Sheathing Fate
by Maygra de Rhema

continued from chapter three, part one...

Richie was not surprised to see Methos but he was surprised to see Methos without MacLeod.

"He'll be along," Methos said as he added a few items to his pack and shoved a couple of books in as well.

"And where are you going? Shouldn't you still be in the hospital?" Richie asked, concerned without knowing why.

"Maybe," Methos murmured. "But I decided I don't like them. Actually, I never did."

Vaguely Richie thought he ought try and stop the older man, but something in the quiet, calm movements forestalled any such intervention. "What should I tell Mac?" he asked as, with a last survey, Methos shouldered pack and coat and sword.

"You won't need to tell him anything," Methos said. "He knows where I will be. Just...never trust Fate, Richie," he said softly and was gone.

It took Richie about ten minutes to realize Methos had offered him advice.

"Hey, Joe! Heard anything?" Richie asked entering the bar and sliding his helmet onto the counter. It had become a ritual between the two of them for the last three days. Mac had arrived at the loft some four hours after Methos had left. He had offered no explanations, only accepted Richie's comments and then made a few phone calls. He was on a plane headed for Europe by nightfall.

Not knowing what else to do, Richie called Joe, who called the Watchers and by dawn the next day found that Mac had landed in Heathrow, rented a car and headed for Scotland. He had gone home.

"He's on a plane back," Joe informed his young friend. "With company. He went hunting for Connor. He showed up yesterday after you left."

"Connor?" Richie was startled as Joe passed a beer across the counter to the young man. He remembered MacLeod's kinsman and former teacher, had run in to him a couple of times over the years and Mac heard from him occasionally, enough to know Connor was still alive. "Any ideas why? I thought the Watcher's didn't find any record of something like this happening before?"

"We didn't," Joe said. "But there are things that are passed from Immortal to Immortal that I am sure we don't know about. Now, if I could just find Methos I would feel a lot better."

Richie sipped at his beer, wondering if he should share his suspicions with Joe and then uneasily kept them to himself. Had Methos wanted anyone but Mac to be sure of where he had gone he would have said something. "I'm sure he's fine," he said softly and missed the speculative glance Joe gave him.

"Probably. Immortal or not, no one can live five thousand years without learning a few things. But I would hate to think he might have another...seizure...or something and no one be around to help out."

"He'll be fine," Richie murmured again and finished his beer. "Well, if Mac is heading home I guess I'd better go do a little housecleaning," he said, rising. "You'll call?"

"As soon as I hear anything," Joe said and hid a smile as the younger man left.

The loft didn't actually need cleaning.....well, there were a few dirty dishes in the sink and some laundry Richie hadn't gotten around to doing but it was mostly on the floor of his room. It could wait. Joe's words had sent a chill through Richie, a possibility that he hadn't considered.

The small boathouse contained only the motorboat. The punt was missing. A good guess then, Richie thought as he started the engine and headed across the glassy darkness of the lake. He could smell wood smoke and had to grin. He could turn back now knowing that Methos was, at least, still alive. Having come this far it would be rude not to at least say hello. Tying the boat off he pulled the bag of supplies he had gathered and headed toward the house.

Methos was not in the cabin but the fire had been freshly laid, the coffee there still hot. Richie poured himself a cup and then settled on the steps to wait. It felt odd to be here, checking up on an man who was so much his senior comprehension fell far short of complete.

He did not have to wait long, but it was still startling to hear Methos approach rather than feel him. Although he could feel him, just barely, after the fact.

They spent an awkward few moments staring at each other, Richie uncertainly and Methos looking torn between anger and resignation.

"I...I brought some extra supplies. Joe was worried."

Methos nodded and came closer. He looked no better than he had the last time Richie saw him save the bruises on his arms had finally faded to a mottled yellowish color. Methos sat on the steps below Richie, leaning back on his elbows to stare at the lake. "I should have called him. How's Mac?"

"He...he left the same day you did. Should be back tomorrow," Richie said after a moment. There was no way Methos could have known Mac had left town. "He went to Scotland," he added and some of the confusion left Methos' face.

"I suppose that makes a bizarre sense," the older man acknowledged.

"Are you...are you okay?" Richie asked him and then flushed. He was concerned but it had come out like an attempt at polite conversation.

The chuckle that escaped Methos was a much a surprise to him as to Richie. "I am not sure how to answer that. I feel...I'm all right. Tired. I haven't been sleeping a lot. I don't think that very surprising."

"And thinking?"

"That too," Methos said more softly. "Did Mac say anything, Rich?"

"Only that he needed to leave for a couple of days. He didn't explain...Methos, what happened?" Richie asked. "I thought you guys had...settled something in the hospital."

"We did. We settled on the fact that I am as much of a coward as Mac always thought," Methos said bitterly and then sat up. "No, that's not fair. I am as much a coward as I always thought I was. Right now, Master Ryan, you are far wiser than I am."

"That's a stretch," Richie said and dug into the bag and pulled out a couple of beers. "It's warm," he cautioned but Methos grinned at him.

"But it's beer," the older man countered and twisted the cap off to take a long sip. "Now, that is something I didn't put on my list," he said with an appreciative smile.

"Warm beer?"

"Simple pleasures, Ryan. Enjoy them while you can. Because you still can. You are still that close to your mortality."

"And you aren't?"

"Not for five thousand years," Methos said nodding and set the bottle on the step between his knees, dropping his head forward to run his fingers through his hair. "How many times have you died, Rich?"

"Uhm, five or six times. Am I supposed to keep score?"

"No. Although you will for as long as you can, until you look up one day and you can't remember what the first one was like. You start thinking of the ways to die and which ones you like least, categorizing them by degrees. Drowning is not so bad but it's tough to work back from unless you happen to float to the surface. Getting shot has recently become a favorite. Fast, relatively painless." Methos' voice had taken on a distance and Richie struggled to keep up with what the man was saying -- or trying to say. Not because he thought he could learn anything but because...because Methos apparently needed to talk.

"What's the worst?" Richie asked when the voice fell silent.

"It would be a toss up between being impaled or crucified, I think. Neither very likely in your case, any longer. Much more civilized age you were born to. But then you are still afraid of dying, aren't you?"

"Not on the list of my top ten things to do in my free time, no," Richie said with a faint smile. "Is that it? Are you afraid of dying?"

"Is there coffee left?"

"Uh, yeah. Changing the subject?"

"Yes. Thanks for the supplies, Richie. You are welcome to stay for a meal but then..."

Interview over. Richie wasn't really surprised. Methos had opened up to him more in the last few minutes than he had in the three years Richie had known him.

"No. I need to get clean a bit before Mac gets back. If I am going to be a guest...."

"You aren't a guest, Rich. Not to him. You have always been more," Methos said earnestly. "Don't forget that and don't let him forget it either."

This was sounding alarmingly like a good-bye. "Then what are you to him?" Richie asked anxiously. "Damn, Methos, he made sure I knew that the loft, that your lives were just that -- you and him. Don't fuck it up because you are scared!"

The hazel eyes regarded Richie with something akin to respect, then they narrowed. "Do you remember what it was like to look in the mirror when you were growing up and hope you looked a little older, Richie? Can you remember wondering if you would ever be able to make your own decisions without social services stepping in and telling you you weren't old enough to make those decisions? When you saw someone you admired, did you dream about being like that person -- a doctor, or a musician or...a motorcycle racer? Well, you have the time now, if you are lucky and persistent enough, to do and be all those things. I have been those things, sometimes more than once. Barring any idiot with a sword who was faster or better or luckier than I was, I can or could be anything I wanted to be. I could be and was a god. I was death. I have been a father to and raised children, fought wars, been an artist, a doctor. I knew it could end at any moment and have lived trying to hold onto those moments while all else around me changed. I have watched and recorded and participated in history for the past five millennia. I have watched my lovers and wives and friends I have made grow old and die -- or sometimes, just die. But I kept going because I was very good at living. I knew that anything I lived through would fade or pass or become part of something I had left behind. I don't know how any longer to plan or live for the short term."

"And what about Mac?" Richie asked. "Was this all...Christ, Methos, he loves you!"

"I know. And I love him, but maybe not enough. Not enough to leave him someday when I no longer have a choice. I have been master and engineer of my own fate for too long, Richie. I can't give that up -- not even for him."

"You are right. You are a coward," Richie said coldly. "What he would choose, what he wants, makes no difference to you at all, does it?"

"It makes a difference," Methos said. "Just not enough. But I want him to agree with my choice. I want him to be okay with it."

"And if he' not?"

"Then he's not," Methos said evenly and opened the door to the cabin.

"What are you going to do?"

Methos didn't give him an answer as he carried the bag inside and Richie had little hope that he would get an answer if he followed. He hesitated for a few moments more before heading back to the boat. If Methos wouldn't talk to him maybe he would to Joe. But even as he pulled away from the dock, he had resigned himself that the only one who would get any other answers out of Methos would be MacLeod.

If Mac didn't already know the answer.

It was the sound of the motor that woke Methos the next day, alerting him to the approach of a visitor, as it had with Richie. He was half expecting Ryan or Joe or both as he levered himself out of the chair he had slept in, being unable to find any rest in the more comfortable but far too large and lonely bed. Cold water across his face was the extent of his toilette. That and a clean shirt but he might have wished for more or at least a bracing breakfast as the boat went silent as it slipped in alongside the dock.

There were two passengers. One he was more glad to see than he dared give voice to and the other such a surprise he could find no voice to speak with. Mac looked...had Methos not given up on guilt several centuries ago he would have been awash in it. His lover looked worn and tired and determined. His companion looked equally as tired but more solemn than anything else. Given Connor MacLeod's personality as the original dour Scot, Methos was less surprised by his demeanor than by the presence of the man himself.

Mac tied the single line off and came forward. Connor remaining on the dock looking uncomfortable for all that he raised his hand in greeting.

"I did. I told you I needed to think."

Mac would not look at him after the first anxious scan of his lover's appearance. "Nice to know I'm not the only one not sleeping," he said evenly, distantly, staring out over the tree line.

"I never pretended what I was asking was easy, Mac," Methos said and kept his eyes on the younger man. Damned if he would let Mac scold him like a child!

"You asked me to let you kill yourself."

"I asked you for a chance to get my life back," Methos said softly. "I swore to you I wouldn't -- not unless we both agreed. I am asking you to agree."

"And if I say no you will disappear. You will leave. Maybe not today or next week, but you will. An accident, a mishap...I know you too well, Methos. You will go your own way and you will break a promise. For all the options you have given me I ought to just take your head," Mac said, his voice raw and breaking as he lifted his gaze back to Methos' face.

There was no denial he could make that would ring true. "But if I am right, Mac," Methos argued urgently. "Dammit! This is my life we are talking about here! My right to choose how I live that life - still! Mortal or Immortal!"

"Then why do you need my permission?" Mac demanded, anger raising with grief. "This isn't just about you! I have your Quickening...your life's experiences! How am I too make any sense of what you've learned or who you are if you are not here? That was the point of the exercise, wasn't it, Methos? One moment...for one moment in time we could be one spirit, one surrender and give over that most precious part of ourselves, that darkest prayer. But something else happened. You wanted me to understand you, to know you and accept who and what you are and have been and will be...your desire to be known, for once in your life." He stepped closer and Methos almost flinched under the desperate look in his eyes, hands automatically coming out to soothe him. Mac let him get no farther than lacing the fingers of their hands together. "It's like the gifts of the Magi. You keep telling me how close I am to mortals, how I have retained my connections to that world because it is what I love and admire. Do you see the irony in this too, Methos?"

"What that you should fall in love and thus render me mortal?" Methos said, eyes widening. "Christ, Duncan! This is not your fault!" Methos snapped, jerking his hands back. "The universe does not revolve around you and your fears of retribution and judgment! My mortality is not a punishment for your failure to be a do something worthy." Frustration and anger turned Methos back toward the cabin only to have the large hands close over his shoulders and pull him back. He tried to shrug them off only to have MacLeod's arms enfold him and pull him back against his chest. He tried half-heartedly to break away, not willing to admit how badly he wanted, needed, Mac to hold him without anger. MacLeod would not release him, only held him tightly

"And you are not being punished either," Mac said against his ear. "It is not judgment or fate or cruelty. You are alive. Is it so hard for you to understand that I want you to stay that way for as long as you can?"

Methos did close his eyes then, dropping his head and giving up any pretense of a struggle with soft groan. "Don't you get it? I have spent the last three days bruising myself on the simplest of tasks, wondering if I can get through making a sandwich without cutting myself because I know it won't heal. I have all the signs of becoming a rabid microphobe," Methos said with a chuckle that was almost a sob. "And I have thought about us, Mac. Worried about you taking a challenge and winning and being unwilling to come home to let me help you, because you're afraid you might hurt me! Thought about the fact that you might, just might someday lose a challenge to some bastard, leaving me to challenge him and take his fucking head and still have nothing left of you to show for it, to feel or carry with me." The last was said softly as Methos lifted his head to see Mac's face, turning slightly.

"I have spent five thousand years fighting to stay alive, knowing that it was my wits, my skill, my...will alone that would keep me alive. I knew that if I died I would do so fighting for my life. It is my life, Mac, with brief interludes of peace. But it always comes back to the fight -- with a sword in my hand," he said, earnestly. " you isn't enough to replace all that. I... I am sorry, Duncan," he added softly.

MacLeod nodded faintly, gaze dropping from Methos' face, but he did not relinquish his grip, instead, his fingers moved to work the tension out of his shoulders as he pressed his lips against his lover's temple.

"All right," he whispered, face set and jaw tensed. "Come on, then." He pulled Methos with him, his arm sliding around the broad shoulders as he guided Methos toward the boat.

"Where? Where are we going?" Methos asked, a little stunned even as he felt the tension ease minutely.

"Off holy ground," Mac said as the reached the dock. Connor rose up, moving toward the line, his face impassive.

"Why would we need...?" Methos stopped, resisting Mac's pull. "What are you doing?"

"Connor has agreed to be the executioner," Mac said grimly. "He owes me a favor."

"What do you mean?" Methos asked and pulled away from MacLeod's embrace, hazel eyes narrowing. "I think I can manage this myself and holy ground has nothing to do with it."

"Not for you but for me," Mac said implacably. "The minute your heart stops beating, whether by your own hand or mine or his, so does mine. If you don't come back, neither do I."

There had never been such silence in the world as that which fell around the three men. Despite the air moving through the trees, the birds overhead and the waves upon the shore, the world had stopped and Methos' heart nearly stopped with it. "This is not Romeo and Juliet, MacLeod," he said finally, softly. "There is no romance in this...sacrifice."

"No. There's only life and death," Mac agreed.

"You agreed to this? Are you out of your mind?" Methos demanded of Connor.

"Nae, but I think my cousin is," Connor said evenly, the broad Highland burr far more pronounced in his voice than in Duncan's. "An' I spent the last twenty-four hours tryin' tae talk him out of it...he'll not budge. If not me, he'll find someone else -- willing or unwilling. He'd rather yours and his Quickenings come tae me, than to one he cannae trust or does'nae know."

"You always were an opportunistic bastard," Methos spat out, face paling under his anger.

"An' you have always been quick to take the easy way out," Connor said in the same even tone. "What he sees in such a skinny slut as yerself, I'll never know," he added with a scowl.

"Connor," Mac said, voice cold and hard. "You are no slouch yourself when it comes to a quick retreat."

"Don't plan on defending my honor, Mac?" Methos snarled. "Is that what he thinks, that I seduced you, trapped you into this--"

Mac stopped the anger the quickest way he knew how. Two strides had him in front of his lover, his fingers gripping Methos' upper arms with enough force to reawaken the healing bruises. His mouth covered Methos' quickly, felt him gasp and the first stirrings of response before Methos jerked his head away, his body trembling under Mac's grip.

"You son of a bitch," Methos choked out, head turned away and eyes closed. "Damn you. This isn't about you!"

"No, it's about us," Mac said softly. "God knows I can't know what you are feeling, or why you are so willing to toss your life away on a hunch...but are you sure enough of this to take me with you? Would you kill me to get your Immortality back? Because that's what you are asking me to do, Methos." MacLeod's hands released his arms to move up and rest against the pale column of his lover's throat, to guide the set jaw back so Methos was forced to look at him.

The dark eyes were resolute and calm, far calmer and clearer than Methos' own eyes which were burning with anger and a sense of betrayal he could barely identify.

"I told you you didn't know what you were asking," Mac said quietly. "You could be right. You may be an odd hybrid of ex-immortal and pre-immortal and come back to me. But I don't know that and neither do you. You asked me for time. I am asking you for the same thing. A year, ten years, enough to see if there's another answer. Or at least to be more sure that this is the right answer. I don't like the odds, Methos, and I am a lousy gambler. Fifty-fifty that you come back, sixty years or more if we don't try, God knows how long without you if you are wrong. But those are my terms. My conditions. My permission with strings. If you are right, it won't matter. If you are wrong, you'll never know," MacLeod added, almost in a whisper. "I won't carry your ghost when there's a chance I can have the real thing"

Methos was silent and still, the hazel eyes shuttered. Mac waited, feeling that thrum of connection between them under his touch, closing his own eyes to feel his lover's face under his hands. When he pulled gently, Methos did not resist, coming to lean against him, and after a moment, his hands moved to rest on Mac's hips. MacLeod buried his face against his lover's neck, smelling the sweat and the fear, the salt of Methos' skin and the scent of him that was all of those and more. "Let me carry your fear or your hate -- not your memory," he pleaded against the warm skin.

It might have been a moan or sob or laugh that accompanied the movement of the muscular arms up his back to grip his shoulders as Mac let his own hands slip down Methos' spine.

"It would serve you right if I died in my sleep and haunted you for all eternity," Methos whispered against his shoulder. "I may yet come to hate you, MacLeod."

A faint smile curved Mac's lips. "You have to be alive to hate me. I can deal."

"Then start dealing." The words were choked and Mac pulled back to lift the beloved face once more and press apart the waiting lips, dealing with the fear and need with love and passion and a comfort that devoured them both.

"Tell your kinsman to take a hike before I take his bloody head," Methos said, breaking the kiss and leaning his forehead against his lover's.

Connor's chuckle prompted Methos to open one eye to see the irritating Scot toss the line into the boat. "I'll be back for ye both, tomorrow," he said, and Mac turned, arms coming around Methos once more as he smiled at his kinsman.

"Don't come too early," Mac cautioned and Connor rolled his eyes as he pushed off.

"No worries, Duncan. I've no wish to see your big arse wrapped around such a skinny thing as that...if you had to take on a lad, the least you could hae' done is take on some brawny Scottish lad!" Connor sallied, grinning at the glare Methos shot him before winking at the older man. "Keep him in line, Methos. He's no more sense than a bairn sometimes! All heart and no brains." The Scot pulled at the cord, bringing the engine to life and steered off, laughter scattering birds and silence alike.

"If it comes to the Gathering, Immortal or not, I get to kill him," Methos said flatly and his lips twitched at the rumble of laughter from MacLeod's chest. "You sounded supremely confident of being able to climb into my bed," Methos said after a moment, voice hoarse.

"It's our bed. Or mine if you want to split hairs," Mac said. "And I am not confident, just grateful to still have the opportunity to try." His tone was serious, eyes uncertain for the first time since he had arrived. "If you want to hate me for that, feel free. I won't regret it."

"If I thought for one moment this was a bluff--" Methos started and met Mac's eyes, seeing nothing but truth there, and a blurring of the earth-brown eyes. "I don't know how much time..."

"One day at a time, Methos...for now. That's all I ask." Mac's hands found his face again, his mouth seeking Methos' as the sound of the launch engine faded.

"One day...we have the rest of today, then...and tonight...." Methos said when their lips parted.

"We have right now," Mac said softly, eyes darkening. The hazel eyes met and held his for a long moment before Methos nodded, a smile curving his lips.

"Now? I can do now," he breathed and slipped his arm around Mac's waist thrusting the other hand in his jean's pocket as they made their way to the cabin.

They made it inside the cabin before MacLeod did what he had wanted to do since pulling up to the dock. He closed the door and leaned against it, pulling Methos into his arms not to devastate him with a kiss or ravish him with his need and desire but to hold him. Methos stretched into him, face buried against his lover's neck as Mac crushed him bruisingly, releasing the last of his tension into the hug and offering silent thanks that he could still do so.

He finally eased his grip and then did turn his head slightly to coax a kiss from Methos that his partner gave readily, searing Mac's senses with the taste and feel of the familiar mouth.

"I think I can make it as far as the bed," Mac murmured with a chuckle. "After that, all bets are off." He made no effort to hide his exhaustion any longer, and his fingers brushed gently at the bruised looking skin around his lover's eyes. "Maybe we should order up some of Anne's magic sleeping elixir for both of us," he suggested.

"I couldn't sleep because the damn bed was empty," Methos groused and stepped back. Mac's hands kneaded his shoulders before turning him, propelling him toward the bed. Once there he stripped off his jacket but Methos stopped him as he reached for his shirt.

"You want to sleep, MacLeod, I suggest you kick off your boots and then lay down. Anything more than that and I can't be responsible for my actions." It was teasing but there was a certain warning in it and Mac agreed. Methos joined him, leaning back against the pillows but Mac preferred to use his lover as a pillow and Methos had no objections.

Methos had not really expected to sleep but when he opened his eyes again, the shadows were beginning to stretch through the cabin, signaling late afternoon. He found himself curled around MacLeod in a not particularly comfortable position with his head against Mac's shoulder and Mac's head on his hip. But it was comforting to have his lover so close and so warm. Three days worth of beard growth covered the strong jaw, the small hairs soft as those on his head. The tension had eased out of the broad back and shoulders as Methos ran his hand lightly across the muscles. He felt Mac move, start to waken and waited. He was quite willing to keep his own mind disengaged for as long as possible, not willing to open the door to the anxiety still haunting him. Mac's arms tightened around his legs briefly as he woke, drawing his head up to blink owlishly at the fading light.

"Hi," Methos said, only slightly more awake than Mac was.

"Hi, yourself," Mac said softly and moved off him, then up beside him, wiping a hand over his face. There was a crease on the side of his face from the seam of Methos' jeans. A thumb smoothed the indenture before Mac caught his hand and pulled him close. A little more imperative than a good morning kiss, Methos decided.

"I really want a shower, but I guess a dip in the lake will do," Mac murmured.

Methos chuckled. "I have spent some time wondering what you would do to me if I suddenly modernized your retreat."

"Be eternally grateful at the moment," Mac said with a grin. "Might be worth it, although if you are into a little sweat before a hot bath," he chuckled at the sudden speculative look in Methos' eyes "I have an old copper tub...takes a bit of water to fill but its..."

"Big enough for two?" Methos finished for him.

"In a pinch," Mac said.

"Sweat first, huh?" Methos asked. "Sure you wouldn't rather work up a sweat some other way?"

"I could probably be persuaded," MacLeod said, hands moving across his partner's flat stomach. "Of course, then we might be too tired to draw the bath."

"Draw a bath...been awhile since I heard that one," Methos said with an answering chuckle. "Bath then...and see what hot water will do to your energy level," he said and with a final kiss slipped off the bed.

MacLeod ended up in the lake anyway as they waited for the water to heat, Methos sitting on the porch with one of Richie's beers as he watched his lover rinse off and wake up and then return with buckets of water. By silent agreement, they kept conversation minimal, supplanting words with touches and an almost hovering closeness. There was a certain rawness to their feelings that would only be expressed wrongly with words, so they said little. Discussion, and there would be discussion, would wait...had to wait.

Mac felt it as strongly as Methos, perhaps more, and found himself watching the older man when Methos was not looking. Saw him quell the sharp pain when he burned his hand then found himself deliberately burning his own fingers lightly and waiting for the pain to fade. Which it did, rather quickly. Despite his claims of becoming a microphobe, Methos shirked in none of the share of the work but Mac winced at every minor scrape or bump. Methos was not a clumsy man but having demanded he endure this mortality, Mac felt it necessary that he try and understand his lover's fears and found himself worrying what he would do if Methos did indeed suffer some less than minor injury.

Or illness. The term 'pre-existing condition' that Mac had often seen on the insurance plans he kept for his employees at the dojo suddenly became more important and he found himself wondering what other of the common mortal concerns would become his. He had thought little about it with Tessa. She had been handling such things herself long before he met her but he wished now he had paid more attention.

Joe would help, answer the odd questions, but as he watched Methos add the last of the hot water to the huge copper tub and strip off his shirt, he was struck by a physical frailty he had never before associated with Methos. Over-protectiveness would drive Methos away as easily as anything else but the hands he laid on the smooth skin as he came up behind his lover were gentle and light, touching this man whose body he knew as well as his own, if not better, with a certain wonder and fear. He hid the concern carefully when Methos turned to face him. "Bathe or soak?" Methos asked

Mac grinned at him, unfastening his lover's jeans. "I think I want to give you a bath," he said quietly, not missing the momentary confusion on Methos' face as he stripped off his own jeans.

The tub was not quite so large as the one in the loft but it was deeper. Keeping to Mac's wish Methos sat first and Mac climbed in to face him. A little maneuvering, much sloshed water and some deeper laughter had them settled with Methos' bent legs across Mac's thighs. It was a bathing of sorts as Methos leaned back, closing his eyes when Mac's soapy hands worked the sweat and the fatigue and the tension from his chest and shoulders and arms. The firm pressure of Mac's hands relaxed him enough to lean comfortably against his lover, groins pressed together as Mac washed his back. The water did not cool too quickly, the tub positioned as close to the fire as they could manage without heating the metal unbearably. There was more laughter as Mac washed his hair, pouring water over the dark head, then wiping his lover's face.

"Your turn," Methos said, running his fingers through his damp hair.

"I am clean enough," Mac said quietly, brown eyes darkening as he shifted, coaxing Methos on his knees, eyes narrowing as his lover rose slightly above him, alabaster skin flushed from the heat and the bathing. Without a word Mac guided him into turning then pulled him back against him, cradling Methos between his thighs and against his chest. That almost unnoticed thrum seemed to increase, making Mac's skin feel over-sensitized but not painfully so as Methos leaned against him. "I think I missed a spot," Mac murmured into the shell of his lover's ear, then kissed the sensitive flesh. His hands slid over his lover's hips to his groin.

Methos let his head drop back to Duncan's shoulder as the sure hand settled across his cock, stroking it gently. A turn of his head and Mac's mouth found his with barely any strain at all. There was little sense of an answering arousal against his flesh but Methos didn't question it as Mac continued to fondle him gently, one wet hand beginning a slow pattern of caresses across his chest and belly while the soft lips nuzzled his throat and jaw. The loving assault eased a bit as Methos' breathing deepened, became less steady. He moved against Mac in response, pressing into his hand until that hand tightened around him and released, a similar rhythm being played across his breast. When the shudder began, Mac caught his throat, tilting his head back to kiss him while Methos gripped the edge of the tub as his orgasm came in slow, drawn out pulses of excruciating pleasure. Then Mac's voice was in his ear, softly, his words slipping in and through the light touches that gentled him, brought him down from passion's tension into a near state of semi-consciousness.

Mac wrapped his arms around his lover securely, lips still pressed under his lover's ear as he waited for Methos to come back to him from the edge of dreaming. The water was cooling but Methos was still warm and pliant. The thrum had eased as well by the time Mac started nuzzling his lover again to rouse him to movement.

"I'd rather drown than move," Methos murmured, eyes still closed, his head resting on Mac's shoulder.

"I won't let you drown," Mac chuckled. "I don't want you get chilled though," he added and felt the smallest tension creep into his lover again. "Don't read more into that than there is, Methos," Mac said against his throat. "Mortal or Immortal, you get cold and I like you warm."

The answering chuckle removed the tension and Methos did move, pulling himself forward and up, Mac steadying him with his hands on his hips as the circulation moved again through the long legs. Then Mac was up behind him and out as they both reached for towels and dried each other off, which led to other touches. The silence might have been painful had it not been laced through with a sense of wonder and rediscovery. Such a close brush with death, however theoretical, finally settled into their brains as the sacrifices each was willing to make...or not to make...for the other became an indelible part of their relationship.

"I am for food and a walk," Methos said when they were dressed again and he caught Mac looking at him with more unspoken in the dark eyes than Methos was prepared to read. MacLeod's grin broke the intensity of his regard and Methos found himself looking away as he reached into the cooler for the supplies to make sandwiches. It became a much longer process than necessary as Mac and he traded places constantly in the small space. There was a certain giddy silliness as well when Mac remained behind his lover to reach around and lift two halves of a sandwich and push them together only to watch the contents slip out on the counter.

"Yours," Methos informed him with a raised eyebrow, picking up a slice of mayonnaise covered turkey with a section of sliced tomato. He offered it over his shoulder to MacLeod who managed the tidbit in one bite, then lingered to lick the remaining dressing and juices from the slender fingers. "Shall I peel you a grape, my lord?" Methos asked with an amused smile.

"Maybe later," Mac said and nuzzled his ear, arms slipping around the slim waist. Methos leaned against him for a long moment then turned his attention back to rebuilding their meal. He had the sandwiches fixed, Mac's arms still around his waist when he stopped and braced his hands against the counter.

"What is it?" Mac asked.

"Maybe I should get an apron and you can yell out, 'Lucy, I'm home!' every night," Methos said flatly.

"Whoa! Methos, it's just dinner," Mac said releasing him and leaning on his elbow to look at his partner.

The older man drew a deep breath and nodded, calming himself before reaching out to touch Mac's face. "I just...." he chuckled but there was a raw edge to the laughter. "I've never been anyone's wife before," he said.

"Wife? Methos, I don't think of you as anything other than my partner, my lover and my very best friend," Mac said seriously, then rose up and pulled some paper from a drawer, wrapping the sandwiches quickly before Methos could respond. Sandwiches and four beers went into Methos' pack. "Come on," Mac said gently when they were provisioned. "Let's get that walk in and we'll eat up on the rocks," he said and opened the door.

Embarrassed and disconcerted by his own fit of pique Methos went. He knew the way, had spent a goodly portion of the last few days up on the open rocky expanse in the center of the island, preferring the space to think rather than the close confines of the cabin where every detail reminded him of the Highlander.

He didn't resist when Mac's arm came around his shoulder. The trail was wide enough for them to walk side by side and they were walking, not hiking or in any particular hurry to get to their chosen destination. The walking did help ease the anxiety, Methos closing his eyes as he put one foot in front of the other, trusting MacLeod not to let him walk into a tree.

The tension slipped slowly from the slender body, Mac using his arm as much as a barometer as to maintain contact with his lover. When Methos' arm finally slipped around his waist he actually drew the first deep breath he had in quite some time.

"Sorry," Methos murmured.

"Don't start or we'll be apologizing every five minutes," Mac said. "We don't have to settle everything or even talk about everything in a day."

"I know," Methos said but he seemed unconvinced or uncomfortable. Mac couldn't tell which and having just made his peace offering he couldn't very well demand an explanation now. Instead he pulled Methos a little closer.

"What favor does Connor owe you that would let him even contemplate taking your head?" Methos asked him suddenly as they emerged from the trees to the open and exposed plateau of rock..

MacLeod guided him to the center of the area, glancing around. This section of the island should have seemed barren to him, but it never did. Instead he got a feeling of security here as nowhere else on the island. The trees ringed in close around them but were thin enough along the tracing of granite to offer glittering glimpses of the lake. Overhead the sky was darkening with the approach of evening. Without answering, he slung the pack down and found a section of rock to sit on, watching his lover as Methos folded himself gracefully down beside him.

"I...I killed someone for him," Mac said softly. "Someone who had killed someone he loved. He promised...swore that one day he would repay me. I never thought to ask him to keep that promise. Never thought I would have reason enough. I would have killed the man anyway -- and not for what he did to Connor. Connor told me he would rather take your head," Mac added with a faint smile. "What did you do to him?"

The smile came gradually, lightening the hazel eyes as Methos chuckled. "Connor and I have run into each other a couple of times. The last time it came to swords. He is nearly as honorable as you, Duncan. A definite disadvantage when you fight someone like me. I really didn't want his Quickening and I was mad at him, but not mad enough to want to take his head. It was more a misunderstanding than anything. I left him bare-assed naked and trussed up like a turkey on the side of a road outside of Lyons. He said something that pissed me off. Then I waited until someone came and found him. He was purple he was so embarrassed," Methos said and the chuckle deepened.

"Why did you wait?"

"I didn't want anyone to take his head while he was tied up and unable to defend himself. Plus I wanted to see him embarrassed."

"Remind me never to make you mad," Mac said with a laugh and dug into the pack for the food.

"Drive me mad is more like," Methos said accepting a beer and sandwich and leaning back on one elbow. "He...he does think I seduced you though, doesn't he?"

"At first...that bothers you?"

"It bothers me that he thinks so little of you...or maybe it does bother me. It's not the first time he's called me a slut," Methos said with a faint smile. "No, actually, I think it was whore...made me mad then, too. But then, at that time...he was right, more or less."

"You act like this should make a difference to me. Methos, I walked into this...all of this with my eyes wide open. And if I recall correctly, I think the seduction went the other way." Mac settled himself on his side, to face his partner. "Why would you care what Connor thinks of you? Or of me? There is only one person's opinion in this relationship that I care about."

"I just don't want you to...alienate...other people. I can' everything to you," Methos said softly. "Not that I ever could, but I could pretend before...for sixty some years is what I've got, I suppose I will have to find something to do with time."

"Who says you're going to have any?" Mac said and caught his chin to kiss him tenderly.

"You going to keep me in bed for sixty years?" Methos asked with a hint of laughter.

"Maybe...or the floor, the bath...the couch...we may need a bigger house, or we may find an answer tomorrow and then I can add countries to the list. I'd like to make love to you in Lisbon...maybe Versailles." The dark eyes shone with humor at the litany...the teasing settling the tension between them.

"Until then or you decide...I still need a life. I just never had to settle on just one before," Methos said still smiling. "Maybe take a turn at Joe's bar...finish off my own chronicles. The real ones."

"Re-write history?" Mac prompted.

"Who me? Tell the truth? Now why would I want to do that?" Methos said with a smile and then it faded slowly as he met his lover's eyes seriously. "I need a promise from you now, Highlander," he said.

"Do I get to hear it first?"

"Fair enough. I won't...we won't re-enact that scene on the dock again. I can promise you that...I want the same thing. If something happens...either by accident...or because we decide its the best course...if it...if it doesn't work out I don't want you in the grave next to mine if you can help it."

"Live," Mac said looking away to watch the sun settle behind the trees sending streaks of golden light through the feathered branches and bouncing off the lake.

"Yes. With or without me, Mac."

"Do I get to think about it?"

Methos sighed. "Since I want your willing promise, then I suppose you do. How long for your answer?"

"Maybe in sixty years..." Mac said and then restrained Methos when his lover would have gotten up. "Yes. All right? Yes," he said seriously and pulled Methos against his chest again. "I will live and remember. But don't make any plans without me."

Methos relaxed and nodded, drawing a deep breath and MacLeod had the distinct impression that his lover had just slipped from denial to acceptance with a few short words and a promise. He held him close as they watched the sun set, lips pressed to the dark hair and wondering how he could be so content within himself for having lied to Methos for the first time.

For all that Methos' mind seemed to have eased on MacLeod's promise, Mac was finding his own doubts rising. They stayed on the rocks waiting for the sun to complete its glorious descent and then later, hours later, watching the moon rise almost full and wholly silver, making the rock beneath them gleam like some other-world snow plain. 

The drop in temperature prompted coats and cuddling, the latter Mac had no problem with at all as he set his back against an upthrust of stone so Methos could settle against him. He offered to build a fire only to have Methos challenge him as to whose woodsmanship was superior. The discussion was lively but the fire never got built.

The conversation, what there was of it, wandered, Methos agreeing, with a certain overly-quick capitulation, to take the tests Anne had suggested. 

"I'll be there," Mac promised against his hair. 

"I know, wasn't the tests," Methos began then shrugged, burrowing a little closer to his lover's chest for warmth but his eyes were still on the moon. 

Mac tightened his grip. "Does it look the same...the it did five thousand years ago?" he asked. 

Methos chuckled softly. "I'd need a sextant to check the positioning and physically it looks the same, I suppose. It doesn't hold quite the awe for me that it once did." 

"Aye, I can remember the stories being told about the chariots that ride from the moon when it goes black..." Mac started and then paused. "Well, damn..." 

"The chariots come down to spill the white fire left over from the sun across the land and gather it back up from the sea...endless punishment for having brought darkness to the world...the charioteer's name was Farak'aoud," Methos said. "That one pre-dates you a good three thousand years, Mac, and you won't find it in any history books," Methos said softly. "Maybe you should become the new Methos chronicler."

Mac held him tighter, a little disconcerted at how easily Methos' memories had slipped through his own and taken precedence. "Christ, does this mean I am going to start preferring beer to scotch?" he asked, trying for some levity. 

"It's cheaper than the scotch you drink," Methos teased. 

"Not in the quantities you drink it..." MacLeod returned, nipping at his lover's ear. "Speaking of is getting colder. Ready to head back?" 

"If I must," Methos said and moved, stretching a bit before rising then turning and offering both hands to help Mac to his feet. Mac pulled the pack together, slinging it once more over his shoulder. 

They returned at a slower pace. Once back within the woods, without the moon's glow, the trail was harder to follow and steeper down, or so it seemed. Dew fall had made the ground slicker and on one particularly narrow and steep section, MacLeod almost overbalanced with the pack. Methos reached out to steady him only to lose his own footing and both of them went down. Methos found it initially very funny that two grown men should find themselves tumbling ass over arrogance like children. They didn't slip far and Mac came to rest with an audible "Oomph!" against a tree. Methos made a somewhat more graceful recovery, actually facing the trail the way they meant to go. He gave a small, irritated curse as he got to his feet, cradling his left arm in his right. 

"One way to make time," Mac commented glancing up and back at the twenty or so yards their tumble and roll duet had covered. He hauled himself to his feet. "What did...?" He came forward, turning Methos slightly to make better use of what little light there was filtering through the trees.

"A sprain," Methos said shortly and pulled out a handkerchief. He let Mac wrap the injured joint. "We'll take care of it at the cabin," he said and turned away before Mac could even begin the "it will heal," that was on the tip of his tongue.

It would, but it was more than a sprain Mac discovered once they reached the cabin and had the lamps lit and the fire built up again. An improvised splint stabilized the break and cold lake water with what was left of the ice in the cooler brought the swelling down temporarily. Methos bore his lover's first-aid stoically, the hazel eyes even dancing slightly as Mac tried to recall if a straight wrap or a figure eight would be best. "You sound like Hayley Mills in the 'Moonspinners'," Methos chuckled.

"What?" Mac asked, with a grin, treating the injury with as much care and gentleness as he could manage.

"The 'Moonspinners' -- it's a movie. Hayley Mills finds the hero shot up in the old Greek church and she can't remember which bandaging she learned in the Girl Guides is appropriate for bullet wounds."

"What did she decide?" Mac asked tying off the ends of the bandage.

"I think it was a Band-Aid and half a bottle of ouzo," Methos said and stilled MacLeod's hands as they continued to fuss with the bandage. "It's fine. We can have Anne take a look at it tomorrow. It's not the first time I've broken this wrist, Mac. Besides, I think you were on about something like whiskey and coffee to take the chill off," he reminded his lover gently, then moved to fill the coffee pot with water.

Mac let him go, putting the meager first aid supplies away. The comment Methos had tossed off summoning other memories he wasn't sure he was in the mood to face.

...ropes so tight they cut into flesh, jerked tight, the delicate bones in the wrist snapping under the strain only the pain was so minor compared to what followed...

He shook off the imagery, not sure he could deal with the feelings that accompanied Methos' memories. Not all unpleasant, but as he watched his lover move through the small area, he was as aware of how often that body had broken on purpose or by accident. How much physical and emotional pain Methos had survived over the millennia...or inflicted, he recalled as well. The former sometimes prompting the latter...or vice versa. Sorting out the reasoning behind Methos' choices was going to take him a lifetime...but the circumstances had altered. He had not yet even attempted to probe those memories regarding the Horsemen or Byron, the events he was already aware of somehow more frightening than the ones he did not know about. They would come, he had discovered, without his will. He welcomed the easier ones...a reconfirming of his own suspicions and hopes that Methos had spent the majority of his long life, if not exactly a shining example of humanity, at least living as any man Mac tried to -- just getting through each day and each situation in the best way he could.

He checked through his supplies, found the small first aid kit Methos had brought, but found no pain killers. A glance told him that Methos seemed to be oblivious to the pain, managing quite well with one hand. A second look found Mac studying his lover's face more carefully, noting the studied neutrality in the angular face.

A broken wrist was not that serious an injury and it had been an accident, but Methos had tried to shrug it off as a sprain, something so minor it shouldn't and wouldn't have mattered. Those niggling doubts rose again and Mac moved up behind his lover as he waited for the coffee to brew. "I'll finish. Why don't you..."

"I am fine," Methos said without looking at him. MacLeod nodded and pressed a kiss to the back of his head before turning away to pull cups from the cupboard and lacing the bottom of each with a liberal amount of alcohol.

Despite their earlier urges and their long nap, bed became more a cradle for closeness than for passion. Methos fell asleep relatively quickly, curled against MacLeod's chest, his wrist propped up on a pillow but sleep escaped the Scot as he held his lover. Partly from worry and partly in an effort to forestall any resurgence of dream or memory. But sleep did start to creep over him eventually as he maintained a certain stillness so as not to disturb his partner.

Only to have Methos be the one to move several hours after they had gone to bed. He kept himself still yet, as his lover rose and left the cabin briefly. Methos returned with a bucket of water but did not come back to bed. Instead he sought out the bottle on the counter and poured himself a hefty portion, downing it quickly before moving to the rough couch, the injured arm cradled carefully.

MacLeod watched Methos silently as his lover unwrapped the wrist and then soaked it in the lake's cold water. He was so still, so silent. Not a murmur or sound escaped him, not even a sigh as the cold water eased the swelling and probably the pain as well. All his movements had been silent, illustrating an almost uncanny ability to move like a ghost. Biting his lip MacLeod realized that had he been any deeper asleep, he probably would not have even noticed his lover leaving the bed. Or he would have acknowledged it and then gone back to sleep as he had so many nights with Tessa. Amanda moving in and out of his bed had always awakened him, the shift of her Immortal presence a more attuned disturbance than the random movements of other lovers. Without Methos beside him he had to strain to detect any sense of the older man at all...but it was there, that almost buzz that signaled a pre-Immortal, only Methos' was so weak...

As his lover was not. Nor would he be, not so it would show, ever, MacLeod thought and shifted slightly, cradling his head on his arms. Methos either did not notice the movement or was too occupied trying to keep his reaction to the pain a secret. And if he is willing to hide this much, when he knows I already know it's broken, what other things might he hide, physical or emotional, in his effort to keep me from worrying?

There was no fairness in the bargain they had made. There couldn't be, anymore than there could be fairness in any relationship MacLeod chose to have with a mortal. He had been so intent on keeping Methos alive he had forgotten what he was keeping him alive for -- his own selfishness mocking him. He wasn't quite ready to relinquish that selfishness yet, but he could acknowledge it and did. He slipped off the bed, not surprised when Methos glanced up, the features going still again in the faint glow from the fire. Mac threw another couple of logs on and built it back up before reaching into the bucket and carefully withdrawing Methos' hand. It was still swollen, the slender fingers angry and red looking from the poor circulation, the wrist itself distended and puffy.

"You should have left it wrapped," Mac said his tone slightly scolding as he elevated the wrist letting it rest across his shoulder.

"Probably," Methos agreed. "You plan on holding my arm up like that all night?" he asked with a faint smile.

"Depends on if you plan on showing some sense," Mac said, gathering up the bandages. "You plan on hiding from me every time you hurt yourself?"

"Touché," Methos said. "No. This, like everything else, will fall into perspective, eventually."

MacLeod said nothing as he re-bandaged the wrist, then folded the arm against Methos' chest as he pulled his lover against him. "Enough whiskey to put you out?" he queried.

"No, not yet," Methos acknowledged his weakness gracefully and Mac didn't press nor did he move when the body in his arms went pliant and relaxed in sleep. Sleep did not come over him again as he contemplated if Methos had now been lying to Mac or himself. By dawn, he thought he had his answer and his eyes burned and watered from more than the new light coming through the windows. God help them both if he were wrong.