Sheathing Fate
by Maygra de Rhema

continued from chapter three, part two...


Conclusion

Methos woke to the feel of MacLeod's hands rubbing his arm. He was stiff and achy and with wakefulness his wrist throbbed painfully...almost unbearably. But it was bearable, just, as he moved. The throw blanket from the back of the sofa had found its way around him, around both of them at some point. A good thing because the fire had gone out again and the cabin was cold. Mac wasn't though and it was all Methos could do not to burrow back into the warmth of his lover's body. As it was he stole the blanket, ignoring Mac's half-hearted and teasing protest.

"You let the fire go out, you deal with it," Methos said with a smirk, the expression easing into a softer smile as his lover and lately, bed, rose to restart the fire. They had both been foolish enough to make their first foray into sleep without clothes but Methos hurried to rectify the situation, digging out his jeans from the pile of clothes beside the bed. He managed to get them on and zipped but the button was harder with one hand. Then there was nothing difficult at all as Mac's hands appeared around his waist to finish the task for him.

"This is new, " Mac said with a chuckle, dropping a kiss on Methos' shoulder. "I'm usually working this the other way through."

"Versatility in all things, MacLeod," Methos said with a grin as Mac bent to gather his own clothes and dress.

"Do you need help?" Mac asked tossing Methos his shirt.

"I think I can manage, but if you are feeling the need to be valet as well as nurse, be my guest," Methos said with a resigned grin, shrugging into the flannel shirt and then remaining quiet and not a little amused as Mac buttoned the shirt for him. Before he could protest, his jeans were undone again and Mac tucked his shirt in, fingers lingering as he smoothed the fabric across Methos' body at belly and hips and buttocks.

"I could learn to like this, " Mac said huskily his eyes dancing, as he made sure there were no wrinkles across Methos' backside to ruin the lines of his jeans.

"So could I," Methos said softly, swaying forward slightly to capture Mac's mouth briefly. It wasn't quite enough for MacLeod and he pulled him closer, hands still spread across his lover's buttocks under the denim. Methos chuckled and stretched into the embrace, making a reach for Mac's hips, then hissed as he tapped his injured wrist solidly against the column of the bed. The pain washed up his arm and he bit back on it and swore. He could deal with it if it was steady, if it were constant but the sharper pain was not unlike suffering a fresh torture. "Dammit, I hate this," he said before he could stop himself.

Mac held him until he relaxed again but Methos was all too aware of the tension in Mac's body. It would be no different if it had been Joe who injured himself, or Tessa, as she undoubtedly had at some point in her relationship with Mac. It was no weakness of MacLeod's to feel compassion and concern for another's pain. But it was a weakness Methos was not used to dealing with in himself.

He pulled away and Mac finished what he had started, buttoning his jeans again, then helping him slip a pale sweater over his head, being cautious of the injured arm, before pushing Methos gently onto the bed. "Just stay, and I'll get your socks and boots," Mac said and there was no sympathy in his face, his features carefully schooled into an impassive mask -- exactly like a valet or a manservant.

Methos said nothing and let Mac finish dressing him, fight down the urge to shove Mac away and do for himself but even as the anger rose so did the pain in his arm. It was a feeling of helplessness such as Methos had never known...or could not remember. Plus the sinking realization that it would not be gone in a few hours or possibly even a few days. He could not feel his fingers enough to move them although they did twitch when he looked. Mac was kneeling in front of him, lacing his boots.

You've had people dress you before, he reminded himself. But always because it was his due or his station, not because he couldn't do it for himself.

Anymore than he could really help Mac pack up and close down the cabin. MacLeod had done it himself, by himself, countless times before, and he went through the routine with a quick efficiency, moving their gear onto the porch. MacLeod said nothing as Methos managed what he could do, which was little enough, that adding to his frustration as much as anything.

The punt was loaded and Mac made no production of helping his lover into the low-sided, broad craft before pushing off from the dock. They had barely managed half a dozen words to each other -- only those necessary to see to the pack up. It was still cool, but the lake was glassy and dark as Mac poled them across its mirrored surface. Methos leaned back against the bundled clothing and blankets. If he closed his eyes he might even believe it was just a slow journey down the Thames.

The pack up and lock down had eaten into a good portion of the day and neither man was really surprised to find Connor waiting for them. "I thought about coming across but I saw you," he said. He was seated on the end of the dock, long frame folded up with his arms around his knees as Mac maneuvered the boat alongside.

"It's okay," Mac said and tossed him the line.

"What happened to you?" Connor asked as Methos stepped out.

"We got into a wrestling match and I lost," Methos said sardonically, then his expression eased. "I fell. Broke it."

Connor only nodded, glancing at his kinsman. Mac shrugged and tossed gear out onto the dock. Methos didn't even make a pretense of offering to help save to grab up his own pack and head to the cars.

"Do I get the whole story or am I just the bellboy?" Connor asked his kinsman, sweeping his light brown hair off his forehead.

"Don't press it, Connor," Mac said a little tight-lipped. "At the moment I have all I can handle." Connor's gaze followed his cousin's as Mac watched Methos jerk the door open on his truck and sling the pack inside.

"I'm not leaving 'til I get the whole story," Connor said stubbornly and Mac whirled on him with a sharp retort only to be halted by the worry he saw reflected in the gray eyes.

Duncan said nothing, unable to meet those eyes. He picked up a bag and one end of the cooler, Connor grasping the other end. They loaded Mac's truck and then the younger Immortal went to his lover. Methos was leaning against the truck, his face slightly pale but he managed a smile as Mac approached. "We might want to stop at the emergency room on the way in," he said softly, still cradling his arm.

Mac nodded, examining the joint gently. The swelling had extended, the skin hot to his touch. Mac bit his lip. "Let me tell Connor. He can take the gear home."

Without speaking to Connor, Mac rummaged through his bag and found what he needed. Connor looked up, suddenly unnerved by what he saw in his young kinsman's face...amd in his hands.

"Duncan?" Connor queried softly and was ignored as Mac returned to the other vehicle. Methos had his hand on the door, ready to leave.

"Methos," Mac said softly and his lover turned to him, the gold-green eyes waiting patiently. "You know I love you?"

Methos' eyes narrowed slightly, a faint smile curving his lips. "I know, Mac. We'll work it out...I'll adjust..." he said reassuringly and Mac pulled him close.

"I will always be with you, one way or another," Mac said fiercely.

Methos opened his mouth to offer whatever promises MacLeod needed to hear, then felt a sharp pain rip though his back and into his heart. He had time for one startled realization of what Mac had done before he was slipping into the darkness. He could not even demand of MacLeod a final promise but he touched the set lips, summoned the words but they would not come. All he could give Mac was a last look of love enough to last them both several eternities.

"What the hell are you doing!!" Connor snapped as Mac staggered slightly under the sudden dead weight in his arms. A blood stain blossomed across Methos' back, turning the cream sweater crimson. Without answering his cousin, Mac eased himself and his precious burden down, cradling Methos' body against his chest and knees.

Duncan said nothing but met his cousin's steel gray eyes evenly, waiting.

"You son of a bitch!" Connor said softly. "Is it really worth your life, Duncan?"

"If life is worth living, it's for the love we find..."

"He agreed to wait...."

"He agreed so I wouldn't die. Not because it was what he wanted."

"He wants you to live...."

"I guess that makes us even..."

"I ought to just kill you and lock you up until you come to your senses."

"Probably. You gave your word, Connor...it's up to you what it's worth."

"Then wait," Connor pleaded crouching beside his kinsman. His hand went out automatically to brush the dark hair from Methos' forehead.

"I don't..." Mac began and a shudder wracked his body. He caught his breath, pulling Methos close, still feeling the warmth in the slim body. "I don't want to know that I...killed him if he's wrong," Mac said in a gasp. The pain was so acute in his heart he felt he had taken the knife thrust he had driving into his lover.

"And if I kill you and don't take your head, even if he doesn't come back?" Connor asked and his gaze was unflinching as he saw the bright sheen of tears in Mac's eyes.

"Then I will fight you until you are forced to. Don't you get it, Connor? I did this! Whether I meant to or not, whether he meant it or not...I have what I never wanted, and can't have the thing I had counted on...you told me once...you said, 'Who wants to live forever if there is nothing to live for?'"

"That's yer grief talkin', man!" Connor snapped, gripping his cousin's shoulders.

"Maybe..." Mac murmured his fingers tracing the still face turned toward his chest. There was no pain there now, nor distance, nor strain. He closed his eyes, the rational part of his brain trying to let Connor's words work through him but the thought of not waking to see that face, or to know that Methos' ancient spirit inhabited the earth only in MacLeod's memory was too much. He had not been afraid to watch Methos grow old. He had not been afraid of the hatred that might have risen within the familiar breast if Methos were to continue in his life as a mortal.

But he was terrified, as Methos had been terrified, that the man Methos was might change. That the distance between the mortal and Immortal parts of them both would become too great to be breached. He had seen it in the withdrawal, in the subjugation of Methos' reactions, his feelings, his desires to deny what had happened to him. You want me to go have Anne's tests, Duncan? Sure. You need to help me dress as if I were a child or an invalid, Mac? All right, take care of me. If that's what you need. What you need, MacLeod. What do I need? I need to make my own choices...this is what I choose...for you.

"It's a fifty-fifty chance, Connor," Mac whispered. "And if we are wrong, then I just murdered my lover. That alone should cost me my head."

"You are out of your fucking mind! Can you feel him at all?" Connor demanded.

There was nothing except the solid weight of Methos' body against his own, the cooling dampness of blood against his thighs. Even Methos' skin was cooling. Mac kissed him lightly before the lips got too cold to bear. Death was death even for Immortals.

He was not aware that Connor had moved...never even noticed him until he felt the same pain he had given Methos. More thought and this could have been less painful, Mac thought as his own darkness closed around him. More thought and he would never have done it at all. Forgive me... But his mind no longer knew whose forgiveness he was asking: Connor's, Methos' or God's.


"Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: The Lord do so to me, and more also, If ought but death part thee and me."

Ruth's story told itself over and over in Connor's mind as he crouched beside the two dead bodies. He had left his blade buried in Duncan's back, not sure which way his decision would take him. He remembered loving this much, had loved this much and had his need for vengeance at the time not been so sharp he might well have sought a permanent death for himself then. But there was nowhere Mac could lay his vengeance -- none to be taken and his kinsman, for all his big heart and strength, had been sore pressed over the last few years. To suddenly find something that righted his world so completely and then have it snatched away by Fate...he sighed softly and laid his hand on the blade, steadying his grip against his kinsman's shoulder where he was folded over his lover, and pulled.

The movement shifted the weight of Duncan's body and Connor eased him down, laying him on his side next to Methos. Their fingers were still tangled and Connor made no effort to pull them apart, but his eyes shifted to Methos.

He could feel nothing, had been unable to the day before, and there was no sign of revival in the pale face, that youth having never struck Connor so forcibly before in his few encounters with the old one. This was the old one that had taught Connor's teacher, who had seen more life than most Immortals could ever hope for and he had to swallow against his own fear of taking on that much....history...should he take his cousin's head. There were letters, one for Joe and another for Richie, hastily dashed off by Duncan at the airport should this desperate experiment fail.

His own decision had to come fast as he saw and felt the Quickening around Mac stir as the healing began...he had his sword ready, ready for what he wasn't sure yet and it crossed his mind that he could just keep killing Duncan until he was sure, but eventually...it would almost be worth it to have Duncan challenge him...to have his kinsman lose to him in battle rather than this recklessly hopeless version of assisted suicide.

The wound was closing, the heart would began beating again shortly and Connor found himself sweating despite the chill air. If Methos were to revive he would have done so by now, surely -- for all that first death's sometimes took longer, it wasn't his, not really. Ruth's story slipped back into his mind, his promise, Duncan's plea.

"God forgive me," he murmured, laying his blade against Duncan's throat at the first pulse he saw leap there.

The familiar blue tinted energy was spreading across Duncan's back, that healing that looked like nothing so much as a miniature version of a Quickening when an Immortal lost his head. Connor closed his eyes, felt the yield of flesh under his blade and raised it only to stop, frozen, gray eyes dilating at what he saw.

The wound in Duncan's back was not so large yet that energy was spreading as if he had been burned...creeping over his body like the advancement of frost across glass. He was breathing already, moments from drawing a conscious breath, his fingers twitching against Methos' lax hand.

He hesitated, watching that slow creep as it traveled down Mac's arm toward his lover, hesitating before it breached the short distance between the two men. Connor touched Duncan's shoulder lightly, fascinated by what he was seeing and hopeful, then swore as at his touch the force drew back, drawn to him, to his Quickening, so much stronger than any residual Methos might have left.

"Shit!" he muttered, and his eyes were tearing as he snatched his hand away, but Mac's wound was almost healed and his kinsman was stirring, opening his eyes as the healing energy faded...

...and saw, the brown eyes closing almost immediately at the still figure beside him, his hand clenching tightly around the cold one. "No..." It was not a wail or sob, just a denial.

Connor did not even think as he sent his cousin back into death, sending the blade so quickly into Duncan's body that his kinsman did not even have time to acknowledge the second and lesser physical pain. Connor lay his hand on the dark head as Duncan went still again, ingnoring the blood on his fingers and praying he had not stolen the one chance Methos had -- or Duncan had -- with his ignorance.

It came faster this time, almost hurried as if there were some great universal time clock that had to be beat and Connor stepped back and crouched again, praying as hard as he ever had, the tears on his face mingling with a light patter of rain that had begun falling.

A glance up told of a coming storm but it was in no way a match for the tempest building inside him as he watched the process continue, that hesitant line of blue-white light creeping across Methos arm', almost plucking at him, probing to see if there were anything to latch onto. It occurred to Connor that Mac's Quickening...the real one...might complete this trial as well and where would that leave Methos? Alone, as his cousin feared, surviving as Methos would and could, as Mac wanted.

"Damn ye, both," he muttered wiping at his eyes. This was taking too long. There was still that link of energy between the two, pulsing like a living thing but no longer moving or trying to join them.

He didn't know if he expected fireworks but he was not prepared for what he did feel, the tug and pull against his own Quickening as if he were healing. Nothing to see but only to feel...he did not resist the pull though he did not move, dropping to hands and knees as dizziness washed over him and the rain started in earnest.

Duncan was stirring again and Connor wasn't sure he had the strength of will to do this a third time but he got to his feet anyway...the blade ready, the rain thinning the blood already staining the metal.

Poised and ready until he saw Duncan's back arch, curling his kinsman around and over the unmoving body beside him. The cry that escaped Mac was part pain and part despair and wholly involuntary, Connor faltering as if the souls of the dead had risen to bar his way. Then he felt it...that subtle murmur, that ghosting voice of a presence...a different presence other than his own or his kinsman's. It rose and faltered, struggled and faded only to surge back.

It was not a Quickening, not as Connor's experience knew them, nor even as Duncan had described that faltering odd jointure that had brought them to this. It was...

A miracle.

The first movement was so slight, Connor almost missed it as he crept forward, slender fingers flexed against the vise grip Mac still had on the hand. The flutter of eyelashes as rain hit the pale face and was felt. Duncan was still curled up next to him, looking impossibly young, and his face was tight, that energy moving again now, bleeding off.

A transfusion of sorts and Connor's breath caught as he realized that Methos had only been half right. Left alone, left to do this on his own, he would not have survived...may still not be whole for all that his chest was rising slightly. Connor got up, almost staggering to the truck for blankets, for the remains of what was in the thermos he had brought. He was no theorist or investigator of Immortal traits, but his theory, his suspicions seemed solid enough -- Mac's death, and yes, probably his Quickening, were the only way Methos could ever have gotten any of his own back.

He shut down the speculation, returning but afraid to get too close until they were both conscious and aware. To his surprise, it was Methos who found sense first, or at least opened his eyes to stare upward. Connor moved carefully using his arms and body to hold the blanket over the pair like an umbrella. If there was recognition in the hazel eyes, Connor did not see it. Alive, that was all Duncan wanted. The sense of Methos' presence was gaining strength with every heartbeat.

Methos moved, his gaze shifting to the man beside him, the bandaged hand coming out to touch the face, now pale under the tan, the fingers curling against Duncan's cheek. "I take it I am not dead," he murmured. "Glad you didn't do something really stupid, Connor."

The laughter that choked Connor was not quite hysterical. "Almost, old man. I almost made a mistake I would regret to the end of my very long life and yours," he said and knelt down, still protecting them from the rain as best he could.

"And Duncan's much shorter one?" Methos asked. "He lied to me."

"I always knew he had it in him," Connor said with a grin, and could not blame the rain any longer for the dampness on his cheeks. "How do you feel?"

"Foolish," Methos murmured and rolled to his side as Mac stirred, still curling in on himself a bit and Methos touched him again, moving closer. "Close your eyes if you are easily embarrassed, Connor. I am about to take unfair advantage of your kinsman."

Connor did not move nor look away as Methos kissed Mac gently, stilled the shudders that raced through the younger Immortal's body, then coaxed him to open his eyes.

It was fear that met Methos' gaze first, quickly replaced by wonder then a sob as Mac suddenly accepted the reality that his lover lived. Connor did close his eyes against what followed only because the raw need he saw in his kinsman's face would take a stronger man than he to bear up under -- a man like Methos.

The older Scot's shoulders were aching from his stint as a human umbrella but he bore it until Mac sat up, still shaken but more in control of himself. Connor surrendered the blanket to both of them. "We need to get under cover unless you two like being this wet," Connor said, feeling very much the adult and very much a child as well. He wasn't quite ready to attribute the whole thing to love but he was close...damn close.

"Is it done? Did it work?" Mac asked, letting Connor and Methos haul him to his feet.

Without a word, Methos held up his bandaged wrist and undid the wrapping, flexing the fingers easily, a rather stupefied smile on his sharp features. He still looked exhausted but the shine in the hazel eyes reassured Duncan as nothing else could.

"Gentlemen, the rain?" Connor said again wiping water from his eyes.

"Shut up, Connor," Mac said, a smile finally touching his lips as he laced his fingers through those on Methos' healed hand. "A little rain won't kill us."


Epilogue

They had a celebration of sorts, calls made that were meant to be reassuring but seemed to open the invitation and given the worry that had spread through the tight little circle, it would have been callous and cruel to deny Joe or Anne or Richie the need to verify for themselves that Methos was....still Methos.

It was to Joe that Methos found his own concerns wandering toward, after his thanks to Richie and to Anne. It was an odd comfort that Joe offered as Methos accompanied him to the bar for another round. He had the full story...a story that could never be told in the Chronicles of Duncan MacLeod as too many stories lately seemed to be bypassed, set aside for friendship's sake.

"I can't believe that you, the ultimate survivor..." Joe began for perhaps the tenth time that night, and stopped, too aware of the hazel eyes watching him again. "I am glad you are okay," he added more softly and that for perhaps the twentieth time.

"I got scared, Joe. I still am," Methos murmured reaching into the cooler for the dark brown bottles and setting them on a tray. "I am used to being a myth."

Joe watched him, saw the gaze drop and the flush stain the pale cheeks. "Too scared to find out if Methos, the man, exists?" he asked.

"He does, but only in the moment...not in the future I can't see. I don't have your courage, Joe," Methos said.

"I don't think I can understand this," Joe said earnestly.

"Anymore than I can understand mortality," Methos admitted, meeting his friend's eyes steadily at last and for a long moment until they shifted to meet Duncan's. Methos smiled at his lover and then Mac's attention was diverted by Connor. Methos continued to stare at his lover but the smile faded.

"It bothers you that he would rather die than..."

"Yes," Methos said softly. "And that he lied...that he changed...for me."

"What are you going to do?" Joe asked, suddenly uneasy. "You aren't going to bolt, are you?"

"No." It was a definitive, an absolute. "Not at the moment...who knows how I'll feel in a year or ten?" he added with a little more humor.

Joe was silent, fingers tracing the edge of the tray. He was startled when the long slender fingers closed over his and he lifted his head to stare into the gold-green eyes. "I wish I could give you the same...choice," Methos whispered.

Joe cocked his head and smiled a little bitterly. "Seeing how close you came to not having any choices any longer, I think I can deal," he said and Methos' hand tightened over his when he would have pulled away.

"Forgive me..." it was barely a breath and the intense gaze had faltered. Forgive me for being a coward, for not having the strength to face life as you do -- for wanting to live as I am, not as you are. Joe heard it as if it had been spoken aloud. It unnerved him still when Methos seemed to know what went beyond the words...or the silences.

It unnerved him further that Methos had asked him for this. "It's done...I do," The words came out before Joe had time to phrase them, his fingers squeezing his friend's before Methos nodded and turned away, ostensibly to get some clean glasses from behind the bar.

It also settled the vague unease within the aging Watcher as his words seemed to settle the ancient Immortal.

Joe had a set to play and Mac and Methos remained through the first of it, then left. Mac agreeing, with a roll of his eyes, to foot the bill. Richie and Connor elected to stay but Anne walked out with them...escorted to her car with envious looks from most of the women in the bar and not a few men.

"Just so you'll know, what tests we did manage to get came back normal...a few raised levels of some blood proteins, white counts, a little anemia...nothing alarming...about what you'd expect from someone who had the flu," she muttered, pulling her coat tight against the chill. "Wonder what I'd find now?"

Methos drove his hands into the pockets of his coat as well and rocked back on his heels for a moment to stare up at the dark sky. "About the same...I've had those tests..." he said and met her brown eyes with a wry grin. "Give me a couple of years and I may be willing to pursue that line of questioning with you...maybe it's time I re-entered the medical profession. I seem to be a little lacking in basic medical skills. Not to mention all those wonderful new toys you have."

Anne chuckled and then leaned forward impulsively to kiss his cheek. "Take good care of each other," she whispered against his cheek and then turned to kiss MacLeod soundly before getting in her car and pulling away.

"You pick good friends, Mac," Methos said as his lover came up behind him to rest his hands on Methos shoulders.

"I do," Mac said and kissed his temple. "Home?"

"Gods, yes," Methos answered wanting nothing more than to stretch out and sleep for a month.

Not quite so unpredictably Mac had other ideas and Methos gave into them once they reached the loft. Any slower and he would have screamed, any more tenderness and his heart would break, but any regrets were lost under the feeling of MacLeod's body and his joined with an intensity that left them both breathless and shaken.

Then Mac lay on top of him, cheek to chest as Methos played his favorite game of untangling the near black hair with gentle fingers.

"Are you angry?" Mac asked softly.

The question startled Methos. "No. It was...I don't know, Duncan. Foolish? Dangerous...pointless if you...if I were wrong. And I was. I don't know what to tell you. You were right -- if you had...if Connor had gone through with it, I might never have known. My belief in the afterlife isn't as strong as yours, I'm afraid." He fell silent and MacLeod lifted his head at the harsh sound of the last of Methos' words. The expressive eyes were closed, the dark lashes damp and glistening. MacLeod had no need to probe that sudden emotion, he had been riding the edge of it for most of the day himself -- another reason to go to Joe's; to separate themselves from what they were feeling, what had happened...what might have happened.

"I think we slipped past the 'til death do us part' section," Mac said huskily, shifting and pulling himself up beside his partner, leaning on his side to pull Methos' face toward his and tasting salt on the parted lips.

Methos chuckled rawly and nodded. "Something like that. We only have to do that part once, right?"

His answer was in the sudden grab MacLeod made for him pulling him tightly against his body. Methos relaxed into the embrace, letting his body mold itself to the younger Immortal's. "I still want one day at a time," Mac said fiercely. "Just let me ask every night if you will be here in the morning."

"I will be here in the morning," Methos said softly, wrapping his arms around his lover to wait for dawn.


~End~