Sheathing Fate
by Maygra de Rhema

continued from chapter two, part one...

It was a presence that woke MacLeod, and woke him to a stiffness he deserved for falling asleep on a sofa too short for him. But he was up and alert instantly, searching for his sword at the same time the elevator registered his visitor. Likely Richie, he decided. A swift glance told him Methos still slept, the Immortal signature not registering at all.

But the elevator did when the gate was thrown up and Methos was also quick to wake, and looking very disconcerted that he had not awakened faster.

"It's me guys!" Richie's voice sang out before he emerged from the short foyer.

Methos dropped his blade on the bed, staring at it but Mac had no time to question his partner's feelings as he relaxed, slipping the katana onto the counter.

"Have fun?" Mac asked slipping into one of the high stools.

"Yeah, yeah! Maria is in town this week - between shoots," Richie said, grinning as he raided the refrigerator and pulled out a beer. "We are going to catch a movie or something tomorrow. Want to come?" he asked, glancing between the two men. Methos was sitting on the edge of the bed and Richie could not for the life of him read the older Immortal's expression.

"Maybe," Mac said. "We'll see. Space giants?"

Richie laughed, flinging himself into the deep armchair . "No. Some comedy-romance she wants to see. But she had to meet with her agent so I came back here. Joe expecting us?"

"No. We just thought we'd show up," Mac said and craned his neck when Methos remained silent during the discussion. His lover was paying no attention to the conversation, the expression one of decided unease.

Diverting Richie was easy enough as Mac pulled out extra linens for Richie to use, then went for a blanket stored in the chest at the end of the bed.

"You all right?" he asked softly and Methos nodded, but his hands were shaking. Mac covered them with his own.

"Just unnerved," Methos said quietly. "I haven't let another Immortal sneak up on me in four thousand years, Mac," he explained. "The circumstances have changed but the instincts are still there. Scared me shitless," he added with an uneasy chuckle. With that he shook off his reaction and got to his feet.

The blanket was delivered to Richie but Mac's attention was still on his lover as the slender man disappeared into the bathroom.

"Mac?" Richie's voice was pitched low. "Is he okay? He looks...really rough. Did something happen? I mean, it's none of my business..."

There was real concern in the younger man's voice and Mac found a grin for him. "He is. Just some stuff we are trying to work through, Rich," he said as reassuringly as he could.

"Anything I can do? I mean...honestly, Mac, I can find someplace else to stay," Richie offered and not from any discomfort over his mentor's living arrangements.

"It's fine for now, Rich," Mac assured him.

It wasn't working. "Does Joe know?"

"Yes. Hard to keep it from him," Mac said with a grin, then glanced up as his lover returned and began pulling clothes from the dresser.

"I feel the urge for activity," Methos announced. He looked steadier and Mac understood the desire, he was feeling restless on his own account.

Richie rolled his eyes in good-natured understanding but gave Mac a sour expression. "I am going to pass. I'd like to have one day back that I don't end up on my ass."

Mac chuckled and ruffled the red-gold hair. "Fair enough. Why don't you let Joe know we'll be there about seven. Enough time to eat and talk before his first set?"

"Deal," Richie agreed heading for the phone.

Methos had exchanged his jeans for sweats, almost shucking off his sweater when he hesitated, then went into the bathroom once more. "I feel like a bloody Victorian Aunt," the older man grumbled softly when he returned wearing a sweatshirt and picking up his sword.

"Richie is not going to pay any attention," Mac said, equally surprised by his lover's modesty. He'd certainly had little before...before... and Mac caught the real reason why Methos would not change in front of their guest. Blocking the view with his body he reached out to slid the loose sleeve upward, lips thinning again at the truly livid bruises.

"Not exactly subtle," Methos murmured then sighed. "This isn't going to work. If Richie stays, he is going to have to know."

"Do you want him to leave?" Mac asked, keeping his voice low. "I can think of something..."

"And lie to him? Not quite your style, Mac?" his lover said with a rueful smile. "Mine, but not yours. Don't damage what you have with him for me. That's not what I want. It's not what you want either."

"Then what?"

"I don't know. Maybe it will come to me during my workout," Methos said and touched Mac's upper arm lightly before heading downstairs.

"I'll be there in a minute," Mac said and Methos nodded and waved before closing the elevator grate and heading down.

"Is somebody hunting him?" Richie asked and Mac glanced at him sharply.

"No, not that we know of. Why?"

Richie shrugged, looking uncomfortable again. "Something is different. I don't know him that well, Mac. But I haven't seen him look ...well, look so beaten down since after your little adventure in Bordeaux," he said, the discerning blue-eyed gaze fixed on Mac's face. "And not that I would know," he added, the blush creeping into his cheeks again. "But this doesn't quite look like a lover's spat."

"It's not," Mac assented. "Give it a bit, Rich. He'll work through it -- we'll work through it."

"Lousy timing on my part. Damn," Richie said and Mac shook his head, settling his hands on the younger man's shoulders.

"No good timing for this one, Rich. And right now, we can use all the friends we have," he said, squeezing Richie's shoulders gently before releasing him to change and meet Methos downstairs.

Mac found his gaze caught by his part-time manager, Matt jerking his chin at his boss but his eyes were fixed on the slender figure taking out a great deal of frustration on the weight bag.

"Not my business, MacLeod, but either Adam is going to hurt himself or you are going to buy a new bag. Anything I can do?"

"Stay out of his way," Mac murmured offering a reassuring smile to the young man before making his way across the busy room to hold the bag for his lover. Matt was right, Methos was attacking the canvas and sawdust with a vengeance...and punching his problems out was not his usual style. Of course, Mac thought with a pang, his usual style is not to get this worked up about anything. Recognizing that much frustration or anxiety in Methos did nothing to ease Mac's mind at all.

And if Methos kept up his brutal assault on the bag he was likely to do himself real damage. With a half second to think, Mac pushed the bag to the side then stepped in, blocking the tightly clenched fists as they came off the canvas. Methos swore and tried to move away but Mac held him, examining the reddened knuckles which were already showing the mottling that occurred just before the skin broke. "Safety first," he murmured and pulled Methos to the side were tape and chalk waited.

"I can stand a little bruising-" Methos snapped.

"Blood on the bag discourages the paying customers," Mac said reaching for the tape and was quick to note the muscle jump in Methos' cheek as he straightened the curled fingers. "This isn't like you," he said softly.

"Well, I thought about swords but somehow I thought you would refuse," Methos hissed.

"I would. Katas?"

"Your style, not mine."

"Then what? You can't really thinking breaking your hands is going to make things better?"

"Give me something else to concentrate on..." Methos murmured and jerked his hand away. Mac gripped it, searching his lover's face.

Color had risen to the pale cheeks, the eyes were bright and troubled. Without thinking about it, Mac laid his fingers against the reddened cheek, feeling the heat there that could have been from exertion.

"Tell me..." Mac said, not caring if they were making a scene.

"I don't know!" Methos snapped again. "I feel...restless. Uneasy. I just feel like..." Hazel eyes searched brown, Methos' fingers suddenly tightening around Mac's when before he had been trying to pull them free. "Like I am losing scares the shit out of me," he breathed and swayed slightly as if naming his fear had taken more strength than he could spare.

When you forget who you are, I will remember.

How prophetic had those words been? Mac wasn't sure he wanted to find out. Worse, he wasn't sure he had time to. "Come on," he said, slipping his arm around the slender shoulders. "We should have done this first. We check with Richie and see if he feels anything. Then we call Joe. And Anne."

"And then what?"

"And then we will at least have some answers. Right now we only have questions." Mac could only pray that at least some of the answers could be lived with.

Richie had flung himself down on the sofa, watching TV, but he was up and attentive, his blade close by as the pair stepped off the elevator. Mac found some simple pleasure in his former student's caution. "We need a favor, Rich," Mac said, stepping away from a very uneasy looking Methos.

Hiding his startlement, Richie nodded. "Sure. Whatever. What's up?"

Methos stepped back into the lift, Richie's confusion bringing a bitter smile to the older man's face. He went down and Mac stepped away leaning against the window to peer out. "Just close your eyes, Rich," he requested, "and don't open them until I tell you to."

Still not understanding, Richie did so. He heard the elevator return.

"Is Methos on the elevator or not?" Mac asked him.

Richie almost opened his eyes but some instinct gave him an inkling of what the experiment was meant to accomplish.

"Not," Richie said after a moment but he wasn't exactly sure. "Wait," he paused, reaching for that sense of feel and sound. he could feel Mac, almost recognizing the Highlander's signature but the other wasn't really Immortal, nor pre-Immortal, it was like an echo -- as if an Immortal had moved to just beyond range and the lingering signature was fading.

But he had felt Methos' presence before and this wasn't it or like anything he could identify. "Not but--"

"But what?" Methos asked, voice flat and Richie opened his eyes to see the older Immortal lifting the grate.

"How the hell did you do that?" Richie asked. "That's quite a trick!" He was in awe. How had the older Immortal so suppressed his presence? But the success of the experiment, if that's what it was, seemed to bring neither Mac nor Methos any joy.

"I wouldn't recommend it," Methos said and pulled the grate back down before heading for the refrigerator. A beer was opened and nearly polished off in one long draw. Mac had not moved from the window and Richie rose, caught between the two men in his confusion.

"Are you going to tell me what is going on?" he asked.

"It seems I have misplaced my Quickening, Or at least my Immortality," Methos said dryly. "We may not actually know if I have lost the Quickening unless I also lose my head."

"Whoa! Wait a second..." The very concept made Richie's head ache. "How can you lose your Quickening and not your head?"

"I don't think the sordid details are necessary," Methos said in what could have been a harsh tone but just came out weary. He sat in one of the stools, fingering the bottle before polishing it off then rising to get another.

"I have it," Mac said finally turning around and Richie was unable to keep his gaze fixed on his friend's face for very long. There was too much pain there...too was not quite as remote as when Tessa had died but it was close, too damn close for Richie's comfort level. "And we don't quite know how it happened," Mac finished.

The need to sit down became very immediate. " you're what? Mortal? I don't get it," Richie said more to himself. What had he felt? Something...

"So it would appear," Methos answered him and moved passed. "I'm sweaty. I'm for a bath. You may want to warn Joe," he added and disappeared into the bathroom.

Many, many showers going on, Richie noted. "Mac?"

"Not quite a lover's spat," Mac said and moved to pick up Methos' beer, drinking it as he wiped at the counter top.

"I did feel something," Richie offered, joining his friend. "But not like...I don't know. Not Immortal but not... When did this happen?"

"It's okay, Rich," Mac said with a faint smile. "Yesterday...the day, night before. We aren't dealing very well with it -- either of us."

"It didn't exactly come with the rule book did it? Christ, Mac...this is..."

There were no words. In Richie's mind it might be considered either a good or a bad thing. At least Methos didn't have to worry about anyone coming after his head but as the thought settled, Richie felt an unease creep over him as well. "After five thousand years..."

"Exactly," Mac said and glanced toward the bathroom. He cocked his head but could hear no water running. It registered at the same time his feet started moving.

He found Methos sitting on the floor, legs drawn up, that blatantly distressed position wrenching through Mac once more as he crouched beside his partner. Richie had followed but he drew back a bit, trying for privacy but desperately wanting to know what was going on.

"My coping skills seem to be fading rather quickly," Methos said. "A few minutes ought to set it right again," he added and hooked his fingers around Mac's when his lover extended his hand. "I hurt all over," he said more softly. "I can stand the pain -- its not that bad, but I always knew before that it would end eventually. Or thought so. And this will too, but it takes so damn long."

"Rich, go downstairs, would you? Matt keeps some aspirin, ibuprofen whatever he has, in the first aid kit," Mac said and Richie moved, glad of anything to do.

"The last month for Alexa was full of pills," Methos continued, barely noticing the break. "Pain killers, diuretics, steroids. She said they helped. But she stayed so...I thought I was stronger than this."

"This, is all new to you," Mac said, shifting to sit across from him, fingers still entwined.

"No. Mac, I have endured far worse, ignored worse. This is all so minor but stays..."

The self-loathing in his tone was too obvious. Too sharp. Mac reached out to soothe him, to caress the skin and found it still warm -- too warm. A firmer touch and Mac was on his feet, pulling Methos up with him.

"What are you doing?" Methos asked but didn't resist.

"Calling Anne," Mac said resolutely. "You were a doctor. What do you do for a fever?"

"A what?" Methos asked then realization dawned and he felt his own face. "Shit," the despair switched to anger.

Mac shook his head as he reached for the phone. He had to chuckle as the anger washed through Methos to be replaced by the same dry irony that had struck Mac.

"It figures," Methos said, flinging himself into one of the counter stools. "That I would become mortal and after five thousand years in advancement of medical science, I would manage to catch the one thing they still can't cure. A cold."

And as if to punctuate the truth, he sneezed.

"People do not go to emergency rooms for colds, MacLeod," Methos said when Mac made the suggestion.

"They do if the only doctor we dare see is working tonight," Mac shot back.

Richie wisely kept silent, praying he was not the only one of them to see the humor in the argument. Laughing, however, was not something he was willing to risk.

"I will take two aspirin and see her in the morning," Methos said flatly. "I think I can dredge up enough medical knowledge for that much." He popped open the bottle Richie had brought up from the dojo and poured several of the oblong, rust colored pills in his hand, downing them while Mac fumed. "It is a cold, Mac. Now. Can we just go? Or better yet, you and Richie go to dinner and I will stay here. I can do misery quite well on my own, thank you," Methos said and sniffed.

MacLeod appeared uncertain, his anxiety apparent and Methos let his shoulders drop, too tired and too miserable, as he said, to keep much hold on his irritation. "I will be here when you get back. Some time alone would probably be a good thing."

Frustration warred with concern in the Highlander's face and frustration won. Without another word, he grabbed up his coat. "Let's go, Rich. Want us to bring you anything?"

"No. I'll be fine," Methos assured him but he had already turned away, headed for the bed. Mac and Richie started down in the elevator just as Methos flung himself onto the wide expanse to rest.

Richie wasn't quite sure what, if anything, he should say to his friend. Mac was almost vibrating with tension and looked every bit as miserable as Methos did, although without the red nose and flushed skin.

Despite his own shock at the turn of events, Richie was quick to note that Mac did seem to be exceedingly over-protective of his...of Methos. More than Richie could recall him ever having been of himself or Tessa. Tessa had had her share of colds and minor ailments during the two years Richie had lived with them. As had Richie, although less often. Mac had been solicitous, patient and a great nurse, but he had never seemed so alarmed or disturbed by such minor ailments.

"Mac, it's just a cold," he ventured as they got into the T-Bird. "Tessa had colds."

"Tessa was never Immortal," Mac said flatly.

"What? You think it's something else?" Richie asked.

"I'm saying I don't know," Mac said and his worry won out once more against his anger as he leaned back against the seat staring into space. "None of this makes any sense, Rich. Not to me, not to him. I don't know how to react -- what to do."

"You think this is your fault," Richie said, recognizing the tone if not the feeling. "Methos said it was an accident. What happened?"

Mac remained silent and unmoving. As much as he wanted to talk to Richie, or to anyone, he wasn't quite prepared to lay the details of the events out before his young friend. Or was he? Just how far would he go to find a way to reverse the effects -- if it were possible? What did he intend...they intend to tell Anne? Or Joe? His own face flooded with color at the thought of blurting out the truth...the details.

He came to the sudden realization of how much of his pride was tangled in his feelings. His pride. Guilt and anger at himself swelled up. How much more would Methos have to suffer for Mac's pride or his own? They had been avoiding discussing the incident, putting it off, side-stepping it out of fear and pride and what else? There could be no blame laid on either of them for what had happened and somewhere they had lost the very point of what that shattering intimacy had been a result of...the culmination of feelings they had both wanted to share. Mac had wanted to know his lover and he did now, better than he ever had and still it was not enough. If Mac was afraid, how much more terrified must Methos be? He had glossed over that thought before, offered strength as if Methos were somehow less for having lost his Immortality.

And in his effort to prove he was no less than he had been Methos had fallen back on his own anger, his own withdrawal. Yet still offered Mac the promise that he wouldn't run away.

"Mac?" Richie said into the uncomfortable silence that had fallen between them.

"Richie, would you mind going ahead? We'll meet you there later," Mac said, quieting the still rapid beating of his heart.

"Sure," Richie agreed, not quite sure what had prompted the sudden change in the level of tension emanating from his friend. "What do you want me to tell Joe?"

"Whatever you think appropriate," Mac said climbing out of the car and handing the younger Immortal the keys. "Or nothing at all. And you are right, Rich. I do think its my fault -- not what happened, but what's happened since. Go on. Have Joe put dinner on my tab. We'll be there or we'll call." He closed the car door and headed up the stairs.

Methos was on his feet when Mac entered, fingers closed over his sword, but it was too much to hope that he had felt Mac's approach.

"Heavy footsteps -- I thought you were gone," Methos said, sliding the blade back under the bed as he sat on the edge of it. "Forget something?"

"Yeah. You," Mac said and Methos lay back with groan, hands covering his eyes. "Mac let me get some sleep before we go round and round again. Please?"

"I think we've gone round and round enough, don't you?" Mac asked shedding his coat and sitting on the bed next to his lover. "And avoided it until neither of us can stand anymore. I took something from you, Methos. I feel like a thief, like I have betrayed you in the worst way possible."

Methos cursed softly and pulled his hands away. "Dammit! You took nothing! We shared something! I shared something -- gave you...I didn't expect to lose my Immortality to you Mac -- if that's what I've done," he rose, body tense as he headed for the kitchen. His throat felt dry and tight, burned with the tears he had yet to shed, ached with the fears he could not voice for fear of what Mac's reaction would be. " gave yourself over to my hands, Mac. To my wants and what happened after is neither your fault nor meant to be some burden you have to carry." Shut up! his mind screamed at him, but he couldn't. He had been laying on the bed since Mac and Richie departed, trying to make some sense of what had happened, of what he was feeling with little success. It was all jumbled together with the newly discovered physical limitations. He felt lightheaded and dizzy. The refrigerator yielded juice and water and beer -- but the mere thought of the latter made his stomach churn. He settled on the juice. "And lest you forget it or didn't know, I got some of you as well, Mac. Your father was a fool." The last was said without bitterness but Mac heard a deep pain in his lover's voice.

"What do you mean?" Mac asked rising up to join him at the counter.

"Your mother had the right of it. Ian would be proud of the man you've grown to be. But he bequeathed you more that that damn claymore. How much of your life can you spend being afraid of what you don't understand?" Methos asked softly.

Mac closed his eyes his hand came up automatically to rub his lover's tense shoulders and felt a slight yielding in the tight muscles. "Like you? I didn't know I was afraid."

"I know," Methos murmured. "And you have been since before this. I don't know, Mac. Maybe there is some great cosmic lesson we are both meant to learn from this. Maybe I've gotten arrogant in my Immortality and the Fates have decreed this as my punishment like Narcissus and his reflection."

"Do you feel like you are being punished by the fates?" Mac asked not sure he wanted to hear the answer and not surprised when the answer was what he expected.

"No. I feel like I'm being punished by you. For pushing you into something you weren't ready for and that you may not have wanted in the first place," Methos said and turned to face the Highlander. "You have such a fear in you of hurting someone, anyone you care about. But there are worse things that physical pain, Mac. There are worse things than emotions cut loose in the heat of the moment. There is a distance that can't be breached by words."

The hazel eyes were bright and steady and two flushed spots of color brushed the sharp cheeks. "In trying to bring us closer I have somehow managed to push you farther away. I have never felt so distant from you than I do right now," Methos murmured.

Mac's throat tightened and a heaviness grew in his chest. There was no satisfaction in being right and even less in not knowing how to respond.

"I can't fix this," Mac said at last, fists clenched.

"No. You can't," Methos said. "I don't know if it can be 'fixed.' My one suggestion is unacceptable to you and I won't break my promise on a vague theory. Neither of us have had time to really think through any of this. I can only imagine what you are going through -- what you are feeling and whether your reactions are all yours are some bizarre combination of you and I. Both of us were affected, Mac. My reaction is just more apparent."

"So what are you suggesting? That we separate and try to deal with our own fears for awhile? That's not acceptable either," Mac said firmly.

"No. Gods..." Methos swore. "No, I am not suggesting that at all. Mac, I am mortal. I am as mortal at this moment as Tessa or Alexa or Joe. I have to keep telling myself that and it's not easy. But that is all I know, right now. And five thousand years of living doesn't make a damn bit of difference anymore."

"What do you want? What do you need from me -- if anything?" Mac said and was unprepared for the reaction he got. Methos went white, the color, even the burning flush of fever faded from his cheeks.

Gods...what have I done? Mac's words, the absolute desolation in the suggestion that Methos needed nothing from the Highlander was more than Methos could bear. He knew now exactly how Mac had felt when he had walked into the cabin this morning and seen Methos with a blade pressed to his heart. He had cut something vital out of his warrior -- had stolen his confidence, his courage, his faith. And what more?

"Gods...Mac, I am sorry," he whispered, not even aware of the alarm on his lover's face. It was too much. Methos wanted to faint or simply stop feeling. But he was not allowed that grace or that mercy, instead he was forced to face what centuries of survival had taught him -- that sometimes living could only be endured. No torture of the body could have pained him more than the wound he had inflicted on this man that had become more important to him than his own life. He had promised Mac that if he surrendered that he gave himself over to the union of body and spirit Methos asked for, he would remember who and what MacLeod was. He had not, at the time, meant it quite so literally.

Physical collapse seemed imminent but it was halted as he felt strong sure hands close around his arms, gently, the pressure still enough to awake the dull ache in the bruises, but it grounded him somewhat and he lifted his gaze to the dark eyes that watched him quietly.

"Sorry? For what?" Duncan murmured. "For trusting me with all of who you are? For offering me the kind of love that I thought existed only in epic poetry and fiction? For asking me to return that love? Did I just make it to the top of your list of regrets?"

There was no censure in Mac's voice, nor accusation. Or even pain Methos noted with some distracted part of his brain.

"You are right. This is all new, strange, frightening. It's all of that, Methos. And it has been a shock, but every minute since we met has been like that. New, strange, wondrous; terrifying that one person could so affect me that everything I know and am suddenly becomes strange, looks differently, feels differently. Is different." He shifted his grip, sliding his hands up Methos' arms to his shoulders and then spanned the slender throat with his finger, thumbs stroking lightly across the sensitive skin under Methos' ears. "I don't know what this change will bring. I can't know. And I cannae' promise to adjust so quickly, to act like it nae' matters. But what I feel has not changed. You cannae' tell me you are any less scared than I am."

"I...I'm not...I mean, I am...scared. Confused. Angry," Methos said, gripping Mac's wrists. "But I am no more fragile or less certain of who I am than I was before. Nor are you. You are still Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod and I am still Methos. Even if I die tomorrow. Which would have been possible even without what's happened. Hold onto that if you cannot hold on to anything else."

Mac searched his face, eyebrows knit as he tried to catch up with his lover's reasoning. What had they lost then? What loss was it that kept dragging at them, tearing at them until nothing seemed solid? Methos' Immortality, yes, perhaps. But not his identity.

Is that all you found attractive in me after all -- my Immortality? Methos angry retort leapt up to taunt him only it wasn't true. He had been fighting through that all day. Had he risked what he had yesterday because Methos was Immortal or because his lover had asked it of him? Both.

It was not a pleasant acknowledgment. Not one Mac wanted to admit to. Methos released his wrists and pulled away, face going remote and still.

"But you can't, can you, Mac?" Methos said. "I think you were right before. We need some distance between us. Some time."

"No..." Mac said realizing whatever they had lost had been misplaced in the last few seconds.

"Yes," Methos hissed. "Unless you plan to keep me a prisoner here?"

"We can work this through," Mac said but he had no idea how. To let Methos go now seemed the worst kind of cowardice. To let him face whatever his new circumstances might bring him on his own seemed weak and selfish.

And why was Methos pushing him away? How could the older man want to face this alone? Did he?

Methos had already pulled out his pack, exchanging the dirty, sodden clothes for clean ones. He had done this...too many times. Before he had slipped out without Mac being aware of him leaving, now he was doing it obviously.

"Why did you leave the other day?" Mac asked suddenly. "When you went to the cabin -- why?"

"I needed time to think," Methos said flatly. "I needed to make sure I wasn't making a huge mistake...gambling with something I had no right to risk."


The world could have ground to a halt in the heavy silence that followed. Mac remained still, his question hanging between them like some enormous void -- a chasm Mac wasn't sure he could cross. Then Methos took the first step and Mac was falling.

"You," Methos said with a the flat tone Mac had only heard once before outside a church in Bordeaux. "Your identity. Who you are, Mac. I've been forcing you to examine yourself since our first meeting." The baritone continued to be curiously dispassionate. "At first it was because I wanted to understand you, to get to know you. I have a great deal of admiration for you, Mac. I always have. You have been Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod for over four hundred years -- you have remained...stayed true to that identity and I didn't understand it. Couldn't understand how you had managed not to lose yourself. I have lost myself so many times I'm not even sure I am who I say I am any more." He stopped his packing and turned once more, stepping back when Mac moved closer. "Don't. I want you to hear this. I love you Duncan MacLeod. But in answering that I may have tried to destroy the very thing I came to care about. When I offered you my head, I wanted you to defeat Kalas. But I also wanted to know if you would take that advantage. If you had I would have killed you then and there and taken care of Kalas myself."

Mac went still, staring at the man who was suddenly a stranger. Methos' voice had gone flat and hard. The hazel eyes glittered with a remoteness Mac could not even identify as human...or so much a step beyond what he was seeing in those eyes he couldn't breathe.

"But you didn't. I wasn't all that surprised but the way you refused did surprise me. I had always thought of you...from your chronicles, from what Joe had told be a self-sacrificing fool. I felt so superior, so damn smug and here was this four-hundred year old child wanting to fight for me. You were such a still are. But there was something in you that I couldn't get a grasp on -- something different from anyone I had ever known. I have never lost the passion or fire for living, MacLeod. Felt my own cool from time to time, but when there is a sword to my throat I can guarantee you it burns bright again. But there you were, the champion of champions, the legendary Highlander and I could not for the life of me figure out how you had managed to stay alive as long as you had. You don't challenge, you don't hide. You are who you are at all times. So I grew curious, and the more time I spent with you, the less I understood. You see life...this life, the game, differently than I do. All of this is a gift to you. The people, the existence. I thought maybe it was faith, but its more than that and I wanted it!" Methos said fiercely, hands clenching. "I wanted to know how you held onto yourself and met this life with joy, cherishing mortals as something special. I still didn't understand it but one day I woke up and I felt it. Tasted it. Had it and didn't know how or why. Nor what to do with it so I came to you...and met Alexa."

Methos' chest heaved as the emotion continued to spill out and he fought for control. "I took Kristin's head because she seemed an abomination to me in light of what you thought -- that sanctity for life. Two hundred years and I took a head. I had been slowly dying and one arrogant, barbaric, code-bound, Scottish child knew more about living than I did. I was lost again before I knew what to think. And when it came to it, it didn't matter that Alexa was dying, that our time would be so short. became like a drug...I couldn't keep myself away even when I knew that being near you brought me closer to death than I had been in millennia. And closer to life. To living. And then you came to me...took the head of a man who was once so like you it was frightening because Byron was always Byron and you came to me and offered me the one thing Byron never could. That no on ever had in my entire life. The opportunity to be myself -- to be Methos. And gave me the strength to figure out who the hell Methos is. Not Methos the five thousand year old Immortal but the Methos I can't remember, the man I might have been before I lost my memory and my soul in the wake of my first Quickening."

The words were spilling out of him without check, without thought. MacLeod was staring at him as if he had shape-shifted. "Always before when I made mistakes, when I caused more pain than I thought possible, when I was mad or lost in my own myths, I had time to make it fix it or atone or forget if I could," Methos breathed. "I used you to level the score with the Horsemen...not because they deserved to die but because I wanted you...your respect...your regard... your...acceptance. I wanted you to believe in me as I believed in you and because I didn't know which of my lies I believed any longer. And gods help me I did it. You came to believe in me...trusted" The last was a whisper, the anguish breaking through and Mac finally did move, and quickly as Methos went to his knees in exhaustion and grief. "You trusted me and I betrayed I still had to be the one in control...the one who made life conform to my will, made you do what I wanted....and made you want it too... and now ...A single lifetime is not enough to undo this and it is all I have life is all I have left to say...I'm sorry. I never meant...I can't watch you watch me die. I can't watch you wait for it...fear afraid of me or for me."

Mac's arm folded around the slender body, not sure if the shudders wracking Methos were from self-loathing, fear or just exhaustion. Methos did not return the embrace, his body as rigid with tension as Mac had ever felt. He was still in shock. Having access to the majority of Methos' history only gave him the circumstances, not the driving emotions behind those circumstances. He had known that Methos had manipulated him in the past, for his own reasons, reasons Mac could not begin to understand. He had gone along with it, been angry about it...punished Methos for it until it made no sense any longer.

It had changed, altered during the fight Methos had picked with Steven Keane. Mac had been unwilling to acknowledge it at the time but his heart had nearly stopped again when he saw Methos go down. Started beating again when the older Immortal had pierced Keane's heart with that bloody stiletto and then he had gotten angry all over again when he realized Methos could have died then, that he had interfered in what had always been Mac's fight. But with his newfound knowledge of Methos and his motivations, Mac realized that Methos had thought himself to blame for Mac's seeming depression over the confrontation with Keane, believed he had somehow pushed Mac into judging himself too harshly.

But their relationship had come at Mac's insistence, at his desire. He had been happier in the months that followed than he could ever recall since Tessa's death, possibly even before. Rediscovering himself in the eyes of a man who had seen everything, probably done most things and who still found in Duncan MacLeod something intriguing and exciting and satisfying and worthy. Hero worship. They had both been guilty of it, of expecting, wanting the other to be more than he was.

But the heroes had fallen, the idols had been knocked from their pedestals and left two people who were so unused to happiness that when it came, they scarcely recognized it.

Mac had done the same thing with Tessa. It was a mistake he swore he'd never make again and he had held himself back from his lover. Had known from the first that being involved with the oldest Immortal meant the possibility of losing him was always at hand from anyone seeking Methos the legend or any chance Immortal who might stumble across his lover and offer a challenge that Methos might lose.

Nothing had changed. The eventuality of loss might be more certain but nothing else.

There was no betrayal here. Not on his part and not on Methos'. No blame to be laid. Mac had not been so lost in the experience his lover offered that he could not have denied him if he had wanted to, but he hadn't. He had wanted that yielding and meshing of souls as much as his lover.

"I won't wait for you to die," Mac said against the sweat dampened hair. "And I want to watch you live, even if it means watching you grow older. Even if it means in forty years people think you are my father rather than my lover." He pushed at his lover's shoulders and lifted Methos' face to his own.

Methos swallowed thickly, searching Mac's face for any false bravado or doubt and found none. He felt lightheaded still, not quite present except where Mac touched him and became aware of that minor current that still existed between them, the faint but familiar registry of Mac's presence.

"I can't stop you if you need time to think, but I don't, Methos. I need and want you here, with me. Mortal or Immortal. Friend and lover. I have not lost myself because of you and don't intend to. I've just....gotten a little wiser."

"One of us needs to," Methos said, feeling hot and flushed and completely drained. He wasn't sure Mac had heard anything he'd said. The Highlander should be angry, hurt, but Mac just seemed calm. Well, that was better he supposed, trying to concentrate on what Mac was saying but he couldn't. The thrum accompanying Mac's touch was distracting him, the touch itself sending dull aches through his limbs although he knew Mac wasn't holding him that tightly.

"Methos?" There was new concern in his lover's tone, one that cut through the fog trying to settle in his brain. He was tired. Pouring his guts out had taken more strength from him than he realized. Or maybe he was sicker than he realized. He racked his brain trying to think about the progression of a cold, of a flu. Influenza? Pneumonia? They had been caught in the rain. He was only vaguely aware that he was being lifted, pulled to his feet but he didn't want to stand. What he wanted was another rainfall to cool his skin, to ease the coiling warmth in his flesh.

Shit, now he did feel like he would faint. He tried to fix his eyes on a single point in the room but Mac's eyes were the closest, the dark brown eyes wide and worried. What was Mac worried about? They had settled their differences, hadn't they? Breathing was something he ought to remember how to do, he thought idly. Actually he ought to be able to do it without thinking about it but the longer he lay there, watching Mac, unable to make out the words his lover was saying, the more effort it took to recall.

There was distress in the familiar face now, and an unfamiliar sheen to the bronzed skin. He reached out to touch Mac's face, to soothe him. To let him know he was sorry and to accept the apology he felt falling from the Highlander's soul. You have nothing to be sorry about, he tried to form the words.

Mac left him. He was laying down on the bed, he thought, but with Mac gone there was really no need to hold on tight whatever he had been holding on to.

There was a pressure building in his chest again, that same heavy pain...and then it was gone.