BY THE RIVERS OF BABYLON

by

Dayspring

We sat down and wept by the waters
Of Babel, and thought of the day
When our foe, in the hue of his slaughters,
Made Salem's high places his prey;
And ye, oh her desolate daughters!
Were scattered all weeping away
.

~ George Gordon, Lord Byron, By the Rivers of Babylon We Sat Down and Wept

Duncan felt the lean body tense beneath him and effortlessly followed his lover over into the abyss.

Moments later, he gathered enough strength to ease out of the familiar confines and roll his body to the mattress. As he did so, he managed to roll Methos with him, curling around his back, needing the contact. Needing him. Beneath his hand, he could feel the powerful beat of the heart that had begun beating long before the pyramids were built or Stonehenge was conceived.

"You okay?"

"One of these days you're going to be the death of me, MacLeod."

"Never. I would miss you too much. And my refrigerator would explode from the excess beer, not to mention my closets spilling over with un-borrowed clothing." And my heart would break from loneliness.

"Well, we can't have that, can we? Leftover beer is one of the world's great tragedies, you know. Go to sleep, Mac. Your fridge and closets are in no immediate danger."

"Tell me you love me."

Methos turned, his golden eyes shining even in the darkness. "I love you, Duncan MacLeod. My heart has known happiness before you, but unto that happiness you have added joy. You are my fire in a world that has become cold to me. You are my light in the darkness that threatens to swallow me up. You are my compass when up becomes down and right and left cease to be directions. You are my fortress when the storms and rains attempt to mercilessly batter me. You are my refuge, my salvation, when the past's bloody claws take hold of my soul and pull me toward the pit of damnation." He reached up and pulled Duncan's head down.

The kiss was both tender and demanding, a silken slide of flesh meeting flesh and power meshing with power. Duncan felt himself shaking with the knowledge that this one had chosen him, and fought for him, and stayed with him even when he had been rejected. His lover was wonderful and surprising and different in ways that far surpassed the curves and genitalia of his usual partners. With Methos, he never knew what to expect from one day to the next. He suspected that Methos had been so many people throughout the millennia that the old Immortal, too, had no idea who would show up on a daily basis. Would he be the mild Adam Pierson? The brooding, laidback Dr. Benjamin Adams? The hard, sarcastic personality recently discovered to be that of Captain Pierce Benjamin, a seventeenth century explorer whose ships had landed on several Caribbean islands and the coast of South America? Joe Dawson had somehow found out about Captain Benjamin, and told Duncan about the ruthless sea captain who had a different native girl in his bed each night, whose crew called him a tyrant, and who had gained fame as the man who had singlehandedly squelched a native uprising against one of the South American colonies. Bloody Benjamin had been his moniker after that.

Duncan had been furious to find out Methos was still lying to him. Lied to him about hating the water and hating boats. Lied to him about being different from Kronos.... Waves of fury washed through him and into the kiss. Growling, he pressed harder into the pliant body until the coppery taste of blood reached his brain.

"I'm sorry," he said, breaking the contact and brushing a thumb across the small trickle of blood stemming from Methos' split lip.

"I'm neither fragile nor incapable of defending myself. That was anger, wasn't it?"

"Yes."

"I've done something?"

Duncan shook his head. He'd made peace with the fact that he'd never know all of Methos, and that Methos would never reveal all to him. Hadn't he?

"You're just angry at the world in general?"

"I don't know. I don't know where the anger came from. I don't know how I lost control." He dropped his head.

Long fingers carded his hair tenderly. "What is it that you need, Duncan?"

"You."

"You have me. What else do you require?"

"I need to fuck you."

The fingers caressed his face. "You don't need to ask my permission."

"I don't want to be gentle."

"Then don't be."

"I don't want to hurt you."

"You're leaving me?"

"No!"

"Then all other pain I can bear." His eyes glowed as his hand slipped behind Duncan's head and clamped around his neck. "Fuck me, Duncan MacLeod. As hard and as long as you need."

Duncan needed no further urging.

*****

A brown eye flickered open and sought the red numbers of the clock. 11:27. Duncan groaned. He'd overslept. It was a good thing he didn't have any classes on Tuesdays. He turned over and the eye again opened to survey the body next to him. Sleeping--of course. Methos would consider this early morning. Steady breathing. Eyes fluttering behind the ridiculously long eyelashes. A cherub with the body of an incubus.

The other eye popped open as brown streaks on Methos' shoulder caught his attention. Duncan lifted up on an elbow. Blood. Damn. He carefully lifted the sheet and draped it back. Although healed, there remained evidence that he had been rough with his lover. He winced as he remembered how rough. He had expected Methos to be submissive after giving his acquiescence. But the Immortal had evidently decided that Duncan needed additional urging. So he had fought him, forcing Duncan to become more violent. The fury had returned in a red haze and Duncan found himself biting and bruising--and apparently drawing blood.

He pulled the sheet back over Methos and sat up on the edge of the bed. What the hell had come over him last night? He and Methos had played hard before, but he'd always stayed in strict control even then. Last night--had been akin to rape. The long bout of sex had been a lesson in mastery, not love. He'd punished Methos and used him. Methos had not come once as he forced his way into his lover's mouth and ass. He remembered calling Methos names--whore, bitch, cunt--and laughing at him. It was as if--as if the dark quickening had made a return appearance.

Duncan stiffened. No! If that was the case, he needed to get back to France. Surely the grotto could restore--

"Tessa, no," Methos murmured, his eyes moving rapidly beneath the lowered lids. His breathing spiked into a gasp, and Duncan thought surely he was going to waken. But with a barely audible whimper, he sank into REM again.

Duncan stood and stepped away from the bed, a tremble of fear making him stagger. What kind of madness was this? He'd raped--the mixture of dried come and blood coating his limp penis taking any doubt away--Methos, and Methos was dreaming about Tessa, a woman he'd never even met. Tessa. His eyes flickered to the calendar on the wall.

Damn. Ten years ago yesterday. Tessa had been taken away from him ten years ago, and in memory of that night, he'd raped Methos. His subconscious way of punishing himself for not having protected her? Drive away Methos and live with that emptiness again? Nothing had gone right those first several years after Tessa's death. He'd killed friends because he'd deemed them worthy of death. He'd killed Sean, killed--Richie, in separate bouts of madness. The only two gains he'd made had been Joe Dawson and Methos. Joe had become much more than his Watcher. He'd become a friend, and a confidante. And Methos...Methos had become his life.

After O'Rourke, Duncan had left all he knew and become a wanderer, never wanting new friends, never wanting to settle. But in those bitter, lonely nights, thoughts of Methos would come to him. A snide remark would flash in his mind, and he'd think: that's Methos talking to me. The sheet would glide across his bare skin and he'd think: that's Methos touching me. He'd take his fist and wrap it around his cock and he'd think: that's Methos sucking me. He'd come, and moan because the night would be gone and with it, Methos.

So three years later, he'd wandered back to Seacouver, hoping maybe to find Joe and through Joe, Methos. What he'd found was Methos living in the loft, and co-running a bookstore with a Watcher--his Watcher. It seemed that Adam Pierson had been hit in a drive-by shooting while walking with a couple of former Watcher buddies. He'd revived to shocked whispers and condolences. As a new Immortal, he'd run off to find a teacher, and a year later he'd returned, set up house in the loft, and made nice with his Watcher.

"Why the loft?" Duncan had asked.

"No rent," Methos replied cheekily. "Besides, you'd been my phantom teacher. Of course your home was open to me. But now that you're back, I can move out."

"No."

"But, Mac--"

Methos' protest was lost in the kiss Duncan had given him.

"Okay, so I'm not moving out," Methos said. "But we really need to tell Joe you're ba--"

Joe had been informed the next day.

He and Methos beginning a life together had been just that easy. No long bouts of soul-searching from him. No long soliloquies about danger from Methos. Duncan's clothes were hung beside Methos'. He took the left side of the bed, but they usually ended up tangled together somewhere in the middle. They hung out at Joe's, went to the movies, restaurants, social events, etc., and if someone had a problem with them, well, they were smart enough not to say anything aloud to the two powerful men. Amanda had appeared one day, and given her blessing. She'd been rewarded with a night she wouldn't soon forget. Nearly seven thousand years of experience in one bed, she'd pouted the next day, and still the sheets hadn't caught fire. Then Methos had reminded her she had, and she'd blushed and giggled like a twelve-year-old instead of someone ten times that.

And now, out of unresolved anger and guilt, he'd raped Methos.

"Stop it, Duncan."

Duncan turned to see Methos sitting up, the sheet puddled in his lap. "There's no excuse for what I did."

"I'm not asking you for one. I don't need one."

"I raped you."

Methos laughed. "No, love. What you did was more intense than usual, but far from rape. Trust me on that."

"Why? Because you're an expert on rape?" Duncan asked bitterly.

"Don't ask questions you already know the answers to," Methos replied mildly.

"Well, you might not think it was rape, but that was the intent."

He watched Methos' shoulders tense. "Why?"

"I want to drive you away."

"Why?"

"Because I don't deserve this joy that you've given me."

"And you've reached this conclusion at this particular moment of time because...?"

"You know."

"No, Duncan, I don't."

Duncan glared at him. "You're the one who said her name."

Methos rubbed at his eyes. "Whose name?"

"Tessa's."

"Your Tessa? Tessa Noel?"

"You know another?"

"Actually I've known several, but that's neither here nor there. Why would I say her name? I never even knew her."

"You were dreaming. You called out her name. Because--"

"Because?"

"Because last night was the tenth anniversary of her death, of the night I allowed her to be killed."

"Shit."

"You--you didn't know?" Duncan frowned. Methos was dreaming about Tessa for a reason. If it wasn't because of the date....

"No, I didn't know. Despite current beliefs, I have not memorized every moment of your life," Methos said sharply. Then he took a deep breath. "Look, MacLeod, I know that her death was a great shock to you. You rescued her, only to have her killed by random violence while you took care of her kidnapper. On top of that, Richie became Immortal that night and you had his 'issues' to take care of while you mourned. Apparently you still haven't achieved closure--"

"So did Doc Adams study with Freud?" Duncan interrupted furiously. "Are you going to tell me that all of this is because I didn't suckle at Mary MacLeod's breast long enough? Are you going to tell me that I raped you because I--"

"You didn't rape me!"

"Well, I'm sorry I didn't do as good a job as Kronos!"

"Fuck you, MacLeod!" Methos rose out of the bed. "I don't need this." He stomped over to the closet.

"Running is what you do best, isn't it, Methos?"

"If you're going to quote Kronos at least get it right," Methos snarled. "In the immortal words of my brother, 'surviving' is what I do best. And that means getting the hell out of here before I say or do something I'll regret."

"You? That's a laugh. You've never regretted a damn thing your whole fucking life! You've lied, schemed, murdered, and whored for five thousand years, and you're not sorry for any of it. You told me how much you enjoyed it, remember?"

"God! Are we back to that? Move forward, MacLeod. I did."

"And that's one of your major flaws. You always move forward and never pay for your actions. That is unacceptable to me!"

Methos stilled, one leg poised to slip into his jeans. "Don't ever presume to know what I've paid." He finished dressing and grabbed his coat. "I'm going out. I'll be back when I'm calm enough to deal with whatever this is you're going through."

"Don't do me any favors," Duncan muttered to his back.

"The only reason I'm leaving, Duncan MacLeod, is because I love you. That'll also be the reason why I return. Whatever this is, we'll get through together. But that will require one of us to be sane, and at the moment I don't think either of us qualify."

"Just run, Methos."

Methos turned and walked decisively over to Duncan. "Do you love me?" Duncan's eyes slid to the floor. Methos grabbed his chin and forced his head upward. "If you're going to lie, I prefer you do it to my face. Do you love me?"

"N--yes."

"Then I will return. Know this, my Highland child, I don't love lightly. You want to throw Kronos up between us? Fine. Then think on this. I had not seen him in two thousand years, yet I still could not bear to kill him. And my love for him will never compare to what I feel for you. Oh, and as a warning, I suggest you don't think of running either. Anytime you want a detailed agenda of your three years of wandering, just let me know."

"Methos!"

The ancient one smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Later, MacLeod."

He walked out without looking back.

*****

Duncan paced the confines of the loft, trying to understand what had happened. He'd freaked out over Tessa's death, raped Methos, threw Kronos up in Methos' face, then started in on Methos' years as Death. Just who the hell was he punishing? Methos had nothing to do with Tessa's death. Back then Methos was just a harmless grad student/Watcher. So why was he focusing his grief and anger on the man?

Because your love for him reminds you of your love for Tessa. Perhaps it even exceeds it.

Duncan groaned and dropped down on the sofa. Was that it? Was he angry with Methos for making him love him so much? The Old Man was so easy. He fussed, he griped, he bitched and moaned, but the truth of the matter was that Methos was like a tender reed that bent with the wind. Whatever Duncan wanted, Methos provided. Wherever he went, Methos followed. Whenever Duncan beckoned, Methos was there. And it wasn't like Methos waited around like an eager puppy dog, panting to jump at Duncan's every whim. It was more like he could anticipate Duncan's desires and be there ahead of him. It was--eerie...and addictive. Methos had molded his life to fit Duncan's like no one else had ever done. Especially not Tessa.

That's obedience, not love.

In anyone else maybe, but Methos made it clear that every action he took was his choice. Playing beta to Duncan's alpha was not a natural occurrence but a decision. A decision made in love. And maybe--maybe it was too much for Duncan to handle.

So as a reward for loving you, you kick him out.

But he said he would return.

Because he loves you. Like no other has ever before.

Duncan leaned over and curled into himself.

And you love him. Like no other.

Duncan lay still and waited for his lover to return.

*****

Methos sat on the park bench in the cold rain oblivious to the curious, and occasionally sympathetic, stares of passers-by. His rain coat was soaked through, and his hair was plastered against his head, one lock pointed directly in the center of his forehead, sending a rivulet of water streaming down his long, patrician nose.

What the hell had happened? He sorted through his memories of the day before and noted nothing that would have prepared him for the past twelve or so hours. It had been a normal day, even a normal night. He and Mac had necked on the sofa a little while supposedly watching television. When desire had shifted to need, they had moved to the bed and like ninety percent of the time, Mac had sheathed himself into his welcoming body. The sex had been--homey.

Then something flared in Mac and suddenly he wanted to play rough. Which was perfectly all right with Methos because while hearts and roses were fine, so were leather and rope. The filth pouring out of Mac's mouth was a tad disturbing, but nothing he couldn't handle.

Don't lie to yourself. The words hurt.

He didn't know why they did. He'd been called much worse, and most of it was true. He had whored on occasion, depending on the world around him or the situation. Could MacLeod ever understand that at times prostitution was considered a noble occupation, a skilled art? His expertise came with a high price that only a few of the most wealthy could afford. Bought? Yes. Bought cheaply? Never! The smile that thought provoked faded as he remembered the times when his body had been the only thing standing between him and death.

What else had MacLeod called him? Oh, yes, another true one. He'd sucked cock--less than twenty-four hours earlier in fact. He couldn't remember his mother, or even someone who'd acted as his mother, so the motherfucker appellation was iffy. Cunt? Bitch? Well, yes, he had acted the female role when necessary. Sometimes men--owners, pharaohs, other assorted nobles--liked to pretend they weren't homosexuals, that the body they were pumping into wasn't male. They tended to ignore the whole external genitalia package and concentrated on places where they could insert themselves. It was less than ideal from his point of view, but just like with the whoring, his comfort level while engaged in such matters depended on the time and the circumstances.

So why did hearing Duncan say those things, burn in his gut? Why did he want to scream for him to stop? Or slap him until he shut up? Why, afterwards, had he wanted to go shower in hot, scalding water and hope that it would cleanse him? Why, when Duncan had reached for him in the darkness, had he flinched before moving into the arms that he trusted? Why did the thought of those words even now cause bile to tease the back of his throat? And why was the rain in his soul so much more chilling than the rain falling from the sky?

"Yo, man. The shelter on Fifth Street opens in ten."

Methos nodded to the man who shuffled past him, apparently on his way to the homeless shelter himself. Hmmf. And he'd thought chivalry and human kindness were dead. Homeless. God. Was that what he was now? No. He'd told Mac he would return. And that was what he was going to do. It was either that, or head back into the cold, sterile place from where Mac had delivered him. God no. He couldn't go back there. Not again.

He stood and looked around, surprised to see that night had fallen. He was also surprised to find himself so far from the loft. He must have walked miles before finding the park bench. And now he had to walk back. Good. Maybe by then, he would figure what to say, how to act, and how to salvage the most important relationship he'd had since his existence began.

Suddenly, it was as if he hadn't walked far enough.

*****

Duncan stood as Methos' strong Presence approached. He didn't know whether to throw himself prostrate at Methos' feet and beg for forgiveness, or stand before him and take his punishment like a man. Neither would impress the ancient Immortal. He'd just laugh and call him a fool. And he'd be right.

But Duncan's worries about his own predicament fled when he saw the state Methos was in. Bedraggled was the word that first came to mind. "Look at you, man! Have you been standing in the rain all day?"

A soggy shrug. "Actually, I sat for a while." Methos looked down. "I seem to be dripping on your floor. Terribly sorry."

Duncan shook his head. "I'm not concerned about the floor. Let's get you out of those wet things." He tugged at the coat until it slid off unprotesting arms. The man underneath was no drier. "A hot shower. Now," he ordered.

Methos stood in the center of the bathroom peeling off his soggy clothes as Duncan adjusted the water. He looked warily at Duncan as the Scot, too, removed his clothing but said nothing.

"Your skin feels like ice," Duncan said as he guided Methos beneath the pounding water. He picked up Methos' hot pink pouf and squeezed an herbal-scented gel onto it. He glided the pouf down Methos' back, pleased when the pale skin glowed rosy. The pouf dipped lower to caress the tight buttocks, along the athletic thighs and to sculpted feet. The physical body was so much more than the world knew, Methos using loose clothing to veil his true self. Only his lovers had the privilege of seeing the actual sleek power of the man. Formed for speed, agility and grace, Methos was the embodiment of efficiency. An efficient body guided by a brain fueled by a precise mixture of practicality, logic, and sheer intelligence. Yes, there were stronger fighters, and maybe even quicker fighters, but there was none who could out think him. If it wasn't for that big heart of his that so often caused him to stumble, Methos would be invulnerable.

A heart he generously shared with him. With a tender kiss to a soapy calf, Duncan stood. "Turn," he commanded as the water beat powerfully upon Methos' back, he washed the muscled chest, the flat belly, the lax genitals, and the front of the legs.

Instead of standing after he finished the ankles, Duncan raised his head and kissed the cock that drooped in its nest of dark curls. Everything. This man had given him everything. And he--he had repaid the gift with pain. Maybe he could rectify that in a small way. He moved his head further into Methos' personal space. His lover's stance shifted wider, and Duncan's tongue lapped at the sac that was revealed. When Methos tensed, Duncan sat back on his heels to look at him. With his eyes he silently asked for permission to continue, knowing he no longer had the right to assume. Methos nodded and gripped the sides of the shower.

Moments later Methos came in a rush and almost lost his footing, but Mac braced him. When Duncan finally stood, Methos leaned into him, his chest heaving. "I think I'm warm now," Methos breathed against his ear.

Duncan nodded and reached for the shampoo.

*****

By the time Mac was through with him, Methos was as limp and relaxed as a wet rag. He was dried, wrapped in a terry bathrobe, and guided to the bed. When Duncan returned carrying a full brandy snifter, all Methos wanted to do was lean back and pass out. Instead, he patted the bed beside him, indicating Mac should join him.

"Your apology was elegant as always," he began, smiling as he adjusted the gap in his robe. "But I'm more concerned about you than my hurt feelings."

"I'm fine."

"No, you're not. That much is obvious to both of us, isn't it?"

Duncan reluctantly nodded. "I think you frighten me."

Methos flinched. "How?"

"Your love."

"It's too much?"

Duncan's eyes met his briefly then flicked away. "Maybe."

"It's okay." Methos gave a sad smile. "I've been told that before. Even Alexa....even Alexa said that if she hadn't been dying, had not known that there would be an end, that my capacity for love might have terrified her. I don't get it. I don't hover. I don't demand one hundred percent of my lover's attention. I don't ask for a daily itinerary."

"That's just it. You love without demand. That's unique."

"And alien," Methos added. "I come from another world, Duncan. Everything was so different there. I think I've done a good job of adapting--"

"Better than anyone I know or have known."

"But I seemed to have failed to change enough when it comes to love."

Duncan leaned over to capture Methos' chin in his palms. "It's not a failure, Methos. It's a gift--one I don't think I deserve."

"Because of Tessa?"

"Because of my failures."

Methos figured he'd lose Mac altogether if he laughed at this point, so he remained suitably somber. But, God, Duncan knew nothing of failure on the scale that he did. However, failure on any scale sucked at the soul, didn't it? You would do well to remember that, idiot, rather than puffily pontificating about what you've done greater and grander.

He regarded Duncan closely, and went back to the theory he'd hypothesized earlier: Duncan had yet to mourn his great loss. "Did you ever cry? For Tessa?" he asked quietly.

"Of course I did! I loved her, Methos. I was going to marry her for God's sake."

"When?"

"When what?"

"When did you cry for her?"

"I don't know. I guess when it happened."

"But Richie was waking up from his first death. Didn't you and he have to come up with a story before the cops came?"

"Well, then later that night," Duncan said in exasperation.

"Or maybe it was at the funeral," Methos supplied helpfully.

Duncan slumped across the bed. "I don't remember, Methos."

"Maybe that's because you never gave yourself a chance to mourn her. You had your 'son' to take care of. Not only was he Immortal, but he'd just lost a parent."

"They tried to warn me," Duncan said, throwing his arm across his face.

"They who?"

"The gypsy girl. The fortune-teller. They told me. About the curse. I should have known. Did I learn nothing from Debra's and Little Deer's deaths?"

"You weren't going to marry Debra. Robert's death had permanently separated you."

"I loved her."

"But you weren't going to marry her. So she has nothing to do with some insane curse. And Little Deer? You didn't marry her either."

"Sioux customs demanded we wait," Duncan argued uncomfortably.

"Customs be damned! Marriage is of the heart, not of words. Did you feel married to Little Deer?"

"She and her son were my family."

"You didn't marry her, and she died."

Duncan turned his head sideways and a tear trickled from the corner of his eye. "What point are you trying to make?"

Methos sprawled beside him. "That mortals die, Duncan. And it has nothing to do with you or some curse."

"I should have had longer with all of them."

"Perhaps you should have. But that wasn't your call to make. We are Immortals, not gods."

"Says he who tried to get the Methuselah Stone for his girlfriend."

"And there you have it. If after five thousand years I'm not a god, no one on this earth is." Methos smiled to show he was just teasing. "Mourn her, Mac. Mourn your lost years. The lost laughter. The lost loving. But your guilt doesn't belong there. She's gone, not because she loved you, not because you wanted to see what Wolfe was up to and sent her and Richie home by themselves, but because--"

"Mortals die," Duncan finished, his voice breaking at the end.

Methos wrapped his arms around him and Mac sobbed against him. When the edge of Duncan's grief had been blunted, the Highlander spoke of the woman he'd loved so deeply and lost so suddenly. Methos' heart broke under the assault of Duncan's pain, but he didn't let it show. He responded when Duncan needed him to. He stroked the hairy, muscled arm to remind Duncan he wasn't alone.

And when Duncan drifted into a peaceful sleep, Methos lay awake with mounting doubts about his place in Duncan's world.

*****

Duncan sighed and carefully removed the photograph from the broken frame. Tossing the shards of glass and bent metal into the trash can, he took the picture and placed it in the sea chest sitting against the wall--the sea chest which now held everything of Tessa's that he still had. Everything that Methos hadn't destroyed.

He thought that everything had been settled that night three weeks ago. Methos had accepted his apology. He'd finally let go of the grief and guilt he felt about Tessa. All was right in the world, right? Wrong. He'd kept some of his favorite photos of Tessa. They turned up shattered. A couple of her smaller pieces that he was fond of were found in the trash. Trinkets from their time together mysteriously disappeared. He started to call Methos on his behavior, but changed his mind. If anyone had a reason to exact revenge, it was the man he'd raped. So he let it go in the hope that Methos would get it out of his system. With thoughts of closure, he'd carefully packed Tessa's things away. All but this picture which he'd missed--but Methos hadn't.

"Hey, Mac!"

Duncan smiled at the enthusiastic greeting as he walked into his former Watcher's establishment. Joe Dawson was now in "management", assigning field Watchers instead of being one. As such, he felt more comfortable with his friendship with the Immortals. "Hey, Joe. Nice crowd you have here tonight."

"Yeah, I was hoping you and your not-so-better half would show up. Where is Adam, by the way? I want to know what he thinks of the band that's debuting tonight."

"He'll be here. Said he had a couple of errands to run, then he'd meet me here."

Joe set a glass in front of him. "How are you guys doing?"

"Ask that of someone who doesn't know you get daily reports on us," Duncan said without a trace of bitterness. Somewhere along the way, he'd just accepted that he was being Watched.

"Not daily--monthly."

"Oh, we've gotten that boring lately?" Duncan grinned.

"You are two of the dullest Immortals at the moment, Mac. If I hadn't personally witnessed all of your earlier drama, I'd wonder why people spoke of you with such awe in their voices. Being happy has made you a bore. You are happy, aren't you?"

"You're fishing, Dawson. For?"

"Adam's Watcher said he was wandering around in the rain for a whole day a few weeks ago. Mentioned that he looked upset."

"We--uh--had a fight. But the problem has been resolved for the most part."

Joe smiled. "Good. As long as you guys weren't breaking out the swords or anything--you didn't, did you?"

Duncan shook his head. "I don't even think that thought crossed our minds."

"That's good to hear. You wouldn't believe the bets--" Joe stopped, realizing what he'd just let slip.

"The Watchers are betting on my and Adam's relationship? Well, what are the odds?"

"You have to understand that most of them think Adam is in awe of you."

Duncan laughed. "If they only knew. So, what? Once he outgrows his crush he's going to dump me?"

"No, the odds are that if anyone gets dumped, it'll be Adam. They think he's too mild for you. Historically speaking, you like your partners feisty."

Gasping, Duncan got his laughter under control. "Have you shared this with Adam?"

"Adam just eggs them on, reading exotic sex books on the job and 'confiding' to his Watcher that he's trying to spice up your sex life so you won't leave him. After all, you've learned so much in you four hundred plus years, and now he has to play catch up."

"And I bet he said it all with a straight face too," Duncan said, marveling at the guilelessness Methos was capable of.

"You know it, Mac. He plays Wilson on a regular basis though. The man is clueless about his assignment."

"Tell him welcome to the club." Duncan stiffened, then relaxed.

"Adam?"

Duncan nodded. Ever since the double quickening, he recognized Methos' Presence. It made living together easier. His lover strolled through the door, smiling when he saw the two of them at the bar. Or maybe it was just at the beer Joe was holding up.

"So, Joe, what's this I hear about a new band?" Methos asked, reaching for the beer--which was promptly knocked out of his hand by an angry Duncan.

"Enough is enough, Adam!" Duncan growled softly in deference to the others at the bar. "I'm sorry I hurt you. I'm sorry I raped you. But I will NOT be slowly tortured like this. If you can't forgive me, leave me or take my head. But THIS WILL STOP NOW!" He stomped out of the bar.

"What the hell?" a stunned Joe asked.

Methos reached for a towel and wiped off his hand. "Mac's had some problems recently. I thought we'd settled them, but apparently I was wrong." He scrubbed mindlessly at the mess on the bar. "Not for the first time."

A hand settled on his. "He raped you? Are we talking another dark quickening?"

Methos tried to smile, but failed. "You know Mac--dark quickening, millennial demon.... He's always full of surprises. I gotta go. Good luck with the new band."

Joe refused to remove his hand. "Why don't you stay here, buddy, until we figure this out? Mac can be dangerous when he's not himself."

"And he can be a danger to himself. I'm not going to let that happen." Methos turned his hand over and gave Joe's a squeeze. "We both know I'm more dangerous than he is. I can take care of both of us."

Joe gave a terse nod and released his hand. "If you need anything--"

"I know."

Joe watched Methos leave, and said a prayer to whoever "up there" was listening.

*****

Methos stepped warily out of the elevator and found himself assaulted with questions instead of the half-expected sword.

"Why, damn you? Why can't you ever just say what's bothering you? Why must you play these games? Do you enjoy manipulating me this way? Is this fun for you?"

Methos took a deep breath and removed his coat. "What is all of this about, MacLeod?"

"You know what it's about."

"I wouldn't ask if I knew."

"You're wearing her perfume! You can't deny that!"

"I can't deny that some white-haired lady, probably working for minimum wage but unable to make ends meet with her current government benefits, sprayed me as I walked through the mall in search of a cheap battery for my cell phone. But as for deliberately wearing 'her' perfume, I can assure you I am innocent. And who is 'her' anyway?"

"Tessa."

Methos muttered a favorite curse in a language four millennia old. "Why can't you get past this, MacLeod? Why does she have such a hold on you?"

"Me?" Duncan stalked over to the chest and opened it. "I'm not the one who's going around breaking her photos and damaging her belongings."

"And you think I am?"

"There's only two of us here, Methos."

He hates you. He doesn't trust you. He's locked things away from you.

Methos shook his head. Where were those thoughts coming from? Maybe Mac didn't trust him, but he knew his lover harbored no hatred for him--not anymore anyway. "Come on, Mac. Does this even sound remotely like something I would do?"

"You've made it clear that I don't know you, Methos. How would I know if you would do something like this?"

All he knows is that you're a liar. And that you're evil.

"You should know that I would never do anything to deliberately hurt you."

Duncan looked at him in bewilderment. "Then who--who would do this? Who would break into our home and cause such destruction?"

"I don't know, Duncan. But we'll figure it out." He started toward Duncan and the chest when suddenly he was engulfed in a cold chill. He turned quickly and spotted a form coalescing in the center of the room. "No," he whispered. What the-- Ghosts didn't exist. They were just part of tales told to frighten or to warn. So what if this apparition--a good word, he told himself, because apparitions were like delusions and mirages, mere mental images--looked like the pictures he'd seen of Tessa Noel? It wasn't Tessa Noel. Because Tessa Noel WAS DEAD.

"Yes, I am," Tessa replied, her voice strong and true.

Methos shook his head. "I don't believe in ghosts. And trust me, if someone was going to come back from the dead to haunt me, I have enough ghosts I'm responsible for. I don't need a castoff from MacLeod."

Tessa smiled. "Funny that you should mention your dead." A body fell from the ceiling and lay broken at Methos feet. Its head lay a few inches away. "He's one of your dead, isn't he?"

Methos paled and took a step back from Silas' corpse.

"Or what about this one?" Another body crashed to the floor. "Or this one?"

Methos looked up at the ceiling and put his arms up protectively over his head as the air filled with the bodies of his victims. He screamed and dropped to the floor as they rained down on him, burying him beneath their rotting remains.

*****

"Methos!"

Duncan raced to the unconscious figure and knelt beside him. What was going on? Methos had been coming toward him. Then he stopped, turned, and the next thing he knew his lover was letting out a bloodcurdling cry and toppling to the floor.

"Methos? Love?" Methos didn't respond. He patted the angular face and felt eerily cold skin. "Come on, Methos. I'm helplessly lost here. You need to wake up and tell me what's happening." Nothing except the reassuring sound of breathing.

He brushed his fingers through the short, dark hair. "So you're going to be stubborn, are you? Why doesn't that surprise me? But I am surprised by your lack of comfort. What's that? That's why I'm here? Make myself useful, huh?" Duncan carefully arranged the body, then scooped it up in his arms, glad that the bed was only a few feet away. "Think I've been feeding you too much, Old Man."

He lay Methos down and the figure curled back into a protective ball.

"I don't know what to do for you, love. If you were mortal, I'd whisk you off to the emergency room. But that's never been helpful for our kind. I could call Joe. Maybe the Watcher database...." He walked away toward the phone in the kitchen.

Before he got ten feet away, Methos started to shiver violently. With a curse, he raced back to the bed. "Stop that," he said gently, stroking the long back. "I'm not leaving you. I just wanted to use the phone and not disturb you. But I'll use the one here, okay? I'm not leaving you, Methos. Not ever."

Duncan continued to stroke as he made the call.

*****

Methos struggled out from beneath the bodies, the smell of blood and decay enhancing his fear of suffocation. God, if he never smelled a battlefield again, he could die happy. Shoving aside the discolored corpse of a naked child, he made it to his knees, and then to his feet.

"Hmm. It seems they had reason to call you Death."

He looked at the tall, stunning blonde. When they were in the loft, she seemed wispy, insubstantial. But now that they were--where, he had no idea. It looked like a big, dark plain, carpeted with the bodies of his victims--but now that they were here, she was solid and beautifully real. "Duncan has always had excellent taste in women," he murmured as he tried to figure out what was going on.

"I always thought so until I found him in bed with you."

Methos bit back a sarcastic reply. He had no idea of where he was or how he'd gotten there. Definitely not the time to start a bitch-fight over Duncan. "You're Tessa, aren't you? Tessa Noel?" he said in a quavering, Adam Pierson voice. "Where--where are we? Why have you brought me to this place?"

"We are in the space between where I exist and where you exist."

Okay. Neutral ground. "Why did you bring me here?"

"I didn't. I was here and you came to me." She laughed at the confused look on his face. "You didn't know you could reach this place?"

"I just find it strange that if I can reach the space between worlds and be confronted by a ghost, then why has this not happened before? With one or more of my own ghosts?"

"Because you have not allowed it. There are many who want to meet you here, but you not only stop yourself from coming here, you stop them as well. The only reason I am here is that I came to find Duncan."

"Duncan? You've met Duncan here?"

"No. He cannot come here, and I have had difficulty reaching him on the other side."

Reaching him? "But you've tried, right? The broken photos and missing items? You did all that?"

"Yes."

"Why? To discredit me? To make me look petty and jealous in Duncan's eyes? Why?"

"You are not worthy of Duncan's love. You are an evil dog who has come begging at Duncan's feet, covered in fleas, and your belly full of the blood of thousands," she spat.

Methos saw the raw hatred in her eyes and took a step back. Then a thought struck him. "It was you! You were the one who caused Duncan to assault me that night. It was your anger, not his!"

"I had waited patiently for ten years for the chance to say my goodbyes to Duncan. One last chance to feel his embrace, to taste the sweetness of his love. I knew--" Tessa hesitated, looking off into the distance. "I knew there was a chance that he'd moved on, that another would be sharing his bed. In fact, I hoped there would be. Duncan is a man designed for love--to love and be loved. I would not begrudge him that. But instead of finding him in bed with a--person, I found him with you! I did not know my anger would burrow itself into Duncan, but I'm not upset that it did. You deserved that pain and then some!"

"Why? Because Duncan loves me? It's mutual."

"No! You aren't capable of love. I've seen what passes as love for you. Your Kronos thought you loved him. As did Caspian and Silas. And your 'love' brought them death. But that's apropos, isn't it? Well, keep away from Duncan, Death. He does not deserve your attentions!"

"Considering you're dead, you surely don't see me as competition, do you?" he asked, desperately trying to get rid of the image of Silas' rotting, decapitated body. No matter what the she-devil said, he'd loved his brother--all of his brothers. But he'd sacrificed them for Duncan. Didn't that mean anything to her?

"Even if I were alive, I wouldn't see you as competition," Tessa snarled.

Methos felt as if there were things crawling beneath his skin. You lose it now, you might lose it forever. He grabbed onto sarcasm, hoping it would keep him grounded. "Oh, that's supposed to mean something from a decade-old corpse. Hate to tell you, darling, but by now you're just shriveled skin and bone. Not very sexy, trust me."

Blue eyes flashed. "You would know, wouldn't you? I'm sure Death wasn't above assaulting corpses. At least that way you didn't have to worry about rejection."

"Speaking of assaulting corpses--" He leapt forward and wrapped his hands around her throat. She screamed, then he did as hands grabbed him and flung him away. Rolling to his feet defensively, he looked at the new arrivals. Although no pictures of them existed, he knew who they were immediately: Debra Campbell and Little Deer. He was going to kill Duncan if he ever made it back to him.

"Leave Duncan MacLeod alone," the women chorused.

"Why? Because you bitches have a prior claim?" Methos sneered, wiping his hands across his thighs. It was never a good idea to get thrown into a pile of the dead. Sure, they made for a soft landing, but they squished easily.

"Because you're evil," Tessa pronounced, obviously the spokesperson and the strength of the trio.

"Bullshit. You don't want me with Duncan because of your own vanity. What was it you said? You found Duncan in bed with me?" He gave a harsh laugh. "I bet you certainly got an eyeful. All that hard external genitalia going internally with such enthusiasm. And me without a vagina. How shocking!"

The three pointed fingers at him and the air around him thickened, cutting off his oxygen. As the world around him faded to black, Methos sent himself a mental memo: To Self: Never piss off ghosts--especially female ones.

*****

"No, I didn't do this to him!" Duncan was shouting into the phone. "I know I was angry when I left, but I wouldn't--Joe, he's barely breathing now and...and he's crying. I think someone's hurting him."

A muffled curse came through the receiver. "What are we talking, Mac? Some kind of psychic force?"

Duncan sighed and brushed a thumb across the tracks of tears crisscrossing Methos' face. "I've...I've been there before, Joe, been in that place where someone's manipulating your thoughts."

"Garrick?"

"Yeah, Garrick...and Ahriman as well."

"If that's what's happening, then there's nothing we can do, Mac. He's gonna have to win this one on his own."

"I know. But--I hurt him recently."

"You raped him."

"He told you?"

"No, you did--tonight."

Duncan closed his eyes and lay down beside Methos. "He once begged me to take his head because he'd lost the fire to fight. What if--what if my actions doused the fire again?"

"You killed Richie, then still had the strength to defeat Ahriman. He possesses the same strength you do, Mac."

"But it took me a year to re-gather my strength for the battle." Methos gave a long shudder beside him. His mouth opened and though he didn't make a sound, Duncan easily interpreted the silent scream. His soul ripped down the middle. "He doesn't have that long."

"I'll check the files, but I doubt if I'm going to find anything that will help. Just have faith in him, Mac. Don't give up. Don't let him give up."

"Thank you, Joe." Duncan clicked the phone off and tossed it onto the nightstand. Then he turned and gathered Methos into his arms. "Fight, Methos," he whispered against his lover's ear. "Fight for me. I don't want to be alone again."

Beneath his hand, Methos' heart pounded.

Then it stopped.

*****

Methos opened his eyes, then closed them quickly. No! He knew his surroundings. Knew the smell, recognized the tools on the wall. And he knew that he hadn't been in hell before because he was there now.

Hands pawed at his ass and he scrambled to get away even though he knew he was chained in place. He was in a blacksmith's shop. The forge and massive bellows was to his left. And he was anchored firmly over an anvil, circlets around his wrists hooked through rings in the anvil, his ankles secured to rings in the floor. His stance was wide, his ass was high, and soon a red hot poker was going to be stuck up his anus. He would pass out and/or die and when he regained consciousness/life, the blacksmith would have his cock shoved up his ass and be getting off on the flashes of healing quickening. It had taken him two weeks to escape the madman, two weeks of unimaginable pain--and two centuries of refusing to voluntarily let anyone violate his ass.

The approaching heat warned him, but nothing could prepare him for the searing fire that burned through the ring of muscle that protected him, then raced along his tight channel, charring the delicate tissue. When he felt his heart stutter, he smiled around the wad of fabric stuffed in his mouth to stifle his screams. His heart skipped another beat, then ceased altogether.

Only to restart in time to hear the blacksmith moan as he plowed deeper and deeper into the abused flesh. On a level of consciousness beyond that of the pain, he could feel the power of his healing energy at work, and he knew he would survive this--only to suffer it again.

The semen burned as it flooded his body.

In the blink of an eye, Methos found himself sprawled on the field of dead bodies again. "Duncan told me how beautiful you three were. But he failed to mention you were vindictive bitches," he muttered weakly as he struggled to his feet.

"Renounce your love for Duncan MacLeod," Tessa said, standing before him with her arms crossed.

"No."

"How would you like a little trip further back? To a certain temple where you were worshipped as a god. Surely, that's a pleasant memory for a man of your status, Death."

Methos paled as he flashed back to the temple where he'd been held for three hundred years. The temple had been an underground cavern, home to a cult who believed a god had come to them for their own use. He'd been tied to a natural stone arc, his feet apart, his arms wide over his head. During the fertility season, each male who had come of age had to fuck him to have their seed blessed--the more they could make him scream, the more blessed they were. Then he was moved to the floor and he would have sex with the women. Actually the women would have sex with him so that their wombs would be blessed. A diligently applied cock ring made sure every girl/woman was blessed. But that was the fun part of the year. During planting season, he was bled and his blood sprinkled over the fields beneath a full moon. Lack of blood and lack of light made him even paler than the moon, adding to his "godly" appearance. Only an earthquake had freed him of that particular hell.

Methos dropped to his knees and vomited. "Stay the fuck out of my mind," he snarled weakly as the ghosts approached.

"Renounce your love for Duncan MacLeod," they chorused.

"Never."

Tessa knelt beside him and stroked his hair. "Kheb," she whispered.

Methos stiffened, then passed out in his own vomit.

*****

Duncan dumped the soiled sheets into the hamper and hurried back to Methos' side. "Guess it's a good thing that we already had a waterproof mattress pad, huh?" he asked the still form. "I'm going in the bathroom for a moment to get something to clean you up with, okay?"

He watched the basin fill and grabbed the necessary supplies. In his mind he saw Methos retching on the bed again, helpless against whatever it was that was torturing him so. When Methos had collapsed, he'd caught him before he slumped into the mess and rolled him to a drier spot on the bed. Acting without thought, he'd stripped the bed and put of fresh linens like he'd been taught when he was a medic in the war. Or like he'd done hundreds of times since Methos had become part of his life. He would fuck Methos senseless, climb out of bed, change the sheets without disturbing Methos unduly, grab a towel, clean himself, then go out and lovingly clean Methos....

That had been his life up to now. What had changed? What had brought this chaos into their lives? Had they angered the Powers That Be somehow? Neither of them had taken a challenge in years. Neither of them had been hunted in years. Had this been somebody's way of lulling them into a false sense of security or stability? So that when this happened, it would hurt that much worse?

He turned off the tap and tipped the basin slightly, since he'd let it run all the way to overflow. Grabbing everything, he headed back out to the loft. Setting his burdens down, he began to strip Methos. The body was pliant, the long limbs lolling as he removed the ever-present sweater, followed by a T-shirt and the dagger harness. For some reason, Methos seemed paler than usual, his skin glowing like alabaster.

The battered sneakers had been removed earlier and now Duncan removed his socks before sliding the loose jeans over the narrow hips. Bunched boxers revealed powerful thighs and Duncan shook his head, still curious about how well Methos stayed in shape. He'd never seen him exercise, yet when they sparred--or he wheedled/begged/seduced Methos into going for a run with him--Methos was always in good form. The magic of the Ancients, he supposed.

He cleaned Methos with the care he would give a newborn. Methos was remarkably unscarred for the most part. None of the little reminders of childhood scrapes and cuts. Just faint stripes on his back and buttocks that spoke of the unspeakable. He often wondered if Methos' inability to recall his mortal years was deliberate.

"The unspeakable," he said aloud as he poured lotion into his hands. "Sometimes that's good, and sometimes it leads to a world of trouble. Like now for instance." He smoothed the lotion across Methos back. "We speak of our love easily, but not of our commitment to each other. Do you know how precious this relationship is to me? Do you know I hurry home each day because you are here? Do you know I can recall every moment I've spent with you--the length of your hair, how many times you smiled, the colors of your eyes as your moods change? Do you know the vows, 'for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse' mean nothing compared to the silent vows I've made to you? Do you know that I would give up all that I am for you? Every memory, every quickening I've taken, every love that I've experienced, I would erase at your request?"

Duncan slid to his knees beside the bed. He drew Methos' lax hand into his, then laved a kiss across the palm. "Methos, to you I give the power to remake me in whatever image you deem fit. My heart will forever beat in time with yours. My soul I hand into your care. These are my vows to you, Methos, eldest of our kind, child of the blowing winds and rising tides."

Methos' hand clenched against his.

"Methos?"

Eyes opened, revealing flat brown irises, which disappeared as the pupils dilated. The grip became painful.

"Methos! What is it?"

Methos screamed.

*****

"No. Please," Methos begged, hating himself not because he was being weak, but because he knew the begging was just a waste of time. It had never stopped Kheb before. Nothing ever stopped Kheb. Kheb would continue what he was doing until the job was done. And what was Kheb's job? Flaying a very alive Methos. It was sort of a hobby of his, like attempting to peel an apple with tearing the skin. Kheb was determined that one day he would skin a human, and since Methos' skin regenerated so quickly, he was the perfect subject.

Was Kheb insane? Oh, yes. Did anyone care? Oh, no. Kheb was a favorite of the gods, a healer of renown. So what if the pale one screamed night and day, Kheb was learning what the gods wished him to learn.

"Hold him still."

Hands gripped him as Kheb made a long cut from his clavicle to his groin. The cut was so shallow it barely bled and if Kheb hadn't discovered that some drug he forced down Methos throat suppressed the Immortal's healing powers, it would have disappeared immediately. But the herbal concoction banked the spikes of rejuvenation and Kheb was able to grab the edge of the laceration and pull back. A sharp knife appeared and as Kheb pulled, he cut, separating the skin from the flesh below. Methos screamed, but the men holding him didn't shift and the man cutting him didn't stop.

Hours later, Methos was still screaming, but his abused vocal cords had given up and the screams went unnoticed and unheard. His eyes shifted down to his chest and he saw bared muscle and flesh heaving within his sight, only a few beads of blood showing up to dot the striated area. He could feel the salt of the men's hands burning into his limbs and knew they were in the same condition. Then he heard the words he'd been waiting for because this was when he was going to have the luxury of becoming unconscious.

"Turn him over."

He was lifted carefully, but he knew when his bared insides were pressed against the table, he would pass out and whatever Kheb did to his back he wouldn't feel. This was the only small mercy he had to look forward to. He waited greedily for the darkness to descend. But this time it didn't. The pain came, but the body had become conditioned to it and instead of sending him over the edge, it kept him balanced there as Kheb hummed some hymn to Osiris and continued his work.

"You don't love Duncan MacLeod," a voice whispered in his ear.

Methos forced his eyes open, staring into the decaying face of a woman he'd raped and slain during the height of his Four Horsemen days. The fetid odor from that body and the ones he rested upon crawled up his nose and blossomed in his stomach. He gagged, but had nothing left to expel.

"Get away from me," he rasped. He tried to move away and a flash of red stopped him. The red was his arm, its skin removed. He panicked and sat up quickly. The left half of his chest and his left arm were completely skinned. He traced a blood vessel along his arm, fascinated and horrified.

"What have you done to me?" The pain almost overwhelmed him and black spots winked before his eyes.

"Not us. Kheb."

"Why am I not healing?"

"Maybe in this world you are not Immortal. Tell us that you do not love Duncan MacLeod and you will be free to go back to your own world and heal," Tessa enticed.

She drew her nails over the exposed flesh. Methos hissed and slid away from her touch, but then realized that not only had he not healed from Kheb's administrations, but the injuries from the blacksmith also still existed. He sobbed as he realized he was truly dying.

"Release Duncan MacLeod from your warped idea of love and you will be saved," Tessa said softly.

"No, I will be lost," Methos said hollowly, sinking down atop the bodies again. Maybe this was how it was supposed to end, amid the bodies of his dead. "Duncan's my reward, don't you see? They said--they said for my thousand years of sacrifice I would be given my heart's desire. Without Duncan, it was all for nothing, these people died for nothing."

"What are you talking about?" Tessa demanded.

"Revelation 6:8."

"We know who you are, Death."

"You don't know. None of you understand," Methos cried, flinging his uninjured arm across his face.

"'And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed after him.' What don't we understand?" Tessa said smugly.

"That's not the whole verse."

Tessa turned and Debra Campbell handed her a bible. "'And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.'"

"Power was given to us. We didn't take it. We were called, each of us," Methos explained, his voice weak and husky. "Kronos answered quickly, eager to wield chaos without constraint. Caspian, too, had no hesitation. Silas was content to remain where he was, but once Kronos called him brother, he quickly agreed."

"And you, Death?"

"I first refused. I had no desire to wreak havoc for a thousand years. In fact, I had outgrown havoc long before. I had a fairly prosperous tribe who cared not that their leader grew no older or healed from all injury. We lived in peace for the most part because I knew how to be seen as neither bold nor timid. The bold are challenged, the timid are walked upon. I--I merely took up space. Fighting me and mine would gain a competitor nothing, so as wars raged around us, we were untouched. Then came the invisible enemy--sickness. I watched them all...die. Not the first time that had happened to me, but it never, never, gets any easier. I was told that if I answered the call I would be helping them--the mortals. They had grown more and more wicked with each generation. Something needed to put their evil ways in check. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We were to kill, to scar, but mostly to frighten. And for remaining faithful to the cause, I would one day receive my heart's greatest desire.

"I had no family left. I was going to have to start over again anyway, so I accepted the Brotherhood. I became the world's nightmare, and my own as well. These bodies--I see them in my sleep. Some nights I still hear their cries and their accusations. They are truly my dead. So I would appreciate it if you would return them to me when I am dead."

"The others killed beyond the thousand years."

"Kronos and Caspian did, and forfeited their reward. That's how much they enjoyed what they were doing. I left the moment the millennium was up, and I dragged Silas with me. His heart's desire was to live undisturbed with his animals. I made that possible. Then I went up a mountain to meditate and wait for my reward. When it never came, I thought I had to show patience because of my sins.... I never killed wantonly after the millennium, but during that time--I never reveled in it, but I grew numb to the mortals' pain and suffering. Indifference is as much a sin as committing the acts themselves. To witness and never interfere." Methos smiled, then grimaced as fire race through his gut. Internal injuries. "That's why I'm glad Joe isn't an ordinary Watcher. It's the indifference that breaks them, not the violence they watch.

"To repent for my sin, I tried not to be indifferent. I became a doctor to the mortals, especially to those who other doctors refused to treat. I also remained humble in dress and manner as to not offend. Two thousand years after being a Horseman my reward arrived at my door and called me by name. He was handsome and good. I had to fight for him, for him to accept me, but he did. Finally, he did." Methos groaned and felt himself drenched in sweat. "I guess I can't complain. I thought to have longer with him, but there was no time constrictions named in the agreement. Next time--" A sharp pain grabbed his insides and twisted them into a knot. "Next time I'll make sure to read the fine print."

"Methos. Methos!" Dazed eyes turned to the yelling voice. "Call Duncan to you."

"No. I will not have him trapped here."

Tessa sat down next to him. "Not to trap him here, but to give you the energy to take you both back to the other side."

In pain or not, he looked at her suspiciously. "Why?"

She looked up at her fellow ghosts, then back down at him. "Because we were wrong. Call Duncan, Methos. He needs you as much as you need him."

Methos tried to lift his arm to touch her face, but could not. "I think it's too late, dear lady. If you ever succeed in contacting him, tell him...tell him that if I'd had but a second with him, it would have been enough." He closed his eyes and his breathing became shallow and erratic.

"No! Call him, Methos. Use your love for him and his for you, and CALL HIM NOW!" Tessa bent over and touched her forehead to his. "Call him, Methos."

Methos breathed once and stilled.

*****

"No!" Duncan MacLeod screamed and gathered the lax body into his arms. "Don't leave me, Methos! God, please don't leave me!"

He had no idea how an Immortal could die with his head attached, but he was certain that if Methos died now, he would not reanimate. And that was unacceptable! "Fight, damn you! I know you, Old Man. You can't give up this easily. I don't know what they've done to you, but it can't be worse than me having to live without you. Don't do this to me, love," he pleaded. "Don't make me go on...without you."

Temporarily blinded by a flood of tears, it took Duncan a moment to notice he was no longer in his loft--or holding on to Methos. Instead, he was in a meadow and standing before him were Tessa, Little Deer and Debra.

"My God!"

Tessa stepped forward, her hand outstretched. "Duncan, my love."

He tentatively touched her hand, then pulled her into a suffocating embrace. "Tessa, oh, my lovely Tessa. I never got to say goodbye to you, to apologize for--"

A slender fingertip fell against his lips. "No apology necessary. You did nothing wrong that night."

He shook his head and released her. "I murdered our son."

She grabbed his hand. "Richie is fine. And he doesn't blame you either. In fact, he is part of the elite where he is. He died as a martyr, Duncan, sacrificed in the fight against evil. You should see him strutting around some days."

"Yeah?"

"He is still our Richie, love. And he is happy and at peace." Tessa smiled. "Now, go speak to the other ladies before they refuse to speak to me."

He hugged Little Deer and whispered to her in Lakota. She kissed his hands and stepped back. Debra flung herself into his arms and he gayly twirled her around before setting her back on her feet and giving her a resounding kiss. Then he reached out his arms and drew them all together. "My girls," he whispered happily. "The loves of my life."

But someone was missing. "You have to help me," he told them urgently. "I need to find Methos. He's--he's who I love now. He's--"

"He's over there, Duncan."

He followed Tessa's pointing finger and sprinted over to the slumped form. "Methos?" He looked at the skinless chest and arm, and noticed how Methos was doubled over. He patted his abdomen, felt the tell-tale hardness of internal bleeding. He leaned over to see if there were bruises on his back. Instead, he found blood pouring from his rectum. "What? What's wrong with him? Methos? Wake up, love. I'm here. I'll take care of you now." He looked up at the approaching Tessa. "Who did this? Why?" he asked angrily. Methos had not only been skinned, but raped!

She hung her head.

"You? It was you! You're responsible for this, aren't you?" he said suddenly as everything clicked in his mind. "You've been haunting us. Why? Why would you hurt the man I love?"

"We thought he was evil, Duncan. We thought--"

"You're dead! You have no business interfering in my life!"

"We thought you deserved better than--We were wrong, Duncan. He is more worthy than we knew. He has deceived you. He's not--"

"I don't care what the hell he is! I love him and he loves me. That's all that matters, Tessa. How could you hurt him like this? How could you hurt me like this?" He turned away from her and focused totally on Methos. "Love? Come on, Methos. I need you to wake up for me. Please, Methos?"

Pain darkened eyes opened. "Dun...can? You're...real?"

Duncan smiled. "I've come to take you home."

"I...hurt."

The smile faded. "I know, love. But I'm going to take you home and spoil you rotten until you feel better. Okay?"

"Sounds...sounds like an offer...I can't refuse. Where...where are they?"

Duncan didn't have to ask who 'they' were. "Shh. Don't worry about them. They can't hurt you anymore."

"They...they just loved you."

Duncan picked him up as carefully as possible, cradling him in his arms like a babe. "I don't need their kind of love. I just need yours. Which way to the exit?"

"Tessa says...Tessa says I'm it."

He looked at the lovely blonde, who was weeping with her companions. "This man has taught me all about forgiveness and acceptance. But I canna' forgive or accept what you've done. Not now. Maybe not ever. Be gone and allow us our peace." The spirits faded away. "Take us home, my love."

"Kiss me."

Duncan opened his eyes to find himself back in the loft with lips beneath his and hazel eyes staring back at him. "Welcome home, Methos."

Methos quickly raised his left arm and laughed weakly when he saw the pale skin and light hairs. The laughter turned to tears.

Duncan kissed the leaking eyes. "What about your other pain? Is it healed too?" He rolled the naked body toward him, seeking--

"Stop!" Methos grabbed Duncan's hand and held it still. "I feel okay. But--but it might be a while before I can tolerate...." He looked at Duncan shyly. "I'm sorry."

Duncan smiled and made sure both his hands were in view. "Nothing to be sorry about, baby. Whenever you're ready. And in the meantime, I guess that means more for me."

"What?"

"Just because you can't take doesn't mean you can't give, does it?" He grinned at the dazed look he received. "Just because I prefer being on top doesn't mean I can't bottom." He kissed the still stunned man. "It just takes a huge amount of trust on my part. And I have that--with you."

Methos blinked, the idea of actually being inside Duncan warring with his weariness. Unfortunately, weariness won out. But some things didn't take a lot of energy. "Did you just call me baby?"

Duncan laughed. "Yes, because I plan on pampering you and spoiling you and coddling you--"

"By pampering, you don't mean the nappies, do you?" he teased.

"No, silly. I mean I'm going to bathe you and feed you your favorite foods--in bed."

"What about the no-crumb rule?"

"Suspended. Let me go draw your bath."

Methos reached out. "You've been bathing me a lot lately. Do you--do you think I'm dirty?" he asked cautiously. What stray notions of Tessa's still remained in Duncan's head? Hell, what stray notions still remained in his own?

Duncan pounced on the bed and gave him a wet, messy kiss. "Actually, I just like you wet and naked."

"Oh." Well, he was pretty sure that thought was pure McLeod.

"Don't look so shocked, man," Duncan said laughingly. "Surely you know how beautiful you are."

Methos shook his head. "I saw three examples of your idea of beauty today. I don't compare."

"No, you don't." The slow, deep kiss that accompanied the reply made it clear that the response held no negative connotations.

The kiss intensified and Methos felt Mac's body respond. Suddenly, the blacksmith loomed in his thoughts. "Stop," he panted. Duncan quickly withdrew. "I--"

Duncan left the bed. "You don't need to explain."

"But--" Methos began, then shook his head. "It won't be like this for long. The memories will fade; they always do. I guess the experience is just too--"

"Immediate?" Duncan supplied.

"Yes. I--"

Duncan put a finger on the lips to stop them from moving. "Methos, I don't claim to be an expert on the subject, but there is a lesson I've learned from my own personal resident alien."

"What's that?" Methos asked, recalling his claim of coming from another world. Sadly, it wasn't just a claim. The world he originated in had little in common with this one.

"That the 'd' in 'desire' stands for 'devotion', not 'demand.' I desire only what you can give me at each particular moment, and nothing more."

Methos refused to acknowledge the tears in his eyes. "Sounds like this alien of yours has some rather radical ideas."

Duncan shrugged. "He's a radical kind of fellow. An instigator of some renown."

"Those kind can be dangerous."

"Terribly. But I'm not afraid."

"Why's that?"

"Because this radical, resident alien of mine loves me. And I love him."

"You do?"

Duncan nodded. "And I'll let you in on a secret."

"Do tell," Methos urged, smiling.

"Marriage is of the heart. And today, I'm a married man. So I have to quit yapping, because my husband is waiting for his bath."

Methos could only look at him in wonder. "Duncan...."

"Yes, my husband?"

"I love you."

Duncan winked. "I know."

He hummed as he disappeared into the bathroom.

*****

"Forgive them," Methos said as he soaked in the riot of bubbles and hot water. He leaned back against the hard chest of his lover and felt arms encircle him, rubbing small designs against his stomach. Candles flickered around the room, their soft scent mixing with the steam of the water.

"Why?"

"Because you can." Because I need you to. Because I need to know you can.

"They hurt you."

"Out of their love for you. I can't fault them for that. It would just make me a hypocrite."

Duncan shook his head stubbornly, his long locks brushing silkenly across Methos' shoulders. "It's still too personal. I can accept your past because what you did was not done to me. But this, this hurt me, Methos. Maybe my pain was minor compared to yours--"

"Your pain is never minor to me, Duncan."

Duncan sighed. "How do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Be so forgiving. I don't know what they did to you exactly, but I have some idea."

"They did nothing to me. I was attacked by my own past, and no amount of anger and blame is going to change what was. Besides, they're dead and I'm alive--and I have you. I can afford to be the gracious winner." Methos tilted his head back for a kiss. "At times we all do the wrong thing for love. The sin shouldn't carry a lifelong sentence."

Duncan nibbled at the long neck presented to him. "Methos, Messenger of Redemption."

"Something like that." He scooted forward in order to turn and face Duncan solemnly. "You know that you never have to worry about redeeming yourself in my eyes, don't you? I will always forgive you, no matter what."

"You can't--you don't know what I might--" Duncan stammered.

Methos smiled, loving the way the candlelight reflected in Duncan's eyes. "It doesn't matter. Forgiveness freely given has no degrees. Betray me, leave me, take my head--the crime does not matter. In my heart I will forgive you. Do what you will with this knowledge, just know that it is true."

"I--I"

"I know you can't make the same promise, Duncan. Maybe in five thousand years--"

Duncan shook his head. "Maybe not ever. Your capacity for understanding, for forgiveness, is a part of who you are, Methos, and it has nothing to do with your age. My only saving grace five thousand years from now will be that you will be at my side, prodding me, teaching me--"

"Loving you."

"Loving me," Duncan whispered obediently. "I don't know what I've done to deserve you, Methos, but I promise to keep on doing it if it keeps you with me."

Methos leaned forward, resting his forehead against Duncan's. "Well, I know exactly what I did, and I must say, it was well worth it. Do you love me, Duncan MacLeod?"

"Always, my husband, always."

Methos turned back around and rested against Duncan again. His eyes closed and a smile graced his lips. Yes, he thought, as Duncan ran the pink pouf across his chest seductively, it was all definitely worth it.

The End

By the Rivers of Babylon We Sat Down and Wept

We sat down and wept by the waters
Of Babel, and thought of the day
When our foe, in the hue of his slaughters,
Made Salem's high places his prey;
And ye, oh her desolate daughters!
Were scattered all weeping away.
While sadly we gazed on the river
Which rolled on in freedom below,
They demanded the song; but, oh never
That triumph the stranger shall know!
May this right hand be withered for ever,
Ere it string our high harp for the foe!
On the willow that harp is suspended,
Oh Salem! its sound should be free;
And the hour when thy glories were ended
But left me that token of thee:
And ne'er shall its soft tones be blended
With the voice of the spoiler by me!

George Gordon, Lord Byron