronger. Vengeance kills all else. But to take the MacLeod... there would be knowledge of use then.

The wrists were bound again, behind, the dark head falling forward as his treacherous body offered no surfeit.

"These choices only, Ancient. Surrender what I desire to me, or I will take the desires of this MacLeod and use them to shield myself from you."

The body trembled, clothes already dampened by sweat, by the scent of pain, of fear. And the answer, not unexpected but disappointing.

"Fuck you."

{{Ah. The Teacher never learns.}}

Time then, for this... Warrior.

Guesses mostly for the Teacher would speak so little. The where was already known. The when... that was the question to be answered. Set one to watch... to look for movement, those invisible servants who would turn away the inquiries of others. A Noble Prince to visit the wilds of the North West of the New World. And they to seek out this High-land Warrior.

To watch and be not watched. His tribesmen had learned his ways well. The night brought nothing save lights burning late. And then darkness.

And the dawn came and passed.

The Teacher kept vigil with him but not... not aware he did so. That old urge strong to feel that body. And he gave in to it in the wee hours. Not to ravage but to touch. To marvel again at what one before him had wrought so deeply in the Ancient flesh. But he must be--appear--less badly treated than once he had been, else the MacLeod would find the weapon called rage. The witch had said the Warrior could be Persuaded. He had not yet the experience of time to resist the Voice. But he was clever... to block the sound. Thus he must be unaware that such a tongue awaited him.

"Does he wait for you, Teacher? Or did you sever those ties in anger once more...?" A whisper of Voice, the underlying promise of a touch to ease the pain clawing at the betraying body.

"No... "

That body had failed him--or come to his aid, if one chose to see it that way--twice in the long hours between dusk and dawn. But he was aware now; those pharmaceuticals offered more and more frequently.

And then came the word.

"He searches for you, Teacher. I had best go tell him where you are," and the Voice was gone and the presence, with those to watch him who meant more than nothing. Only their deaf ears to hear what Suru would have understood. But they were deaf and mute and did not understand either the Word or the import of the sob that followed:

"No... "

The morning run became pointless. No mile long sprint would release the tension MacLeod felt when Methos did not meet him. Early and it had been a... rough... night. He gave the elder Immortal time then called and got no answer.

Too early for Joe. Too early for Methos really but he had set the time not Mac. The apartment was close and the truck...

That ice should fall so unexpectedly in warmth of early summer was unheard of, but there was no other explanation for the cold that chilled Mac's blood or the trembling that ice caused.

The truck was open--not broken into--and Methos' duffel still in the back.

The harsh rasp/hum swept over him and for one brief second hope flared. A misunderstanding of the time or place.

But it was alien and... old. A trick he'd learned from the elder. To judge the relative age of other Immortals based on the length and strength of their signature. Methos had told the Highlander his played merry havoc with the art. Mac too powerful to be so young and then Methos had grinned in a warming mix of admiration and pride.

The thrum of power made him wary and yet he could see no one.

"He is not here." A deep voice which cut through all other sounds of a waking city. "But he lives, yet. You knew, though, did you not, High-land-er? Your lives have been tangled too close."

"Face me or face him!" MacLeod shouted, unable to find the owner of the Voice. "Who are you?"

"Andres Suru. Methos was once my Teacher. And I will face you both. But on my Challenge Grounds. Not here in the street like common tavern brawlers. None but we three. This I swear."

"On what? Your honor? You have none. Face me now."

"And if you kill me, High-land-er, how will you find him?" The voice laughed, deep and amused. "Look high, Highlander!"

Mac did then ducked and rolled as the javelin came at him, straight and true, smashing through the window of the truck to lodge in the rear seat. Colored markings, furs and talismans around the point and a single piece of common copy paper with directions.

The presence was gone, but not the Voice. "Follow the open doors, MacLeod. The Prize waits within." Another boom of laughter and MacLeod was moving toward his car, cursing in every language he could think of, wondering when the icy weather would break and praying that a certain Watcher could be once more persuaded to keep MacLeod's life from being destroyed.