Harm's Way
by Maygra de Rhema


Violence and Male/Male sex.

This makes no sense (or not much) unless you have read Brotherhood--but it's a good read anyway...

As always, The Highlander characters: Duncan, Methos, et al, are the property of Rysher: Panzer/Davis and I am ruthlessly exploiting their characters for no monetary gain and for my own (and now your) enjoyment but I will return them unharmed and no worse for the wear. This material may not be copied or distributed without my permission--I don't want R:P/D hunting me down--I have enough problems. Do not link, publish or post this material without permission.

Much thanks to my beta's Clancy, Duncan, Mack , Louisa, Gretta and W. A. Johnston & V. Watts. And Kevin for all encouragement--tongue in cheek or not. Input appreciated, despite all commas and comments.

Author's note: The last quote is by Goethe.

The stirring in the back of his brain alerted him to the presence of another Immortal, recognition and relief flooding through a moment later. The tension disappeared from his back and neck much more noticeably than when it had arrived.

"Are you deliberately hard to find?" The Highlander asked to the back of his head, soft burr as welcome as dawn.

"Generally," Methos said, turning from his contemplation of a street vendor's art to face his visitor. He kept his voice even, faint smile tugging at the corner of his lips as he met the dark eyed gaze. He was not entirely certain how their meeting would go after he'd disappeared so suddenly from Bordeaux. MacLeod, however, had come seeking him rather sooner than he expected. But he hadn't arrived with bared steel. That was something at least.

"I called your apartment," Duncan said, face studiously impassive.

"I know. I got the message," Methos replied and began walking. "You said we needed to talk."

"Don't we?" His companion asked, falling in step beside him.

"That I don't know. It rather depends on the subject matter, doesn't it?"

Methos' voice was casual, idly amused. More attuned than usual, Duncan noticed the long, lean body was held loosely. But it was almost too casual. Nor did Methos volunteer any further comment even when the silence dragged on for long minutes. Duncan had been ready for this conversation, he thought, but faced with the studied silence he was no longer so certain.

He had been torn between relief and anger when he woke alone in his hotel room in Bordeaux. He hadn't expected Methos to be gone--He had been prepared to carefully disguise any awkwardness of his own when he woke to face the man he had made love to so carefully and fully the night before. It never occurred to him that the older Immortal might have doubts...or reservations.

"Did you mean what you said in your note?" Duncan asked finally, softly. "Plato," he reminded him.

"I know what I wrote, MacLeod," his companion responded. "And yes, I meant it."

"Then why did you leave?"

"So you wouldn't have to say no to my face," Methos said simply.

"You assumed I would? For friendship's sake?"

"No. I assumed nothing. Mac, did you understand what I wrote and why?"

Duncan stopped. "The love of man to a woman is a thing common and of course, and at first partakes more of instinct and passion than of choice; but true friendship between man and man is infinite and immortal," he recited. "That there's more than a friendship on the table," he said.

"If that's what you want," Methos answered, stopping as well to lean against the stone rise separating the boulevard from the quays below. The gold-green eyes met Duncan's darker ones without flinching. This was MacLeod's journey of discovery. Methos was content to let the younger Immortal pick the route.

The Highlander regarded him seriously for a long moment before settling against the wall beside him. Both of them watched the traffic crawl by--motor and pedestrian. Paris was crowded.

"And the rest?"

The older Immortal didn't need a degree in psychology and human nature to read the younger man's body language--but he had it. "The rest...as you so delicately put it...is what it is...or was...MacLeod. I don't intend to lecture a 400 year old man on the mores and ethics of sex."

MacLeod flushed at that but Methos knew it was at least part of the Highlander's concerns. Unfortunately, Duncan had to work the topic out in his own way. The earth brown eyes scanned the blue skies overhead, heavy hair stirred by a faint, cool breeze. Methos would have given anything to be able to erase the anxiety from those eyes, the soul, but he couldn't fight MacLeod's self-imposed demons for him--he had enough of his own. At some point they might be able to face them together but they weren't much closer to that point now than they had been in Bordeaux. If anything, it seemed they had taken a few steps back and Methos tried not to curse himself for the weakness of one night.

"I've never...been with a man prior to..." The large hands covered MacLeod's face briefly. "Before raping you..." he finished softly, digging his hands into the pockets of his raincoat.

Methos sighed and turned away to stare out over the river below. Not a few steps...giant leaps backward. "I know that as well, Mac. It's forgiven. It has been for some time now--by me. You'll have to find a way to forgive yourself."

MacLeod nodded and crossed his legs, studying his boots. "It's not forgotten, though."

"No. Not then. Not now. Not any time before you," Methos answered gently. "Sometimes I think I've forgotten more than I remember. But those before you have not all been forgiven yet, either." Methos glanced sideways at him. "Mac, what happened in Le Havre and after was...horrible. For me. For that woman. And for you. You may be a rapist in fact but not in conscience. I can forgive it because there was a time when I ... when I didn't have a conscience. I can forgive it because I understand both sides of it. I have been both," the older Immortal said solemnly, long fingers flexing against the stone. "Both of us would go back and undo it if we could. But we can't. We can only move forward and not forget."

MacLeod nodded, accepting the logic but not comfortable with it. He glanced at Methos. Something the older Immortal said sinking into the confusing miasma of guilt. "Anytime before me? Not all been forgiven?"

The slender man beside him remained silent even when Duncan turned to sit on the ledge, laying a hand on the tense shoulders.

"My early past is not necessarily something you want to drag up, Highlander. The Horseman were the end of it. Not the beginning," Methos said and straightened up to meet MacLeod's gaze. He watched the expression shift from concern to confusion to something very like horror.

"Were you and Kronos...?" Duncan couldn't say it and Methos felt a little edge of ice creep into his soul. What had happened with Cassandra had only been the tip of the iceberg and that had been nearly enough to send the man beside him after his head. But so had his lack of honesty. He would not make the same mistake twice with MacLeod.

"Intimate? Lovers? Yes. Sometimes. For awhile. But I wasn't much into pain then or now and Kronos had a thing for...weaker partners." Methos said evenly, almost brutally, jaw tightening in response to the tension in Duncan's body, almost flinching when the Highlander dropped his hand. "Do you want a list, MacLeod? All of them or just the ones you probably wouldn't approve of?"

"That's not what I meant...!"

"No. But it's what you were asking," Methos said, not accusing, but the hazel eyes flashed and mouth smiled bitterly.

"Methos. I know what you were asking in Bordeaux," Duncan said, trying to recover. "To be brothers...clansmen..." The accent was returning full force, a sure indication of distress.

"I doubt the clan code would approve, MacLeod. You'll have to find your answer elsewhere. I asked for nothing. You gave. So did I. No regrets, Mac. Not for me. If you have them, I can't help you," Methos said suddenly weary of the conversation--MacLeod had given every indication that he was willing to accept Methos' past but it was true only to a point. His oath--the silent one he'd made to the dark eyed warrior in front of him--still burned. He wouldn't, couldn't rescind it but it didn't include being the Highlander's conscience or confessor.

"Don't shut me out!" Duncan said, anger rising as he caught Methos' shoulder, turning the older man to face him again. "Help me to understand. What do ye want from me?" He demanded.

The ice edge became a shard. "From you? What makes you think I want...or need anything from you, Highlander?" Methos snarled, shoving the hand away, anger his only defense against the ancient fears, the soul killing loneliness. "For five thousand years I have managed to survive without you! Without your morals, your judgments or your company. I have asked for only one thing--your friendship. It's up to you to decide how far that extends--if at all."

"But Bordeaux..." Duncan stared at him in utter bewilderment, his anger stemming from his confusion--not what he thought Methos wanted or was.

The older Immortal's anger faded in realization. "Mac, have you never had a friend who gave more than they took?"

"Of course! Darius. Sean. --" Duncan hesitated, the list too short. Most of his friends dead. There were probably others but it was still too short a list for a man who gave so much.

"Gods..." Methos murmured, sagging back against the stone again, anger vanishing between one breath and the next. "MacLeod, what happened in Bordeaux had so little to do with what I offered, I can't believe you didn't know it. What the hell did you think you were offering me in the hotel? I wasn't asking you to be my lover, Mac," he said urgently, gently.

The younger man stared at him in a mix of shock and a hint of disappointment---or so Methos interpreted the look. He kept his opinion to himself, frowning as MacLeod shifted uncomfortably. "Comfort. Acceptance--I don't know. What I thought you needed."

"Duncan, if what I wanted was a lover, I wouldn't expect someone as markedly heterosexual as yourself to jump at the chance. It was what I needed and I'm not sure you even realize what...what it meant to have just the offer...much less have you follow through as ... generously as you did. But I meant it when I said that wasn't the lifestyle either of us really wants. I thought you realized that."

"And if I did want that...or thought I did?" MacLeod asked quietly. "I wondered. You seemed ... happy with Alexa. I was beginning to think it was all me... but I guess I assumed... from things you've said...your age... Oh Christ..." he murmured, face flushing.

Methos let a smile emerge, not mocking but understanding. Shaking his head. "Duncan MacLeod. What am I going to do with you? Yes. I am far more experienced with male sexual relationships than you...some pleasant. Some not so. And yes... I loved Alexa and wished I'd had more time to show her that. I wouldn't kick you out of bed, Mac. Or any man I found attractive who was so inclined. But if I had an offer from you and one from Amanda, chances are you'd be sleeping on the floor."

Methos' deadpan delivery elicited a grin from the Highlander as nothing else could have but it faded a moment later and Methos sighed, softly. "Mac, it is possible to have both," he said and crouched beside him, looking up at the troubled face since MacLeod seemed disinclined to look up at him. "If that's what you want...or even think you might like to find out... I won't say no. The best lovers I have ever had have been friends...first and after. Male and female. Three thousand years ago such a friendship might have expected a physical relationship. But you weren't born then, Mac. If I understand anything, I understand how the world changes...how morality changes. I won't try and foist mine on you."

"As opposed to my code of Chivalry?" MacLeod asked and Methos dropped his head. "I'm sorry," Duncan said apologetically. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. Methos, I regret nothing that happened in Bordeaux after we put Kronos down, except the circumstances. I knew what I was doing and why. Don't get me wrong," a faint smile appeared. An attempt to lessen the tension. "Hopefully, it was as good for you as it was for me," he said then winced visibly, recalling the last time he'd said those words to Methos. In the church, having just raped him. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded, either," he whispered. "I'm trying to set Le Havre aside, but I can't..."

And it all came back to that one uncharacteristic act. Just one thing. Wait until you've been there a dozen or more times, Highlander, Methos mused silently, praying MacLeod would never have to learn from those particular kinds of experiences.

"Duncan," he said softly, treading very carefully over the mine field that lay between them. His companion started, face flushed. "I have been raped before and I have raped. Not once, but dozens of times. They all happened in the past--the very distant past. And no, I wasn't expecting it from you. But it did not surprise me and it didn't make me feel disgust or hatred. Rape is what it is--an act of violence and I much prefer it to being dead..." he paused, a bittersweet mocking smile playing on his lips. "What you did and what I did to Cassandra... .Raping Cassandra was so different from your experience they can't even be compared. I knew who I was and what I was doing. You weren't even close to being the man you are. It's there," he warned pressing his palm against the Highlander's chest, hazel eyes locking intensely with the younger man's. "But that darkness is controlled--can be as long as you have the will."

"But why you? Why Dominique?"

Methos got to his feet, stretching his long body out to lean against the wall again. "From what you've told me, Dominique was not entirely unwilling--not at first. She didn't ask for the rest and didn't deserve it. But until you tried to kill her husband, I believe she would have thought it more an unwise infidelity than rape. It was the violence, Mac. Not the sex. The violence made it rape because it made the sex an act of revenge, not of love or simple desire. Can you understand that?"

MacLeod thought about it, the dark face taut and anxious. "And you?" he murmured.

"Most accessible victim," Methos said dispassionately, sliding his hands under the flaps of his duster and into the back pockets of his jeans. "It's about power and control. You've seen the advertisements, heard the pop psychology explanations, Mac. You couldn't control yourself, but you could control me."

"And that makes it all right?"

"No. It makes it understandable. And it means I had a choice. But one of us might have ended up dead. I didn't want that."

"Your death or mine?" Duncan asked, self-loathing still evident in his tone.

"Both. Neither. I didn't want to die--not at your hand and not without knowing you would be all right. And I didn't want your death on my hands either."

"But you thought about it. About dying. What you said about Sean--about his influence being as strong as the others. What would yours have done?"

For the first time Methos looked uncertain, the gold-green eyes shadowed.

"Oh, Christ!" MacLeod murmured. "You weren't afraid of being unable to handle the evil if you took my head--you were afraid your Quickening would make me worse! You let me .......... I'm going to be sick...." MacLeod murmured, turning to face the river, face pale as he gazed out over the river. Realizing what Methos had done... the choice he had made. His life and safety of less consequence than MacLeod's. He had never seen it before, never noticed how often Methos had thrust himself between Duncan and what threatened him physically and emotionally. Between he and Kalas, he and Kristin. And for what? They had barely been friends then. It came to him, dredged from the memories he had tried so hard to subdue. What had Methos said when he killed Sean Burns..... "Of all I've seen MacLeod, you were the best...". His motives had been different then or had they? When had Methos' concern for MacLeod as the best choice to win the game become so personal?

He covered his face with his hands again, emotions desperately trying to sort themselves out as he rethought exactly what had happened in Bordeaux, both before and after Kronos' death. With Silas' death. It all circled through his brain, the deceptions, the manipulations--Methos had challenged Silas not expecting to win. MacLeod had judged Kronos guilty--and therefore Methos. The older Immortal had said as much in the churchyard when it was all over. He had expected to lose to Silas, or if not Silas then Cassandra. Or MacLeod.

He had been the worst kind of fool to assume Methos had asked anything from him, asked for anything....

"Would you rather I had no code at all?" he had demanded when they had been renovating Anne's house.

"I would rather you survived. Look at me, MacLeod. Look at me! I haven't survived five thousand years by worrying about anyone but myself."

"Oh no. Could have fooled me...."

And he hadn't been fooled. Not then. He had let circumstances change his mind. He had allowed his own guilt to taint what had been a simple offer. If he were capable of such an act of rape...what more could a man who had lived through some of the most brutal civilizations in history been capable of? It had been easier to believe Methos guilty of what Cassandra had accused--and he was, past tense....and victim to God knew what brutalizations at the hands of others.

"You were the best I've seen and now I think I may have to take your head."

"Oh, yes? Well take a good look, Methos. Do you like what you see? You kill me and you become me..."

"Maybe there's more room inside me..."

Room enough to take and forgive what MacLeod had done. Room enough to accept anything Duncan might be able to offer him. And strong enough to go on if there was nothing left. Maybe.

"And now?" He asked after another long silence, his stomach quiet, mind calm and patient.

"Now, Highlander, you could take my head and I wouldn't think twice about it. Well, maybe once..." Methos said with a chuckle.

Duncan straight armed himself away from the rail, glancing at the slender man beside him. Methos was watching the street again, long arms wrapped across his chest. His face had lost some its tenseness as if they'd settled something.

And they had, MacLeod realized. Somewhere during the conversation he had stepped beyond the self-loathing into acceptance. Not forgiveness, not yet. But he could separate what happened in Le Havre from what happened in Bordeaux.

The rest was...what? Duncan was back where he started when he had first sought Methos out. Only this time he could think more clearly, without the guilt and confusion. "How did you get so damn smart?" He murmured rising and turning before Methos could answer. His arms slid around the wiry frame firmly and he felt Methos respond a moment later, his grip returned in kind before the older Immortal pulled away, hands resting lightly on MacLeod's arms.

"Thank you," Duncan said earnestly, the two words pitifully inadequate for the freedom Methos had just guided him to.

"Anytime, MacLeod," Methos said. "Pity Scots are so notoriously slow and thick headed."

The dark eyebrows rose as Methos dropped his hands. "Slow?" Duncan asked.

"Mmmmm. Must be all that Highland inbreeding," Methos said beginning to walk again.

"As opposed to the Greeks?" MacLeod said, nudging him as they walked; grinning when Methos laughed.

"You keep assuming I'm Greek."

"You're not?"

"Only in the pursuit of pleasure, Mac," Methos said with a smile. "What I am is hungry," he added leading the way to a cafe.

"You're not going to tell me, are you?" Duncan asked as they found a table.

"Not unless you guess."

Dinner was less strained and by unspoken agreement they let the subject lay fallow, letting food and Paris' silvered dusk ease them into a semblance of the companionship they had shared before Kronos had ever emerged from the dark depths of history. More aware of his companion's sense of values, MacLeod saw a side of Methos he hadn't expected and chided himself silently for having thought the quick mind was constantly bent toward devious paths. Without the pressure of the game, without a crisis looming, he found the older Immortal almost shy, passive in a way his often heated and inflammatory comments obscured. Laughter came easily. Not the cynic's scoffing, but a genuine humorous appreciation for life. For the living, for the life moving around them.

They split the check, rising as darkness began to settle in earnest, intensely occupied by a discussion of sixth century ceramics MacLeod had discovered before the specter of Methos' past had risen. MacLeod had studied the artistry but Methos had observed it, laying aside his antiquarian friend's concerns about the authenticity of what he had found. They crossed the bridge leading toward Methos' apartment and Methos went suddenly tense, the sing of another presence searing through MacLeod's senses a moment later. They reached for their blades simultaneously, each searching the opposite sides of the shadow crossed bridge for the newcomer.

"Two against one," a disembodied voice said from the bridge's arch nearest Duncan. "Not exactly fair."

"You can walk away," MacLeod said, straining to see into the darkness.

"Now where's the fun in that?" The voice chuckled. "No. I much prefer to even the odds."

Duncan grunted, staring blankly as a knife suddenly appeared in his chest. Methos swore, momentarily overtaken by the memory of his reacquaintance with Kronos then moving to catch MacLeod. He almost lost his head as the challenger emerged.

He let MacLeod fall and put himself between the newcomer and the dead Scot, twisting to block the swing behind him. His challenger countered, feral grin on the handsome but unfamiliar face. He was Methos' height but bulkier than MacLeod, highland broadsword longer than Methos' blade and held no less competently.

"Grady Courser," the unknown introduced himself. "Sorry about that...and you are?"

"You should have taken me first." Methos said easily. "MacLeod plays by the rules. Even after an entrance like that he'd have fought fair. I won't."

"It wasn't quite sporting, I'll admit, but it's so hard to know these days who fights with honor and who doesn't," Courser said with a cynical grin and moved in. They exchanged blows, tests of style and reach. Methos dropped back, leading the man away from MacLeod's still body. "I didn't catch your name," Courser said, willing to be lead only so far.

"Pity," Methos returned, mimicking the mocking grin and lunging. Courser swore at the end of the quick exchange, then again as Methos snatched at the dagger in MacLeod's chest, pulling it out and holding onto it. "Uneven odds again," Methos pointed out. "But don't worry too much about it--it won't matter," he added as MacLeod stirred and groaned.

Courser snarled and moved in once more, using the length and weight of the broadsword to drive Methos back, the older Immortal remaining primarily on the defensive by choice and then lunging savagely to block a stroke as Courser shifted his attention toward MacLeod again. Methos shoved his blade under Courser's, wrenching the killing swing back, feeling steel slide along his shoulders before he rolled out from under the blade.

"Watch your own head, youngster," Courser snapped as he was shoved back and his opponent turned, slender body poised, oblivious to the blood across his back and arm, slicking his grip.

"I am," Methos said smoothly. "But two heads are better than one and I prefer his and mine right where they are, child."

Courser's eyes narrowed as Methos stepped away from MacLeod again, his grip shifting to balance the knife in his bloodied fist, grasping the hilt of his sword firmly in his left hand. The older Immortal's body transmitted a whole new set of signals; Courser hissing in anger as he realized just how badly he'd underestimated his opponent. He had no time to dwell on it, however. Methos attacked, driving Courser back against the stone rise next to the bridge, working his way within the longer reach. His sword thrust in from an angle awkward for Courser to block, dagger slashing across the man's forearm to equalize their slick grips. Methos brought his sword arm over Courser's, the heavy blade sliding along his ribs but the arm was well and truly trapped as he drove the knife into the man's abdomen and ripped upward, knee pressed between Courser's thighs and against the stone to provide leverage for the thrust.

The dark eyes met his defiantly as Methos withdrew the blade and wrenched the man's sword from numb fingers, letting it clatter against the stone. Courser's body slid along his as Methos brought his own blade up.

"Some lessons are learned too late," Methos hissed, steadying himself against the body and wall, the pain from his back and side beginning to demand attention.

"Who the hell are you?" Courser gasped, clutching at his shirt.

"Death," Methos said softly, leaning in briefly. "Didn't you know?" He pulled back and swung, ignoring the confusion in the dead man's eyes as he severed his head. He lurched backward, letting the body fall, glancing at MacLeod. The Highlander was sitting up, watching him warily, face tense. He'd heard the last.

I have got to curb my sense of drama, Methos thought as the Quickening came. Courser had been busy during his stint on the Game. The force of the first stroke of his essence nearly driving Methos to his knees. He staggered to the wall, bracing his arms against the stone, spine arching as the Quickening built, head thrust back as the spare body strained under the assault as if he were being flayed. He twisted, fighting the convulsions that overtook him, threatening to cast him over the wall. His back scraped the stone as he flung his arms out, broadening the target. He dragged his sword across his chest, gripping the hilt and blade, blood staining his hands again as the edge cut into his palm. His cry was lost to the wind that rose, the gale that built in the small area, MacLeod holding steady and resolute against the elemental display.

Methos fought to surrender to the force building within him but instinct always demanded denial. "Oh, gods...," he moaned as Courser's personality moved through him with unwelcome but expected intimacy. Pain burned along his spine, the wounds stinging even as they healed. Courser's life and lack of humanity teasing his own darker side as the life force wrenched through him with spine snapping force then faded, a sob building in his chest as the dead man settled permanently into his soul.

The last of it sent him against the wall again, crouched and clinging, pain and pleasure twisting his insides, his body, his senses...and was done with him.

Methos slumped to his hands and knees, pain and raw need blatantly obvious in the rigid body. It would pass. Methos willed it to pass as MacLeod approached--willing Courser's violence to pass as well, anger he couldn't identify as his own surging through him. He'd forgotten that part....

He snarled in rejection as MacLeod reached for him, twisting away and clutching at the wall. The Highlander hesitated as Methos got his feet under him then almost fell again, broad, sure hands reaching out instinctively to catch him, brushing his waist, his hips, and the need surged hotter as Methos jerked away.

"Let's not drag that up again," He said harshly, sucking air in through his nose to still the trembling the innocent supportive touch had prompted.

"I'm not afraid of it or you," MacLeod said gently as a shudder passed through the faltering body.

"Plan on a pity fuck every time I take a head, MacLeod?" Methos snapped, then moaned, unable to resist as the Highlander's arms slid around him.

"Pity is the last thing I feel," Duncan said firmly, embrace tightening as Methos rode the unbearable wave of pain still racing along his nerves, tightening his throat, burning in his groin and spine.

"Paris will talk," Methos hissed, the humor falling short. He couldn't fight the violence and the need at the same time and he surrendered to the need, letting MacLeod deal with it as he would. Methos fought to keep Courser's anger and hatred from the Highlander, but one gave way to the other as he leaned against MacLeod's broad chest. The firm hand sliding across the bulge at his groin.

"As long as they get the facts straight," Duncan said with a chuckle, sure fingers releasing the snap and zipper. Methos clutched at the arm across his shoulders, one hand following MacLeod's to ease the distracting pressure.

"I can...do this myself...." he breathed, throat catching at the first steady stroke along his flesh.

"Isn't that the point? You don't have to," Duncan whispered against his temple, bending his head as Methos choked on a sob and lifted his head to the open-mouthed kiss the Highlander offered, moan captured by the full, soft lips. Methos let MacLeod support his weight, surrendered any further resistance to the strong, protective embrace as he gave in to demands of his body, the irresistible spasm coming quickly. MacLeod helped him ride it out, catching him securely as he collapsed, panting, his body aching and exhausted...the violence held at bay by fatigue.

"There is something very sick about the fact we only do this when there is a dead body close by," Methos murmured when he had recovered enough to speak, resting against the broad shoulder. The same sure hands that had coaxed his release redressing him gently.

"We can fix that..." Duncan said, tightening his grip as he levered himself up, pulling Methos with him.

"Mac, it's not necessary..." Methos began and was silenced by a resolute and thorough kiss.

"Aye, I know it. And the difference," MacLeod said pressing the bulk of his body against the older Immortal. "But I've needs of my own and I don't see Amanda around anywhere, do you?"

Methos chuckled wearily, liking the feel of the strong arm against his back. "No. But wouldn't that be interesting? All consenting adults..."

Duncan grinned. "You have a wicked, twisted, mind, old man." He pulled Methos forward and held him tightly for a long moment then stepped back. "Hold that thought," he said and let Methos rest against the wall as he took care of Courser's body.

When he returned some of the tension had crept back into the slim frame, Methos strangely silent but unresisting as MacLeod slid his arm around his waist, asking nothing, arousing nothing.

They had nearly reached Methos' apartment when the older Immortal's fingers began digging unconsciously into MacLeod's skin. The finely defined jaw was set and tight. MacLeod stopped and Methos pulled away, the sudden surcease of movement triggering something. It reminded the Highlander forcibly of Methos' first reaction at the submarine base, the almost angry motion and withdrawal.

"What is it?" Duncan asked carefully, not quite sure what had triggered the reaction. The older man's wounds were healed, the sexual tension abated and they had not spoken much during the walk.

"It's nothing..." Methos said, voice calm enough. "I .... I need some time alone, Mac. Go on up to the apartment," he said fishing in his pocket for the keys, gold-green eyes shifting away from the blood still staining his hands.

MacLeod took the keys but caught the hand, turning it to expose the palm where blood had caked in the fine lines, demarcations in the creases. "You'll feel better after a shower and some rest," MacLeod said not surprised when Methos pulled his hand away.

"I will... in awhile."

"He meant to kill both of us, Methos," MacLeod said, watching the strained face.

"I know that... I know what he...." Methos stopped, closing his eyes against the surge of half remembered images. Courser's intent burning as he felt MacLeod's presence tingle along his senses. He was always more attuned to other Immortals after a Quickening--not that Methos had any doubts about the Highlander's presence.

"How much do you know?" Duncan asked softly.

"More than I wanted to--I just killed a man, Mac. I just need some time....."

MacLeod thrust his hands into his pockets. "Let it go, Methos. He would have killed you." The older man nodded, annoyance gripping at him when MacLeod seemed still unwilling to leave him alone, the dark eyes watching him anxiously. "I don't need a bloody, nursemaid, MacLeod!" He snapped. "As I recall, it was your ass on the street back there..."

He stopped, wrapping his arms around his chest again, closing his eyes against the anger burning through him. It wasn't his. It wasn't aimed at MacLeod. He quelled it, unaware he was shaking under the onslaught until Duncan moved in to ease the shudders with his embrace, his presence.

"Aye. And it could'hae been yer head on the ground. But it did'nae happen. How much of this is you and how much is Courser?" the accented voice questioned against his ear.

"I don't know. Some of it. All of it....there's a reason I stopped taking heads...Mac, please, just leave it alone."

"It or you?" Duncan asked stepping back but maintaining his grip on the hard muscles of Methos' arms. "Is every Quickening like this for you?"

"Pretty much," Methos acquiesced drawing a deep breath before meeting the concern in MacLeod's eyes. "It takes...time.. to sort out."

The Highlander nodded. "It does that. But this seems worse somehow. When you took Kristin's head...?"

"It was a good thing you walked away, MacLeod. She wanted you very dead." Methos said. "I just never know...how I'm going to react. It stopped being worth the risk to people around me... I'd rather not take the chance. I've been doing this for a long time, Mac. I'll be all right." he hesitated, not a topic he spoke of with many people. "Other than the Dark Quickening, have you ever felt this urge to ...."

"Start a bar brawl? Frequently," Duncan said with a grin.

Methos smiled and chuckled, shaking his head, laughter taking the edge off. "Something like that. Care to join me?"

"I don't think so," the Highlander said with a grin. "Are you going to come after my head?"

It didn't exactly reassure the Highlander that Methos actually had to think about it. "No," the older Immortal said at last. "It wasn't .... personal on Courser's part. Just matter of course. Christ..." Methos drew a deep breath and stared upward at the darkened sky, eyes closing again as MacLeod rubbed the tense shoulders lightly.

"Unless you want to pick glass and splinters out of your skull after breaking up some poor man's pub, why don't you try my solution first? A shower, some food....a beer?" he offered with a smile and Methos nodded, the violence having subsided a bit with the laughter. He forced himself to relax as MacLeod put his arm around the tight shoulders again and led him toward the three story walk up the older Immortal now called home. The silence fell again but it was less sharp as the Highlander unlocked the door. Methos said nothing, just headed for the bathroom and a few moments later MacLeod could hear the water running. He made coffee, observing the older man's new apartment with a critical eye.

The coffee was done and the arts dealer in MacLeod had assessed the owner's tastes--they were expensive but extremely selective. But he was beginning to wonder if his host had drowned when the water shut off.

Methos emerged looking more calm, even managing a faint smile when MacLeod raised an eyebrow and offered him a beer. The older Immortal took it, drinking it as he searched for clean clothes in a chest at one end of the room. He bit his lip thoughtfully as Methos dressed, not overtly staring but contemplating the lithe body without guilt, consciously summoning the feel of it against him. It had passed beyond curiosity or debt and into something MacLeod found he no longer shied away from. It surprised him that he thought of the other man's body as familiar, as Amanda's was familiar. Methos would not suggest anything further but MacLeod had his answer, if he ever got the courage to ask. Realizing suddenly there was nothing in his mind or heart that forbade the question any longer.

And he did have needs of his own. Nothing that couldn't be controlled or even ignored but there was no reason for that either. He couldn't help but compare his relationship with Methos to his relationship with Amanda. Nothing about Methos reminded him of the troublesome, endearing, infuriating thief except that he had shared his friendship and his bed with both now. Willingly and gladly. And sometimes desperately. The desperation was gone but the desire wasn't

"What did you say about consenting adults?" Duncan asked to Methos' back as the other man toweled his hair dry. He had changed into a clean pair of jeans but not put on a shirt yet, picking up the beer again. He took a sip and set the bottle down.

"Other than the fact that we both are, I don't recall saying anything about consenting adults," Methos said.

"And are you?" Duncan asked softly, Methos suddenly realizing the Highlander was directly behind him, so close his body heat could be felt.

"Am I what?" Methos asked evenly, eyes narrowing in surprise as fingers closed over his shoulders under the towel draped around his neck.

"Consenting." Duncan murmured and Methos went still as moist lips were pressed against his neck.

"Mac..." It was half protest, half plea. The after effects of the Quickening had faded but he could already feel his blood stirring, heart rate increasing at the mere brush of the Highlander's hands and mouth. Methos had not realized he was still this needy or that his control had worn so thin. He no longer thought MacLeod's offer or his touch were some generous form of atonement but he was concerned and a little awed. It had been a long time since anyone had wanted him this urgently. He was far more used to being on the lusting end of an encounter. Part of him had forgotten what a rush another's desire could produce. But another part of him, buried deep and carefully guarded, had forgotten exactly how overwhelmingly frightening being an object of desire could be.

"I understand the difference, Methos. I understand what I'm offering. I'm a little confused about why you keep questioning it...did you think I didn't hear what you said at the river or was completely unaffected by what's happened? By you?"

"No," Methos breathed as a broad hand slid through his damp hair.

"It isn't a lifestyle change...just a broadening of preferences..." Duncan murmured, his arm sliding around the slender waist to draw Methos against his chest, the cotton of MacLeod's shirt soft and warm against the older Immortal's back. "If Amanda can dance in and out of my life and my bed, I see no reason to refuse another friend the same courtesy or deny myself the pleasure."

"It would be preferential treatment...not exactly PC..." Methos murmured as the palm slid along his belly and over the denim. His breath caught as MacLeod's breath warmed his neck, his ear--the Highlander was an utter sensualist Methos knew, but no one should be so capable of eliciting such a response with a mere touch or a breath. He was in serious danger of losing complete command both of his body and his emotions--not to mention every rational thought in his brain. There had always been something about male sexuality that reassured Methos of his own--especially when he came close to losing his own identity. It wasn't a lifelong propensity but he had returned to that need again and again over the centuries. No long term partners but this.....

He had only infrequently allowed the physical and emotional to cross paths. MacLeod was likely to challenge everything he thought about himself if he let this continue. But the alternative not only was unthinkable...it was terrifying.

"So are you consenting?" Duncan asked again, lips against his throat.

"Right now, Mac, I'm barely thinking..." Methos said, drawing a breath harshly as the strong hand closed over his groin. "But if you stop now, I will take your head. Is that the answer you wanted...aahhh...!"

MacLeod chuckled as he felt and heard Methos react to his caress. "It'll do..." he whispered as the spare body shuddered against him. He kept his hand between the tense thighs as he slid around Methos' body to face him, his own arousal growing at the sheer look of pleasure on the older Immortal's face. He used his other hand to undo the snaps on the tight jeans then caught Methos as the man swayed toward him.

"For someone so inexperienced, you certainly seem to know what you're doing," Methos said breathlessly, steadying himself against Duncan's shoulders. The hazel eyes were slightly dilated, Methos' breathing already growing shallow.

"I know what I like," Duncan said evenly although his own pulse rate was anything but. "And any lad over the age of ten has probably done this much with a friend," MacLeod said as his hand slid along the firming, silken flesh.

"I am definitely over ten," Methos returned, regaining some domination over his reaction after the initial shock of pleasure. His fingers slid into MacLeod's hair drawing the familiar, beloved face closer, the Highlander's mouth yielding under his demands and making some of its own. Methos answered him readily, refusing to question anything any further. The earth-brown eyes were open and definitely inviting, humor still dancing in their dark depths, as well as a shimmering spark of desire, of anticipation, and completely unashamed affection. MacLeod's other hand came between them, unbuttoning his own shirt with an urgency Methos hadn't expected and he dropped his hands to his partner's groin, not surprised to find the fabric straining.

Then it was Duncan's turn to groan, tearing his mouth away from Methos' as the older man stroked him firmly. By mutual consent they parted to catch their collective breaths and strip. Methos finished first and came up behind Duncan, the long, strong fingers sliding across the muscular hip to move through the dark mat of hair before gripping the swollen shaft of flesh. Methos' erect cock was pressed against Duncan's back and buttocks, lips sliding along his neck and shoulder wetly.

"Bed or floor, Mac?" Methos murmured huskily.

"You have got to be kidding," MacLeod said and twisted, catching the smiling face in his hands to kiss him again, almost savagely due to insistent desire building between them, and was met in kind. There was a floor below them and a rug. It would be more than enough.

He dropped his mouth to Methos' throat, willingly summoning up the sensuous movements he'd seen in his partner in Bordeaux. Wondering if Methos had any idea how his grace affected MacLeod's equilibrium. He could feel the slide of muscle under his mouth as he knelt, drawing Methos down with him, fingers brushing the dark flat nipples just before he found them with his tongue. Methos leaned into him, one hand still in his hair, catching the Highlander, supporting his weight as he pressed him back and down. The long body covered his, one knee sliding between Duncan's thighs. Methos caught his hands, suddenly in control and Duncan gave in to the clever play of the older man's mouth on his skin, stomach and groin contracting as he was tasted and soothed, teased and aroused.

He almost came at the first touch of Methos' mouth on his heated flesh but it was brief--a promise. He pushed himself up on his elbows, needing the leverage, wanting to see the lover who was tending him so carefully.

Methos was capable of redefining the term lover altogether. MacLeod had made love both with urgency and slow deliberation....warm memories of Tessa a welcome reference point. Even Amanda was occasionally given to languid sessions of foreplay when she would not allow MacLeod to do anything but touch her. Methos encouraged it, so certain of his own control that when MacLeod reached for him he came willingly, stretching against him to kiss him, capturing MacLeod's tongue firmly while his hands continued to stroke and taunt the younger man's chest and hips, his whole body given to a slow exploration of flesh.

MacLeod sought the familiar, wanting to take the lead but not willing to surrender the wash of sensation as Methos' thighs closed and tightened around his raised leg. The feel of Methos' subtle strength under his hands was intoxicatingly erotic, muscles sliding beneath the smooth skin, deceptively soft when his grip was sure and strong. The clever mouth skimmed along his throat, graceful, bold hands following the curve of muscle at Duncan's chest and shoulders. MacLeod lay back down with a gasp as teeth closed over his left nipple, his own hands stroking the muscle of his partner's back, a silken glide of tendons responding to his touch. Methos' cock was hard and firm against his ribs, his own erection strong enough to be nearly painful. His hips flexed involuntarily as a hand slipped around the shaft, drawing upward as the fingers closed around him. The top of Methos' head was under his chin, silken hair fragrant from his shower, drying into soft, fine wisps. He caught the head and drew the mouth upward, moaning softly as the lean body extended along his again, half on his side.

He tried to roll them, to place Methos below him but the older Immortal chuckled, strength meeting strength. A difference, a challenge almost--not for mastery but to press the limits. It spoke nothing of dominance but of a meeting of equals, no cares whether Methos was strong enough to bear his weight, that he might bruise under strong caresses or resist the urgency of MacLeod's demands. Even Amanda, Immortal though she was and prone to a rough playfulness in lovemaking, required some care and consideration...that consideration ingrained so deeply into MacLeod's nature, he had to consciously set it aside.

And Methos seemed to know exactly when he did so--the hazel eyes glittering with expectation and desire, body reacting with sensuous grace as MacLeod's own caresses became more confident, stronger...fingers digging into the hard muscle of Methos' buttocks to press the slender body more firmly against his own. Methos went after his mouth again, suckling his tongue with the same pressure his hand exerted on MacLeod's swollen cock. The spasm began and Methos removed his hand, pressing his knee firmly against the flesh, fingers sliding around the full sacs below to squeeze until MacLeod gave into the arch his spine demanded.

Duncan's breathing was ragged, oxygen the least of his concerns until he felt the hard body slip along his, mouth replacing Methos' hand once more and he caught the dark head, fingers threaded through the short silken strands to ground himself. Teeth grazed the sensitive flesh and Duncan made no effort to cut short the moan of pleasure rising from his belly to his throat, the achingly familiar press of lips and tongue adding to the tension building deep inside. He jerked and Methos rode the flex of his hips then slid his mouth away again, Duncan groaning with the loss of him, trembling violently as the wave threatened to overcome him. He rose up to recapture his tormentor and found hands catching his, drawing him onto his side, lean body pressed against his a second time. Methos knowing exactly what they both wanted and how to accomplish it.

Strong hands guided him, flesh parting as MacLeod became cognizant of their position: Methos' back to his chest, no gentle preparation as the entry was found and tested, resistance natural and disregarded as the older Immortal reached behind him to grip MacLeod's buttock and press him forward, the supple body pressing back.

Flesh and muscle gave way, Methos drawing a sharp intake of air, his hiss of pain giving way to a gasp and groan of pleasure, both mingling with Duncan's as the Highlander sank his cock deep into the impossibly tight channel, holding the tense, arching body strongly as Methos moved , accommodating himself to the welcome intruder. But it was tight and Duncan thought he would go mad from the sensation, almost giving into a sob before his body took charge. He spasmed, fluid providing a necessary lubricant.

"Yes..." Methos hissed, body still taut as Duncan was finally able to shift within him. The affirmative sliding into a moan as he guided MacLeod's hand to his own need, his fingers curling around Duncan's as they found a rhythm together. Methos raised one knee, bettering MacLeod's position before reaching behind him to pull the dark head forward. He twisted as MacLeod sought his mouth again, then his throat, shifting upward to explore both and nearly losing his sanity as the urgency within his groin built to an unbelievable and nearly unbearable level.

And sought release. Methos braced them, shoulders straining as the thrusts came quicker, drove deeper, each one punctuated by a hiss of air and a moan. Duncan's hand tightened around him, his other hand gripping Methos' hip and thigh so tightly he could almost feel the bruises forming on the pale skin. His fingers no longer stroking, the shifting of their bodies providing all the stimulation. Duncan's legs trapped his lover's, Methos' arm all that held them both against the force as the heavier body drove into his. He choked in pleasure as he felt Duncan's rhythm change from smooth to irregular, the erratic cadence unable to be anticipated or overcome. Methos couldn't prepare and wasn't prepared when the Highlander's body finally penetrated deep with all its not inconsiderable strength. They both arched into the convulsive movement that followed. MacLeod's hand dragged upward along his lover's cock, and Methos felt his own orgasm begin, arm giving way as his hips pushed into the restraining hand, and felt it tighten, arresting the flow. He moaned as the pleasure was prolonged, extended, made excruciating. The Highlander was gasping, his flesh flaccid as he withdrew, body still trembling but he would not let Methos finish what he had started.

Years of exercise and sword work had given the Highlander a stamina only Methos could match but the older Immortal grunted in frustrated desire as he was moved, pulled upward to his knees. Duncan still held Methos firmly, thumb brushing the glistening tip as his other hand sought the passage his body had so recently exited, two fingers pressed inward for additional stimulus.

And then Duncan bent his head to the straining groin. There was no holding back as the dam of sensation was released minutely, Methos unable to stop or willing to stop the thrust of his hips against the warm, wet haven of Duncan's mouth, bracing himself against MacLeod's back, his other hand splayed against the floor. His head dropped back as MacLeod swallowed against the first spasm, creating a sensation of suction and friction. Methos reached for him as the Highlander raised his head, mouth capturing Methos' as his lover surrendered to the flood of passion and release. Duncan's breath caught at the sight of the subtle arch in the long body, bracing him as the pelvis thrust uncontrollably against his hand. His thumb guiding and stemming the issue of fluid, body moving up and along Methos' as the older Immortal held onto him to ride out the seizure of pleasure, barely aware when Duncan's mouth nuzzled his throat, tasting the sweat slicked skin.

The orgasm faded, waned, and Methos went limp, still clinging to MacLeod's arms and shoulder as the shuddering aftermath subsided, his skin cooling under Duncan's gentle caresses along his side and flank. "I take it back," he said, finally, stretching tight, aching muscles along the Highlander's firm chest.

"Take back what?" Duncan asked, tucking his chin against the other man's shoulder.

"I would make Amanda sleep on the floor." Methos said with certainty.

Duncan met his gaze in confusion then recalled the comment's source and burst out laughing, dropping away to roll onto his back. Methos grinned and shifted to his side, propping his head up on one hand and laying his other directly in the middle of MacLeod's chest to finger the soft mat of hair playfully.

"It would be the last thing you ever did," Duncan said, when his chuckles subsided. "She'd be after your head for that."

"Probably," Methos agreed. "And I wouldn't anyway. I don't think I ever realized how hard this floor is," he added and bent his head down to kiss MacLeod quickly before getting up and offering his hand.. "I need another shower... it's big enough but the hot water heater is small," he warned and offered in the same breath.

"I'm not so sure a cold shower would be a bad idea," Duncan said and pulled Methos forward by the nape of his neck to take a more thorough kiss. Methos broke away first, a little breathlessly, hazel eyes narrowed in surprise.

And realized he shouldn't be. Decision made, Duncan MacLeod was committed to his course....his goals...and, Methos thought wickedly, he didn't give up easily. He smiled slowly, grasping MacLeod's hips and drawing their bodies together, the Highlander's hand still at his neck. "Then we'll just have to see who gives out first, won't we--you or the hot water," he said smartly and let his body flex against Duncan's before turning and heading for the bath.

"Or you, old man," Duncan murmured, a little short of breath himself, before following him.

"You're not going to disappear on me again are you?" Duncan asked him later, the two of them sharing Methos' bed. They had not quite outlasted the hot water but it had been close, close enough to leave them both chilled and a little silly as Methos found sweat pants that would fit his house guest. He had managed it and even now the Highlander's hard jersey covered thigh covered his, MacLeod on his side, chest pressed against Methos' side and the strong arm across his waist.

"I doubt it. I live here, remember?" Methos chuckled and looked at him. MacLeod was smiling but it was a patient smile. Methos curbed his laughter and shifted to his side as well. "You're not going to turn into a brooding Scot on me, are you?"

"You know what I mean."

Methos nodded with a sigh. "I do. I have no plans to disappear, Mac. But while I always have a plan, I don't do future speculation very well. I have no idea what else may resurface from my past. I've spent no few centuries trying to put them behind me and I can't anticipate your questions."

"I'm not asking you to--I just want to be sure.... " MacLeod shook his head.

"That you trust I have no more nasty surprises?" Methos said understanding the issue as well as MacLeod did. It did all come down to trust. "I can't promise you that, Mac. I wish I could but the problem is I don't know. I thought Kronos long dead. I knew about Caspian and Silas but without Kronos...without me...."

"Heart and head. Cassandra said as much." Duncan said quietly. "But will you tell me?"

"Yes. If I can, when I can. But it will be harder now."


"Because I decided to leave the Watchers before I left Seacouver for the Ukraine. Joe already knows. No one else does though." Methos said and dropped down onto his back.

"You're entering the game again? Why?" MacLeod demanded. "Methos--if anyone finds out...any of our kind...they'll hunt you."

"Like they do you, Mac?" Methos said evenly. "It comes back to us, Highlander. I didn't enter into this friendship as a silent partner. If you are in harm's way--and you are--then I can be no less."

"That's insane!"

"Why? Because you would hide if you could?" Methos said. "We both know that isn't true--and....we both know that I may not have time enough left to make it a choice. We may not be at the Gathering yet, Mac. But it's close. A year. A decade. Maybe a century. We're all of us choosing sides...good or bad. If I'm to influence the outcome I can't be just an observer any more."

The handsome face darkened, not liking the phrasing he'd just heard. "You act like you're not worthy of the prize."

"Gods, MacLeod! None of us are worthy! The one who thinks so should be killed immediately!" Methos said rubbing a hand across his eyes and sitting up, twisting to face his bedmate. "There are only choices that can be made. Good rather than evil. Strong as opposed to weak. And I don't want it, Mac. I never have. Kronos did. Kalas did. Darius should have been the one, in my opinion, or at least a viable candidate....but I don't have anymore idea than you do what the final battle will be like. I can only act on what I know and if it had come down to me or Kronos, I'd have done my damnedest to win."

"Because you judged yourself a better man than Kronos?"

"No. Just less ... callous..." Methos said softly. "But I'd rather take out the competition in advance. I am not the judge of the Gathering, Mac. I have to take my chances with everyone else...I just forgot that for awhile."

MacLeod fell silent, watching his friend...his lover...his brother...all those and more. He knew where Methos' logic was leading him, knew what course the older Immortal had chosen and didn't like being on the receiving end of that decision. But he couldn't reject it either...not without rejecting everything Methos was. Not without destroying the very essence of the man he was beginning to cherish more than his own life. Courage, honor, loyalty...they were traits Methos admired in MacLeod, but somewhere along the way Methos had come to think of his own courage and honor as twisted, tainted by his long history...his experiences.

So he stood outside. Outside the mortal world that MacLeod treasured for its value. Outside the Immortal world because there was no one in it that he could share his long life with and have it understood or accepted. Until he met MacLeod. And MacLeod had failed him. They had made a recovery of sorts, but Methos was waiting for Duncan to judge him at every step of the way.

And he would, Duncan realized. Not much liking that sudden realization about his nature. Would because Methos made his decisions, his choices on an entirely different level than MacLeod. Seeing not individuals but the long term outcome.

And he was wearied of doing it alone.

It was all assumption on MacLeod's part but he doubted even Methos understood all his motivations any longer. He sat up, reaching for the man beside him and pulled him against his chest, the silence natural in the unspoken act of comfort. It was not sexual, it wasn't even protective as Methos lay cradled against his chest, body completely pliant and trusting, the dark head against Duncan's shoulder, long graceful fingers entwined with the Highlander's ready to pull him free of what ever mire he found himself in.

There would be no guard at the door tonight. No shieldmate to protect their sleep. The rules of the game wouldn't let them fight back to back and neither of them was willing to let the other fight his battles for him.

"Young said, 'Most of our comforts grow up between our crosses'." Methos murmured as if reading his thoughts.

It was an unnerving trait and MacLeod tightened his grip around the other man minutely, resting his cheek against the short cropped hair.

"And how many can you bear?" He asked quietly.

"Just my own, Mac. No one can carry more. Not me. Not Darius. Not you. But we...you and I ...can make damn sure neither of us gets nailed to the bloody things. Martyrdom is highly overrated."

"So its home and hearth, sword and shield," Duncan said. Concepts he understood. "Live. Grow Stronger. Fight."

"Mmmm," Methos assented already falling asleep. "The trick is to know what your fighting for." he murmured.

MacLeod felt Methos relax, the breathing go shallow as he dozed against him and rubbed his arm gently. I know, brother, he thought, leaning against the head board, fatigue coaxing him gently after the man in his arms. "' We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.'"

So is the world.