Such Fragile Things
A poignant Christmas tale...
by Lillian Wolfe

 

This tale is based on the characters in the Davis-Panzer Production, "Highlander The Series". The characters of Methos, Joe Dawson and Duncan MacLeod slipped away to do a little moonlighting and we beg their bosses to be understanding. They weren't really busy right now. None of us are profiting from this, but Methos felt inclined to tell me yet another story. When D-P have work for them, they will return happily to their regular jobs.

This story is hurt/comfort and m/m sex. If this bothers you, TURN BACK NOW! I confess, I never expected to be writing slash stories but I've been dragged, kicking and screaming in protest, to the dark side by agents of evil in the guise of my closest friends and a determined muse. (Not to mention a few threats from readers resulting from the regrettable tendency I have to create situations filled with UST.)

My thanks to my two tolerant beta readers Tiffany and The Laundress for pointing out the errors with gentleness and providing the ever-needed slap of logic when necessary. And for warning me about the simple words that imply a great deal more than three words should.

Please do not copy, publish or post on the Internet without permission from the author. I really don't want any legal problems.

Originally posted on: December 20, 1998


December 24th, 2014 - 10:58 p.m. - Paris

"To our long friendship, one of the best any man could ask for." The slight Scottish burr almost purred over the clink of the glasses as they met over the table and the fingers of the two men almost touched. One set of hands that held a tumbler was strong and large. The other tumbler was held by long fingers that still had strength in spite of their wrinkled, aged appearance.

"Amen to that," the gruff-sounding yet still strong voice of Joe Dawson said with conviction, then he raised the glass to his lips.

As Duncan MacLeod swallowed a generous mouthful of the fine single malt scotch, he studied the man seated across from him. Joe was showing his age. His hair was nearly all white and growing a bit thinner on the top and the crinkles around his eyes had grown into deep ruts. What was he now? Sixty-four? Sixty-five? At least life had been relatively calm for the past few years making it easier for Joe to keep up with him. Not that the aging Watcher had to dog his footsteps -- younger legs could do that now -- but Joe still wanted to be on the scene with his assignment. Unconsciously, Joe rubbed at his wrist and Mac was aware the cold winter's dampness was bothering the musician's arthritis.

His friend was growing old, Mac thought sadly. Time was so fleeting for mortals and one of these days, before too many more years passed, he would lose this friend. So he treasured these moments, these very special moments, with Joe.

Le Blues Club has closed early on Christmas Eve, as was Joe's tradition. The last round was at nine-thirty and the last patron out by ten. They were alone now except for Gabrielle who still picked up the glasses and shoved them into the dishwasher. Some things never changed. The room smelled of hot spiced rum and cigarello, a pleasing, and clean, mixture when compared to the old tobacco smell that had infiltrated bars and pubs in the last decade.

Between them sat a cheerfully wrapped package, Mac's Christmas gift to Joe. "Go ahead. Open it," he encouraged as he watched Joe's fingers dance on the table top in anticipation. The body may be aging, but the spirit inside was still a kid.

With a grin, Joe tore into the package. "I was gonna wait until morning, but since you insist--" As the colorful wrap fell away, Joe's fingers stilled over the cube-shaped object. "A holo projector! Mac, you shouldn't have! This is-- this is too much!"

Mac started to reach for it. "Well, I can take it back--"

The old hand latched firmly onto it. "Don't even think about it!"

"Try it out."

Joe gave him a nod, touched the on button. At once, a three-foot high image of Dian Lamar projected onto the table and the sultry tones of the blues singer belted out "Cry Me A River." The solid-looking image was nearly perfect, if not for the reduced size.

"You can project her to life-sized if you want." The imagining unit was good quality, top of the line.

Joe grinned. "This is great, Mac. It's almost like being at a live performance!"

"Uh hmmm," Mac agreed, then added. "You can get chips of any of the greats of the last ten years.

"Thanks. This is a terrific surprise. I've been coveting one of these gizmos for quite a while." He turned the unit off and cocked his head at his friend. "So, is Amanda coming in for the holiday this year?"

MacLeod shook his head. "No, she's got other plans for the holidays. She said something about a ski party in the Rockies. I had hoped Alex would make it, but she's spending the holidays in Jamaica. Can't blame her on that score. Warm, sunny islands sound pretty good right now."

Joe laughed, but Mac glimpsed the questioning look in his eyes. He could almost hear what the old Watcher was thinking. //Alone at Christmas? Who would have thought the charismatic Duncan MacLeod would find himself alone?// Fact was, Amanda hadn't been a frequent visitor to Paris for the past five years and Alex Raven was about to settle down to a hearth and home of her own with a mortal doctor.

"I'd invite you over to Amy's, but there's going to be a crowd of family. Most of her in-laws and their kids," Joe said apologetically.

Mac waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "No. It's okay, Joe. I'll be fine."

Joe nodded, then lit the red candle, surrounded by festive bunches of holly leaves and mistletoe, that formed the display in the center of the table. "Make a wish, Mac. A Christmas wish."

He grew silent, his thoughts immediately turning to the one friend who frequently haunted his dreams. If he could have one wish for this holiday, it would be to see Methos again. It had been nearly thirteen years since they had argued and the oldest Immortal had left his barge, never to return.

Thirteen years. No one knew where Methos had gone. His Watcher had lost him almost as soon as he'd left France. Three quick plane changes and he'd vanished. There was so much left unsettled between them and he had no idea if the old man was still alive. Yes, if he had a wish, it would be to have Methos back in his life.

The wish was silent as Mac made it and burned a leaf of holly in the flame. It flared up for a moment, then the flame itself winked out. As the toasted smell of the holly twig rose up in a pale smoke stream, Mac continued to stare as if it might conjure up the object of his wish then and there.

"I wish I could tell you where he is," Joe said softly. "The last time a Watcher thought he saw Methos was five years ago in New Zealand."

Mac's smile was lopsided. "He's probably living in a hut on Bora Bora. Gone native."

They both laughed, a half-hearted sound. "Yeah. That would be like him," Joe agreed.

"Have you heard anything from him lately?" Mac asked tentatively, knowing that the absent Immortal had occasionally kept in touch with Joe. Their friendship had also fallen casualty to the disintegration of his friendship with Methos.

"Not since that electronic postcard on my birthday last year," Joe replied. "I was hoping to get at least an Internet Christmas card from him."

Postcards from cyberspace-- a good way to stay in touch without letting anyone know where you are. It was so like Methos. They sat in silence a few more minutes, then Mac reached for his coat. "Well, I'd better be going. The snow hasn't let up any. Happy Christmas, Joe."

He picked up the bottle of Drambuie that was Joe's present to him and started toward the door. Behind him, Joe's voice called softly, "Same to you, Mac. I'll keep my fingers crossed for that Christmas wish."


The snow had been falling steadily for the past six hours, not a driving, hard storm, but a soft, gentle layering of white flakes over everything. Even the dingy back streets of Paris took on an elegance in Nature's white garment. By the river, where Mac's barge was moored, the snow was a pristine blanket that mounded occasionally over the objects below it and reached over the edge of the bank to try to cover the flowing water. It wasn't cold enough to stop the movement of the Seine, but little mounds of snow surfed until they were absorbed by it.

Mac's footsteps broke the smooth pattern of white as he made his way carefully up the gangway to the boat. In spite of the warmth within the barge, snow still clung to the roof and along the portholes transforming it into something more than it was. It was a symbolism not lost on the Highlander, his own reputation making him more of hero than he deserved.

He'd recently had the whole barge remodeled, new flooring put down and a new roof installed. It might have cost less to buy one of the elegant new flats in the renovated Canal district, but he was attached to this home. Soon enough he'd have to think about moving to a new area, establishing himself as a savvy thirty-something man in a new city. He had too many Paris acquaintances to avoid them while they aged and he didn't. But if the city was on a river, the barge could most likely move with him. He was giving some thought to London in a few years and there were still areas on the Thames where a barge could be anchored.

Inside, the vessel was homey with an overstuffed sofa and chair dominating the living area. The galley, too, had been renovated to install the latest models of energy-efficient appliances while still affecting a quaint 1920's look. There was even a small dining table with room enough for two comfortably and four if no one was claustrophobic. His sanctuary, his fortress of solitude. It lacked nothing to insure his comfort, but the warmth of a friend would be welcome on a cold, December night.

Tonight wasn't the first time he'd wished for the return of Methos' companionship. The wish had occurred on a regular basis over the past ten years, right about the time he really realized the old Immortal wasn't coming back. Sighing, MacLeod poured a glass of Drambuie and, pulling the footstool around, he settled into the chair with a book.

Not long after the chimes from Notre Dame marked the start of Christmas Eve mass, he drifted off to sleep mid-page, his head lolling to one side. It was the deep, restful sleep of dreamless peace.


Paris - Dec. 25th, 2014 - 01:22 a.m.

He told himself he was just walking without a destination in mind, that this little jaunt in the snow was nothing more than an attempt to burn off unwanted energy. A chance to clear his mind of the cobwebs that harbored tiny motes of the past. It was a lie. Therefore, it didn't surprise him when he emerged through the underpass and gazed out at the broad landing in front of the river. He stopped, considering this a safe distance. Any closer would allow MacLeod to register his presence.

The boat hadn't changed all that much, Methos reflected. The barge was still a barge, still maintained from what he could see under the snow. And still owned by the Highlander. Hunching his shoulders up a little against the chill, he dug his hands into his pockets and leaned against the wall.

Unbidden, unwelcome, the recollection of the last time he'd been on the barge came to mind. He couldn't even say it was that argument specifically that had driven him away. He and Mac had been at odds far too often in those last few months. That disagreement had simply been the proverbial straw. He'd left that night, sick at heart. A few days later, he'd left Paris and just kept going.

And he hadn't been back to the city for more than a few hours since that day. Until now. Usually his business amounted to routine signatures on a few papers, accounts and business items he didn't want to handle from a distance any more, and visiting Alexa's grave. But the bad weather today had grounded all flights and he couldn't get back out.

So here he stood at some uncivil hour of the morning drawn to this place by a ghost of Christmas past. And he couldn't seem to simply walk away. His mind reeled off memory after memory of the good times with Duncan MacLeod, easy times when the two of them were friends and he knew he rated in the Scot's life. When he knew Mac would be there if he needed him. Friendship and trust are such fragile things, like taut little strings easily broken by pressure in just the right place. Once they began unraveling, it was hard to stop them and more difficult still to repair them.

Unconsciously, he edged a little closer to the barge, moving out away from the protecting wall. His sharp eyes caught the deep impressions in the snow where Mac had returned to the barge, the only set of footprints to mar the soft surface.

//Mac. So close.// He drew a ragged breath, coughed as the cold air filled his lungs. Recovering, he rubbed his hand across his eyes, weariness clutching at him. //Why did I come here? It's all so futile--//

A gentle tingle. The presence of another Immortal touched his mind and Methos tensed. Slowly, he gazed toward the barge.


Paris - Dec. 25, 2014 - 03:18 a.m.

At first it had been just a tickle in his head, a bubble of awareness. MacLeod had stirred in his sleep and rolled his head to one side, subconsciously leaning toward the invading signature. Then the sensation had increased a little, still not strong, but enough that he twisted, shifting his body and nearly tumbled out of the chair.

//What the--?// Awareness returned quickly. He'd fallen asleep in the chair, his book still spread open across his lap, although the pages had shifted. With sensibility came the keener sense of another Immortal. He glanced at the clock. Nearly four-- not the normal time for a caller. He reached for his sword and made his way cautiously to the deck.

The tall, lean figure was easily visible against the starkness of the snowscape, a vivid silhouette with enough definition that MacLeod readily recognized him. The ancient Immortal remained still, an almost palpable wariness holding him in place.

"Methos!" MacLeod uttered into the air, startled by how clearly the single word carried in the quiet of the morning. Shoulders shifting slightly, the object of his attention looked ready to flee at a moment's notice, a deer bounding away from the over-anxious hunter. He took a deep breath, tried to calm himself and advanced slowly toward him.

"Welcome back," the Highlander said, genuine warmth in the few words.

"Hello, MacLeod," the apparition acknowledged in the well-remembered baritone. "I hadn't planned to be here. I'm not sure why I came."

Like a knife, the absolutely candid words cut into him bringing pain at the realization that Methos was that uneasy coming here. His mouth felt dry as he spoke. "Well, since you're here, come in and have a drink. You look like you could use some warmth."

Not moving, Methos gazed pointedly at the naked steel. Mac's eyes followed the stare and he quickly sheathed the weapon. Then Methos took the first few cautious steps toward him. Mac's eyebrows knitted together in consternation. Was he really that reluctant to see him? What the hell had happened between them?

Methos' hair was longer than it had been in the whole time MacLeod had known him, reaching nearly to his shoulders in the back although shorter on the top and sides. It framed the narrow face gently, giving him a more youthful appearance. A bit like Adam Pierson, that look. But not quite. Pierson's expression had shown warmth and compassion. This look was colder, unforgiving. MacLeod swallowed nervously, then turned to lead the way inside as Methos followed silently behind him.

//Surely he wants to talk,// Mac told himself, //else he wouldn't have come.// No matter what Methos said, a part of him wanted to come to the barge.

Once inside the Highlander headed toward the kitchen, cautioning himself to take it slowly, not do anything to spook his guest. Not to shout out one of the dozen or so questions that hovered near his lips. "Coffee or whiskey?" he asked calmly.

"Coffee."

Silently, Mac went about the business of setting up the brewer, measuring the grounds and getting the process underway. It was a struggle not to blurt out the question that had haunted him for the past fourteen years -- //why'd you leave?// He turned to face his friend and found him still standing just inside the room, barely at the foot of the stairs. The hazel eyes roamed from edge to edge, corner to corner across the room, taking in the changes and the few things that had remained the same.

"Come on in," Mac said softly as he came out of the kitchen. "Make yourself at home. The sofa is pretty comfortable."

Methos nodded, made his way to the suggested piece of furniture and sat down rigidly. He pulled his coat a little tighter to him, his whole demeanor giving the impression he could flee on a moment's notice. It was a clear statement that he didn't plan to be staying long.

"You're looking good." Mac leaned against the edge of the kitchen's breakfast bar and studied the features he remembered clearly. He meant it. The old man looked very healthy, not quite so thin as he recalled and in fit condition. But there was something else he couldn't quite put his finger on. This was *not* the Methos he knew.

"You, too. A little slimmer than when I last saw you. How is Joe?"

"In good health. Aging, though. He'd like to see you. "

"I wrote-- sent him a few cards."

"I know. But it's not enough. He's missed you. We both have." Mac hadn't meant for it to sound accusatory but even to his own ears it came out that way. He watched Methos recoil slightly as he looked down, staring at the top of his shoe. Abruptly, Mac turned and busied himself with getting the coffee ready.

Talking to the old Immortal now was more difficult than he ever dreamed it would be. He'd imagined at least a hundred times what he would say and do when he next saw Methos, but this was not any of the scenarios he'd conjured up. The man in his living room was not cooperating, not playing his role-- //No, he's playing a different role.// Mac realized suddenly. Who had he become over the past dozen or so years? Not Adam Pierson, but someone similar maybe.

He set a coffee cup in front of Methos. "Still drink cream and sugar in it?"

A quick nod as the long, slender hand reached for the cup. He barely looked at Mac. Stubbornly, the Highlander sat on sofa next to him, hoping the proximity would make him nervous. Would at least make him look at him. "Who are you now?" he asked pointedly.

Methos brought his eyes up, shifted slightly away from Mac, but he did look at him. "No one special. Just--" There was a long pause. "I stay out of the way, MacLeod."

"Out of the game." It wasn't a question.

"Yes. Out of the game. Still surviving."

Duncan gazed into the green-gold eyes, looking for the familiar light, but he noted weariness instead. There was no fire. The blaze that was once incandescent in those eyes was extinguished, the bright spirit that was Methos was subdued, inhibited. What the hell had happened to him?!

Unexpectedly, Mac ran the back of his fingers against the other man's cheek. Cold flesh. Sudden tensing. He withdrew his hand even as Methos drew a quick, sharp breath and flinched away from him. The older man immediately caught himself, straightened as an annoyed look flickered across his face. The reaction had been unconscious, unintentional and he was unhappy about it, Mac deduced.

He sat back, allowing Methos space. "Drink your coffee. You're cold. How long were you out there?"

Obediently, Methos reached for the cup and swallowed nearly half before he answered. "I dunno. An hour or so maybe. I walked over from the hotel. I should go--"

"No, stay," Mac spoke quickly. "It's a really nasty night out and you're already half frozen."

"I'll get a cab."

"Not in this weather you won't. It's nearly five and the sofa is comfortable. You might as well stay. Please, Methos."

He hesitated, seeming to turn the idea over in his mind. "This-- isn't a good idea. I-- I'm-- different now."

"I can see that," Mac said agreeably. "But you're still Methos. You're still my friend. And I'm asking my *friend* to stay. I *want* you to stay."

Taking another sip of the coffee, Methos mulled that over for a few more moments, then cast a shy smile at Mac. "In that case, could I get another cup of coffee? With whiskey in it, this time?"

MacLeod grinned, took the cup as he asked, "Any preference?"

"Irish, if you have it."

While Mac poured another cup and added a generous amount of alcohol, Methos removed his coat, finally acting as if he was going to hang around for a little while. MacLeod took in the details, noting the dark blue wool trousers and the finely knitted dark blue sweater. They were good quality and tailored to the slender body, fitting snugly across hips and buttocks. He looked slightly heavier than Mac remembered him, but the change was in muscle. Never tending to excess fat, Methos had always been solidly built, but the muscles were more defined. He'd been working out.

Gradually, it occurred to him that he was looking at Methos in a way a man didn't normally look at another man. It was not the first time and it was not without pleasure. It was just that the Highlander was willing to admit the attraction now. Admit it in a way he hadn't done fourteen years earlier. That last time his friend had been on the barge, the night he'd kissed Methos. It had been impulsive, totally unplanned and unexpected. Methos had retreated like a scared rabbit, telling him to think about it when he was sober.

The next day, Mac had considered that good advice, wondering himself what had caused that to happen. Blaming the alcohol and the sudden flash of inspiration that had connected Byron with Methos, he reasoned the dredges of the poet's Quickening had somehow surfaced. //Yeah. The devil made me do it,// Mac thought sardonically. Methos had stayed away, giving him time to think about it, to reach his own conclusions. And eventually he had. He'd realized that *he'd* wanted to kiss those perfectly-formed lips, not Byron or Kronos or any other perverse spirit he'd inherited. He, Duncan MacLeod, wanted it. By then it had been too late. Methos was gone.

Casually, Mac handed the coffee to Methos and, in a quiet, conversational tone, dropped the bomb at the same time. "Why'd you leave, Methos?"

Hands somehow holding the cup steady, Methos swallowed a bit, then set it on the coffee table. His voice was soft, uncertain. "Do you have to ask?"

"I want to hear you say it." MacLeod spoke gently, the tone no more emotional than for a question about the weather.

He was silent for nearly a minute, drew his breath once, then hesitated. "MacLeod, things were getting-- It was getting too complicated. You didn't know what you wanted and-- I'd stayed too long. It was time to move on."

"I see. You didn't really want to know what conclusion I came to, did you?" It wasn't an accusation, just a calm, rational statement.

Methos shook his head. "It's not important now. Just let it go-- for both our sakes."

MacLeod pursed his lips, struggling to contain the disappointment and pain. Dammit! He wanted to talk about this. With controlled frustration, the big Scot got to his feet and rummaged through the closet, finding a pillow, sheets and a heavy blanket. He tossed these on the sofa beside Methos. "Let's get some sleep. You look tired and I definitely am." He hesitated as Methos began spreading the sheet over the cushions. "Methos, please don't leave without a word in the morning. I'd really like for you to be here when I wake up."

The older man's hand froze on the way to the pillow and he glanced at Mac, nodded slowly.


Paris - Dec. 25, 2014 - 12:28 p.m.

Slam!

Mac cringed slightly as the cupboard door slammed shut. He glanced through the arch over the bar to the living space where his guest still slept. Methos rolled in his sleep, but didn't wake up. //Par for the course this morning,// Mac thought. He'd been puttering around in the kitchen for the past two hours, making noise, washing dishes, dicing, chopping and cooking, without disturbing the slumbering man. A slamming cupboard wasn't likely to do it either.

The Christmas meal was in the oven, the traditional stuffed bird and roasted potatoes. He'd paid a fortune for fresh asparagus from New Zealand. Even without a guest in consideration, MacLeod had planned for a festive holiday. Whether Methos would hang around to eat was anyone's guess, but the weather hadn't cleared up any and even though he might be able to get a cab, it would cost an arm and a leg to do it. Luckily Joe had one of the big tractor vans that could make it through nasty weather, but most people would stay in today keeping safe and warm.

Ever since the devastating axis shift a not quite a decade earlier, winters on the continent had gotten steadily worse. Heavy snows and icy storms were becoming the norm for France, Germany, Italy and Northern Greece. Even the usually warmer areas on the Mediterranean were chillier these days, although still not getting any snow. Meanwhile, the northeast areas of the American continent were experiencing balmy weather and sunshine. 'Course, what was left of sunny, southern California was now in a cloudy, stormy state most of the time. Crazy.

But if it meant that Methos would be here for the entire day, Mac was grateful for it. Not that he wanted to hold the old man against his will. He just wanted to have time to get through to him, to break down the barriers he'd thrown up. To get him back in his life.

A low-voiced muttering came from the sofa, unintelligible, but frightened and urgent-sounding. Concerned, Mac looked over at Methos again. He'd curled into a ball, arms covering his head protectively. This was about the third time in as many hours that he'd started chattering in his sleep. Any Immortal who'd been around a while had nightmares to haunt him and certainly, Methos had more than most. Mac had experienced quite a few bad dreams with his friend in the numerous occasions he'd spent the night either here or in the loft in Seacouver, but it hadn't been quite like this. Not repeating over and over, not sounding so anxious. The earlier instances had only lasted a couple of minutes, but this time was more prolonged and growing louder.

The urge to comfort , to take that slim body in his arms and ease the anxiety, was overwhelming, but at the very least he wanted to wake Methos from this frightening dream. He set the chopping aside and approached the bed cautiously. "Methos? Methos, wake up."

The only response he got was more agitation in the muttering as the long arms pulled tighter around his head. Gently, Mac laid a hand on his side, shaking him slightly and repeating his name. Abruptly, the arm swung away from his head, barely missing Mac's nose as it lunged toward the sword lying on the floor. Reacting quickly, Mac caught his wrist, holding it back. The response now was violent as Methos unfolded, struggling against the man who now had to throw his weight into restraining his friend.

MacLeod wrapped his arms tightly around the slim arms and shoulders, straining against the wiry strength in them as he pulled Methos tightly to him. He kept repeating his name, trying to pull him out of this dream. He felt the muscles tighten, the body nearly going rigid with the touch, recoiling from him as much as fighting him. Abruptly his eyes flew open and wild, hazel discs stared blankly at him.

"Methos, it's Mac! It's okay! It's just me--it's Mac--"

The eyes blinked a couple of times, then recognition came into them. Methos gasped, breathing hard and his body slowly relaxed a little. Soothingly, MacLeod rubbed his back and shoulders, felt the tight cords of muscles that refused to loosen. Methos swallowed roughly as he tried to pull away from the Scot. Mac eased his grip, but still held him.

"I'm sorry, Mac." His voice sounded ragged, strained. "Bad dream-- I left my pills--" His voice trailed off as he realized he'd said more than he should. It was too late.

"Pills?"

Again, Methos tried to break free of his grip, but not fighting too hard when MacLeod still held him. "Sleeping pills. No big deal."

MacLeod noted the nonchalant tone and the underlying tension. Sleeping pills? He knew Methos, knew he wasn't prone to using pills to handle a problem. He also was certain Methos wasn't likely to discuss whatever was wrong with him, especially after not seeing him for so many years.

Frustration built in Mac as he felt inadequate to handle the situation. His hands still roved over the captive shoulders, feeling the tense muscles. He shifted his arms, turning Methos around and pushing him face down toward the sofa.

"What?" There was a touch of panic in Methos' voice and he resisted the control Mac was exerting.

"Just relax. I'm not going to hurt you. Lie down." Mac was firm as he continued to push Methos down. Firmly, he began kneading the muscles across the tight shoulders, pushing and pulling with strong fingers digging in.

"Aghh!" An only slightly muffled yelp escaped as Mac pushed down a bit hard on the hard muscles.

Mac eased up, stroking his back firmly. "Easy, Methos. For someone who just woke up, you're incredibly knotted up. " But he didn't resume the heavy massage, opting instead to continue the firm pressure until he felt the muscles relaxing under his touch. About that time he realized that Methos was practicing his own relaxation techniques, taking deep breaths and muttering a mantra under his breath.

With a smooth twist, he rolled the slender man onto his back, gazing for several heartbeats at the unconventionally handsome young face. His eyes were closed, dark lashes brushing against his lower lids, his lips partially open as he took shallow breaths. Without another thought, Mac leaned forward until his mouth matched up with his. Even as Methos tensed again, Mac's hand slid behind his head, his thumb stroking against the pulsing temple.

Eyelashes flickered against his cheek bringing knowledge that the eyes had flown open. A strong hand pushed against his chest as Methos wedged an arm in between them. He felt the panic, but he also felt the body responding to him and the lips pushing back against his. Mac ‘s tongue tentatively ventured into the warm cave, searching. Methos' hand shifted, moving to behind Mac's neck, pulling him tighter.

//This is real,// Mac thought as desire coursed through his body. He eased back, gently separating from Methos, his lips pulling away then returning for a gentle brush against the too tempting mouth. The question in the hazel eyes was apparent.

"I'm stone cold sober, Methos. I've wanted to do that for more than a dozen years. Would have done it if you hadn't left. "

Methos closed his eyes, the expression on his face unreadable as his head dropped back against the pillow. He swallowed hard, then started laughing, the sound mutating into a choked gasp. The amusement in his face disappeared and he muttered, "Yet another fuck up. Par for the course this century."

"Methos?" Mac's voice was puzzled as Methos shoved him back and pushed himself up.

In the gentle gaze the older man turned on him was apology, sorrow, hurt ... and something more. .. .just a flash of the old Methos in his eyes. "Things have changed, Mac. I've changed."

"No! You wanted it--" Mac knew he wasn't mistaken about that.

"Want it?" He laughed ruefully. Lips compressed, he tilted his head back, the adam's apple bobbing on his long, slender throat as he gulped down the emotion. "Yes, I want it-- want you. But I wouldn't be-- a very good-- partner right now."

"Methos..."

He raised his hand in warning, slid around Mac and off the sofa. "I can't talk about it. And I really need a shower."

For several long moments, Mac didn't move, didn't even breathe. Well, this was definitely not how he thought this reunion would go. Something drastic had happened to Methos, something that had changed him.

//--want you--// The words gave him hope. Whatever else had changed, that hadn't. So long as that was true, they could deal with the rest. If Methos would let him--

The sound of water running in the shower finally mobilized him. He rummaged through the dresser, found a pair of sweats that would fit. Opening the bathroom door, he set the clothing on the toilet, picked up the slacks, sweater, and underwear. Then he glanced at the frosted shower door, could make out just the outline of the body behind it. Methos braced his arms against the end wall, letting the water pound against his back. His head was down. Mac bit his lip, then turned and left without a word.


Methos stood for a long time with icy cold water beating against his back before he turned to add hot water to the mix. He'd needed to clear his head, even ignoring MacLeod when he'd stepped into the bathroom. Bringing fresh clothes, no doubt. Nothing quite like good Highland hospitality. The irony of the situation hadn't escaped him. "Rotten timing," he whispered through the surrounding steam.

Erupting in pent up frustration, he punched the wall, trying to shove his fist through it. Pain shot through his hand and arm as bruises erupted on the knuckles. He repeated the punch, then slammed his head against the tile hard enough to jar his teeth but not enough to knock himself out.

Why the hell had he come here? To validate what he already knew? Had he seriously hoped that there would be no reaction to MacLeod's touch? Or had he hoped that Mac wouldn't touch him? God, he was so screwed up right now. Even knowing why he reacted sharply to anyone touching him didn't mean he could control it.

It had taken him three years to get to this point, to be able to function more or less normally. Even the first few trips to Paris had been difficult, being in crowds had been frightening. He didn't dare call anyone he knew on those trips. He couldn't take the chance. Coming here had been a mistake--he wasn't ready.

Taking several deep breaths to calm himself, he concentrated on soaping his body, scrubbing his skin until it felt like he'd taken two layers off. Still feeling shaky, he toweled himself off and reached for the sweats MacLeod had left. He fingered the soft fleece, frowned, then pulled the pants on.

Hurriedly, he combed his fingers through his hair, then yanked the door open. MacLeod was in the kitchen, glancing up as Methos stepped out. Without losing a beat, the big Scot poured a cup of coffee and set it on the counter.

"Where are my clothes, MacLeod?" It wasn't what he wanted to say, but it was the first thing that came to mind.

"In the refresher-- they'll be ready in about thirty minutes. Have some coffee."

Methos frowned. "In the what?"

"Refresher. You haven't heard of it?" Mac smiled at the confusion on his face as Methos shook his head. "Where have you been the last few years? It's like a personal dry cleaner. It freshens your clothes. I figured it wouldn't hurt to get them cleaned up a bit. I'm surprised you don't have one."

"Sounds useful. I must have missed that one." He rubbed at his arm nervously, unsure where to go from there. Mac smiled earnestly at him, motioning for him to sit and drink the offered coffee. What he needed right now was a strong drink and a quick way out of this mess. He sat.

"The turkey's almost done. Will you have Christmas dinner with me, Methos?"

//Damn! He's trying so hard. How can I say no? How can I leave now?// Fact was, he wanted to stay as much as he wanted to leave. He stared out the window for a few moments. The day was still an uninviting gray although the snow seemed to have stopped. He should take advantage of the break but a dull, lonely meal at the hotel wasn't that appealing. He nodded, certain he heard an exhale of breath from the Scot.

Off and on, he'd missed Mac. That is, when his mind was clear enough to attach details to the remembered events. It had been hard and several times the warm, brown eyes and broad smile had been the magnet he needed, the image pulling him from the darkness to the light.


"Methos? Hello?" Mac repeated for the third time, then practically shouted. "Methos!"

He jumped, startled and shook himself. "I'm sorry. I was drifting a bit--"

"Drifting? You were downstream without a paddle! Are you okay?"

"Yeah-- fine. Just-- it' s a little hard to concentrate."

Unconsciously, MacLeod frowned. //Drifting off-- Methos, who has a mind like a steel trap?// The uneasiness that had started earlier increased tenfold. "I asked what you're doing now? Where're you living?"

"I ... uh ... live in an old lighthouse just south of Lisbon. Maintain the grounds and the light--"

"You're a lighthouse keeper!" Mac blurted out incredulously.

Hazel eyes flashed a moment, then Methos looked hurt. "Hey! It's a good job. Quiet. Necessary. It's a helluva lot easier now than in the eighteenth century, I can tell you."

"It's just not something I would have expected you to do! But it makes sense. Isolated location, away from people, nobody to notice that you haven't changed." //Well out of the path of Immortals,// he added silently, grateful somehow that Methos had steered clear of possible dangerous encounters.

"You can easily see the benefits."

"And you've done this before?"

Methos moved to the sofa now, relaxing into the cushions. Almost normal. An approving expression moved onto MacLeod's face. This was more like it. "Yeah, seventeen-eighty-six for a dozen years or so. I managed to avoid a nasty confrontation with an unreasonable man until someone else resolved the problem."

Mac laughed. This was the Methos he remembered. Avoiding a fight by hiding out in a lighthouse. Then, thinking he might have a moment of insight, he asked, "Is that what you're doing now? Hiding out?"

"Maybe-- In a sense. But not for the same reasons."

"Then what?"

Methos took a deep breath, closed his eyes and screwed his face into an unhappy frown. "A lot has happened over the past few years, Mac. A lot I-- just don't want to talk about. I *can't* talk about, all right?"

"Why'd you leave?" MacLeod had to ask it again, had to have more of an answer than before.

Slowly, the older man leveled his eyes on the Highlander and met his gaze with an even, unflinching stare. It was hard for Mac to think with those eyes boring into him, hard for him to speak, but he needed an answer. He wet his lips, then added, "Why didn't you wait for my answer?"

"How long did you want me to wait?" Methos replied. "A few days? Two weeks? A month? I thought I'd done too much damage. Things were already rough between us and it didn't seem you were accepting any of it. I almost called you a half dozen times the day before I left, but I couldn't quite seem to pick up the phone and dial. So I ran-- just like you expected me to do."

"I didn't *expect* you to do that."

"Come on, Mac. It made it easier for you. Admit it. You didn't have to face the possibility that you might want me. That you might want someone who was so...distasteful."

"I did want you!" Mac said sharply. "It took me a little time to sort it out, but I wanted *you.* And you were gone. No word, no note, no fucking anything! You didn't care who you hurt when you left."

He looked down then, hiding whatever emotion might be playing in those too expressive eyes. "I wasn't trying to hurt anyone..."

Mac almost snorted the laugh. "Of course, you weren't. Shit, Methos, did it ever occur to you that there are people who care about you? That would miss you? And to at least one of them, thirteen years is a big portion of his life?"

Methos shook his head, still not looking at him. Mac chewed at his lip. This was *not* what he wanted to say, but all the pent-up frustration, anger and worry seemed to be surging to his mouth. They sat in silence for nearly five minutes, Methos staring at the floor with eyes that looked into the past and Mac taking deep breaths to control the anger that threatened to erupt again.

Finally, Methos spoke, his voice soft and barely above a whisper. "Well, I can honestly say one thing. I wish I hadn't left when I did. I wish I hadn't left at all."


There was something difficult to pinpoint in his voice, something more than regret but less than remorse. Something that made MacLeod's skin crawl.

"Methos, where were you at the Shift?" That was all anyone called it now. A simple, little shift of the axis, barely a degree, but enough to wreak havoc in the Pacific region, set off earthquakes, volcanoes and shift land masses. Europe, too, had felt the effects, but not as severely as the Americas, Japan and Asia.

Methos glanced at him, a look of pain crossing his face, then he averted his gaze, focusing on an antique photograph of the Brighton Pavilion that hung on the wall. His voice was steady, flat. "Central America."

With those two innocuous words, the uneasiness his earlier words had generated manifested itself into a shiver that ran the length of Duncan MacLeod's spine. Vivid images from remote telecasts of heavily stricken regions shot through his mind. There had been panic and riots. In some of the more isolated areas, the native population had reverted to their ancient gods, blaming the white-skinned invaders of centuries before ... and their God ... for the disaster. Those unfortunate European-looking people who had been stranded in hostile zones hadn't fared well. Most were slain outright or were tortured to death. All the while the reports had come out, Mac had been grateful he didn't have any friends there...

Across from him, Methos sat forward now, arms crossed protectively across his chest as he rubbed unconsciously at them. Mac resisted the desire to ask him any more, as much because he didn't want to hear the answer as to avoid causing his friend more anxiety.

A ding from the oven broke the awkward moment. //Saved by the bell,// Mac thought with sincerity. The bird was done and Mac suddenly had work to do in the kitchen. They needed to shift the mood, he realized even as he got to his feet a bit too quickly. He kept his voice as normal as possible. "Try to see if you can find some holiday music, Methos. We need something cheery."

With a nod, Methos shook himself out of whatever dark thoughts he'd fallen prey to and took to the task of sorting through the CD's for something to set a bright holiday mood. He shuffled several opera discs aside, frowned at a Chipmunks Christmas album, shook his head over an old Streisand disc, "Jewish girl sings Christian," he mumbled, and finally found a generic-looking one with an instrumental mix of nineties pop holiday tunes.

Within a short time, Duncan had dinner on the table, a quality bottle of wine breathing and several candles lit, casting a subdued light. "Very romantic," Methos mumbled softly as he sat.

"Just a little atmosphere," Mac responded easily as he poured the wine. Apart from the candles and the decorated tablecloth, there was little to indicate the holiday in Mac's barge.

"I should have brought a gift."

A flash of a grin. "You did. You brought yourself." He raised his glass to Methos in a toast. "Nollaig maith duit, my friend."

"Happy holiday to you, too." Methos' voice carried a rough laugh.

To Mac, the light clink of the glasses meeting seemed to chime. He had his wish. Methos was here. Emotionally, he was a little fragile, but, against all odds, he was here. So he had hope this Christmas. Hope for the first time in thirteen years that this part of his life was not lost. Hope that he could repair the damage between them. It was the best gift he could have received.


Paris - December 25th, 2014 7:03 p.m.

As darkness fell, Duncan had lit more candles until the barge glowed with the warm light. He opened the fourth bottle of Beaujolais and refilled their glasses. With a smile at his guest, he noted that Methos was looking far more relaxed now than he had a few hours earlier. Of course, the wine could have contributed quite a lot to this current state. He gazed openly at the older man. In the soft glow, Methos seemed impossibly young, his face bearing an innocence that didn't exist. It reminded him of the first time they'd met -- that open, friendly face and a can of beer luring him in as easily as a mouse to cheese.

To be honest with himself, Mac admitted, he'd let himself be fooled by the appearance. Methos had been timid, unwilling to fight-- offering his own head, for crissakes! He'd bought the non-combatant persona. It wasn't the old guy's fault that he was so willing to think that what-you-see-is-what-you-get. So Methos had turned out to be far more complex than MacLeod had realized, but he still loved his friend. He was ready to accept that love meant wanting to make the relationship physical.

He shifted next to Methos, trailing the back of his fingers slowly against the soft cheek. He heard the long inhale as Methos sucked his breath in, tensing slightly, but he didn't retreat or stop him. Mac's thumb rubbed gently against the fine jaw line, watched as Methos' eyes closed and he swallowed carefully.

"Methos, I want this. I want you," Mac whispered lowly. "I want us to--"

"Mac, don't!" Methos murmured forcefully. "Please--"

The large Scot moved closer, tilted the other man's face and claimed the lips, his mouth firmly locking over them. His free arm slid around Methos, pulling him closer into an embrace. For a few heartbeats, there was mild resistance, then the slender body yielded. Determined, Mac pushed his tongue against the lips, tasting the wine that was still on them, then finding entrance and darting in to savor the unique flavor that was Methos.

His hand moved to cup the oval face as their tongues touched and tangled together. Methos slid deeper into the sofa, his hand easing along the side of Mac's cheek. Encouraged, MacLeod slipped a hand under the sweatshirt, lightly moved his fingers over the satin smooth flesh. The muscles beneath his fingers tensed and Methos caught his breath, biting at Mac's lips just as the bigger man found a nipple and gently tweaked it.

With a gasp, Methos pulled his head back, sucking in air and breaking the lip lock. Mac targeted the long neck, working his way slowly down it to the hollow at the base of the throat. His hand continued to explore the surprisingly broad chest, dancing from one nub to the other, then down across the solar plexus that flexed invitingly as he touched it. A deep moan escaped as Mac sucked the flesh at the older man's throat into his mouth, licking and biting at him, working to put his mark on that elegant neck.

Scant moments later, Methos was flat on the sofa and Mac was yanking his prey's sweatshirt over his head. His groin pressed hard against the smaller man, felt the answering pressure as the narrow hips shoved back.

Mac's body sang with the joy of movement, reveled with being able to pull Methos into his arms and rejoiced to feel the desire swelling there. Whatever else had happened in the past, this would be all right. He breathed deeply, straightened up and began removing his own shirt. "Too many clothes," he mumbled watching the hazel eyes that burned dark with desire and a touch of -- fear? The slender hands trembled slightly as they reached for his belt to release the clasp.

"Absolutely. Mac-- I--" His voice faltered, then he tried again. "Duncan, I want this, but--"

Mac pressed his fingers against Methos' lips. "Shhhh. It'll be all right. Just trust me."

Their eyes met, locked and made silent promises. Uneasily, Methos nodded, giving him permission to continue. Leaning forward, Mac took one of the tiny nubs on the pale breast into his mouth and gently ran his tongue over the tip. His hand inched under the elastic band of the sweatpants and pressed over the hot flesh between the long slim thighs.

He was beautiful, Mac realized. His body was muscular and sleek, like a greyhound, the smooth planes and angles of him making him as desirable as anyone he'd ever known. He'd had sex with men before, gone through the physical motions, but he'd never made *love* to a man. Yet it was surprisingly easy when the feelings were honest.

Mac's hands explored the lean, smooth form, taking pleasure in the low groans as he touched sensitive places on his partner's body. His mouth worked across the flat stomach with teasing licks, lingering around the navel. He felt Methos tense under him as his teeth bit at the flesh. He raised his head enough to gaze at the pale face. His eyes were closed, jaw taut as he bit at his lower lip.

"You okay?" Mac murmured, a touch of concern edging into his voice. Methos nodded.

Encouraged, the strong, large hands moved down the sides of Methos' chest, feeling the muscles that layered smoothly over the ribs, following the contours to the hips then sliding below the sweat pant's waistband on each side to shove the loose fabric down. His palms glided over slim hipbones as they rose up off the sofa to allow the material to slide beneath them. Methos groaned as the fingers skimmed over his exposed erection and moved down his thighs. "Shit! You're taking forever--" he complained through a tight breath.

A thick eyebrow arched up in question. "Sorry. Do you want me to rush then?"

"No-- Just go a little faster-- Ahhh!" The words were cut off as Mac buried his face against the inviting groin and closed his lips over the swollen tip. With a final tug, Mac stripped the pants the rest of the way off, then planted himself between the long legs, shoving them apart with his knees. All the while, his lips and tongue continued to work at the swollen stem, teasing against the cap as Methos gripped the sofa cushions with one hand and grabbed for the broad shoulder with the other.

As Mac ran his hands over the long thigh muscles up to the hips, his own erection was swelling against the pants he still wore. //That's it! They need to come off.// He sat up, pulling them down, shaking them off one leg, then the other as, panting like a dog on a hot day, Methos pushed up on his elbows. He watched, eyes half-closed like a feral animal, and barely waited for Mac to get unencumbered before he grabbed the strong shoulders and pulled him back down, twisting sideways on the sofa so they could face each other.

Desire and need shone in his dilated eyes as Methos dove for the full lips, landing a solid kiss as an eager hand reached for the stiff erection pressing against his thigh. For several long moments, Duncan gave in to the intense attack, relishing the surging excitement that coursed through his body, loving the feel of the strong body pressing against him. No quick release of male need in this encounter, but a raging desire to extend the pleasure with his lover.

His hands cupped Methos' face again as his tongue tasted him fully, bidding for control again. Then he caught the slim hand at his groin, pulling it up as he rolled Methos on to his back once more. Struggling to maintain his position, the older man squirmed and twisted until they both slid off the sofa landing with interlaced limbs on the floor. Methos hissed as Mac's weight pressed against a bent knee. In a few seconds, the Scot was off him, his hand rubbing against the strained knee.

"We could move to the bed." The words were practical, the tone seductive.

Methos hesitated. "I don't want to lose it, Duncan."

Later, MacLeod would wonder about the phrasing, but right then, he saw only a comfortable bed a few feet away and the person he most wanted to have in that bed sprawled out across the carpet. "It'll only take a minute to get there and it sure as hell beats rocking around on a carpet. Unless you like friction burns, in which case, you are definitely on the bottom." He caught Methos' arms, pulling him to his feet, then wrapped both his arms around the slim body, yanking him tightly against him.

Heat radiated off the flesh pressed against him, but he also felt tension in the muscles as Methos resisted the secure hold, pulling back from him. Concerned, he eased his grip, giving him leeway and gazed into his face. Methos averted his eyes, but there was still passion in them. And something else, a look of uncertainty -- or nervousness -- was back. A voice at the back of Mac's mind warned not to let the fervor die. He pressed his lips against the sharply defined collarbone and sucked the flesh, working his way along the line of it to the base of his throat. He heard Methos suck his breath in as he threw his head back, offering his neck.

Mac bit it. A sharp gasp escaped as he drew blood. "Jesus! Are you a vampire?! Ah--ahhh--" Any further objections were cut off as Mac's hand closed over his testicles and fingers teased them with light pressure.

By the time Mac laid Methos down on the bed, the old man was barely able to control the weakness in his legs. Perversely, Mac wanted him begging for release -- needed to have him ask. He reached into the bedside table for the bottle of oil and poured some into his hand. With slow, deliberately teasing strokes, he ran his hands across the tense stomach and down into his groin, rolling his fingers around the balls, leaving a glistening trail of oil over the fair-toned skin. Methos moaned, a deep sound that cried as much of pain as pleasure. His voice was rough with emotion, "Torture is not an option here, MacLeod--"

Mac chuckled evilly, stroking one hand down the inside of his thigh, then he pushed against the hips, sliding a knee under Methos for leverage. An oil-slicked hand skimmed over the exposed buttock, moving toward the inviting crack. Methos tensed in anticipation, inhaling deep breaths, even before his lover began to insert a finger in him.

The reaction was instantaneous, catching Mac off guard. Methos bucked against him, shoving himself half way across the bed to nearly the edge where he sat folded up tightly, hugging his knees, head tucked against them and taking deep breaths.

//Shit! What did I do?// Mac's thoughts were confused as he stared at Methos. He sat back, fighting the urge to touch the other man. I'm not a very good partner right now. The words suddenly echoed in his mind. "Methos? I'm sorry. Did I ... did I hurt you?"

He didn't answer for several seconds, long moments in which Mac felt like his stomach was churning with the need to do something. His voice, when it finally came, was muffled and strained. "It's not you. I'm-- the one that's sorry. Give me a few minutes."

Mac waited, taking slow breaths himself as he grappled with the feeling of helplessness. Finally, he got up, and flinging a robe around him, went to the kitchen where he poured a short scotch and swallowed it down nearly as quickly. His eyes tracked back to Methos. The older Immortal hadn't moved, still sat hunched. Mac refilled his glass, then grabbed a water glass and filled it to nearly the top with the amber liquid. These he carried back to the bed and sat down next to Methos.

"Here. Drink this."

Methos took another deep breath, raised his head slowly and gazed at the glass. A not quite steady hand reached for it. "Thanks."

They sat in silence as both sipped at their drinks. Mac's mind burned with unanswered questions, his imagination providing answers that he didn't want to think about. He had no doubt Methos had been hurt, probably tortured. Immortal or not, prolonged pain had an impact on the mind.

"I'm sorry, Mac. I thought I had this under control, but I kind of lost it there."

"It's okay. Just quit saying you're sorry. Methos, what happened to you?"

"What do--"

"Don't pretend you don't understand," Mac interrupted. "I'd like a straight answer. What happened?"

Methos stared intently at his knees for a moment or two, gradually turned his head to face Mac. "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Central America. The riots?"

"Worse. I ... uh ... found myself in a situation I never thought I'd be in again. I was a convenient Immortal when a group of local pagans decided it was time to start offering sacrifices to their ancient gods -- if they could just figure out which one to offer their victims to."

Mac looked sick as the words, with all their implied meaning, sunk in. An Immortal as a sacrifice? People would either be frightened by their inability to kill him or twice as determined to do it. "Methos--" His voice broke as he searched for words to express how he felt, to let him know he didn't need to go on.

Methos shook his head, "Don't, Mac. It's over and I'm dealing with it. It's just a little difficult sometimes." Tentatively, he reached a hand to stroke the Scot's cheek, offered a small smile. "But I still want you. Now..."

Released by the words, Mac reached for Methos, sliding his arms around him and pulling him close. "You're chilled..."

"You can warm me up."

Within a short time, they were locked together, Methos taking the lead as his mouth roamed over Mac's chest and stomach, quickly bringing him back to the arousal he'd had before. They stretched on the bed, on their sides, body pressing against body as hands and mouths explored, teased and left them both anxious. It was Methos who slid his whole body against Mac, grinding his groin against the swollen, moist penis, establishing a rhythm that had Mac groaning and clutching at the shoulders that thrust up and down against him. He tried to not dig his fingers in, but control slipped as his body shoved against Methos, responding with equal force until his orgasm erupted in a warm wash of semen.

He reached for Methos, hand closing over the still swollen organ and stoked it firmly, running his fingers over the weeping tip, then returning to pump him. Methos strained against him, body pushing hard as his leg rubbed against his thigh. "Oh, God... Harder... please... fuck!" Methos groaned in his ear, then he pressed hard and shuddered as his fluid spewed between them.

He clung to Mac, heart pounding and the younger man held him tightly, kissing his cheek, his nose, his mouth. Gently, Mac eased Methos on his back, smoothed a hand over the sticky chest. Methos closed his eyes, threw his arm across his head. With a smile, Mac reached for his robe and used it to wipe his lover off before applying it to himself. He leaned in for a deep kiss, then murmured, "Not bad for a first time."

Methos opened an eye. "Bloody exhausting."

"Oh, I wore the old man out." Mac teased.

"Watch it!" Methos muttered, but a smile played at his lips.

Mac reached for the covers, pulled them up to cover them both. Turning on his side, Methos faced Mac, studying his face, almost as if he was memorizing it. Then he closed his eyes. Mac sighed, content for the moment.


Paris - December 25th, 2014 10:27 p.m.

A soft groan in his ear brought MacLeod out of a confused dream. Methos muttered incoherently, jerked his head against the pillow. MacLeod pushed up on an elbow, then reached to touch the base of the lamp for a subtle glow of light.

Methos was tense again, body twisting stiffly as if he fought against invisible restraints. He clenched his teeth, grunting with effort, then he cringed as if reacting to pain. Worried, Mac pressed his hand to Methos' chest and shook him firmly as he called his name. The long, lean body bucked at the touch, twisted even more trying to escape. Shifting his hand to the slim shoulder, he shook Methos again more forecefully. "Methos? Methos, wake up!"

Slipping suddenly into awareness, Methos gulped for air, then mumbled, "Shit! Not again!" His voice broke with a stressed cry. He was trembling as taxed muscles objected to the abuse. "Mac, I -- I'm sorry-- I can't --"

"Shhhh-- it's okay." Strong arms eased around the shaking body, pulled him close in an embrace where Mac could stroke his back. He resisted the touch. Mac could feel him struggling against the desire to retreat from him. Even knowing that the gentle rubbing caused as much anxiety as it soothed, MacLeod couldn't help it. He needed to touch the older man, needed to feel he was doing something.

"It's all right," he murmured softly, his chin pressing against the soft, dark hair. "We'll get through this together, Methos. You're not alone."

Methos squirmed back from him, tilting his head back to gaze up at Mac. In the searching look, Mac saw, not the confident, assured five-thousand-year-old man who had been Death, but the frightened, unsure and almost childlike expression of someone who wanted desperately to believe. Cautiously, Mac pressed his lips against his forehead and whispered with conviction, "I promise you. I'll be with you through this. Okay?"

Methos was silent. Mac took that as a positive sign and continued to hold him as they settled back against the pillows. On one level, he wished Methos would talk to him about what had happened, what had brought him to this emotional state. On another level, he didn't want to know the details. Not now. Gradually, the smaller man settled, his breathing calming and his body relaxing considerably.

After a few minutes, Methos brought a hand up and pushed at Mac's arm, mutely requesting freedom. Reluctantly, MacLeod released him, but continued to watch as the slim body rolled away from him, opening up some space.

"I'm okay now," he said quietly as he stared at the ceiling of the barge. "Go back to sleep."

"I mean it, Methos."

"I know." The tone was flat, final. Nothing more to be said.

With a sigh Mac turned off the light then lay listening to the even sound of his bed mate's breathing until he drifted back to sleep.


Paris - December 26th, 2014 12:18 a.m.

Perhaps it was more a lack of something that should be there than a sound or a movement that woke MacLeod again. Automatically, he reached out an arm to touch his friend to assure himself he was still there. His hand touched only the flat blanket. Mac groaned with disappointment in the certainty that Methos was gone. There was no indication of his presence, no familiar tingle to indicate he was anywhere in the close vicinity.

"Methos?" he called in the vain hope he would get an answer.

Nothing.

Mac climbed out of bed, weariness weighing on him. He didn't bother to look anywhere within the barge, going instead to the deck where he could look out at the landing. The deep snow was a white, even blanket across the dockside and up the gangway-- except for the set of footprints that made deep impressions going away from the boat.

His eyes followed the indentations as they marked a path toward the overpass, then vanished. Tears stung at his eyes. //No point in going after him,// he thought bitterly. Whatever nightmares drove Methos, he couldn't help if the old man wouldn't let him. As he turned to go back in the barge, a sad smile curved his lips. At least he got his Christmas wish.


The End