|Counting the Cost
by Julia K
Set after The Modern Prometheus.
Huge thanks go to Solo and elynross for the wonderful beta. They made this story so much better. I also thank Cassie and Marguerite for their comments, advice and encouragement. Solo also put it on the web and dealt with the last minute panic. Thank you.
I don't own these characters. I'm not making any money.
Any kind of feedback very welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Immortal signature that had driven him from the café was long gone, his pursuer lost in the Parisian evening crowd and the intricate pattern he had walked to shake him off. Methos only halted his step for a moment as the barge came into sight. It had been long enough. He was hungry, he was tired, and it was as good an excuse as any.
After Byron's death and the ensuing confrontation in his apartment, he'd given them a week. The first few days he had spent in a pathetic blue funk, angry with the world, cursing both Byron and MacLeod, and just generally feeling very sorry for himself.
But there were things to do, business matters to be taken care of, and as the pain faded and the loss settled, taking its place with all the others, he found that he missed MacLeod.
He felt the buzz shortly before he reached the foot of the gangplank and stopped there, wrapping his coat around himself.
One week earlier
Getting drunk had been a rotten idea, Methos decided after the second bottle of whiskey and his third visit to the bathroom. The alcohol only fucked with his coordination without making him feel any better. He'd just wanted to get a little dizzy, to blur the edges, but everything was still as sharp, still as painful.
His present company didn't help.
He and MacLeod were the only ones in the bar. Joe had given them the keys and left with some meaningful glances towards Methos indicating 'talk, guys,' or something, and so they'd been sitting there for quite a while in silence, drinking.
"Want me to get another one?" MacLeod grabbed the empty bottle.
Already halfway up, MacLeod slumped down again onto his chair. "Yeah, I think I've had enough, too."
"Believe me, I haven't had nearly enough." Methos bit his tongue. He hadn't really meant to say it, but it had slipped out nevertheless. Great, now we're going to have a conversation.
"Then why stop?"
"Because at some point, I'll have to go home, and you never know who might decide that my head doesn't look so good on my shoulders. I'm rather attached to it." There was an awkward pause, and Methos could sense MacLeod straightening up, getting ready to jump right in. Icy water, it was.
"Methos, about Byron..." MacLeod stopped.
Here we go... Methos groaned and let his head fall on the table in what he hoped looked like a dramatic gesture. "MacLeod," he sighed.
"What?" came the strangely quiet reply.
"Not. Now." Raising his head, he looked MacLeod in the eye for the first time since the Highlander had come back from the challenge.
He just couldn't leave it alone, could he? Methos felt anger begin to rise for the first time tonight, and he wasn't really surprised to find that it subdued some of his misery. "No. You're not," he said pointedly. "You believe you were oh, so right, ridding the world of yet another bad guy." And in that second, it really hit him, like he hadn't known, like it had been unreal to him until now.
Byron was dead.
"I'm sorry it had to happen."
"Nothing had to happen, MacLeod," he snapped. "He made a choice, you made a choice." I made a choice.
Byron was dead.
He saw MacLeod open his mouth and added, "I don't want to talk about it right now, MacLeod. And I sure as hell don't want to talk to you about it."
"No!" Methos glared at him. "See, MacLeod," he went on, his easy tone underscored with venom, "you just killed a friend of mine, so you may understand why I'd rather not keep you company." A voice in his head whispered that he'd sat there with MacLeod for well over an hour, but he decided to ignore it.
"Your friend was a psycho who--"
"Yes," Methos hissed, and it sounded more aggressive than he'd meant it to. He saw MacLeod lean back a little, a minor shift of his body, as if he felt threatened.
Methos tried again. "Yes, I know all about what he did. What he was. I was there for a while, remember?"
"And you still call him your friend?" MacLeod asked. He didn't seem angry, or appalled. Just puzzled. He was the picture of innocent curiosity, and suddenly Methos felt sick, sick of it all. Sick, as unbelievable as it seemed, of MacLeod. He needed to get out of here.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot. Of course, the noble thing to do is to turn your back on your friends once you learn the nasty bits."
It took a moment for the message to sink in, but then MacLeod inhaled sharply, his mouth tightening with indignation. "That's not--"
Standing up, Methos cut him short. "Oh, come off it, Highlander. Just leave me alone." The rash movement made his vision spin for a moment, but he fought down the feeling of nausea and grabbed his coat. He groped for his wallet, but then decided it could wait. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw MacLeod getting up as well.
"No." He felt MacLeod's eyes on him, but refused to look up. "Close down the bar when you leave, will you?" he asked, almost casually, as he strode towards the exit. He didn't wait for an answer.
It took him half an hour to get to his apartment on foot, but he was glad for the delay. The cold wind bit into his face like hundreds of little needles, wiping his mind empty.
He let himself in and secured all the locks on autopilot, then shrugged off his coat and let it drop. His sword clanked on the floor, but he didn't bother picking it up. He'd tell all Immortals stopping by tonight to fuck off and come back in the morning. Yeah, right.
The fresh air had sobered him up, but also made him tired.
Byron is dead.
He wouldn't think about it. The horror of it wouldn't be quite as vast in the morning, when actions and reactions and consequences could be examined from a reasonable point of view. Darkness and a tired head only added a melodramatic flavor to the whole mess. He'd skip the shower he admittedly needed and just go to bed. Sleep. Sleep was good. Something simple he could wrap his mind around.
It wasn't like he'd seen the guy in the last couple of decades, and he hadn't harbored any plans for a jolly reunion. If he was honest with himself, he'd had some trouble reconciling the Byron of today with the poet he'd gotten to know all those years ago. He was familiar with the feeling; people changed.
So he really couldn't explain why it hurt so much. It had to happen, sooner or later, Methos thought, remembering MacLeod's earlier words, and he shook his head, because MacLeod had meant it differently. But for someone with Byron's mediocre fighting abilities, he had lasted surprisingly long in the Game.
For someone who didn't want to live anymore.
MacLeod had done Byron a favor. Neither pride nor some code of honor had kept Byron from fleeing; Methos knew Byron had never associated the former with the Game and had never cared for the latter. Weariness had made him face MacLeod in a fight he'd never had a chance of winning.
Just as he stripped off his T-shirt, Immortal presence hit him, and he was instantly wide-awake, dashing for his sword as old instincts took over. Then he heard the knock on the door, and MacLeod's deep voice. "Adam, it's me."
He loosened his grip on his sword, but didn't put it down.
"Adam." MacLeod knocked again, more fiercely this time.
Methos sighed, and moved. He unlocked the door and opened it, but kept the entrance blocked with his body.
There was a moment of silence as they studied each other, and Methos lost some of his hostility when he saw just how tired and burnt out MacLeod looked from Byron's Quickening. Mac's eyes were reddened and underlined with dark shadows, his mouth a tight line. A smell of whiskey and stale smoke accompanied the rather sorry picture.
"What do you want?" Methos asked stiffly.
"Talk." His voice was rough.
"Get yourself a shrink, will you?"
"Methos, we can't leave it like this."
"Fuck off," he replied, and felt his mouth twist into a grin as he remembered the rest of his plan. "Come back in the morning." At MacLeod's obvious confusion he snickered, a sick sound even to his own ears.
MacLeod eyed him suspiciously while Methos tried to regain control. It really wasn't that funny.
"Methos, have you lost your mind?"
The seriousness of the question made him sigh. "No. Not quite yet." Then he stepped aside to let MacLeod pass. "You're not going to leave anyway, are you." Besides, the air was chilly on his bare skin. He closed the door, but as he turned to move back into the living room area, he nearly bumped into MacLeod, who had entered, but now stood stock-still just a couple of feet from the door. Frowning, Methos walked around him. "What?" He turned his back as he walked to his wardrobe and pulled out a clean T-shirt, then returned to stand next to the coffee table.
"Yes, you've already said that." He realized he was still holding his sword and put it away.
MacLeod looked up from the spot on the floor he'd been fascinated with. "But you don't believe it."
Sighing again, Methos sat down on the couch. He couldn't do this standing up. "Actually, I do." He rested his elbows on his knees and squinted up at MacLeod, trying to make this as unthreatening, as non-accusing as possible. "It just doesn't matter."
That earned him another confused look. "What do you mean, it doesn't matter?"
"Byron is dead." He couldn't help the edge that crept into his voice, and because he didn't want to give the words too much weight, he continued, "I'm sure you didn't enjoy it, and you didn't do it with the purpose of hurting my feelings. So, yes, I believe that you're sorry. But Byron is still dead."
MacLeod looked away, but finally gave up the posture of a man on trial and walked over to the kitchen counter to lean on it. "He was tired of it, you know."
"You mean life? Yes, I know."
MacLeod nodded, like he understood why that, too, didn't matter, why it didn't make it any easier to lose him. "When I took his Quickening... He knew I'd win, Methos."
"Of course. You knew. He knew." Methos closed his eyes and leaned his head back. "I knew." He wanted to take it back immediately. I don't want to go there. Barely a murmur, those two little words hung heavily in the air. Please don't make me go there. And it was the key, wasn't it? The clue MacLeod adn't gotten while he was busy working himself into a guilt trip.
When Methos opened his eyes again, MacLeod had a scrutinizing stare turned on him, his brows drawn tightly together. It had obviously dawned on him. "What do you mean?"
Methos nearly cringed. He cocked his head sideways and put some of that edge back into his voice. "Do you really think I had any doubts about the outcome of your little encounter, MacLeod?"
"No." For a moment, Methos thought Mac hadn't caught on, but that hope was disappointed a moment later. "But you said that like you felt... guilty."
Methos didn't reply. He didn't know what to say. He couldn't suppress a small smile, astounded by the wonder in Mac's voice, but he didn't reply.
"Why? Why guilty? You, of all people."
"Oh, right. I don't have a conscience. I guess I must have forgotten that for a minute there."
"That's not-- You know I didn't mean it like that."
"No," MacLeod said firmly, "and stop misunderstanding me on purpose."
Methos almost grinned, surprised that Mac had figured him out. Almost. "Okay."
With a satisfied nod, MacLeod asked again, "So, why?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
"No!" Impatience was evident on his features, but MacLeod tried calming himself with a deep breath. "I know it's not easy when a former lover--"
"A friend," Methos objected, determined to make some things absolutely clear. "Byron was a friend."
"Don't bullshit me, Methos. I took his Quickening, I saw you. You were--"
"We fucked," Methos said briskly, but even to himself that sounded crude and inadequate. "We were friends who happened to sleep together from time to time. There was nothing romantic about it."
Mac studied him for a moment. "A friend, then."
Methos couldn't tell whether he'd understood the difference, but at least he seemed willing to drop the issue.
"I still don't know what you would feel guilty about. You tried to protect him."
"Really?" Methos snorted. The word left a bitter taste in his mouth.
"Um, well, yes." MacLeod shrugged. "You did what you could."
"Really," Methos repeated, suddenly furious that MacLeod still didn't get it. "You think if it had been about..." He took a deep breath to gather himself. "You think that I couldn't come up with something better than blathering about his music?" All the disgust he felt for himself and MacLeod's denseness poured into that last word. He leapt off the couch, daring MacLeod with his eyes to say just one more thing, ask just one more stupid question.
"What could you have said?"
Almost grateful, Methos let out a resentful laugh. "Oh, I don't know, MacLeod, maybe something like 'please.'" He moved towards MacLeod, holding his gaze. He extended his hands, palms up, recalling the despair and grief and helplessness of the hours between leaving Byron to his fate and seeing MacLeod standing in the doorway of the bar. He was in MacLeod's space now, he could feel MacLeod's breath, shallow as it was, on his face, and it helped him remember the scene he was trying to replay, standing up close to Mac and feeling so full of pain, so powerless. It tore at him that he still didn't know the words, didn't know how to phrase the plea in Byron's defense, that he hadn't even tried it out in his mind. "I know him, Duncan; he's not evil, he's just... hungry. Empty. Don't kill him for that. Don't..." He was exaggerating, he knew, acting out a role because he couldn't tell what reality would have looked like. "He's my friend, he has... helped me so much in the past that I don't know where I would be... Don't kill him, Duncan. Please." His hands dropped to his sides. There, he'd said it, or at least something of resemblance. Now, when it didn't count anymore. He saw comprehension sweep over MacLeod's face, and nodded once to show he was done. "See. Something like that." It was a whisper.
"How can you be sure it would have changed anything?" MacLeod asked, and the way he said it told Methos that he wasn't sure himself.
"I'm not," he said softly. He could feel the air shift as Mac fidgeted, evidently uncomfortable with their proximity. A hand made contact with his shoulder, patting it awkwardly, but Methos shrugged it off and retreated a few steps.
"So why didn't you?"
Methos ran a hand through his hair, but resisted the urge to wrap his arms around himself. "You said it, MacLeod. I wasn't sure. And I think," he sighed, "I think I didn't want to know."
Now it was MacLeod's turn to look helpless. "I'm sorry," he offered yet again, and Methos rolled his eyes.
"For God's sake, MacLeod, if I hear another apology from you, I'm going to kill you. I'm not a child! My choices are not your responsibility."
"You think you chose Byron's death." The calm of MacLeod's voice indicated his odd satisfaction that he'd finally gotten the picture.
"I did. I chose not to put you into a position where you had to decide between me and your moral values."
Uncomfortable silence fell over the room. MacLeod was probably trying to think of an argument that could counter Methos' summary of the events, or deny the guilt in it. Of course, there wasn't one.
"So, if this is all your fault, why are you angry with me?"
You had to give the guy credit. Considering the precariousness of their situation and the pile of accusations that lay between them, spoken and unspoken, his persistence on the subject, simply because he wanted to make it better, was astonishing. Right now, Methos didn't think he appreciated the effort. "I'm not."
"Yes, you are. You said--"
"I'm angry at myself, MacLeod. And since you're not exactly an innocent bystander in this whole mess, I wouldn't mind not seeing you for a few days, all right?" He put enough weariness in it to make it sound authentic. With his shoulders slumped, wearing his ragged clothes, he was sure he looked like a package with a sign saying 'fragile, don't shake.' Hopefully, MacLeod would take the hint and leave.
The question shook him out of his act. "Why what?"
"You're not the type to protect other people from their moral... dilemmas. Why wouldn't you let me choose?"
Methos wondered briefly when he'd lost control of this conversation, but then decided that it didn't matter. Much had been said this evening already; why bother deceiving now? "I told you, I didn't want to know. To side with Byron meant siding against you."
"And you'd rather be on my side."
There was no need to reply. What he'd done -- or not -- had made it plain. He'd chosen his stand, and he'd paid the price by giving up on Byron. He'd keep on paying.
And he was really, really glad he didn't have to spell it out to MacLeod. Sitting down on the coffee table, he asked, "So, things are clear now?"
"Good. I could use some sleep."
MacLeod straightened up, preparing to leave. "Yeah, me too." He opened his mouth, closed it again.
"Good night, MacLeod," Methos said resolutely, but his guest didn't react. He sighed again. "What is it now?"
"I didn't turn my back on you, you know," MacLeod said out of the blue.
"No, you didn't, you're still standing here in my living room instead of leaving like I asked you to."
"In the bar. That's what you meant, wasn't it? That I'd turned my back on you. Because of your past."
"Oh. That." Strangely, it didn't even bother him much that MacLeod came back to that now. This evening had probably dulled his sensitivity towards embarrassing conversations, or maybe he was just too tired to think of a convenient excuse for his little outburst. He looked up at MacLeod, who was edging closer, towering over him with an accusing expression on his face.
"That's what you think, isn't it? You think I don't consider you a friend anymore. That's why you were angry -- because you'd given up on Byron for the sake of our friendship, and you think I don't value it."
Methos shook his head slightly at the anger in MacLeod's voice. He didn't have enough energy left to deny it. "Wonder what gave me *that* impression."
MacLeod frowned. "D'you think it was easy for me after after what happened with the Horsemen? You tell me that you've been a mass murderer and expect me to shrug it off because, hey, that was a long time ago?"
Something like that. The familiar knife that was his own ugliness twisted inside of him, and Methos closed his eyes against the pain. "No," he whispered, "not expect." It hurt so much more to know for sure that MacLeod had been trying, was trying still, in fact. He was here, wasn't he? Underneath all that doubt and wariness, Methos could feel MacLeod looking for his friend, this just-a-guy, gonna-drink-all-your-beer person. Not for the first time, Methos found himself wanting to be that person desperately. "But maybe I had hoped."
MacLeod looked like he'd been punched. "Sorry to disappoint you."
"Hm. Guess that happens from time to time."
"Guess so." MacLeod took a step backwards and brought a hand up to rub his own neck. "So. I think I'll go now."
MacLeod nodded. "Good night, Methos."
MacLeod stopped at the door to cast one last questioning glance at him, his eyes clouded with a concern that touched Methos' heart. "You're not going to take off for a couple of centuries now, are you?"
Methos shook his head minutely, realizing he hadn't meant to hurt MacLeod, but too weary to worry about it now. "I'll see you, MacLeod," he sighed with closed eyes.
The door clicked shut.
Methos heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and then MacLeod appeared on deck, katana in hand. He spotted his visitor, his eyes widening in surprise. The katana came down as Mac lowered his arm, but apparently he had no words to breach the awkwardness of the moment.
Methos let his eyes linger on him. From the faded jeans he wore with the red shirt and the way he hadn't bothered to conceal the weapon, Methos concluded that MacLeod probably didn't have someone on the barge with him, and Methos was glad for that. The last thing he needed was to intrude on a date.
Well, someone had to start sooner or later. "Hello, Mac."
MacLeod bowed his head a little in acknowledgement. "Methos. It's good to see you." He stepped aside a little and gestured towards the entry to the barge. "Would you like to come in?"
Methos tried not to sigh with relief. "Yes, thank you." It was easier than he'd expected. He went up the gangplank and past MacLeod, who followed him inside. "There's a new neighbor moving in next door. It's kind of noisy with all the hammering and drilling. And you can't seem to walk the streets of Paris these days without running into one of us." He was babbling, he realized.
"You got into a challenge?"
"No, I managed to avoid that. I left as soon as I felt it." They stepped down into the living area, and Methos took off his coat and threw it across the nearest chair as he used to do when he'd been living here. He tried not to look too self-conscious about it. "I ditched whoever it was on my way here."
"On your way here?" Mac sounded amused.
"MacLeod, every Immortal on the planet knows you live here. If someone's after your head, they'll know where to look anyway."
Mac made a sound that Methos took as assent. While Mac went to wash his hands at the kitchen sink, Methos made himself comfortable on the couch.
A growling sound from his stomach reminded him of those two éclairs he'd been forced to leave behind in the café. Pity, that. He was starved. "Do you have anything to eat?"
"I've eaten already. But there are some leftovers in the fridge, I think." Mac left the kitchen and started to collect some papers that were scattered on the coffee table. "Help yourself. I've got some paperwork to do, if you don't mind."
Why would he mind? It was like it had been, before everything. Two guys on a boat, going about their business.
The memory stung, but Methos refused to dwell on it at this point. He went to inspect the supplies, figured that Mac hadn't been shopping in a while, and settled back on the couch with a plastic bowl of pasta. "You don't happen to have any sauce, do you?"
"Sorry, no." MacLeod grabbed his papers and started for his desk, but paused when Methos began to eat. "You're eating it dry?"
Not only dry -- cold as well. Mac did have a point, Methos acknowledged as he swallowed a mouthful of tasteless noodles, but he feigned indifference. "You know, for a hedonist like you this may be hard to grasp, but there was a time when having a full stomach was more important than which wine went with what. In fact," he said, putting on his most scholarly expression, "I once went an entire year solely on potatoes."
Mac grinned at him with friendly mischief. "You are calling me a hedonist?"
"I'm eating these noodles, MacLeod," Methos said pointedly.
Mac's smirk irritated him. "Yeah. See?" With determination, he shoveled another portion into his mouth.
"Yes." Mac sat down on the armchair, eyes glittering. "I see."
Much to Methos' dismay, it looked like he intended to supervise the proceedings. Oh, well.
Methos did finish the pasta, eventually, under Mac's careful observation, and he tried not to let his satisfaction show when he finally put the fork down.
"Can I get you a drink?"
Happy with his performance, Methos was just about to order a beer to wash the sticky feeling in his mouth away, when he noticed Mac's lips twitching.
"Tap water? Only the best for our purists."
Methos opened his mouth, then closed it again when no particularly witty reply came to his mind. "Get lost," he muttered at last, fighting desperately to keep a straight face.
Mac snickered and went over to his desk. "As you wish."
For about half an hour, there was nothing but the rustling sound of paper to disturb the calm on the boat, with Mac working and Methos turning the pages of a newspaper he'd found lying around, but Methos couldn't concentrate. As his eyes followed the lines, his mind kept wandering off, back to Byron, and further back to the time when sitting together like this wasn't an unexpected gift that made him ache with the knowledge of its frailty. It was what he mourned most, this careless companionship, more than the flirting and the teasing. The times when he'd been allowed a part in Mac's life easily and generously were gone, killed by a ghost from his past and this fatal communication problem they couldn't seem to get rid of.
Methos hadn't heard him move and found that Mac was looking at him from behind the kitchen counter. It was an unexpected proposal; not their usual drink, but at least it wouldn't get him drunk again. "Yes, sure."
Mac examined some bottles on the wine shelf. "How have you been doing?" he asked quietly. The clinking of glasses as he took two out of a cabinet to place them on the counter seemed loud in comparison.
Methos didn't want to tread this path again, not now. Opening old wounds would only get them fighting, and it wasn't battle he'd come here for today. "I'm okay." It had never been battle.
With the two filled glasses, Mac came to sit down on the armchair, holding one out to Methos. The color of the wine matched Mac's shirt, similar to the one he'd worn in the fight with Byron. His hair was down, too.
Methos saw Mac pondering the next question in what Methos feared was heading towards another therapy session. Leaning forward, he accepted the glass and said, "From the sorry state of your fridge, I assume that you've eaten out today?"
It was a sweet wine he didn't recognize. Aromatic and rich, it enveloped his tongue, the scent heady as it rose and floated through his nose.
Mac was studying him suspiciously. "A business dinner." He sipped at his drink. "I assume you don't want to talk about it?"
Methos shook his head slowly, looking at the blood-colored liquid in his hand. "Not if I can avoid it." Then he downed it in one gulp.
"You can't tell me you're not angry with me."
Methos sighed deeply. "Mac, we've already had that conversation. It's done. I'm getting over it. So will you. Can't we just forget it?"
The answer, cheerless and low, surprised him. "I can't."
Methos' eyes fastened on MacLeod. This wasn't simply guilt, he realized. Maybe the therapy wasn't supposed to be for him at all.
Uncomfortable with what he'd said, MacLeod gripped his glass tighter and avoided Methos' stare by taking a long swallow. Then he extended his hand for Methos' empty glass. "Want some more?"
Methos nodded and let him retreat into the kitchen. But he didn't want to wait for Mac to come around with this. "What's the matter, Mac? I thought we'd settled it."
A dog barked outside, followed by some shouting and then quiet. Mac said, "I've been thinking about it. About Byron." He reached for the bottle. "About what he was to you."
Stifling a grin, Methos wondered whether Mac was conscious of just how that sounded. It really wasn't polite to be so amused when Mac was trying to have a serious conversation, but he couldn't resist. "What, MacLeod, are you jealous?"
The gurgling sound of pouring wine stopped as Mac set the bottle down, the soft thud of glass on wood the last sound on the motionless boat before eerie silence descended.
A chill crept down Methos' spine. Of all the things they'd said, of all the things unspoken, this one throwaway comment was the last he'd expected to jolt them back into the danger zone. He felt like his joints were locked into place, his body frozen in a posture that was uncomfortable all of a sudden.
Mac's shoulders did a small rolling motion, and then he turned around. "No. Maybe. Not... like that."
"Ah, for a moment there I thought it might get interesting." His comeback, issued automatically at this perfect opening, rang hollow in Methos' own ears, and he bit his tongue. He saw Mac's effort to make his face unreadable and the sudden rigidity of his stance as he averted his eyes. Methos forced himself to exhale. "Then how?" he asked softly. "If not like that."
Mac busied himself again with the wine, filling both their glasses and putting the bottle away in slow motion.
Mac came over to the couch, handing him one of the glasses. He sat down opposite Methos and stared into the drink he held with both hands.
Methos took a sip. Why did they always end up in these drunken, painful conversations?
"He had so much of you that I don't have."
The words took a moment to register. He had... what? Methos looked at MacLeod, so earnest and solemn, and felt a snicker rise from deep down in his belly. "MacLeod..." And then he threw his head back and laughed.
"Methos?" MacLeod was obviously very confused, and Methos thought he'd let him in on the joke.
"He had..." Oh God, this is the Twilight Zone. "You haven't..." He couldn't help it.
"Methos, are you okay?"
It was a struggle, but eventually Methos reined himself in. "Sorry," he said, calmer, but still grinning. "I only thought of just what he 'had' of me."
Mac seemed to get it, judging from the color of his skin. Methos wanted to hug him. "Yeah. Cheap joke. Sorry," he smiled, feeling generous. "But aside from that, I don't really see what you're getting at."
"Don't you?" The tone was a little harsh, yet strangely sad at the same time, and Mac looked him in the eye for a second before flinching away.
"You seemed to have a lot of fun back then."
Several quips about the decadence of the period came to his mind, but he dismissed them. "Yes, it was all a big party."
Mac nodded. "We don't have that much of a party, you and me."
It didn't come to him right away. Like an icy breeze down his neck, the admission slowly crawled over him and left him with a sinking feeling in his stomach. "You're jealous of Byron because he had fun with me?" Methos tried to make a show of being incredulous, but, oh, it made sense to him. He swallowed.
MacLeod started fidgeting. "Silly, I know."
Something in him snapped. "No," Methos replied coldly, crossing his feet on the coffee table. He fixed on MacLeod with narrowed eyes. "It's actually quite familiar. It's us in a nutshell."
"Think about it, Highlander. Byron had all this fun with amusing Doc Adams, whoring and drinking and just generally having a blast, and what do you get? Poor Duncan MacLeod, all that's there for him is a cynical old man with more skeletons in his closet than you can count. My, I really feel for you. Must be tough."
Dumbfounded, MacLeod stared at him. "Methos, what are you talking about?"
"Do you think I ever told Byron about those five thousand years? About the Horsemen?" Methos felt his cool melt. Somehow, he thought, he ought to be able to let it go. It was getting old, after all. He took a deep breath, steeling himself against his own anger, because it wouldn't do him any good.
As he distantly eyed MacLeod, he expected an attempt to wriggle out of it, an apology perhaps, so it took him by surprise to hear MacLeod's voice, low and hostile. "Bastard."
Methos cocked an eyebrow. Yes, come on, tell me.
MacLeod pushed himself up with both hands, his confusion replaced with steaming rage. "Fuck you, Methos, I'm tired of this. I'm tired of the fighting, and the explaining, and the apologizing. I tell you that I wish things weren't always so difficult between us, and you make it look like I was asking you to be somebody else!"
MacLeod swirled around. "No!" Breathing harshly, he seemed at a loss for words.
"You're telling me you don't wish, somewhere, deep down in your heart, that I was simply... say, Adam Pierson."
"No," MacLeod repeated, calmer this time and with deliberation. "Somewhere, deep down in my heart, I want you to be my friend."
It made Methos' stomach tighten, the way Mac had taken his words, thrust out to wound, and used them to cut him right back.
Thankfully, he didn't have to respond because Mac went on, on a lighter note, "Now, I wish you weren't such an annoying son of a bitch, but I can deal with that."
Methos' throat felt raw, but he got a grip on himself. "You think?"
"I'm here, aren't I?"
"Yes, but you live here."
"You know what I mean."
He did. This warm fuzzy feeling was oddly soothing, and he relaxed into the cushions. "You know more about me than anyone has in a very long time, Mac. That's tough for me, too."
"Easier to be Adam Pierson?"
"Easier, yes." He looked at Mac, not trying to guard his expression, aiming for sincerity. "But not better." It was an offering, the attempt to give something back.
Mac looked awkward standing there, and he seemed unsure of what to do with his hands. "Okay. Why didn't you tell him, then?"
"Yes. Were you afraid of what he would say?"
Methos snorted. "On the contrary. The point is, MacLeod, he wouldn't have cared. He didn't give a damn about my past, about who I really was."
"I thought he was your friend."
A sigh escaped him. "Oh, he was, don't get me wrong. You're right; we did have a lot of fun. And believe it or not, that can be enough."
Mac's skepticism was obvious, and Methos didn't really know what was so hard to understand about it.
"Byron and me," he continued, and it didn't surprise him much that this image still felt like an open wound, "we were never about me and thee against the world. He was a selfish bastard -- but that was all right." He reached for the glass that he'd put on the coffee table. Looking up to see if MacLeod was still following, he found he was being watched, Mac's expression gentle and sympathetic, consideration tinged with sorrow.
It hit him hard and low in that moment: all the reasons he'd ever had for sticking around, for coming back, on display before him, from the power and rage in Duncan's stance to the honest worry written on his beautiful face. For this, he knew, he'd given up on Byron, and he'd been right. It had been the only tolerable decision.
But being right did not necessarily equal painlessness.
Methos lowered his head. He had to clear his throat. "I met Byron at a pretty dark point in my life. You know how it goes, when it gets too much. I was tired of being hunted, of people pushing me into fights. There's not much time to stop and smell the flowers if you live like that." He looked up when he caught movement in front of him; Mac was sitting back down. He nodded, asking Methos to continue. "So suddenly there was someone who didn't care for the Game, who didn't care that I was an Immortal, aside from the fact that I could really drink a lot."
"You didn't become friends simply because he wasn't after your head. Not all of us are hunting."
"No, of course not." Methos could feel the pressure wear off as the intensity of the moment lessened with the talking. "You must remember, he was different back then. He had spirit. He created things. Beauty." The memory brought on a wistful smile. "He made me feel alive."
An image flashed through his mind: his sweaty hand running over pale skin, curling around a gracious neck. He heard Byron's breathless laughter, swallowed up by a kiss, their sounds muffled by the rain beating against the carriage's awning.
Sudden movement yanked him back into the present as Mac stood up abruptly and strode towards the kitchen galley. "I see."
Somehow, Methos doubted that. He stifled a groan as he lifted himself up off the couch and followed. For two intelligent, experienced people, they talked at cross-purposes amazingly often. "What is it, MacLeod?"
Mac grabbed a dishrag and started wiping the counter with pathetic fortitude. "Nothing," he replied, and produced a shrug that was so obviously fake it was downright cute.
"Don't be an idiot. It's not 'nothing.'"
"No! Next thing I know you are going to switch me to tap water."
The dishrag hit the sink with a smacking sound, and Mac turned to face him with an angry stare. But once again, his voice spoke more of sadness than of threat. "It's not funny, Methos."
"Why is this such a big deal, MacLeod?" Methos was getting more and more exasperated. "I don't get it. You met him. You know we were friends. What did you expect? That I was bored out of my mind while I was with him? Well, sorry to disappoint you."
"Why are you here, Methos?"
The question startled him. "What?"
"Why are you here?" Mac repeated in the same tone of voice, loads of resignation and grieving uncertainty wrapped up in four small words. "It's obviously not for the fun, since we don't have that. Or for the sex, since we don't have that, either. We only keep disappointing each other. Is it at least mildly amusing for you?"
Again, Methos answered without thought, reacting to the ridiculous words with the first thing that crossed his mind. "Why, MacLeod, you really are jealous."
There was silence. Methos watched hurt cross Mac's features before they hardened, and he averted his eyes, looking for an apology, a joke, anything to take the sting out of his words.
So he didn't see it coming when suddenly Mac moved and had him backed up against the kitchen counter, pinning both his hands against the smooth surface. Methos' blood was pounding in his ears, adrenaline and arousal firing through his system. They were so close their upper bodies were almost touching. "Is this what you were waiting for?" Mac whispered, his breath hot and tasting of wine, and Methos closed his eyes because he couldn't stand the anger on Mac's face.
A knee was shoved between his thighs, and he realized he could get Mac to do it, to rip off Methos' clothes and spin him around and take him right here in the kitchen. All it would take was a little push, another dare; the prospect, cheap thrill that it was, made his body go limp. It was like giving salt water to a man dying of thirst. But giving in to the temptation was a luxury Methos couldn't afford right now, not with so much at stake. "Not quite." It took some effort, but he managed to open his eyes to meet Mac's and pressed back against Mac's grip.
Mac let go of his hands immediately, but to Methos' relief, he only stepped back a little instead of turning away. The place where their legs had touched felt cold. "I'm sorry," he said roughly, not looking up.
Methos shook his head. He didn't know what to say to that, afraid an answer would seem like he was shrugging this off, this mood, this moment of truth.
So much hinged on the next minutes, and even though he knew now what this was about, he wasn't sure he'd find the right words -- the words Mac needed to hear. "It's not 'mildly amusing,' Mac. Why do you think I keep coming back?"
Mac sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. He looked so weary now that the anger had faded. "I know. I just..."
"What?" Methos demanded, his voice gentle, yet firm. "You'll have to explain it to me, because I have absolutely no idea where you got the impression that Byron has anything on you." He'd been right; it was jealousy, and as much as part of him wanted to yell at MacLeod for putting them through this for such a ridiculous reason, it was a relief to know that it was a fixable problem, and one that paled in comparison to what they'd been faced with before. After all, they'd come out of the Horsemen debacle as friends. Bruised and battered maybe, but friends still.
Mac had decided to trust him with his fears, to bring all this out in the open before it could turn into a crisis. Methos found he could meet him halfway. He added, after a long pause, "I never came back to Byron."
"You said he made you feel alive," Mac said, his voice hoarse.
"He did. For a while." Methos took a deep breath and chose his words carefully. "You can't live on a constant high. It all wasn't real. And Byron... He loved art more than he loved life. You're different, Mac. Your passion is different. You care for them. You think they're worth protecting."
"People. It's... refreshing."
It seemed to be enough. Mac exhaled slowly, the set of his shoulders relaxing by the minute. He gave Methos an odd look that lingered on his hands, still flat against the counter, and Methos realized he hadn't made a move to get out of his exposed position.
Apparently, Mac had just made the same observation. There was a twinkle in his eyes, and in the next moment his stern face was transformed by a small and not exactly innocent smile that made Methos' heart race.
"So," Mac said evenly, "what were you waiting for?"
Methos' mind was blank. "Huh?" Great. Just great. Trust his five thousand years of experience in communication to fail him at just the right moment.
Mac's smile turned wicked. "Before. You said, 'Not quite.'"
Methos' cheeks were burning. He wanted to pull himself together, to hide, to cross his arms over his chest and cloak himself in an air of casualness. He didn't want to have to answer that.
But then Mac chose to meet him halfway, and being unable to make a move towards shielding himself wasn't quite so bad when Mac stepped in close again, let his hands hover over Methos' with the promise of touch, his body heat becoming a blanket to cover Methos' nakedness.
"I assume we weren't that far off the mark?"
"Ah, no," Methos managed. Ever so slowly, he turned his hands upwards, his palms ghosting lightly over Mac's, and Mac took that cue, too, as he interlaced their fingers, and held on despite the awkward angle.
"So, what should we improve?"
They were so close, so maddeningly close after years of longing, Duncan watching him, waiting for him, with nothing but desire and tenderness and affection in his eyes, and Methos would just need to untangle his hands and reach out to touch the fire before him.
It made him dizzy, and weak in the knees, and Methos yearned for Duncan to place that thigh in between his legs again to hold him upright. With an enormous effort, he forced himself to speak. "Well, for one thing, you could kiss me first, and make me nearly come in my pants afterwards."
But it didn't lighten the mood at all, and Methos could tell from Duncan's face that they were through with being witty and clever.
Time went erratic then, because Duncan moved too fast for Methos to form any coherent thoughts as to what they were doing and whether it was dangerous or inescapable or both, and slow enough to make his heart hammer and his chest tighten in a strange alternation of excitement and fear. When their lips finally touched, he would have been relieved that the wait was over, if he'd had thought and strength to spare.
Duncan's mouth was soft against his, a warm caress on his lips that tasted of wine, and so real it made Methos gasp for breath. His eyes closed almost of their own accord. He wanted to pull Duncan closer, take hold of his head and kiss him deep, but Duncan was holding on to his fingers still, holding *him*, and he needed that support. So he only opened his mouth, gently pushing Duncan's lips apart, and urged Duncan on with a brief flick of his tongue.
He was answered at once, Duncan pushing right back and inside, and Methos did pull his hands away after all, because he needed them on Duncan now. There was a bit of stubble on Duncan's jaw and cheek where he placed his palm, the slight scratch a contrast to the silky feel of Duncan's hair as Methos ran his other hand through it, now that he was allowed to.
In turn, Duncan cradled the back of Methos' head with one hand, resting the other against his neck, his thumb rubbing Methos' jaw in hypnotic little circles. He took that one step that brought them together again, his tongue diving deep into Methos' mouth in time with the push of his erection against Methos' hip, his leg once more a reliable force between Methos' thighs.
Methos almost bit him. With a groan, he twisted his hips to rub himself against Duncan, trying for some leverage that would allow him to set up a rhythm that would ease his need, but failed. His position was too awkward, pressed back as he was without any support but that from the man before him and with the edge of the counter biting into his lower back. He withdrew from the kiss with a small tilting of his head, his breath coming in uneven gasps. Carefully, he let his gaze wander up from those beautiful lips to Duncan's eyes, and when he recognized the shared desire there, and a fondness that made his heart leap, he suddenly had the odd feeling that they were conspirators in a daring and brilliant plan, the best plan they'd ever come up with.
Duncan's eyes crinkled up. "Was the part with the pants important to you?"
Methos tried to focus. "What?"
Laughter erupted from Duncan, and Methos smiled along even though he had no idea what was so funny. "Forget it."
"You, ah, wanna move this someplace more comfortable?"
"Yeah," Duncan breathed before he dove in for another fleeting kiss, "good idea." With a sigh, he disentangled himself.
Methos let him step back without moving, feeling cold and naked again, but knowing that they would make the separation up to each other.
>From this distance, Duncan didn't appear so in control and at ease anymore. He looked as flushed and nervous as Methos felt, and he kept clasping and unclasping his hands.
"I suggest we move over to the bed," Methos said, more easily than he'd thought.
Duncan nodded again and got going, almost hurriedly, starting to take off his clothes on his way to the bed.
Methos applauded the idea. He got rid of everything except his underwear as he followed, and then he shed that, too, because the time to be shy was long past, and he doubted that he could stand a drawn-out undressing ceremony.
Duncan had kept his boxers on. He was watching as Methos ascended the stairs, and the silence when they were standing face to face was uneasy, as if Duncan didn't know what to do now that he had a stark-naked Methos on his hands.
Methos tried a smile as he stepped forward, taking the initiative this time. There was no need for play and seduction, he just moved and put his lips to Duncan's and brought them close, trusting Duncan to work with him again and take the clumsiness out of the moment.
Duncan didn't disappoint him. Strong arms came up around him and pulled him against Duncan's chest, and Methos moaned at the touch of bare skin and the friction of his hard cock against Duncan's boxers.
He slid an arm around Duncan's waist, the exploring touch of Duncan's hands on his back and ass not enough, and pressed them firmly together. A tremor ran through Duncan when Methos began to thrust rhythmically against him, and he let go of Methos' mouth to rest his head in the curve of Methos' neck. "I like horizontal," he panted, though his grip on Methos' ass suggested that location probably didn't matter that much. "What do you think?"
"No objection here," Methos laughed, equally out of breath, and it was then that he felt the last bit of caution melt away. He wasn't sure what kind of complication he'd been waiting for, but who cared, anyway?
Duncan maneuvered them onto the bed, and somehow they managed to dispose of the boxers without breaking contact.
Delicious weight pressed him down, even though Duncan was propping himself up with his elbows on either side of Methos' chest and his leg between Methos' thighs, and Methos had to restrain himself from picking the pace up once more, because Duncan was watching him again, still smiling, apparently waiting for something.
"Horizontal was a good idea," Methos said just to see Duncan's smile widen, and he had a second or two to be amazed at how easy this was before Duncan shifted his weight and moved his erection against Methos' belly, and Methos arched his hips upward to press hard against Duncan's thigh.
He heard Duncan chuckle. "I have my moments."
"Oh, yes, definitely." Then he decided he was done being patient, and he darted his head up to invite Duncan for another kiss, wet and open-mouthed like their first in the kitchen, and he put one hand on Duncan's ass and the other in his hair, urging him closer in both places.
Duncan's moan reverberated in his chest as they found a rhythm that worked for them both.
It didn't get any more difficult than that, and Methos wanted to laugh with delight, but kept his mouth fastened on Duncan's instead. He couldn't decide which was more scorching, the urgency of the kissing, or the slow thrust of Duncan's thigh against his cock.
He didn't fight it when he felt his orgasm approach, wrapped up in the heat of their closeness and the artless joy of the moment. One more hard push upwards, two, and he was coming, moaning into Duncan's mouth and holding on for dear life.
With one hand, Duncan seized his hips, pushing more powerfully, and Methos reached down to gather up some of his own semen and wrap a slick hand around Duncan's shaft.
Duncan bit Methos' lip then, making a low sound that could have been Methos' name, and thrust into the hand offered to him.
Through the haze of his own release, Methos felt Duncan tense all over, the play of his muscles erotic against Methos' body, and then the final stroke that carried Duncan over, warm fluid spilling between them.
The kiss broke, and Duncan's head dropped to Methos' shoulder as he caught his breath. Methos ran a soothing hand over Duncan's shuddering back, even though it cost him to get his slack muscles to obey.
Methos laughed, patting Duncan's head. "No, call me Methos, please."
He yelped when Duncan bit him. "MacLeod! That hurt!"
"Good." Evil glee was written all over Duncan's face as he looked at him from heavy-lidded eyes, and Methos decided that a smirking, post-orgasmic Duncan, tousled hair and all, sweaty and sticky and plastered on top of him, was right up there with the Grand Canyon and the Sahara at night.
No force on earth could have gotten him to take action at that point, so that he only sighed regretfully when Mac rolled off of him, undoubtedly concerned about his weight.
Leaning over the side of the bed, Duncan fished for his discarded underwear and then used the fabric to clean them up. The mattress shook considerably as he dropped back down next to Methos.
"Still jealous?" Methos teased, glancing sideways. Duncan looked like he wanted to smack him, but obviously Methos wasn't the only one who was exhausted.
"Oh, so you were trying to prove a point?"
"No," Methos replied and did find the strength to roll to his side and huddle closer, "I was trying to get off. And I succeeded, thank you very much." His cheek on Duncan's chest, Methos felt the laughter more than he heard it.
He felt the sigh, too. "You realize we're going to fight over this again?"
Methos trailed a hand over Duncan's chest up to his neck and rested it where the pulse was beating. "Of course. Over this and a bundle of other things. It happens."
Duncan's breathing faltered a little at that, and he pulled Methos closer. "So you're staying?"
"What did you think? That I put up with all this drivel and then leave when things are finally looking up? I'm having fun here." For emphasis, he placed a kiss on Duncan's collarbone, his eyes flicking up to see whether Duncan had gotten it.
But Duncan had his eyes closed, smiling with satisfaction, and Methos looked at that mouth for a moment before he got command over his muscles and swooped in for another kiss, this one lazy and unhurried, a treat to be savored.
"Okay," Duncan said when Methos released him, "so we've got the fun part covered."
Methos laughed, remembering what he was referring to. "And the sex part."
"And the sex part. What's missing?"
"Hmm, let's see. Drugs, lunacy, the occasional viciousness..." Methos helped himself to another kiss and grinned against Duncan's mouth. "You're such a disappointment, Mac."
Duncan looked at him then, partly amused, mostly serious, and Methos wasn't quite sure what was going on behind those warm brown eyes. His hand idly stroking through Methos' hair, Duncan lifted his head and kissed first Methos' nose and then the corner of his mouth. "Got any ideas how I can make that up to you?" he asked, his voice both teasing and full of gladness.
Methos returned the smile, wishing there were a way to express his gratitude that wouldn't burden the mood. "Oh, quite a few, Highlander. I hope you're not in a hurry." And then he kissed Duncan for all he was worth.
It would keep.