Willows Bend
by Lillian Wolfe


Rated R for violence and m/m sex.

Yes, here it is… the long-asked-for sequel to "Such Fragile Things." This definitely makes more sense if you have read "SFT" and I recommend you read it before starting this one. In fact, you should probably read "Deeper Truths" before reading "SFT." I've included Rory Myles (aka Miles Montgomery) in this story and his relationship with Methos is explored in the "Demons" series and "Kindred Spirits." I've also mentioned "Josette" who was introduced in "Kindred Spirits." All of these tales follow in the same time line even though several of them read independently.

This story 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 decided he was ready to talk more about this incident that he somehow knows will occur in the future. When D-P have more work for them, they will return happily to their regular jobs. Dr. Miles Montgomery (aka Rory Myles) is my own character and answers to me (most of the time.)

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.  As to the h/c, I learned to admire that from one of the best ... C.J. Cherryh.

This story is dedicated, with love and deepest thanks, to my beta reader, The Laundress, for pointing out the errors with gentleness and providing the ever-needed slap of logic when necessary, as well as encouraging me to continue when my muse decided to take a holiday.

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

"I have had sorrows... but I have borne them ill.
I have broken where I should have bent."
--Charles Dickens

Dec. 26, Paris - 2014, 9:23 a.m.

"…ring ring… ring ring…"

The common sound of the phone cut through the quiet in the room like an urgent shout. Methos turned away from the windows that overlooked the Eglise St. Severin with its snow-shrouded gardens and cemetery. He'd been gazing at the old church for at least fifteen minutes, considering how little Paris had changed when other places in the world had suffered upheavals and destruction. Even the French Revolution and the world wars hadn't destroyed the city, hadn't drastically altered its face. He had come back here with decades separating the visit and found himself as familiar with the city as if he'd never left. He'd seen it grow up from a small Celtic village to the massive world center it now was and still he could find the heart of medieval Paris without a problem.

He lifted the phone receiver, listened as the hurried-sounding female voice explained that although flights were indeed leaving Paris, the noon flight to Lisbon was delayed and heavily overbooked, but if monsieur could go out on the eight o'clock flight that night, she could change his ticket. Methos took a deep breath and made the decision he'd been vacillating on for the past hour. "It's okay. I'd like to reschedule my flight for later in the week. Can you leave my reservation open?"

The voice at the other end of the line sounded relieved. //One more passenger she doesn't have to pacify; maybe another if she can place a stranded person on the flight,// he thought. While he had made a decision that he might regret, he felt he owed MacLeod at least that much. Once the flight was settled, the next step seemed obvious, call Mac and give him the news, explain why he'd left without a word, or a note, last night. Only he didn't think he could actually give him a whole explanation.

Plainly put, he'd panicked. After the second dream that Mac had shaken him out of, he'd been afraid to go back to sleep, uncomfortable at the vulnerable position he'd found himself in. He'd lain awake with his eyes shut, waiting for Mac to drift off to sleep.

Then he'd returned to the hotel. To his solitary room. To his bottle of pills. The sleeping pills helped block out the dreams… the horrific memories that escaped the shut, but not bolted doors, to the mental rooms where he kept shoving them. And when the nightmares got too bad, when the sleeping pills were not enough, he used the stronger tablets… the sedatives. Thankfully, last night had only been a two sleeping pill night.

His fingers felt numb as he dialed the number for the barge, flicked off the imager and waited for an answer. On the fifth ring, it cut to the answering service. He hung up without leaving a message, his nerves not strong enough to try to express what he wanted to say in a few recorded words. The next call was to Portugal, to a friend there who could insure that while he was gone the fuel was adequate at the lighthouse. The light took care of itself, automatic sensors firing the huge light when a fog rolled in. His job was mainly to keep the generator fueled so there would be no chance of the lights failing and to clean the glass and the mirrors in the tower, tasks it still took human hands to do. In return, he had a place to live at the lighthouse and a small salary that covered food and necessities. It was all he needed right now. And it gave him solitude, isolation from the world.

//Yes, Mac,// he thought ruefully. //Yes, I'm hiding. I'm keeping out of the way of people - all people, not just immortals. And somehow, I need to explain this to you.//

He ordered room service and headed for the shower, thinking about what the change in plans meant from a practical point of view. He'd need more clothes if he was to stay even three or four days longer but he could order them through his computer and have them delivered. He'd take care of that after breakfast. More money? Again, he could get that without going out. Actually, there was relatively little else to consider in the change… except actually talking to MacLeod and Joe Dawson, and he didn't want to think about that right now.

As the hot water soaked him with its blissful warmth, he wondered again at the odd circumstances that had taken him to the barge the previous night. First, the urgent papers that his solicitor insisted he must come to Paris to sign in person. Next the heavy snow storm that had closed the airports and train stations. And then the overwhelming desire to walk the streets of Paris, knowing the bad weather would keep most people home. Seeing MacLeod hadn't even been remotely in his mind, yet he'd gone there like a migrating bird looking for its winter nest. And just like that, his plans had changed. There was more business to deal with in Paris than he'd ever expected.

Dec. 26, Paris - 2014, 1:28 p.m.

"Le Blues Club" -- a new sign proclaimed the name, not as bright as the old sign but one more suited to the music inside. Methos stood outside for several minutes after the taxi had pulled away. He marveled that Joe still had that business, that he and MacLeod were still in Paris. In some ways, it felt like this part of his world had frozen, no pun intended, waiting for him to return.

Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped into the past. It was exactly the same inside, the same layout, the same colors, the same dark atmosphere even in the afternoon. Someone was plinking on the piano, one other patron sat at the bar, but he didn't see Joe. He selected a seat at the far end of the bar and settled down to wait. The bartender was new, a small man who looked barely old enough to be in a bar let alone mixing drinks. He ordered a beer, then sat back and let his eyes drift toward the closed curtains that lead to Dawson's office. So now what? Sit here all afternoon waiting for Joe or just plunge into the office and announce himself? Now that he was here, he was totally unsure of his welcome. A few pathetic postcards over twelve years, and most of those sent from an automatic file he'd entered into the web before he'd left for Honduras, would hardly be enough to say, "I've kept in touch." Joe had been pissed enough when he'd disappeared for a few months without a word. He wasn't going to be any happier this time.

He played with a paper napkin, wondered if he could scribble a note on it for Joe. //Yeah. 'Sorry I've been an ass about keeping in touch, but I'm back.' That will go over well.//

//Well, I'll be damned,// Joe Dawson thought as he peered at the security camera's feedback of the bar. At first he hadn't believed it was Methos, but there was no mistaking that face, that nose. //After thirteen damn years, he just waltzes in here like nothing has happened.// What Joe suddenly felt was a mixture of anger, joy and relief. He'd truly believed he would never see the world's oldest immortal again before he died, so there was happiness through the hurt and anger in seeing him now. He dialed MacLeod's pager, anxious to share this with the man who'd wished for it. The message was brief. "MacLeod. Methos is at the club. I'll try to keep him here."

He hesitated before going into the bar area, watching the long, slim fingers turn a napkin around, toying with it. Methos was often oblique, but he'd seldom seen him uncertain or indecisive. The man had come here expecting to find Joe Dawson, so why did he seem unsure of himself? No sense putting it off…

Joe pushed the curtain aside and stepped into the bar, seeing Methos in reality instead of through a camera. He looked different, yet the same. "Well, look what the cat dragged in…"

Methos turned to face him, eyes showing nervousness. Joe caught his breath. Christ! A five-thousand-plus-year-old-man shouldn't look like a twenty-five year old kid! It was unnerving. And he did look that young, the extra weight on him softening lines to make him look younger. But there was something else. His eyes lacked their usual sparkle and he seemed… subdued.

"Hello, Joe," he said softly. "The prodigal immortal…" The smile was almost shy, tentative, and adequately expressed his trepidation at this reunion.

"I suppose the obvious question is where the hell have you been for the past dozen years, but, damn, it's good to see your ugly face!" Joe poured himself a scotch. He needed it. Then he motioned with his head to the back of the room, away from the main entrance and in the dark. It would give them privacy.

Picking up his drink, Methos followed Joe silently. Joe had his favorite table, one where he'd often sat and talked with MacLeod. No one would disturb them at this time of day and it was invisible from the bar area or the entrance. Mac would know where to find them.

Duncan strolled along the canal as casually as he could in the nearly knee deep snow that still blanketed Paris. The storms had gone leaving bright blue skies and frosty air in their wake to insure the drifts would be around for a while. Even the river wore a coating of ice, thick enough to walk on and the children of Paris were taking advantage of it. Next to him, the canal, too, had its share of children skating along the frozen water or sliding down it on metal disks that resembled hubcaps but had ice runners on the bottom for control.

He was peripherally aware of the activity, but his mind was back almost two decades to the day he'd first walked along this canal with Methos. He'd just met him, just learned that Adam Pierson was really a legend. He'd been taken in by the old man right off the bat. Methos had been mild voiced and charming, easily winning his protection, then rejecting it just as quickly by telling him he couldn't fight his battles for him. //I automatically grouped him with the good guys,// Mac realized now. //I never considered he was anything other than what I saw. It wasn't his fault that I expected him to be that person I imagined.//

He paused, looking toward the underpass ahead, then closed his eyes. Instantly, he recalled Methos standing before him, still dripping water, hair plastered flat against his head making him look like a half-drowned rat, with his head tilted back, white throat exposed and vulnerable, waiting for him to take his head. Offering his life, all that he was, to stop Kalas. He chuckled. Knowing Methos as he did now, he could easily assume that his martyr had already deduced that the honorable Scot wouldn't kill him. At the time, however, it had precisely the effect that Methos had intended. Mac had not only refused to take his head, but he'd also granted Methos more trust and loyalty than he did most other people, let alone immortals.

Which was why there had been a slow disenchantment with him right up until he learned about Kronos. It had started with Methos pushing him about Kristin, even pulling a sword on him to make a point and then killing her for him. //For me? To protect me from a woman I couldn't kill, or was there more even then, Methos?// But he'd also realized that Methos was going out on a limb for him. The first of many times that the ancient immortal had been there when he'd needed him. And he'd been too blind to see why.

Oh, sure, he knew there was a physical attraction. He'd sensed it from the beginning, but he never identified it as the desire to love him, to have "sex." His feelings weren't too dissimilar to what he'd felt for Richie or for Joe, that deep affection and love he felt for those he'd included in his daily life. Subconsciously he must have known, was afraid to admit it, else why did he keep Methos at such a distance?

In spite of all the signs, he'd been too thick to admit the desire, too caught up in the denial of his own feelings, to really see what was in front of him. So, he'd chased Methos away, making excuses and afraid to admit what he knew. By the time he'd realized that he wanted Methos, the man was gone. He'd assumed his friend had stayed away because whatever he'd felt for Mac had died a slow death and it was no longer necessary to be part of the Highlander's life.

But if yesterday was any indication, Mac thought, then Methos may not have stayed away intentionally. Other circumstances appeared to have caused the long separation and Methos had undeniably gone through an ordeal of some sort in the last fourteen years. Still he had come to him and he'd stayed the whole day. Why had he left in the night though? Yes, he had problems, but Mac wanted him to be part of his life now. Wasn't that what Methos had wanted?

//Now what? Hang out at the airport, looking for him? Start calling all the hotels in town?// MacLeod's thoughts were interrupted by the pager in his pocket. He jerked it out, slightly annoyed. He accepted the gadgets of this era, but he wasn't necessarily happy with them. A quick glance at the phone number told him it was Joe. He touched a button and the audio message played, short and to the point. In that moment, MacLeod's heart soared and the whole world changed. //Methos is with Joe.//

"So, when did you get into town?" Joe asked as a conversation starter after Methos had settled and managed to scrutinize every dark nook of the club without looking at him.

"The twenty-third. I had some business in town. I got caught in the storm." Methos still avoided looking at him.

"You weren't even going to stop by," Joe said with accusation. It wasn't a question.

Methos did look at him then, a partial apology in his face. "No. I thought it would be better if I didn't."

Joe couldn't keep the hurt out of his face. Damn immortals! Didn't they realize that a dozen years was a long time in an old man's life? Methos had shown the Watchers just how easy it was to ditch them, to literally disappear off the globe. But it had cut to the bone that he'd left without a good-bye and hadn't been in contact since. And he didn't count those generic Internet cards Methos had sent that told him nothing other than that the man had been alive when they were sent. For the first few years, he'd poured over the reports from the field, looking for anything that might indicate that "Adam Pierson" had been whacked or that he was involved in a fight. Relief was often followed by annoyance and anger that he'd disappeared so completely, that he'd cared so little about their friendship.

"What are you doing here, then?" Joe asked with more than a hint of bitterness. "Why didn't you just leave without a word?"

Methos wrapped his fingers around the beer mug and slowly turned it, staring into it. "I couldn't get a plane back out. Storm grounded all flights… I somehow found myself at MacLeod's Christmas morning and I… I don't know, Joe."

"You've seen Mac? Talked to him?"

He looked up at the Watcher, confusion in his face as he nodded. "Yeah. He's most likely not too pleased with me right now." His uncertainty gave way to a nervous swallow and he added, "I've had some problems over the last few years and I pretty much wanted to steer clear of everyone. It wasn't anything personal…"

"Not personal? We were your friends, Methos. Didn't that mean anything to you?"

"Everything," Methos answered quickly. "It meant everything, Joe. But Mac and I weren't getting along and I needed to get away. I hadn't meant for it to be so long."

"So, what happened?" Joe prompted. "What kept you away?"

Methos shook his head, "It's along story. Let's just say I got caught in a local political upheaval. It took a while to sort things out."

Itching with curiosity, Joe had to consciously not press Methos about his whereabouts. He knew the man well enough to know he wouldn't tell him unless he wanted to. He moved to safer ground. "Where are you living now? The States?"

"No. I'm near Lisbon, actually. It's a quiet, little place near the coast. Been there a few months now and it's comfortable." Methos smiled slightly, as if to reassure the Watcher that he was really okay. He turned his beer glass around again, using it as something to keep his hands busy rather than as a drinking vessel. So far, Joe noted, he hadn't taken even a sip from it in the time they'd been talking.

"Trying life in Portugal, huh?" Joe commented more to keep him talking than to actually find out more. If the situation felt awkward for him, it must be even more so for Methos. A chair scraped as a lunch customer shoved it back from the bar and Methos' eyes darted that direction, watching warily until the man departed.

Then he addressed Joe's question. "Yeah. I used to live there, a few centuries ago. It hasn't changed too drastically."

"Wish I could say the same for France," Joe commented with heartfelt sincerity. The colder winters were hard on the bones and he wished Mac would consider a warmer climate. He would gladly transfer out in a heartbeat.

"Yeah. I've noticed the winter's are getting nastier."

"And longer," Joe groused. "It didn't get to spring until nearly June last year. Then summer only lasted to mid-August before we were starting to cool down again. I've heard that Arizona has a really pleasant climate these days." //Shit! We're talking about the weather,// Joe thought. //Talk about deterioration in the conversation.//

Almost as if he'd read the musician's thoughts, Methos asked, "Have you, by any chance, kept in touch with Miles Montgomery?"

"I've seen him in here a few times, but I wouldn't call it keeping in touch. I know he got married to that model he was dating and he still has his practice. Josette is his Watcher now and frankly, she's pretty bored."

Methos chuckled a bit at that, looking pleased. "So she worked out okay. I'm glad to hear that, Joe. I wasn't sure if--" He stopped as he heard the door open and again, his eyes flicked attentively in the direction of the sound. But the alertness in his eyes told Joe it was more than sound he reacted to and this was another immortal.

"It's Mac," Joe supplied as Methos started to turn. "I called him."

Pursing his lips tightly, Methos shifted back a little in his chair and watched anxiously as the Highlander approached. //Nervous,// Joe thought, seeing the apparent tension in his body. //Or fear? //

"You sneaked out last night," Mac growled without preamble, the words out of his mouth before he even sat down.

Methos looked at the table, avoiding eye contact. "I didn't sneak."

"What would you call it then?" The sharpness in Mac's voice made Joe peer curiously at him. He thought Mac would be pleased to see Methos, but there was apparently more behind this than he'd realized. Looking at the Scot's face, he understood the brittleness was borne of worry, not anger. He shifted his appraisal to Methos, noting that Mac's emotional outburst was rolling off someone who was oblivious to it.

"A necessary withdrawal. Look, I just stopped here today to talk to Joe. As you reminded me, I've been less than thoughtful and I wanted to say hello."

For once, Mac seemed to be listening as he calmed down and, pulling a chair out, sat with one long leg crossing his knee. "I'm sorry. I was concerned, Methos. You just disappeared before. I thought you --."

"Mac, you of all people, know it's not unusual for an immortal to vanish." Methos finally brought his eyes to meet the Highlander's. "Sometimes it's a necessary event. And the last dozen years are something I really don't want to discuss right now, okay?"

Mac nodded, but didn't give up totally. "And yesterday?"

Even as Mac asked it, Joe frowned. What the hell was going on here? Had he missed something?

"Same thing." Methos answered curtly, then finally took a sip of the beer. "Try as you may, there are some things you cannot fix, MacLeod."

"I might," he answered stubbornly, "if you'd give me a chance."

"What are you two talking about?" Joe interrupted. He definitely felt like he was working from a different script here. He knew Methos had seen MacLeod but this whole conversation left him in the dark.

"It's nothing," Methos said quickly, before MacLeod could speak. "Mac and I just had a bit of a disagreement."

MacLeod glared at Methos, his look disputing the statement. Annoyance on his face, Mac leaned toward the other immortal. "You can't run away from everything, Methos."

Joe noted the tensing, a look of near alarm and a slight physical withdrawal as Mac invaded the edge of Methos' space. He looked almost as if he expected Mac to strike him. Then he seemed to catch himself and the moment was gone as the older man set his jaw and answered firmly.

"I'm not running. If I were I wouldn't be here. Mac, please just let this go."

Reluctantly, the Scot nodded and Joe felt a moment of relief. He was afraid that if MacLeod pushed it, Methos would make a hasty exit. As it was, he still looked like he could grab his coat and leave.

"So, Methos, what have you been doing in Portugal?" Joe asked, more to move the conversation a different direction than to actually pry into the ancient's recent life.

"Actually, a little bit of everything, but most recently, I'm a lighthouse keeper." Methos smiled slightly as the old Watcher's eyebrows went up.

"Lighthouse?" Joe repeated. "Sounds like a quiet life. Next best thing to a monastery?"

"Except it's not holy ground," Methos clarified. "But it is isolated and I like that at the moment."

"What else have you done there? What kinds of jobs are there in Lisbon?" Joe prodded carefully, still wanting to keep him talking.

"There's lots of jobs in the area and I've dabbled with a few. I made tile for a while and worked on a fishing boat… a small one, not one of the big commercial ones."

As Methos talked, Joe noticed three things. One was what MacLeod had noticed the night before… that the hazel eyes lacked the usual spark that had burned in them. The others were that all the jobs Methos talked about were either solitary or with only one or two other people and they all involved physical labor, not mental.

By the time Methos decided to leave, they had an agreement, the three of them, to meet at MacLeod's barge for lunch the next day. As much as Joe hated to admit it, he wanted the old man to keep that promise. He'd missed Methos more than he'd been able to express and seeing him now, having him back, only made him more aware of how deep that hole had been.

"Funny how he becomes such a large part of your life," Mac said softly, bringing Dawson's head around to gape at him as he realized his expression had been so apparent. But then he could read almost the same thing on the Highlander's face.

"Yeah. Funny," Joe agreed quietly.

Dec. 26, Paris - 2014, 3:47 p.m.

Methos sat in the reception area of Dr. Miles Montgomery's office as he played with a magazine reader. The full-color nine-by-twelve inch screen displayed a dozen different periodicals to chose from and he touched the screen to select the latest issue of "People." Another fancy innovation that had happened while he was stumbling around the jungles of Honduras. With a touch, the contents of the magazine were displayed in neat little blocks just like the paper version had once shown them. He idly selected an article on the new American president, someone named Kirsch, who, like Ronald Reagan, had once been an actor. Having been thrust into the office when the President had been killed in a tragic political incident in late October, Kirsch was just beginning to get his bearings and settle into the office. The photo showed a young-looking man with a friendly smile. //Probably a nice enough guy in a tough position,// Methos reflected.

His thoughts drifted elsewhere though. So far this day hadn't gone exactly the way he'd planned. He'd wanted to talk to MacLeod and explain a bit about why he'd left suddenly, but the man's attitude and the fact they'd been with Joe, changed his mind. What he wanted to say was for the Highlander's ears only, yet when he got right down to it, he found he just couldn't confide in Mac. Now this unplanned decision to come by Rory's office was as spontaneous as his decision to go to MacLeod's had been. He couldn't say exactly why he was here, but it was something he had to do. As much as he'd walked out on Mac and Joe, he'd done the same to Rory.

The steady thrum of his former lover's immortality told him that the doctor was in. With a patient, his receptionist had said.

Methos looked up as Rory cautiously opened the door from his office and stopped in shock. He gaped at Methos as if he was seeing a ghost. The psychiatrist had changed a little, a mustache and shorter hair with a touch of gray combed in. His attempt at aging. It would take facial hair to make that twenty-five year old face look anywhere near forty.

"God, it is you! Come on in." Rory said curtly. "Hold my calls and tell Monsieur Blanchard I'll be a little late. Show him into the blue room." He turned, leaving the door open for Methos to follow.

//Over five thousand and as nervous as a kid,// Methos thought wryly. //Gods, I'm a mess.// But he took the cue, walking behind Rory into the room and pulling the door shut behind him.

Rory leaned against his desk, his arms folded across his chest, not smiling. The dark blue eyes stared at him as if they still couldn't believe it, but Methos was pretty certain it wasn't a delighted-to-see-you look.

"I like the mustache. It makes you look sophisticated," he said. "So, Joe says you married Kyra a few years ago."

"Ten years ago this last summer. Not that you cared."

Methos looked down, unable to meet that gaze any longer. He shouldn't have come. What did he expect? A warm welcome? He brought his head up just as Rory planted himself in front of him.

"You son of a bitch," Rory growled in a low voice. Suddenly his fist exploded into Methos' face, knocking him backward over a chair.

Methos crashed onto the floor hard, the right side of his face catching the thick hardwood leg of the table at a direct angle. His jaw exploded with sharp pain and the metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. He sat up carefully, pressing his hand against his jaw. It was definitely broken. His tongue gingerly explored inside, feeling the loosened teeth. Damn, the kid had a hard punch, more than he would have believed. He looked up to see Rory looming over him, hands still clenched in fists as if he would like to beat the shit out of him.

"Thirteen years! You left thirteen years ago without a word. Not one fucking word! Then you show up here with no warning and expect what? Things to be the same? You think you can just pick up where we were?"

Still rubbing at his jaw, Methos opened his mouth to answer and spit out blood into his hand.

"Oh, shit!" Rory said, turning to grab a box of tissues off his desk and handing them to Methos. As the sprawled man promptly grabbed a handful and spit into them, Rory apologized. "I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me. I was angry. The bathroom's through there. " He offered Methos a hand up, but the injured man kept a hand to his jaw as he pushed himself to his feet and stumbled toward the bathroom.

Methos leaned over the basin, spitting blood into the marbled bowl, and turned the water on. His tongue probed at the loosened teeth, pushing against them so they would heal in place. Behind him, Rory slipped into the room.

"How bad is it?"

"Broken," he mumbled painfully. "It's healing."

Rory shifted to one side of the taller man, lifted the now bruised-looking face toward him. Methos tensed as he touched him, but Rory didn't back away. His hand ran across his friend's jaw, feeling the position of the bones and pressing against them. A moment later, Rory's fingers were in his mouth, pushing at the loosened teeth, holding them.

Methos cringed at the firm touch, remembering more than he wanted to at that moment and fighting a feeling of rising panic in the intimacy of the position. He choked a bit and struggled to breathe, wanting to push the blonde away.

"I know it's uncomfortable. Take it easy," Rory advised gently. "It's almost healed, just a minute or so and the teeth will be anchored."

//Another minute. I can do this.// Methos tried to concentrate, to not let his mind drift. He felt like he was going to gag. Then it was over and he could breathe more easily as Rory's fingers moved away from his face, slipping to his shoulder to rest there.

"You look like you need to sit," Rory said as he urged him back into the office and toward the sofa. Mid-way through the room, Methos pulled free of the blonde's touch and settled into a chair. He still rubbed at his jaw. "I'm sorry about that," Rory added, his tone matching the apology.

"So long as you feel better," Methos mumbled sarcastically.

"I don't," he answered as he poured a drink for each of them and handed it to Methos before sitting down opposite him.

"Well, that's the only shot you get," the taller man answered without humor. "I don't intend to let you hit me again." Methos swallowed half the glass in one anxious gulp, as much to steady his nerves as to ease the ache.

"No, I meant I don't feel good about hitting you at all. It's just I was so… worried and so angry. We'd barely started talking again when you left. I didn't know what happened…"

"It wasn't you," Methos replied carefully. "I had some issues and I needed to get away. Unfortunately, I seemed to have upset my friends in the process. I'm not used to having ties."

Rory was studying him as he spoke, the probing dark eyes examining him as thoroughly as if he were naked in front of him. It made him uncomfortable and the psychiatrist noted that as well.

"Did you just come to say hello or do you need my help?" he asked bluntly.

"I wanted to see you," Methos lied. Or maybe it wasn't a total lie. He wasn't sure why he had come or what he wanted from Rory. "Let you know I was okay."

Rory nodded in understanding. "You're going away again?"

"I'm only in town for a couple of days... but I have to come to Paris occasionally. I'd like to keep in touch, Rory… if you still want to."

"Yes, I would," the younger man answered without hesitation. "I'm still your friend, Methos. When you want to tell me what's going on, you know where to find me."

"Thanks," Methos murmured. He didn't bother to deny anything, simply accepting that Rory understood that what he was struggling with now was something the psychiatrist, as good as he was, couldn't help him overcome. "You have a patient waiting. I'd better go."

As Methos got to his feet, Rory stepped into his space and pulled him into an affectionate hug. The unexpected moves were the worst and Methos instantly tensed, body responding automatically, ready to recoil from the contact. Methos barely controlled the reaction, forcing himself to stay within Rory's grasp and allow the touch.

But Rory felt it and saw it in Methos' face as he pulled back to look at him. He released him with a hint of reluctance and spoke softly. "You be careful."

With that, the blonde left to go to his next patient, allowing Methos the time alone to compose himself. Sometimes, he thought the young immortal understood way too much. Maybe it was Sean Burns' influence on the doctor or maybe he just had some strong intuitive abilities. At Rory's age, he was… Well, frankly, he didn't exactly remember what he was, but it sure as hell wasn't that intuitive. Different times, he told himself, then shrugged on the long overcoat.

Methos elected to walk back to his hotel, choosing back streets more often than the main thoroughfares. As cold and snowy as it was, few Parisians … or tourists… were on the streets. In fact, Methos couldn't remember a time when he'd seen the grand old city's streets so void of foot traffic. A few people rushed past him to enter the Metro station, but none lingered to actually stroll down the streets. Even the roads were not as jam-packed as he recalled them. Most of the residents apparently preferred to use other means of transport when the highways were so bad. It was fine with him. The fewer people he encountered, the better.

Even though this trip had taken a turn he hadn't anticipated, he didn't regret it. For the most part, the friendships he'd feared lost were in tact… more or less. Yes, Mac, Joe and Rory were all pretty upset with him, but he'd found forgiveness there and he was grateful. Appreciative, too, that none of them pushed him too hard for information or to know details of what had happened. The whole incident was still too close, too raw, to talk about without sending him into near hysterics at the too vivid memories. That was something he didn't want any of them to see. It was a severe weakness in himself that he hated to acknowledge.

A familiar awareness slipped into his thoughts, the distinct tingle of another immortal. He nearly froze as he registered it, but forced himself to keep moving as his eyes scanned the area in search of the source. He didn't recognize anyone in the few faces he saw, although he realized a small cluster of people had just emerged from an underground Metro stop. Reacting for avoidance, he took a turn onto another back street that would hopefully lead away from the newcomer. Within half a block, he'd ceased to sense anyone, yet he picked up his pace and continued with his hand firmly on the stun gun in his pocket. While the new weapon wasn't quite as trusty as his old .38, it was effective enough, when targeted at the highest setting, to leave an immortal on the ground and twitching uncontrollably for at least ten minutes.

By the time he reached his hotel, he was anxious to get back to his room and lock himself away from the world again. He waited for an elevator that was nearly empty to go up, decided to take the stairs instead, then rushed to his room, bolting the door behind him. He leaned back against the hard wood and took deep, calming breaths. Although triggered by the sense of another immortal, the totally unexpected anxiety attack had, nonetheless, nearly waylaid him. Agoraphobia the psychoanalysts called it, a fear of open places, but Methos knew it wasn't precisely that aversion. Open places were fine so long as there were no people in them.

Hands shaking a little, he shook out a flat pill and tossed it to the back of his throat, swallowing determinedly. Shrugging off his coat, he dropped it on the nearest chair and stretched out on the bed, settling the pillows behind his head and shoulders. Grabbing the controller for the television, he switched it on, waited a few moments as the unit lowered from the ceiling, then flipped through the channels until he found a movie, another remake of "Antony and Cleopatra" with lavish sets and little research, no doubt. He settled back to allow mortal fantasies to distract him. He didn't want to think right now.

Dec. 27, Paris - 2014, 1:28 p.m.

"So this guy calls Mac out… and he's all excited and eager to take Mac's head, until Mac introduces himself, then the guy goes white as a sheet. He didn't have a clue who he'd challenged." Joe Dawson's eyes twinkled as he recounted the incident. Across the small table from him, the hero of his story smiled in amusement and dished up bowls of ice cream over sliced bananas.

MacLeod's other guest was seated at the end of the table, between the Scot and Joe, where he listened politely to the tale. "So what'd you do, Mac?" Methos asked, as was expected.

"Disarmed him in less than a minute and sent him packing." Mac flashed a grin at the memory. "I think he'll do his homework before he challenges an experienced immortal again."

"Should have taken his head," Methos mumbled, without emotion.

"Aw, he was a kid, Methos. He didn't even hold the sword right."

"Yes, and in gratitude, he will someday come back for you… or someone you care about."

"Maybe," Mac agreed and handed the oldest of their kind an ice cream bowl and a dish of warmed chocolate sauce. As Methos helped himself, Mac glanced at Joe, who shrugged ever so slightly. The message was clear enough. The conversation today had been as stilted as the one at Joe's the previous day. Worse, in fact -- Methos hadn't said more than ten words during the whole meal until now. When it came to throwing up barriers, he was the master.

Joe rubbed the edge of his nose, preparing an opening salvo. "Conversation is a fine art, Methos, but it requires each party to talk. I'm assuming you accepted this invitation because you wanted to visit with us. Now, it'll make it a whole lot easier if you spit out what's on your mind."

For a moment, Methos looked at the Watcher as if he'd never seen him before, then the expression shifted to something more bleak. "It's nothing, really. Not something to talk about anyway. I don't seem to know what… Truth is, I feel like a stranger here. Like I don't belong."

Joe's left eyebrow inched its way up. "You've been gone a while. It's easy to feel out of touch when you have been. But there's a lot to catch up on. I'm a lot older. Amy's married and has kids. Mac's redecorated the barge three times. Our lives have all gone on..."

"I know life has gone on," Methos interrupted, more than a trace of irritation showing. "It's more than that, Joe. I'm not the same person. I've changed."

Joe's eyes locked with the older man's, holding the gaze as he spoke. "I realize that. But you're still our friend. And the bottom line is, friends can talk about anything. Talk to us."

Methos half-smiled. "I didn't expect anything less of you and Mac, but the problem isn't with you. It's with me. I don't want to speak of the past dozen years of my life. It's too difficult and it's better not recalled. But the fact is, I feel out of sync with this life, with the two of you, with who I am. It's going to take some adjustment. I can't just walk back into it."

"But you're not going to go away again, are you?" Joe asked in concern.

A slight shake of his head preceded the softly-spoken, "No. I'll be around. Whenever I'm in Paris, I promise, I will see you. Both of you. But I need time."

"Well, buddy," Joe drawled, "I'll give you some, but I don't have a whole lot of that left. Try to work through this quickly, okay?"

Even as Methos nodded his acknowledgement, Mac leaned in toward Methos and, in a soft, persuasive voice, added, "We're not asking you to open up healing wounds, Methos. But it is easier to cope with bad experiences with friends close by."

Methos was silent a few moments as he distractedly swirled a spoon to mix the chocolate with the ice cream. "Maybe. That's something I don't have a lot of experience with... not in this context, anyway."

Mac started to reply, but stopped. What was he going to say that would make matters any better? //Haven't you ever had a good friend before? Has there ever been anyone in your life you've really trusted when it counted? Yeah, that would go a long way to gaining his confidence.// It seemed like Methos was prone to retreating, becoming a loner, whenever the problems were severe or extremely personal. No, that wasn't fair, Mac conceded. Methos had trusted him and Joe, had put his life in their hands more than once. But this was different. This wasn't imminent danger, this was -- something that was none of his business. //Whenever I'm in Paris…// That was a clear enough message that he didn't plan on moving back to the city soon.

Joe stretched, then pushed himself to his feet and regarded Methos fondly. "This has been good -- you know, seeing you and all, but I do have a business to run. Stop by later, if you get a chance."

"Maybe," Methos said without commitment, making the message clear that he most likely wouldn't be dropping in at the club.

Mac saw Joe to the door, said a quick goodbye, then turned back to face his guest. Arms crossed tightly against his chest, Methos stared at the almost empty bowl, his look as intent as if the final melting island of ice cream was the most important event in the world.

"I don't get it," Mac said carefully. "You came here. You went to Joe. It seems obvious you wanted to see us, so what is it, Methos? Why didn't you just go back to Portugal without word? You've done it before, haven't you?"

Nodding slowly, Methos gradually shifted his attention to the Scot. Mac leaned against the side of the boat, waiting patiently for an answer. When he finally spoke, the older man's voice was soft and sounded strained. "I'm not sure I can answer that, Mac. I actually came here on Christmas without thinking. It just happened. It was almost like a little door, or a window, opening inside me. A glimpse of a past I'd nearly forgotten and just like that, I needed to see Joe as well. And I … wanted to explain why I left the other night…" His voice trailed off at the end as if he'd run out of words.

"So explain," Mac prompted after the silence wore on for more than a minute.

Methos looked as miserable as if he was being punished for some wrong-doing. Shrugging, he finally managed to mumble, "I can't. I don't think you'd understand. Let's just say I wasn't quite ready for this, for a relationship with you."

"Not good enough." Mac's voice was firm, but not unkind. "I've spent thirteen years wondering where you were or if you were still alive. Thirteen years of questioning my own actions just before you left and fearing I'd never get the chance to tell you how I felt, only to have you come back and not really care."

The smaller man's head came up sharply, his expression pained. "That's not it, Mac! I tried to tell you I wasn't a good partner right now. Things have happened in my life that I need to come to terms with before I can look at a relationship with anyone again."

"What kind of things? Try me, Methos. I might understand more than you think."

Methos shook his head, a strong denial. "I really can't. Look, this has been a pleasant lunch and I'd like it to stay that way. I meant what I said to Joe. I will stop by when I'm in Paris. I promise."

In spite of a burning desire to press the issue, Mac backed off. There was no point in getting into it with Methos. The man didn't want to discuss it and he had no right to force it. //Just be glad he's here,// he admitted. //Whatever problems he has, Methos will eventually sort them out. Just keep the path open for him and he'll stay in touch. Press him and he'll disappear.//

"Okay. I'll hold you to that." He noted the relieved look that lightened Methos' face and the relaxing of his shoulders. "How 'bout a drink? I have Balmoral or Glenfiddich - or would you like a Paddy's?"

"Paddy's? I thought they quit making it. Distillery explosion, wasn't it?"

"Uh-huh," Mac agreed as he poured drinks for them both. "It didn't look too promising, but with the help of a couple of investors, they rebuilt it last year. But this bottle- and a few others - are from the original distillery. I stocked up a few years ago. I have a friend who's fond of the Irish whiskey." He handed the glass to Methos, then offered a toast. "To renewing friendships."

Methos didn't hesitate to click his glass against Mac's. Pressing his luck a little, Mac sat on the sofa next to him, not so close that he might make him uncomfortable, but close enough to touch, if he had an opportunity. A slightly uncertain glance shot his way, but Methos didn't shift position or pull away, almost as if he wanted the closeness as much as the Scot did.

Very quietly, MacLeod began talking about mutual friends, bringing Methos up to date on people they knew. "Gina and Robert returned to Paris a month or so before the Shift and they're as happy as can be. She still laughs about all the fast-talking you had to do while she was trying to remove your head."

"Well, it was silly plan anyway, Mac. I knew it would be a problem. I still don't know how I ever let you talk me into staging that fight with Robert." Methos didn't sound as amused by it now as he was when it happened. Then it had seemed more like a game to the older man, the joy of which had been, clearly, in having Mac plead for his cooperation. "You said Amanda's in America?"

Mac nodded. "Yeah, she's been involved with a new immortal named Nick Wolf. She met him before he became one of us and has been guiding him ever since."

Methos looked surprised. "Not training him, I hope?"

Easily following his friend's thoughts, Mac laughed, "No. She's just staying close, helping him. Amanda wouldn't be the best teacher, would she? But she has a good relationship with Nick. They're close."

"And you?"

"Amanda is Amanda," Mac answered simply. "I don't doubt she loves me, but not in a set-up-housekeeping way. She comes around now and then, sometimes spends the night, but that's how it's always been, Methos. A few times I've tried to imagine myself married to her, but I can't picture it." His eyes grew a little distant then, recalling the deep emotions he'd always felt for the beautiful brunette. Then his eyes rested on Methos and all those feelings of want, desire and need seemed to center around the tall, slender man who slouched slightly on the couch. He had as much trouble picturing a future with Methos as he did with Amanda. Maybe more so.

Part of him warred with the gut instinct that he didn't want to set up housekeeping with the older man, yet he didn't want to not have him around. Even if he had wanted Methos as a live-in lover, he knew the man was like quicksilver, slipping away as easily as the mercurial element. Yet, here Mac was -- wanting to hold on to him. Needing to hold on.

In the ensuing silence, Methos shifted a bit uneasily as if aware of MacLeod's scrutiny, if not the reason for it. He took another sip of his drink, then slowly turned his head to meet Mac's gaze. "I feel like you're trying to stare a hole through me. I'm not a specimen, MacLeod."

His face shifting to a slightly embarrassed expression, Mac looked away. "Sorry. I was just thinking about night before last. Being with you…"

"Not my finest hour," Methos mumbled softly.

"Do you regret it?" Mac's voice cracked a little as he asked the blunt question. He didn't know exactly why he felt compelled to ask. Maybe he hoped the answer would solve his dilemma.

"God, no!" Methos' reply was instant, no thought behind it. As MacLeod looked at him again, he continued, "I only regret that I'm not ready for this, Mac. It's not you."

Yielding to the need to make contact, Mac leaned closer and stretched out a hand. Encouraged when Methos didn't retreat as he raised his hand to his narrow face, Mac lightly ran the back of his fingers down the side, carefully slipped the hand behind the elegant neck, and leaned to brush his lips against the other man's. There was no resistance, no withdrawal from the touch, but neither was there a response.

"Are you all right, Methos? Do you want me to stop?" Duncan murmured, his mouth barely a straw's width away. Methos closed his eyes, his body still held under tight control, but the sharply defined lips almost trembled with the man's unspoken emotions. Good or bad, Mac wondered, fearful of the answer.

But Methos didn't speak. He merely leaned forward a little and allowed his mouth to sweep against Mac's in a tentative little kiss. He pulled back, eyes still shut, and shook his head slowly. When he finally spoke his voice was barely a whisper. "Mac… God, I don't… know… if I can do this."

"Trust me, Methos. I won't do anything to hurt you. I just need to touch you. I missed you… more than I ever thought I would," Duncan replied softly, his voice barely louder than Methos' had been. He could almost hear the trembling uncertainty in Methos' chest and could feel the uneven flutter there as he pressed a hand against him.

Feeling a little more certain now, Mac carefully engaged in another kiss, his lips pushing tentatively against Methos' tight mouth. He moved his mouth around, planting little kisses around the lips, encouraging his friend to relax and enjoy the moment. Methos took a deep breath, then turned his head slightly so that their open mouths matched. Mac's hand cupped the back of Methos' head as his other hand slid around to his back to pull him into his embrace.

In spite of the tension in the smaller man's body, Methos let Mac hold him, even sliding his own arms around the Scot as the kiss deepened. Finally, there was the response in his mouth and Methos was kissing back, returning the passion Mac had lavished upon him. Carefully, Mac guided the seduction, easing Methos down on the sofa as if he were a virgin, and their lips parted as his head touched the cushion. Duncan eased back to gaze at the handsome face, to note that Methos' eyes were closed and his mouth parted slightly still as he breathed nervously.

With deliberate caution, Mac worked his fingers against the top button on the dark blue silk shirt. Heavy silk… good quality, he noted. The button slid free easily. As he moved to the next button, he became aware that Methos' breath had shortened, gone shallower with the tension of the moment. His eyes rested on the hollow where the long neck met the breast bone that seemed to pulse with each heartbeat and he leaned forward to press his lips against the hot skin there and feel the rhythm.

Methos caught his breath, holding it as Duncan's mouth pressed against his flesh and held, not moving for what seemed like an eternity, a moment, to both men. As Mac released the flesh and pulled back, he glimpsed the half-open hazel eyes that almost seemed to glow. His hand moved down to press against the wool trousers, feeling the bulging there.

"I want you, Methos," Mac said softly, his voice catching slightly with the words. He waited as the eyes flicked completely open. "I want you now."

There was a moment of hesitation, then a slight nod. "I need to get up, Mac…" Methos said with a hint of strain in his voice.

Nodding, MacLeod sat back, allowing him freedom. Methos slid off the couch and headed for the bathroom. As Mac watched him go, he felt like Christmas Day was repeating. He knew Methos wanted him, felt it as a certainty, yet he also knew that whatever it was that kept Methos from enjoying their intimacy would not go away because he willed it.

go on to part two...