Winds of Circumstance
by Rachael Sabotini


WARNING : NC-17 Duncan/Methos stuff. Don't read this if you are under 18.

CYA: All standard disclaimers apply: Unfortunately, these aren't my characters, though I do borrow them occasionally. I make no money; I mean no harm.

There are no accidents in a life.
-- John-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness

The first call came in at nine that morning, and the second one came in at ten. Roger's death was not that unusual -- not all immortals lived safe lives and neither did the Watchers that followed them -- but when MacLeod mentioned that a second Watcher had been killed, the floor dropped out from under Joe's bar. Don was a researcher, for Christ's sake, not one of the guys on the active list, and Joe scrambled to make sense of the matter. His mind sifted though the information, his discussion with Duncan MacLeod momentarily forgotten, as the pieces fell into place. Don Salzer's death meant Kalas knew about the Watchers, and the 'ME' was obviously Methos.

So Kalas was hunting, hunting for Methos and hunting anyone else who might have information about the legendary oldest of immortals. "This is no good. I'm going to have to make some calls." Joe's heart thudded painfully against his chest. Kalas had not just killed his own Watcher; he had hunted and killed Don. Dawson was willing to bet that Kalas wouldn't stop there.


Mac's voice pulled Dawson away from his thoughts. "Salzer, he's been working on the Methos chronicle. If Kalas was to find that, find Methos..." He didn't say the rest. If Kalas took Methos, he would be strong enough to take MacLeod's head and anyone else that came along. He might even be strong enough to win the prize.

Duncan laughed, his voice a little shaky over the phone. "Come on Joe! Methos doesn't exist. The oldest immortal? He's a legend! He's like...well, like Adam and Eve."

"Oh, he exists all right, but he's elusive. Have to be to survive so long." Joe didn't roll his eyes, but he knew a lot more about this than MacLeod did. Duncan didn't have access to the kind of information Joe had, not with an entire section of Watchers' focused on finding the immortal. During his Paris trips, Joe had spent hours playing poker with Darius' Watcher, Ian and his research team, Adam and Don; Adam did double duty, working both on Darius' chronicles and researching Methos' past. At the parties over at Ian's house, Joe had come away with more than one story of the legend of Methos. Even though the last of those games had been two years ago, right before Darius died and Ian sold his home, Joe still vividly remembered the stories Adam had told. "Imagine an immortal so old that he doesn't remember the time of his birth. If Kalas found him and took his head, he'd be even stronger."

MacLeod seemed to agree, though it was hard to tell over the phone. "I'm gonna have to find him first."

If Kalas was after Methos, he'd start his hunt with Methos' researcher; Duncan needed to get to him before Kalas did. "We've got a guy at the University, Adam Pierson. He's been our top Methos scholar for about ten years. He knows as much about Methos as anybody. I'll let him know you're coming."

Joe hung up the phone and rubbed at his eyes. This wasn't good. He didn't know much about Roger, but Don had been a good man, a good Watcher, too.

When Darius had been killed by Hunters, his death had hit both Ian and Don pretty hard. Ian had left Paris completely, and Don had almost left the Watchers. If Pierson hadn't talked him into joining him on the Methos project, Don would have walked, and Dawson wasn't sure what the tribunal would have done when their head researcher left the organization.

Joe remembered the laugh they'd had over Don's descriptions of Darius' and his 'tea'; the world had become a much darker place with Darius' death...and now Don's death as well.

Dawson wanted to believe that the two old friends were sitting in Heaven somewhere, drinking bad tea, but he'd seen too much of the world to really believe that. Death was death, as far as he could tell, whether or not there was a quickening.

He walked into his office and shut the door. Adam Pierson would be next on Kalas' list; Joe had no illusions about that. Roger was dead. Don was dead. Adam would die, then another Watcher, and another, until Kalas got what he wanted. The immortal would sort though the Watchers like a deck of cards, killing them off one-by-one, until he found Methos, or until everyone was dead.

Joe eased himself down into the chair by his desk, and turned to the rolodex. He could think of only one way to stop Kalas, and only one man who could do it: Duncan MacLeod. Dawson pulled out the business card for Adam Pierson and stared at it, flipping the paper back and forth against his callused hand. He didn't want to stir up Hunter sympathies by actively searching for Kalas; the idea of killing immortals spread too easily, too far and too fast within the Watchers; it could easily lead to other deaths as well.

No, it would be better to handle this quietly, keeping the rest of the organization out of it. So they would need to set a trap for Kalas, with Pierson as bait, while Joe found some way to distract the rest of the Watchers.

Which left a few questions: would the researcher be willing to put his life in danger, or would he simply clear out once he heard about Kalas? Would he be willing to work with Duncan MacLeod, knowing what could happen to him if the tribunal found out?

Would he turn Joe over to the tribunal for even suggesting the matter?

He flipped the card onto the desk and pulled the phone in closer. There wasn't any other choice, was there? If Kalas wasn't stopped, there wouldn't be any Watchers left. It was worth risking his life to make sure that that didn't happen.

And he'd find some way to make Pierson see that as well.

He looked at the card and dialed. On the third ring, it was answered.

"Adam Pierson."

"Adam, this is Joe Dawson, from Seacouver." Joe swallowed and quietly added, "A friend of Don's."

"Joe Dawson." There was a pause, followed by warm recognition. "Joe! This is a surprise. I haven't heard from you in -- what --two years, now? Not since Ian left. You still watching Duncan MacLeod?"

Dawson smiled into the phone. It was good to hear Adam's voice again. "Yeah, I'm still watching him."

"So what's up? Is MacLeod on his way to Paris again, and you plan on following this time? You want me to find you a poker game or something?"

"Mac's already there." Joe sat forward in his chair, resting his forearms against the edge of the desk. "Listen, Adam. I've got some bad news." There was no way to break the matter gently. "Don Salzer is dead."

He was beginning to worry by the time Adam responded. "How?"

"An immortal named Kalas. You ever heard of him?" Not that there was any doubt. As Methos' researcher, Adam seemed to have heard of everybody.

"Yes," the man on the other end of the line cleared his throat. "He's mentioned in one of Methos' chronicles. It's believed that Kalas killed one of Methos' students in the 1600's."

"Yeah, well, then you know how dangerous he is." Joe leaned back into his chair, part of his mind shifting from the conversation to thinking about his plan. He needed to draw Adam into this quickly, not give him time to think of possible problems. The guy was just too good at finding flies in the ointment, and this plan had enough to count as a septic dump. "Listen, Don wasn't the first Watcher Kalas killed, and I don't think he'll be the last. I think Kalas is coming for you." He momentarily shut his eyes, trying not to visualize what would happen to Adam if Kalas found him, and opened them again with a wince. "Kalas wants Methos, and you're the next step."

"Well, that would make sense, wouldn't it?" The response was instantaneous and almost shocking in its pleasantness. "I guess I'd better leave, hadn't I? You calling to tell me I have tickets to Jamaica? I hear it's lovely this time of year."

Joe took a deep breath, and slowly exhaled. "Not exactly."

"What do you mean, not exactly?" The pleasantness had been replaced with wariness, and tinged a little with threat.

The tone made Joe shiver, and he once again wondered what had happened in Pierson's life that such a normally easy-going guy could shift gears so quickly and completely that few could keep up. It was like nothing really affected him. Walls of iron behind a velvet curtain, wasn't that how Don put it? He needed to make sure Adam knew that more than his own life was at stake. "If you leave, Kalas will find someone else to give him the information he wants. He'll kill ten, twenty, a hundred Watchers without a second's thought."

"Ah." He could almost see Pierson close his eyes and think, hear the wheels turning over the phone line. Joe let him think for as long as was necessary, and when Adam spoke again, it was with a certain amount of resignation in his voice. "So what to you want me to do?"

Now came the hard part, and Joe tried to find some way to soften the blow. "How do you feel about immortals?"

The direct route would probably have been better as Adam exploded at the question, his voice echoing thinly though the line. "What is this? Twenty Questions? What are you up to, Joe?"

Even though he had to move the earpiece away a bit, Joe kept his cool, waiting until Adam had calmed down to answer. "I'd like to send someone to your apartment. Someone who could give you some protection."

"Against Kalas? Who's going to chance a fight with him?"

"Another immortal."

Joe could hear the penny drop as his words registered on the other end of the line. "You want to send an immortal to my apartment." The longest pause yet as Adam picked up steam. "A Watcher, someone pledged to observe and never interfere, is sending an immortal to another Watcher's flat." Joe heard a sharp intake of breath after that statement, followed instantly by Adam's pleasant sarcasm. "You know, I'm really appalled at the implications of what you just said. Are you trying to get us both killed?"

Joe could feel the tension pushing its way through the phone lines from Paris, not that he could blame the guy. Researchers never actually came in contact with Immortals; only the field guys did that, and sometimes they ended up dead.

Like Roger.

"I think I'm going to regret asking this but who is it?"

This time, Joe stated the answer baldly. "Duncan MacLeod."

No pause this time as Adam's anger turned cold, like a killing frost. "Your own immortal? You *know* him -- well enough to send him scurrying around to kill another immortal for you?" The anger made Joe's ear ache, and he had to move the phone away again. "And you told him about us?"

"Actually, I didn't tell him. Darius gave him a chronicle before he was killed."

"Well, I suppose that's something." Maybe it was the mention of Darius, but Adam's anger quickly cooled. Joe couldn't be sure, but at least the voice was more normal now, if a little stressed. "What the hell were you thinking of, Dawson?"

"What do you mean, what was I thinking?" Joe's own anger got the better of him this time. He let it go, figuring Adam could do with a dose of his own medicine. "I was thinking of saving your life. And the lives of a few hundred other Watchers to boot. This is the only chance we have, and if you think about it, you know it too. Kalas won't stop until he finds Methos, and that means going through you. And without you, we have no idea what he will do next."

Pierson's voice was quiet, and Joe wondered if he'd gone too far. "Kalas will kill me as soon as he finds me."

"Not if MacLeod gets there first. Unless you think you're better with a sword than he is." Joe couldn't help but push it. Unlike Adam, it was impossible for him to change emotions at the drop of a hat. "Tell me, when was the last time you took a guy's head?"

For some reason, that seemed to be the right thing to say. Joe could almost hear a smile in the other guy's voice as he replied, "I'm not exactly sure. I'd have to look it up." It was a typical researcher joke, and Joe smiled himself. "Don't worry, Dawson, I won't do anything stupid. I don't think I have had enough practice lately to take Kalas' head."

"Damn straight." At least the guy kept his sense of humor, however cynical it was. Joe hesitated about what he needed to say next, but shit, he'd just committed treason as far as the tribunal was concerned. What was wrong with throwing a little heresy in on top of that? "Listen, Mac's a friend of mine. We've worked together before; he'll be okay. He's one of the good guys."

Joe knew that as soon as he finished talking with Adam, he'd pour himself a drink. A big one, probably a triple. He should have thought of that before he placed the call. "When Kalas shows up looking for you, Mac will challenge him. He's the best I've seen. You should be safe." Joe knew what he told Adam was a lie. He'd seen it; Kalas and MacLeod were evenly matched. They had already fought once, to a draw because Anne Lindsay had interrupted the fight, but it could have gone either way.

It wasn't something Joe wanted to think about right now.

"No one is ever safe, Dawson. The constant threat of death is a part of life." It was an odd turn of phrase for the researcher, like something found in a fortune cookie. "Fine, you want to send MacLeod over, okay. Once I meet him, I'll let you know whether I'm willing to be staked out as a stalking goat for Kalas to find."

Before Joe could respond, the researcher barreled on stridently. "But first, a few ground rules: no one is to know he's there, no Watchers around my apartment, and as soon as Kalas shows up, I'm gone. Someone else can come by and clean out my place later; I don't want to take any chances in case MacLeod fails. Do I make myself clear?"

Well, that went better than Joe expected. "Yeah, okay."


It sounded like Adam was hanging up. Joe shouted into the phone lines. "Pierson--"

That exasperated voice again, only this time minus the sneer. "What is it now?"

"I need a time and your address. I'll let MacLeod know as soon as we get off the phone."

Pierson talked as fast as Dawson could write, and instantly hung up. Probably afraid that Joe would talk him into doing something else that was against the rules. The researcher had obviously been rattled by what Dawson had to say, but Joe was grateful he was willing to let MacLeod protect him. Mac would hate the idea of putting a mortal in danger, but Joe didn't really see any other way. He just wouldn't tell Mac the full plan; then the Highlander couldn't object.

Methos stared at the phone, the noise of traffic a dull roar outside his apartment, even at this time of night. When he realized that Joe had called about more than Don's death, he'd put aside his grief, as he'd done so many times before, deciding to wait until it was safe to be able to mourn. The prospect of another immortal in his apartment daunted him. He felt frozen, dread a deep pit in his stomach, with one question ringing through his mind: why should he keep the appointment?

He pushed the phone back into place and slowly walked to his desk. Two answers warred within him. Although it wasn't safe for him if other immortals knew he was alive, Methos had been toying with the idea of meeting Duncan MacLeod -- Darius' choice for champion -- but that interest was mild and deniable. For most of his life Methos had been unable to indulge his curiosity, and had grown used to denying the passions of intellect until the right moment arrived; not meeting MacLeod now would be an easy choice, a whim he could indulge in at some future point in time, should they both survive. The other reason to stay was much harder to ignore: he had grown to like the Watchers. Within their halls, he almost felt like he had a home.

Resigned, he closed his eyes and eased down into his chair. Joe was right. Kalas would kill them all -- painfully -- just to take Methos' head.

He opened his eyes and looked around the room, seeing it for what it was, a stage setting that he'd spent ten years constructing. Although much of the work had meaning, it was all work he could walk away from. He'd done it before, and it would be easy to do once again, if only it didn't come at such a price.

Methos frowned, and folded his arms across his chest. He wasn't particularly good at self-sacrifice, and besides which, he didn't really want to die. But he didn't want anyone else to die either, not on his account. He'd caused enough of that as it was.

It had all been so easy, centuries ago. He wouldn't have wasted the time of day thinking about a few hundred mortal deaths, but now he was particularly loath to have anyone die to protect his life. He needed to figure out a plan, a good one, one that would keep Kalas away from the Watchers and keep himself alive and out of harm's way. He unfolded his arms and rested his hands on the desk.

Maybe Joe was right. Maybe Duncan MacLeod was the solution.

Darius had trusted the Highlander, and Methos knew that should be enough, but given his own past, he knew it could never be. He picked up his pen, then tossed it back on the desk with a satisfying 'ting' as the metal bounced against the wood. Friends changed, and Darius was dead. Who knew what MacLeod was like now?

He scrubbed at his face as he wracked his brain, trying to remember everything that Darius had said about Duncan, remember every nuance and moment of their conversations. He glanced at his stash of books. He could, he supposed, read through some of the Highlander's chronicles before morning, but they were often less than useful. Tidbits of information only: who an immortal saw, what they wore, what they ate and who they killed. Nothing about how they thought, or their beliefs about right and wrong. Nothing about what they knew of other immortals.

Methos guessed that Darius would have told a few 'Methos Tales' to MacLeod; the man had always been an incorrigible gossip. But the quickening of the "world's oldest immortal" tempted many. Could he really trust the Highlander not to take his head? Other than what Darius had told him, and a few stories from Joe, what did he really know about Duncan MacLeod?

He looked at the clock: midnight already. He had ten hours before MacLeod would show up at Adam Pierson's apartment. Ten hours to decide how much to trust the Highlander.

Why did Kalas have to involve mortals? Without them, Methos would have run, no questions asked, no concerns listed, no implications involved. A quick getaway and the start of a new life. Simplicity itself.

Why did it matter to him how many mortals died? That's what they did, after all: die. Why did the fact that these people were Watchers make it so much harder to run?

He pushed his hair back out of his eyes, and reminded himself to get it cut. Whose idea was it that he become a Watcher anyway? Why had he ever thought that it would be a good idea? He picked a book off the pile near his desk and placed it back on a nearby shelf. He could blame it on Darius, but that was too easy. He'd decided to stop killing mortals long before Darius convinced him that mortals were worth protecting.

He shook his head regretfully. No, this wasn't Darius' fault. It was just karma, he supposed. Stupid, bloody, karma. He had killed ten thousand or more during the course of his life, now he could save a dozen or two. A small drop in his ocean of debt. Whose job was it to keep track of the balance sheet, and when would they tell him the debt had finally been paid?

Methos stood and packed up his books, planning a short trip to Watcher Headquarters. There he could skim a couple of MacLeod's chronicles, and try to figure out if MacLeod merited the faith that Darius had placed in him. Hours of searching awaited him in the stacks, but time didn't matter that much. Methos knew he wouldn't sleep.

In the morning, he'd finish making his own preparations, and then Adam Pierson would finally meet Duncan MacLeod.

A smile twitched across his lips at the thought; maybe it wasn't such a bad idea at that. Darius always believed they'd 'get on with one another.' It would be nice to finally find out.

Methos sat on the floor of his apartment, back to the stairs and the door, sweating with the strain of keeping his body still. Should Kalas be the one to arrive first, Methos' sword was stashed under the bed, the pommel hidden by a pile of beer cans. He hoped that Adam Pierson's carefully constructed facade would make Kalas over-confident, allowing him to strike the first blow. He knew that if the fight didn't end quickly, it wouldn't end well. His back-up maze of escape routes had all been double-checked for accessibility, but Methos really hoped they would never have to be used.

And if Duncan MacLeod arrived first, he would have his chance to meet Darius' almost-student. He found references to MacLeod in his own chronicles, not-quite meetings and events that both had been caught up in, storms that sent them separate ways. Yet all of the journals and chronicles in the world would never be able to tell him what the heart of the man was truly like. Knowledge always came at a price, one Methos wasn't sure he was willing to pay.

An immortal signature ghosted through his spine, straight into his stomach. He held himself still from turning to face either Kalas his enemy or Duncan MacLeod. A breeze stroked him as the door opened, and Methos put the headphones over his ears, leaving them just enough ajar that he could still hears sounds from the other room, reassuring himself with the knowledge that at least the Highlander would not take the head of an unarmed man.

The feeling grew stronger as footsteps echoed from upstairs. The stronger the feeling, the harder it became to master his sense of panic, and the more deeply he worked to control himself. He lacked practice in this; over a century had passed since someone tried to take his head.

"You Adam Pierson?"

The voice that rang out was deep and true, unlike Kalas', and Methos released a breath, letting his muscles finally relax. He turned around and gazed up at his guest, his persona firmly in place.

He had not expected the man to be so beautiful.

Duncan's face was seasoned with wind and sun, an ageless elegance, and even restrained, his long dark hair curled around him like a lion's mane. His cautious stance emphasized the force of his thighs and the slimness of his hips; he was ready to move should Methos attack. MacLeod's body vibrated with awareness and energy, every element within him demonstrating power and concern, despite his studied ease.

Thrown off stride for the moment, Methos had to scramble for what to say. "Ah, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Have a beer."

As he tossed the can of beer to Duncan, a familiar inner ache throbbed within him: a self-destructive attraction to those of inner fire. He rejected it, and he desired it simultaneously, knowing from his own past history that he would do anything to feel that warmth.

He had been fooling himself these past few years, thinking he no longer suffered from his long-standing obsession. He'd kept to mortals and avoided his own kind, learning to keep his liaisons short, resulting in only a few one-night-stands. A dozen years was a small span of time in relation to five thousand, but he'd thought he'd learned to set the need aside. Having that familiar passion so brutally kindled disturbed him; he knew it wouldn't be safe.

Already, the ice of his inner self shuddered, merely with the Highlander's presence. It would not take much to break it apart.

He watched as Duncan easily caught the can in his left hand, his priceless katana held loosely in his right, and the dark brown eyes, so wide and guileless, reflected passion centered and contained.

Methos knew he was lost. "Mi casa es su casa."

Duncan looked at the beer can, then back at the figure reclining on the floor. "Methos?"

Bright boy. At least he would not have to play that guessing game as well. A small inclination of Adam's head and a wry smile answered Duncan's question.

Methos knew it would not be forever, only until they tired of one another. He hardened his heart to himself, determined not to let the Highlander see his reactions. He'd learned to live with death throughout his life, but he could not let himself be open to anyone anymore. And now he knew why Darius had wanted him to meet Duncan MacLeod. This whole meeting was a bad idea, one nurtured by a dead romantic priest, who no longer could see the evil in his friends, no matter their past. Darius had known of Methos' weakness, and had seen MacLeod as a chance to draw him in, despite Methos' desire to remain apart. In the end, though, it looked like the priest would get what he wanted, and the funny thing was, Methos thought he might want it too.

He looked at MacLeod, trying to fathom how the Highlander saw him, then shook his head to redirect his thoughts. Double and triple think was hard to do, and he was out of practice. He stood and walked past the Highlander, feeling the man's mere presence burn against him, turning his inner control to water. This close to the man was dangerous, but Methos clamped down on himself, his heart thudding in his chest. Not an ounce of his inner turmoil showed on his face, and he managed to keep his actions distant and impersonal. "Let's take a walk." He picked up his coat and walked back for his sword, catching the startled look in Duncan's eyes as he pulled it out from under the bed. Good, MacLeod, you underestimated me. Kalas will as well. He pulled on his coat and settled the sword into place, then with a small bow, gestured for Duncan to proceed him.

The walk down to the canal was strained, each man wrapped in his own thoughts. Sunlight playfully skated across the water, adding to the contemplative peace of the moment, the peace of the hurricane's eye. Methos was preternaturally aware of each step that the Highlander took, his body attuning itself to MacLeod's pace without conscious thought.

Methos sorted through his reactions, trying to decide why he felt an instinctive connection to this man. His normal wariness had been abandoned, leaving him open to new pain, yet gifting him with an undeserved joy, sensuous and brightly flowing whenever the Highlander looked his way. In those instants, he lost control of his life and his thoughts, and his anger slowly grew. A thousand urgencies warred within him, and he strove to separate them into their component parts, cataloging and classifying them for future reference. He refused to deal with them now.

Duncan suddenly stopped and looked over at him. "How old are you?"

Mild curiosity filled the Highlander's eyes, and Methos chose to ignore the slightly awed innocence there. Instead, he looked across the canal, watching the sun sparkle off the water in the morning light, and used it to set some distance between himself and the Highlander. "I'm not really sure. There weren't any birth certificates in those days. I think I've been around for five thousand years."

"Five thousand years." There was almost a whistle in Duncan's voice as he said it, his reverence evident.

Methos shrugged, dismissing it. I'm not a god, MacLeod, simply because I've lived so long. Survival is its own reward. "Give or take. And that was when I took my first head, remember." Briefly, Methos recovered a glimpse of the moment, as he sawed through the other immortal's neck with an obsidian knife, blood covering them both from head to toe. "Before that, it all starts to blur." Thankfully, and worryingly. How many things had he forgotten about his life, before he started writing it all down?

"I guess it would." Duncan paused, almost a little tongue tied. "So, have you...?"

A predictable, understandable question, and one that was safe to answer. Methos relaxed a bit as he made his reply casual and non-threatening. "Made any sense of it, found out any purpose?"

"What, you read minds, too?" Duncan's eyes glittered with amusement, and Methos' caught his breath, then quickly shifted away again, attempting to shield himself from the attraction.

"No, that's what I'd ask, if I'd just met me." The awe, Methos could deal with. That would go away in time. But he never again wanted to be mistaken for a god; it hurt too much when people discovered it wasn't true.

"I didn't think you existed." There was a hint of something in MacLeod's voice, but Methos could not place it. It might be fascination, it might be self-absorption, it might be seduction. He could not tell.

Methos looked up for a moment, then away again, stopping himself from his natural, more suggestive response. "It's good to be a myth."

"Yeah, no one hunts for a myth." Duncan looked at him, his eyes stabbing though the facade. "Or a Watcher."

/Ah, Duncan, do you realize what you're doing? Do you know you are flirting with me?/ "What better place to hide? I'm in charge of finding myself, and I make sure it never happens. I've even got a few entries on you in my journal." Why he said that, he could not say, but Methos suspected himself of flirtation too. Every mystery he alluded to drew the Highlander's attention to him all the more. And he had not yet lied. Not many entries -- mostly long, rambling stories from Darius and a few tidbits from others, like Timon and Hugh Fitzcairn.

As he suspected, the mention of the journals focused MacLeod's attention to him, aiming that fire like a laser. "You keep a diary?"

Methos shivered, the gaze sparking something within him. "I've been keeping it almost since writing began." He'd lived too long to remember everything on an instant's notice, despite the wonders of immortal memory. Keeping the journal was a bit dangerous, but within tolerable limits. Certainly it was less of a risk than forgetting his enemies, or even his friends.

Sometimes, though, he suspected himself of re-writing his own history, trying to remember himself as better than he was. And did this conversation with Duncan fall into at same category? Was the Highlander's interest in him, or was MacLeod pushing his own edge?

They talked more, and Methos found himself unintentionally moving closer to the Highlander. Angered at his own behavior, he pulled away, determined to find some way to drive a wedge between them before anything could happen to endanger either of them.

The Highlander's protective streak gave him his chance.

"Let's keep it that way." Duncan looked at him with admiring eyes, his voice softening. "I'll stay close."

Methos shook his head 'No.' /I'm not a stray, Highlander. I am not adoptable. You've just met me and now you want me to join your clan? Or do you want something more?/ "You cannot fight my battles for me, MacLeod." He pulled his coat close about him, shutting off the conversation, ignoring the Highlander's presence behind him as he walked deliberately back to his apartment.

Methos knew that Dawson's plan would not work, silencing the small part of himself that insisted that he wanted to keep the Highlander safe, as well as himself. MacLeod was too young, too inexperienced to challenge such a bastard as Kalas. Oh, he had the fire all right, but not enough energy to take the older, more powerful immortal. Methos would have to find another way.

But first, he would have to stop lying to himself.

Inwardly, he groaned, accepting that not only did he want the Highlander's safety, but that he wanted MacLeod. The large hands that had caught the beer and hefted the sword, the broad shoulders that filled the long coat, the warm brown eyes, the silken hair, the narrow hips -- the man could easily become an obsession. He wrenched himself away from Duncan's attractions, playing alternative scenarios in the caverns of his mind, trying to find every advantage that would end with Kalas' death.

He never had a chance to re-set his trap; Kalas waited for him outside the apartment. The gravely voice told Methos who challenged him; MacLeod's fight with Kalas in the '30's -- with its near-decapitation and incomplete healing -- was a textbook event in Watcher training.

The fight started in seconds; Methos barely had time to pull his sword from beneath his coat. /When did I get so rusty?/ He awkwardly parried the blows, letting himself be driven back along one of his escape routes. He wanted to end this -- here, now -- but he was woefully out of practice. Kalas came at him and Methos moved, the blade easily passing him by. Then Methos thrust at Kalas and Kalas parried, his smile growing more confident as the force of his defense easily turned away Methos' blade. Obviously Kalas had more strength.

A niggling fear toyed at the back of Methos' mind -- what if Kalas should win? The fear turned to anger, one more element he could not control. The thought distracted him enough that he missteped and Kalas pressed the advantage. Suddenly, Methos fought for his life, not just to escape and live another day. There was a very real chance that he might die.

Kalas nearly took his head before Methos reached the edge of the bridge. He barely managed to hold Kalas's blade away from his throat, and in that instant, Methos regretfully acknowledged Kalas' superiority as a fighter. Clutching his sword, he bought enough time to throw himself off the bridge, taking Kalas with him. He welcomed the fall, and after the initial shock of striking the surface, the bone-numbing water refreshed him. Methos could not see, so Kalas would not be able to see him. He let himself sink, not fighting the pull of the current, drifting down to the slimy, garbage-strewn bottom and out of Kalas' reach. As he drifted, he tucked his sword into his coat, securing it against the water's pull.

Once he died physically, Kalas would no longer feel his presence; Methos' body would drift unmolested in the small current of the canal, eventually washing upon some embankment. It was his best chance to get away.

He opened his mouth and inhaled, pulling the water deep into his lungs. Involuntarily, his body spasmed, forcing the water out. He steeled himself and breathed deeply, letting the liquid replace any air in his system, deliberately drowning himself.

His body fought him, struggling for air; Methos brutally refused to give in. A moment's panic as his tissues cried their need, but Methos no more yielded to his own needs than he would yield to Kalas. Death was death, as long as no one took his head, and he had done this before.

Knowing what would happen made it worse than a death which surprised him. He could anticipate and dread the way his body would fail him, know and expect the final moment of death. Dying was never easy, but often useful.

Darkness surged through his eyes and blood pounded in his temples; Methos thought he heard the water gurgle through his lungs, but knew it was only an illusion. He embraced death, his mind already working on the next step in the plan.

He found MacLeod's barge shortly after he surfaced, barely a mile from where the Highlander's chronicle said it was docked. He felt no immortal presence nearby. Methos found himself a niche in the tunnel leading down to the canal, and crouched back against the chilled stone. He would wait until MacLeod arrived and then he would attack him. The Highlander would be forced to take his head.

He laughed at his arrogance, but he wanted to choose who would have his quickening. Kalas was determined -- he could see that as they fought -- and there could be no turning back. Given another chance, Kalas would kill him, unless he could force MacLeod to do it first. Other options refused to present themselves.

He pressed his shoulders back, and rolled his head, listing to the crack of bones settling back into place, the strain of the day making his muscles ache and his body sore. He pulled his legs up to his chest, conserving warmth, and wrapped his arms around them, resting his head on his knees. The meeting with MacLeod had not gone badly. Another time, another place, he would have welcomed the Highlander's friendship, but right now, he could see no better way out of the mess. Ironic, wasn't it? He had killed so many, and now he would die to save so few.

He'd lived a long life, maybe longer than any others of his kind. His journals would be passed along through the Watchers and his memory kept alive. MacLeod would have his essence, and that might well keep the Highlander alive to the moment of the gathering. Right now, Methos wanted to believe that. It would make what was coming a little more palatable.

He heard a noise, and the immortal presence struck him like a spear of radiant fire, deep into his groin. MacLeod. He carefully released his hold and pushed himself upright, his muscles stiff, his body unwilling to obey his commands. He leaned back against the wall, taking a deep breath, readying himself. In a moment, it would be over, and he would not need to worry about the game. He staggered out of his hiding place and dragged himself after MacLeod, his wet coat hampering his movements.

MacLeod's voice echoed off the tunnel's stone walls. "Kalas found you? Is he dead?"

Methos shook his head, his feet barely shuffling off the path, the cold canal water almost frozen to his skin. "No." He raised his sword and swung without warning at Duncan, pulling the blow just enough that the Highlander could jump out of the way.

Methos willed himself to think, to stay separate from the blood-lust and joy of the fight. He needed to keep all of his senses sharp if he was to lure the oh-so-predictable Highlander into taking his head. Another blow, this time turning the pommel just enough that Duncan's deflecting arm met the flat of the blade rather than the edge.

Duncan fell back and Methos let him draw his own sword, already preparing himself for the fatal blow. "Why?"

"Because there can be only one!" The swords connected, and the sound of metal on metal rang through the tunnel, covering up the sounds from the street. Methos pressed his advantage, taunting Duncan, trying to draw him in to the point where he could no longer think, and the only thing that mattered was his opponent's death.

They fought. Methos did the best he could to make the fight look good; he was fatigued from the fight with Kalas, and from his death in the river. Soon MacLeod took advantage of one of the holes in his defense, and brought his sword up to Methos' neck.

Methos looked at him out of the corner of his eyes, letting himself admire the Highlander's beauty one last time, feeling no regrets, letting his desire to join that fire grow. "What are you waiting for?"

Duncan dropped his sword, jerking Methos' blade out of his hand with the katana's tip. "No."

"I'd've killed you!" Methos taunted MacLeod, trying to push him into taking the final blow, but the Highlander refused to be pulled back into the fight.

"No, you would have made a mistake and then let me take your head."

He was good, Methos had to give him credit for that. The Highlander was able to think on his feet, deducing that Methos was throwing the fight. Maybe MacLeod really was everything Darius claimed him to be; maybe he really was the champion they had been looking for. "Do you think I want to die? Do you think it's easy after thousands of years?"

"Then why?"

Methos steadied himself; he was tired and sore, and wanted to be let alone, but he tried to give a truthful answer. "Because if you don't kill me, Kalas will. I cannot defeat him. I have tried. He will take my head and then he will have the strength to take yours."

"So your only solution after 5,000 years is that I kill you?" Duncan's voice was incredulous and angry, littered with frustration. So, Highlander, not even a day has passed and I cannot meet your expectations. You see, I am no god.

Methos chose his next words with deliberate care, trying to make MacLeod see reason. "He can beat me. He might beat you. He can't beat both of us."

"Why don't you just take my head, if it's that simple?"

"It's not a matter of who is the best fighter. It is about passion, and hate. I don't have the fire. You do. You want Kalas." Methos extended his neck, lifted MacLeod's hand and pulled the katana in close. "Live, Highlander. Grow stronger. Fight another day." He breathed slowly and deeply, focusing himself elsewhere so that he would not feel the pain of the blow. Who would have believed he was capable of this, sacrificing himself so that others might live? Not himself, nor Silas, nor Kronos, nor anyone he knew in the first third of his life. Darius perhaps, but even that was a stretch. He waited patiently, expectantly, willing the Highlander to take his head, accepting his desire to be with him, and knowing, that this way, there would be no pain.

He wasn't sure when the moment passed; time seemed to have lost meaning while he eagerly waited to die.

But instead of killing him, Duncan dropped his sword and pulled out a set of keys. "I have a barge not far from here, the Nobile. Take these, light the fire, and get a shower. You should warm yourself up, have a drink. I can take care of Kalas."

Methos felt his muscles tremble as the Highlander's hand brushed across his own. They shared a look, each man knowing how close they had become in the instant MacLeod's sword had pressed into his neck, anticipating their joining.

Perhaps they were already connected in some way that could never be known.

Their eyes caught and held, trust and acceptance passing between them in a single look, and Methos became acutely aware of how important the Highlander -- and the Highlander's survival -- had become to him. This was no longer about the Watchers; it was about the survival of Duncan MacLeod.

And then they parted, Methos turning his back on Duncan on his way to the barge. As he walked, Methos could feel anger growing in the pit of his stomach, tightening into a fierce, solid knot, knowing that his face reflected none of his thoughts. If he did nothing, the moment would be over before it started, and both MacLeod and the Watchers would be dead.

He stopped and took a deep breath, focusing outward instead of inward for the first time in hours. He would not let that happen. Neither the Watchers nor Duncan deserved to die, and Kalas did not deserve to survive. Resolutely, he turned his mind away from himself and opened it to new possibilities. In that moment, he decided there were no rules.

Methos had played this game before, for five thousand years he had played, and he was damned determined that that bloody bastard would not win. He started running toward the barge, determination finally giving his feet wings. He was Methos, not Adam Pierson. He could find another way to stop Kalas. He would find another way.

He ran to the barge and tore inside looking for the phone.

Both he and Duncan would live.

Both of them would grow stronger.

And when one of them was strong enough, Kalas would die.

He found the phone. "Hello police, yes, I have some information regarding the murder at the American Bookstore yesterday. My name is Adam Pierson. I work at the bookstore, and I saw the man who murdered Donald Salzer. And I think he's trying to kill me."

Frustration demanded satisfaction, yet there was nothing Duncan MacLeod could do. Through the darkness of dusk and the scattering of rain, from where he stood behind a bridge support, Duncan watched as the Parisian police loaded Kalas into the back of a van. His fight with Kalas went beyond the standard challenge of immortal against immortal; a blood debt festered between them, one centuries in the making, and only Kalas' death would ease the pain. The man was a predator, without honor, who toyed with his victims before their deaths, and killed any mortals who got in his way. He broke all the rules, except the ones that gave him an advantage. And Kalas should be dead now, and MacLeod should have his quickening.

Except that flashing lights and squealing tires had interrupted their fight, heralding the arrival of the Parisian police. Duncan had been shocked to see Methos step out of one of the police vehicles, pointing out Kalas as Don Salzer's murderer. In Duncan's world, the clan's concerns belonged inside the clan, and the Chieftain handled any problems; that was his responsibility, his decision was law. Yet Methos had turned easily to mortals. Involving the police was as alien a thought as anything MacLeod had ever experienced before in his life.

This wasn't the first time Methos had surprised him today. MacLeod had expected an older, withdrawn history researcher, hiding amongst his books and fearing for his life. Instead, he'd found a deceptively young-looking five-thousand year old immortal who feared nothing, who expressed the exotic in a thousand ways. He lived as a Watcher and as a mortal. His attitudes were disturbing, his expressions unsettling, his confidence daunting, and his actions unpredictable. Methos had instantly commanded Duncan's respect by placing himself in such a vulnerable position when they first met, and the encounter near the barge had only reinforced that connection.

A connection Duncan knew he could not control.

The adrenaline surged within him, like tremblors deep under the surface of the earth. Sweat cooled on his skin, but his hands could still feel the sword's dragon hilt, his arms ached with the power of the blows exchanged, and his ears still rang with the clash of the blades. More powerfully, his curiosity surged as well. Methos hadn't exactly broken a rule by interrupting the fight as he had, but Mac needed to understand the reasons behind Methos' action, if he could. He heard footsteps on the wet brick, and as Methos passed he spoke. "Why?"

Methos stopped, almost startled, and looked back at the police van as if making sure that Kalas was in custody and that they could not be seen. "Because I didn't know if you could beat him. It was a chance I couldn't take." He pulled his peacoat in tight against his body, and as he walked past MacLeod, said, "Remember, Highlander. Live, grow stronger, fight another day."

It wasn't an answer. The police lights still flashed faintly in the distance, pulling MacLeod back to where he and Kalas had fought. He pivoted, looking for something to release his gnawing anger at, some way to safely discharge his pent-up frustration. The anger drained from him suddenly, like a candle snuffed out, as Methos' footsteps echoed in the alleyway. Duncan stared after him, his mind not fully in the present, idly wondering if he, too, had felt the pull between them.

He shook his head, clearing his mind. The anger was gone, but the energy still rested in his body, in the tension that connected muscle to bone. He could walk to release it, or go back to the barge and work out, but there was a restlessness within him that demanded release.

Duncan looked back down the alleyway at Methos' rapidly disappearing form, and sighed, the fluid movements of the angular body languorously appealing. He had always found himself drawn to a particular type of thief and liar, braggart and conniver, ones so certain of their own place in the world that they appeared arrogant, yet still projected an openness and innocence at odds with the rest of their lives.

Methos fit that pattern, and Duncan could not deny the instant attraction. The feeling wasn't comfortable, more intense than he remembered, and surprisingly sexual in nature.

MacLeod smiled to himself as he pulled his coat in tighter. He hadn't been comfortable when he met Fitzcairn. Nor the first time he'd met Amanda, either. Since when had comfort been a goal of his life? Duncan walked, then trotted a pace before shouting, "Hey! Wait up," at the nearly invisible figure a couple of streets away.

"What?" the other immortal rounded on him, his body on alert, hand already halfway reaching for his sword, anticipating a fight. A deer caught in headlights? Not Methos. A leader expecting betrayal, ready to kill to save his own life. Duncan shook his head ruefully. Perhaps Methos could not believe another immortal didn't want his quickening.

Mac raised his hands up and away from his coat. "You want a drink?"

Methos' hand dropped away from the sword, and his coat settled back into place. He stared at the Highlander a moment, looked back down the alley where he had been walking, then looked back at MacLeod. His head tilted to one side, as if he were measuring something that couldn't be seen. Then a decisive nod -- yes -- and the wariness vanished, put away in a box somewhere to be taken out as needed, the way most immortals sheathed their swords. A different Methos walked back up the alleyway than had walked down it, someone younger, more hesitant, but just as certain. Methos stopped insouciantly close to the Highlander, well within his reach. "I think I would like that," he said quietly, his eyes sparkling, his voice reminding Duncan of spring in the Highlands, cold and sharp yet rich with the promise of new beginnings.

MacLeod looked at the other man in wonder. What Darius would have given to know that the legends were true.

Once again, their eyes caught and held, fusing with some inner need. Duncan swallowed convulsively, unsure of what he saw written in those hazel depths. Darkness and a hint of shadow played among the light, and then the ancient immortal smiled, placing his hand on Duncan's arm. "I think you left your car in front of my place. Come on. There's a short-cut through that alleyway."

At the moment, Methos radiated a roguish charm, reminding Duncan of both Amanda and Fitzcairn. MacLeod smiled, his awe giving way to a feeling more elemental in its nature. His heartrate increased and his arm burned where he'd been touched.

Duncan could see the mirror of his attraction reflected on the other man's face, and suddenly knew what would happen this night. A long, slow burn settled deep into his spine, igniting a whisper of desire, feeding the spark of need. His roiling energy mutated and transformed itself into hunger, and almost of its own accord, his hand ran down Methos' arm, coaxing a small shiver of response. "Okay," he said, his voice low. "You lead."

As they headed down to the canal, Duncan could not help but wonder how Methos had maintained his vulnerability this long, and then he wondered why he found that openness so attractive.

Images from his past called to Duncan as they walked: the scent of new-tilled earth, the taste of fresh greens, the feel of a warm spring breeze on bare skin, the brightness of color, and the faith that this was the best of all possible worlds.

They were at his car when the vision faded, their arms loosely entwined across each other's back, and MacLeod realized that he had lost control of the situation, if he'd ever had it in the first place. He licked his lips, suddenly uncertain, not quite sure of what had happened while they walked, but knowing he needed to do something to assert himself. He looked over his shoulder at Methos, feeling the heat from the other man's body drifting off him in tantalizing circles. "My place all right?"

Methos nodded, an assessing look glinting in his eyes; MacLeod wondered if the same look was mirrored in his own.

Mac knew he was out of his depth as he turned the lights on in the barge. "I'll start the fire." The feel of the wood grounded him as he squatted to build the fire, providing an anchor to moor this surreal day. The quickly spreading warmth felt pleasant in the crisp night air, and Mac stared into the flames a moment. The crackle and hiss of the wood catching fire echoed in the barge, reinforcing the illusion of emptiness, and Duncan glanced up at Methos, making sure he was still there.

Methos stood at the foot of the steps, barely in the salon. He was looking at everything -- ceiling, bulkheads, furniture -- as if trying to memorize the layout, a glint of wonder in his eyes. He looked like a kid on his first trip to Disneyland, and that thought made MacLeod smile. "Make yourself at home."

He turned back to the fire, his mind digesting the day. Part of him was still annoyed with Methos for interrupting the fight with Kalas. Although the battle in Seacouver had been close, MacLeod was certain he could have taken Kalas this time, especially with Fitzcairn's death weighing so heavily on his soul.

He looked up as the wooden sole of the barge creaked, and he watched Methos pace around, never really settling down in any one spot for longer than a minute, trying to examine everything all at once. Methos looked almost as uncomfortable as Duncan felt, and he wondered how long it had been since Methos had been with another immortal. He did not doubt that in five thousand years, Methos would have been with other men; he himself had been with a few. In four hundred years, there had been enough to fill the fingers on one hand, though none had meant that much -- then he caught himself.

There had been Fitz. But Fitz had always been a special case, in more ways than one. Fitz had been the first man he'd slept with in his life.

Confined by the wretched winter rain, the two men had spent the last three days either splashing through icy mud, or tending the fire in the warm and comfortable room they'd rented, reading aloud to each other or telling tall tales, or quarreling. They were down to one horse between them, and money was running out.

"How about the tavern?" Fitz asked for the sixth time in the last hour.

"We can't afford it, remember? Not if we want a roof over out heads." MacLeod sighed, his temper fraying again. "Besides, we've been there three times today alone, and your luck is never any better than the day we arrived. Can't you think of anything else to do?"

Fitz shook his head, his wig bouncing from side to side. "No, not really. Not unless you want to try reading again."

"I am tired of books." Duncan gestured at the pile sitting on the floor near his bed. "Can't you imagine something a bit more adventurous? This place is driving me mad." He picked up a pillow and threw it across the room, then threw himself into the chair.

"Hmmm. Something a bit more adventurous." Fitz lit his pipe, and took a puff, the aromatic smoke drifting around his head. When he took the pipe out of his mouth, a mischievous smile graced his well-worn features. "If it's adventure you want, laddie, I have an idea. But you probably aren't capable of..."

Instantly defensive, MacLeod pulled himself upright out of the chair and squeaked, "You arrogant English pig! There is nothing you can suggest that I cannot do."

Fitzcairn nodded and pointed the stem of his pipe at Duncan's chest. "Then I suggest you take off your clothes."

Mac smiled sadly, the laughter of that moment now overlaid with the still-new pain of his friend's death. Maybe that was part of why he had invited Methos back to the barge, beyond the left over tension from the fight. Maybe he wanted a little joy tonight, the chance to feel at ease in the company of someone he trusted, the way he could have felt at ease with Darius or Fitzcairn or Tessa. Or maybe he was just glad that no one else had died today.

"Do you have any beer, Highlander?" Methos sprawled out on the couch, still refusing to take off his coat, his legs splayed wide to accommodate the coffee table.

Instantly, MacLeod turned and busied himself at the bar, his back to the other immortal. "Actually, I think I have something a better than that." He fished around behind what might have been a decade's worth of bottles, finally finding the one he wanted. Talisker 40, with a sherry cask finish. He picked up two small glasses and set the bottle on the coffee table by Methos. "I thought that you might prefer something a bit stronger."

Methos picked up the bottle and read the label. "Nice, very nice, MacLeod. I can't afford anything like this on my salary." He opened it and poured then both a glass.

Duncan sat down next to Methos and picked up his drink. "Your salary?"

"I'm a graduate student in classical studies at University. My stipend is barely enough to cover the rent on my apartment." Methos looked at Duncan, raising his eyebrow. "I like to keep things simple. For the last ten years, if Adam Pierson couldn't afford something, I didn't buy it."

MacLeod shook his head. It was hard to see where the immortal stopped and the mortal persona began; with Methos, the two blended seamlessly. "You really get into a role, don't you? Most of us aren't that patient."

Methos ignored him and swirled the light red-gold liquid around in the glass, watching as it clung to the sides. Then he lifted the glass to his lips, closed his eyes, and took a small sip. "Lovely," he said, opening his eyes. "A very civilized drink."

Methos' lips were an invitation to a kiss, glistening with moisture and alcohol, open, vulnerable and waiting. Mac had expected this, had wanted this, but now that the moment was near, he felt momentarily taken aback. His standard barriers were gone, as if he'd known Methos all his life. A feeling that wasn't justified for a man he'd met only today, a man who obviously enjoyed life as a mortal more than life as an immortal, a man who wrapped mortal limitations around immortal concerns. Could he really trust such a man? "What about all the artwork and books?"

"I inherited the art, but most of the books are borrowed." Methos licked his lips, and Duncan watched the way his tongue whisked drops of the scotch into his mouth and almost groaned. Mortal or immortal, did it really matter which man he made love to, as long as they made love? Methos had done nothing to suggest he wanted MacLeod's head; maybe this was a moment to follow his instincts.

Mac leaned in closer to Methos, resting his arm on the back of the couch, hesitantly trailing his fingers along the other man's neck, unable to stop himself from touching the beckoning skin. "Borrowed...from the Watchers?"

Methos turned into the caress, eyes bright, his voice low and needing. "Exactly."

All Duncan needed to do was lean over an inch or two, and the deed would be done. "Do they know you have them?" Wanting to caress Methos with his lips was almost instinctual, a primitive trust reinforced by the way his body molded itself to the other, denying the separateness of their natures. That sense of connection sparked from somewhere deep within him, and moved through his body like a heated desert wind, erasing all misgivings. It was good; it was right; it was true. He pulled back to look at Methos, to see if he felt the same, only to find the other man could not meet his eyes.

"They must. I signed for it all." Methos finished his drink and stood, pulling his coat in tight around him, a shield against Duncan's caress. "Thanks for the drink, Highlander. I can find my own way out."

Duncan followed him to where he hesitated at the foot of the stairs, confusion slowing his response. "What do you mean?"

Methos radiated quiet pain as he responded without looking back at MacLeod. "I have to go to an inquest tomorrow. I need to call it an early night."

Mac mentally kicked himself for forgetting the other lives Kalas had taken. "Was Don that important to you?" Methos had lived as a mortal for a long time; perhaps there was a reason. "Was he your lover?"

Methos whirled around and faced Duncan, his mouth agape. "No. He was a friend, nothing more." He rubbed his hand across his forehead and sighed. "Don't get me wrong, I liked Don. He was conceited, self-important, and disorganized but he had one hell of a mind. I liked the challenge of working with him, that's all." His voice drifted away as he finally met Duncan's gaze and Duncan saw some of the same doubts reflected in their depths as filled his own mind. Methos looked away again and added, "It was a shame I could never let him find Methos."

MacLeod leaned against the barge wall, his arms crossed, partially blocking the exit. "So were you the cat as well as the mouse?"

Methos glanced at him out of the corner of his eyes. "I am always the cat."

There it was again, that sudden shift in expression and intonation that screamed 'danger' to all of Mac's senses; the mortal layer had been briefly pulled back, revealing the provocative immortal beneath. He felt a similar dichotomy in himself: one instant he needed to put some distance between them, the next instant he wanted Methos to stay.

Methos acted as though he felt the same way. Trust did not blossom easily between immortals; death was too long a companion for it to be any other way. Yet the energy between them crackled with desire, pulling at them both to enter a maelstrom of passion, despite their well-honed instincts.

Duncan had the feeling that the moment Methos walked out that door, there would be no second chance. Instead, they would be forever strangers. Acquaintances, at most, running into each other every century or so, until one of them was dead.

And right now, MacLeod didn't want to deal with more death. He clasped Methos' shoulder, his tone deliberately light. "The night is young, Methos."

"And I am old, MacLeod." Methos voice was laced with sarcasm. "I do not feel like spending the night discussing Watcher politics with you. I have better things to do." He shook off MacLeod's arm and turned to the stairway. "Anyway, with Don gone, I assume part of his responsibility for the organization, and tonight, I have no desire to think about that."

"Then don't think."

Duncan stepped in close and ran his hands up Methos' arms to his shoulders, wrapping around the front of Methos' chest and gently tugging at the opening in his coat. He breathed against the back of Methos' neck, and felt the tremor run through the other immortal's spine. He nuzzled the nape of Methos' neck, and felt a trembling that increased. Methos groaned and extended his neck even more, letting Duncan caress his way up to the back of Methos' ear. MacLeod smiled, enjoying the reaction. He eased Methos' coat down his arms, ignoring the weight of the hidden sword, pulling it off and away, the act an intimacy between immortals. He ran his fingers along the back of Methos' neck and leaned forward, whispering "Stay."

Methos stood poised in front of the stairs, his neck arched in pleasure, tension radiating from every pore. A beat, a moment, then the reply: a low, sibilant "Yes." He turned quickly, lifting his hand up under MacLeod's chin and pulling him into a long, demanding kiss.

Duncan let himself be drowned under the onslaught, opening his mouth, letting Methos thrust into him with his tongue, pressing their bodies as close as their clothing allowed. He closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation of not having to think, of not being in control. He took his own advice and let everything go: there was no yesterday, no tomorrow; the only thing that existed was now.

Methos stood back, and Duncan opened his eyes. He noticed Methos' gaze caressing him, stripping him, burning him to the core. Those remarkable, long-lashed eyes relentlessly challenged him to skip all the formalities of seduction, foreplay, and romance and instead give in to his baser, animalistic urges. The inherent danger of letting go appealed to the Highlander almost as much as the man standing in front of him.

Methos kissed MacLeod again, a gentler kiss this time, lips parted and soft. He reached behind Duncan to trace down his back and rest his hands against MacLeod's ass. The Highlander shifted his weight, pulling Methos even tighter into his chest. He opened his mouth, and sucked on Methos' tongue, rocking his hips slowly against the other immortal's, grinding their cocks against each other. Methos gasped, and pulled at Duncan's shirt, sliding his hands under the denim to seek out his nipples.

Unbuttoned shirts and unfastened pants slid quickly to the floor, and shoes, socks and underwear were shoved out of the way in a forgotten pile. Duncan's body tingled with phantom caresses, waiting for Methos' next move.

Methos stood looking at him, his gaze lingering on Duncan's skin as if he could taste it with his eyes. "The caress is in no way distinct from the desire: to caress with the eyes and to desire are one and the same."

"Sartre..." Duncan momentarily lost track of what he'd intended to say, as Methos' hands finally traced over the area he'd heated with his gaze.

"Philosophers have an opinion on everything." Methos slid his hands up MacLeod's chest and down his arms, down his back, across his thighs. Trembling, he eased Mac down to the floor of the barge, and submerged them both in a heedless, demanding kiss. Methos' hands never stopped moving, and Duncan gratefully lost himself in the haze of passion.

There was a pause as they stroked and touched one another, and in that moment, MacLeod noticed that Methos no longer met his eyes. His eyes remained cast away, no matter where Duncan was or what Methos was doing. MacLeod reached under the other immortal's chin, to see what lay hidden in their depths, only to have Methos turn his head away as he grabbed Duncan's hand.

Methos turned the palm up and traced down the center of the hand to the wrist, circled the wrist and plucked at a few stray hairs on Duncan's forearm. He gently kissed the center of Duncan's palm, then closed the Highlander's fingers over the palm, sealing their agreement.

Duncan understood: no questions, no answers, no thought. Once again MacLeod surrendered himself to the moment.

Oh, and what moments they were. Methos' hands moved over and across him, expertly extracting one reaction after another from his body, his cock hard and unyielding, weeping at the tip. He writhed on the warm wooden sole of the barge while Methos carded his fingers through Mac's pubic hair, brushing and then grasping the Highlander's erection. He touched the tip with his tongue, then dipped down around the head, before finally gliding the rest of the way down the shaft.

MacLeod reciprocated, pulling Methos close enough to tease the head of his cock, before sucking it deep into his mouth. Methos groaned, the vibration shooting through MacLeod's cock, up the shaft and deep into his spine.

He pulled away, urging Methos to turn around and look at him. He wanted something more, and he wanted to see Methos' face when he asked.

But when Methos looked at him, his head resting against Duncan's thigh, Mac was shocked by the complete emptiness and lack of passion reflected in the depths of those incredible eyes, his mind elsewhere. Goosebumps formed along MacLeod's spine and his attention wavered. He wanted, needed to bring Methos back.

He reached out and stroked Methos' chest. "It's okay. I'm here." He talked steadily, quietly to the other immortal, touching him, reassuring him, coaxing him back to reality. He'd done this before, with women who'd been raped or abused, when the terror became too much for them. He could only assume it was the same for Methos.

Gradually, his gentle touches and soothing voice brought results, and Mac was rewarded by a small smile and the return of light and warmth to clear hazel eyes. "We can stop if you want."

"It's nothing. A memory, that's all." Methos turned his head away again, and seemed focused instead on sucking Duncan's now drooping shaft. He teased and caressed MacLeod, nibbling the head, stroking and sucking until Duncan's cock was hard again, running his tongue around the tip, nearly driving the Highlander mad with the imperative of desire. His heart pounded, his blood raced, and MacLeod wanted his release. But he needed to reassure himself that he was not enjoying this alone.

"Methos." This time when Mac looked at him, Methos looked back. The disturbing alien was gone, replaced by the young researcher Mac had met in the apartment. Reassured, MacLeod smiled at him, and relaxed back onto the floor.

"I want to fuck you, Highlander."

MacLeod's desire warred with fear in response. He wanted Methos inside him, he wanted that sense of fulfillment, of connection, yet he hated the vulnerability it represented. He wanted the ache of satisfaction that came with being fucked, and yet could not voice his need, as if in some way, it lessened him to admit what he wanted. But when Methos started to pull away, when that dazzling warmth left his side, he overcame his fear and managed to whisper, "Yes."

Then Methos was gone, an abyss of darkness where there should have been light. The crest of passion he'd been riding wavered and ebbed, subsiding for the moment. Awareness returned somewhat, and MacLeod realized that Methos was in fumbling in a cabinet, looking for something to make the moment easier.

He sat up, but Methos had returned and pushed him down, setting aside the flask of oil for the moment. Duncan pulled Methos against him, into a long, slow kiss and felt his passion re-kindle. Soon, Methos' hands and tongue had fanned the fires to a burning point, and Duncan jerked as he felt the brush of Methos' oil-slick fingers against his ass.

"Do it," he said, his voice harsh with contradictions.

He felt the fingers inside him, pulling and stretching him open. Then a brush against his prostate made him groan with piercing pleasure, and Methos' tentative penetration turned more forceful, driving deep into MacLeod, ensorcelling with the incessant thrum of longing. He turned Mac onto his side and threaded his own legs around and between MacLeod's, so that one of the Highlander's knees rested against one of Methos' thighs.

Duncan felt the pressure of Methos' cock brushing against his ass, and he looked over his shoulder at the other immortal. He took a deep breath, calming himself, readying himself for the momentary pain he knew would follow.

Methos lifted an eyebrow, and MacLeod answered with a nod, trying to open himself and make himself relax.

It hurt as Methos sheathed himself in Duncan's passage, the head barely slipped inside. Mac bit his lip and tried to keep quiet, desperately calling on all of his training to force the muscles to relax and release their tension.

His muscles must have spasmed from the stress, because Methos paused, breathing slowly, running his hand along the Highlander's back. MacLeod turned his face into the wooden floor, allowing himself to become reacquainted with the feel of another man deep inside his body. Methos said nothing, merely lay his body full against Duncan's back, surrounding him with easy acceptance, and a little comfort. A hand snaked down between Mac's groin and the floor, and Methos fondled Duncan's cock.

Pleasure took over as the pain ebbed, and Mac rolled on to his side again, able once more to look at his partner. Methos' eyes were heavy-lidded with passion, and Mac knew neither would last long. He moaned, as Methos thrust into him, then gently eased his way out.

Sensation flew through him like a tempest, tossing his hesitation onto a rocky shore, demanding his willing acceptance of his own desire. Mac gave it heartily, thrusting back hard against Methos' cock, impaling himself and twisting, pursuing this scarce-admitted pleasure. Another thrust, and their heated breath closed around them, making the air feel as thick as sand. Another moment or two --

A whisper of danger touched him: MacLeod' eyes flew open as did Methos' as they both felt the approach of another immortal; the barge rocked with the weight of someone stepping onto the deck. The two men looked at each other: "Shit."

Methos pulled out and rolled off Mac, diving for his sword. Mac did the same, and partially shoved Methos behind him as the main door to the barge opened; they stood shoulder to back, waiting for the inevitable. Both immortals froze as MacLeod recognized the man paralyzed in the doorway, staring at the two of them, naked, swords in hand. Mac caught a glimpse of Methos out of the corner of his eye, and momentarily saw what his protege did: both men still hard with Methos' cock glistening as the oil covering it caught the light. Mac lowered his sword a bit and swallowed. "Richie."

The look of horror and consternation was impossible to mistake, and the young immortal quickly vanished back out of the doorway to the deck of the barge.

Mac grabbed his clothes, pulling them on as he started after Richie, not knowing what to do or what to say. If it had been someone else, Kalas for example, either he or Methos, or both of them, could easily have wound up dead. This had been a stupid thing to do.

Methos caught his arm, jerking his attention back from his mad dash to dress. Mac noticed the labored breathing, the way the other man's skin was flushed and beaded with sweat, the way his eyes were still dilated with passion. Regret welled from deep within MacLeod and he gently covered Methos' hand with his own. "Stay?"

There was an ache as Methos' voice as he whispered, "I cannot." A sudden shift again, and then determination lined the swollen lips as he pulled his hand away. "Do not tell him who I am or why I am here. The less he knows the better."

Duncan gently shook off the hold and pulled on his shirt. "He'll know you're an immortal."

Methos nodded. "Probably. There's some slight chance that he's not yet able to tell the number of immortals from the feeling he receives. If he doesn't, I'm not immortal; I'm just a guy. Leave it that way. I don't want anyone else coming after Methos' head right now."

"Rich is no head hunter. He wouldn't do that." Mac pulled on his jeans and fastened them. He could still feel Richie's presence, so he knew the other immortal had not left yet. "What if he does know you're immortal?"

"You deal with it, MacLeod. He's your student."

"Methos -- "

"Leave it! I'll find my own way out." Methos drew on his pants and slipped on his sweater, and studiously avoided looking at MacLeod.

Mac silently grabbed him and pulled him into a lingering kiss. For an instant, Methos melted against him like ice in a spring thaw, the throb of arousal still obviously coursing through his body. Duncan pulled back, his thumb brushing Methos' chin, only to have the other immortal jerk his head away and turn his back to the door.

It was done. Methos was still pulling on his socks as Mac went out to talk to Richie. The sweat quickly froze on Duncan's skin in the cool night air; his jeans were tight, rubbing against every millimeter of so-recently-possessed flesh, reminding him of the loss.

"So who was that guy? An old friend, right?" His voice a petulant whisper, Richie never even turned around as Mac walked up behind him. He stared across the canal, at the fog dancing off the water, playing hide-and-seek with the building on the far side. Confusion and anger drifted off the young immortal in waves, no emotion sticking around long enough to really take hold.

"Yeah, an old friend." Was Methos really a friend? Part of MacLeod was shaken with what he had enjoyed, his willingness to set his control aside. He knew nothing about Methos. How had he managed to open himself up like that?

"And you and he were screwing." Richie's voice was flat.

MacLeod shrugged, trying to diminish the importance of the matter, not only to stop Richie's questions, but to give himself time to accepted his own choice. "It happens."

"Not to you, it doesn't!" Richie's voice echoed across the canal. "I've seen you, Mac, the women fall all over you, and you don't give a damn about it." Rich looked away, as if the sight of Duncan was too painful, and stared across the canal at Notre Dame instead. "Look, I'm not stupid, and I know he was doin' you, Mac." Anguish coupled with anger punctuated Richie's voice. He started to say something, stopped, and looked away. Then he turned back, his fist striking the wood on the cabin of the barge, and shouted. "Why did you let him fuck you?"

MacLeod didn't want to think too hard about that question himself. "Mind your own business, Rich."

"Just a good, hard roll in the hay, huh? No big deal. Get your rocks off and move on?" His voice finally lost some of its edge, and the tone dropped to a more normal pitch. "That's something people would say about me, but it's not something they say about you. You don't treat women like that." Richie pulled up abruptly, his voice quieting to a near-whisper. "Then again, your old friend wasn't a woman, was he?"

"Richie," Mac sought out what next to say. His ass still ached with the feel of Methos' cock within him, and right now, he wanted to do nothing more than get rid of Richie and find a way to make Methos stay. He could still feel the vague presence at the edge of his awareness; Methos was not yet gone. "You shouldn't have come in like that."

Exasperation showed in the sudden jerk of Rich's shoulders. "Mac, I used to live with you, and it never mattered then. Why should it matter now?"

"Things change." Mac said in measured tones, reminding them both that life wasn't the way it had once been, not that Duncan really needed the reminder. Rich was a friend, not his family. It was time they both got used to that.

"Yeah, I guess they do." They stood, staring at each other, almost toe-to-toe, neither one willing to give an inch. Finally, Richie looked away. "Yeah, well, I needed to pick up something, and when I got here, I thought you might be in danger."

Mac watched him carefully; he knew the kid wasn't telling the whole truth, but wasn't sure it mattered. He smiled as memories of Richie's nefarious excuses to Tessa came back to him, and his anger unknotted itself from around his stomach. He laughed, then added, "Right, tell me another one, Richie."

The kid grinned back at him. "The part about picking up something was true; I left my leather jacket here the last time I was over. As for the rest of it..." Richie flushed and looked down at the deck of the barge. "Okay, I wasn't sure. I thought it might have been Amanda."

Mac nodded indulgently. "And you wanted an eyeful."

"Can you blame a guy?" Richie looked up at him, a wry smile touching his lips.

Duncan shook his head. "Not really."

Silenced stretched for a moment, while the patina of ease shifted once again. "So who was he, Mac?"

"Like I said, he's an old friend." No anger this time, just fact. Methos was an old friend, in a way. An old friend that he'd opened himself up to, that he'd given control to, that he had made love to within the span of less than a day.

"You have a lot of old friends that I don't find you naked with." Suddenly, Rich's countenance changed, the way it did when he stumbled on the obvious. It was a talent he had; finding the cleanest, most direct answer to a question that no one wanted to ask. "It was the quickening, right?"

Dimly, he was aware that Richie had continued to talk, but nothing seemed to make any sense. Duncan was focused on the slow fade of an immortal's presence and the growing sense of loss, rather than on their conversation, his mind still reeling from the shock of the events of the last twelve hours. He knew he had to say something, so he muttered a small "Hmm?" in response.

Had it really only been twelve hours since he first met Methos? It felt like so much more...

Rich's voice caught him. "You know, the quickening. All that energy. You take some guy's head, and whammo, you're more horny than you know how to deal with. At least, that's the way it is for me."

Mac pounced on the idea like a life preserver, but tried to make it sound less desperate. "Well, I have a little more experience with quickenings than you do. It's not always like that." He forced himself to smile.

"So who took the head? You, or him?" Richie stared off into space, "Him, probably." He hunched his shoulders against the night. "Don't tell me who it was; I don't want to know." Richie abruptly vaulted to the quay and Mac didn't bother yelling after him, knowing it was well past the point where Richie would listen to him. With an exasperated roll of his shoulders to ease the tension, he went back into the barge to see what he could rescue of the night.


The silence confirmed what he'd felt; the immortal was gone.

Joe stared at the fax, then at the chronicle he'd laid on top of the counter. He knew he had to write something -- the Paris report was too specific, almost photographic in its detail, and had too many implications to ignore -- but he could not think of how to phrase what he wanted to say.

The phone rang and Joe picked it up eagerly, glad for the distraction. "Joe Dawson."

"Hey Joe."

Speak of the devil. "MacLeod! What's up?" They talked, but Joe's mind was still on the fax; wishing he could ask; knowing he never would. Nothing really registered until, "You're telling me Adam Pierson is Methos?"

"I think it was his little joke on you. Adam, the first man."

"What better way to steer clear of other immortals. He's been there all along." If he could have, Joe would have kicked himself. "I can't believe I missed it. Hang tight, I'll catch the next plane to Paris."

"Don't bother. He's gone, and all your chronicles went with him. He's gonna be hard to find."

"What about Kalas?"

"He's outta reach. In jail, at least for now. But I can wait." Mac hung up and Joe went back to work. He picked up the fax and read it again: how MacLeod had spent the night with some unknown man. He twigged on what Duncan said -- Adam Pierson was Methos -- and it suddenly fell into place. The mystery man had to be Adam -- Methos, actually -- the world's oldest immortal. Joe whistled long and hard as he put down his Cross pen, then rubbed at his eyes.

He stared at the blank page in the book then picked up the fax yet again, staring at it. It was already crumpled and stained from being handled so much, but there was nothing he could do about that. With a sigh, Joe added the required entry.

March 7, 1995 After the abortive fight with Kalas, Duncan MacLeod was seen in an argument with his student Richard Ryan. Apparently, MacLeod has taken a male lover, identity unknown, and Ryan was upset about it. The implications of this event are yet to be determined.

He closed the booked and caressed the Watcher symbol on its soft leather cover, then tossed the fax in the trash. He looked up at the ceiling of the bar, as if invoking the god he didn't really believe in. No answers were forthcoming, so, Joe picked up the chronicle and took it back into his office.

As the book slid into place in the antique bookcase, Joe leaned heavily on his cane, head bowed, mind in turmoil over the morning's events.

What the hell was he gonna do now?

The End