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 July 1999.

With thanks to Margaret for much patient betaing! This story is much better than it would have been as a result.

THE QUESTION

Part One

Duncan MacLeod stood nursing a half-drunk glass of champagne. His fingers idly played with the stem, turning the glass between his hands as he stared moodily out of one of the barge's portholes. It was late and the night-time view of Paris outside was impressive, but Mac didn't really see it. His mind was elsewhere, lost deep in his own thoughts. All things considered, it had been a hell of a day.

First of all, Amanda had breezed into town. She had, quite literally, swept Mac off his feet and treated him to the most mind-blowing sex he'd had in a very long time. Mac was convinced he could still feel the resonance of that orgasm in his bones even now! While he'd been struggling to regain his composure, though, Amanda had been up and dressing, ready to leave for the airport. It was hardly Mac's idea of the perfect post-coital experience, but that was Amanda for you. She had been gone before Mac had even had time to catch his breath.

After that it had been downhill all the way. Amanda hadn't made her flight. Her cries had cleared Mac's head all too quickly, but by the time he had scrambled out onto the quai all that was left was her sword and, incongruously, a beer mat. As soon as Mac saw the sign of The Light Horse, clearly left for him to find, he had known who had taken Amanda. Liam O'Rourke.

O'Rourke had been out for revenge for Mac's part in the long imprisonment he and his mortal lover Tara had endured. Taking Amanda was both a threat and a challenge. Mac wasn't prepared to leave it unanswered. In search of whatever help and information he could find Mac had quickly made his way to Le Blues Bar and Joe Dawson's Watcher resources. Joe had recognised the significance of the beer mat and the Immortal behind Amanda's abduction just as surely as Mac had.

As a result of his trip to Joe's Mac had also found support from another, unexpected, source. It was the first time he'd run into Methos in a very long time and Mac had found himself glad of the old man's presence, even if they were still a little wary with one another. What had surprised and warmed Mac, though, had been Methos' insistence on coming with him to help him look for Amanda.

Their first stop had been the barge and straight away things had gone from bad to worse. They had been greeted with another beer mat, and another message. O'Rourke had set the time and place for his meeting with MacLeod - and he'd also taken another hostage to ensure Mac's co- operation. This beer mat was from Le Blues Bar and Joe the second pawn to be played in O'Rourke's strategy.

Mac had been all too ready to follow the rules of O'Rourke's game, prepared to play the hero whatever the cost. Methos' frustration at Mac's willingness to be a martyr had given way first to helpless anger and finally to a weary resignation. Mac had known it was a trap, but it didn't matter to him. Richie Ryan's untimely death at his hands had cast a long shadow over Mac's life. He was determined not to let any more of his friends die because of his actions.

In the end, Methos had accepted the inevitable and bade Mac goodbye. The unthinking finality of that single word had shocked Mac more than he had let on. It had been chilling to realise Methos really didn't expect to see him alive again. Methos' seeming lack of faith in him hurt, even though Mac knew the old Immortal had read his state of mind accurately. But a part of him balked at letting that assessment stand; to do so would be to acknowledge the feeling that in some strange way he had failed his friend. Uncomfortable with that revelation, Mac had merely asked the old Immortal if he hadn't meant to wish him good luck instead. Methos had accepted the correction, for all they both knew it rang false, and his eyes had remained unreadable as he watched Mac leave.

When the confrontation came, it was entirely predictable that O'Rourke would use Mac's inherent protective streak against him. A threat to Joe's life was enough for Mac to offer his own in exchange. The mortal had been appalled that Mac was agreeing to give up his head without a fight, but Mac had been insistent. No more of his friends would suffer and die because of him.

Fortunately for MacLeod, Methos had decided he wasn't ready to let Mac be a martyr just yet. As much as he might insist he only ever looked out for number one, the old Immortal had a track record of intervening on Mac's behalf. Methos' timely appearance might have got Mac shot, but it also got him to safety, at least temporarily.

Mac still couldn't explain what had happened next. He had no idea if it had been a dream, an hallucination or some other esoteric phenomenon. All he knew was that he had suddenly found himself in the company of Hugh Fitzcairn, now apparently an angel. Fitz, it seemed, had been sent to take him on a tour through a world which had never known the presence of Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.

It hadn't been a pretty vision. Every one of his friends had lost something by not having him in their lives, or so it seemed. Apparently, Mac's influence had done more for them than he had ever realised. It had been a sobering experience for the Highlander, whose first instinct had so often been to count his life as secondary to others'. What if his tendency to act first and think later had got him killed before he'd met them? Was it possible they really could have been harmed so much?

As he finally revived, with not an angel but a worried Methos bending over him, Mac had been thoroughly disorientated. Methos had eventually managed to ground Mac back in reality and had been relieved to find the Highlander seemed to have got over his suicidal inclinations. Indeed, with what Fitz had shown him clear in his mind Mac was now determined to defeat O'Rourke and get all of them out alive, himself included.

A little subterfuge and a Quickening later, O'Rourke was dead and Joe and Amanda were safe. Yet Mac had found he was still in a strangely subdued mood. His mind kept going over the visions Fitz had shown him, disturbed by their implications. In the end Mac had made a decision. He needed to get away. He didn't know for how long, but he knew he had some serious thinking to do and he wasn't sure he could do it in Paris or Seacouver.

It wasn't in Mac's nature, though, to simply disappear as Methos so often did. He didn't want to tell his friends he was leaving them, worried that they might try and stop him from going. However, Mac did want to say his goodbyes. An impromptu celebration at the barge had seemed like the perfect opportunity to say what he needed to say to them. So Mac had invited the other three to join him there after they'd all taken the time to draw breath and clean themselves up.

As a celebratory bottle of champagne was opened and good natured toasts proposed all round Mac had done his best to behave normally. He had never been very good at keeping his feelings from showing on his face, though. Mac became acutely aware of a rising tension amongst his friends as he struggled to find the right words to say to each of them.

They all had the uncomfortable sense that Mac might be bidding them farewell for good.

Joe had been the most direct in his response. Perhaps it wasn't surprising since he was the only mortal among them; the one who couldn't afford to wait indefinitely. Just before he left he had hugged MacLeod and told him softly that he couldn't imagine his life without Mac in it and that he didn't want to. Mac had been unable to find an answer for his Watcher. He had simply returned the hug and watched as Joe made his careful way off the barge.

Amanda had taken her leave soon after that. Mac had no regrets about having told her that he loved her; he'd meant every word he'd said to her. Nevertheless, he'd had no illusions about it changing Amanda's already delayed travel plans. Commitment had never been a word that featured prominently in Amanda's vocabulary, but for all that, Mac knew his love was returned and that was enough.
Which brought Mac to his last remaining guest. Perhaps the most problematic of his three friends. Mac still wasn't entirely sure about the words he had said to Methos earlier. When he thought back on them he realised just how awkward they'd sounded. You know, I don't know who or what you are, Methos. And I know you don't want to hear this... God, when he contrasted that with the warmth of the words he'd spoken to Joe and Amanda... Mac found himself surprised that Methos had stayed at all after that little speech. Although, when he thought about it, Mac realised Methos had been uncharacteristically quiet since.

In truth, Mac was grateful Methos had stayed. He welcomed the company, even if the old man wasn't saying much. The vision Fitz had shown him, as well as the events surrounding it, still troubled Mac. O'Rourke's Quickening seemed to have settled, but Mac wasn't entirely sure he would have been comfortable being alone right now. As he continued to stare out at the night shrouded river Mac could feel himself start to slip into the clutches of a major brood.

In an effort to dispel his dark mood Mac took another sip of his champagne. It had gone flat and tasted bitter. All in all, it seemed an apt metaphor for the way he was feeling at the moment, Mac decided. Looking for a distraction, Mac glanced over his shoulder at the man sprawled on his couch, to discover that Methos was watching him in turn, eyes narrowed.

Mac could sense that the old man had something to say to him, but apparently he hadn't quite figured out how he wanted to say it yet. No doubt it would be another lecture on the stupidity of his actions today, Mac thought ruefully. All things considered, he probably deserved it. Yet again Methos had put his own neck on the line for him and for what? A handful of words that didn't even begin to convey Mac's gratitude for all the things Methos had done for him. Why was it so hard to tell Methos how much he appreciated his friendship? How important it had been for him to have the old Immortal in his life.

In truth, Mac wasn't sure what had prompted Methos to come after him. They had hardly parted on the best of terms the last time they'd seen one another. It had been right after the not so small matter of Richie's death. Methos had adamantly refused to act on Mac's desperate request that he should take his head. It had been a very dark time all round and Mac had later learned from Joe that Methos had subsequently gone to ground for a very long time.

After Ahriman had been defeated and Mac had found himself on the slow road back to normality, he had kept expecting Methos to turn up on his doorstep one day in the old familiar way. But the old Immortal hadn't come, and eventually Mac had begun to wonder if Methos had finally given up on him and their increasingly fragile friendship. It had hurt far more than Mac ever would have expected.

He'd had enough time to realise that he missed the easy camaraderie he'd shared with Methos. Frankly, Mac had missed the old man full stop. Sometimes he had irritated the hell out of him, it was true, but Methos had always made sure Mac hadn't taken himself too seriously. He had made him laugh and made him think. Methos challenged him in a hundred different ways and Mac had come to appreciate the lessons Methos had tried, in his own way, to teach him - even if they had sometimes taken a long while to sink in.

Hence the somewhat awkward words he'd said to Methos earlier. Mac wondered if Methos had really understood what he had, rather clumsily, been trying to say. Perhaps he was about to find out, as the the old Immortal finally opened his mouth.

"You know, I've been trying to figure something out," observed Methos casually.

"Oh?" Mac was equally diffident.

Mac still wasn't entirely sure where he stood with the old man. He had been a little surprised when, shortly before Amanda's departure, Methos had cautiously broached the subject of crashing at the barge overnight. At the same time, Mac had been pleased that Methos had asked. Up until that point, Mac hadn't been certain if even that much of their friendship remained. The combined trials of the Horsemen, Byron and Richie's death and its aftermath had been a pretty severe test, though Mac considered the evidence of the past hours encouraging.

Now Methos was regarding Mac consideringly as he continued, "Yeah, I wondered... Was that an apology, of sorts, that I got from you earlier?"

Mac knew Methos was referring to his little speech. "I guess... maybe I was hoping you'd accept it as such," he admitted. Mac had indeed hoped the old Immortal would take it as an olive branch. He wanted the chance to put things right between them.

Methos pursed his lips and sprawled deeper into the couch cushions. Unexpectedly, a smile lit his features. "Well, well, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod actually admits that he doesn't know everything and apologises for it - all in one day... And they told me miracles didn't happen any more!"

"Don't push it, Methos," Mac growled. "If you're not careful I just might take it back." Inside, Mac felt his heart lightening. The sudden lifting of his companion's mood was a relief. There might still be issues to be resolved between them, but it seemed as though their friendship was on the road to recovery.

Methos grinned again unrepentantly, but then sobered abruptly. "Seriously, though, Mac, I know you could never have let anything happen to Joe and Amanda, but I'm glad things worked out the way they did today."

"Me too," Mac agreed fervently. In truth, he was glad that between them they had found a solution which had left him and all his friends alive. Even if it had necessitated bending the rules a little. When it came down to it, Mac really wasn't ready to die just yet. Which thought reminded him of one small point. "Even if certain people do go right ahead and do the exact opposite of what they've been told to do!"

"What can I say?" Methos shrugged expressively. "I've never been good at following orders. Besides, you are too important to lose!"

"Says who?" enquired Mac sceptically. He had never understood Methos' repeated insistence on this particular point.

Methos sighed, shaking his head in mock despair. "Have a little faith, MacLeod! Says me, Joe and Amanda for starters! Then try adding to that anyone else who's ever been your friend."

"Including the ones who are dead because of me?" asked Mac darkly. He felt suddenly uncomfortable. Methos' words came too close to reflecting what Fitz had shown him...

"Mac, don't..." Methos looked pained. "Now is not the time - please. No one who was important to you died or came to any harm today. Yes, a bitter man lost his head, but that was probably for the best. Joe and Amanda are both fine and they still love you for the boy scout that you are. Don't start tearing yourself apart again over things that are finished; things you can't change."

Accept, move on - the Methos mantra... and the lesson Mac had earlier claimed to have learned.

"I'm sorry, Methos, you're right. All the wishing in the world can't change what's in the past." Mac closed his eyes and drew in a long, steadying breath. "It's just - well, after what happened I guess I'm still feeling a little ragged around the edges, you know. Things got a little tense for a while there."

"You don't have to explain it to me. It's OK; I understand." Methos' calm voice soothed Mac, until he added, abruptly, "Are you sure it's all right for me to crash here tonight? I wouldn't want to think I was getting in the way. If you need some privacy. You and Amanda..."

"Have said all that needed to be said," Mac interrupted firmly. He opened his eyes and turned to face Methos, who was looking at him doubtfully. "Really, Methos, she had to go. Thanks to O'Rourke she'd already missed one flight. I got the distinct impression she didn't want to miss another. You didn't stop Amanda from staying, so take your own advice and stop worrying about it."

"As long as you're sure." There was still a note of uncertainty in Methos' voice.

"Yeah, I am. Trust me, if Amanda hadn't wanted you here she'd have let you know. Subtlety isn't her strong suit."

That was a fact Methos well remembered from Amanda's territorial display right here in the barge after the Stephen Keane incident. She had made her wishes very clear on that occasion.

"Anyway," Mac continued, "I'm glad you're here. It's been too long. And, in spite of what I said, I am grateful for what you did today. I guess - well, I guess I'm not ready to die just yet."

"You're learning," said Methos, a genuine smile curving his lips.

"Yeah, how does it go?" Mac grinned back. "Oh yes, 'live, grow stronger...'"

"'...fight another day.'" They chorused the final words in unison.

The friendly banter did much to dispel the lingering shadows of the day's events. Mac and Methos smiled at one another again, toasting each other with what remained of the champagne in their glasses.

"OK, OK," Methos grumbled good-naturedly. "It might not seem like much as the wisdom of ages goes, but it's kept me alive for the last 5,000 years."

"Yeah, guess I shouldn't knock it then, should I," Mac conceded. "Y'know, I meant what I said tonight, Methos. I still don't really know who you are. I wish I did, but..."

Methos rolled his eyes. "I'm your friend, Mac," he interrupted, not giving Mac the chance to get too serious again. "Isn't that really all you need to know? After all, where's the fun in being a myth if you don't get to be at least a little enigmatic, hm? Besides," Methos gave a soft, self-mocking laugh and then lowered his voice conspiratorially, "women really go for the whole man of mystery thing, you know. Maybe you should try it sometime. Oh, but I forgot, you don't need to give them any encouragement, do you? The exploits of Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod are legendary!" Methos leered.

"Knock it off!" Mac shook his head in exasperation. It was a typical Methos ploy, he thought, to deflect attention elsewhere when he strayed too close to territory the old Immortal was uncomfortable with. Intent on not letting Methos get away with the tactic this time, Mac let his mouth get ahead of his brain as he continued. "Man of mystery," he snorted. "As if you actually need that. I've seen the looks you get when we're at Joe's. You could have practically half the women in the bar eating out of your hand with just a word... and not a few of the men too. Hell, even I've... Oh!"

Mac suddenly realised just where his inattention was leading him and he stopped speaking abruptly. He gave a half-embarrassed smile as he looked across at Methos. The old Immortal was staring at him in wide-eyed disbelief. Mac wasn't sure if his reaction was born of horror or simple shock. After all, it wasn't every day Mac announced that he'd noticed other men eyeing up his friend and, to make matters worse, he'd pretty much just admitted to doing it as well... Oh, damn!

It took a moment or two for the other Immortal to find his voice. "Did you just...? What did you just say, Mac?"

"Look, it was nothing." Mac hastily back-pedalled. "It was just an observation. I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it, Methos. Too much champagne, the Quickening - I guess I'm just not thinking before I speak. Take no notice of me, I'm still feeling a bit... you know."

"No, I don't know." Methos peered at Mac suspiciously. "Would you mind telling me where that came from. And just when did you start taking notice of who was watching me, anyway, at Joe's or wherever?"

"It was nothing," Mac insisted again. "Look, I'm sorry I offended you. I didn't mean to suggest I would... I mean, that you would... Oh shit, I don't what I mean!"

"Well, that much at least is obvious," muttered Methos. "Look, let's try taking this one step at a time, shall we? You were suggesting what? That I might attract attention from another man? Why would you think I'd be offended by that? Or were you implying more than just an attraction? Not that I have a problem with that either. I would have thought after 400 years you'd have realised that the externals don't matter - I certainly had."

Mac blinked, taking in all the implications of Methos' matter of fact words. He supposed he shouldn't really be surprised that the old Immortal had taken both male and female lovers in his long lifetime, but it was surprising that Methos had chosen to reveal that much about himself. Mac noticed Methos was still looking at him expectantly. Apparently he was waiting for some kind of an answer.

"I don't know. It was just the way you reacted, I suppose," Mac admitted. Though, now, it seemed most likely that Methos' reaction had simply been due to his surprise at Mac's unexpected comment. "I just didn't want to offend you over something like this."

"Give me a break, I was just a bit taken aback." Methos shook his head. "I suppose this is my fault for making that stupid joke in the first place. Is this your way of getting your own back on me? I have to say, well... some of what you were implying isn't exactly what I'd have expected to hear from you under normal circumstances, MacLeod. Nor is any kind of commentary on my love life, actually."

"Do you have one?" The question slipped out before Mac could call the words back. As soon as he'd uttered them he glanced across at Methos, utterly mortified.

"I beg your...?" Methos gave the impression that he wasn't quite sure whether to draw his sword on Mac or not.

Privately, the Highlander decided he probably wouldn't blame the old man if he did.

"Mac, what's got into you tonight?" Methos still looked stunned. "I thought we'd dealt with this death wish of yours!"

"I'm sorry." Mac knew his cheeks had flushed red. Whatever had possessed him to ask that? "I really shouldn't have said that, Methos, I know."

"Damned right you shouldn't!" Methos was rapidly getting past surprised and well on the road to annoyed. Even for MacLeod this was taking things too far. Methos' tone was icy as he continued, "Look, why all this sudden interest in whether or not I'm getting any, anyway?"

"Idle curiosity?" Mac suggested hopefully. This really wasn't going well, but at least Methos hadn't gone for his sword. Maybe he could bluff his way out if it, convince Methos it had just been a joke - then again, maybe not.

"Like hell!" Methos' hazel eyes narrowed dangerously. "Try again, MacLeod."

"I was just - interested." Mac tried to sound casual and knew he was failing miserably. So did Methos.

"Interested," repeated Methos with profound scepticism. "In my sex life?"

"No."

Mac dropped his gaze. With the old Immortal's long absence Mac had forgotten how much of a child Methos could make him feel sometimes. He had also forgotten just how complicated his feelings for Methos were. This unexpected turn in the conversation had brought back all the memories of the strange dance they had indulged in almost from their first meeting, though. Mac felt his heart thumping in his chest as he looked up to meet Methos' eyes again.

"I'm sorry?" Methos' exasperation was now very evident.

Did he dare? Mac took a deep breath. If Methos took his head, well, so be it. Life could be a bitch sometimes, there was no denying. At any rate, he might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. This had to be the best opening he was ever likely to get and if he didn't dare now he never would.

"No, I'm not interested in your sex life, Methos," Mac elaborated carefully. "Just in you."

Total astounded silence greeted this pronouncement. Well, Methos still hadn't drawn his sword, Mac was relieved to note. The silence stretched uncomfortably, until Mac's already strained nerves couldn't handle it any more. He needed a response, anything, from the old man.

"Dear God, Methos," Mac burst out, "say something! Please!"

"I -" Methos shook his head and tried again. "Damn! I haven't the faintest idea what to say. What exactly do you expect me to say? How? Why? Bloody hell! You are interested in me? I think you were right. You have had too much of that champagne. Or is this delayed shock? Look, if this is some kind of a joke, MacLeod, I hate to tell you, but I'm not laughing."

"No - no joke," said Mac softly, "at least, not from where I'm standing."

"Damn it, you are serious, aren't you?" Methos stared at the Highlander and tried to work out how he could have missed the signs leading up to this declaration of Mac's. Frankly, he wasn't at all sure how he should be reacting to it, either. While Methos considered that, another thought occurred to him. "Stop - correct me if I'm wrong, Mac, but just an hour or so ago weren't you standing here telling Amanda that you love her? Just where do I fit into this picture of Immortal bliss?"

"Yes, I did. And I do. I always will." Mac hesitated, trying to find the words to explain the difference in his feelings for the two Immortals. "Amanda and I, we go back a long way. We have fun together and we look out for each other, but in the end we know there's never going to be anything permanent or exclusive between us. It's not in Amanda's nature. You know that as well as I do. But it doesn't mean our feelings for one another are any less real.

"You and me, though, Methos - there is something there as well, but it's different. Maybe I'm not sure exactly what it is yet. Perhaps I'm making more of it than I should, but I think it's always been there. And I think you feel it too. After what happened with O'Rourke - what you said, what you did - I'm sure of it."

"I stopped you getting killed, Mac. It's not the first time and it probably won't be the last. But what you're talking about, that's something else entirely," said Methos cautiously.

"Maybe." Mac regarded the old Immortal thoughtfully. "When you tried to stop me leaving here earlier... well, there was something different in your voice. It sounded like something I thought we'd lost. Then again, perhaps I'm crazy to even suggest it. Whatever, you're right, you saved my ass, again, despite instructions to the contrary..."

"Yeah, well, sometimes you just need saving from yourself," muttered Methos.

"You could be right," Mac conceded with a faint smile. "One thing I can say, though, is that a few things are a lot clearer to me now than they were before. I know that being around for my friends is important - and I also know that when we're given chances it's important not to waste them."

"So, you think telling me that you're - interested in me is a chance you need to take?" asked Methos curiously.

"Yeah, I do." Mac toyed absently with the now empty glass in his hands before he realised he was using it as a distraction and set it aside. "For what it's worth, I should have done it a long time ago."

"Why didn't you?" The question was a shade too casual and Methos wouldn't meet Mac's gaze when he tried to make eye contact.

Mac wasn't sure if that was a good sign or a bad one. "Scared, I guess," he admitted eventually. "I didn't want to screw up a good friendship. I thought if I was wrong about the signals I was getting from you then you might just disappear for good - and I needed you around."

"Does this mean that you don't now; so you think it's all right to tell me?" Methos' voice was carefully neutral.

"That's not what I meant!" Mac stared at the other Immortal in frustration. "So, does this mean that I have screwed up?"

"I didn't say that," said Methos evasively, still avoiding looking at MacLeod.

"Now that you come to mention it, you haven't really said much of anything," Mac observed. "That's not like you, Methos, to be short of words."

"You know me too well, Highlander, all the mystery's gone out of this relationship." Methos retreated gratefully behind the familiar security of sarcasm. He felt as if he were on very uncertain ground, unsure of how to respond. A part of the old Immortal wanted to shout aloud in delight at Mac's declaration. However, the survivor in Methos was more cautious; was busy looking for the hidden dangers in the situation, as well as listing the obvious ones.

His hesitation left Mac equally unsure of his ground. He suddenly wondered if he'd just made a very big mistake. "Methos..."

"Mac, I don't..." But Methos wasn't given the chance to continue his thought.

"You don't feel the same, do you?" Mac jumped to his own conclusion. "I'm sorry, I thought... Look, forget I ever said..."

"No!" Methos' voice cut across Mac's words abruptly, the sudden hurt in the Highlander's tone guiding his decision. "No," he repeated more softly.

"No?" Mac glanced at Methos uncertainly.

"No, I don't want to forget what you said, Mac," Methos clarified. "Dear Gods... You spring something like this on me and then expect an instant reaction? I'm still trying to take it all in and you're busy putting words in my mouth!"

"Methos?" This time Mac's voice held a note of hopefulness.

The old Immortal took a deep breath and began speaking again, very slowly. "I - I have been waiting... Damn it, I have kept my mouth shut for the best part of three years while you romanced every woman who batted her eyelashes at you. I'd just about give up on it and then you'd turn around and do something like painting my nose and I wouldn't know what the hell to make of it! You didn't want to screw up our friendship - well, neither did I." Methos shook his head. "Then it got pretty much screwed up anyway, courtesy of Kronos and Byron and I thought any chance of - of us was gone. Now you're telling me that, well, maybe it was always there for the taking and - damn, Mac, I can't believe..."

"Methos, believe it," Mac told him firmly.

"Is this real, MacLeod?" Methos sounded suddenly very vulnerable and unsure of himself.

"This is as real as it gets, Methos," Mac assured him with a smile. "Come over here, let me prove it to you."

After a brief hesitation the old Immortal set down his glass and pushed up off the couch. As if in a dream, Methos walked across to join Mac where he stood in front of the porthole. The lights of Paris shone across the water to bathe both their faces in a wash of soft illumination.

For a long moment the two simply looked at one another, measuring what they saw in the other's eyes. Then Methos reached out a tentative hand to lightly stroke Mac's cheek. The slight roughness of stubble rasped against his palm and Methos repeated the caress. Then his thumb brushed softly across Mac's full lips. They parted slightly and the tip of Mac's tongue stole out to taste Methos' skin. The old Immortal's eyes closed at the touch and a faint sound, barely more than a whimper, escaped him.

A louder, more desperate moan sounded as Mac drew the whole of Methos' thumb into his mouth. Mac's tongue curled around it caressingly and his teeth gently nipped at the fleshy pad.

Methos tensed as another part of his anatomy came to attention in anticipation of being subjected to the same treatment. He shifted uncomfortably, trying to ease the pressure from clothing that was suddenly too tight. Gods, what was MacLeod trying to do to him?

With an effort Methos pulled his hand away, tearing his thumb from its moist haven. He glanced at the damp digit as if it belonged to someone else before raising his gaze to Mac's face. Methos stared wide-eyed at the Highlander, who was watching his reaction with undisguised interest. Breathing hard, Methos could feel the heat rising in his cheeks. He had faced, and knew how to deal with, Duncan MacLeod the warrior, the brooding judgemental Scot or the infuriating boy scout. This was different, though. Duncan MacLeod the lover had always been reserved for others, not for him.

"Mac, I..." Methos wasn't sure what he wanted to ask and his voice trailed off.

"It's OK, Methos," Mac reassured him, responding to the old Immortal's uncertainty. Mac tilted his head, taking in Methos' clearly flustered state. "Do you want me?"

Methos gave a shaky laugh. "Do you really need to ask?"

"Probably not." Mac smiled. "But I guess I'd like to hear it from you anyway."

The old Immortal considered this for a moment, then nodded slowly. He leaned forward so his lips were just inches from Mac's ear before he spoke, his voice low and husky.

"Yes," said Methos fervently, "I want you. I want to touch you. I want to kiss you. I want to fuck you and be fucked by you. Gods, I want to rip your clothes off you right now and bury myself in you before I come just from thinking about it. Duncan..." Methos paused for just a moment, long enough to feel the shudder of anticipation that ran through Mac. "Is that what you wanted to hear?"

The soft exhalation of breath that accompanied the final word caressed Mac's ear and he shivered again. "Dear God..." He swallowed hard. "Yeah, that's what I wanted to hear." Mac managed a slightly shaky smile as he drew back. Then he spread his arms wide, offering himself to the other Immortal. "So, what are you waiting for? A written invitation?"

Methos didn't need to be asked twice, though his hands were shaking a little as he gripped the hem of Mac's sweater and pulled it up over his head. Methos bent to explore the newly revealed chest with his mouth, even as his hands occupied themselves elsewhere. He undid Mac's belt and then slid down the zip of his trousers. The inconvenient material was quickly pushed down Mac's hips, followed by his white briefs. Mac kicked off his own shoes and socks and then stepped out of the bunched up clothing. Methos straightened up and took a moment to appreciate the body now laid bare to his gaze.

"Gods, I had no idea," Methos murmured. All this time and I never really let myself look. Probably just as well - I'd never have been able to resist him.

Methos' fingers reached out to touch softly, exploring those places that most appealed to him. He traced the curve of muscles and brushed his fingertips through the dark hair that lightly covered Mac's chest. Then his hands stroked lower, but Methos allowed himself only the briefest of caresses to Mac's hard cock. He wanted to save that pleasure.

Stepping back, Methos quickly and efficiently removed his own clothes. If he was aware of the hunger in Mac's dark eyes as his lithe body was revealed, Methos gave no sign. When he was naked, Methos moved close to Mac again, almost, but not quite, touching him. Methos could feel the heat radiating from the younger Immortal's body and he took a moment to bask in it.

As Methos came closer, Mac only restrained himself with an effort. He held his arms stiffly at his sides, fingers curled into his palms. He wanted to touch and explore Methos' body too, but the slight wariness he still sensed from the old Immortal kept Mac from reaching out.

The pause in proceedings as he had undressed had allowed Methos' mind to start functioning again. Now the doubts rose up once more to counteract the fire of his arousal. The hazel eyes fixed on Mac's face, searching for an answer to Methos' renewed uncertainty.

"What are you waiting for?" Mac could see Methos' hesitation, but he wasn't sure what had caused it.

"Do you want me, Mac?" Methos offered a question in return.

Mac blinked, not quite convinced, given the circumstances, that Methos was serious. A long look at the old Immortal's face made it clear that he was, though. Mac frowned.

"You have eyes, don't you, Methos?"

Methos shook his head, dismissing Mac's words. "You took quite a Quickening tonight... Do you want me?" he asked again.

Mac's eyes widened in abrupt understanding. Hurt bloomed, a sharp pain in the pit of his stomach. "You think that this is just a reaction to that? That you're my substitute because Amanda isn't available? Oh well then, perhaps I should have asked Joe instead!"

"Mac, stop it. I don't know... maybe." Methos shrugged, trying for casual. "I don't want that to be the reason, but look at it from my side. This is quite a step outside the norm for you, isn't it?"

Methos sensed the hurt radiating off the Highlander at his words and regretted causing it. He needed an honest answer, though. Methos wasn't prepared to open himself to the potential of a much greater pain if he were to make the wrong assumption now.

If all Mac wanted was sex to relieve the after-effects of a Quickening that was fine. At this point, Methos' body was aroused enough to accept whatever was offered. He needed the release. But if that's all it was then Methos wasn't about to put his heart on the line. He wouldn't make the mistake of thinking this meant something more to Mac unless he said it was so. Methos didn't think Mac would lie to him about something this important, but he needed to hear it.

Mac's dark eyes were stormy as he returned Methos' steady gaze. "I've loved men before. I'm no shy virgin, if that's what you think."

"I don't know what to think, Mac," Methos sighed.

"Then don't!" Mac cried, exasperated. "Give that overactive mind of yours a night off and just go with your feelings."

"Dangerous, MacLeod, very dangerous..." Methos gave a tight smile, aware that Mac still hadn't denied his earlier accusation.

"But worth it!" The passion in Mac's voice was undeniable.

"Yeah? Are you sure?" Again Methos challenged him.

"I'm sure," Mac insisted. He understood what Methos was asking. "This has nothing to do with the Quickening and if it was Amanda I wanted now, that's who I'd be with. I'd have followed her to Cairo. Methos, here and now you are the only person I want. I don't know how many different ways you need to hear that from me, but... Well, I think I'm running out of options, so maybe I can show you instead."

With that, Mac closed the distance Methos had set between them. His arms enfolded the old Immortal, pulling Methos hard against him. Mac heard Methos gasp at the sudden contact.

"Doesn't that feel good?" Mac asked persuasively. He moved his hips, letting the length of his cock slide against Methos' matching hardness. The gasp segued into a moan and Mac leaned in until his lips were scant inches from the other Immortal's. "Of course, you're welcome to analyse this to the nth degree, but wouldn't you rather just..."

"All right, MacLeod, I believe you've made your point," agreed Methos breathlessly. He slid his hands up Mac's back, testing the strength of the muscles as they flexed under his touch.

"Have I?" Mac regarded the other Immortal solemnly. He wanted no further misunderstandings between them.

Methos smiled, "Oh yes..."

Continued in part 2