Breathing Sorrows part two
by Rachael Sabotini


continued from part one...

Methos got off the bus at the transit center, again watching. Certain he was wasn't being followed, he crossed quickly to the train platform and boarded the north-bound commuter express. Impatient with the delay, wondering what had prompted Joe to demand a face-to-face meeting, Methos ran his thumb gently along the razor-edge of the knife, just reminding himself of its bite, barely splitting the skin.

The tiny cut healed almost before he released the knife, and he smeared the drop of blood into the ancient blade. It had been bathed in the blood of thousands over the millennia-his own more than once. The pain grounded him, calmed his breathing, and cleared his mind in preparation for whatever this encounter would hold.

Joe was waiting at the next stop in a nondescript hired car. Methos slid into the passenger seat, a split-second glance enough to warn him the news was not good. It was probably a mistake to be here at all, but when Joe had called, Methos had felt an uncomfortable pull to see his friend, to share the same air with someone who was missing MacLeod almost as desperately as he was.

He smiled slightly to himself. Joe was the one insisting on the secrecy now. Having the Watchers try to kill him once had made him just a tad paranoid about his own organization.

Ironically, after all the time he'd spent in hiding, Methos himself found he didn't much care. Part of him wanted to leave a trail, let whoever had taken Duncan find him, even though he knew it would be pointless to trade his freedom for knowledge.

Joe seemed to read his mind, his face a study in concern, and it made Methos more than a little uncomfortable.

Don't look at me like that, Joe. I'm not going to break. I've been through this too many times before. But Methos did pause to wonder what cues Joe was picking up on. Get a grip, old man.

The silence stretched as Joe pulled into traffic then performed several quick lane changes and turns; Methos wasn't the only one carefully watching his back. He waited impatiently while Joe pulled to a stop in an otherwise-deserted parking lot and fought the itch in his fingers that wanted to shake information out of his friend.

That's what he's seeing. Steeling himself, he waited a seemingly endless minute before Joe managed to clear his throat and speak.

"I think I know who took Mac."

What? The idea that hard data would emerge after all this time, that they could know, rather than just wonder, seemed too farfetched even for a stress-induced fantasy.

"I beg your pardon?" he managed to grate through suddenly stiff lips.

"I think I know who took MacLeod, and" Joe's voice trailed away in a fashion that Methos knew meant something bad would follow.

A fist seemed to clench around his heart, constricting terribly, and his vision began to blur. With what air he had left he managed to grate, "Don't play with me, Joe, just tell me he's dead, and get it over with." Even as he said it, he felt himself harden further, closing out the pain that could only impede his goal of making the motherfucker pay for his crimes.

"He's not dead, Adam."

He barely managed to parse the words. Not dead? "I said don't play with me, Joe. If he were alive, he'd have contacted you. Are you telling me you've heard from him?" Say yes, Joe. Say he called you from Hong Kong this morning.

"Adam, you know if I'd heard from Mac, you'd be the first to know. But we don't know he's dead, either. Keep a good thought, man." The tone was chiding, and Methos in no mood to be scolded. He lashed back reflexively.

"He's been missing more than two weeks, Joe. Face facts: he's already dead. The bastard-whoever he is-came, took Mac's head and his Quickening, and is long gone." Each word fell like a stone into the quiet between them. The silence stretched again, but this time Methos didn't want it broken, didn't want to hear whether Joe would accept his argument, or continue to maintain that MacLeod might still live.

"Delgado. The 'bastard's' name is Arturo Delgado."

"You know him?" Methos had done his damnedest to monitor Watcher reports. How had he never heard of someone clever and tough enough to take MacLeod? "Why are you only telling me now?"

"Keep your pants on, Adam," Joe soothed, although the bonhomie was clearly forced. "It only came over the fax today. Now, do you want the information or not?"

Like you could keep it from me if you wanted to.

But he only held out his hand and accepted the crumpled bit of fax paper, smoothing it on the dashboard before devouring the contents.

It didn't ease his mind.

Delgado was a sadist, a predator of the first order. Most of the historical entries cross-referenced to Interpol, CIA, and other antiterrorist efforts. He wasn't high enough to draw dangerous attention, but Methos recognized several of the atrocities to which he'd been linked.

He'd only been tagged as an Immortal in the past year, and they'd had hell's own time getting a Watcher on him. Six months ago, Ulrike Jorgensen had managed to infiltrate his organization and had been feeding steady reports on his terrorist activities-as yet she'd seen no Immortal encounters-until she'd turned up very tortured and very dead in a hotel in Algiers.

That had been less than ten days before someone showed up with a strike team and took out MacLeod. Talk about starting with a bang.

Methos had known Ulrike briefly; she'd done a tour in Paris a year or so ago. He tried to picture her face as he'd last seen it, but it morphed into the bruised and bloody wreck that had tormented his dreams the last time he'd managed to sleep.

"What makes you think he's not dead, Joe? There's nothing here to imply that Delgado is the type to show Mac mercy." Rather the contrary.

Reluctantly, he offered the fax sheet back and watched as Joe filed it meticulously in his briefcase before answering.

"Why do you think they sent me this update? It's not an all-points. He was tracked through immigration records to JFK, and they think they've narrowed it down to three destinations. We're one of them. There's no sign of him leaving the area."

Methos stared out at the sun-drenched afternoon, wondering when it had gotten so cold in the car. There was a chance, outside his own fevered fantasies, that Mac's killer was here, that Methos could exact the vengeance that had burned in his gut since he'd seen the wreckage of the loft. Reaching cautiously into his jacket, he clenched his hand tightly around the haft of the knife, feeling it vibrate with his intent.

They dragged Duncan into the furnace room of the warehouse, chaining his wrists to an overhead pipe. Duncan dangled there, his feet barely touching the floor, his shoulders arching from the weight of his body dragging on the joints. They grabbed his legs and taped them together from ankles to knees with duct tape, immobilizing him; the guards had grown wary of Duncan's ability to kick. Satisfied, they beat him with PVC, the kind Duncan had used to repair the plumbing in Anne's house, whoever Anne was. He gritted his teeth as the first blows fell on his thighs and back, first reddening, then breaking the skin. It hurt-ah, god, it hurt-but he could withstand this, just as he could anything else, as long as Felix didn't decide to take his head.

He could not stop himself from trying to evade the blows; his body was too much a survivor for that, whether Duncan willed it or not. He felt the force of the blows increase, felt the skin on his back split, felt the snap when they broke his ribs. He could barely breathe, and his wrists were chafed from the pull and twist of the cuffs as he jerked, dancing away from the force of the blows. Blood trickled down his back and sides, matting his pubic hair, along with the hair on his chest, forearms, and thighs.

Felix entered the room as they unlocked the chain from around the pipe, taking him down. The muscles in Duncan's legs trembled and collapsed under his own weight. Two of the men grabbed him and shoved him against the wall, making him stand upright, while a third injected something into his thighs. The pain ebbed a bit, reduced to a nagging irritation rather than full-blown agony, and Duncan slid down the wall onto the floor, momentarily able to catch his breath.

Felix kicked him, the pain making him gasp for breath. "Getting too comfortable, MacLeod. Can't have that. From now on, any time you squat, any time you rest, one of my friends here will be sure to wake you." Felix took out the taser and armed it, pressing it hard into MacLeod's flaccid cock. "Just like this."

Pain seared through his system, exploding behind his eyes, and the shock tore through Duncan's groin. The taser Horton had used on him had been bad, but this felt even worse, like being hit by a train. He doubled over from the force of the impact. He yelled, long and loud, and when he took his next breath, he could see the feral smile on Felix's face. He tossed the taser toward one of the guards and slid in close to MacLeod. "Where is Adam Pierson?"

"He left." Duncan's face was bruised and bloody, his nose broken, his lip split. It was hard to speak, and his tongue felt swollen to three times its normal size. Still, he had to answer, tried to answer, as each moment without a new injury gave the others some time to heal. But the dance was getting old, and Felix had grown obviously impatient. He slammed his fist into Duncan for the hundredth time that day, the pain so familiar as to be almost comforting.

"I don't believe you, MacLeod. When we grabbed you, Pierson instantly took a cab to the airport and the next plane out of town. I know it was part of your pre-arranged escape plan, a way to keep your lover safe. He wouldn't just walk away from you. Not after what he's done to get this far."

"Get this far?" Duncan looked at him in confusion, his mind screaming at him. Of course he would walk away. That's what Methos does. He doesn't care enough to stay involved. Duncan flinched involuntarily at the thought, and Felix abruptly stopped his pacing to stare at him, as if something had just dawned on him.

"You don't know?" The terrorist smiled and gestured to one of his men to bring over a chair. He sat companionably close, lifting Duncan's face to inspect the bruising and look into his eyes. "When your lover was mortal, he was a member of an organization called the Watchers. Oh, but I forgot, you know all about them. What you may not know is that he stole something from them, something called the Methuselah Stone, which he used to make himself Immortal." He ran his hand over Duncan's dirty and matted hair, petting him like a dog, and Duncan was too tired to stop him.

"I want that stone, pet. Give me Pierson, who was never supposed to be an Immortal, and we can all be done. Hell, if he gives it to me, I might even let him live." He dropped his hands and smiled companionably. "Have to do something to get you off my back, right?"

"Fuck you," Duncan said calmly, his mind sluggishly trudging through what had been said. Felix didn't plan to kill him-at least, not challenge him-until Pierson was found. In a way, Duncan was elated; it gave him more time to try and get out. "You don't plan on letting either one of us live, so why don't you just get it over with now?"

"You know that's impossible." He gestured, and the taser was tossed back to him.

Duncan blinked. Did Felix understand the Game at all? If he didn't, why was he after the stone?

How long had he been Immortal?

His thoughts wound too closely around each other, tying themselves in knots. He couldn't think clearly enough to form a plan, and irritation added venom to his words. "I cannot help you. I don't know where he is." He looked directly into Felix's eyes. "It doesn't have to be like this."

"Yes, it does." Felix shrugged. "You know the rules."

"Rules!" Duncan yelled. "What the fuck do you call this?" Kicking out with his legs, he knocked Felix out of the chair and the taser onto the floor.

Felix neatly scooped it up before Duncan could work up the energy to move again.

Duncan snarled and threw out his arm to encompass the room, the guards, and the weapons they used. "The Rules don't say anything about this."

His anger only made Felix smile. The man squatted down close, leaning in to stroke his cheek, making Duncan jerk away. "Temper, temper, little one. I don't want you to get too excited; it makes it hard to talk."

"Well, maybe I don't feel like talkin'."

"Ah." Felix sat back, closed his eyes, and stroked his cheek with one long finger; the act reminded Duncan of someone he'd known in a former life, though he couldn't recall the name right now.

Then he had it.


Felix's eyes snapped open again. "If you can't talk, I'm sure my friends here would love another evening of your pleasant company. Or maybe I should enjoy some of it myself, tie you down so you can't move this time and fuck your pretty ass." He paused and looked consideringly at Duncan, as if he were weighing some options. "Though I may have to forego that pleasure for now." His eyes narrowed to slits. "No more food, I think. I'll wait until you are weaker and can't put up as much of a fight. Then we can do without the drugs." He leaned in close to Duncan and whispered. "You must be a fantastic lay for Adam to decide to screw the Watchers over you. I wonder if he thinks Immortality was worth it."

Duncan jerked his head away from where Felix's breath caressed his cheek. "He didn't take the stone to become Immortal." God, what a colossal misunderstanding! This insane bastard wanted the stone that Methos himself had barely managed to touch before it had fallen over that bridge. He'd lost the stone, then Alexa, and finally some piece of himself that Duncan had been forced to watch die...and now it was all coming back to haunt them both.

"How else do you explain the convenient timing? A big blow-up in the Watchers, a dozen people dead, the Methuselah Stone missing, and Adam Pierson, former Watcher and new Immortal, turns up to live with you. He was never one of us, MacLeod. He's using you, can't you see?" Felix was all gentle reason, his easy smile and gentle touch in stark contrast to his previous manner. "He should never have been involved in the Game. Tell me where he is, and I can fix the problem."

"You'll kill him." Duncan tried to keep the concern from his voice, but knew he failed.

"No, I won't. I only want the stone."

Yeah, right, and you're such a model of self-restraint, Felix. I'd trust you in a minute. "He doesn't have the stone. It was destroyed over a year ago, and the pieces are lying at the bottom of a river."

"I'm sure that's what he told you. Tell me where he is, and I'll ask him about it."

The truth was useless, but Duncan found himself trying. "He can't tell you. He doesn't know where it is, and I don't know where he is."

"The fuck you say." The civilized veneer finally broke; Felix pulled out a knife and thrust it against Duncan's neck. "Tell me where the sonofabitch is hiding right now, or I'll kill you."

Duncan wanted to laugh and pressed his neck into the blade's edge. Soon, it would be over. "Go ahead."

"Don't you understand?" Felix screamed. "I'll kill you as many times as I have to to get the information I want."

Three thousand years fell away, and the room became a desert. Methos, his face half-painted with woad, stared at him, a knife clutched in his hand. "Blood is the payment of the gods, and you," the blade slipped along his chest, "are their sacrifice." He looked up at the man through Kronos' not-yet-Immortal eyes.

The desert wavered a moment, and two voices merged. Easy or hard, it's your choice.

There was only one response. Hard.

The knife ripped into his chest, a tearing, warmly familiar pain that made him cry out, while the guards looked stunned.

Round two to him.

Duncan smiled, knowing that Felix had failed the test, knowing that he would live again. His eyes rolled back into his head as Felix refused to give up, thrusting the knife repeatedly into Duncan, killing him even though he was already dead.

Methos found himself alternately staring fixedly at the TV screen and walking. Hours at a time he'd wander. Not strolling, but a near-manic pacing, through all neighborhoods, at all hours. Anything to burn off some of the tension.

He only wished he had an equal activity to quiet his mind. Between them, he and Joe had exhausted every idea they'd had for locating Delgado. Now it was just an exercise in patience; new information was going to have to show up. Methos couldn't help but expect it to come in the form of Mac's corpse.

By the end of this day's perambulations it was past midnight, and Methos found himself almost relieved to turn downhill toward the harbor area where his ratty Econolodge room awaited him. Borrowed energy suddenly lost with his abandoned purpose, Methos stumbled on the iron staircase and nearly fell through the doorway into his room.

"Hi, honey, I'm home." The TV didn't answer him, nor was the message light flashing on the phone. Staring around at the ragged furniture in the bare room, it seemed suddenly to reflect too clearly the state of his life. And there was no fixing it now.

A nearly unconscious, inexorable momentum drove him into the bathroom again, seeking a moment of clarity through the ancient ritual. His hand wasn't as steady as Methos would have liked, the slice deep and jagged, severing tendons, crippling his left hand temporarily.

And it wasn't enough.

The wound closed far too quickly to provide the release he needed, and his right hand shook slightly as he unbuttoned his shirt. He pressed the knife in close, cradling it to him, and slashed himself open from nipple to groin, blood welling up like a dark river and dripping down his skin. Another cut quickly followed, and another. Methos himself lost track of the number of cuts he made, his mind moving into a meditative trance. The release was gradual, as if the anxiety were flowing out with his blood, splashing into the basin, staining the cracked porcelain.

The phone rang, and Methos ignored it. He didn't want to talk with Joe, didn't want Joe to ask him what he was up to. Didn't want to face that he didn't have anything to be up to. The ring echoed inside his head long after the caller had given up.

Maybe it hadn't been Joe calling with news. Maybe it was just the desk wondering why he'd sent the tiny Mexican maid away in tears.

He forced himself to stillness over his fierce desire to move, to act, and found himself stroking gently, exploring the soundness of his once again whole physical form, admiring the way it lied about his sanity.

They stopped playing the 'ask MacLeod about Pierson' game after that. Felix didn't seem to care anymore about the stone or whatever else it was he wanted. His main interest seemed to be causing Duncan pain. Mac couldn't remember how many days had passed or how many times he had died-gunshots, strangulation, electrocution, anything and everything that came to mind. Felix even broke his neck.

He had wrapped his hands around Duncan's throat, his eyes dead as he stared into Duncan's. "I will do whatever it takes to get what I want, Highlander." He wrapped his arm around Mac's neck and pressed in, slowly and deliberately, closing off the air, telegraphing his plans.

Duncan felt his body crying out for air, but there was nothing he could do. He pulled at Felix's arms, but somewhere along the way he had lost most of his strength again. His fingers scrabbled against forearms for a moment, tearing the tanned skin.

He stopped the instant he saw the gleam of pleasure in Felix's eyes and the hint of a smile around his mouth.

He barely felt a thing when his spine finally snapped.

If Joe had knocked, Methos never heard.

He looked up from the morbid fascination of his now-whole skin to meet Dawson's horrified eyes. Under the stunned gaze, Methos still couldn't stop stroking one blood-wet hand across the deep scar on his thigh, feeling the subtle electrical pulse of healing, though the lightning had long since faded. Feeling as well the momentary clarity upon which he'd come to depend.

The scar filled too fast, muscle firming up under his fingers as he watched Dawson's mouth working silently. When Dawson finally reached out, it was as if that comforting hand was a conduit for all the confusion, pain, and anger that Methos was desperate to banish. Some terrified, animal part of him knew that the Watcher would steal Methos' strength, leaving him only the dreadful, weak emotion that had so encumbered him since he'd been careless enough to lose something as precious to him as Duncan MacLeod.

The moment he threw Dawson's hand off, Methos knew it for the egregious mistake it was. He should have accepted the comfort, let Dawson think he was doing some good, reassured him that his old pal "Adam" was not really over the edge. An instant later, he knew the mistake was irretrievable. He saw the connections flash across the Watcher's face and saw that face settle into a wary attention that wouldn't be soothed away with a few words or an hour of "normal" behavior.

Methos knew he couldn't stay around Dawson, stay friends, and get Mac back. Ruthlessly, he prioritized. If he didn't recover Duncan, he wasn't sure he could face a future that included Dawson. At any rate, if Methos couldn't get and keep a grip on reality there wasn't going to be a long run to worry about.

He made the moves, said the things he had to say, and watched the realization dawn in Dawson's eyes.

He felt better about it this way.

If this thing ended badly, he'd like to have Dawson's memories of him be of someone in control, someone who might have been a ruthless bastard when the occasion called for it, but at least knew what he was; not the helpless, confused creature Methos feared he was becoming.

Duncan knew it wasn't real, but he couldn't put the memory aside.

Grass and dirt caressed him, splinters of wood stuck in his cheek and forehead where the force of the Quickening had driven bits of greenery into him when its power had been absorbed. The dead Immortal was young, but the pain still lingered as Duncan's mind swirled with the brief images.

While he still lay gasping on the ground, footsteps slowed and paused a few yards away. Slowly, Duncan raised his head and watched as Methos continued slowly toward him, ignoring the body-its power now Duncan's-that was already beginning to decay.

His voice was clipped with suppressed rage as he knelt down into the dry grass. "Damn it, Mac, you can't keep doing this."

Duncan pushed himself unsteadily to his feet, his body still drained from the energy that had poured into him. "He came after me."

"Only because you make yourself a lightning rod for every hot stick Immortal who wants to make a name for themselves. You're too visible." Methos handed Duncan the katana, which the Highlander efficiently cleaned and settled inside his coat.

"What do you want me to do? Hide in the woodwork the way you do? Leave when my enemies come near?"

"If that's what it takes, yes. If you don't, one of these days, Adam Pierson will get caught in the backlash, and where will that leave me?"

"I can't just walk way from it, Methos. You know that. You know what I am."

"I know. I'm just not sure I can live with that."

Duncan laughed. His arms curled around his knees, his head resting on his arms; he saw nothing of the world around him. A low chuckle wormed its way out of his chest and exploded into the room, throwing Duncan's head back as it did, and filling the room with the irony of his thoughts. He laughed mindlessly, heedlessly, just enjoying the sensation of relief that the dark humor brought him. Now he knew why Methos was so easily amused.

For years, he'd believed that he and his lifestyle brought danger to his friends. Everyone-everyone-told him to pull back, to stop being such a 'do-gooder,' a 'goody two-shoes.'

"It'll wind up getting you killed."

He laughed again, not so hysterically this time, though the fact that he could not remember who had said that was still rather funny. It wasn't his 'Boy Scout' nature that had gotten him locked in a freezer compartment; it was young, guileless 'Adam Pierson' who'd made a mess of his life.

At the thought of his lover the laughter abruptly stopped, and the chuckles turned to ashes in his throat. He needed to get out of here, find a way to tell Methos about the joke-though Duncan wasn't sure he'd find it all that funny.

A tidal wave of anger surged through him-why had Methos left him here?-which was suddenly overwhelmed by a wave of shock and despair-he was never going to get out. He would live and die at Felix's whim, until the day Felix tired of it all and took his head.

He was never going to see Methos again.

Wetness pooled in his eyes at the image of Methos, hazel eyes bright with laughter, lazing across his couch, beer in hand. Drops of water escaped down his chin to his chest as Duncan tried to gain control over the pictures that flitted through his mind, as he tried to push Methos away.

But here, in the cold darkness, when his captors were gone and he was truly alone, they were the only source of comfort he could find. Duncan curled up with his back against the wall once again, and this time, he let the dreams play.

Methos slipped in through the service entrance, sticking carefully to the shadows, and found the side door to Dawson's office unlocked as promised. He listened carefully for a moment to make sure no one was waiting on the other side before he slipped inside and dropped into the easy chair to wait. Dawson bustled in a few minutes later. Methos watched surprise slide into nervousness, then finally settle into a cautious, welcoming smile.

It satisfied him that Dawson could meet his gaze now, and Methos took some comfort from the wariness he saw there. He didn't want to surprise Dawson, whatever might happen in the days to come.

Being known, being seen, was both terrifying and liberating. With a shallow sip of air, Methos swallowed the vestigial urge to hide, to cloak himself in Adam Pierson, for his own comfort more than Dawson's; he knew it for the false hope it was. There could be no journey back to more innocent times.

The clarity of that thought moved his attention outside himself for the moment, and Methos read the stolid purpose on his friend's face.

"There's something you need to know." Dawson's words were solemn, but Methos knew instantly from the tension that radiated from the man that he did not bring news of Duncan's death. This was something more personal to Dawson, and Methos consciously reined in his own driving frustration, waiting for whatever Dawson would reveal.

"Someone's staking out the dojo. Has been for the last three days." It had to be Watcher information, surveillance reports that had crossed Dawson's desk for supervisory approval. Once again, Dawson was choosing loyalty to Duncan MacLeod over the solemn oaths he had sworn. Methos marveled at the magnetism that one man had, that he could wield such power over so many.

He watched Dawson's eyes again and saw the conscious choice there. He accepted the tiny slip of paper, only a scrawled license number, as the treasure it was: the only true lead they'd had in the weeks Mac had been gone.

Joe shifted his weight and tried to look anywhere but at Methos. "I'll make sure the loft gets cleaned up, in case" His voice trailed off.

Dawson knew what he was doing, that was clear. He didn't buy the 'Adam face' any more than the man who wore it did. Any man or Immortal who stood between Methos and MacLeod would not do so for long; Methos had little humanity left.

He tried to form words, to express his gratitude to this man who'd been a friend to him, who'd looked past his own despair and disgust to understand, however remotely, the dreadful forces that were driving Methos toward this inevitable end-but there were no words for that.

Silently, he nodded and left the Watcher to wrestle with angels over what he had done, now that the demon was free.

Cool water, the last remnants of the evening showers, dripped steadily, and brackish water ran sluggishly through the bottom of the culvert.

The man's name had been Mark Johnson. He had told Methos that, as well as everything he knew about his boss Delgado, their little hide-out, and Duncan MacLeod. He would have told more, if Methos had bothered to listen. The screams echoed from the concrete walls and rang through Methos' body with the power of truth.

When it was clear the man had no more useful information, Methos had killed him. Messily. Some portion of his brain that clung desperately to twentieth century rationality railed at him, but the deeper, truer part of himself knew that this was not punishment enough for the canaille that had taken and tortured MacLeod. He flayed the screaming man slowly, savoring the hot blood that spattered his arms and face, watching the light of reason, and then the light of life, fade from the desperate, bulging eyes.

He left the body floating in the bottom of the storm drain, as MacLeod had drifted, and climbed into the truck for the drive across town.

Reason and caution gained some ground during the trip, and Methos stopped to shower and change clothes before visiting Dawson. He slipped invisibly through the guest room window and cleared his throat before stepping out into the kitchen. Dawson still jumped, and Methos found himself staring down the barrel of a very large gun. Good to know Dawson was ready to take care of himself.

"Adam! Jesus! I almost shot you!" Dawson's anger was genuine, but Methos was only mildly amused by it. "What the hell are you doing here, anyway? Don't you know what will happen if you're seen?"

"Joe," he whispered, and it brought the man up short, as no amount of shouting would have. "I need some supplies." It might have been a mistake to stop here, but felt he owed Dawson this much: that he know that Methos was going after MacLeod. They'd both be back, or neither.

Methos didn't say where he was headed, and Dawson didn't ask. He looked for a moment like he'd argue, but it only took one hard look to stifle that conversation. Instead, Dawson provided what he asked-up to and including his gold card-and visibly resisted the urge to intervene.

Throughout it all, Dawson acted as if there was something else on his mind, something else that he wanted to say. Methos thought about prodding him for it, but it seemed like too much effort. Once he had everything he needed, he nodded his good-bye and turned to go.

Dawson caught his arm and turned him back around. "There's one more thing." He dropped Methos' arm and went to hall closet. "They gave this to me a couple of days ago, said I should put it in the collection."

Methos swallowed and closed his eyes, not wanting to look, guessing what it would be. Every region had a collection of Immortal 'artifacts,' the flotsam and jetsam of Immortal lives, proudly displayed for whatever Watcher happened to drop by.

He knew what it was-it would have been impossible to resist. The Watchers would have seen it and taken it, as they had taken so many things when other Immortals vanished.

The myth of Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod would be maintained.

Dawson opened the closet door and took out a silk-wrapped package. "He's going to need this, if he's alive."

Methos could not help himself. He cradled the fabric like a child in his arms and pulled back the cloth.

The dragon head on Mac's katana gleamed at him in the artificial light, the creamy warmth of the ivory begging to be touched, to be used, to be held. Through the knot in his throat, he finally managed a whispered, "Thanks, Joe."

Dawson gripped Methos' shoulder, his own face averted, his voice laden with emotion. "Just make sure your sword doesn't join that one. I don't want to have the remains of two friends on display."

He let go, and Methos put the katana in his coat, a matched weight to the blade he normally carried. Then, silently, reverently, he nodded once again at Dawson and left through the front door without ever looking back.

Duncan had no idea how much time had passed. Judging by his thirst, he figured he'd been held at least three days without food or water. And he knew that, unlike Methos, Felix would come for him soon.

Three days-or more. He knew he was weak and suspected he'd passed out several times. The days really blended into one another when all you did was die. His personal demons had never been very good company, no matter how much time went by-and they never kept track of time.

Had the people Methos killed turned into good conversationalists after a few centuries passed?

That's a stupid thought, Kronos spat at him. Once an idiot, always an idiot, MacLeod, whether the person is living or dead. I thought you knew that.

The other Duncan hissed a response. He should. He's an idiot himself most of the time.

The voices anchored him, and Duncan shook himself out of the illusion, trying to assess his surroundings. He was locked into a wooden room so small he could not lie down, with no clothing and no light for company; at one time, it might have been a storage closet. He had turned one corner of his box into a toilet, and the reek of decay overlaid everything around him. He sat on the floor, hunched over with his head pillowed on his knees, trying to ignore the way his body craved water and the cry of his stomach for food. Mac, have you ever starved to death? The question was light, easy. The voice belonged to Methos. "Yeah," he croaked aloud...and got no reply. He'd starved and died of thirst more times than he cared to remember.

It looked like he would add another of those deaths to the list.

Every footstep in the hallway pierced his stomach; every moment of presence brought a moment of hope. He knew it wasn't in Methos' nature to play the hero, but every now and then he wished it could be that easy, that Methos would find something in him that was worth risking his own life-but that would never be.

Duncan comforted himself with his tattered thoughts. He still had his head, and Adam was still free. And maybe next time Felix would let him shower before he was fucked.

Methos spent two days on the rooftop waiting for a sign. The low, tangled trees obstructed his view, but the tar-papered roof of the old warehouse was the closest thing to a vantage point he had. He stared through the high-powered binoculars until he thought his eyes would bleed, but saw no sign of MacLeod. The fact that they hadn't taken Mac's head-as of the last time Johnson had been on site-offered hope that he might still live. The more time that passed, the longer Delgado would have to become frustrated, the more time he had to notice that Johnson was was a knife's edge. Methos ached to move closer, felt an almost gravitational pull toward the compound, in hopes of sensing MacLeod's life force; but if he got close enough to sense Duncan, Delgado would surely sense him. Methos wanted to have the coming battle on his own chosen ground. So he waited, and watched.

In the cold hours after midnight, Methos found his hand straying to the knife hilt. It warmed him slightly, and he drew a deeper breath, relaxing against a metal roof vent. Another deep breath, and he...

Methos jerked sharply, driving the point of the knife into his thigh, bringing himself sharply awake again.

Finally, the time had come. Methos watched the dark sedan carry Delgado out of the compound, then carefully rechecked the contents of his backpack: knife, spare clips for the machine pistol, T-shirt and sweat suit for MacLeod, the first-aid kit which included a few extra items Joe had never kept in it, and a little food and water, just in case.

He stashed the rented pickup in the woods near the fence, then, with aching slowness, strolled up to the guard on the gate. The man looked bored, and Methos smiled disarmingly. The guard didn't smile back.

"Pardon me." The man gave a 'what, me?' look that would have been comical in other circumstances. "My car has broken down about two miles back. May I use your telephone?" He continued walking forward, and the stupid guard seemed to actually be considering the request. Methos smiled gratefully, pulled the pistol from under his coat, and put three silenced rounds into the man's chest.

He put another round into the alarm panel, setting off a shower of sparks, then took the extra ten seconds needed to smash the firing pin of the guard's pistol before moving onward. Following his planned route, he found four of the remaining six guards in their expected locations. Number Five was in the toilet and died there. Walking the halls silently, Methos searched for Number Six. He nearly fell down the stairs when the sensation-the incredible, terrifyingly weak, absolutely perfect feeling, the one he'd steeled himself not even to hope for-touched the edge of his awareness.

Duncan MacLeod was alive.

His legs weak with relief, Methos leaned against the wall to hold himself up.

MacLeod was alive. He felt like shouting, like singing, like falling to his knees and singing the praises of all the gods he'd invoked during the hunt.

His lover. Alive.

Against all expectations, the man had managed to avoid martyrdom. Methos rejoiced silently and wrenched his attention back to the task at hand. He had to take out Number Six and get Duncan out of here before Delgado came upon them again. He had no idea how long that would take, as he knew Mac would be in no shape to walk, but he needed to make sure Mac was safe. Revenge would wait a bit; Delgado would suffer a long time before he finally died.

The mundane patter of water on ceramic tiles led Methos to the decrepit shower room where Number Six obliviously awaited his fate. The man was singing "Mellow Yellow," of all things, and Methos thought that alone ought to justify this execution. He pushed the door open, not even worrying when its ungreased hinges squeaked loudly in the otherwise deathly silence. He took a moment to relish the surprise/terror/hopelessness that flashed in quick succession across the heavy, soap-lathered features and the impotent scrabbling of the man's hands across the aged copper pipes.

One round to the chest and a clincher to the back of the skull. Methos left the body there with the shower still running, rinsing the bright, arterial blood down the rusty drain in the floor.

In the end, Methos found Duncan's box with his sense of smell. He broke the lock with a matter-of-fact kick, unwilling to let his desperation be manifest.

MacLeod was a mess. Methos had expected it, of course, having inflicted this kind of pain and humiliation before and being intimate with the results. However, it was different to see Mac reduced to a shivering, filthy, helpless victim.

He reached into the squalid, cramped closet, finding a grip on Duncan's grimy flesh, not letting himself feel the chill of the skin, or the crusty remnants of blood that matted the surface. Dragging the unresisting body into the hallway, he shifted his grip carefully, looking for some sign of returning consciousness. There was none. Bending, Methos heaved the body over his shoulder.

The trek back to the shower room took endless minutes as he hauled MacLeod's lighter-than-normal frame through the now-silent building. Time and fear drove Methos onward; he was panting heavily by the time he eased MacLeod's body to the tile floor and kicked the door shut behind them. Shoving the wet corpse of Number Six aside, he dragged Mac into a horrifically similar position. The mirrored image shook him for a moment, the similarity disturbing in some dark, visceral way that Methos really didn't want to think about. He took a deep breath, held it, and slowly exhaled. The mortal had died quickly and painlessly, while Duncan still lived-and would, if Methos had anything to say about it.

Simple, physical touch reminded him that Duncan still lived, and his small, intimate caresses were geared more toward comfort than offering physical care. In a moment of weakness that he could not deny himself, Methos gently lifted Mac into the shower's spray, brushing the matted hair from his face. Cold water drenched them both instantly, and Methos was gratified to see Duncan flinch under the icy spray, the image of Duncan's death finally shaken from his mind.

"I'm here now," Methos whispered. "It's okay. I won't leave you." He watched carefully for returning awareness, yet still wasn't quick enough to stop MacLeod from turning his face into the water, where he sucked down enough to choke himself almost instantly.

Methos held him firmly through the coughing fit, murmuring words of encouragement, then turned him carefully under the cleansing spray.

For a moment, Duncan was back on the desert plain, crossing without thought to oasis or water supply. He had little left to care about, only the need to survive. Footstep after footstep carried him deeper into the sands and the heat, until, finally, his body could not cope any more, and it gave up and died.

Rain filled his mouth, waking him. No, not rain, not this time.

A shower, somewhere. How long had it been...?

Someone was with him. A moment of panic flooded him as the Immortal's presence surged through his awareness, followed instantly by the feel of slick warmth sliding over his skin.

Felix's hands were gentle, indicating another round of play, and Duncan steeled himself to resist. The water quickly turned cold, splashing into his face, nearly choking him. The hands turned harsher, steadying him under the cold spray, and Duncan reached for a grip that would free him. It was useless, of course, and he heard himself moan piteously. Blinking his eyes open, the world was water-blurred, and the dark figure over him prodded and lifted him until he was washed cleaner than he'd ever been. Soft words, obscured by the water in his ears, distracted him momentarily.

The words caught and held, the rumbling noise reverberating and transforming itself in his mind. He blinked again, still not understanding, but there was something familiar about the tone...

The other Duncan prodded him. You moron. Remember the rape? He said the same things then.

A sense of foreboding nibbled at Methos' mind. Delgado could come back anytime. Right now, Mac was a liability that Methos couldn't afford, both emotionally and physically. It took precious seconds to set his civilized, caring veneer aside, but he took them now, rather than descend into the morass of emotions that would surely result in Mac's death, and maybe his own. Ruthlessly, he resumed the task at hand, impersonally turning MacLeod's unresisting body until the worst of the gore was washed away, drying him roughly and manhandling him into the loose clothing from the backpack.

Methos was surprised to find his wrist gripped and twisted. In other circumstances, it would have been a crippling hold, but MacLeod's strength was so diminished that it was barely a friendly grasp. Methos carefully unwrapped the fingers from his arm, soothing them gently. Duncan moaned desperately, a soul in torment, and Methos, looking into his eyes, saw nothing except a caged animal's despair.

He could not stop the visceral reactions, the way his stomach tightened into a knot, or the way his mouth turned dry as he realized how thin the thread of sanity had worn. Methos reached out, driven, in spite of his ruthless determination, to offer comfort to the man he loved, who'd suffered more pain than anyone could even imagine who hadn't seen the centuries of barbarism that had forged Methos' character.

The barest of touches along Mac's face brought a flicker of pain to Duncan's eyes, and Methos pulled his hand away, unsure of MacLeod's reaction. The torture may not have killed MacLeod, but there was no reason to believe that he was still sane.

A flicker of awareness set his senses tingling. Delgado was back.

The touch, so gentle, burned like fire, so evocative of comfort Mac knew he would never again receive.

Taking some strength from the clothing, as if an outward presentation could somehow restore his inner strength, Duncan lashed out. He was on autopilot-unthinking, uncaring, a wild dog trying to free itself. He could hear Kronos' voice urging him on, Take him, MacLeod.

An eye for an eye.

A tooth for a tooth.

"A life for a life." Duncan whispered aloud, the words resonating like harp-strings within his thoughts: a primitive, primal code, but the only one that fit this moment. He rammed Felix's stomach with his shoulder and watched the other man drop. He saw the gleam of steel and grabbed for it; his katana slid free of the pile of cloth on the floor. He whirled around, blade to the fore, but he was too slow; the man had moved, and all Duncan sliced was air.

His footing wavered on the slick shower floor, and for one moment, Duncan thought he might go down.

Loud shouting echoed off the walls; Felix's helpers would be along all too soon. Dizzy, dazed by an Immortal presence that seemed to be reflected and magnified like sound against the tiles, all Duncan knew was the feel of his sword in his hands again and the knowledge that he would not allow himself to be retaken. He would make Felix take his head before he would submit to that again.

'm sorry, Methos. I tried.

Then get up and fight. The sound riveted his attention, and Duncan looked up. Methos stood next to him, his face painted with woad, wearing the armor of some ancient, bronze-age tribe. He pointed to the doorway, and Duncan looked over; the man he was fighting blocked the only exit to the room.

You are coming out of here with me. We are getting out of here together. The sharp features of Methos' face were set with a firmness Duncan had never before seen. His eyes flamed with commitment-a commitment, Duncan perceived with sudden clarity, that had seen to his survival across the millennia: a certainty of purpose that would allow no possibility of failure, no admission of defeat.

Under the pressure of more rock-hard attitude than Duncan had ever encountered, he struggled to put his feet down, to move under his own power.

Whether the healing was progressing, or this bronze-age Methos had just hypnotized him into some trance state, it did seem that there was less pain, and he struggled to stay erect, gathering his strength and launching himself at the man that blocked the door.

Methos stumbled as MacLeod plowed into him on his way to the door. Instinctively, he threw the body off. Mac slammed into the exposed copper pipes, breaking one open and flooding the room. Methos cursed silently, wondering if it wouldn't be easier to kill the man and drag his body out. From the sound of things, Delgado must have found corpse number one. He didn't have time to wait for Mac to come to his senses; they needed to get out of here now. Who would have thought that Mac would have this much fight in him after the torture to which he'd obviously been subjected?

I should have known. With a sigh, Methos trudged through the slowly rising water and pulled Mac's stunned body out from under the pile of rubble that had fallen around him.

Gently settling Mac's barely breathing form against the wall, Methos heard the quick gasp heralding a cry that would betray their position to Delgado, as if the water that was ankle-deep and rising weren't enough. Slapping a hand sharply across Mac's mouth to stifle his scream, Methos steadied him, trying not to exacerbate the newly broken ribs.

Duncan grunted sharply, all breath knocked from his lungs as he fell sharply against one of the exposed pipes, collapsing it. The sudden agony in his side boded ill for his ribs, and both hands were scraped raw, splinters of broken tile dark amid the fresh blood. The cold of the surrounding water seeped further into Duncan, slowing his reactions, rapidly deadening the pain.

He had only just begun to relax into the comforting numbness when he was grabbed by the back of his sweatshirt and hauled to his feet. He opened his mouth to scream, but Felix was there, stifling his cry with a cold, hard hand, holding firmly to keep Duncan from folding back into the chill water.

Duncan breathed deeply through his nose, drawing the breath to his center, banishing the physical sensations to the extremes of his corporeal body, opening up his mind and spirit to the present task of survival.

He closed his eyes and centered himself, opening himself to the torrent of sensations washing through him. Pain. Anger. Blood. Fear. Heat. Desolation. Cold. And the teasing touch of Immortal presence at the fullest extent of his senses.

Rage filled him like air, seeping out and around him, replacing the pain of loss. The ghosts of Kronos and the others that haunted him stilled their tongues, their forms shimmering and merging together, flowing back into one another and into Duncan MacLeod, feeding him their strength.

When he opened his eyes the spirits were gone, locked back in the tomb of his mind, their power, their energy his to draw on once again.

When it seemed that Mac had the strength to stand and hopefully not the strength to attack again, Methos left him there. He worried a moment about leaving Mac weaponless, but finally decided that he could not trust the confused man at his back; that was another thing to make Delgado pay for. Restoring both blades to his coat, he pulled the pistol and checked the hallway for someone on whom it would be more appropriate to exert his anger.

Duncan's inner hunter was a well-trained beast, a focused, nearly Zen existence. He hadn't had cause to turn to this facet of himself recently, but the power and the hunger came now to his unconscious call, and he willingly opened himself to it. The physical rush of committing himself to a goal overrode his bodily pains and drowned any civilized inhibitions he might have had thirty seconds ago, leaving him with no awareness of a future beyond the next leap or blow.

Joy burned fiercely in Duncan's gut as he stalked his prey, the source of all pain, all loss. He moved before he could be spotted, circling, then climbing silently up the small hill of rusting machinery sticking out of the water, reining in the near-rapturous power of the hunt.

He could see the dark head twisting around, the dark muzzle of a gun tracking the shadows of the room. Like a lion hiding among the rocks, Duncan waited as the man's steps brought him within an arm's length.

His leap was utterly silent, he knew, but some instinct must have warned the other, for he turned to meet Duncan's strike-too late. Duncan pounded into the other's lean frame, striving for the weapon that had no part in this elemental struggle. The gun splashed away unfired, freeing Duncan to use his fists.

Silently, except for an occasional grunt or gasp, they traded vicious, maiming blows. They were both bleeding freely, and more of Duncan's bones had been cracked or broken than should have allowed him to stand. Each impact, whether given or received, vibrated to Duncan's center, and he relished every bit of damage he inflicted.

To have his tormentor under his hands was worth any price. The other faltered, and Duncan was atop him instantly, forcing him down into the water, staring triumphantly at the desperate eyes that bulged, just inches from the air that would spare him.

Duncan savored the feeling of the racing pulse under his fingers, the hot skin burning in the cold water, the body's struggles weakening as the life began to fade. And still it was not enough.

He dragged Felix's head up and watched the realization in his eyes, that he was going to die a hundred times.

A life for a life.

Blood for blood.

Sometimes the old ways are best.

Death would be a kindness, one that the man lying under him in the water did not deserve.

Duncan partially lifted him and patted him down in search of the katana. Instead, his hand encountered the rough haft of a knife, an oddly familiar grip that seemed to vibrate to his touch. He gazed at his blurred reflection, letting the edge catch the light, then brought it to rest against Felix's skin.

He looked down, and his heart momentarily stopped-Methos lay on the ground, not his tormentor.

Methos, who had the blade pressed against his neck, waiting for the killing blow. Not struggling, not even speaking, his face set in a sad acceptance wholly unlike any Mac had seen.

The scenario was uncannily familiar, though: Methos with his foot pressed at death's door, Mac's hand holding the blade-

Methos saw the madness leave Duncan's eyes, knew suddenly that today was not the day he'd pay the final price, and watched Mac's body begin to shake in reaction. Then he heard a small, quiet sound-the click of a gun safety flipping. He rolled, taking Mac down and pulling himself to his knees, reclaiming the knife. Delgado stood in the doorway, perfectly framed, and Methos threw the knife an instant before his world exploded.

Reality seemed to rend and reassemble itself in the endless silence following the gunshot. Methos floated limply, his blood slowly staining the water pink. Felix, propped halfway through the door, rested with a comical expression of surprise on his face, the haft of the old knife gleaming in the light that filtered from the hall.

Mac pulled himself upright and stumbled past Methos' still-bleeding body to where Felix lay, the movement of his feet distant from his mind. A thin film seemed to cover everything, and his body refused to act in accord with his thoughts. He struggled over to Felix and tripped on one submerged leg, falling across the body. The knife hilt jutted into Mac's side, and he pulled it out. He hefted the weight and looked at the body below him, then plunged the knife back in, listening to the solid noise it made as it sliced into the fleshy stomach. Blood flowed warmly over his hand; it seemed the most normal thing in the world to pull it out and shove it in again...and again, and again.

The stab and pull took on a mindless rhythm, like the harvesting of wheat or the honing of a blade on a whetstone, sharpening the edge of his madness. His vision blurred, and all sensation focused on the flex and draw of his arm, rising and falling and rising again, until the point that his muscles cramped, and the blade nearly fell from his fingers.

Awareness returned; his vision cleared. There was little of Felix left.

Without another thought, Duncan delivered the final cut, watching dispassionately as Felix's head rolled free, splashing quietly in the water, a gift to whatever gods might govern this timeless conflict. Then, he turned back and gathered Methos' precious, limp body to himself and waited for the Quickening. The power gathered slowly; not a huge accumulation, but ugly nonetheless. The mist gained substance, glowing supernaturally, and then the lightning began to crack and snap.

The force hit then, covering them both in light and energy, and flaying the remnants of thought from MacLeod's mind.

He held on desperately to the lifeless body in his arms, cradling it as if to shield it from the first of the Quickening blows, the weight of it reassuring in some intangible way. As the power struck, he felt his grip slip, and Methos' body slid toward the floor. In a near panic he grabbed at it and felt Methos body settle onto his thighs, reestablishing their physical connection, anchoring him to this moment in time. Another blade of the Quickening stabbed into him, and he arched back in pain, feeling the bolts of energy slice through him and ground themselves in the husk he held. The air crackled and surged as the power transformed itself into fire, and Duncan heard himself screaming as the pain ran down his spine, back, and arms, need into his groin, turning every inch of skin into a superconductor-yet he still held on.

Mac felt the power pass though him and into the body he held, felt the life he'd taken seep into the dead man in his arms, taking some of his own energy with it, tearing it from him as if it could swallow his soul. Some part of him rejoiced in that, despite the searing pain, knowing that for one brief moment they were completely joined.

The storm died as quickly as it had come, taking the last of Duncan's adrenaline-inspired strength with it. He lay gasping, unable to draw a full breath because of the weight that sprawled across him, his arms now clenched around Methos' waist.

Mac thought that coming back had always seemed painful for Methos. This seemed no worse or better than normal, and for that he was grateful.

Methos hacked, coughing blood from his mouth and lungs, before drawing his first breath. Mac waited, desperate. His hands began to ache before he realized how tightly he was clutching Methos. He relaxed the grip, stroking apologetically along what would soon be bruises and soon after be healed-if there was a god.

Methos dragged in another breath that sounded like it was more painful than dying, and blinked.

Mac waited.

As if a switch had been flipped, the eyes tracked, taking in the surrounding scene, flashing once down his own body, before settling on Duncan's face.

He reached out and laid one hand gently on Mac's cheek. "I thought I had lost you."

In wonder, Duncan looked at Methos, mostly healed and fully present, and saw his own wonder reflected back at him from concerned hazel eyes...and something within him shattered. He cradled Methos in his arms, tucking himself around the now-whole body, and wept as he had not in all the past weeks. Hands cradled the back of his head, sorting through the tangled hair, petting and soothing him like a prodigal son. "Shhh. It's okay. I'm here now. I won't let you go."

The words were like fire, acknowledging something they had both kept buried. His body shook with the force of reaction as Duncan gasped out a long-buried name: "Methos."

"Yes." The word was an affirmation, lending reason where there had been none, creating ground out of the sea of confusion that he'd been swimming in for so long. Methos stood and held out his hand, urging Duncan to his feet; Mac took it and rose, his eyes never leaving Methos' face.

If it hadn't been for Methos' support, Duncan would have collapsed. He would have suspected this Methos of being yet another of his phantoms if not for the solidity of the arms that guided him out of the shower room, past the mangled corpse, and beyond the now-sluggish flow of the chill water into the dimly lit hallway.

In a daze, Mac let himself be held, his hair and body stroked, as his hard-pressed mind struggled to digest the information his senses provided, the reassurance the physical presence gave him.

Methos was here.

Mac's fingers fumbled with the ties of the sodden sweat pants, trying to straighten himself out, and Methos' hands pushed them away to knot the strings himself.

Methos' hands. The sight was a benediction, an offering, a blessing made flesh, something Duncan had given up hope of ever seeing again.

He sat down hard as his legs gave out-on a crate, a pipe, something, he wasn't sure-and a cup was pressed into his palm. Duncan eagerly drank from it, letting the cool water quench the thirst he'd ignored. Pills came next, then more water, and his mind finally managed to wrap itself around the concept that had eluded him: Methos had played hero after all.

He had not put his own survival first. The knowledge of it shook Duncan to the core, made him aware of how much he had involuntarily risked-and how much he had won. The knowledge warmed him in places he had never known were cold. Immediately upon the heels of that thought, the ingrained need to shield Methos welled up within him again; what would happen if 'Adam Pierson' were discovered? "This is insane." He barely croaked out the words, and gulped the last of the water from the stainless steel cup, covering his spinning thoughts with action. "You should not be here. They're looking for you."

"They were looking for me, but I took care of it." The words were calm and full of steel, and the tight band of fear that constrained Mac's chest relaxed as he understood the implication. There was no one to find them.

"Actually, I was looking for you."

The words were like fire running across Mac's mind, burning away much of the pain and torture he'd endured. Methos wanted him. Methos cared for him. Methos needed him to survive. Duncan could not think or feel as the meaning of Methos' actions poured through him, rocking and changing his world, transforming uncertainty to solid ground and giving him a place to stand.

Methos cared.

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Methos took Duncan's cup away and set it on the ground. "Despite appearances to the contrary, I prefer my lovers both whole and sane, Mac." He crouched down next to Duncan, steadying himself with his hands on Duncan's thighs, and looked at him. "If I left you, I didn't know what I would have to come back to. And I wanted to come back."

Methos swallowed, his voice trembling as he spoke, the ragged edge of emotion showing though. "You're simply too precious to lose."

The words echoed in Duncan's mind, reminding him of the past, yet promising a future he would not have believed possible.

The scattering of words was torn from him, inadequate though they were, and Methos turned away, hating himself for not being able to say more. Duncan would not let him go; he pulled Methos in tight, his breath catching harshly. But despite his longing to stay wrapped in Duncan's arms, Methos could only deal with the claustrophobia for so long; he pulled away and sat up, watching carefully as Duncan didn't move, seeking neither to hold nor restrain him. Tentatively, he reached out a hand, running his fingers down Mac's face and lifting his chin to look into the Highlander's eyes.

The madness was gone, at least for now. And Duncan was still alive.

"Let's go home," Methos whispered, stroking Duncan's hair, waiting for his breathing to steady. It was feeble, but all he had to offer right now. It would have to be enough.

"Sounds good." The sound was muffled, but thankfully normal.

Methos stood and helped Mac to his feet, then refused to drop the hand. He used the grip to pull Duncan to him, giving in to his desire, and wrapped his arm around the younger man, lending him his strength.

For once, Mac immediately took him up on the offer, snuggling against the other man like the lost half of a Chinese coin. "You lead. I think I need to rest."

Methos nodded and gave Duncan's shoulders a squeeze. "After we get to the car. You can sleep then; I'll keep watch."

I will always keep watch. I could not sacrifice you again.

Duncan nodded his consent to Methos' suggestion, and the two men limped out of the building. The harsh sunlight stabbed at Duncan's eyes, stopping him on the threshold. A shadow intervened, relieving him momentarily, and he was able to focus on Methos' face, taking comfort from the continued wonder of the man's presence.

He shivered in the chill wind, and Methos' hands were suddenly there, easing Duncan out of his blood-stained sweatshirt, chafing his arms a moment before easing him into a dry T-shirt.

Methos nearly dragged him across the cracked, empty parking lot toward what Mac vaguely recognized as a gated entry. He did his best to follow along, placing his feet where Methos' had fallen, eyes scrunched nearly closed against the painful brightness, relishing Methos' hand clenched around his own. As they passed the gateway, Methos led him off the paved road among low scrub trees that offered some shade. Mac blinked fiercely and pulled back a little against Methos' steady tugging. A solid tree trunk presented itself, and Mac leaned tiredly against it, sweating heavily from the small exertion. Had the breeze seemed cold a moment ago? Now he turned his face into it, wishing it were strong enough to stir his hair.

"Not far now," Methos offered gently, wrapping a strong arm around Mac's shoulders; his other hand grasped his sword not quite negligently.

Mac allowed himself to be chivvied along; the car wasn't that far, and he dropped into the passenger's seat gratefully. He felt vaguely disappointed as Methos dropped his hand, snapping their connection for the first time since the Quickening. Duncan turned to look at where he'd been held prisoner, but Methos turned Mac's head toward him and stared deeply, forcefully into his eyes.

"Sleep, MacLeod. Forget."

Duncan felt himself relax as Methos' eyes offered as tangible a sense of security as the physical touch of his hands had while they were in the old building. Methos reached over and fastened Mac's seatbelt for him, his fingers lingering over Duncan's skin as if he, too, were hesitant to part for too long. He turned and gripped the wheel, started the car and put it into gear, his voice filled with venom. "If I could, I would level it and salt the ground."

The controlled, passionate words were like a lullaby, and Duncan soon felt himself drifting off to sleep, allowing the healing to begin.

Joe had been as good as his word; the loft was in pretty good shape. As Methos helped Mac into the room, he noticed the little things that weren't quite right-the door was new, many of the shelves lacked their old works of art, and the rugs were freshly cleaned-but it still felt solid and comfortable despite the changes that had been wrought.

Mac stumbled, almost asleep on his feet, and Methos steered him toward the bathroom door. The cracked tile had been replaced, and the place looked as unlike their previous venue as he could hope. Methos pulled a fresh towel out of the linen cabinet and peeled Mac out of the damp T-shirt and sweats. He swallowed once, hard, but Mac didn't notice. Duncan didn't seem to be aware of how bad he looked, with his ribs sticking out from lack of food and his skin scaly with dehydration. He simply stared at the shower door like it was the seventh wonder of the world.

Then Methos saw that Mac was staring at his own reflection in the glass, seeing the same flaws that Methos did, only magnified a thousand times.

"You didn't fail, MacLeod." I did. "What ever Delgado wanted, you didn't give him." He reached out and ran his hand down Mac's arm, their eyes meeting and holding in the reflection, as if they were looking into the Gorgon's mirror, both turned to stone.

Methos shook off the image as he heard MacLeod's stomach growl. "Let me get you something." He nodded toward the shower door. "I'll be back in a minute."

Mac nodded, and Methos jogged back to the kitchen and pulled open the door of the refrigerator, trying to keep his hands from shaking. His body wanted to collapse, to cry out, to beg forgiveness for the way he had failed MacLeod-but that wasn't how it was done. He pulled the chilled Gatorade out-thank you, Joe-and poured it into a sports bottle, filling it halfway before topping it off with lukewarm water. They would barely mention what had happened, sweeping it under the rug like everything else, until the floor finally collapsed out from under them due to the hidden weight. He clenched the sports bottle tight to his chest. No. Not this time. He'd nearly lost MacLeod, and he wasn't willing to chance it again.

In five thousand years, he'd learned how to 'let go.' He owned nothing, he lived for nothing, he cared for nothing. It was all an intellectual exercise; an experiment to see just how long he could survive. He hadn't taken a challenge for those two hundred years simply to see if he could; he would still be doing that, if not for Duncan.

He opened the door of the bathroom, and steam rolled out. His Highland warrior stood in the shower, his face turned upward, eyes closed, water cascading down his newly whole skin. Methos could see the muscles tremble and dart under the surface; MacLeod looked ready to collapse. It was almost a relief to offer physical care, to have something on which to focus, rather than letting the images of 'what-might-have-happened' run through his mind.

Methos quickly heeled off his shoes and stripped out of his clothes, then walked into the shower and pulled the door shut behind him, knowing himself a coward. He wrapped his arms around Duncan, steadying him, lending his touch to the water's warmth, working up to what needed to be said. "It's okay. I've got you."

One-handed, he opened the water bottle and pressed it into Mac's hands, his body crying out its need even in the most casual of touches. "Drink." As soon as Mac held the bottle, Methos rested his forehead on the back of Mac's neck, rolling it slowly across the bare skin, his arms wrapped fiercely across the Highlander's chest.

Taking your own comfort, he derided himself.

Mac finished the drink and tossed it aside, his body slumping a bit as he relaxed against Methos' chest, letting the other Immortal support his weight. The reassuring feel of Duncan's flesh pressed against his chest overwhelmed him.

His head spun as he wrapped his arms even tighter around MacLeod. He leaned forward and nuzzled MacLeod's ear, his voice soft as he whispered Mac's name, hearing the power and possession revealed in those syllables.

The reaction was more than he could ever have desired. Methos could feel the tremors running through Duncan's body and turned his gentle nuzzling to tentative kisses, determined to try to make it different this time. He forced the words past his lips, tried to find a way to tell Mac he cared. "I don't need to know what happened. I just know that you're here, and I don't want to let go."

He turned Mac so that he could see Duncan's face as he spoke, struggling to make the words true as he said them, trying to convey the depth of his emotion in each phrase he spoke. "If you do want to talk, I will listen. Whatever you need."

"Methos." Half-whisper, half-smile, Duncan dragged Methos' hand up to his chest and covered it with his own hands, pressing the heat into his flesh. They held an entire conversation in that simplest of touches, and finally an understanding was reached. With a sigh, Duncan released Methos' hand. "Some other time."

A small crackle of energy danced between their fingertips, and Duncan pulled back, his footing more sure than it had been five minutes ago; the Gatorade must have kicked in. "Right now, all I want is to get clean."

Shamefully relieved that Mac would not ask more than he could give right now, Methos picked up a cloth and the soap and proceeded to scrub every particle of dirt from Mac's body, wiping away the physical evidence, wishing that he could both cleanse and soothe more deeply.

Even in Mac's debilitated condition, the strong beat of his Quickening sang to Methos, vibrating on some invisible wavelength, coaxing a response that had more to do with affirmation, with a fundamental need to connect with this man, than the base response of his body might indicate. Reflexively, he pressed against the solid frame and realized that Duncan was shivering in spite of the water's warmth. He cursed his own needs and negligence; MacLeod had been on his feet too long. Reaction had set in.

"I have you. I won't let go." Methos quickly wrapped his arms around Duncan, carefully helping him out of the shower and easing him over to the toilet. He held Mac gently as his stomach let go of every ounce of fluid he'd been able to take.

When the spasm passed, Mac collapsed back upon his heels, his head resting on the porcelain, his arms cupped around the hole, his breath coming in deep gasps. "I in worse...shape than I thought."

Methos refilled the water bottle and picked up the damp cloth from the shower, using it to wipe Mac's face after he rinsed his mouth. "It'll get better soon."

Duncan managed to bark out a laugh. "It usually does." Quick as lightning, his hand grasped Methos' as he caught Methos' gaze. "I dreamed of seeing you."

Methos nodded his head slowly, relishing the tingle of pain from the fierceness of Mac's grip. "I dreamed of finding you."

"I thought you'd never come."

It was a truth too naked to avoid, requiring a return offering.

"I almost didn't." The truth was hard to say, yet it was also freeing. "I never would have forgiven myself for that."

He watched for condemnation or betrayal, and was instead transfixed by MacLeod's look of gratitude. Oh, Duncan, you can't hold anything back, can you? It's always written on your face.

Slowly, Mac let go of Methos' hand, his voice almost normal, yet filled with self-derision. "We are a pair, aren't we?"

"Yes, Highlander, we are." In more ways than you know. His voice caught as he spoke, and Methos looked quickly away from Mac's sudden, terrible concern.

Mac caught Methos' chin with his hand and pulled his face back. Compassion and need burned in those wide, shining eyes, as if Mac knew what he was thinking and what was at stake. "Do you mean that?" Duncan whispered gently, his voice catching as he spoke. Methos easily translated the look.

Do you love me?

There could be only one response. Methos closed his eyes and opened them again, working up the courage to admit openly what they both understood. "Yes." A single, soft word, but from Mac's reaction it was more than enough.

The forgiveness in Mac's eyes, and the open tenderness he displayed, dissolved a wall deep inside Methos that had nothing left to protect. The release was a dull blow to his middle, forcing air from his lungs in a sudden gasp. He found himself clinging frantically to Mac's solidity, desperate for an anchor against the sudden shifting of the earth beneath his feet.

MacLeod seemed unaffected by the abrupt gravitational flux, his patient support everything Methos had desired and the very core of the soul Methos had come to love.

In his heart, Methos knew he had claimed this man, spoken it to himself and to gods he'd long since abandoned. He swallowed, then wrapped his hands in Mac's hair and pulled his head forward until his lips brushed MacLeod's, trying to brand his lover with his touch. "Oh, yes." His breath ghosted over Mac's face, and then their lips met in a tentative kiss. "You are mine."

Fire bloomed then, and the spark of Quickening they'd consumed bubbled to the surface, making him feel drunk and dangerously out of control. Words of love and tenderness spilled from his lips more eloquently than he could have imagined, and Duncan drank them in like rainfall in the desert. With each new phase, each new promise, some of the pain dropped from his face, and Methos skimmed his fingertips over the vanishing lines.

This was how Mac was meant to look: a hero, rather than a victim. Some of Methos' own pain began to ease as well. He stood and reeled MacLeod into his arms, reaffirming the physical existence of his lover, and shepherded him out of the room.

Methos could feel the Quickening surge within him, little sparks that ignited his need to feel MacLeod, to lose himself in the Highlander's body and possess that which he owned. He tried to distance himself from it, to keep it under control, but the need was strong.

Mac seemed not to see it, trusting Methos to lead him out of the washroom and back into life.

They collapsed on the bed, Methos pressing himself down onto Duncan's naked form. For one terrifying moment, Methos thought he might take MacLeod right then, unthinkingly whetting his partial erection against Duncan's groin; Mac flinched, just slightly, but it was enough to shock Methos back to awareness, and he cursed himself for reminding Mac of what he had just been through.

However, comprehension wasn't enough to ease the tearing pressure that needed the physical presence of MacLeod-the sight, sound, scent, taste, and touch of his lover-with desperation more urgent than his need for oxygen. But it was enough to keep him from acting on that craving, to keep some semblance of reason in his life.

"Mac," he ground out, "I think I need to take a time out."

Quicker than thought, Methos escaped him, and Duncan was left reaching out to empty air. He had only a moment to understand that it was the bathroom door rather than the front door that had clicked shut, and then he was up and moving. At some level that was deeper than thought, he knew that he was needed and that every passing second was crucial.

He tried the knob, but it was locked. He tried to force the lock, wondering if he'd ever had a key. Finally he threw himself against the door, and his weight popped it open to reveal a blood-soaked tableau.

Methos was crouched in the corner, Duncan's straight razor clutched in his left hand, his right forearm laid open from wrist to elbow. Desperation burned out of sunken hazel eyes. He was nearly unconscious from the blood loss, but still slicing clumsily at one thigh.

Duncan stopped breathing, and Methos' hand paused. Seconds passed, while they stared, as if suspended in amber.

Then, moving deliberately, giving Methos every chance to stop him, Duncan interposed his hand between the blade and Methos' leg, knowing what must happen, welcoming the sharp pain and the warm flow of blood.

Methos dropped the razor. Duncan heard it clatter away on the tiles, but all he could see was the returning awareness in Methos' eyes, feel the shared sparks of healing.

He reached up to Methos' face, painting his own blood across the sharp features, pulling him forward to bring their lips together-taking, giving, sharing this bloody rite.

Duncan knew with sudden sureness that this was a deeper part of Methos than he'd ever seen before, that the core of himself that Methos hid was this brutal need to control what he could in a malevolent world. He read shame in hazel eyes that was so basic and yet so unnecessary. If only Duncan could convince him. For the moment, he merely rinsed off the worst of the blood, with as much care and concern as Methos had shown to him earlier, then led the other man back to their bed.

Methos stood awkwardly, his arms crossed over his bare chest, and stared down at him, as Duncan curled his legs up under him on the bed. He looked like he was five seconds from bolting again.

"Don't go." Duncan whispered, pulling Methos down to sit beside him. "I need you to stay."

Meaning it for now, for always.

Methos' breathing was labored, giving his words a scattered rhythm. "If I stay, I'll ...want more...than you can give right now." He took a deep breath and some measure of control returned. "It can wait 'til later."

Duncan shook his head. "No, it can't."


Duncan stroked his cheek, and it was Methos' turn to flinch away. "You think you're the only one who thought I was dead?"

He ran his hand down Methos' neck and onto his chest, and left his hand there, over Methos' heart. "There were times I wasn't sure myself. I never believed you'd come; I thought I would always be alone, with only my ghosts for company." He shut his mind against the memories, glad to lock them away for at least a while. Methos never needed to know exactly what had happened, how Felix had been looking for Adam. It was best to keep that casket closed.

"In some ways, I think I was dead." Duncan ran his finger over the pulse-point in Methos' wrist, enjoying the sense of security it gave him simply to feel Methos there. "I think I even became death for a time."

Methos' breath caught in his throat, and he shot Duncan a look as if to say: I prayed you would never understand.

Horses and barn door, Methos. I cannot imagine surviving that life for so long. "Everything that happened to me must have happened to you at one time or another. How can you think I would feel differently than you do right now?"

Methos turned his face into Duncan's now-healed palm, then pulled back, his eyes shadowed with an uncertainty that Duncan had never thought to see there.

Can you accept this? Love me?

There was no hesitation in Duncan, no doubt. "Yes, Methos. Yes."

The silence stretched between them again, and Duncan waited, hoping that it would be enough, that Methos could trust him enough, trust this enough to stay.

Methos finally spoke, his movements agitated and torn, as if unsure of whether to leave or to go. "They hurt you. I thought I asked too much, maybe" The words drifted off as Methos looked away again.

"Later?" Duncan finished the sentence for him. He tried to smile, to let Methos know it was okay, but the other Immortal seemed to find the weave of the bedspread particularly interesting.

"Yes. Later." A short, clipped, terse reply, and Methos did not lift his head. His lover was putting his own needs in a box again, but Duncan wasn't going to allow it this time.

He put his hand in front of Methos' face, and Methos turned to look at him. "There's been too much 'later' already, Methos. We may be Immortal, but we don't have that much time."

The restless picking movements finally stilled, and Duncan pulled him solidly against his chest. "I need to feel you against me, to know that I still exist and that you are still here. Keep me safe, Methos. Make love to me. Let me feel your possession and your passion and your fire. Make me live again."

The thin rein of control broke in the face of Mac's innocent caring, and Methos leaned in so that he physically loomed over Duncan, staring into his lover's luminous eyes. He let his gaze drift to Mac's lips. He brushed them with his own, then delved into the warm, willing mouth. Mac was pliant under him, responding slowly, his body tasked; Methos had been given permission, but he had to ask again, anyway. "Please, Mac. I want-I need...don't tell me no"

In answer, Duncan groaned long and low, pressing deliciously against Methos, his still-soft flesh nestling between Methos' thighs. Methos couldn't think as his mind focused on the slide of the Highlander's skin under his hands, the way Mac's body welcomed his touch. Remapping every inch of flesh under him, worshiping with hands and lips and tongue, he listened as Mac's voice whispered softly, the same comforting nonsense Methos had foolishly proffered, "It's okay. I'm here," and finally, "Hush." That made no sense to Methos until Mac reached up to gently wipe away tears that rolled heedlessly down Methos' cheeks. The fingers drifted across his mouth and he tasted them, salty and damp, and utterly Duncan MacLeod.

His cock throbbed in response to the sensation and Methos heard himself whimper with his need to possess.

"Do it," Mac offered, pulling his head down into a gentle kiss.

Not quite sure if Mac understood what he wanted, Methos tried again, his hands petting and carding through the hair on Duncan's chest. "Mac...I need"

Something within Mac broke as well, and he groaned long and low, and with soul-wrenching hunger. "Yessss." He pulled Methos' thighs around his hips, forcing Methos to straddle him. "Please. I told you, I need this as well."

Feeling the truth of the words on some cellular level, Methos managed to draw a full breath as he looked at MacLeod. He focused on Mac's face and read the familiar welcome there.

Encouragingly, Mac dropped a hand to Methos' erection, pulling it strongly, setting a powerful rhythm, though he was only half-aroused himself. At the touch of Duncan's hand, Methos arched straight back, pressing his hands against the mattress and his cock against MacLeod. "Oh, god" he whispered, "I need more."

MacLeod released his hands and lay back, his hair spilling around his face, and Methos felt his desire spike off the scale. He wanted so much, needed so much, and all of it lay on offer between his thighs. He had starved for so long, Methos knew he would not last-he needed to claim the Highlander as his own. He drew a hand down Duncan's chest and stared into his eyes. "Mine."

Then he leaned over and rubbed his face on Duncan's cock, licking it and filling his senses with the reality of his lover's life. Mac stroked his head, like a mother comforting her child, as Methos blindly nuzzled and nudged, branding the taste and the sensation of the smooth, soft skin, slick against his tongue. He felt a small, slim pulse and a shy lengthening of the shaft, not even enough to pull away the foreskin, but enough to show Mac's sincere interest despite his battered flesh. Still, Methos' body demanded more, his own cock a hard rigid pole, weeping from the tip. His mind swirled at the edges of reason, and Methos knew he could not wait any more. "Mac?"

Duncan thrust his hips up at Methos. "I need to feel you, too."

The whispered words burned away the last moments of sanity, and Methos strode eagerly into the fire. He pulled away from his nest on Duncan's thigh in spite of Mac's rumbles of protest and focused on working the opening to Mac's body. Methos simply thrust his tongue deep into Duncan, licking the opening, slicking it for what he needed before he could finally pray: "Let me love you."

A sob seemed wrenched from Duncan's chest, and Methos pulled away, knowing he deserved to be rejected, hating himself for even asking the question, only to find salvation in the steady answer and clutching hands that pulled him back. "I want you to fuck me."

The words were barely out of Duncan's mouth before Methos had wet his own shaft and slid inside, his own voice crying out in defiant passion as he felt himself enveloped and held close to the warm center of Duncan's life. Heavenly respite. Bliss. Home.

A home that had nearly been lost and would never have been found. He was not going to be so careless with MacLeod again.

Methos paused, agonizing seconds in which he branded the feeling into his soul, taking Duncan as his own. Time slowed; their bodies fused into one, and Mac's life became his. This was what was important-this union, this passion, this love-and it was worth far more than Methos' sustained existence. To never touch that power again, to never feel the strength given to him without question-it was not worth another thought. He had Mac here beneath him once again, and he began to thrust gently, his eyes still locked on Mac's, each tingle of sensation building his need higher as he claimed what he owned, and gave himself in return.

Duncan murmured softly, his voice building to sobs of need and acceptance as the gentle thrusts gained force; Methos' heart reveled in the reaction. This was what he needed, to know that he owned something that would last, to belong to someone who could not die, and to accept that someone else was willing to endure unending life to stay by his side.

Heart pounding in rapport with the one beneath him, Methos sighed deeply, feeling the truth vibrate to the end of every nerve. In response, he thrust into Mac, hearing him cry out in desire, and heard his own voice merge in the words of passion and promise. He pulled back and thrust again, savoring Mac's answering movement, finding an easy rhythm, a remembered pattern from what felt like eons before. He sat back on his heels and pulled Mac's ass onto his own thighs then rolled forward, deepening the penetration, his gaze, locked with Mac's, holding him more firmly than he held him physically.

Mac gasped, and his hand crept toward his own cock; Methos batted it away and encircled the rod with his own hand. Thought vanished, dreams vanished; all that remained was the feel and scent and taste of how they made love.

Cries escalated, and the bed shivered with the pounding it took as Methos tumbled and groaned his release.

He pulled Duncan to him and lavished attention on his cock. Mac's climax was quiet and shy, a long ways from their last lovemaking, a welcoming sigh rather than a symphony.

Mac held him after, and they traded warm soft kisses and touches, the absent-minded play of new-won lovers. Each gentle caress seemed to heal an invisible wound, cleansing Methos more truly than any physical bathing could hope to.

All too quickly, the energy of the sexual high dissipated, and Duncan stifled a yawn. Methos kissed him. "Go to sleep. We'll talk in the morning." It was a promise to himself more than anything else.

MacLeod nodded, his eyes reduced to slits. "In the morning."

The new alarm clock sat ignored on the bedside table as Mac rolled over and collapsed face down on his pillow. He pulled the comforter tightly around his ears and within seconds, he was asleep.

Methos crawled out of bed and pulled a chair next to the Highlander's head, watching as Mac's breathing passed deeper into sleep. Methos brushed some of the jumble of hair off his forehead, his fingers teasing the skin. Mac rumbled and sighed, digging himself deeper under the covers. Methos smiled, eyeing the truth from all sides, knowing it was more true than ever.



The End