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 1999.

This story is unbetaed, consequently, any errors are mine - mea culpa.

Author's note - This story takes place between "The Messenger" and "The Valkyrie".

HOW LONG?

by Karen Colohan (copyright May 1999)

The slow winding down of a lazy summer Sunday afternoon found two restless Immortals sprawled across chairs in Duncan MacLeod's Seacouver loft. Or, to be more precise, Mac was slumped in a chair while his current houseguest, Methos, lay full-length in a possessive sprawl across the couch.

Methos had been around and about Seacouver for a while now, though he'd gone to ground briefly after Mac's set to with Culbraith and the whole fiasco with the 'other' Methos. A few days earlier he'd popped up again out of the blue as if he'd never been away. Mac had been glad enough of the company - Richie was still out of town looking for answers to the questions which had been raised when he laid down his sword - to once again let Methos crash at the loft. It was pleasant to have someone else around the place, even if beer consumption did more than double when the oldest Immortal was in residence!

Duncan finally gave up any pretence of actually reading the book in his hands. He had been holding it without seeing a single word on its pages for the better part of twenty minutes. The need to do something more physical was making him too edgy to concentrate enough to read.

The movement as Mac set the book aside caught Methos' attention and he looked up from the journal he had been reading. It hadn't really been holding his interest and any distraction was welcome. He glanced across at the Highlander and saw his own restlessness mirrored on Mac's face.

"You feel like sparring?" asked Duncan as he noticed Methos' eyes on him.

"Yeah, good idea," agreed the older Immortal. "I think we both have excess energy to burn off here!"

"It's times like these I wish Amanda were in town," muttered Mac with a rueful grin. Yeah, she'd soon find a good use for all his pent up energy! "Oh, not that I don't appreciate having you around, Methos," Duncan added quickly as he realised just how tactless his last comment had sounded.

It also suddenly occurred to Duncan that Alexa's death still wasn't all that far in the past. He hoped his thoughtless remark about Amanda wouldn't remind the old man of his loss. Mac knew how long he'd grieved for Tessa, and certainly Methos had not shown any inclination to go looking for another relationship yet. For that matter, as far as Mac knew, the old Immortal hadn't even indulged in any casual encounters since then. Not that that ever seemed to have been Methos' style, so far as Duncan could tell. All in all, though, it was quite possible Methos did indeed have some pent up energies of his own to release.

If Methos was at all put out by Duncan's comment he didn't show it. He merely smiled indulgently at the Highlander. "I'm sure you could find a suitable substitute in your little black book if you needed to, Mac," Methos teased. "You have an amazing propensity to collect women wherever you go."

"Methos, I do not!" protested Duncan. He watched as the old Immortal effortlessly collected himself from his sprawl and climbed to his feet.

"Oh no? You obviously haven't been paying close enough attention, then." Methos ignored the indignant spluttering coming from behind him as he collected up his sword and some workout clothes. "All you have to do is flutter your eyelashes and every female within a hundred yard radius is ready to fall at your feet! I don't know how you do it."

And I'd be ready to fall right along with them, Methos thought ruefully. Not that you'd ever notice if I did... Damn, why did I start this? The last thing I want to be reminded about is Mac's way with women!

"So," Methos continued aloud, "are we sparring or not?" He glanced back over his shoulder as he headed for the stairs, but didn't wait to see if Duncan would reply.

Mac stared after the retreating Immortal, speechless. He wasn't really that much of a womaniser - was he? Mac considered it for a moment more and then decided the whole thing was just one of Methos' little jokes. Putting it out of his mind Duncan grabbed his own gear and followed the other Immortal down to the dojo.

By the time Mac came downstairs Methos had already changed into a pair of old sweatpants and a sleeveless T-shirt. He took no notice of Duncan as he concentrated instead on his warm up.

Mac watched Methos out of the corner of his eye as he quickly changed into his own workout clothes. It was all too easy to underestimate the old Immortal's level of fitness if you saw him in his habitual uniform of baggy sweaters and old jeans. No doubt that was intentional, thought Mac, but as he watched Methos glide through a series of stretches Duncan was reminded yet again how foolish it was to ever take him at face value. The broad shoulders and finely drawn muscles were a testament to Methos' strength and agility.

Suddenly realising that he was staring at the other Immortal, Duncan hurriedly finished getting ready. He moved out into the centre of the dojo and smoothly ran through his own warm up routine.

Finished with his own exercises Methos waited patiently for Duncan. It gave him the chance to observe Mac in his turn. Methos idly wondered why he insisted on tormenting himself like this. Simply watching the grace and power of Duncan's moves was enough to speed up Methos' pulse rate appreciably. Gods, the man was beautiful! And utterly unattainable, Methos reminded himself sadly. Damn it, but he was pathetic! He really should stop turning up on MacLeod's doorstep like this, waiting to be allowed to share his personal space for a few brief days.

Then again, wasn't it worth it for the rare moments like these? The times when Methos could watch that glorious body moving with such sensual grace and imagine that one day it would be his to claim...

Methos pulled himself abruptly out of the pleasant fantasy as he realised the object of it was now standing just a short distance away from him. Mac was waving a hand in front of Methos' face, trying to attract his attention.

"Earth to Methos, you still with us, old man?" enquired Duncan caustically. "If you really don't want to do this, we don't have to."

"Sorry, Mac, I was miles away," Methos apologised with a faint smile. "It comes to the best of us when you get to my age." The slight lift of Methos' brows invited Duncan to share the joke.

Mac duly obliged, grinning back at Methos. He clapped the other Immortal on the shoulder. "If reminding me how old you are is a ploy to get me to go easy on you, it won't work! Come on, but you'd better concentrate harder than that or this is going to be the shortest spar on record."

"Can't wait to knock me on my bum again, eh?" needled Methos and Duncan laughed.

The two Immortals moved out onto the dojo floor. They gave slight bows of respect and acknowledgement, then took up their defensive stances. The spar began slowly, each man cautiously circling the other, testing and assessing. They'd sparred a number of times before, but neither of them made assumptions based on those earlier encounters. This might not be a serious fight, but both Immortals were competitive and neither relished the idea of losing.

The ring of steel on steel broke the quiet of the dojo as Duncan was the first to step up the pace. A flurry of blows ensued as Mac tested out Methos' reflexes. They were more than up to the task of parrying everything Duncan threw at him. Methos was now one hundred percent focused. His earlier inattention had vanished as he effortlessly countered each of Duncan's lightning fast moves.
Duncan drew back for a moment and the two men resumed their feral circling. They were both breathing a little harder now from the exertion. Each set of eyes followed the other's movements with total concentration. A few more testing attacks were ventured on each side, easily blocked.

Next it was Methos' turn to try and catch his opponent off guard. He danced in closer, the Ivanhoe tangling with the katana's blade as he attempted to disarm Duncan. Methos crowded his adversary, trying to use his body weight to knock Mac off balance, but Mac planted his feet squarely and resisted the attempt. His heavier, sturdier frame worked to his advantage against Methos' slighter build and Duncan was able to shove Methos away. A shower of sparks marked the slide of blade along blade as they disengaged.

Both men were sweating profusely now from the sheer physicality of the bout. They circled one another warily again, their faces set in determined expressions. They were evenly matched in skill and strength - Duncan's more powerful muscles countered by Methos' greater agility - and it was by no means certain which of them would run out the eventual winner. Dark eyes suddenly locked on clear hazel and a new challenge was issued and accepted.

Between one heartbeat and the next the level of intensity went up noticeably. By unspoken agreement the stakes had been raised. It had all become deadly serious. Neither could have said why, if pressed, but the edge of competitiveness manifested itself and both men were more determined than ever to come out of this contest the victor. There was still no question of either of them trying for the other's head, but anything short of that was fair game. It was certainly no longer just a simple spar designed to lift the boredom of a too long afternoon!

The deadly dance continued. Both men lost track of time as everything narrowed down to the clash of steel on steel and the strain of bodies pushed to their limits. Each man probed unmercifully for the other's weak spots. There weren't many to be found, but minor hits were scored on both sides. Slight nicks and scratches were inflicted and ignored as they quickly healed.

Through it all not a single word was spoken. Not that the dojo was silent. The sharp ringing of blades engaging was almost constant now. Both men were done testing their opponent and kept up a barrage of blows. The pace was starting to take its toll, though, and the harsh sound of laboured breathing also filled the dojo.

Gradually the attacks became less controlled, more ferocious, as each man strove for dominance before exhaustion overtook them. Defences were sloppier too as both became more careless in their single-minded quest for victory. Stopping, or calling the match a tie, was never an option. They were running on pure adrenalin, now.

Methos unleashed a furious back-handed swing which Duncan easily blocked with the katana's blade. The force of the contact was enough to knock both of them off balance, though. Methos stumbled backwards, the weight of the Ivanhoe preventing him from recovering as quickly as he would have liked.

Duncan's momentum carried him forward and he seized the opening which suddenly presented itself. The katana thrust low under Methos' blade and seated itself deep in the old Immortal's guts.

A gasp of surprise escaped Methos' throat as he realised the severity of the blow he'd taken. The Ivanhoe slipped from suddenly nerveless fingers as Methos dropped to the dojo's polished floor. His T-shirt quickly bloomed red with blood. Startled hazel eyes met concerned brown as the fierce concentration which had held both men in thrall slid away as abruptly as it had come.

"Shit!" hissed Duncan as he carefully pulled the katana free of Methos' body. He dropped the sword as if it burned him and hurriedly knelt at Methos' side. "Methos, I'm sorry. It was never meant to get that serious."

"Tell me about it," muttered the old Immortal weakly as he pressed an ineffectual hand to his belly, trying to staunch the bleeding. "Sorry about the floor," Methos added in a fading whisper as death claimed him.

Mac hurled angry curses into the empty air. What the hell, this was only supposed to be a spar, a way of working off a bit of tension! How had it got so badly out of hand? He'd certainly never meant to kill Methos - and the realisation that he had done so left Mac sick to his stomach. Damn it, the old man was his friend, but when it came down to it Methos had been every bit as intent as he had. The fight had by no means been one-sided. For now, though, Mac put aside consideration of what had turned their encounter so deadly serious in favour of taking care of Methos.

He was still trying to figure out how to manoeuvre six foot of lanky Immortal up to the loft when a sudden intake of breath announced Methos' revival. Methos coughed as the air hit his lungs and then looked around, momentarily disorientated. Finally he focused on Duncan, who was hovering over him worriedly.

"Still here, Highlander?" Methos murmured tiredly. "Thought you'd at least have had the decency to go get me a beer after killing me."

"Actually, I was trying to work out how to carry you upstairs," admitted Duncan. "You're a bit too heavy to sling over my shoulder."

Methos snorted inelegantly, rapidly returning to his usual acerbic self. "Well, I can't quite see me as Jane to your Tarzan, anyway," he quipped.

Duncan laughed at the mental images that evoked, then clambered to his feet. He reached down and offered a hand to Methos who grasped it and allowed himself to be pulled upright.

"Thanks," said Methos, "I think I can manage under my own steam now... Whoops!" As if to give the lie to his words, a wave of dizziness swept over Methos and he swayed unsteadily. Perhaps he wasn't quite as well recovered as he'd like to think!

As Methos slumped heavily against him, Duncan slid an arm around the old Immortal's shoulders to support him. Mac was startled when he felt Methos immediately flinch away from the touch, moving to stand as best he could on his own. Was the old man angry with him for what had happened during the spar? Did he think Duncan had administered the killing blow deliberately? While Mac could not entirely blame Methos for feeling uneasy around him, nevertheless he let his hurt at the rejection of his help show in his eyes. Duncan looked across at Methos, but the old Immortal wouldn't meet his gaze.

"Methos, I'm sorry. I didn't mean..." Mac began, hoping to defuse the situation before it deteriorated any further.

"I know you didn't, Mac," replied Methos tiredly. He hugged his arms tightly around himself as if he were cold. "I'm just feeling a bit sensitive at the moment. It's nothing you did. Gods, I hate dying..." Methos let his words trail off as he finally forced his feet to move.

The old Immortal slowly made his way across the dojo to the lift, feeling every one of his 5000 years weighing him down. Nothing you did, Mac, well, that's not entirely true... Damn it, I should know better than to spar with you! It always gets me so bloody horny! Methos laughed at himself, silently mocking as his sweatpants abraded his swollen cock with every step he took. It served him damn well right!

Duncan watched Methos' slow progress to the lift with puzzled eyes. God alone knew what was eating the old man, but he wouldn't find out what it was if he stayed down here. Mac reached down and gathered up the two fallen swords - any other tidying up could wait until later - and hurried after Methos. He crowded into the lift behind him and pulled down the gate.

When they reached the level of the loft Methos couldn't get the gate open fast enough. The proximity to Duncan was killing him all over again in his current state. The clean, astringent scent of Mac's sweat was almost overwhelmingly arousing. If he didn't put some distance between them, Methos knew he was going to jump the Highlander and damn the consequences!

To buy himself a little time Methos headed for the fridge and pulled out a couple of bottles of beer. He tossed one to Duncan who caught it wordlessly, but made no move to open it. Methos pressed his own bottle to his overheated forehead, enjoying its coolness on his skin. It did nothing to reduce the heat pooled at his groin, though.

Automatically, Methos removed the bottle cap and flipped it on top of the fridge. He took several long swallows of the cool liquid, letting it wash away the residual taste of blood from his throat.

Methos hadn't been exaggerating when he said he hated dying. It didn't matter that he knew intellectually that he would be coming back. There was always that visceral fear that this might be the time his luck ran out - and the feeling only increased the older he got. Methos was very attached to his continuing existence. The relief each time he woke to find he'd cheated death yet again was frequently enough to have his body reacting. Waking to find a clearly concerned Duncan MacLeod bent over him had sent Methos' hormones into orbit, and they hadn't come down yet.

Duncan watched the other Immortal's agitated behaviour with a frown. Methos didn't seem to want to even acknowledge his presence. Duncan put down the untouched beer and the two swords and carefully approached Methos. He saw the muscles in the old man's back tense as Methos heard his steps close behind him.

"Tell me what's wrong," Duncan begged softly.

"Leave me alone, MacLeod, this has nothing to do with you." Methos kept his back turned. His voice sounded impossibly old and tired.

"The hell it doesn't!" snapped Duncan, suddenly angry at Methos' evasiveness. They were supposed to be friends, damn it, but apparently Methos wasn't prepared to trust him even a little. "You said this wasn't about the spar, but it sure as hell has something to do with me. Since when have you been afraid to look me in the eye, hm?"

The sudden burst of laughter startled Duncan. There was no humour in it, though, and it raised goosebumps on Mac's rapidly cooling skin.

"Get over yourself, MacLeod, not everything in this world revolves around you," snorted Methos caustically. Maybe if he could just get Mac angry enough he'd storm out in a fit of righteous indignation, thought Methos hopefully. That would give him the time and space he needed to deal with his problem.

The plan didn't seem to be working, though. Instead of the lift gate slamming down, all Methos heard was Duncan's steady breathing just inches away from him.

"I don't believe you, Methos," said Mac softly. "If this has nothing to do with me why won't you look me in the eye and tell me that?"

"Damn you, Mac, don't you ever know when to leave something alone?"

There was a faint note of desperation in Methos' voice and it had Duncan more determined than ever to find out just what was going on with the old Immortal. Tentatively he reached out and laid a hand on Methos' shoulder, testing a theory. Duncan felt the shudder that ran through the old Immortal before he suppressed the reaction. His muscles tensed visibly under the sweat-dampened T-shirt. The involuntary response gave the lie to Methos' assertion that whatever was troubling him had nothing to do with Duncan, at any rate.

"Methos, talk to me..." Mac didn't remove his hand. He was almost afraid that if he broke the physical connection Methos would simply snatch up his things and leave. His whole demeanour was that of a man poised for flight. Mac felt the muscles ripple under his palm as Methos drew in a deep breath and slowly forced himself to relax as he released it.

"You really want to know what this is about?" Methos asked, his voice strangely detached.

"Yes," said Duncan forcefully.

"All right..." Slowly Methos turned. His eyes were dark and unfathomable as he finally met Duncan's gaze. It took Mac a moment to realise the effect was due to the dilation of Methos' pupils.

There was a faint self-mocking smile playing about Methos' lips. Without saying another word he reached up and caught hold of Duncan's hand where it still rested on his shoulder. Carefully, he drew it down between them. When Mac opened his mouth to ask what Methos was doing, the old Immortal shook his head. Duncan subsided, letting Methos do this his way.

Methos' smile broadened as he watched Mac hold his tongue. Well, the Highlander would have plenty to say soon enough. He might as well enjoy the peace while it lasted. Methos flattened his hand across the back of Duncan's, straightening Mac's fingers. Then Methos took a single step forward, pushing Mac's spread palm firmly against his groin at the same moment.

Duncan's fingers tensed instinctively and he suddenly found himself grasping Methos' not inconsiderable erection through the flimsy barrier of the old Immortal's sweatpants. Solid flesh and heat filled his palm and Duncan's eyes widened in wonder as the reason for Methos' odd behaviour was abruptly made apparent to him. This was what Methos had been afraid of revealing? But why...?

"Methos..." he began, but the other Immortal interrupted him before he could say any more.

"Whatever you do, Mac, don't give me the 'it's all right, we can still be friends' routine. I can handle anything but that!" Methos growled. "And I don't need your pity, either. I already know I'm a pathetic old fool for lusting after the heroically heterosexual Duncan MacLeod."

"I wasn't about to do either of those," Duncan snapped back, stung that Methos would have such a low opinion of him.

"Whatever," Methos shook his head impatiently, "I can be packed and out of here in ten minutes if you'll just..."

The flow of words was abruptly cut off as Methos became aware of Duncan's fingers tightening their grip on him. He felt exceedingly vulnerable as Mac glared at him furiously. Damn, he should know better than to let his hormones have control of his brain! It always led to trouble.

"You're right about one thing, Methos," hissed Duncan angrily. "You certainly are a fool."

"Fine, now if you're quite finished with the insults will you please let me go, MacLeod!" Methos was beginning to panic a little. He hadn't expected Mac to be quite so angry. Treacherously, though, Methos found his cock reacting to the fear by getting harder. Damn it, didn't it have the sense it was born with?

Mac crowded closer to Methos, forcing him backwards until his back fetched up against the door of the fridge. Methos had nowhere else to go and Mac studiously ignored his protests about the feeling of the cold metal against his sweaty skin.

"How long?" Mac growled over the rote complaints. "How long have you been hiding this from me, Methos?"

Methos stopped talking and swallowed hard. He didn't know why it mattered to Mac. Hadn't he been humiliated enough already? Ah, fuck it, he might as well give MacLeod the truth and let him chew on that!

"You're not really that naive, are you?" Methos tried for a lightness of tone that was hard to achieve with Duncan's meaty hand still gripped tightly around the second most vulnerable portion of his anatomy. "Surely you must have guessed? I turn up on your doorstep far too often for it to be mere chance..."

"How long?" Mac was insistent, his dark eyes stormy.

Methos laughed nervously. "I've wanted you from the first moment I laid eyes on you, Highlander."

Abruptly Duncan released him, turning his back on Methos and prowling across the loft agitatedly. "How could you have kept this from me?"

"And there was me thinking I'd made it pretty obvious to anyone with eyes to see..." Methos sighed. "Look, if it makes you that uncomfortable I'll get my things and go check into a hotel." Oh yeah, this had gone really well. "Damn it, I should have kept my mouth shut!"

"No, Methos, you should have told me a long time ago. Didn't I have a right to know?" Duncan looked back over his shoulder at Methos who hadn't moved at all. He was still backed up against the fridge, in spite of his earlier complaints. His eyes were wide and his cheeks flushed.

"Bloody hell, MacLeod, my feelings were my business," Methos snapped. How dare Duncan lecture him and try to make him feel guilty about this! "Besides, I don't think you really wanted to know. You only found out five minutes ago and now you can't even bear to touch me. It's not contagious, Mac!"

"You don't have a lot of faith in me, do you?"

Mac stalked over to Methos. His eyes were still angry, but there was a sadness evident in his voice.

Methos shrugged. "You're not giving me much of a reason to."

"That's hardly fair," protested Duncan.

"Mac," said Methos tiredly, "I don't want to fight about this. We've done quite enough fighting for one day, don't you think? Suffice to say I never meant to screw up our friendship over something this stupid."

"Is that what you think?"

"What?"

"That our friendship has been damaged by this?" There was an edge to Duncan's tone that had Methos eyeing him cautiously.

"Well, hasn't it?" he asked neutrally.

"Damn you, Methos!"

And then Duncan was invading Methos' personal space. Before the old Immortal could react Mac's hands were planted squarely on the fridge door, one either side of Methos' head. Methos found himself effectively trapped as Duncan pushed closer. Then their bodies were in contact all along their length and Methos gasped as he felt a hardness matching his own pressing into his hip.

Duncan took advantage of the involuntary parting of Methos' lips. His own mouth covered the old Immortal's, silencing any protests before they could be made. The surprisingly soft lips moved against Duncan's and he suddenly realised Methos wasn't protesting, but kissing him back hungrily. Joyfully, Mac met Methos' enthusiasm with his own eagerness. He thrust his tongue deep into the moist heat of Methos' mouth, exploring roughly.

Finally Methos managed to pull free of the unexpected but far from unwelcome kiss. He was breathing harshly. "Whoa, Mac, slow down! What's the rush?"

"I don't know. Maybe I'm afraid you'll change your mind about this now you know the feeling is mutual," panted Duncan. His hand stole to Methos' cheek, caressing it softly.

"And you let me think... You bastard, Duncan! I went through hell..."

Methos shook his head, the movement brushing his face against Mac's calloused palm. It felt good and did much to take away the sting of knowing that all his agonising over his feelings for Mac had been unnecessary. What a prize pair of idiots they were, each of them afraid of upsetting the fragile balance of their relationship by speaking out of turn. How much time had they wasted? That thought drew Methos' eyes back to Duncan's.

"How long?" Methos asked, echoing Duncan's own earlier question to him.

Mac smiled ruefully as he pulled Methos tight against him again, letting the old man relish the physical evidence of Duncan's need for him. "Feels like forever, Methos," he replied softly. "It feels like forever."

THE END

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