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 September 1999.

With thanks to Margaret for reading.

Methos stood like a figure carved out of marble. His back was tense, one arm wrapped protectively around himself as he tried to process the evening's events. It took all his control not to give in to the sick feeling inside him. He felt as if he had been punched in the guts repeatedly. If he didn't turn around, didn't look... maybe it wouldn't be real. How could something this unimaginable be real?

Finally, though, a small helpless sound from behind him made Methos turn. He wasn't the only one feeling as if his entire world had been pulled out from under him and turned into a bitter parody of reality. The half-stifled sob from Joe reminded Methos that there was at least one person here who was not beyond his help.

As he moved to the Watcher's side Methos glanced around, peering into the shadows. Nothing moved. MacLeod was gone - and with him whatever demons he claimed to have seen. But he had not left without leaving his mark. The dark, crumpled shape on the ground still remained, not the illusion Methos so desperately wished it had been - for all their sakes. Beside the headless body lay Duncan's katana, discarded by the Highlander after Methos had refused to turn the sharp blade against him. The sight of something that had been so precious to Duncan lying on the ground like so much unwanted rubbish chilled Methos to the bone.

He allowed himself no more time for grief on his own account. Joe needed his strength now. The mortal seemed to have little enough of his own to draw on. Methos put both arms around the desolate figure of Joe Dawson and held him as he buried his face against Methos' shoulder and cried. With the tears it was as if he were not only pouring out his pain at Richie's death - but also the ache of regret at having failed MacLeod so totally. Methos found he could well empathise with that.

They had all believed Duncan was simply... what? Hallucinating? Delusional? At any rate, that was what he and Joe had thought. Richie hadn't been convinced, though. He had wanted to believe in what Mac was telling them - and look where that had led him. Methos shuddered. Certainly none of them had ever expected it to come to this. Who could have imagined, even in their worst nightmares, that Duncan would take Richie's head? Nor had Methos ever dreamed that Duncan would kneel before him and offer him his sword, entreating him to take his head as the horrifying realisation of what he had done finally dawned on the Highlander.

He needed to get out of here. More than that, Methos knew he needed to get Joe away from the pitiful remains of Richie Ryan. The clean up operation could wait. No one else was likely to come near this God forsaken place for a while. Carefully, Methos steered Joe away from the young man's mutilated body. Joe went, unresisting, simply following where Methos led. He seemed to be leaning more on the old Immortal than on his cane.

Oh Joe, thought Methos with a sharp stab of regret. What have we done to you? Isn't this the precise reason why a Watcher should never get involved with his subject? How the hell are you going to deal with this? Methos watched the anguished face of the mortal bleakly as he guided him slowly and carefully back to the car.

The ensuing journey back to Joe's place was silent and tense. Neither man could find words to say to the other. When they finally arrived, Methos helped Joe inside. Normally the Watcher would have resisted the assistance, but he made no protest as Methos steered him straight into his bedroom and pressed him to sit down on the edge of the bed.

A little reluctantly, Methos left Joe alone briefly as he went in search of something alcoholic - the stronger the better. He just wanted to numb Joe's pain, to dull the bright, sharp edges of his grief. Methos quickly found a bottle of Scotch and poured a treble. When he brought it back to Joe the other man downed it in one, not tasting it. Joe was only aware of the comforting burn as the alcohol went down.

With considerable concern Methos eyed the stunned Watcher. He rapidly concluded that it wouldn't be a good idea to leave Joe alone overnight.

"Come on, buddy." Methos' voice was at its softest and most reassuring. "Let's get you to bed."

The note of concern seemed to draw a spark of anger from Joe. "Leave me alone! I'm not some fucking invalid!"

"I know, but..." Methos' tone was conciliatory, but he found the anger somewhat reassuring. The Dawson spirit was still alive and well!

"Then don't treat me like one. I can get to bed perfectly well on my own just like every other night," spat Joe, affronted.

Methos held up his hands in surrender. "Fine, you want me to go, I'll go." He turned and began to head for the door. The silence held for just a moment longer.

"Methos, don't... please." Joe seemed to have crumpled in on himself, a small, lonely figure as Methos turned back to him. Joe's eyes were red-rimmed, haunted by what he had seen at the old racetrack. "I'm sorry. It's just... I don't..."

"I know, buddy. I know." Methos found a smile from somewhere as he came to a halt in front of Joe, trying to reassure the Watcher.

Joe looked up at him helplessly. "It's just - seeing Richie like that and knowing that... Methos, Richie was his friend, his student. How could Mac...?"

If Joe was looking for answers, Methos had none to give. "I don't know. He was just worse than we thought, Joe. I would never have believed..." Methos shook his head, unwilling to complete the thought.

"Damn it, Methos! I've watched Mac take heads before and it's never really touched me. That's the way the Game works. I'm a Watcher, I know that. But this? I'm trying to understand it and I can't. Shit!" Joe's voice broke and the tears spilled over again, running unchecked down his cheeks.

Quickly Methos sat down on the bed beside Joe and pulled him into his arms again, holding him close. Gently he petted the silver-grey hair, wondering when Joe had got to be so vulnerable. The Watcher had always been a constant; in all the time Methos had known him his strength had been a given. Methos had admired that about the mortal. Life had dealt Joe a pretty rough hand, but through it all he had been strong. Indeed, he'd been a source of strength more than once, both for Methos and MacLeod. The one they had always turned to for help and information - and every time Joe had come through for them.

Now, all at once, Joe was out of his depth - the one in need of help and support. Never had his mortality seemed more apparent to Methos and the old Immortal felt a sudden rush of fond affection for the Watcher. How long would Joe be around in his life? How long before Methos had to mourn the loss of another good friend?

Before he was really aware of what he was doing, Methos had turned to face Joe. Without a second's thought he leaned in and brushed his lips in a tender caress across Joe's lined forehead. Feeling the sudden stillness in the body held in his embrace Methos felt reason crashing in on him again.

Oh dear Gods, what was I thinking? Joe...

Instinctively Methos stiffened, expecting a verbal explosion, a violent withdrawal - a strong negative reaction of some kind. But it didn't come. Carefully Methos pulled back, searching the mortal's face. He found Joe was watching him, a strange expression gracing his features. There was surprise in that look, but Methos thought he detected an underlying current of something else - was that affection, too?

"Joe, I'm sorry..." Methos didn't know what else to say - a rare occurence after 5,000 years.

"It's OK," said Joe gruffly. "You don't have to explain. I guess we're both feeling a little raw here."

"That's no excuse for..." Methos couldn't remember the last time he'd floundered so badly. He felt as if he should know how to deal with this situation, but he didn't.

"For kissing me?" Joe finished for him.

"Yeah."

"What if I said I wanted it?"

Methos looked at him sceptically. "Joe, don't. You don't have to try and spare my feelings. I'm sure when the timing is better we'll both have a good laugh over it. Right now, I think I should go."

"No! Methos, I don't know where the hell I am any more," hissed Joe harshly. "Richie's... dead. Mac is - well, I don't know if he's mad or if there really is a Zoroastrian demon at large, making him see dead men walking the streets of Paris! Right now, Methos, you are the only thing that makes any kind of sense to me. Please... don't leave me."

Stricken by the pain and confusion in Joe's eyes, Methos shook his head slowly. "I'm not going anywhere, Joe. Not until you want me to. I promise."

It was a promise he'd never been able to make to Duncan, but if Methos noticed the irony of that fact he didn't show it. To make it clear that he meant it, Methos leaned across and very gently placed a kiss on Joe's lips.

After a moment's hesitation they parted for him and the Watcher was responding to the kiss as if his life depended on it. Methos could taste the Scotch on Joe's tongue - the mellow tang of it heartbreakingly familiar from other kisses, shared with another lover. But the brush of a beard against his skin was wholly unfamiliar, drawing Methos back to the present. He felt a brief pang - this wasn't Duncan in his arms - but he suppressed it. Joe needed him and, frankly, he needed Joe. There was a hint of desperation from both of them as the kiss deepened.

There was a sense of unreality to what they were doing as Methos carefully eased Joe further back onto the bed and lay down beside him. Methos drew him close, aware of the paradox in the body he held - the solidity of Joe's muscular frame, coupled with his mortal vulnerability - never more apparent to Methos than it was now.

As they began to explore one another, Methos knew it was only their shared grief and confusion that had brought them together like this. There had never been even a hint of this kind of intimacy between them before. Nevertheless, he couldn't deny that it felt good to have a warm and willing body in his arms. And Joe was willing; there was no doubt of that. His hands on Methos were knowledgeable, sure in their touch.

Well, well, Joe old friend, you kept this side of yourself well hidden, Methos found himself musing as warm, broad palms glided up under his jumper. The firm caress drew an unexpectedly strong reaction from his body.

Methos had never thought of Joe in terms of a possible lover before. The Watcher had become a good friend, one of the best, but Methos' attentions had always been firmly fixed on Duncan. Now, though, he found that Joe was more than capable of engendering a deep need in him. Firmly, Methos set his thoughts of Duncan aside. Joe didn't deserve to be used merely as a substitute for someone he couldn't have. He demanded respect and affection on his own account.

The searching hands had found Methos' nipples under the loose sweater. The old Immortal gasped as they were gently teased erect. Wanting to reciprocate, Methos quickly burrowed his way under the layers of Joe's clothing. His hands slid over warm skin and well-defined muscles. In truth, there was nothing soft or frail about Joe. By touch Methos mapped the contours of the unfamiliar body, seeking out the caresses which drew the strongest reactions.

Eventually, Joe pulled away in frustration. "Dammit, Methos, I need to get out of these clothes!"

Methos was by no means averse to that suggestion. They both needed something to focus on, to take away the images of what they had seen at the racetrack. Perhaps alcohol or sedatives would serve better to block out those memories, but Methos found he preferred this option, which would give them both something more pleasant to replace them with instead. He sat up and pulled Joe with him. With little finesse he tugged Joe's sweater and shirt off over his head, dropping the tangle of material over the edge of the bed. Next he moved to unfasten Joe's trousers. Methos felt the slight tension in the Watcher's body as he slid them off, revealing the prosthetics.

"It's OK, Joe," Methos said softly, leaning in to place a reassuring kiss on the other's lips. With competent hands Methos undid the fastenings holding the prosthetics in place and carefully set them aside. Then he massaged Joe's thighs, easing the stiffness in the muscles. He was rewarded with a small sigh of pleasure as the Watcher relaxed.

One of Joe's hands reached out and touched Methos' cheek, stroking softly. "Sometimes I underestimate you, Methos," he said roughly. "It's too easy to fall into the trap of taking you at face value. I, of all people, ought to know better."

Methos merely smiled slightly in return. Then, in a single fluid motion, he pulled his own sweater off and discarded it. Joe's hands were ahead of his at the waistband of his jeans. They tugged the denim free of his legs as Methos raised his hips from the bed.

Now that they were both naked the two men began to explore in earnest, by sight as well as by touch. Methos' slender, finely muscled frame with its smooth, pale skin seemed to fascinate Joe. In his turn Methos kissed and caressed his way across Joe's broad shoulders and strong chest.

Wanting to explore further, Methos carefully pushed Joe back down on the bed. He claimed the warm lips once again, drawing another fierce response from Joe as their tongues tangled together. Methos reached up and stroked the silvered hair and beard as he kissed Joe deeply. When he'd had his fill of Joe's mouth, Methos moved downward. He won a desperate groan from the Watcher as he latched on to the flat, rosy nipples. He licked and sucked at the pebbled skin, tasting the faint saltiness of it.

Joe dug his fingers deep into the dark silk of Methos' close cropped hair, urging him on. He desperately needed this very human contact to ground him after the night's events. The images from the old racetrack paraded repeatedly behind his eyes and Joe welcomed this distraction, however fleeting it might prove to be. Joe had never imagined sharing a moment like this with Methos, but it felt so very good. The old guy's mouth was sinfully talented, his touch gentle but sure.

Methos gave the now hard nubs of flesh a final lick and then moved further down Joe's body. He followed the line of rough hair down Joe's belly, licking and nipping the skin as he went. Settling himself carefully between the Watcher's thighs Methos turned his attention to Joe's straining cock. There could be no doubt that Joe wanted this. His cock was hard and ready as Methos closed his palm around it, stroking firmly.

An incoherent sound greeted the action and Joe's hips came up off the bed. Methos soothed him with a scattering of kisses across the flat stomach and down to the sharp bones of the hip. Then he returned to Joe's groin, breathing in the familiar musky scent of male arousal. Delicately, with the grace of a cat - a creature he sometimes resembled in his boneless sprawls - Methos licked the tip of Joe's cock. The roughness of his tongue on the sensitive flesh sent a flurry of shudders through Joe's body. Methos lapped up the surge of pre-come, committing Joe's taste to memory.

It was readily apparent to Methos that Joe was too highly strung to last long. There was still an edge of desperation to Joe's responses that Methos could understand. Not wanting to tease the Watcher in his current emotional state Methos began to stroke him more firmly, squeezing the swollen shaft harder with his long fingers. When he felt Joe suddenly tense under him Methos took the other man's cock into his mouth, sucking hard as Joe's orgasm ripped through him.

With a pained cry Joe let the sensations wash over him. The touch of Methos' lips on his cock almost seemed to burn him as the old Immortal readily accepted everything he had to give. When it was over Joe reached blindly for Methos, needing his strength as grief reasserted itself.

Methos gave him what he wanted, sliding back up Joe's body and folding him into his arms. He held on tight as a fresh wave of tears overwhelmed Joe. Methos offered him soft, lingering kisses and Joe clung to that lifeline, his lips moving desperately over Methos'.

Finally the storm abated and Joe drew away just a little. His eyes were red-rimmed as they locked with Methos'. The old Immortal stroked his cheek softly, still seeking to comfort and reassure.

"Dammit, Methos, I'm sorry," said Joe, his voice rough.

"Don't be," insisted Methos gently, "whatever it takes, buddy. I'm here." He hugged Joe, finding a smile for him from somewhere.

Joe pulled back from the embrace as he abruptly realised Methos was still nursing an unrelieved hard on. Damn, that had to be uncomfortable for the old man! Without saying anything Joe slid a hand between their bodies, finding the swollen length of Methos' cock. He wrapped his fingers around it, the heated flesh filling his palm satisfyingly. His touch drew a sharp gasp from the old Immortal.

"Joe..." Methos groaned as the Watcher began to pump his cock with sure strokes. He tried to pull away, but Joe was having none of it.

"Let me do this for you, you stubborn old man," he growled.

Methos surrendered to the sensations. Joe was more than competent at this. It didn't take very long for the Watcher to bring him to the brink of orgasm. Methos felt a delicious anticipation as the much needed release began to tingle along his nerve endings. Joe's free hand tangled in his hair, pulling him in for a sweet kiss as the world exploded into an intense, healing pleasure. Methos pulsed his seed between their close-pressed bodies, feeling the warmth of it coating his skin.

As Joe's lips released him Methos drew in a deep, shuddering breath. He dropped his head onto Joe's shoulder as the last aftershocks rippled through him. He felt the fingers slip out of his hair and gently caress the exposed skin at the back of his neck. The soft touch on the most vulnerable point of his body made Methos shiver. This made two people he would trust implicitly with his life. Which thought brought him neatly back to the other - the missing and, on recent evidence, possibly mad Duncan MacLeod. Methos sighed.

"You're thinking about Mac, aren't you?" said Joe softly.

Methos couldn't look up to meet the Watcher's too perceptive gaze. "Yeah. Yeah, I am. I'm sorry, Joe..."

"Don't be. I know what he means to you. Maybe you haven't been the best of friends lately, but still... I can only imagine what this is doing to you, Methos." Joe's voice was rough with emotion.

Methos did look up at that. "Joe..."

"No, listen to me, Methos," said Joe, his eyes shadowed. "Find Mac. Go to him... and help him through this. I'm not sure he's going to be able to cope with this alone."

"But I promised to stay with you, Joe," protested Methos.

"C'mon, Methos, we both know he needs you more than I do. He's going to be vulnerable right now. Richie wasn't just his student. He was his friend and a hell of a lot more. Would either of us be able to forgive ourselves if Mac went out and lost his head to the first Immortal who challenged him?" Joe's eyes were openly pleading now.

"And what if he asks me to take his head again?" Methos asked unsteadily. "Joe, he was in such pain... I'm not sure that I'd be strong enough to refuse him again."

"You would be, Methos." Joe gave the old Immortal a gentle shake. "You love him. You'll have the strength. Now go!"

At Joe's urging Methos finally climbed out of the warm security of the bed and dressed. He leaned down to give the Watcher a final kiss as he settled his coat onto his shoulders, adjusting the weight of his sword in its concealed sheath.

"You're a good man, Joe Dawson," said Methos as he straightened up again. "A good friend."

"You too, Methos. Thank you," replied Joe simply.

They clasped hands for a brief moment, sharing their strength and then Methos turned and was gone. Joe looked after the retreating figure, silently wishing him luck with his search. Then Joe turned his thoughts to the task he needed to perform. Richie deserved a better resting place than the old racetrack. Setting his lips in a grim line Joe reached for his prosthetics and slowly began to fasten them on.

The End

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