Slip into Joy
by Maygra de Rhema

This piece was commissioned at Escapades '98 as a Charity bid For K.C. who started out wanting Drama but decided Romance works just as well for the heart and soul and means you don't have to get the blood out of the carpet. Charity, in all things, is the gift we give back to the world. Rated NC17 for m/m sexual situations and some language. The lads aren't mine, they belong to R:P/D (the concept anyway -- these boys don't belong to anyone but each other.). Much gratitude to MacGeorge who came in as a beta at the last minute because my brain was fried and I wanted K.C. to have the best I could offer. I am not making any money on this... comments can be sent to: Maygra de Rhema

"Can we start over?"

Methos raised his eyebrows at MacLeod's soft-spoken request. Or it would have been soft spoken had not the Highlander needed to raise his voice to be heard over the band. Joe and his boys were in full swing, steady rhythm and guitar accents complimenting Joe's voice as only the blues could compliment those husky, throaty tones.

A waitress came by and MacLeod turned to her, still waiting for Methos' answer. "Two more of whatever he's having," he said then turned back to Methos, still waiting.

Which meant the question wasn't redundant or off-hand. Methos moistened his lips and recovered from his sprawl, pulling his longs legs back from their stretched-out position on the chair opposite his own, clearing a space for Duncan to sit. It took a nod from him before MacLeod actually sat down, though. Another surprise.

Duncan was obviously serious about this attempt at some kind of reconciliation – or at least at finding some middle ground they could both stand on. Given that Methos had fervently desired the same thing just a couple of days ago, he wondered why he was so reluctant now.

Two days ago he had nearly managed to get himself killed thinking Duncan was in a guilty funk about his judgmental ways. The encounter with Steven Keane had revealed more about the Scot's frame of mind than Methos had been comfortable facing. No matter how he twisted it, while the initial plea from Amanda for him to intervene had been unwelcome and annoying, having seen MacLeod on the follow up Methos was very much aware that her concern was valid. And…he ducked his head to sip his beer as MacLeod sat down…at least partly his fault.

Despite his outward hostility, MacLeod had apparently been doing a lot of thinking about his proclivity toward making judgments. His parameters of right and wrong had been sorely pressed by Methos' involvement, past and present, with the Horsemen. His anger Methos understood, as well as his sense of betrayal…Methos had never meant to betray the Highlander but the only way to protect him had been to make sure Kronos, at least, thought he was capable of it. No fault of MacLeod's that Methos had been successful. As much as he admired the Highlander, the man gave his trust easily – Kronos had not. It had to be earned, proven…again and again and even knowing that Methos had nearly miscalculated and ended up getting them both killed.

They had, he and the proud Highland son, managed a truce of sorts, but until Keane they were miles apart from regaining the easier friendship they'd accomplished prior to the return of the Horsemen.

"I'd toss you a beer but they don't have any cans, here," Methos said quietly, finally giving up his inner protests. No use or point in blaming MacLeod for something Methos himself had engineered. He had understood MacLeod's version of right and wrong. He had crossed the line.

"What?" MacLeod was looking at him in confusion.

"You asked if we could start over. We met, I tossed you a beer," Methos reminded him then ducked his head again so MacLeod couldn't see the broad grin on his face when the Highlander remembered as well and rolled his eyes.

The waitress returned with two bottles and two iced mugs. "Not quite what I meant," MacLeod said pouring his beer into the glass. "I came to say..." he paused, aware Methos was not looking at him. The smile that had been dancing half-hidden around his mouth was fading. "I told you to mind your own business with Keane," he began again and Methos lifted his head, mouth tightening in suspicion. Have I beaten you down that often? MacLeod thought and realized he had, extra motivation now edging his words. "I should have told you then...that I appreciated your concern...only I didn't appreciate your concern -- then. I do, now." he finished and could have kicked himself. It had all come out wrong, not at all what he intended to say. The expression on the pale face remain unchanged and MacLeod had the uneasy feeling Methos was about to bolt in his anger and rightfully felt resentment of the backhanded apology. Before he could move MacLeod leaned in covering the slender hand on the table with his own. "I am sorry," he said quickly. "I am...I was angry at your interference without thinking about why you interfered -- and yes, I know Amanda came to you. But you didn't have to do anything. You could have just let me fight my own battles."

Wrong again. MacLeod knew what the problem was. An apology wasn't nearly enough to offer this man. A thank you was though, and his grip on the fingers tightened. "I want to say thank you...for worrying, for caring enough...for being the friend I thought I'd ...lost." He ran out of words then...he had rehearsed this dammit! He was not usually so tongue-tied.

So caught up in his own feelings of ineptness, he was late in noticing how Methos' expression had changed, but he did finally, and what he saw altered irrevocably how he would see this ancient man. How he would think of him.

There was an embarrassed flush in the pale cheeks, the hazel eyes had grown large, the lips parted as if to speak but no words came out.

He had just rendered Methos speechless. Endearingly, vulnerably speechless.

"You..." Methos squirmed a bit, the flush deepening as he pulled his hand from MacLeod's. "You're welcome," he said brilliantly and took a long pull from his beer.

Hiding a smile and glancing at his friend from time to time in wonderment, Mac sat back and drank his own beer, letting the music fill in the silence rather than allowing the silence to be the only company they could offer each other.

What else had come to him during that brief and awkward reconciliation would have to be dealt with very carefully and very slowly.

"Not what I had in mind, MacLeod," Methos said with wry grin, eyeing the soccer ball dubiously. "Football?"

"Just a little practice," MacLeod coaxed with a grin. He was wearing shorts and a jersey. Having invited Methos to the park for lunch, he saw no reason to not get in a little exercise. "Don't you play?"

"Not if I can find something else to look for shapes in the clouds," he added glancing up and frowning. Not a cloud in the sky.

"Thirty minutes...then lunch," Mac said bouncing the ball off his knee. It popped and went up, Methos catching it. A speculative grin stretched over the older Immortal's face as he took a step back and glanced at the pond some distance behind them.

"Methos..." MacLeod said warningly.

"Waterpolo, MacLeod?" he asked innocently and then he was running toward the pond. MacLeod swore and set off after him. Lord, the man was fast! He darted around passerby's, his goal clear and MacLeod put on a burst of speed. Methos hesitated, his arm coming back and MacLeod lunged, tipping the ball out of his hand but unable to stop his forward momentum. They went down in a rolling tangle of arms, and legs, laughter and a few "oomphs!" for emphasis. MacLeod ended up on bottom, the ball rolling away.

Methos levered himself up, panting, eyes sparkling with laughter. "You owe me a lunch."

"Not yet," MacLeod said and Methos dropped his weight down, causing MacLeod to grunt.

"I won the race."

"I didn't know that was the bet," MacLeod said indignantly and hooked a leg around Methos' knee, setting him off balance and flipping him onto his back. "How about two out of three falls?" he suggested. "Loser buys."

"You invited me to lunch. I didn't know I was going to have to compete for it." Methos wriggled, trying to get out from under MacLeod's heavier weight. "People are staring."

Let them, MacLeod thought, knowing he was staring as well, unable to tear his eyes from the strain of muscle under the shirt Methos was wearing, nor keep back the smile from the flushed and tousled look that had left the usually so restrained Methos looking young and without care and utterly...kissable.

He pulled back a bit, not sure if Methos was really worried about onlookers or just looking for arguments. Despite Mac's movement back, Methos remained where he was, the Highlander straddling his upper thighs. " about a real race, then? To the restaurant...Loser buys?"

Methos bit his lower lip then smiled. "You're on," he said and MacLeod got up extending his hand to pull his friend to his feet. They sighted on the restaurant at the end of the park, a cafe really.

"Ready...set..." Methos said, readying himself. "Oh, Mac, your football!" he said and when MacLeod looked to see where the ball had ended up Methos shouted, "Go!" and took off.

"You shit!" Mac cried out and forgot about the ball, competitive edge brought out by the other man's ploy. But there was laughter too -- Methos had set him up...perfectly. He ran, eyes on Methos' back until he realized he was no longer trying to beat the man, but content to watch the lean figure move. At the halfway point MacLeod wasn't sure he could have caught Methos if he'd really wanted to...he was that fast. He was also poetry in motion, sheer grace in every taut muscle of his back and legs.

The winner almost tumbled over a table as he came to a stop and then moved again, walking out the adrenaline and the burn as MacLeod finally caught up with him. They said nothing, just let breathing and heart rates slow. MacLeod snagged two beers on their second pass by the cafe and handed one to Methos who took the cold bottle and wiped it across his forehead first and then handed it back to Mac for a moment while he stripped off the loose sweater, leaving him in his jeans and a damp, body hugging T-shirt. He took back the beer and sipped at it, still walking with the sweater clutched in his free hand.

"You are very fast," Mac said when he had air enough to speak.

"Comes in handy. For escapes. Used to be a job," he added with a quirk to his lips. "Messenger in Greece...Marathon..." he supplied when MacLeod asked.

Marathon runners who ran nude. The thought sprang into MacLeod's brain and it took a long drink to get that particular image out of his head. Not an easy thing to do with Methos this close, his body perfectly outlined by his clothes.

And completely clueless as to what affect he was having on MacLeod at the moment. It didn't particularly surprise MacLeod as they made their way back to the restaurant for the promised meal. He had seen this man fall head over heels in love...watched him wonder if Alexa would like him...could love him...find him attractive in any way. Not really shy, just uncertain.

They settled into an outside table, ordered two more beers and food then relaxed back in their chairs on simultaneous sighs that set them both laughing again. "What was it Greece?" Mac asked, pursuing the topic as a continuation but also with a mind to find out if Methos were so inclined. He had little fear that Methos had not had experience with male lovers but from some things he had said, and more that Mac had observed, especially with Kronos, the thought came darkly, he was not sure how pleasant they had been. Lover might actually be an entirely inappropriate term.

"As a runner?" Methos asked and Mac nodded. "Not a bad life...strenuous when you worked, comfortable when you were off. Paid well for the quickest of us, and honors, and ..." he paused to grin. "Fringe benefits were nice," he added.

"Oh? What kind of fringe benefits?" MacLeod asked archly.

"Well..." Methos dropped his gaze to his hands. "Runners were ...popular. Very prestigious, in certain circles," he hesitated. "I left much richer in the pocket and in better shape than I am now."

"You look in pretty good shape to me." MacLeod let Methos take the comment any way he wanted to.

"Of course, you were only seeing my backside," Methos shot back with a chuckle, either missing the innuendo or ignoring it.

"True," MacLeod agreed with a grin and sat up as food was brought to their table. They ate slowly, conversation drifting comfortably back and forth until they finished and Methos shrugged back into his sweater. MacLeod paid the check and rose. "Give you a lift home?"

"Sure..." Methos stuck his hands in his back pockets and walked with MacLeod to his car. Not too many words exchanged as they settled. At the older Immortal's apartment Mac almost agreed to come up for a beer but the afternoon was cooling off and he opted for a change of clothes. "Up to letting me win back the lunch tab?" he offered.

Leaning against the car Methos raised an eyebrow. "Such as?"

"Chess...tonight. You bring the beer, I'll pop for dinner...loser has to buy lunch tomorrow."

Methos gave him an odd look. "Lunch today, dinner tonight, lunch tomorrow. MacLeod, are we dating?"

He was joking but the words spilled out of MacLeod's mouth before he could stop them. "Would you like to be?"

Poleaxed was about the best description the Scot could come up with for the look on Methos' face. He fought hard to keep his own expression neutral, interested but neutral. No use denying it or saying it was a joke.

"You are serious," Methos said and squatted down a bit, arms folded across the open window. "Not what I expected, MacLeod."

"Me either." The admission was an honest one and MacLeod smiled a bit. "Come to dinner and we can talk."

For a long moment he thought the other man would refuse but after looking away for a long moment Methos finally nodded, expression somber. "Very likely a good idea. Around seven then?"

"Seven's fine. I'll see you then." Not wanting to belabor the point, MacLeod started the engine and pulled away as Methos stepped back. A glance in the rearview mirror left the Highlander with the image of Methos thoughtfully watching him pull away. Well, if not exactly the way MacLeod had meant to blurt out the news that he was interested in being more than friends at least Methos had not either laughed in his face, been angry or drawn his sword. Good things all, but his response had not exactly been overwhelming.

Would you like to be?  The modern phrase of "Rock My World!" almost sent Methos crashing to his knees. The shock and joy racing through him in one heady moment of being truly open to the possibility.

Then crumbling just as quickly. Just a few days ago he had been near frozen with fear that Duncan might actually lose his confrontation with Keane. He had masked that fear as harshly as he had his fear of meeting Kronos again and for the life of him would be hard pressed to select which one had held more terror. The thought of losing Duncan...

He turned away from the curb, almost running in his need to get off the street to where privacy would allow him full freedom to surrender to his emotions. Except running when he couldn't breathe was a bit of a problem and by the time he made it to his apartment and slipped inside, he was shaking. The door closed and he leaned against it.

The "dating" part had been as much a joke as anything but the meaning behind it was real -- very real on Duncan's part. It wasn't even so much the idea of having a relationship with another Immortal -- unless that Immortal happened to be Duncan MacLeod. Incredible a swordsman as he was, no one was invulnerable and Methos had a real fear that eventually sheer odds would overtake the Highland son. He was a bigger target than the mythical Methos and it might not have been an issue at all had MacLeod been willing to become a myth as well.

But he wasn't. Nor was there any comparing what Methos felt for Duncan -- feelings he barely admitted to himself -- with what he had felt for Kronos. Or Alexa. No way of explaining to Mac that Kronos' death, however necessary (and it had been) had still cut into Methos deeply. That Alexa's death had left him bleeding from wounds he thought long ago scarred over with time and repetitive losses.

He apparently didn't build up scar tissue as well as he used to. To open his heart to MacLeod and then lose him -- an inevitability as far as Methos was concerned -- might well leave Methos with nothing to worth living for, or nothing important.

None of this could be explained rationally to MacLeod. How to explain to a man who gave love and trust as easily as other people gave money to beggars, that Methos would rather have his disdain than have to try to pick up the pieces of his life once more should he die? He had ventured more than intended to when he looked up one day into those dark, laughing eyes and found a friend. The Horsemen had been almost a blessing... allowing Methos to put some much needed distance between himself and the Highlander only to find the distance likely to kill him as easily as Kronos' sword. His own fruitless contemplations of perhaps having anything more than a friendship with MacLeod had been discarded even before the Horsemen...right about the time Kristin gave up her head.

Because Methos realized MacLeod could have died then as well and he was devastated by the possible loss. Kristin had died because of that threat and not any vague worry that she might go after some other Immortal as she had MacLeod and his student.

And now MacLeod wanted a Relationship.

A simple, "I'd like to fuck you," would have been far easier to deal with.

It still was, he realized, wiping his face and finding himself sweating. Let Mac feel there was nothing more than a physical attraction, trade on it, use it, and Methos might yet get through this with his...defenses...intact.

"Of course, 'No, I don't think so,' would have worked as well," he told himself with irony. But knowing MacLeod, he would then want explanations...explanations Methos wasn't prepared to give. Not truthful ones, at least.

How to tell MacLeod in any way that he might understand, that Methos loved him too much to love him at all?

Taking my head would have been far less painful, Duncan.

The dinner invitation had been impromptu and MacLeod found himself running to the market for items and halfway through preparations realized he might have gone a little overboard. He hadn't made a dinner like this for anyone in years.

It was, however, half done and no real time to swap it for simpler fare. He did put away the candlesticks and vase of flowers he'd bought to decorate the table. Clearing the excessive romanticism away he had to get a grip on himself. He had never actually tried to woo another man. He'd had male lovers, several, and some of those friendships had lasted for decades or longer but they were...friendships...with a little physical enhancement. Never serious, male companions tossed at the first bonny lass who snagged his heart...and he'd been tossed for a couple of lovely ladies in return...and one man.

He had to chuckle at that. Fitz...romantic that he had been, had fallen head for heels over a soft spoken slip of a young man who had a voice meant for poetry and a wanton nature designed for love -- and a decided preference for full in the pocket men. Fitz had been charmed, besotted and taken for every penny he'd owned. Later he would regret the swindle but he never regretted the six months he spent in the young man's company. Fifteen years later that same young man was not so young but a robust man with a wife and a child and who ran one of the finest gaming establishments in London. He had greeted Fitz like a long lost brother, penned him some money and generally had the same view of their brief affair as Fitz. The two men had remained friends for another thirty years before Roger died a happy man -- leaving his family well provided and a codicil to his will that returned to Fitz every pound the man had swindled from him.

Unlike Methos, who seemed to have little luck with male lovers if Kronos was anyone to judge by and MacLeod was trying very hard not to make assumptions. He had been a little surprised himself at how much he had missed the elder Immortal, how much his anger had obscured the joy Methos' company brought him.

How badly he had misjudged his own reaction. Angry, yes to find out something so horrible about the man -- loyalties split when Cassandra brought him the tale...and no real time to think it through or Bordeaux might have turned out differently. Not left him feeling so raw and used.

He would not bring it up. He had, as Methos put it, accepted the fact that there was no way he could know what life had been like then...and that regardless, Methos had changed, had given up that life.

Now if he could only convince his friend of that as well as of the fact that MacLeod was very serious about pursuing this relationship...if Methos would let him.

Planning fell by the wayside as he felt Methos approach, knowing without a doubt it was the ancient Immortal. He was moving toward the door when it opened and the easy familiarity of Methos entering without knocking made him chuckle. No matter what else might happen, or that he hoped would happen, that part of their relationship seemed to be righting itself.

Then he had to think quickly and move faster as Methos pitched a twelve pack at him. "You did say bring the beer?" he said with a grin then glanced at the table, eyebrows raising a bit. "Or perhaps I should have found something a little classier?" He came down the steps, shedding his coat slowly as MacLeod turned away to stow the beer in the refrigerator, feeling his face heat up.

"I got a little carried away. I haven't made dinner for anyone in awhile," Mac said.

"Then we have got to work on improving your love life," Methos shot back with a grin. Then his expression changed as he realized exactly what he'd said. The two men fell into an awkward silence for long moments. "I think I liked it better when we were pissed off at each other," Methos muttered, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand.

"Just dinner and chess," MacLeod said, recovering first and pulling a cold beer from the refrigerator as well as one for himself. "Be ready in a bit," he said with a grin, handing Methos the beer. The wine could wait. Regardless of any other motives, Mac did want Methos to enjoy dinner and the game. They'd let it work out as it would. Methos thanked him and popped the top off, tossing it toward the refrigerator but Mac caught in mid-air and wagged his finger at him, cocking his head lightly with a grin. "Behave or I swear I'll make you come help me move the damn thing to get the rest out."

"Should be quite a collection," Methos commented, sipping at his beer and then ensconcing himself in the corner of the sofa comfortably while Mac checked on their meal.

"No doubt," MacLeod chuckled. He held up two bottle of wine. "The meal is chicken. I have a Del Nolia 95 and a 93 Vincenze."

"As much as I would like to be, I am no wine connoisseur. The 93. Appreciate the older things," Methos murmured.

I'm trying to, Mac thought with an internal sigh. He laid out some dishes and started putting out the accompanying salads and vegetables.

"Whatever it is, smells great," Methos said from his position on the sofa, sniffing appreciably. "Ever owned a restaurant, MacLeod?"

" the fifties of this century," Mac said. "Tough way to make a living but interesting."

"Second oldest profession," Methos said with a grin. "Usually run in hand with the first."

"Gives a whole new meaning to the idea of staying 'til breakfast," Mac said. " Come on," he called and Methos moved, smiling at the spread.

"I'll have to challenge you to bets more often," he said and sat while Mac served then glanced up at MacLeod, hazel eyes glinting mischievously. "But no candles, no flowers," he said innocently and MacLeod almost spat out the food in his mouth.

He wiped his mouth. "I had them -- thought it would be overkill. I can set them back out if you like."

Methos sat back. "I don't think I've ever been romanced quite like this, Duncan. Interesting choice of style." He took a mouthful of food and chewed slowly, watching his host with open amusement.

"Probably not. I should have just asked you to a movie," Mac said ruefully. "Not exactly something I've a great deal of experience with."

"Dating men or just men?" Methos asked, still grinning but there was serious undertone to his question.

Best to get it out of the way, Mac agreed silently and reached out to pour the wine. "The dating part..." he answered, filling Methos' glass. Faint heart... "And you? Or are you going to let me make a total ass of myself?"

"It's tempting." The laughter was back and MacLeod relaxed, for the first time acknowledging how tense he was. "But....I wouldn't say dating...seeing, yes. Spending great quantities of time with another man, yes. Off and on. Cycles in every few centuries or so. More often than not just a great deal of ...opportunistic fucking," Methos said and Mac watched him.

He was leaving MacLeod an out, deliberately, and it was on the tip of Mac's tongue to take the easy path. "The same," he said in agreement and then spread his hands. " But this...this is because opportunistic isn't what I want...I don't think," he said honestly.

"I see," Methos broke off a section of bread, tearing smaller bit off too chew. "That would be simpler. Why aren't you and Amanda together?" he asked suddenly and MacLeod had to change gears.

"I'm not trying to treat you like a woman-- " he said gesturing to the table and fine linens, eyes catching the bright spray of flowers on the bar.

"That's not what I meant," Methos said smiling. "This is all...incredibly flattering, Mac. No matter the gender...but what I meant was, why aren't you and Amanda in each other's pocket?"

Deciding he wasn't tracking the conversation very well, MacLeod thought about the question. "Because she's irresponsible and flighty and won't be tied down and is ...very likely to lose her pretty little head if she isn't more careful."

"Well, you aren't irresponsible or flighty and as to whether or not you will be tied down, I couldn't say," and the mischief was back in Methos' eyes. MacLeod made a face at him and chuckled. "But you are likely to get your handsome head cut off if you don't stay out of trouble," he added more seriously. "However," he paused, dropping his eyes briefly and laying both hands on the table in front of him. "I've never been one to let an opportunity pass -- if that's what this is," he said, with a quirk to his mouth.

MacLeod met and held his gaze, understanding exactly what Methos was offering and what he was not offering. "This is more than curiosity," Mac said quietly.

"I know...but the rest is both uncertain and unlikely. Not because of you, because of me." The smile faded a little to be replaced by an expression Mac interpreted as both solemn and...bittersweet. Whatever Methos' objections were, they had little to do with MacLeod and far more to do, he suspected, with what they were.

"Because we are Immortal?"

The gaze dropped as Methos picked up his fork again and began eating. Mac watched him for a long moment and sipped at his wine. It might be that he could develop the same kind of relationship with Methos that he had with might be enough, certainly better than nothing at all.

"The answer is, yes," Mac said finally and Methos went still, lifting his head and looking incredibly young and incredibly old and tired at the same time. "But you can finish your dinner first," Mac smiled, letting the tension dissolve once more under his companion's laughter.

They did finish, eventually, lingering over coffee and brandy before tackling the dishes. Not incredibly romantic but comfortable; which was a vast improvement. MacLeod even went so far as to set up the chess set only to find Methos' hand on his briefly, a question in the suddenly darkened eyes.

It wasn't what MacLeod expected and it certainly happened faster than he had hoped, but Methos turned aggressor was an interesting phenomenon and not one Mac wanted to waste. They had turned off the kitchen lights when the dishes were done, built a fire and the only other light was a lamp set near the chess table and the one in the sleeping alcove.

Opportunistic, but MacLeod wanted more than just a quick lay, and if this were the only opportunity, he wasn't going to miss it. Methos' hands were at the closure of his jeans and Mac stilled them, catching his face instead, seeing the surprise in the hazel eyes as their mouths met briefly.

Panic settled over Methos' brain when Duncan kissed him. He could be more difficult, make it harder and might yet, but as the soft full lips closed over his a second time with a bit more pressure, he gave into this much of his companion's desire. There was an art to seduction, and only a few every century seemed to ever master the skill -- MacLeod was definitely in the running as his tongue quested for entry and Methos gave it. Kissing was, in some ways, more intimate than sex -- a reason why most prostitutes did not kiss. It denoted affection.

I'd have been happy with friendship, he thought as MacLeod's mouth took command of his, teasing at his tongue, the inside of his cheeks, skimming across his teeth to taste and Methos finally surrendered, letting his head tilt back slightly as Duncan deepened the kiss, suction and warmth and taste all combining to give Methos a heady rush that had to be savored. Their bodies were close, heat warming the slight amount of air between them as Methos gripped at MacLeod's waist and felt the muscles of his back beneath his hand.

He was being seduced, as he had not been in millennia, reveling in it for a long moment as the Highlander's broad hands moved from his face to his shoulders and then down along his back, pulling him closer, the rubbing of their crotches driving the latent desire higher.

Fingers caught at the lower half of his sweater and pulled, just enough to let the warm hands touch skin before the kiss dissolved into gasps for air. Duncan's eyes were dark and serious but he was smiling

Methos returned it but his heart was pounding in panic again. Pleasurable as it was, he didn't want his already deep affection for this man to become any deeper or be brought any closer to the surface. MacLeod was a decapitation waiting to happen and Methos wasn't sure he could bear up under the loss with any shred of detachment when it happened if he let his feelings get any more entangled.

Survival instinct took over as he pushed desire away and need to the forefront, he pressed his hand to Mac's crotch, feeling the rise of flesh, breathing rate increasing as he felt the flesh respond and MacLeod react, catching his face again. Rather than allow their mouths to meet, Methos went for his throat; a roughly playful nip causing Mac to jerk and then again with a gasp as Methos released the button on Mac's slacks, hand plunging beneath the fabric to cup the hard, hot length of flesh.

"Too fast," Mac muttered and then Methos did kiss him, harshly and thoroughly.

"Not fast enough," he growled and saw the dark eyes go almost black as a clever, experienced hand urged the Highlander closer to completion.

It was either pull back entirely or hurry to catch up with Methos, MacLeod thought. Pulling back would be a little difficult with the older Immortal's hand so firmly wrapped around his cock.

He pulled at the sweater but Methos did not release him until it was over his head and then his hands were on MacLeod's shirt. Seduction become sex in short order. If there was a certain calculated desperation in Methos, it slipped by MacLeod as need overtook desire. The bed was behind him and Methos was naked before Mac really knew what happened -- the seducer had become the seduced in short order and Methos was driving him to such a frenzy, Mac couldn't stop to think about why.

Then he was naked as well and what had started with a gentle kiss and a soft caress became a battle of sorts. A hot mouth covered his cock, tongue teasing at the flesh before he could catch his breath and his protests, thrust as they were between groans of pure pleasure, fell on deaf ears.

He felt the surge in his loins, mind gibbering that he was not yet ready and Methos was above him, eyes darkened with desire and lips moist and red from his ardent attentions to MacLeod's cock. Mac dragged in a ragged breath to speak, reaching his hand up toward the flushed face, willing the precipice away if only for a few moments. Before he could speak, Methos' mouth was on his, demanding a near savagery that caught MacLeod by surprise, then he was unable to think at all as Methos' hand closed around his cock, shifting and guiding, causing MacLeod to cry out as his cock was suddenly squeezed and pressed and then slid deeply into a tight, hot warmth. Eyes closed so he never saw the look on his lover's face as Methos drove their union with a ferocity completely at odds with what MacLeod had ever expected or wanted.

He could do this, Methos decided savagely. MacLeod wanted a lover, something Methos could not, would not be, but he could give him sex, burn out this infatuation with the rough and tumble meeting of needs. It was not Methos' preferred way of love making, but it would, given Duncan's sensitive nature, perhaps convince him that Methos was not the lover he was looking for.

Cut off your nose to spite your face, why don't you? The rougher preferences had ever been Kronos', another thing that might (Please God!) make MacLeod think this match unsuitable.

Methos twisted, biting back on a cry of pain and transforming his grimace into a grin for MacLeod's sake as the Highlander's eyes opened. It was harsh and driven as he impaled himself again and again on the Highlander's cock, faster and faster until his flesh was raw and MacLeod was bucking wildly beneath him. Methos' own erection was faltering under his own driven assault, the sting and burn in his anus signaling blood, torn tissue, fluid lubricating MacLeod's cock. There was sweat dripping off Methos' face from the exertion and strain, thigh muscles burning but he would not stop. Let MacLeod feel guilty later about the savagery of their coupling. Too guilty to pursue it...He was all too aware of the sounds he was making, small grunts and pants he prayed MacLeod would take as passion.

The Highlander erupted inside him suddenly, roaring out his release as he gripped Methos' thighs and drove deep, the heat adding to the overall agony within Methos, the force driving him backward over his own bent knees as MacLeod moved, jerking inside him, pounding into him harshly as his orgasm shuddered through its cycles.

MacLeod struggled to get his breathing under control, to be able to think. God! What had gotten into him? He was still swollen, cock fitting tightly inside Methos and he realized his lover was half off the bed, bent backward at a near impossible angle, hips splayed apart and chest taut with strain. One arm came under the waist, pulling Methos upward, bodies separating with a moist, sucking sound, fluid washing over MacLeod's groin and he went still, appalled and upset and concerned that Methos had seemed to react not at all to what must have been painful.

A soft cock settled against his lover's groin. He looked up to see a near feral grin on Methos' face. He had enjoyed it, loved the brutality of it, Kronos' match in this...except..

The eyes were closed as if in pleasure, but the fingers gripping his arm were tense. Uncertain, Mac leaned in and kissed him gently, sweetly, felt and heard the startled gasp of surprise and met the eyes that flew open.

Not enjoyed it, endured it. The look was gone in a flash, eyelids drooping to emulate a darker passion but MacLeod had seen through it...knew more about Methos than the other man realized.

Why? Why push them toward this, force be not pleasure but an animal rut, sex, not love; need and hunger, not loving?

He had not seen it, nor stopped it -- letting his passion and the sheer physicality of Methos' surrender blind him to the softly voiced doubts at dinner.

Methos caught his face and kissed him again, more thoroughly, then moved, easing off the bed gracefully, Mac getting the first good look at his partner's body as Methos moved to the bathroom. Long lean lines, grace, the skin glowing faintly in the dim light. Methos disappeared and Mac heard the water start.

His body was still flushed but fatigued. It had been fast and urgent and gratifying in its own way...but not complete. It had been like every other encounter he'd had with male lovers...pleasurable and needy.

He wanted more from Methos. Needed it for it had not satisfied him in the least. He had meant to coax those responses from Methos, to watch him, wanting to see if the marvelous eyes changed color while making love as they did when he was angry or upset or laughing.

What the hell had just happened?

Emerging from the bathroom, Methos headed for the bed, picking up his discarded clothes.

"You're leaving?" MacLeod's voice was soft, coming out of the bright haze of light next to the bed and Methos glanced up, easy smile on his face.

"I'm an old man, MacLeod. I tire easily," he said, slipping into his jeans and fastening them. He looked for  his shirt, forcing himself to keep moving as Mac rose off the bed. He was like a God, rising from the dawn, Methos thought, almost reverently. His skin was still flushed, cock not entirely soft even now, rising slightly from the dark nest of curls. Muscle moved as MacLeod walked, no, stalked his way toward Methos and without being able to stop himself, the older Immortal did tense and back away slightly.

The movement caused Mac to stop, seeing something he did not understand in the pale face. "Are you afraid of me?" he asked quietly, maintaining a certain distance.

"Not the last time I checked." The flippant answer was harsher than its speaker intended.

"Then what?"

"MacLeod," Methos' voice was just bordering on sarcasm. "Moonlight and roses is not quite my style...nor yours, I think." He turned away to grab at his sweater then jerked as two muscular arms encircled his waist and the warmth of MacLeod's body electrified his skin. Caught by surprise, Methos relaxed for a fraction of a second against his friend's sure strength then tensed again, trying to pull away.

MacLeod's right arm moved, sliding along his stomach and up his chest to rest his hand across Methos' left breast. "Neither is having my pleasure and leaving my lover with nothing," he said huskily, lips pressing against the back of Methos' neck as his left hand slid lower, fingers sliding beneath the waistband of Methos' jeans.

There was nothing Methos could do to stop the shudder of reaction evoked by MacLeod's lips and hands. "Once not enough for you, Mac?" he said on a gasp as the probing fingers brushed the base of his cock.. Fingers teased gently at his nipple, and the warm moist laving of a tongue wet the skin just behind his ear.

"I thought that was obvious," Mac breathed against his neck. "Apparently, I didn't get my wants across very well."

"I thought you had," Methos said. "You got what you wanted. I got what I wanted. I'd say we were even."

MacLeod's arms tightened around him, his hands as well, and Methos' breath caught as heat washed through him from his groin. He fought to control it and failed miserably since his brain knew, no matter how reluctant his heart, that he wanted Duncan to touch him, to rouse hold on and never let go.

"We didn't even get close to what I wanted," Mac said softly, continuing to stroke him, to render his resistance both futile and foolish.

"You want what...?" Methos fought for the words. "For us to be seen as a couple, to parade about Paris clinging to one another's arms and whispering silly comments into each other's ears?" He had meant the words harshly but the edge of them seemed to get lost somewhere between his gasps for breath and the moans of pleasure he had no control over as Duncan kissed his spine.

"No. I want to have you as a friend and more, but as a friend first," Mac said resting his chin on the other man's shoulder, smiling faintly at the tremors that he could feel in Methos' muscles and the firm flesh under the slow stroking of his hand and fingers. "I think I might want to see what waking up to you is like...or if we could manage to go to a movie without arguing about it. I want to see...if there is something more between us...or could be..." he said softly and braced his legs slightly as Methos seemed to stumble -- or his knees gave out. "It isn't something that has to be settled in a single night -- all I wanted...want from you now is an indication that you are willing to investigate the rest...and barring that," he kissed the pale shoulder and then Methos' throat. "To let me at least regain my reputation as a lover," his smile and chuckle gained a similar if choked response from his companion.  Methos leaned against him, yielding slightly as Mac continued to stimulate him.

"I heard what you said at dinner," Duncan said, slowly withdrawing his hand and Methos shuddered from the absence of stimulation much more harshly than he had at the slow arousal. "I've done pretty well at keeping my head so far...granted, I've had some help from some close friends."

He teased the zipper of Methos' jeans all the way down, then moved his hands to push at the denim. "Just stay...tonight...and let tomorrow take care of itself," he asked and got his answer as Methos stepped out the cloth and turned.

"You'd think I'd know better than to argue with a stubborn Scot," Methos said, startled and off balance by his own answer. His fears were still there but they sat silently in the corner, completely cowed by the touch of this man' hands, by the regard in the dark eyes.

By his own need to slip into joy for a little bit...for a few breathless moments to remind himself that this was what life was worth living for...damned betraying heart. Stop now! It was a soundless protest and unheeded. But he almost found voice for it until Duncan's mouth covered his own. Undone by a kiss...  Only it wasn't the kiss, it was what lay beyond it...two paths: One that had him walking with this man along unknown paths, fraught with pitfalls, with pain, with joy and with companionship and the other, so much clearer, open and unbound...stretching endlessly into the future....and nothing and no one to keep him company. It was familiar, it was known...he had been traveling along it for a long time.

Duncan's kiss was blocking his arguments, robbing him of breath, of reason, of will and replacing each stolen item with something of far greater value. Promises and hope and....

"Aye, you should," Mac said, not even realizing he had won the battle if not the war,  letting his hands slide over Methos' back to cup his buttocks and pull him tightly against him. The rest of the words --- any words -- were lost under persuasion of a different kind and MacLeod guided his lover back to the bed, mouth moving from Methos' lips to his throat as he eased the other man back down to lay beneath him.

He didn't need to see Methos' eyes to know that what the other man was feeling was pleasure this time. The slender strong fingers came up to  thread through his hair as MacLeod let his mouth kiss and nip and trail along the pale torso, delighting in the flex of muscles under his lips, the sudden shift of building desire as his mouth, then his teeth closed over one small nipple. He held his weight lightly against his lover's lower body, his own body responding the feel of the hard length of flesh caught between them.

He let his tongue trail along the line surrounding Methos' navel and felt the slender hips raise as his cheek rubbed against Methos' cock.. A turn of his head and Methos moaned loudly, then encouraged him as his mouth closed over the tender skin. Hands and mouth worked together to stimulate the flesh until the body he was worshipping began to writhe and buck. A glance upward revealed Methos as Mac had wanted to see him, lips parted in true passion, skin flushed and sweat slicked, the hazel eyes almost black and wild with need and desire.

It was not just the wish to see Methos driven wild with passion, but to see him unguarded, to reveal at least one of the many layers beneath that self-assured and cynical exterior. To see, and Mac had to admit to a certain jealousy, the lover Alexa had known. No part of Methos was a glimpse of the whole man, and MacLeod had only caught glimpses here and there...of darkness and violence and cruelty, yes, but also of wonder and joy and a loyalty and commitment to Methos' own beliefs that Mac had thought all a sham faced with the stark black and white world that had shimmered into being with the arrival of the Horsemen.

But that had been no more than a facet as well. MacLeod thought himself a simple man, but it wasn't really true -- the shifts through his own personality were just not as dramatic, and rightly so when Methos had five thousand years of experiences to temper the blade of his spirit. He was still, though, as he had told MacLeod a dozen times, still just a guy, a man...driven by his own passions and fears. MacLeod had been the one to let those years come between them...irrationally disappointed when Methos proved to be no less fallible than any other man -- even at the ripe old age of two thousand...or five.

Four hundred years ago, MacLeod had been as ignorant as any savage warrior of the Highlands. Part of that remained with him but he had grown and changed...learned again and again that it was the people in his life that made the interminable legacy of Immortality bearable.

Friends and lovers. Both or either and right now he wanted both from this man who had finally surrendered another mask and revealed himself to MacLeod. He pulled his mouth away and Methos raised his hips to follow, incoherent plea on his lips. He was so close to coming Mac thought the moment would happen without him. He'd survive it but it wasn't what he wanted. He reached, spreading his weight and his body against Methos' damp skin, reaching for the slick substance that would ease this. It had been a long time since MacLeod had let another take him but he wanted it now and he wanted it without distraction.

Methos was panting harshly as Mac rubbed the gel onto his rigid flesh, stopping only because he could not help himself to taste the bitter pre-release, only to have Methos thrust against him.

MacLeod met the dark eyes, realizing his own pleasure was outpacing his lover's and he moved, rolling to his back and taking Methos with him.

"Mac..." it was no more than a breath, then a tension-fraught smile as MacLeod parted his legs and pulled the flushed face down to his own. He was only barely aware of his lover's hurried preparations -- Methos was too far gone to even question the offer, slick pressure and MacLeod relaxed as his legs were pressed back, braced against the straining strength of Methos' arms.

Catching up to his lover became moot as a point of contemplation, Methos slid into him as if they had been built for each other. The quick rotation of his hips to seat his cock firmly inside MacLeod prodding at the sensitive center and obliterating once more any thought or machinations or motivations under the sheer ecstasy of feeling. Methos said something, cried out something and Mac could neither hear nor understand, the blood was roaring in his ears, the bliss of feeling Methos fill his body, alive and sweet and powerful affecting him more strongly than any adrenaline rush from a well-fought battle. He moved with his lover, gave in to the surge and clung to the retreat until it became as natural as breathing -- which he wasn't doing much of, he realized with a sudden gasp then could not care as liquid fire filled the interior of his body and he heard the cry of release spill from both his lips and his lover's.

A different weight pressed against his chest, the rapid pounding of Methos ' heart locking rhythms with his own and he found strength enough and care enough to raise his hand to stroke at the dark head pressed against his breast.

Sleep crept over them slowly, neither man moving and MacLeod had just enough sense to pull the comforter over them before the night air robbed them both of the hard-fought for warmth. 

The warmth of the body in his arms made MacLeod smile even before he opened his eyes. No confusion about who his bed partner was. The masculine scent would have reminded him even had the body not been more muscled and angular than most of MacLeod's lovers. He buried his nose in the short fine silk at the base of Methos' neck, sleepily contemplating the night with what he was sure was a completely smug and silly grin on his face.

They had dozed then woken and showered together which had led to other things, which had led to a midnight snack and then languid caresses in front of the fire that led nowhere except to sleepy contentment and back to bed. He shifted slightly to see his clock and groaned inwardly. Three hours of sleep did not leave him at his personal best, but he begrudged none of it.

Doubts and concerns were set aside for the physical...since that, at least, they could agree on, and Mac was certain that he would need several centuries of exploration to become fully acquainted with all the facets of Methos marked 'lover'.  From the rough and harsh beginning to the hurried but sweeter second round,  beyond that Mac had found Methos to be both shy and bold, capable of restraint or instant response.

And the man did seem to enjoy driving MacLeod crazy. He had gotten terribly good at it very quickly.

Not that MacLeod was complaining. The mere thought of what Methos' hands and mouth had done to him, for him, driven him past, added to an already welcome morning arousal. He smiled wickedly, dropping a kiss behind Methos' ear and fitting his body more closely against the curve of Methos' spine, one leg sliding between Methos' as his hands began stroking gently along the flawless skin of his lover's torso.

Slipping from dreaming to wakefulness with the thrum of his own arousal warming his senses and his imagination, Methos curled against Mac's chest, feeling the large warm hand slip across his stomach to hold him. Mac's other arm was under his head, fingers twined together.

"Are you going to have your way with me?" Methos invited softly and felt Mac's lips curve against his shoulder.

"I was going to do it while you were asleep," the younger man chuckled.

"Snore," Methos said with a grin and closed his eyes as Mac's hand started to stroke his stomach and upward. Gentle fingers brushed across his nipples to rub and stimulate while the Highlander's knee nudged his thighs apart. Mac pulled his hand out from under his lover's head and gently pulled him back.

"New plan. I much prefer you when you participate," Mac murmured and his mouth closed over Methos' with gentle possession. His hand slipped between the parted thighs, gathering up the firming flesh and softened sacs in his palm to squeeze and pull, stimulation causing the slender body to arch as his mouth and tongue captured every breath.

The suction of Mac's mouth was in time with the gentle pulling and kneading of his hands. His thigh rubbed against Methos' buttocks, his other hand still tantalizing the sleek chest.

Then the mouth moved to his throat nipping and kissing as Methos' cock hardened, filled and lengthened. Methos gasped a little as Mac's teeth closed over one rigid nipple to nip and pull then suck and soothe. He laid one hand on the dark head, the other on Mac's back to stroke him, fingers curling against the tanned skin as Mac's mouth moved down his belly, his fingers still teasing.

Methos arched again with a gasp as the soft lips brushed across his hip then moved inward. Mac's chin nuzzled the dark curls at his groin as he kissed the base of Methos' erection, hand still sliding up and down the sensitive shaft, pausing to squeeze. Already fluid glistened at the tip and Methos' body leapt as his lover's tongue flicked across the end to taste.

The gentle insistence of Mac's hands parted his thighs wider and Methos struggled up onto his elbows to watch, his chest was starting to heave irregularly as he watched his lover's face, the playful glint in the dark eyes and the smile on the perfect lips that closed over the head of his cock slowly and suckled. Mac's own erection was starting to firm and he paused, reaching for the tube on the end of the bed and covering his fingers with the clear gel.

Methos lifted his hips at the urge and let his head fall back with a sigh and a soft moan as fingers pressed for entry, curving upward to stroke at the sensitive gland. Mac's mouth slid over his lover's flesh, tongue cooling the heat even as it urged the flames hotter. Methos could not stop the involuntary thrust against the teasing mouth. Mac pressed against his hips, holding him, translating the thrusts into a harsh trembling that completely overtook the slender frame.

Alert to the ragged breaths of his lover Mac moved, spreading his lover's thighs wider and lifting his hips. He fit himself between the muscular buttocks, watching as Methos' eyes closed, throat extended as he swallowed. He lay back down raising his knees with a shuddering moan of pleasure as Mac pressed inward, hips moving in small circles to seat his cock deep in the tight sheath of the body below him.

Breathing out to center his own control, MacLeod began thrusting and retreating, eyes fixed on the slender fingers that encircled Methos' own cock to stroke in time with the deep thrusts. The glazed hazel eyes opened and Mac swallowed at the passion there, dropping his body into Methos' embrace as the long legs closed around him. Mac drove in then began pumping into the writhing body shallowly, felt Methos clench and shudder as he gasped. Sweat slicked them both from the slow, controlled lovemaking. Methos clutched at Mac's buttocks, pulling him deeper and rocking against him.

The explosion came over Mac suddenly and he clung to his lover tightly, bruising skin as Methos returned the grip, bodies pressed tightly together as the shudders over took MacLeod. Methos bit into Mac's shoulder as the resultant convulsive movements drove him over the edge, past ecstasy. His body flashed hot and separated from his mind as it gave over to the stimulation, to the flood of warmth, to the complete absence of thought or self.

He was only vaguely aware when Mac shifted, grip easing, gently pressing him down, flesh still buried deep within Methos' body. Too hot fingers brushed across his cheek and he turned into the caress, reacting on instinct. A mouth covered his, coaxing him back to the presence of here and now.

"I love you," was murmured against his throat and he smiled albeit a little sadly, fingers seeking the bite mark to soothe it.

"Is that what I'm feeling? It seems to have come so quickly I wasn't sure," he said as Mac moved off him to the side and then pulled him close again. He finally opened his eyes to find MacLeod watching him, dark eyes full of emotion, still a little dilated. The sweetest of smiles curved the perfect lips and Methos touched them, traced them. Closing his eyes again as a fingertip was nipped then kissed and then suckled.

"Are you going to blush if I tell you you are beautiful?" Mac asked softly, releasing the finger.

"Probably," Methos murmured and did. "Beat me to the punchline," he added and chuckled softly when Mac blushed as well.

"I feel as insecure and uncertain as a boy with you sometimes." Mac caught the still upraised hand to kiss the palm. "Wondering how I can possible deserve you."

"Now I am going to throw up," Methos said eyes crinkling at the corners. "Could we save the vows of undying devotion for another time, though? Maybe sometime past the first time we actually do go to a movie and don't fight about it?" His words were light, as was his tone but there was a shadow across his eyes that MacLeod had seen the night before and hoped not to see again.

MacLeod moved, propping himself up on one elbow, the fingers of his other hand tracing lazy patterns on Methos' chest. "I've done you no favors..." he said, understanding more than he wanted to admit.

The sigh was soft as Methos caught his hand and threaded his fingers through it.  "I have ever been a fool at love, Duncan. As most people are. And I can tell myself that all my lovers, my wives, my companions will die at some point. But there are times...have been when I would wish to be on the other side. I have outlived them all, over and over again. It's not your fault that, right or wrong, its become something of both a habit and an inevitability. I know the chances that I might be the next to fall are no less than yours...but the fear is there, still."

"For everyone," Mac said solemnly. "Do ye not think I haven't thought of it as well? But what's the point then? The alternative is to be have the occasional company of another but never let yourself be touched."

"There is that," Methos said a little wistfully and felt Duncan's hand tighten on his. "I can't explain it. I shouldn't even try."

MacLeod didn't press, simply dropped his lips to the other man's heart and left a kiss there, before turning his head to rest his cheek against Methos' chest. The long fingers came up to attempt to detangle his hair, the very gentleness of their touch bringing a pain to MacLeod he hadn't expected.

He knew his propensity toward guilt and brooding would do nothing to help this situation. Neither had he ever thought or intended his own deep feelings for Methos to cause the older Immortal pain. Rationally, he knew the choice had been Methos' as well as his own. His lover was not a child, but this was an admitted weakness.

Luckily for them both, a grumble from Methos' stomach interrupted the mood and brought to the forefront that as pleasant as it was, there were other things in life beside this tactile comfort. Mac rose, kissing the flat stomach before meeting the hazel eyes. "I'll feed that," he said with a smile. "Will you spend the day with me?"

"It would be incredibly rude to eat and run," Methos met his smile without any shadows at all. "I'm sure my mother taught me better." He rose as well but didn't quite get all the way up off the bed before MacLeod's arms came around him and the other man's mouth claimed his thoroughly and deeply.

"Just something to hold you until the eggs are ready," Mac promised and Methos had to chuckle. He was still a bit dazed as he gathered his clothes, this time with every intention of putting them on and keeping them on.

He emerged from the bath in time to change places with MacLeod who indicated coffee in the brewer and something aromatic in the oven. The coffee was welcome as was a few more minutes of solitude. He needed time to finish his argument with himself so he wouldn't have to foist his insecurities on Duncan. It still felt foolish, it felt wrong and it felt like it was going to hurt...badly.

It also made him feel alive again. The same feeling had come over him briefly on meeting Alexa and he had given in to it before realizing how short a time he would actually have with her. He could lay the blame for that at MacLeod's feet as well, if he chose. Mac, who still met his life head on, without stopping -- faltering now and again, but as immutable as the Highlands that bred him. That courage at facing life had spurred Methos' courage to try again.

No. He couldn't blame Duncan. Not for any of it. Isn't this what had drawn him to the Highlander to begin with? The sheer joy in living the man had...not in just surviving, but in living.

He heard Mac emerge but did not turn around until the strong arms came around his waist and a very clean-smelling body was pressed to his own. "I thought to find something to do, but I'm not sure I can keep my hands to myself...if that isn't a problem...we can do anything. If it is, I'm afraid I may keep you a prisoner here until I learn to behave."

Methos set his cup down and turned, finding himself quite pleasantly trapped against the counter by the spread of MacLeod's arms. "Well, I did get dressed and intended to keep my clothes on for a bit -- unless you have some heretofore unseen method of persuasion." he challenged, meeting MacLeod's light tone with his own.

Mac was about to attempt some persuasion when they both felt it, heard it...a few seconds before the shifting of the barge told them someone had come on board.

"MacLeod!" Muffled by the closed door, but clear enough to know it was a voice neither of them recognized.

MacLeod was not in the mood to face anyone and that feeling was amplified a thousand times by the sudden stiffening of Methos' posture. By watching, in a heartbeat's span, the face and eyes become distant and remote. Anger surged through MacLeod at the unknown Immortal that caused such a sudden and obvious transformation.

Fate was having a field day. "Don't leave," he pleaded of Methos and got a barely perceptible nod.

He had put on jeans in the bath but MacLeod paused to shrug into a loose sweater before picking up the katana and slipping his feet into loafers. He glanced back once to find Methos' back to him, picking up his coffee cup. A pause and Mac's heart sank when he saw the pale hands shaking slightly.

He emerged with his katana ready to face a man who looked close to his own age in features, muscular body well dressed, almost military buzz cut to his blonde hair. No one MacLeod recognized.

"You have picked the worst possible time," Mac said. "I don't know you. You don't know me. Why don't we keep it that way?"

"Why don't you shut up and play the game?" the man said.

"Why don't you step off onto the quay? I have company on board. I just as soon your bloody Quickening not sink the boat," Mac snarled, as angry as he had ever been. Angry enough, he thought, to perhaps dump this asshole in the Seine rather than kill him just to make a point.

Except his opponent seemed to be more the hard headed type.

And technically proficient as it turned out. Anger gave way to concentration as MacLeod realized this Immortal was not some young one come to make a reputation for himself. He was in deadly earnest and as fair a fighter on all levels as anyone MacLeod had met recently.

He was also MacLeod's equal in technique. Mac was sweating heavily as was his opponent -- both of them realizing it would be stamina that pronounced the winner. Either that or attention as the fight went on longer than it should have...longer than either of them wanted.

Until another Immortal presence made itself known. Mac didn't acknowledge it at first, Methos' presence so ingrained on his senses it was like part of himself but his opponent felt the approach and dropped back, eyes flicking to the barge. He backed off and MacLeod did as well, both of them turning to see the still figure on the deck.

Methos' face was expressionless, stance casual as he leaned against the cabin roof to watch. If he had his sword it could not be seen. He did have his arms wrapped tightly around his chest as he observed, that uncharacteristic posture signaling Mac that whatever his opponent thought, this was no relaxed spectator.

"Your student?" The man asked him, dragging in deep breaths, probably as grateful as Mac was for the respite.

"You wish," Mac said softly then turned back to find the man watching him, face flushed from exertion but there was a different expression in his eyes, one MacLeod couldn't read.

"I don't like the odds. Another time, MacLeod unless you have a dying interest in continuing?"

Mac met his gaze evenly. "I didn't issue the challenge," he said as the man smiled faintly.

"No. You didn't. Franklin Hickson. We'll meet again, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." He gave Mac a military salute with his sword, then backed away, turning and obscuring the sword when he was certain MacLeod was not following.

The moment his back was turned Mac headed for the barge. He was tired and he was sore from such a strenuous workout before he'd even gotten started for the day and he was feeling his own fear -- not of Hickson but of the slender figure who waited for him without moving.

Methos said nothing  at first nor did he meet MacLeod's eyes, his gaze following the challenger until the man vanished up the steps leading to street level.

"I take it you'll see him again?" Methos said quietly as MacLeod settled next to him.

"Probably," he said, wiping the sweat from his face with the sleeve of his shirt. "Methos. You can't--"

He was stopped by the press of Methos' mouth to his own. Soft, gentle, grateful and silencing. "No. I can't." He reached behind him for his coat, laying on the roof. "I turned the oven off so your breakfast wouldn't get burned." He caught the side of MacLeod's neck, thumb rubbing over the other man's cheek. "Had this turned out any differently, I still would not regret last night or this morning. Know that," he murmured and moved away, slipping into his coat and heading down the gangplank.

MacLeod was stunned but not really surprised. Hadn't Methos' fears just been thrown in his face? Still, he had thought they might at least talk about it.

Which they hadn't. They kept sidestepping the issue, being distracted from it. Before he knew it MacLeod was on his feet and running after his retreating lover. Methos heard him, felt him, turned to meet him with a set expression on his face. It changed a second later as Mac nearly bowled him over, pushing him back until Methos' hands came up to grip his arms only to almost lose his grip as Mac propelled him against the wall more forcibly than he'd intended.

"Can't what?" MacLeod demanded. "Can't love? Bullshit! Can't care? You can't not care, Methos. If you haven't proven that to yourself by now, you have certainly proved it to me! What was that first fuck last night then? Weren't you intending to push me past caring -- to make it less than it could have been? Why put either of us through that if you didn't want to care?"

"It's not a matter of not wanting to care!" Methos snapped back, green-gold eyes glittering.

"Then what? Afraid you can't survive the loss?" Mac asked. "You can take a sword through the heart but you can't live through burying another lover?" He shifted his hands to grip the other man's face, gentling the touch but pressing his body closer so Methos couldn't escape. "Do ye not think I feel the same way? That I don't have the same fears..."

"So, you are a better man than I am! I already knew that," Methos said harshly. "Braver, more noble, more open-hearted, more willing to risk it all than risk nothing. But I'm not you, Mac! I haven't survived this long --"

"Worrying about anyone but yourself. I heard it the first time around. I can understand your need to lie to everyone else but do you lie to yourself as well?"

The eyes were shuttered away as Methos relaxed under MacLeod's embrace. "Every chance I get," he said softly.

MacLeod leaned his forehead against his lover's. "Then do it. Lie to yourself and tell  yourself there's nothing between us. I don't care what it takes. Tell yourself that I am a warm willing body and good lay, that I buy all your beer or feed you and you are taking full and willing advantage of my hospitality and generous nature. Tell yourself you don't love me, don't often like me and that this is all just another opportunity for a few creature comforts that Adam Pierson could never afford. Do whatever it takes. I can live with it."

"If you say you can't live without me, I will laugh in your face," Methos murmured and MacLeod smiled faintly.

"No. I probably could. I know I could. But I see no reason to have to...and I don't want to." He lifted his head and kissed Methos, not caring who saw or what the other man wanted.

It was a great guess as the kiss was returned and Methos shifted, dropping his hands to MacLeod's hips.

"Are you going to embarrass me in front of all of Paris, MacLeod?"

"I might. Then you can add public humiliation to the list of things you hate about me."

"You know what I hate most?"

"My cooking?"

The chuckle was a little breathless. "No. I have an admitted fondness for your cooking. No, I hate it when you make sense."

"I'll practice my gibberish, then."

The silence that fell was not uncomfortable but it was laced by every doubt either of them felt.

"I am truly abysmal at long term planning, Duncan," Methos said at last.

"Small numbers then...a week?"

"Before we kill each other?" Methos asked, laughing and Mac looked up to see the hazel eyes filled with humor and something deeper and brighter that made his own eyes burn.

"No. Before I have to go out for groceries again. Absolutely no reason not to try and see if we can make ourselves hate each other by sheer constant exposure. See how much you mean to me? I'll do my best to find you a reasonable excuse to walk away from this...from us. I get every day, all day to convince you this is a truly bad idea and that you were right in the first place."

"Just days? What ever will we do with the nights, then Mac?"

MacLeod smiled, eyes dancing. "I'm sure we'll find a way to pass the time." He backed up, pulling Methos with him, arm sliding around Methos' waist as his lover's arm came around his shoulder and they began to walk slowly back to the barge.

The slip into joy proving no more difficult than watching the sun rise.