DISCLAIMER - Highlander and its characters is the copyright of Rysher and Panzer/Davis Productions and no infringement is intended. The story, such as it is, is copyright Karen Colohan October 1998 (revised February 1999).
With thanks to Erika and especially to Laurey - without whom this story would have been much the poorer - for their comments and suggestions.
"Then I think this is yours." I stood poised on the edge of the pool and proffered the katana which I had been holding, hidden, behind my back. Duncan MacLeod slowly looked up at me.
"Yeah." He nodded his agreement. He sounded tired, and far older than his 400 years.
Despite that, I couldn't help the feeling of relief that swept dizzyingly over me. I knew only too well just how close a call it had been, but now it was all right. Duncan was all right! My gladness bubbled over, escaped as relieved, joyous laughter. I couldn't remember when simply laughing had felt so good before.
MacLeod held up a hand to me and I braced myself, reached down and grasped it as I helped him clamber from the pool. We stood balanced on the rocks for a long moment, hands clasped. Our eyes met and held likewise - a measuring stare.
Yes, he really was himself again. Duncan MacLeod had survived intact. The wild light of the Dark Quickening was gone from his gaze. I had looked into the depths of that darkness more than once over the past few days and I would have recognised its presence, but it had been banished. Whether it had been the holy spring, the essence of Sean Burns' Quickening or the essential goodness in the man's own heart which had been his salvation, I couldn't say for certain. I was sure, though, that only Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod remained and it gladdened me, heart and soul.
The tableau held for a moment longer and then he shivered. I abruptly remembered that the cave was icy cold and that MacLeod had been immersed to his waist in freezing water. His heavy clothing was soaking wet where it clung to his skin. For some reason I couldn't fathom, Duncan's hair was equally sodden and plastered in damp tendrils about his face and down the back of his neck. Practical considerations surfacing, I tugged at his hand.
"Come on, Mac, let's get you out of here," I prompted. "You're drenched. You'll..."
"Catch my death?" he commented wryly. I grinned back at him, grateful for the brief flash of humour. That was more like my MacLeod!
"Hardly," I chuckled, letting him see I appreciated the joke. "But I'm sure you could do with a drink and a chance to dry off. It won't hurt if you're not back in Paris until tomorrow."
"What about Joe?" As always MacLeod was more concerned about his friends than about himself.
"It's OK, Mac. Actually, there's a small country hotel a few miles back up the road. You can call Joe from there. As it happens I already booked a couple of rooms on the off chance..."
I let the words trail off, shrugged nonchalantly. In truth, I hadn't been certain if both of us would still be around to take up the booking. I shuddered at the unpleasant thought and turned away. As I prepared to clamber back up the rope, MacLeod put a hand on my shoulder and stopped me.
"Thank you, Methos, for what you did. I know the risk you were taking. I could have..."
|Duncan couldn't bring himself to put it into words, but I knew what he meant. Under the influence of the Dark Quickening he might easily have lost control and killed me. He'd come damned close to it. I could still feel the bite of his sword's edge against my throat - and that had been on Holy Ground!|
"It's all right, MacLeod, you don't have to..."
"Yes, I do, Methos. You're always so quick to tell me how you didn't survive this long by worrying about other people. Well, I have to tell you, I'm glad you're such a shocking liar." I dropped my gaze, embarrassed. MacLeod was too good at finding my weak spots. "Thank you," he continued emphatically, "you're a good friend. I really didn't expect or deserve..."
"MacLeod, at this rate you'll have me believing my own publicity!" I interrupted him abruptly. "Any one of your friends would have done the same thing," I insisted.
I was trying to make light of it, but the truth was I had been terrified of losing him to the Dark Quickening. I had known full well I was taking a big risk with my own life going after him, but where Duncan MacLeod was concerned 5000 years of survival instincts always seemed to go right out the window. I didn't care to examine my motives too closely, though. I might claim they were altruistic - that I believed MacLeod was too important to the Game to lose - but it's hard to tell lies to yourself when you've heard them all before.
His hand still rested on my shoulder and I could feel the warmth of it clear through my coat and jumper to the skin underneath. The feeling seemed to brand itself into my senses and I knew all the lies in the world couldn't hide my real reason for needing to save Duncan MacLeod. Yes, he was too important to lose, but the Game had nothing to do with it. Quite simply, he was too important to me.
For centuries before I met him I had been merely existing, avoiding contact with other Immortals, taking no Quickenings. Yes, I was alive, but I could hardly claim to have been living. Then, in the midst of the Kalas fiasco, the Highlander had walked into my apartment and, without even knowing it, had given me back my life. I still find it hard to believe that, with a glorious twist of irony, within hours of meeting him I was offering him my head! I didn't know myself any more, but I have to say I'm eternally grateful he didn't take me up on my rash offer. Only rarely had I met another of our kind with that same force of personality, and certainly never one with such an inherent purity of heart. I was lost before I ever realised it.
As these thoughts ran through my head I noticed MacLeod was watching me closely, and his scrutiny made me suddenly uncomfortable. Without another word, I turned back to the rope and busied myself attaching clips to the harness and ensuring that the katana, which I still carried for him, was safe. As I began to climb his voice floated after me, answering my last denial.
"Perhaps, but only you could have, Methos. Only you knew about this place. I'm glad you did."
That was true enough, I reflected as I waited for MacLeod back on the surface. Still, his thanks made me even more uncomfortable than I had been before. I felt somehow hypocritical accepting them when I knew my motivations had been purely selfish. I was also becoming less than happy with myself for another reason. Here I was admitting to aspects of my feelings for Duncan I had no right to be even considering when I wasn't free to pursue them. I knew full well that Alexa was waiting patiently and trustingly for me in Athens. If I let myself forget that I would be even more of a bastard than I generally considered myself to be. My track record on commitment was hardly exemplary.
Forgive me, Alexa. I offered up the thought as if it were a prayer, a request for intercession from the one I had least right to ask it of. I only left you because he needed me even more than you did - and while I can do nothing to save you from what lies ahead, with Duncan I could make a difference. I hope you understand that. This wasn't a premeditated betrayal of your trust. What I feel for him was there long before I met you. I'll be back soon, and I hope you'll never see how I am torn. Dear Gods, I hope nothing happens to you while I'm away... You deserve so much better than me!
I loved Alexa. Whatever else might be going on inside my head and my heart that was the undeniable truth. Her death, when it came, would tear me apart; I would have no need to pretend my grief. And in the time that was left to us, I would keep my promises to her, would never abandon her. What I had come here to do had no bearing on my life with Alexa. Call it Watcher business, an Immortal thing... but if that were true, then could MacLeod and I...?
I refused to let myself continue the thought as Mac emerged from the entrance to the spring. I was already too good at finding justifications for unpalatable truths in my existence. The mundane task of stowing the climbing gear and our swords in the back of the car provided me with the distraction I needed.
MacLeod wrapped himself in his still dry coat for warmth as he settled himself in the passenger seat of the Volvo beside me. The journey to the hotel passed in silence. We both seemed to have descended into introspection. Nevertheless, I was very much aware of the sideways looks Mac kept giving me. Perhaps this whole overnight stay thing wasn't such a good idea after all. Maybe I should leave him at the hotel and head for the hills at the first opportunity. Just another Methos disappearing act. I was always good at those - especially when I found myself in a situation I'd rather not face up to.
Reluctantly I came to the conclusion that it would be unfair of me to just leave. Though when the hell I got a conscience about such things, I've no idea. MacLeod had no transport to get him back to Paris - the stolen car had apparently been abandoned before I tracked him down to Darius' church. I couldn't just dump Mac like so much unwanted baggage. Knowing him, after his recent experiences, he would need the company. Otherwise he would probably sink into one of his fits of dark, Scottish brooding. Not a good idea at present. No, I couldn't simply up and leave him.
The way you left Alexa?
The nasty little voice of my untimely reawakened conscience couldn't resist the dig. I ignored it. That was a talent I'd perfected long ago, before it had become redundant when I learned to bury my finer feelings as part of my self-taught survival skills. It served its purpose now, though, as I turned my thoughts back to my immediate problem.
When it came down to it, I was an adult - I was 5000 years old for Gods' sakes! I could handle a bad case of unrequited love - lust? - for a few more hours without disgracing myself. Then I could just take Mac back to the barge tomorrow and make good my escape. Simple. That is, it would be if he didn't realise the feelings I was nursing and decide it would be a wonderful idea to sit down and talk about them. I had an uncomfortable suspicion, though, that MacLeod had chosen an unfortunate moment to get with it. The looks he was throwing me were a little too acute to be merely coincidental. Damn it, he'd remained blissfully oblivious this long... Why now?!
Because I had told him, I realised belatedly. My words, my actions throughout this whole incident had gone beyond those of just a friend. Oh, if our positions had been reversed and it had been Mac riding to the rescue, it would perhaps have been possible to simply put it down to his Boy Scout honour code. But he knew me well enough to know I didn't operate by those kinds of rules and so I had to have another motivation. And despite all my earlier efforts to put him off the scent, MacLeod seemed to have got a clue and figured out that I was infatuated with him. Doubtlessly, the fact that I had left Alexa to come to him would have been the final confirmation.
It would certainly explain the curious glances coming my way from those damnable big brown eyes of his. It also meant the next few hours promised to be - uncomfortable. After all, Mac had to be just about the straightest person I knew. I'd been around long enough to figure out that the sex of a partner was far less important than whether or not you loved them. MacLeod had been brought up in altogether different times. How would he handle the fact that one of his closest male friends had a crush on him worthy of a teenager?
Shit! Inelegant perhaps, but a heartfelt expression of how I was feeling. It seemed I was well on the way to wrecking the two most important relationships in my life at the present time. Still, I was a fast talker when I needed to be. I could talk my way out of this one too - tell Mac he was imagining things. Yeah, it was Dawson who sent me - no one else he could trust in the vicinity. Blah, blah, blah... No problem!
The hotel was small, off the beaten track. I'd been here quite a few times in the past when I'd needed to disappear at short notice. The staff knew me and chose to make no comment on our limited luggage and Mac's somewhat disreputable appearance. MacLeod raised an elegant eyebrow in my direction as the manager took the time to be certain everything was to M. Pierson's liking.
In fact it was. We'd been given two pleasant en suite rooms connected by a shared sitting room. The beds were large and soft; there were open fires blazing in the hearths and the minibars were at least adequately stocked.
"Nice," Mac observed as he took the guided tour. "M. Pierson is obviously a valued customer."
"Yeah, well, I've stayed here a few times in the past," I admitted evasively.
"Uh huh, one of your boltholes. At least I'll know where to start looking next time you do your vanishing act." Mac grinned at me and I couldn't help the rather foolish smile I sent him in return. It was just too much of a relief to have MacLeod, whole and sane, keeping company with me again.
"Look, why don't you get out of those soaking wet clothes and go take a long hot bath," I suggested. "They leave robes in the bathrooms so I'll have the maid take your stuff and get it dried." Anything to postpone any kind of conversation for a while longer.
"Thanks, Methos." Mac gave my shoulder a friendly squeeze and headed into the nearest bathroom. I heard the water running as I shed my coat and availed myself of the contents of one of the minibars.
"Throw your clothes out here and I'll take care of them," I called as I sipped at a very welcome scotch.
"They're on the floor; I'm already in the bath," Duncan's voice floated out to me. "You can come and get them - it's not locked."
Those weren't the words I'd expected to hear. Was he doing it deliberately, to test me? The last thing I wanted was to be confronted with the sight of Duncan MacLeod reclining naked in the bath. Well, that wasn't strictly the truth. Mac in the bath, under the shower, in my bed - I'd fantasised about all those possibilities at one time or another. These simply weren't the circumstances I would have planned for turning any of those fantasies into a reality, and the timing was lousy.
Get a grip! I chided myself. So, Duncan was in the bath. Big deal! The bath would be full of water and soap bubbles and I wouldn't see a thing. It wasn't as if he'd asked me to go in there and scrub his back for him!
I set my drink down and pushed the bathroom door open. Mac had evidently run the water a long time to get it hot, as the room was at a practically tropical temperature and full of steam. I could hardly avoid looking at him completely. It would have seemed far more suspicious if I'd made a blind grab for the heap of wet clothes and promptly run out again. So, I forced myself to pause and look across at the figure in the bath.
Duncan was facing me, lying back in the water with one knee raised above its surface. His hands were visible, clutching soap and a sponge. He had released his hair from its clasp and it was plastered damply to his face and neck. I simply stood for a long moment, Mac's clothes clutched to my chest, and took in what was, to me, just about the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen.
If I'd ever hoped to convince myself I didn't really love him, desire him, the foolishness of that notion hit me now. The swift and unmistakable response from my body gave the lie to any protestations I might make that my feelings for Duncan MacLeod were nothing more than platonic.
"Nice bath?" I asked stupidly, just to break the suddenly oppressive silence. "Um, I'll, er... get your clothes taken care of then, OK?"
Oh, yeah, really smooth talking, Methos!! I was quite disgusted with myself. Could I possibly make it any more obvious? MacLeod's eyes met mine for a brief instant and I knew he could read everything that was in my heart as if it were an open book. I saw shock in that dark gaze and fled before I could do or say anything unforgivable. I slammed the door shut behind me and drew in a lungful of cooler air. After the steamy atmosphere of the bathroom it was a relief to do so.
I needed to distract myself so I shoved MacLeod's dirty clothes into a laundry bag and called the desk for someone to come and collect them. I dumped the bag outside the door to avoid the need for being disturbed. That dealt with, I picked up my drink and downed it in one, followed by two more in a very short space of time. I cursed the fact that, being Immortal, it took a considerable amount of time and alcohol for me to get drunk. I was still going to be distressingly sober by the time Duncan finished his bath.
I briefly reconsidered the option of getting in my car and driving back to Paris on my own straight away. With a sigh I dismissed the idea. It would only be postponing the inevitable. I might as well get this over with now. Perhaps Duncan's gratitude for my help with the Dark Quickening would temper his disgust at finding out my interest in him went beyond simple friendship.
As a further distraction I decided to make use of the shower in the other bathroom. It felt good to let the hot water cascade over me. I scrubbed away the dust of the cavern from my hair and skin and dried myself off on the thick, soft towels provided by the hotel. It was good to be clean, even if I didn't have a full change of clothes with me - I hadn't had time to grab more than fresh underwear and a T-shirt when I left. I dressed in what I had anyway, rather than send my own clothes for laundering as well. Slightly muddy jeans and a rumpled sweater were a minor inconvenience. I wasn't about to put myself in Duncan's vicinity clad in nothing more than a robe! Mac was still absent when I was done and I downed a couple more quick drinks to fill the time.
I dreaded the opening of the bathroom door, and when it came I pretended a great interest in the view from the window. I saw Mac's reflection in the glass as he approached me and launched myself abruptly into motion, heading for the minibar again.
"Have a drink, MacLeod," I offered expansively. "This scotch isn't bad. Here..."
I ignored him and found a second glass, half filling it with the golden liquid and refilling my own at the same time. Surely I'd start to feel the effects soon!
"There you go." I held the drink out to him at arm's length. Carefully I avoided meeting his gaze. "Really, it is pretty good," I coaxed when he made no move to take it from me.
"Damn you, Methos, stop this!" He finally snatched the glass from me and slammed it down on the nearest flat surface, spilling half the contents. The violence of Duncan's movements startled me and I looked up in concern. Had I been wrong to assume he was over the effects of the Dark Quickening?
His face, however, held no trace of the evil Duncan MacLeod who had killed Sean Burns and threatened my own life. There was, nonetheless, frustration and a trace of anger in his expression. His dark eyes bored into mine and I found I hadn't the strength to look away. I felt older and more tired than I had in a long time. Methos, the oldest living Immortal, rendered utterly helpless by this 400 year old Highland child. I failed to appreciate the irony of the situation.
"Methos, in God's name will you please stop running away from me!" Duncan shook his head and his face slowly relaxed. I watched him warily, uncertain of his reaction. "If you'd just stand still for a moment or two maybe we can talk about whatever it is that's bothering you so much."
"I don't know what you mean, Mac." Play dumb, always a useful opening gambit. MacLeod was having none of it, though.
"Don't treat me like a fool, Methos. My arithmetic is quite good actually." I frowned at him stupidly, catching the sarcasm, but still failing to understand. "I can put two and two together and come up with four just as well as the next man," Mac elaborated.
Oh... I took another sip of my drink to avoid the necessity of saying anything, but then Duncan reached out and very precisely removed the glass from my hand. He set it down beside his own - though rather more gently - and then looked back at me with an exasperated smile.
"What am I going to do with you, Methos?" he asked rhetorically. "Did you think I was going to throw my hands up in horror and refuse to share the rooms with you? We've known each other this long and my virtue is still intact..."
"Please, Mac, don't make a joke of this!" It was only when Duncan reacted that I realised I'd spoken aloud. I hadn't meant to. Still, he had the grace to look contrite.
"I'm sorry, Methos, but you seem to be making such a big deal out of this..."
"To me it is," I replied tightly. Gods, he could be an insensitive bastard sometimes, could Duncan MacLeod!
"God, no, I didn't mean it like that!" MacLeod swore softly and then looked me squarely in the eyes. "What I meant was that you seem to be blowing this up into some huge problem. It's not. I didn't mean to belittle what you were feeling. I - I'm sorry if I've been a bit slow on the uptake, but..."
"Why wouldn't you be?" I laughed humourlessly. "Men aren't exactly your scene, now are they, MacLeod? So why should you recognise the signs?"
"I'm not quite as naive as you seem to think, Methos," he spluttered indignantly. Fine, so I'd wounded Mac's pride. Well, maybe his reading material was a bit more eclectic than I'd given him credit for.
"Whatever, I never intended you to know," I said carelessly. I heaved a deep sigh. "It would have been a lot easier that way."
"Why?" I stared at him incredulously. How could he be so dense! "Come on, MacLeod, get with it! You know you'll never treat me the same way after this. Actually, I can see two possibilities. First, there's the poor old Methos, better not hurt his feelings, routine - which I can't say I find particularly appealing. Alternatively, you appear to treat me the same as ever, while always harbouring this nagging doubt in the back of your mind, wondering about my motives..." I wrenched my gaze away from his finally and developed a sudden interest in the pattern on the carpet under my feet.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Methos!" Duncan sounded surprisingly bitter. "I thought you knew me better than that."
"Can you honestly say, MacLeod, that this won't change anything between us?" I challenged him defiantly. As I whipped my head back up to confront him, instead I found myself really looking at Mac for the first time, from head to toe.
It stopped me dead in my tracks; whatever I'd been intending to say forgotten. Mac was clad in one of the soft, white terry robes the hotel provided for guests. It came to just below his knees, leaving the rest of his legs bare. He was also barefoot. Letting my gaze travel upward, I noticed Duncan had only belted the robe loosely and as a result, a good portion of his chest was visible. The white material set off his tanned skin exquisitely, framing the sculpted muscles. Mac's hair was still wet where he had evidently washed it, but some of the shorter strands were drying. It fanned out onto his shoulders like fine, dark silk.
If I had thought he was beautiful before, now I knew it for certain. My throat constricted; what had I done that I deserved to be tormented like this? Any one of a thousand things, I knew, but it still didn't seem fair as I drank in the sight of him, storing up the memories.
"Of course it changes things," Mac said suddenly. "Would you expect anything less?" His voice startled me out of my reverie and as I glanced at his face I was surprised to see him smiling. I hadn't believed Duncan MacLeod had it in him to be so cruel.
"And I thought I was the resident S.O.B. around here," I muttered angrily, more to myself than anything else.
He actually sounded shocked by my reaction. Well, what did he expect? Immortal or not I was still, in the most basic sense, human. Screw it! MacLeod could find his own transport back to Paris after all. I wasn't going to subject myself to this humiliation any more.
"See you around," I spat out as I reached for my coat. "The room's already paid for on my credit card so you won't..."
I was startled to find myself propelled backwards with considerable force. I fetched up against a wall with an infuriated Duncan MacLeod literally nose to nose with me. If I hadn't known his robe couldn't possibly be concealing a sword it would have been an even more terrifying prospect than it actually was. Mac's hands were planted firmly on the wall to either side of my shoulders, effectively blocking my escape.
"Since when did you become a complete and utter idiot, Methos?" MacLeod enquired belligerently.
"Mac?" To my chagrin, my voice came out as little more than a squeak. So much for 5000 years of fighting skills and survival instincts.
"Are you being deliberately obtuse?" he continued. "Or do you just get off on annoying the shit out of me? Bloody hell, Methos! Talk about crossed wires!"
"I, er... I don't understand." That didn't even begin to describe my current state of confusion, but it would have to do. The sheer proximity of MacLeod's body had driven what little was left of my wits in a distinctly downward direction. I had a major problem, and the fact that Mac's rapid movements had caused his robe to gape further open was doing nothing for my peace of mind, either. If he didn't stop leaning against me like that soon, Duncan wasn't going to be the only one whose clothes needed cleaning. I had to get his attention.
"Mac, please..." I pleaded when he showed no sign of relenting.
I had shifted my hips fractionally and MacLeod must finally have felt what was causing my distress brush fleetingly against his thigh. He had the grace to blush as he realised what he had unwittingly done to me. Then he pulled back just enough so that he was no longer pressed against me. Mac still did not release me completely, though.
"Thanks," I muttered gratefully as I willed my body back to a semblance of control. It wasn't easy with his warmth, his scent still surrounding me, but he'd given me the breathing space I needed. "Now please will you explain what the hell that was all about?"
"I should have thought that was obvious," MacLeod snorted. The dark eyes regarded me suspiciously.
"Well, not to me!" I retorted, now seriously aggrieved. I tried for haughty disdain, but it was impossible to attain with certain parts of my anatomy still displaying a mind of their own. I shifted again uncomfortably and to my surprise Duncan began to laugh. "I don't see what's so funny," I complained.
"You are," he smirked. Before I could protest this Mac continued. "You are such a bloody idiot, Methos. I thought your 5000 years might have taught you a few things - especially about not making assumptions..."
I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that MacLeod and I must be talking different languages. I was certainly unprepared for his sudden movement. All at once his full weight was pressed against me again. The shock of it knocked the breath clear out of me and I opened my mouth to gulp in more air. I didn't have the chance to do so, though, because Mac's lips suddenly descended on mine in a fierce kiss.
I froze. The lack of oxygen made me light-headed. I thought I would fall, but even as I swayed unsteadily MacLeod's hands were grabbing my shoulders and holding me upright. He drew back a little to look at me with concern and I took the opportunity to draw in several deep, reviving breaths.
"MacLeod?" I had my voice back if not my scattered wits. "What the hell?"
"You are allowed to kiss me back," he muttered wryly.
"Kiss? You want me to kiss you?" I managed stupidly.
"Bright boy!" Taunting me with my own words again. Mac had a bad habit of doing that. Still, he had suggested a way I might keep him quiet for a while...
I decided to accept Duncan's words at face value. Carefully I leaned forward and pressed my lips to Mac's. They opened to me and I felt as if my heart would tear itself apart inside me. I was kissing Duncan MacLeod and he was responding to me - not turning away in revulsion. Hesitantly I let the tip of my tongue touch his lips, mutely asking a question. An equally uncertain answer - MacLeod's tongue gently stealing out to stroke mine - it was all I needed to know.
I brought my arms up to hug him close to me and deepened the kiss at the same time. Duncan met my ardour with his own passion. I had expected further hesitancy, but there was none - at least when it came to kissing. It seemed that, misunderstandings aside, Duncan had no reservations about sharing this with me. And yes, he definitely knew how to kiss. I could see that there were more reasons than the blatantly obvious why Mac was never short of female company. His lips were soft, he tasted sweet... Oh yes, he was exquisitely talented with his mouth.
The thought of Duncan and women was enough to penetrate the haze of desire surrounding me. I paused and pulled back, thinking furiously. I was very definitely of the masculine persuasion and MacLeod had never shown any interest in his own gender before that I was aware of. That wasn't conclusive, but I had to know before this went any further what his motivations were. Did he genuinely want me, Methos, his decidedly male friend; or was this just intended as a sympathy fuck - a chance for me to get my feelings for MacLeod out of my system? It was just the kind of noble gesture Mac was given to making. And if that was all it was to him, I had no intention of taking him up on the offer.
It took every ounce of self-control I possessed, but I resisted MacLeod's efforts to draw me down into another kiss. My body was convinced even if my brain wasn't. Mac's expression was puzzled as I very deliberately broke free of his embrace, but he let me go and stood patiently watching me.
"Why?" I asked simply. I drew my arms close about my chest, trying to counteract the sudden chill I felt. Mac had been so warm, his natural body heat augmented by the warmth of the bath. I regretted the loss of that heat.
"I thought that was my question," he responded cautiously. I could see him trying to fathom out my unexpected withdrawal. MacLeod shook his head. "I'm not sure what you're really asking, Methos."
"I just want to know why, MacLeod; why did you do - that...?" I gestured with one hand, trying to encompass all that had passed between us in the past few minutes.
"Wasn't it what you wanted?" he asked, patently confused.
"Yes! Of course it was," I replied, exasperated. "And that's exactly my point! It was what I wanted - and you knew that perfectly well. What I'm more interested in is what you wanted. You've never given any indication you were after anything more than friendship from me up until five minutes ago. What kind of conclusions do you think that's going to lead me to draw?"
"Neither have you!" Duncan shot back at once. "But I'm not standing here questioning your sincerity. And while we're on that subject, forgive me for reminding you, Methos, but what about Alexa? It's not so long ago you were standing in my loft acting the lovestruck teenager over her. Where exactly does she fit into all this?"
"This isn't about me and Alexa, MacLeod..."
"Well maybe it should be."
He had a point, but I couldn't make myself see it that way. Alexa belonged with Adam Pierson, but right now that wasn't who I was. In the here and now I was Methos - a 5000 year old Immortal - and that was someone Alexa would never know and had no part of. As I saw it, it was Methos, not Adam, who had feelings for Duncan MacLeod, and consequently it was Methos who answered MacLeod's tacit accusation.
"No, this is just about you and me, Mac." I was quite clear on that fact in my own mind now. "Though while we're busy reminding ourselves about Alexa, I might just mention that you didn't exactly seem to be considering her when you launched yourself at me!"
"All right, fine, you've made your point, Methos. I'm sorry."
I nodded to acknowledge Duncan's apology before continuing, "But seeing as how you asked, yes, I do love Alexa. Or rather, Adam Pierson loves Alexa. No, don't look at me like that, MacLeod; Adam and Methos are, in a very real sense, two different people." Duncan was looking at me sceptically. "Trust me, it's the truth," I insisted, and was grateful he had no idea just *how* true it was.
"With Alexa everything is different. There are some things she can never know or understand, never share with me. If we had longer maybe I would tell her, but as things are... I can't take the risk of what the shock of finding out might do to her. You do know though, MacLeod, and just for a little while I need to be with someone who does... Look, does this make any kind of sense at all?"
"Mmm hmm, but tell me something else, Methos, exactly how long have you been in love with me?" There was a definite curiosity in Duncan's tone, but I was still feeling on the defensive.
"I never said I loved you..." MacLeod snorted inelegantly at this and I conceded the point - again. I threw up my hands in acknowledgement of defeat. "All right, all right!! Probably from the first moment I actually met you."
"How could you?" Duncan looked at me disbelievingly. "I'm a little too old to believe in love at first sight."
"And there was me thinking you were the soul of romance, MacLeod. I'm truly disappointed," I taunted him gently. Maybe he was right and there was no such thing as love at first sight, but I was a firm believer in lust at first sight. I'd been there a few times in my long life... "But don't forget I already knew quite a bit about you from your Chronicles, the kind of man you were. Being a Watcher has its advantages. It was only a matter of time before we met and I was already... Look, suffice to say I don't usually offer my head to strange Immortals on first meeting."
I didn't have to add that it was rare indeed for me to come out of hiding and make myself known to another Immortal, period. Mac knew that well enough without my reminding him.
"'Mi casa es su casa'," said Duncan with a remembering smile. "Though, judging by how much of my beer you've drunk since then, it should have been me who said that to you!"
"Yeah, maybe," I agreed with an answering smile. I'd never quite understood the impulse which led me to offer that to him. It had simply seemed - right - at the time. Actually, if my memory served me correctly, MacLeod had spoken those words to me - the first time I visited him in Seacouver. That wasn't important now, though, but something else was. "You still haven't answered my question, Mac."
"Which one?" His heavy, dark brows knit together in a frown.
"About what we were doing before," I reminded MacLeod. "Was that because you wanted it, or were you just doing it out of misguided pity for poor lovestruck Methos? Then again, maybe you saw it as payment for services rendered during the Dark Quickening?" I saw that I had genuinely shocked him this time.
"Methos, do you really think me that shallow - or callous?" The Scots burr was suddenly more pronounced in Duncan's voice. It often seemed to be a reaction to emotion with him, I'd observed.
"I'd hoped you weren't," I said softly. "But your reaction was so - unexpected. I didn't think..."
"No, you certainly didn't think, did you!" Mac grumbled affectionately. "Come here, you bloody idiot! What am I going to do with you, Methos?"
I could have made a few suggestions if he really wasn't sure, but Duncan moved close again and pulled me back into his arms before I could speak. I put up no resistance this time. It felt too good. I was still deeply aroused, but our conversation had given me time to regroup, and I was nowhere near as close to the edge as I had been. I let my own arms slide loosely around his waist and leaned forward to rest my forehead against MacLeod's. We stood that way for a long moment.
"What do you want, Methos?" Duncan asked at last.
"Isn't that painfully obvious?" I replied, still trying to make light of things. Emotional, as opposed to physical, closeness doesn't come easily to me, but Mac wasn't about to accept my evasiveness.
"Methos, if we're going to do this it's not going to be 'wham bam thank you ma'am'! You're too important to me for that," he persisted.
"You mean you don't want to have sex - you want to make love," I responded glibly. I really can be an insensitive idiot myself sometimes!
"Don't make a joke of this, Methos!" Duncan had unconsciously echoed my own protest from earlier and I realised then that I had angered him with my flippancy. At the same moment it also occurred to me that this meant far more to Mac than I had thought. Perhaps even as much as it meant to me - despite my rather sad efforts to prove otherwise. The realisation was a humbling one.
"I'm sorry, Mac." Simple words, but I really did mean them, and he knew that as he looked into my eyes. His expression softened; then Duncan gave me one of those beautiful smiles of his - the one that's so full of innocence and straightforward joy it makes him look about the same age as Richie.
"You can be yourself with me," Mac said softly. "In here you don't have to be Adam Pierson or anyone else but Methos, the world's oldest Immortal - whoever the hell he really is - no games, no disguises."
"Thank you, Duncan." I had only rarely used his first name before, but it seemed appropriate to do so now. His friends all called him Mac, and so did I usually. The change was somehow indicative of this step we had taken and appeared to please him, too.
Continued in part two