(May 9, 2000)
The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is mingled with grief, love grows perhaps the greater.
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
I. Methos laughed as he pictured all his books, and all his future books, lined up neatly on the shelves, being displayed with the respect they deserved.
Methos eyed the house suspiciously. It was-- large. Two stories. At least four, maybe five bedrooms. But it was largely unfinished, and even the finished parts looked like they'd been "weathering" for a while. "Well," he said, carefully noncommittal to his friend, lover, and fellow Immortal, Duncan MacLeod.
"I bought it," Duncan said enthusiastically. "One of the Silicon Valley guys was having it built, then ran into some tax problems and never finished it. It's been sitting here being an eyesore for years. I got it for a song," he crowed, always pleased with a good deal.
"And was that song, 'There's A Sucker Born Every Minute'?" Methos asked acerbically.
Used to his partner's dry wit, Duncan fished in his pockets for the keys to the house. "We're going to have fun fixing it up. Wait till you see inside. There's this room--"
Methos stilled, his eyes narrowing as he remembered the last time MacLeod restored a house. "If this is your way of telling me you have another pregnant girlfriend, you should have taken my sword first."
Duncan snickered, until he saw the pain in Methos' eyes. "Don't be daft, Old Man. This is for us."
"Us?" Methos croaked, his mouth suddenly dry.
"Us. As in you and me. Living together. Co-habitating."
"You're asking me to move in with you?" Methos clarified. So far, during their two-year relationship, they had maintained separate residences, although any acquaintance of Adam Pierson, Methos' alter ego, knew that he'd be most likely found wherever Duncan MacLeod was.
"No. I'm asking much more than that." Duncan came up close to Methos, and something on his face made the elder Immortal back up a step. It didn't matter; the Scot just moved with him. "I'm asking for commitment, Methos. I'm asking you to have as much faith in our love as I do. I'm asking you to join with me in making this our home, our monument to a love that never has to end."
"Aren't you forgetting a certain Game?" Methos inquired nervously.
Duncan rested his forehead against his lover's. "The Game will go on whether or not we are together, Old Man. I'd rather lose my head after decades, centuries, millennia of loving you, than lose it regretting that I lacked the courage to follow my heart. What I'm asking, Methos, is will you marry me?"
It wasn't often in his five thousand years that Methos found himself speechless, but the situation was occurring more and more since his association with a certain Highland youngster. With effort, he managed to close the jaw which had gaped open in response to Mac's questions. But damn if he could get any words out.
"I know we're Immortal, but breathing is probably a good idea," Duncan teased, dropping a kiss on Methos' forehead, before going around him and up to the door. "We've made enough of a spectacle in the front yard. Come on inside. I want to show you something."
"What about the neighbors, MacLeod?" Methos asked, wrapping his mind around something more comfortable than thinking of marrying Duncan. "Think they'll be able to handle a male couple?"
"According to the realtor, they'll be so happy someone's restoring this eyesore, we could be Martians for all they care."
"Yeah, but we're gay Martians," Methos muttered.
"Who'll have the best looking house on the street."
"Well, of course, dahling," Methos cooed. "After all, our kind have great tastes." He followed Mac past the foyer into a large room with a cathedral ceiling.
"I thought this could be the library," Duncan said. "Shelves as high as the ceiling, a lounger by the fireplace, where you could curl up with your favorite volume...." He scrutinized his beloved's face carefully, smiling when delight stole into his eyes. It was always amazing to watch eyes which should have been jaded after all that Methos had seen, had done, had had done to him, light up like a child's.
Methos laughed as he pictured all his books, and all his future books, lined up neatly on the shelves, being displayed with the respect they deserved. For years, books-- clay tablets, papyrus, whatever the media-- had been his only companions, well, the only ones that lasted, the only ones who wanted nothing from him. They hadn't hurt him, betrayed him, or gone after his head. More importantly, they hadn't died on him. And now, he could honor them properly.
"Yes, I will move in here with you, Highlander. The rest...we'll discuss later. Now, about the wood these shelves will be made of. None of that discount stuff. If you want to act the miserly Scot, you can pinch pennies elsewhere. My books will not be encased in inferior...."
Duncan grinned, thanking the soon-to-be occupants of the room for getting him through this first hurdle of making Methos a permanent part of his life. Now, on to the higher hurdles, which he was sure Methos would make into mountains before the Ancient One got around to marrying him. But what was that old adage-- something about that which was worth keeping, was worth fighting for? Well, Methos was definitely that-- worth the keeping and worth the fight.
Besides, Duncan MacLeod loved a good fight.
II. I sure know how to pick 'em, don't I? I just don't do the abnormal and fall for an Immortal; I fall for THE Immortal. Damn lofty of me, don't you think?
"So, Joe, which do you prefer?" Methos asked, spreading the swatches of wallpaper in front of the bartender. "The forest green or the delft?"
Joe Dawson rolled his eyes and grunted. "This is your and Mac's project. Leave me out of it," the Watcher declared. For months he'd watched the two Immortals work on their "dream house", juggling jobs at Seacouver University (Mac), and at the Northwestern Museum of Ancient Civilizations (Methos), with wearing the hats of carpenters, contractors, and interior decorators. Which brought up a point. "Why haven't you hit Mac up for money to hire a professional decorator for this?" Not surprisingly, the Immortals were good as carpenters and contractors. After all, both had survived times when any house you lived in, you built yourself.
"I have lived through some pretty ugly periods, Joe. Each one of them had an interior decorator," Methos lamented. "Besides, this is for the downstairs bedroom. I expect you to occupy it during holidays and times of excessive drunkenness."
Joe laughed. "I guess you aren't planning on being the designated driver, are you?"
"Never," Methos said in an affronted tone. "If you have a 'good time', you should expect to walk, stay, or better yet, come by horse. They always seem to know the way home. Just make sure the horse isn't stolen."
Joe bent over laughing, thinking of a drunken Methos on a stolen horse, being carried back to the scene of the crime. "Oh, man. It's going to be too quiet around here with you guys moving to the suburbs."
"That's why you have to come stay with us on occasion. Besides, I'll probably be in need of a friend. MacLeod's already claimed the upper guest rooms for his 'clan'."
"They'll be your clan soon enough." That earned the mortal a glare. "And they're already your friends, aren't they?"
"But," Methos looked at Joe sheepishly. "They were MacLeod's friends first. You're the only one who was mine."
Joe remembered back to meeting what he thought was a young, shy, but intense, researcher for the Watchers, adored by his mentor, Don Seltzer. God, Adam had been a good actor. If it hadn't been for MacLeod, he would have never known the grad student was anything but. Still, after meeting and getting to know Methos, Joe realized the man was his friend, no matter his loooong past. "I won't have to bring my own booze, will I?"
"Not as long as I have MacLeod's credit card number memorized."
The statement was made so matter-of-factly, that Joe found himself laughing again. "Fine. Count me in. I prefer the green, I think."
Methos smiled. "Green it is."
"When do you guys think you'll be able to move in?"
"In about a month, which won't be long at all considering the past six restoring the place have past by so fast."
"Time flies when you're having fun, huh?" Joe asked shrewdly.
Methos looked surprised. "I guess it has been fun. Takes me back to the days of building your own place, knowing that if you screwed up anything, it would be your own family suffering the consequences. Maybe that's why there's such shoddy workmanship today. The workers are too distant from their customers."
"So, when's the wedding?" Silence. "You know Mac wants to make an honest man out of you before you move in."
Methos gave a bitter laugh. "It's way too late to make me honest, Joe."
The mortal sighed and sat down at the table covered in swatch books and scribbled notes. "Friend to friend, Methos-- why won't you marry MacLeod? You know he loves you. And I know you love him. What's with all the games?"
"Well, there is one Game in particular, Watcher," Methos pointed out emphatically.
"Which you knew and accepted from the beginning of this relationship with Mac. Don't forget; I nursemaided both of you through that. Mac was afraid the Watchers would kill you when they found out that not only were you an Immortal, but Duncan MacLeod's lover."
"The very essence of what an ex-Watcher should not be," Methos said dryly. It had taken his whole 5000-year repertoire of lies to get through the Watcher's Tribunal without anyone dying. "I swear they were more upset about me being in Mac's bed than they were about me being an Immortal."
"Considering you convinced them you were a new Immortal, you weren't much of a threat to them. MacLeod, on the other hand...."
Methos smiled. "I sure know how to pick 'em, don't I? I just don't do the abnormal and fall for an Immortal; I fall for THE Immortal. Damn lofty of me, don't you think?"
"I don't think you've ever done anything in half-measures, Old Man. That's what's got me curious. You've flaunted your relationship with Mac in front of Watchers and Immortals alike. If someone was going to target you for that, they've either done it, and you and MacLeod have settled the Challenge, or they're not going to do it at all. Your mind has taken that threat, turned it over seven different ways, and come to the conclusion you're no more a Player with Mac than you are without-- or else you would've never agreed to move in with him permanently. Why not do the vow thing and put the man out of his misery?"
Methos' hands trailed lightly over the fabric pieces in front of him. "I've been married sixty-eight times, Joe."
"And?" That wasn't an unlikely number considering his five millennia.
"And not a single spouse has died of old age."
Joe looked at him in sympathy. "You lived through some of the cruelest times, Methos. Who besides Immortals did live very long back then?"
"Well, there was this guy named Methuselah--"
"I'm being serious," Joe interrupted. "Surely, you can't think that they all died young because they married you."
"What is it with you guys and curses? Mac got around his because it said he'd never marry a woman--"
"Oh, so I'm a convenience, am I?"
"Methos!" Joe looked around to make sure no one was close enough to hear his rather loud hiss. Thankfully, the bar was in it's afternoon slump, the lunch crowd gone back to work, and the dinner crowd/club-hoppers not yet on the prowl. With a sigh, he wondered which would do the most good-- bashing his head against the bar, or Methos'. He finally realized neither would be productive. "So, what happened? You sleep with some gypsy girl, too?"
"Joe, Joe, Joe. You're thinking too small. Remember to whom you speak. I am Death. I've been cursed in languages long dead, in places unheard of in this modern age."
"Fine. But even if I did believe in curses, surely they were negated, undone, whatever, when you renounced Death," Joe argued.
"Renounced? That can't be done. What I did, I did, Joe. Who I was, I will always be. Death is a part of me, maybe not an active part, but I feel him sometimes-- struggling to free himself from the barriers I've spent three thousand years building." Methos jumped to his feet, as if he had to move or die. "Do you know how damn hard it was to fight him and Kronos and Mac all at the same time? Death clawed at my soul to gain his place at Pestilence's side. Kronos was pushing every button he knew I had-- and after a thousand years of companionship, that was a lot of buttons, Joe. There I was, fighting to remember why I left my 'brothers' in the first place-- no, why I had betrayed them-- and Mac's in my face, telling me that we were through, that basically, regardless of what happened or would happen, I had no place in his life anymore. I came so close to letting Death have his way, knowing that MacLeod would soon make short of him and his 'brothers.'"
"But you didn't, Methos. You were stronger than Death, than Kronos, than even MacLeod. You didn't let any of them dissuade you from your path. You put down the Horsemen-- all four of them. Sure, you let Mac play the hero, but it was all your doing. You not only put the pieces on the gameboard, you directed each one's actions."
Methos shook his head. "I have no idea where you and MacLeod get the notion that I'm this master manipulator. I'm not a god."
"Maybe not. But you're probably the closest thing that's ever walked the face of this planet. Five thousand years of watching us humans make fools of ourselves, replay the same mistakes, repeat disaster after disaster.... What I don't understand is why you haven't washed your hands of us, why you haven't crawled off to some mountaintop to laugh...or maybe cry."
"Tried it. Spent a couple of centuries in Tibet, just me and some monks who didn't seem to mind my lack of aging. Yes, Joe. I laughed, and I cried, especially after I came to my great realization."
Methos dropped back down into the chair. "That I'm a people-person. That even if I don't actively participate, I need to be with people. I need to be near them, to live vicariously through them. You wonder how I've kept my sanity all these years? It's because of you, Joe, you and the other mortals who have kept me company around the campfire, and in the taverns, or sang songs with me in the fields as one crop or the other was harvested."
"And this is a bad thing?"
"Not bad, just.... Think about it. There comes a time, there has always come a time when I still see the field, and all you see is the city that now exists. Places where I loved, raised children, and buried them, you see as shopping malls, amusement parks, and McDonalds'. I don't begrudge you your progress. In fact, I laud it. But there are times that it makes me sad...and lonely."
"Have you told Mac any of this?" Joe asked, his eyes crinkling with concern.
"No. He'll just start reminiscing about the Highlands, and.... He tries to understand, but he can't. The world, his world, hasn't changed enough for him yet."
"Don't underestimate him, Methos. If I can understand--"
"That's because time moves differently for mortals, Joe. You live just as fully as Immortals, but on a different scale." He grinned at his friend's look of disbelief. "Trust me on this one. While you were watching us, I've been watching you. Do you realize that the Methos Chronicles are the chronicles of modern man, that my books reveal the past of man like nothing else that exists? Five thousand years of human history as seen by a single individual, with no political misdirections, no religious editing, no self-promotions."
"My God." Joe always enjoyed getting Methos to discuss his past, but only from the viewpoint that he, as a Watcher, was privy to the life of a legend. To think about it from the viewpoint of a man, faced with his own history, the life of his people, that was something different. Something awesome. Something almost frightening. "You know, when I first became a Watcher, I was intrigued by Immortals, like a scientist learning that aliens really do exist. After I got to know Mac, some of that faded. I learned that you were just people-- as fallible, or maybe even moreso than us plain old mortals. Then, I met you, and I guess I fell for your 'I'm just a guy' spiel. You weren't like the heroic MacLeod, the flirty Amanda, even the affable Fitzcairn. You were-- normal. You blended in, were perhaps the most 'mortal' of the Immortals I've ever known. You weren't noble or evil, overly charismatic or boastful, serenely wise or terribly cunning. You had a tendency to be smug, but Don and I understood that because we knew that our young researcher was most probably a genius. When I found out you were Methos, that you'd survived for five thousand years, I knew for a fact that you had to be a genius; a fast sword would only get you so far.
"Finding out about the Four Horsemen just made you seem even more human, more mortal, to me. You struggled with evil, and you didn't defeat it-- you just beat it back and held it there. Believe me, I know how that is. To get caught up in a time, in a situation.... Even while MacLeod railed on and on about what you had been, you had my sympathy, my understanding. I watched you with Mac after that, how you were there for him as always, but with a cautiousness, a hesitation that had nothing to do with your desire to help, but with the fear of the pain he could cause you with just a simple word or look. Been there, too, my friend.
"You really gained my respect with the Byron incident. I saw what it was like to be your friend. I saw you ache for the man Byron used to be, and I saw you accept his decision to end that which he couldn't take anymore. Byron knew MacLeod's reputation; hell, every Immortal knows what Mac will or will not tolerate."
"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, defender of mankind," Methos interrupted in a false bass.
Joe smiled. "That's our Mac. You accepted that about him, respected him for it, even though you lost an old friend because of it. You had every right to be a real shit about it, you know."
"The ending was inevitable, Joe. I knew it from the moment Byron walked into the club. I think-- I think I started grieving for him then. He wasn't alive, hadn't been for quite some time."
The Watcher was startled that Methos was talking so openly to him, and he really didn't want to say something to break the mood, but, damn it, he'd been dying to ask this question for so long. It was the kind of question that liked to ambush him at the strangest moments. He could be doing the books, or even practicing a song, and wham, he'd start stewing over this one teeny, simple question. "Methos, can I ask you a personal question?"
The Ancient laughed. "Sure, Joe. For heaven's sake, let's do something that we haven't been doing for the past hour."
Joe had the decency to look ashamed at the wasted question. It was sorta like how in the movies the bad guy always taunted the good guy, thereby delaying his chance to kill him. "What the hell possessed you to sleep with Mac?"
"Ah. You're repeating yourself, Joseph," Methos pointed out. "I believe that was the first question you asked when we informed you of our new relationship. You know, I'm still quite peeved over that. Why didn't you ask Mac that question?"
"Because Mac has always been guilty of letting his dick follow his heart. I thought you had more sense."
"When it comes to the Highlander, I'm just as foolish as the next guy, Joe," Methos admitted with a grimace. "Millennia of self-preservation flushed down the toilet with just a batting of his big, brown eyes. Disgusting, isn't it?"
"But you fought it for so long. You think I didn't recognize your sudden attachment to Alexa for what it was, a desperate man clinging to the nearest life raft?"
"I loved her."
"I know you did, eventually. Still, when Mac needed you...."
"You were the one who called me, remember?"
"And you were the one who would have killed me if I hadn't, right?"
Methos crossed his arms protectively around himself. "Damn it, Joe. When did you get to know me so well?"
Joe laughed, and it wasn't in amusement. "Lay off, Old Man. I don't know you at all, no one does. They can't-- we can't-- can we?"
A shrug. "I knew I had no business sleeping with MacLeod," Methos said, answering the original question, and avoiding the latter one. "I'd married nearly seventy times, had countless affairs, numerous quick encounters.... I could easily discern love and lust, what itch would be satisfied with a single scratch, what itches would be lifelong rashes. I knew that I wanted Mac more than just as a one-nighter, or even as a fuck-buddy. The intensity of my feelings for him scared me more than any fight I've ever had, or ever run away from. It was instant--"
"Love at first sight?"
"Nauseatingly trite, but oh too true in this case. It shook me to my very foundation, had me offering my head to a perfect stranger. As soon as I made sure he was safe from Kalas, I got the hell out of Dodge. Thought that distance would be my salvation. But trite raised its ugly head again-- absence made my heart grow fonder. I decided to end my misery by revealing the real Duncan couldn't match the one that I'd been dreaming about. The actual MacLeod turned out to be even better than my virtual one. Well, he certainly wasn't my first unattainable infatuation, so I put all my years of acting to use, and settled for being his friend. I was quite happy in that role. I was involved with life, involved with mortals, and if I had to put up with Immortals, then so be it. MacLeod's friends were safe to be around, and his enemies...his enemies became my enemies."
Joe shuddered at the tone in which that was delivered. That was when he understood why Methos didn't like to fight; it brought Death much too close to the forefront. "Was the dark Mac your enemy?"
The Immortal shook his head. "Death loved him with almost a love that had a paternal edge. If I had allowed it, he would have taken that Duncan and molded him into a socially integrated psychopath. The two of them together could have destroyed twice as many people as the Four Horsemen, in less than half the time. We could have been that unknown reason why crime rates were soaring through the roof, why a certain city's number of unsolved murders suddenly surged."
"Shit." Joe didn't like the unholy light gleaming in his companion's eyes.
Methos patted his hand. "It's okay, Joe. Dark MacLeod is safely tucked away, and Death is well- leashed. He'll never run again with the abandon he had with Kronos. I tried to tell my 'brother' that, but he turned a deaf ear to my words. Pity. I may have let him live otherwise."
"You loved Kronos like you love Mac?"
"Hardly. Kronos was a convenience. I was in...an angry place. My pain created Death, and Death surrounded himself with like-minded people to protect him while he played. The Horsemen were a murderous bunch, but they watched my back during that reckless period. Without them, I would have lost my head in some godforsaken desert, my blood mingling with a victim or two, no doubt. That would have been poetically ironic, wouldn't it?"
Joe thought it would've been merely sad. "How did this 'I'll be friends with MacLeod' turn into an intimate one?"
"I had to leave after the incident at Bordeaux. Death was too close to the surface, my control of him diminished by the pain of Duncan's rejection. Of course, like the addict I was, I came crawling back, but I couldn't find a comfortable spot in his life anymore. We were both wary of each other-- he of my motives, and I of the ease with which he could hurt me. After that farce with O'Roarke, I didn't trust him to be on his own, so when he took off, I followed him."
"He didn't know?"
Methos gave a sly smile. "I made sure he knew. Told him if he was going to act like a baby, I was going to treat him like one and act as his sitter. He tried to ditch me, and found out why I was so prized as a strategist. I must have let something slip at some point, because he suddenly started taunting me with a new woman in his bed every night. He rubbed the relationships in my face, saying that as his personal voyeur, I should get my money's worth."
"That had to hurt."
"It did. But eventually, everything gets old. MacLeod realized he was not only hurting me, but the women as well. I'm not sure when he finally realized he was hurting himself. I just know that one night he invited me over for dinner. He talked. I listened. He kissed me, and...I could deny him nothing. I belong to him, as surely as I've belonged to my many masters over the years. And this time, I'm not searching for liberation. Freedom isn't always what it's cracked up to be."
Something trilled and they both looked around, following the sound trail. It ended up being Methos' cell phone in the pocket of his coat. "Pierson," he stated firmly, then listened. "It wasn't supposed to arrive until morning.... NO! If you let him touch them, I swear I will gut you and personally hand-feed your entrails to the ducks in the pond out back. I'll be there in a few minutes." He clicked off. "Tell MacLeod I have an emergency at work. Depending on how late I'll be, I'll either meet him at the house or back at the loft."
Joe watched him pick up the decorating debris and stuff it in a shopping bag. "'Hand-feed your entrails to the ducks'? They let you get away with saying things like that at the museum?"
"When you're the world's foremost linguist, you can say anything you want, Joe," Methos replied distractedly. "But getting a competent assistant is another story. If he touches that shipment...." He slipped into his coat. "Talk to you later."
"Sure, Adam," he said to the figure that was already out the door. With a thoughtful look, he went into his office.
And closed the door.
III. I'm not afraid he's going to run when there's trouble. I know for a fact he won't. He's always been at my side when I've needed him-- whether I acted like I wanted him there or not. But he always leaves after the danger is past.
Duncan poked his head through the door to Joe's office. "Mike told me to come on back, but if you're busy...."
Joe looked up, and made a motion for him to enter. "Adam had an emergency at the museum. Said he'd either meet you at the house or the loft, depending on how late he'd be."
"A museum emergency?" Duncan questioned with a smile. "What happened? Somebody break into his beer stash?" The mortal didn't share his smile. In fact, he looked angry, and...sad. "What is it, Joe?"
"Damn the old man for being right," the bartender muttered.
Duncan entered the office fully, closing the door behind him. "Right about what?"
"Not marrying you."
The Highlander was stunned. Joe had never indicated he had any misgivings about the relationship. "What's going on here, Joseph? I crack a joke about Methos' job, and suddenly I'm not fit to marry him?"
"Why do you want to marry him, MacLeod?"
"Because I love him."
"Bullshit. You don't even know him."
Mac opened his mouth to protest, but couldn't. It was true. He didn't know Methos. After being with the man in all kinds of situations-- saddened after the death of Alexa, fighting for their lives in Bordeaux, on the verge of exploding in ecstasy inside him-- he still didn't know the man he called friend and lover. "I know as much as he allows me to, as much as he trusts me with. That's what this is about, isn't it? Methos' lack of trust in me. That's why he won't marry me. Because he doesn't trust me to accept his past."
"Christ, Mac, everything isn't about you!" Joe bellowed. "Methos doesn't want to marry you because he's buried sixty-eight spouses and doesn't want you to be the sixty-ninth. He thinks he's been cursed."
Duncan sank bonelessly into a chair. "So, all I'm up against is superstition? I can handle that."
"Methos doesn't need you to handle shit for him."
Taken aback by his friend's vehemence, Duncan's eyes narrowed dangerously. "What the hell has crawled up your butt and died, Dawson?"
"Adam reminded me of something today. He reminded me that I was his friend before yours."
"And this makes you want to do what? Defend him from my churlish advances? I'm seeking marriage, man, not a quick fuck in the back of my car."
"We've already had the quick fuck, Joe. I need more."
"What about what he needs?" Joe sighed. He really hated meddling in anyone's life, especially his friends', especially in Immortal lives. But talking with Methos had opened his eyes to so many truths. "He's not like us, Mac. He's not like anyone else on the planet. Even if there are other ancient Immortals, he's not like them either. They probably went to the mountains with their monks and stayed." Duncan looked at him in confusion. "Methos talked to me today-- really talked, Mac. And it's not so much as what he said, but what he didn't say.... It's not possible for us to know him. You and I have a frame of reference to compare each other to. It's called civilization. It molded your mortal years, and formed the basis of the Immortal you are now. Methos didn't have a base like that. He was formed, became Immortal, then was introduced to civilization."
"He's not a caveman, Joe. There were civilizations five thousand years ago."
"But that doesn't mean he was born into one."
Duncan frowned, trying to follow the mortal. "What the hell did he tell you? Is he beginning to remember his origins?"
Joe shook his head. "He told me he loved you, which is highly possible, because he does know you."
"I know. He even knows when I'm going to act atypical."
"Which this marriage thing is, isn't it? You lived with Tessa for over twelve years before you asked her to marry you. You've been fooling around with Methos for two. What's the rush?"
Duncan studied the top of his shoes. "He's going to leave me."
"I don't see any evidence of that, Mac," Joe said gently. "I see a man happily building a home with his lover."
"Life has been good, easy. I'm afraid--"
"What? That when it gets difficult, the old man is going to bail on you? Who's showing a lack of trust now, MacLeod? And why the hell do you think marriage vows are going to hold him any better than the vows he's already made to you?"
"I'm not afraid he's going to run when there's trouble. I know for a fact he won't. He's always been at my side when I've needed him-- whether I acted like I wanted him there or not. But he always leaves after the danger is past."
"That was before, Mac. Maybe he didn't want you to see how much he cared for you. But now you're together. When the trouble is over, and he feels the need to hold you close and let you know how much he loves you, he can. Besides, I'm pretty sure he's done running."
"Is that what he told you?"
"Yes. The intensity of his feelings for you scared him, but now that you've claimed ownership, he has no desire for freedom."
Duncan frowned. "I don't own him."
"According to him, you do. And I suspect this is one of those things you're going to have to accept as part of his alien nature. You come from different worlds."
"So, marriage is a bad idea, huh?" Duncan asked sadly. Funny. The more he thought of it, the more that marriage sounded...right.
"It's a bad idea if you're talking about marrying Methos. It's a bad idea if you think that legalities will bind him more surely to you than the realities of his heart. It's not such a bad idea if you're talking about marrying Adam Pierson, and that's the way you see yourself expressing your love for him."
"Adam Pierson is just a construct--"
"No. Adam Pierson is a person, Mac, a person more real than Methos. Methos is a legend, a mystical figure that Watchers drool over and Immortals covet. Adam is just a guy living a day-to-day life during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I think we've both been remiss in getting to know him."
"I think I know the beer-swilling, bed-hogging imp pretty well," Duncan said with a grin.
"Did you know he's the world's leading authority in the area of Linguistics?"
"Is that what he told you? He can be a smug bastard when he wants to be," Mac said fondly.
"Yes, that's what he told me...as well as officials at Harvard, Yale, and Oxford," Joe said meaningfully. "It wasn't an idle boast. The guy at Oxford went on and on about how they had tried to recruit him, but lost him to some pitiful excuse of a museum in the Colonies."
"I wonder why he didn't tell us," Duncan mused.
"He probably did, and we didn't listen. I've been thinking about it ever since he left. He talks so much that I have a bad habit of dismissing nine-tenths of what comes out of his mouth."
"He likes to pull our leg," Duncan said defensively, knowing that he was guilty of that too. "He finds it amusing."
"But what if he's not pulling our leg? What if most of what he says is true, but we've grown so accustomed to our 'version' of the past, that we ignore he actually lived it. And from there, we automatically ignore the rest of what he says. If he'd said straight out that he was the number one linguist in the world, I would have said, 'yeah, right', and come back here to work on my books. But he was distracted when he said it, didn't seem to care whether I heard him or not. So, I did my research and found out it was true. Dr. Adam Pierson has articles published in more publications than any other single linguist. He's been quoted in National Geographic, consulted by the Smithsonian, and has advised at least three government leaders on translations of ancient political texts."
"Our Adam?" MacLeod had seen him working diligently on his laptop, mumbling idly about papers he had to finish, or reports he had to file. But Duncan had thought it was merely paperwork for the museum.
"Our Adam is a respected academician with a multi-page bio. What's the old saying about a prophet in his own country?"
"Or in his own bed?" Duncan closed his eyes. "I've been a fool, haven't I? Do you think it's too late?"
"To get to know Adam Pierson, to fall in love with him, to get him to fall in love with me?"
"Adam's already in love with you."
"So basically, what you're saying is that it's up to me." Duncan looked at the Watcher shrewdly. "You're a good friend to Adam, Joe. Don't ever think otherwise."
"The Old Man and Dr. Pierson have been good friends to me, Mac. Sometimes that's hard to remember when he's at his most annoying."
"Sometimes I think he's like that puppy at the pound-- the one who yaps constantly."
"So he can be noticed?"
Duncan shook his head. "So if you love him at his worst, he doesn't have to wonder if you'll love him the rest of the time."
Joe smiled. "I think you're going to do okay, MacLeod."
"Yeah, Joe. With a little help from my friends."
IV. You have the power to lift me to the highest summits, and dash me to the lowest depths. Within your eyes I see my joy and my destruction, my damnation and my salvation.... You mean more to me than I do to myself, and with all that I am, I fear you. I truly do.
Duncan rolled over to snuggle, and found he was missing a snuggle partner. He cracked open an eye, and peered at the clock: 7:09 AM. Must be a bathroom run, he thought to himself, even as he felt Methos' Presence sing to him from that particular direction. His lover had arrived home very late, too exhausted to do anything but kiss Duncan good night and collapse on the bed. Maybe they could make up for lost time this morning.
Or maybe not, he amended as his partner exited the bathroom fully dressed. No, not just dressed, but dressed in a crisp white shirt with French cuffs, and a tie dangling from the collar. "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," Duncan mumbled in surprise.
Methos plopped down on the edge of the bed. "You're so cute when you're dazed and confused," he said, bussing his lover on the forehead.
"What do you expect when I wake up to find you dressed-- and dressed very well, by the way-- at seven o'clock in the morning. My heart can only take so many shocks," Duncan complained.
"Got a breakfast meeting with the Board of Directors," Methos explained, as he slipped on a pair of socks. "I didn't mention that last night?"
"When? In between snores?"
Methos looked at him apologetically. "I'm sorry, Duncan. My life's usually not so hectic."
The Scotsman suddenly felt like a brat. "No, Adam, I'm the one who should be apologizing. Joe said something about an emergency at the museum?"
"An expected package came unexpectedly," Methos explained with a smile. "A set of fragile clay tablets found in Iran six years ago. The government's been shy about letting people see them, but I talked them into sending them to me-- my workroom has climate-control which will keep the tablets from degrading further. They weren't supposed to arrive until next week, but there was a courier headed here anyway, so.... It took me most of the night to get my new babies nestled comfortably in their new home."
"That's what they are, aren't they? Your 'babies'," Duncan said, getting up and padding to the dresser for a set of cufflinks.
Methos shrugged, holding out his wrists. "They're about as fragile."
"Are you a member of the Board?" Duncan asked casually.
A nod. "Just the museum representative."
"I thought that would be the curator."
"It differs from Board to Board. I'm sorry I didn't get out to the house. Did you finish painting the guest bath?"
Duncan nodded. "Did you get to talk to Joe about the downstairs bedroom?"
"He went with the hunter green."
"How come I've never seen you dressed up like this before? Surely there have been other meetings."
"But not breakfast meetings. You're usually up and gone before I dress." Methos went over to the clothespress and pulled out a pair of Italian loafers.
"Does the museum know about me?"
"What? That I have a 'boyfriend'?" Methos replied, with a coy grin. "I told them from the beginning. I would hate to have to behead them after I got to know them."
"Are you what?"
Methos leaned over the bed and kissed Duncan thoroughly. "You are so much more than that. And I wish I could show you how much, but I have a meeting. I love you, Duncan MacLeod."
"Aye, and I am blessed by it."
The odd reply made Methos pause for a bemused moment, then he continued to the elevator. Whatever his beloved was up to, he'd soon discover. He always did.
Mac watched Methos go, and headed for the bathroom. The breakfast meeting was the perfect opportunity to begin getting to know Dr. Adam Pierson-- without Dr. Pierson getting in the way.
A little over an hour later, Duncan strolled into the Northwestern Museum of Ancient Civilizations with a huge box of fresh pastries and a single red rose. He was directed to the elevator and exited on the third floor where the offices were. He went to the receptionist's desk and opened the box. "There's a rumor that the bosses are having breakfast, and I thought it was a shame the rest of the staff wasn't included," he told the young woman, who had totally dismissed him and focused on the box.
"My mom told me never to take candy from a stranger, but this isn't candy, is it?" she asked, snatching a dripping cinnamon roll, just in case the man decided to rescind the offer.
"Not candy, and I'm not a stranger. My name is Duncan MacLeod, and--"
"You're Dr. P's MacLeod!" she squealed, and the workers who hadn't already been attracted by the smells coming from the box, looked up and drew near. "I'm Lucy, the receptionist and general secretary."
"Hi, Lucy," Duncan replied brightly.
"Oh my God, I'm not sure which of them has the sexiest accent," Lucy said to the woman coming up behind Duncan.
The woman smiled and stuck out her hand. "Anna Benton, coordinator of public relations. Not all of us openly drool like Lucy, but it is a lovely accent. Scottish?"
"Aye, lovely lady. Duncan MacLeod at your service." He bowed politely over her hand. "I was just telling Lucy that I thought the staff deserved a breakfast treat."
"What are you trying to do, Mr. MacLeod? Add inches to my hips?" Anna asked with a smile, picking up a sticky bear claw.
"Where I come from, you usually tell the women from the men by their curves. I'm not quite sure why no one wants these differences anymore."
"You don't. Why should anyone else?" an approaching young man asked with a slight sneer.
"Just because I love Adam doesn't mean I've stopped appreciating beauty in its various forms," Mac replied smoothly.
"Don't pay him any attention, sir," Lucy spoke up. "He's just jealous because he wants Dr. P. for himself." The newcomer flushed bright red. "But Dr. P. said that he wasn't available, and told us all about you. Seeing you in the flesh, I can see why he hasn't given Dylan here the time of day."
"You're going to talk too much one of these days, Lucy," Dylan threatened.
Lucy rolled her eyes. "Dr. P. likes it. Says it's refreshing to find someone who says exactly what she means. And as long as he doesn't have a problem with it, your opinion doesn't matter. Mr. MacLeod, this is Dr. Dylan Carson, Dr. P's assistant."
"Dr. Carson." Mac held out his hand. He could see upon closer inspection that the man wasn't as young as he thought.
"Mr. MacLeod. As Lucy so blatantly said, we've heard a lot about you. But she's given you the wrong impression about the relationship between Dr. Pierson and myself. I have only the deepest respect for the man."
"It's okay, Dr. Carson. I'm not about to fly into a jealous rage because you find Adam attractive-- any of you. That would be rather hypocritical, don't you think?"
"Where did the two of you meet?" Anna asked. "And yes, I'm being nosy. I just want to know where the handsome congregate so I can go there sometime."
Duncan hesitated, realizing that maybe it wasn't a good idea to come here without knowing exactly what Adam had told them. Methos would kill him if he botched up a good lie. But he usually kept the lies close to the truth, didn't he? "Paris," he said with certainty.
"Paris," Lucy agreed. "Mr. MacLeod deals in antiques and he asked Dr. P, who wasn't a doctor yet, for his help in translating an engraving on a sword. According to Dr. P, the rest is history," she gushed.
Too much history, Duncan thought to himself-- three thousand years of it almost derailing the relationship before it began. He smiled at Lucy, understanding why Adam liked her. With someone like her around, all you had to do was fill in the blanks.
"You're having a tea, and no one invited me?"
Duncan looked around to see a white-haired gentleman join the small crowd of employees. He was sure if he asked Lucy who they were, she'd tell him-- as soon as she finished her apology to the new man.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Tom. I was just getting ready to buzz you. Mr. MacLeod, this is Dr. Thomas Manning, curator of the museum," the receptionist said graciously.
"MacLeod? As in Adam's MacLeod?"
"Yes, sir," Duncan replied, reveling in the thought of being Adam's MacLeod. "And you must be his boss."
Manning laughed. "On paper only, Mr. MacLeod. Why don't you join me in my office, and let me fill you in on my vision of Adam Pierson?"
"Sound like a subject I could get into." Mac waited for Manning to fill a couple of napkins with sweets before trailing the man to his office.
"Nosy birds, aren't they?" Manning said, settling in behind his desk. "Guess that's what makes them a great asset to a museum."
"Thanks for the rescue."
Manning shrugged. "I really have been wanting to talk to you, Mr. MacLeod--"
"Please, my friends call me Mac."
"I wanted to talk to you about Adam and his future here at the museum."
Okay, what have you done now, Methos? "Uh, I know his work ethics are--" Mac faltered in search of the correct word.
"Incredible? Unbelievable? Heavens! The man decides that something must be done, and it's done! Such vision, Mac! It's going to waste in his current profession. But he won't listen to me or the Board."
"Yes. We want him to become director of the museum."
"No, " Manning said, "Not something as one-dimensional as a curator. We want him in charge of the whole facility, from developing and planning exhibits to garnering money and support for expansion. His enthusiasm and charisma will make that part so easy."
"Have you talked to him about this?"
"Talked? Try begged and pleaded. This museum has been a life's dream for me. My doctorate is in History, and all I've ever wanted to do is share the passion I have for the subject with others. I scraped together enough funding to get this museum off the ground, started in the right direction. But I know Adam can do so much more for it. In five, ten years time, he can make this the premier history museum in the Northwest, hell, maybe even on the entire West Coast. He has such a unique vision of the past, and he's able to share that vision through mere words. Let me tell you about my grandkids. He got them not only interested in history, but in learning. That was no easy task, I assure you. The boys, ten-year-old twins, have been spoiled rotten since their premature births. Every summer me and my wife give their parents a two-week break and take the kids. After they leave, my wife and I have to take a two-week vacation just to recuperate.
"Last year, I brought them here to give my wife a break. The staff, used to them, found bunches of stuff to do either down in the museum, or off the premises. I had a meeting. Adam, either ignoring the warnings or not believing them, came to work as usual, and I palmed them off on him. When I got back from my meeting, the place was so quiet, for a few moments I wondered how I was going to explain to my daughter that, however justifiable, one of my staff had killed her sons. A shaking hand knocked on Adam's door. A cultured voice bid me enter, and there at a table in his office, the twins sat with stacks of opened books. 'Doing research for Dr. P', they said when I finally found voice enough to ask. For the rest of their visit, they 'worked' for Dr. P, and he gave them each a pay check when they left."
"Bribery," Duncan muttered, sighing at Methos' obvious corruption of youth. He always knew there was a good reason why Immortals couldn't procreate.
Manning shook his head. "It wasn't mere bribery, Mac. Lord knows, I had tried it often and with a greater pay off. No, he made whatever they were researching-- ancient Egypt, I think-- become their world, made them care who these people were, and why they did what they did. And it's carried on into their other studies. Their report cards have been outstanding all year. Adam has a gift that needs to be shared with as many people as possible. For all the excellent work he does in translating and deciphering, he's not living up to his potential. It's up to us, those who care for him, to make sure he doesn't sell himself short."
No, I sell him short enough all by myself. "I don't know how much influence I have with him, Dr. Manning--" Especially since he could sense Adam's arrival.
"Call me Tom, and he has tremendous respect for you. That much is obvious."
"But I will talk to him about this. You have my word." By the time he finished his promise, there was a knock at the door.
"Hi, Tom," Adam said, as he stepped inside the office. A hand fell on Duncan's shoulder. "I heard a certain someone followed me to work today. I hope he hasn't been much of a bother."
"Not at all. A delightful fellow. But then, we all know you have good taste," Manning teased. "Besides, he brought food. No way we were gonna toss him out."
"That's right, Tom. Make sure your priorities are in order," Adam said with a smile.
"How was the meeting?"
"The eggs were overcooked, the toast undercooked, and the coffee...." He gave an exaggerated shudder. "They have some ideas, but I told them they needed to talk to you."
Manning looked at Duncan pointedly. "You know I'll agree to whatever you decide, Adam."
"Yeah, well," Adam mumbled. "Come on, Mac. I'll give you a tour of my office, then I'll show you the museum. If you and Tom are finished, of course."
"Who am I to stand in the way of young love?" Manning asked, smiling at the looks the two shared.
"You act like I'm going to take him to my office and have my wicked way with him," Adam groused, his eyes sparkling with amusement. "I'd definitely have to have a more comfortable sofa for that."
"Ah, you young ones. So spoiled. I remember back when I was dating my wife, I would--"
"Walk a hundred miles in the snow, uphill both ways, and take her on a dirt floor, while being gentlemanly enough to be on the bottom," Adam recited, earning a laugh from his boss, and a shocked, strangled cough from Duncan. He pounded his lover on the back. "It's okay, Tom. He comes from the land of Academia, where no sense of humor is allowed."
"I take it you don't visit him much at work either," Manning replied.
"My mere existence would probably get him fired."
"Adam! The university is not that repressed," Duncan argued, although he wasn't too sure what their reaction would be to his companion. They knew he was involved with a man-- he wasn't ashamed of Adam-- but knowing and actually meeting Adam were two different things. Especially if said lover was in one of his moods.
"Well, we're not repressed at all around here," Manning said jovially. "In fact, I'm glad you stopped by, Mac. Maybe now we can get some work out of that assistant of yours, Adam." The curator looked at Duncan. "Every two weeks he moons over Adam here so much, he becomes a pain until our patient Adam explains that he's already taken. Now that he's seen the competition, Dr. Carson should realize he's not even in the running."
"You've been having problems with Dr. Carson, Adam?" Duncan asked, glaring at his partner.
"Nothing I couldn't handle. And on that note, we're leaving before you get me into any more trouble, Tom. If the Board calls, veto the West Wing idea. It really sucks."
"Gotcha. It was nice meeting you, Mac." The curator and Mac stood at the same time, shaking each other's hand.
"Same here, Tom. And I'll work on our 'project'."
"Project? What project?" Adam demanded as they left the office. "And what exactly are you doing here, Mac? If you wanted a tour, all you had to do was ask."
"I--" He was interrupted by Lucy.
"I see you found your lost man, Dr. P," she announced with a grin. "Minister Hassim is on the phone for you."
"I'll take it in my office." He led the way down the hall. "Make yourself comfortable, Mac. This shouldn't take long."
Duncan poked around the office, while Methos chatted away in Arabic. The room was spacious, with very little to clutter it. A desk. A round work table. Shelves and shelves of books. Definitely Methos' office. But that was about all that said anything about the owner. Good thing he hadn't had to depend on the office decor to tell him what he needed to know about Adam Pierson.
He turned to the man as he heard the phone call end. "Problems?"
Adam shrugged. "Not really. He called to explain why the tablets arrived early. Seems there's some religious faction who is opposed to Iranian treasures being sent out of the country. So, when he found out a courier was already scheduled to go to the U.S., he sent the tablets ahead."
"Is this faction dangerous?" Mac asked worriedly.
"Religious groups are always difficult to anticipate. I think I'll increase security around here for a few days just in case. But enough about that," Methos said, leaning back in his chair and swinging his feet onto the desk. "Why are you here, Duncan MacLeod?"
"I can't come visit you without a reason?"
"Mac, you've never visited me here with a reason. I just assumed our jobs were areas where there wouldn't be much crossover."
"You didn't want me to come here--" Duncan began apologetically.
"Duncan, I didn't, don't care how you insinuate yourself into my life. If I didn't want you here, you wouldn't be here. I am quite capable of telling you what I want or don't want," Methos scoffed. "Now, answer my question. Why are you here?"
"I thought it was about time I got to know Dr. Adam Pierson."
"Why? I'm about to move in with the man. Isn't that reason enough?"
"You've known of his existence for quite some time. Why are you interested in him now?" Methos pressed.
"Why shouldn't I be interested in the world's most renowned linguist?"
Methos nodded. "My throwaway remark to Joe yesterday. I should have known he wouldn't let it slip by him. What did he send you to do? Pump me for information?"
"Actually, he sent me to find out who you are, because maybe I had a chance in hell of getting Pierson to marry me."
"You want to marry Adam Pierson?" Methos was fairly flabbergasted.
"Yes. But I didn't know that until I met you today," Duncan replied honestly.
"We haven't even been together thirty minutes," Adam pointed out.
"I never would have gotten to know the real you from you, Adam; Methos would have gotten in our way. But your colleagues were very helpful."
"I bet you got an earful from Lucy." Methos laughed in delight, "She's great, isn't she? Some of the others complain she talks too much, but I think it's wonderful that she doesn't hold back, that she speaks her mind. She reminds me of one of my wives. 'Sweet Girl,' I would call when I came home, 'how was your day?' And you know what, Duncan? She would tell me in rich, glorious detail. It was as if she was making a gift of her day and giving it to me." He smiled at the fond memory, then looked at Mac sheepishly. "Talking about a former with the current. How gauche of me."
"Not at all," Duncan said softly. "I like hearing that you were happy, that you loved and were loved. It's a part of your past that you don't share often."
"Oft the memories seem...sacred, and I hoard them for myself, the times being rare when someone wants to share them with me."
"I want to. I want to share in anything you're willing to give. That's why I'm here. Adam Pierson is the most accessible part of you, the part that's braving the present age. I've missed so much ignoring him. Do you want to know what I've learned from your colleagues? That Dr. P is different from the grad student I met in Paris-- stronger, more decisive, more sure of his convictions--"
"Better dressed," Methos interrupted with a snicker.
"There is that," Duncan replied, still incredibly turned on by the sight of his lover in a suit. "But I also learned that his heart, the ebullience with which he embraces mortal life, his regard for those who walk the earth for mere seconds of his long life...those things are the same, maybe even more. You know, I can't fault Carson for wanting you. Male, female, mortal, Immortal-- your vibrance gives you wide and deserved appeal."
Always uncomfortable with praise, Methos looked away. "Don't take to heart much of what Carson says. He's gotten it into his head that I'm his hero, and that's led to his harmless infatuation."
"Hero? Saved him from the museum bullies, did you?" Duncan questioned teasingly.
"Not hardly. It's just that he's only recently come out, and the ease with which I admit that I sleep with men--"
"Men?" Mac growled.
"The ease with which I admit that I not only sleep with, but am deeply in love with Duncan MacLeod," Methos amended seamlessly, "amazes him. I'm sure that one of these days he'll find the right man, and I'll be relegated to his dusty collection of fallen heroes."
"I doubt it, Adam. I don't think you will ever cease to amaze him. I know that every day, you fill me with wonder and awe."
"Yes, I can put away an astounding amount of beer, can't I?" he said, with a self-conscious laugh.
Duncan ignored the comment. "I'm amazed by your age, by your ability to still love, to still care, to still feel, after what you have experienced and seen and suffered. Do you know how rare that is, how utterly special you are? Joe asked me why I wanted to marry you. It's because I want to become part of that, to touch upon your hallowed being."
"I'm not a saint, MacLeod. You know that better than anyone else."
"No, you're not, and that's a great deal of your allure. You empathize rather than sympathize. You've been there, done that, and you have survived. There is comfort in that, Methos, comfort and hope. That's what you are to me-- hope. I can survive, I can change, I can be better than I am.... You brighten my future."
Methos groaned and dropped his head into his cupped hands. "Don't do this to me, MacLeod. Isn't it enough that you've seduced me with your body? Don't do it with words too. I am not strong enough to resist the double assault."
"You are the strongest person I know, love. Our future together is entirely up to you. I know that. I've always known that."
"Duncan, I--" The intercom chirped. Instead of being annoyed, Methos was quite happy for the interruption. "Yes, Lucy?"
"Tell Mr. MacLeod he left something at my desk."
The rose! "I'm on my way, Lucy," Duncan said quickly. "Back in a sec. Do not move!" he ordered when Methos rolled his chair back.
Lucy met him halfway, and he gave her a grateful grin before hurrying back into the office. Methos was now perched on the corner of his desk, his arms crossed as if to do battle. Without a word, Duncan sat beside him, and handed him the rose. Methos' defensive boundaries crumbled.
"Gods, Duncan, do you know how much you scare me?" he asked, as his lover rested his head against his. "You have the power to lift me to the highest summits, and dash me to the lowest depths. Within your eyes I see my joy and my destruction, my damnation and my salvation.... You mean more to me than I do to myself, and with all that I am, I fear you. I truly do."
"Methos, I am so much less than you-- in age, in experience, in wisdom. But even a wee babe in his dam's arms can love, Old Man. In that, we are equals. Trust that love can overcome fear. Trust that love will line those lowest depths, breaking your fall, because no matter how much I promise, I know I will lead you to those depths one day-- in arrogance, ignorance, pure selfishness. I ask for your patience in advance, your forgiveness, and your knowledge that whenever I hurt you, I hurt myself tenfold."
Methos turned and took Duncan's face in his hands. The green of his eyes darkened to a burnished gold. "My love will always be unconditional, Duncan MacLeod. That will be your burden from this moment forward."
"Never a burden."
"I'll remind you that you said that when it conflicts with one of your Scottish broods," Methos said, brushing his lips against Duncan's full ones. The younger man deepened the kiss, melding their bodies together as he pressed Methos back against the desk. When Methos felt a stapler in his back, he broke the kiss.
"We're too old for this, Mac," he panted. "I take it you don't have any classes today?"
"Aye. My schedule is clear."
"Let's go home then."
"What about lunch?"
"I'll peel you a grape."
"What about dinner?"
"You can peel me a grape."
"Sounds like a plan." Duncan stood, pulling Methos up with him. "But first, I'm going to peel you out of that suit."
"You sure you want to do that? I was going to show you a little trick I picked up while I spent time in a harem."
"I thought all men in harems were eunuchs."
"And where would the fun be in that?" Methos commented with a wink. "Not all sultans were ladies men, you know. And some preferred the bottom to the top."
"I think there's something to be said for equality and non-preferences."
"You think? We could test that today."
"An afternoon of scientific testing sounds fascinating, Dr. Pierson-- especially from a linguistic point of view."
"Oh, how is that?" Methos asked, cutting off the lights in his office.
"I think you use a different language when you're topping than when you're on the bottom. Not that I can recognize your screams--"
"Screams? I don't scream, MacLeod. I revel in the moment."
"You revel in different languages."
"That does sound fascinating. Let me grab a tape recorder."
"Make sure you get a long tape-- ninety minutes, at least."
"You know something I don't know?" Methos asked.
"No, but I'm hoping you'll teach me," Mac replied with a wicked grin.
"Better make that a battery-operated recorder. Might get started before we're in proximity of an electrical socket." Methos stuffed the appropriate machine into his pocket. "Lucy, I'm heading home for the day," he called as they passed the receptionist's desk.
"Anything wrong, Dr. P?" Lucy asked with an impish grin.
"Lucy, my girl, you know those outrageously expensive dresses you were drooling over at Christmas, longing for somewhere to wear them? Well, go ahead and murder your credit card. I want you looking your best at my wedding."
"Wedding?" both Lucy and Mac chorused.
"Is that a yes?" Mac asked excitedly.
"That's a yes," Methos said firmly.
"Oh!" Lucy squealed.
"Oh," Mac purred, pulling Methos into his arms.
"Oh," Methos moaned, drowning in Mac's kiss.
"Any electrical sockets in the elevator?" Duncan whispered as he dragged Methos in that direction.
"No, but I have extra-long lasting batteries."
V. He doesn't let you take yourself too seriously, and you don't allow him to take himself too lightly. And I pity the idiot who tries to come between the two of you-- whether within the Game or without.
Duncan walked into the bar, and dropped his burdens on the nearest empty table.
"What changes are you making to the house now?" Joe asked, not really looking at the stack of books the Scot had dumped on the furniture.
"Joe! Just the man I was looking for," Duncan said with a grin.
"Good thing you were looking in Joe's Bar," the Watcher said wryly.
"You've been around the Old Man way too much, Joe," Duncan chided happily. "How do you feel about being my assistant?"
"Assistant what?" When dealing with Immortals, it was prudent to ask questions before making blanket agreements.
"Wedding? You did it? You got Himself to agree to marry you?"
"I went over to his office yesterday to get to know Adam Pierson like you suggested. He's a very good man, Joe. He even gets along with children, although when I asked him what he'd done to the twins, he laughed so hard I thought he was going to pop a vein."
"Dr. Manning's grandchildren."
"Who's Dr. Manning?" Joe shook his head. Sometimes with Duncan it was necessary to pry out every little detail.
"The curator at the museum. He and the Board of Directors want Adam to become the director of the museum. Methos says he's more comfortable in the background, pulling the strings behind the stage. But I can sense Adam is intrigued by the idea. Running the museum would be like a tribute to himself, you know. However, I don't want him taking the job until after the wedding. I don't need him to be any more distracted."
Joe pulled out a chair and sat down. "What did you say to finally convince him to walk down the aisle with you?"
"I have no idea. One minute we were talking about peeling grapes, the next he's telling Lucy she needs a dress to wear to his wedding. I didn't press him too hard about it; never could have followed his reasoning anyway," Duncan added with a self-deprecating grin.
"So now you're planning the festivities. Why you?"
Duncan ducked his head in embarrassment. "I'm sort of the virgin bride in this, Joe. My first marriage, as opposed to his sixty-ninth. Therefore, and I quote, 'I'm to make all my dreams come true.'"
Joe stifled a laugh. "So, what are we talking? White lace?"
Duncan gave him a glare. "I was thinking more along the lines of MacLeod plaid, although Adam might look good in a long-tailed white tuxedo. That's definitely a possibility, Joe. I knew you'd be a good assistant."
Joe grabbed one of the books-- How To Plan Your Wedding. "Do we have a where and when?"
"Scotland. They've made some real strides in accepting same-sex couples, and...."
"And it's still your home," Joe completed for him.
"Yeah. It'll be nice getting married at home, a completion of a circle. I would have married Deborah there.... You know that's the one good thing about marrying a former Watcher-- I don't have to tell him about my past. Of course, that's the bad thing about marrying him too," Duncan said, refusing to let anything turn his mood. "Of course it won't be legal, but according to Methos, it won't be his first illegal wedding."
"That's probably an understatement," Joe quipped.
"But I'm not marrying him for the paperwork. I just want to recite my vows to him in front of family, friends, and God. I love him, Joe. The laws of man can't change that."
"You're preaching to the choir, my friend. I think you and the Old Man are perfect for each other. He doesn't let you take yourself too seriously, and you don't allow him to take himself too lightly. And I pity the idiot who tries to come between the two of you-- whether within the Game or without. You wanna know why you've had it easy these past couple of years? 'Cause Immortals aren't fools. There is a certain attractiveness to the oldest Immortal allied with the most powerful. But there is an even bigger danger there."
"I'll agree up to a point. But I don't know if I would say I was the most powerful. Methos-- even staying out of the Game for long periods of time, Methos has taken a lot of Quickenings, and since he is not a Hunter, I would say that most of them belonged to the best and strongest of that century or millennia. Methos is more than he lets show."
"Can I say that you are the best known of the powerful Immortals?"
"I'll accept that I suppose. But surely--"
"Just say yes, Mac."
"Yes, Mac." He'd leave useless arguing to his better half.
Joe rolled his eyes. "So, do we have a when?"
MacLeod shrugged. "I've left a message for Connor to call me. I need to check his schedule."
"He's going to stand up for you?"
"Yeah, he was my only choice, since Adam made it explicitly clear that I couldn't have you."
"Wants me for himself, does he?" Joe said, pleased at the thought.
"You're his family ."
"Family, friends, and God. That's what you said, right, Mac?" Duncan nodded. "You ever wonder who or what Methos prays to? To have witnessed the rise and fall of so many gods and beliefs.... That he believes in anything is a miracle in itself, I suppose."
"When I bring up religion, he just laughs. But I think if there is a God, Joe, our Methos probably knows him personally."
"Can I ask you something else?"
"Only if you promise to help me choose invitations. Adam told me he'd rip out my chest hairs one by one if I choose anything with doves. He says the only good dove is one stuffed with breadcrumbs and herbs."
Joe grimaced. "He certainly knows how to paint a picture with words, doesn't he?"
"He keeps his words as sharp as his sword," Duncan noted proudly.
"Geez, Mac. You really got it bad, don't you?"
"Is that the question you wanted to ask? Because the answer is yes, and what do you think of this invitation? I like silver engraving, but the gold matches his eyes."
Joe mimed a gagging attack, but took the invitation anyway. "I wanted to ask why all our recent conversations have revolved around the Old Man, but I think I have my answer."
"We both love him," Duncan said simply.
Joe opened his mouth, then shut it. "Yeah, I guess that's true. Since I'm part of the wedding party, that means I won't be the entertainment for the evening. Got any thoughts on that?"
"I was thinking a string quartet--"
Joe threw his head back and laughed. "Why don't you at least try to make it through the honeymoon before he threatens your head, Mac."
"It's my wedding!" Mac pouted.
"And if you don't want your husband sleeping through the reception, I suggest you think again. What about a doo-wop group? A little Motown?"
Duncan frowned. "I don't know--"
"It's better than Alice in Chains or Bare Naked Ladies, Mac. Trust me."
"Alice in Ch--?" Duncan paused as his cellphone beckoned. "MacLeod. What! I'm on my way!" He jumped out of the chair, and headed for the door, belatedly remembering to grab his coat as he went.
"Mac! What's going on?" Joe asked anxiously.
"An armed group stormed into the museum. When they left, they took Adam with them-- at gunpoint."
"Shit. Just remember, he's Immortal, MacLeod." Joe didn't like the dark fire he saw in his friend's eyes.
"Yeah, Dawson, but he's also MINE."
The barkeeper shivered as the door closed behind the Highlander.
VI. Pets he'll leave behind-- in the care of others, mind you. People he leaves behind without even a goodbye. But his books...he can't live without his books, Joe. That's what finally convinced him about the house, you know. He wanted his books to have a home.
"Oh, Mr. MacLeod! Thank God you're here!" Lucy called out as Duncan made his way through the crowd of officials. "I'm so sorry about Dr. P! He was so brave about everything, even when that man put one of those big assault rifles right in his face. I just know he's going to be okay."
Mac gave her a quick hug. "I know that, too, Lucy. Tell me what happened, okay?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but this is a sealed crime--" a suited figure with a badge said, belatedly noticing Duncan's arrival.
"My name is Duncan MacLeod and the man taken, Dr. Adam Pierson, is a close friend of mine. I'm not leaving." He didn't mention that Adam was also his fiance. He didn't want anyone's politics getting in the way of retrieving the man he loved. "Do you know who kidnapped him, or why?"
"It was those Moslem extremists, Mr. MacLeod," Lucy supplied. "They took the tablets with them as well as Dr. P."
"Has someone called the man Adam was talking to yesterday, Minister Hassim , I think?"
"We're working on that," another man said with a heavy British accent. "I'm Terry Hawkins, Interpol. To be quite honest, Mr. MacLeod, we were aware that the group was in the area, and had taken steps to prepare for an attempt on Dr. Pierson. Unfortunately, the Ahlaw struck before we were ready."
"I'm sure Adam will understand," Duncan said dryly. "Since you know so much, where are they headquartered and is that where they've taken Adam?"
"My people report that no one's gone back to the site. We're not quite sure where they are at the moment."
"Did they say anything, Lucy? Something that could--"
"I'm sorry, Mr. MacLeod. They were talking in Arabic, Urdo, Farsi, whatever, so no one understood them except Dr. P."
"Which does Dr. Pierson speaks?" Hawkins asked.
Duncan clenched his teeth. "All of the above, plus about two dozen other languages. What difference does it make?"
The agent shrugged. "It's just interesting."
"That a linguist knows other languages?" You better be all right, Adam. My curse is only supposed to apply to women, damn it!
"Well, so many languages. Usually they specialize, don't they?"
"Adam is a genius; you can't judge him by normal standards." Maybe he left a clue. "Lucy, did Adam say anything to you, or have a chance to write a note?"
"No note. But he did say something odd after they'd tied him up and were dragging him to the stairs."
"What did he say?"
"Something about suffering the watchers. Sounded like a quote maybe."
"Suffering the...." Duncan leaned heavily against the counter. Thank you, Adam!
"Does that mean something to you, Mr. MacLeod?" Hawkins asked. "Because if it does, you should tell--"
"It's nothing. Just something private between Adam and me," Duncan lied, wondering how he was going to leave without arousing suspicion.
"Can I go home now?" Lucy wailed. "I don't feel too good, and everyone else has been allowed to leave."
"I'm sorry we had to detain you so long, Ms. Martin, but you witnessed more than the others. However, we have your number and your address. If we have further questions...."
"Just give me a call-- tomorrow," she said firmly. "Mr. MacLeod, will you drive me home? I don't think I should drive. My nerves are shot."
"We can get a driver--"
"That won't be necessary," Duncan interrupted smoothly. "I'll give you a lift, Lucy. "Maybe you can remember something else Adam said."
She nodded and leaned into him as they headed into the elevator. "You don't have to really drive me," she whispered. "It just looked like you needed to get out of there without a tail. Whatever Dr. P said, it was a clue, wasn't it?"
Duncan smiled at her. "You do know Adam adores you, don't you?"
"He's a great boss. He was so happy about you guys' wedding when he came in this morning. I don't think he'd do anything to jeopardize that."
"At this point, I don't care about the wedding, Lucy. I just want him safe."
"Do you know where he is?"
"No. But his clue gave me some idea of where to start looking. As soon as I drop you off--"
"I told you that you don't have to do that," Lucy protested.
Duncan laughed and pulled her closer. "Adam would kill me if I let something happen to you."
Large brown eyes looked up into his. "And it would kill you if something's happened to him, wouldn't it?"
"I've loved before, Lucy...but never like this," Duncan admitted.
"Then think good thoughts. He loves you just as much. Your love will see you through."
Duncan opened the car door for her. "How did you get to be so wise?"
Lucy grinned. "As Dr. P would say, it's a gift!"
"So, have you heard from him yet?" Duncan asked as he strode into Joe's, his long coat sailing out behind him.
"From Adam? I'm afraid not, Mac. How's the investigation going?"
"Screw the investigation, Joe. Have you heard from Adam's Watcher?"
"You-- you know?"
Mac leaned closer over the bar. "We're talking Methos here. Of course he knew he had a Watcher. Has he made a report?"
Joe shook his head. "I've been checking every few minutes since you left. I've even tried his cell phone, but it says he's out of range. That probably means they've headed up into the mountains."
"Then I need to go back to the museum and get Adam's 4x4."
"Give me a minute, and I'll drive you."
Duncan waited impatiently while Joe made arrangements with Mike to take care of the bar. Then, the mortal gathered his cell phone and laptop computer, before joining Duncan outside. "I'll follow you to the loft to drop the T-bird off, then I'll take you to the museum. Sound good?"
Duncan nodded. After a quick stop at the loft, he climbed into Joe's car which was customized for the paraplegic. "Ever wonder why Adam always has a big car? Either SUVs or station wagons."
"Because he needs the room to carry his books when he leaves," Duncan replied with a faint smile. "Pets he'll leave behind-- in the care of others, mind you. People he leaves behind without even a goodbye. But his books...he can't live without his books, Joe. That's what finally convinced him about the house, you know. He wanted his books to have a home." His voice broke, and he glanced out the window quickly so Joe wouldn't see his tears.
"He's Immortal, Mac," Joe reminded him softly.
"Aye, and he's being held by Moslem extremists. Handling their religious artifacts could easily be an offense punishable by beheading."
"No! I refuse to believe he's survived five thousand years to die at the hands of mortal religious creeps."
"If they do kill him, Joe-- mortals or not, I will avenge him. Do you understand?"
Joe nodded. "All I ask is that you leave a few of the bastards for me."
VII. That old man has been through hell and back more times than he can probably remember. One more trip isn't going to defeat him, MacLeod. He's a survivor, the best there is. If this tries to take him down, he'll claw his way to the surface again. He always does.
The call came as the Immortal and his Watcher sat in Adam's SUV outside the dojo. They could have waited inside. They could have gone on with their lives while they waited. Instead, they chose to sit in the car and remember Methos. Not the heartbreaking times, nor the Ancient's disturbing tendencies to open himself to danger if his friends were in trouble. So, there was no talk of the Dark Quickening, the Methuselah stone, Jacob Galati, or Bordeaux. Instead, they laughed at the times he had annoyed them, wondered at which of his stories were fact or fiction, marveled at what he must have seen during the millennia.
"Dawson," Joe said gruffly when his cell phone rang. "Rakin? Where the hell have you been? Do you know-- Where are you? What? No, you follow them. I'll check the campgrounds. What? You be careful, too." He stuck the phone in his jacket and reached for his seatbelt. "The old campgrounds off of Highway 9."
"He's there?" Duncan asked, as they pulled away from the curb.
"Don't know. That's where the cult took him. But, according to Rakin, the cult members just came zooming out of there like bats out of hell. He's following them, although he doesn't know whether Adam is with them or not."
"You don't think he is?"
Jaw scratched at his jaw. "If I didn't know you people existed, a recently murdered man rising from the dead would probably make me resemble one of those bats, Mac."
"You think they killed him, and he revived?" Duncan asked with relief. "Then we better hurry. He'll be terribly pissed if he has to walk all the way home."
"How much beer is left in your fridge?"
"Not enough to soothe him after the day he's had. Maybe you better call one of your wholesale dealers for us," Duncan joked. "And, Joe, he can have anyone he damn well wants playing at our wedding."
"I hear you, Mac."
By the time they reached the abandoned campgrounds-- once a favorite retreat for churches in the area-- they were both tense and anxious. They hadn't passed any fuming Immortal on the side of the highway, and as the SUV climbed up the rocky path to the campgrounds, Duncan didn't feel the familiar buzz of his lover. Had the cultists taken Methos with them? Or had they fled from the Presence that had escaped when they'd taken Methos' head? Methos was old and powerful-- even a mortal could probably feel something of his passing.
Mac and Joe got out of the car, Joe's nose wrinkling at a terrible smell. "What the hell is that? Some kind of skunk?"
"No," Duncan whispered, his mind going back in time to similar smells. A weakness rushed through his memory-assailed body and he sank to his knees.
"Mac? What's wrong with you?" Joe asked, gripping his friend's arm.
"You were in a war, Joe. You know what the smell is."
Joe frowned, then paled. "Sweet Jesus," he murmured, absently patting Duncan on the back as a way of keeping himself from sliding completely into the past-- which would include curling into a fetal position and sobbing his eyes out. The Scot was right; he knew what the smell was, an odor so distinctive that you never forgot it. It was different from anything else.
Burnt human flesh.
"Mac," Joe said hoarsely, bile at the back of his throat.
Duncan looked up, then followed Joe's gaze. In the distance, he saw faint tendrils of smoke still rising. From the center there was a slender stake. At the base of the stake was a vaguely formed lump.
"Methos." He stumbled to his feet, and forced his body to move forward. The world narrowed to just one speck, one tiny scene. Past the still smouldering brush which had been spread around the base of the pyre, Methos-- what was left of Methos-- kneeled. He was naked, except for the occasional tatter of fabric that clung to him. His skin was blackened in most places, the only color peeping through was red, occasionally yellow or white, wet places where the skin had burst to let the tissue beneath explode through. His hair was singed off in places, and in others, as Duncan lay a tentative hand on his head, it broke off under the gentle pressure.
"Cut him down, Mac, please."
Joe's broken voice drew Mac back into himself. "He's not tied to the pike, Joe. They impaled him on it. I have to-- I have to--" Duncan couldn't finish. He took out his katana, and with no thought of the damage to his blade, cut off the top of the stake pinioning Methos. With infinite care, he grabbed his lover and pulled upward, grimacing as he heard the wood reluctantly separate from the flesh that sheathed it. With a stomach-turning pop, Methos was freed and Duncan gathered the damaged Immortal into his arms as if he were a child-- a much beloved child. Joe led the way back to the vehicle, watching silently as Duncan placed his precious load onto the backseat, and arranged the seatbelts to keep him from tumbling to the floor.
"He'll recover, won't he?" Joe asked, breaking the long silence.
"Physically, yes. Mentally, I don't-- I don't know. This could...change him."
Joe hastily went through his mental version of Mac's chronicles, and knew what the Immortal feared. Mac's friend, Garrick, had been burned at the stake, and it had driven him insane. In the end, Mac had had to kill him. "If that happens, will you be able to--"
"No!" Duncan shouted as they headed back toward Seacouver. "No, Joe. I don't think I could take his head-- not even as an act of mercy. If the worst happens, I'll call Connor."
"He'd want you to have his Quickening, Mac."
"I know. He's certainly offered it to me enough. But I don't think I could handle it, Joe, handle having Methos in my head, but not in my arms...."
No more words were spoken until they reached the dojo. "Stay with him for a moment, Joe. I'm just going up to pack some clothes and supplies."
"You're taking him to the island." A statement, not a question.
"We don't need to be bothered by Immortals or Watchers. He'll heal, but it'll be painful.... God, Joe. I only wanted to love him, not destroy him."
"You didn't do this to him, Mac."
"He didn't want to marry me. Thought it was too dangerous."
"Curses? Damn it! The two of you are too old to believe in such things!"
"Or maybe too old not to, Joe."
"Go get what you need, Mac. We need to get out of here before the Old Man revives. If the pain's going to be as bad as you say--"
"It will be. But what's this 'we' business?"
"I'm going to follow you up there, and while you get Adam settled, I'll run to the store and get anything else you need."
"You don't have to--"
"No, I don't have to, but he was right, Mac: we were friends before you entered the picture-- his picture anyway. I want to-- I need to help him. I promise not to get in your way. I'll just see that you're settled, then I'll leave."
Mac dropped his head. He wasn't being fair to the mortal-- hell, he wasn't being fair to Methos. The eldest Immortal didn't belong to him. And at the rate things were falling apart, didn't belong with him either. "You won't be in the way, Joe," he said softly, and hurried into the dojo.
It was nearly dark by the time they arrived at the lakeshore, and completely dark by the time Mac got Methos settled into bed. Methos had revived in the SUV once on the way up, but had succumbed again by the time Mac got off the road and to the backseat. Although the second death worried him, the fact that Methos had revived from being burned alive was a good sign.
"Are you sure about this, Mac?" Joe asked as the Highlander fluffed sheets out on the sofa.
"It's too late for you to try to cross the lake, Joe," Mac said wearily. It had been damned exhausting getting Methos' dead body clean, but if he'd had to smell the burnt flesh and ash any longer, he would have thrown up and never stopped. Besides, hope had grown when he saw the new flesh already shimmering beneath the blackened skin. "Anyway, having you here might force me to remain sane throughout the night. I--" He tensed and turned toward the bedroom. "He's alive!"
By the time Joe reached them, Mac was almost sitting on Methos who was flopping wildly on the bed, muttering incoherently. "Convulsions," Duncan panted. Joe moved to help, but suddenly Methos went limp.
"Dead?" Joe asked.
"Unconscious," Mac replied, wiping Methos' face. "His body is rebuilding itself, including the damaged spine. I should have expected spasms."
Joe looked at Mac, hearing something else in the man's voice. "What aren't you telling me, Mac?" the mortal demanded.
"I'm really worried about his state of mind. What he was saying--"
"He was incoherent from the pain."
Duncan shook his head. "He wasn't incoherent, Joe. He was speaking in a language we couldn't understand, a language I don't think exists anymore."
Joe shuddered, but grasped Duncan's shoulder resolutely. "That old man has been through hell and back more times than he can probably remember. One more trip isn't going to defeat him, MacLeod. He's a survivor, the best there is. If this tries to take him down, he'll claw his way to the surface again. He always does."
"From your mouth to God's ear, Joseph," Duncan said solemnly.
He leaned down and bestowed a benevolent kiss upon his lover's brow. "I need you, Methos," Duncan whispered raggedly. "You've never let me down, Old Man, even when I've given you plenty opportunity to do so. Don't ruin your record now, you hear me? If you do, I swear I'll make sure Joe writes it up all wrong. What will that do to your precious Chronicles then, hmm?"
He heard Joe move out of the room, giving them privacy, and he curled up beside his beloved, hoping with all his heart that this extraordinary man, who had survived the rise and fall of gods, kings, and empires, would defy the odds one more time.
VIII. We belong to each other, Methos. Our quickenings are entwined, and so are our hearts. I am not Kronos, and you are not Death. We aren't killers.
Duncan awoke to find a naked Methos straddling him. Normally, this was a pleasurable occurrence, but not this time. This time Duncan could feel hands wrapped around his neck, fingers arched to snap the aforementioned neck with just a twitch of a single muscle. Not only that, but he could see nothing in the glittering green eyes boring into him which assured him that this was his lover and friend. However, neither did he see madness in the verdant depths-- just a calculated curiosity. And he wasn't dead yet. That had to be a good sign.
"Good morning, Methos," he said calmly.
"'Good morning, Methos,'" the ancient mocked. "Quickly tell me who you are before I have the pleasure of killing you."
"We have shared more pleasurable activities in our time, Methos."
A fingernail embedded itself in Duncan's throat. "Who. Are. You?"
"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." Mac hoped the familiar appellation would click a response.
"Where's my sword, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod?"
So much for hope. "With mine and all other sharp objects- on the other side of the lake. We aren't here to kill each other, Methos."
"Don't call me that! My name is Benjamin," Methos hissed.
"Dr. Benjamin Adams? What year do you think this is, Methos?"
"Year?" Methos blinked. "What year do you think it is?"
The elder Immortal laughed. "The twenty-first century? Are you an author of speculative fiction, sir?"
"Look around you. Look at the clock with the glowing red numbers, Methos. Watch as I-- may I?" Methos lifted the knee he had pinning down Mac's hand. Mac reached out and turned on the lamp. "I'm not sure how long you were Benjamin Adams, but even when electricity became popular near the end of the nineteenth century, it wasn't like this, was it?"
Confusion drove the coldness from his eyes. "Why are we here?" Methos whispered. "You said we weren't here to kill each other. Why are we here?"
"For you to recuperate. You were killed rather brutally, and I brought you to holy ground so you could recover."
"Why? If you know who I am, why didn't you take my head?"
"I'm in love with you," Duncan answered honestly.
"And I you?"
Methos scrambled off Duncan and sat on the opposite edge of the bed. "No, no, no," he mumbled. "This can't be happening. Do not tell me my future self is foolish enough to take up with another Immortal man. You idiot! Don't you ever learn!"
"I'm not Kronos, Methos," Mac said quietly.
Methos jerked his head around. "You know about Kronos?"
"I killed Kronos."
Methos paled, a shudder wracking his body. "That must mean you're worse than Kronos. Only someone as demented, or moreso, than Kronos could kill that manipulative bastard."
"You planned the whole thing yourself, Methos. I made the killing stroke, but his death was compliments of you."
"Death, the great equalizer." He glanced at Mac. "Just how much did you glean from Kronos' quickening?"
"Nothing that I didn't already know...Death."
"So you know the whole story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Is that why we're together? Does it excite you to bed Death? Or do you want me to retrieve the other Horsemen so we can ride together?"
"There aren't any other Horsemen. You are all that remains."
Hazel eyes widened. "You took out Caspian and Silas, too? What manner of demon are you? Or are you an avenging angel?"
"If I am an avenging angel, you are one also. I killed Caspian, but you're the one who beheaded Silas."
Methos leapt to his feet. "No! I wouldn't kill Silas! He was my friend. I made sure he was safe from the world, safe from megalomaniacs like Kronos and you!"
MacLeod rolled across the bed, and reached out for Methos' arm. "Listen to me. Kronos came looking for you. He'd come up with a virus that would have the world bowing at his feet. To protect mortal lives, and to protect me, you went with him and reunited the Four Horsemen. All along the way, you dropped clues for me to find. Kronos sent Caspian and Silas after me. I killed Caspian, then went in search of Kronos. When I confronted Kronos, he sent Silas to kill Cassandra--"
"Cassandra? She was involved in this as well?" Methos asked in horror.
"Yes. She wanted me to kill you, but instead was captured by Kronos. When Silas went to kill her, you challenged him. While the two of you fought, Kronos and I fought as well. We killed them at the same time. There was a-- double quickening. I received part of Silas...and part of you. You received quite a lot of Kronos, and me."
Methos closed his eyes. "Is that why I'm with you? Is that the basis of our relationship?"
"No!" Mac stood and placed his hands on Methos' shoulders. "No. Our relationship began years before that. And I have loved you since Day One."
A floorboard squeaked, and quick as a flash, Methos backed away from Duncan, grabbing a brass candlestick, as he calculated his defense.
"It's okay, Methos," Mac said soothingly. "Show yourself, Joe."
The bartender sheepishly moved into the doorway. "Sorry, Mac. I wasn't really eavesdropping. I just wanted to make sure you didn't need me." He patted the pocket of his jacket meaningfully.
"You use mortals to do your dirty work?" Methos questioned with disgust, lowering the candlestick, knowing it was no defense against whatever the mortal had in his pocket. "Even Kronos didn't stoop that low."
"I'm not using Joe for anything. He's our friend, Methos. He was just as worried about you as I was."
"Worried? Why? Oh, yes. You said something about me experiencing a horrible death."
"You were burned at the stake."
Methos laughed bitterly. "How quaint. Is the twenty-first century always this original?"
"They weren't trying to be original. They were punishing you for defiling old religious tablets."
Methos shrugged. "Never could pass up the chance of a good read. So they burned me, and...."
"Joe and I found you. We brought you here. This is an island built on holy ground."
"You found me how?"
MacLeod and Joe exchanged glances.
Methos' eyes narrowed, and in two long steps he was at Joe's side, twisting his wrist. "You're a Watcher!"
Joe looked at him steadily. "How long have you known about us?"
Methos ignored him. "This mortal friend of ours is a spy!"
"I know, and so do you-- I mean, your twenty-first century counterpart. You and Joe know each other because you were a Watcher, too."
Totally unconcerned with his nudity, Methos plopped down on the bed. "It seems that I totally outdo myself in the next century. One would think after five thousand years.... Tell me. Does everyone know Methos is not a myth?"
"No. Just a handful of Immortals, and Joe."
"Just a handful of Immortals? I trust that many?" Methos asked with a wry grin.
Mac flushed. "Actually, I trust that many."
Methos stilled. "I see. So, I am back to playing whore for a powerful Immortal."
"You are not my whore!"
'Then what am I? Who am I in your world?"
"Dr. Adam Pierson, a linguist for a museum."
"Where do I live?"
"Do I have any friends that aren't yours?"
Duncan squirmed uneasily. "The people you work with. I just met them a couple of days ago."
"What about Immortals?" A shake of the head. "Do I sleep with anyone else? At least Kronos shared me with Caspian and Silas when he was feeling generous, or spiteful."
"You liked Silas," Duncan said helplessly.
A shrug. "Silas did what Kronos told him. I never held that against him. I still can't believe I killed him."
"Would it help to know that at the time he was doing his best to kill you?"
"No. At Kronos' behest, Silas had tried to kill me before. But he was much like a pesky fly. Swat him enough times, and he went away. I can't believe I actually took his head."
Duncan sat on the bed beside him. "If Silas had lived, he would have come after me. I think that's why you finished it this time."
Methos fell back across the bed. "And you say I'm not your whore? I killed my brothers for you. I allow you to dictate who knows my real identity. I fuck you and no one else. I've been a whore before, Master. I know the signs."
"So, why don't you roll over and let's get to it, Slave," Duncan said angrily. How dare Methos slander their love like this.
"Yes, let's get at it, shall we?" Methos flipped over to his stomach. "Will your boy over there just Watch, or does he assist?"
"He does whatever I tell him to do."
"Got him by the testicles, too, do you? Hmm, one more member of this happy family, and we'll be back to the original four. What mode of transportation do we have in this century?"
"The Four Carsmen?"
Duncan sighed in frustration. "Methos, shut up."
"Kronos liked me vocal."
"I'm not Kronos." Duncan looked over at Joe. "Why don't you get out of here, Joe? Methos and I have some things to straighten out."
"Remember he's not himself, Mac. The Methos you're planning to marry would never think of you as his master."
"Marry?" Methos looked back from where he lay on his stomach, his knees bunched up under him.
The old Immortal groaned. "This just gets worse and worse."
"Stop being so melodramatic," Duncan chided impatiently.
"Melodramatic?" Methos sat up, glaring at Duncan. "This is not melodrama on my face. This is disgust. At the Immortal race because we apparently still haven't progressed past wanting to dominate the world. At you for being one of those damned, domineering, alpha male Immortals. And especially at myself, because I haven't learned a bloody thing in five millennia, and haven't progressed in three. If you'd kindly tell me where I can find Cassandra, I'm sure I can convince her to take my head, and end this farce of an existence!"
"I already told her she couldn't have it."
"Cassandra wanted your head and I told her no. I wanted you to live then, Methos, and I want you to live now," Mac said solemnly.
"So my life is truly in your hands?"
"Yes, you gave it to me. You offered me your head-- freely. I declined. I once offered you mine, and you declined." Mac closed his eyes at the memory of Richie's death. "We belong to each other, Methos. Our quickenings are entwined, and so are our hearts. I am not Kronos, and you are not Death. We aren't killers."
"You're very powerful for your age." Duncan raised a questioning eyebrow. "I can tell the difference between age and power. You have little of the former and much of the latter. You are no saint, Duncan MacLeod."
"And neither are the Immortals I've taken out of the Game, Methos. It's true that some consider us the two most powerful Immortals remaining, but we don't abuse that title. We play by the rules--"
"Oh, God. It does get worse," Methos moaned.
Duncan couldn't help but smile. That sounded more like his Methos. "Sorry. What I meant to say was that I play by the rules, and you play by your version of them. You've taught me that there's no such thing as absolute good or absolute bad, but I think we lean more toward the good than the bad. We give it a good try anyway."
"And--and I'm going to marry you? That's legal now?"
"No, not really. But I wanted to declare my love for you publicly, and after a while, you agreed."
"Of course I did."
"Methos, look at me," Duncan demanded. "I don't own you. I don't dictate what you think, what you say, what you do. You are your own person. You wouldn't put up with it any other way. Surely you didn't become the irascible, stubborn, smug bastard that I love overnight. You know your self-worth better than anyone else I've ever run across."
"I thought I knew. But when I left Kronos, I promised myself that I would never get involved with a powerful Immortal again-- male or female. If I can lie to myself about that, anything is possible."
"Methos." Duncan reached out and pulled his lover close. At first the kiss was timid, two strangers not really sure of what they would find. But the tentative gesture soon grew bold as Methos' body remembered what his mind didn't, and Duncan realized that the stranger pressed beneath him was no stranger at all. Fleetingly, Duncan wondered if Joe had left like he'd asked, but as Methos' tongue flicked the roof of his mouth, he decided he didn't care.
Duncan decided he didn't care about much as Methos divested him of the T-shirt he'd slept in to lavish kisses upon his chest, and nip at the rosy buds that hardened at the familiar swipe of tongue. He didn't care as the cutoff sweats were disposed of, freeing his straining penis and exposing it to Methos' deft touch. He didn't care as he stretched out over Methos, feeling his lover's heat match his own. But as another hungry kiss ended, he opened his eyes and saw an inquisitive, curious desire in the hazel ones mere inches from his own.
Suddenly, he cared. His Methos would be expectant, not inquisitive; anticipatory, not curious. His Methos would know how it was between them, and the knowledge always gave his eyes a predatory, proprietary gleam. Mine, his eyes would scream, and Duncan would shiver before his own brown eyes would reply, Yours. That's not what the hazel eyes were saying, and the fact that they were still hazel was alien as well. He was more used to shards of flashing emerald which demanded a good, hard fuck, or a smoky golden gaze which preceded long, sweaty sessions of lovemaking.
Duncan rolled away, panting as his erection died a quick death. "I can't do this," he said, burying his face in his hands. "I can't betray him like this."
"I am Methos, Duncan," the Immortal said, laying a hand on a broad shoulder.
Duncan shook him off. "Aye, but you're not my Methos. You are as beautiful, and as passionate, but I need more. My Methos fills my empty spaces, sands my rough edges, mends the cracks and the stresses in my soul. You do not."
"I could learn," Methos said, not liking the rejection.
"My Methos did not have to learn; he just knew how." Duncan reached for his discarded clothing. "I'm going for a run." Methos' eyes widened in alarm. "I won't leave you-- ever, Methos. But I can't be with you. My heart belongs to another." With that, Duncan fled the room.
And Methos felt a heart he didn't even know he had...break.
IX. We are equal and unequal, the same and different, free and bound. We have found balance in each other, harmony in our mutual existence. I live in you. I die in you. You are my world, and I am yours. My mouth will mock you. My body may one day deny you. But my eyes, Duncan, my eyes can never lie to you. Look into them, and see the truth in stark nakedness.
Methos woke, stretched, and debated whether a shower or a beer would make him feel better. The beer won hands down. With a grumble he sat up, and realized he was neither at his apartment or the loft. Ah, MacLeod's cabin, he realized a second later. It made sense. He certainly had needed holy ground after what the Ahlaw had done to him. Hope they didn't destroy the tablets, too.
He pinpointed Mac's Presence, and found him sleeping on the sofa. He looked utterly exhausted. Poor man must have spent all afternoon nursing me. I'll have to be especially 'kind' to him when he joins me in bed. But only if he remembered to bring beer to this little hideaway.
Methos was making another difficult decision-- one beer or two-- when he felt Mac's Presence move. "Wanna beer, MacLeod?" Well, that made things easier. If he gave Mac a beer, he would have two.
There was something worrisome in his tone. "Mac?" He turned to see his lover staring at him apprehensively. Shit. He must have hurt the Highlander's feelings during his recovery. He wasn't at his best when he was in pain. "Look, love, whatever it is I said or did, you know I didn't mean it, right? I can be a very bitchy patient."
"Methos, what year is it?"
"According to the modern calendar-- 2000. By Egyptian reckoning, it's--"
"And your name? The one everyone knows you by?"
"Adam Pierson. What's this all about, Mac?"
"You don't remember?"
"What? That a bunch of thugs under the 'authority' of religion roasted my 'chestnuts' over an open fire earlier in the day? Oh, I remember, Mac. Trust me."
"It wasn't earlier today. That was yesterday, Methos."
He took a big gulp of beer. "I was out that long?" No wonder Duncan had taken him to holy ground.
"You woke this morning. You weren't-- yourself."
That didn't bode well, did it? "Who was I?" Not Death. Please, please, not Death.
Methos gave a sigh of relief. Ben Adams was a singularly harmless creature. A bit too easily led, actually. He really should have known better than to sleep with someone else's bed wench. And as far as getting involved with Byron and his crowd.... It really hadn't been his best century. "Are you upset because of something he did, or are you worried that I'll fall asleep, and wake up as someone else again? Because that only happens when I end up dying several times in a short timespan. Like drowning, burning, being crucified. The old personalities never hang around long. I think they come back to try to protect me or something."
"Adams accused me of making you my whore. He accused me of being another Kronos."
Another long gulp and the beer was gone. Damn. Adams just had to mention the "K" word, a word guaranteed to send MacLeod into a brood. "Well, he was wrong. You're not Kronos, and I am no one's whore. That's a promise I made to myself three thousand years ago."
"I know. That's why Adams was upset. He was furious at himself for getting mixed up with another powerful Immortal."
Shit. You sure picked a great time to grow a backbone, Adams. Methos took MacLeod's arm and led him to the sofa. "I am not angry, or sorry that I'm involved with you, Duncan. You know that, don't you?"
"He said that he was my whore, and my slave. That you killing Silas, and me telling people your true identity was proof of my control over you. And Joe--"
"Joe was here?"
Duncan nodded. "Your Watcher told us where to find you, and by the time we got your corpse here to the island, it was too late for Joe to leave. You thought, Adams thought, that Joe was a mortal I had employed for nefarious purposes."
"Yes, and sex. You asked was he going to assist me in fucking you, or was he just going to Watch. I can't remember if that was before or after you accused me of using the two of you to form a new brotherhood."
Methos flung himself back against the sofa's arm, wondering if things could get worse. "Where is Joe now?"
"I asked him to leave. I thought things might get 'intense' since you were lying on the bed with your ass waggling around, urging your master to take you."
Why, yes, yes it could get worse, thank you very much. "Did you?"
"Did I what?"
"Take me." MacLeod flushed. "It's okay, Duncan. Methos the Slave is a very seductive creature, and he's had millennia to work on his technique."
Duncan shook his head. "I couldn't do it. You were in my arms, but it wasn't you, Methos, and I couldn't do it."
"Couldn't or wouldn't?" Methos asked, pleased to know the depth of Mac's loyalty to him.
"Couldn't, Methos. I was as flaccid as a newborn."
"Really?" Methos hand snaked out and cupped the crotch of Mac's sweatpants. "You're not flaccid now, MacLeod."
"No, I'm not. And you're not Benjamin Adams."
"No, I'm not." He tugged on Mac's hair until the Scot lowered his head. Their mouths came together in a heated, feral rush. "Fuck me, Mac," Methos growled when Duncan pulled away from his mouth to suckle his neck.
Duncan looked up, apparently searching his lover's eyes for something. Whatever it was, he found it, because a grin the size of Scotland spread across his face. "Bed, Methos. Because after this, we're going to make long, leisurely love, and I want to be comfortable."
"And you wonder why I agreed to marry you," Methos purred.
"We're not getting married, Methos."
A quick shove had Mac on the other end of the sofa. "Excuse me?"
"I canna go through this again," Mac said softly.
"Go through what?"
"I'm already haunted by the memory of Deborah slipping from my grasp, and Tessa bleeding in my arms. Holding you yesterday, wiping away the blood and burnt flesh.... You might be Immortal, but you can still be hurt, you can still be killed. I will not be the cause of that, Methos." He held out his hand. "The vows that matter have already been spoken and exchanged. We don't have anything to prove, any reason to tempt fate."
"Duncan, if this was the result of any curse, it would probably be that of the tablets," Methos reasoned. "Most religious texts were cursed for protection. We'll just go ahead with the wedding plans, and if I get brutally murdered again, then we'll rethink the idea, okay?"
Duncan shook his head. "It's not important enough to risk your life for, Methos. You didn't see yourself, as I saw you. You didn't experience the fear I did when you screamed out curses in languages which had perished from the earth millennia before my creation. You don't know what it was like to hold you in my arms, stare into your eyes, and see a stranger staring back. I canna go through that again. My heart canna take it."
Methos wrapped his arms around him. "I'm sorry, Duncan. I'm sorry that I frightened you so." Duncan trembled, and Methos kissed the top of his head. He stroked him as he would a distraught child. "I'm alive, dear heart. I'm alive, and here. Not Benjamin Adams, nor Adam Pierson, but Methos, the Methos who loves you with all that I have been, all that I am, all that I will be."
He sent the kisses lower, planting a soft buss on each of the wet eyelids, then on the nose, and finally the lips which parted gently for him. He explored the sweet mouth, growling in response as Mac became the aggressor, attacking him with the ferociousness of someone long denied. Methos sensed the desperation in Mac, and allowed him to act it out, intrigued by untamed passion exploding from the lover he thought he knew like the back of his hand.
Mac knew he was losing control, but suddenly he needed Methos in a way he never had before. He nipped the long, vulnerable neck, marking Methos as his own. His lips suckled at the pebbled nubs on the smooth, hairless chest. His tongue dipped into the navel, exploring it with a thoroughness that had Methos squirming beneath him. He moved down further, licking the creases that defined the beginning of powerful thighs, almost coming as he felt the muscles slide sensually beneath the pale skin.
He willed his body to behave as he gazed at Methos' sex throbbing just inches from his lips. He kissed the base of it, his tongue lapping at the firm mounds below before swirling up from root to tip. He blew across the top of it, smiling as it danced for him. His tongue became its partner, moving with it, darting in for a quick taste, only to pull back, to dart in again. Methos moaned, his fingers digging into Duncan's hair, forcing him to stay close, to stay at the business at hand.
Duncan acquiesced to the unspoken request, and engulfed Methos whole. Relaxing his throat muscles, he encased Methos in a warm, velvet glove, swallowing as his lover spurted his essence into him, filling up the places which had feared of being continually empty. He took a final mouthful of his prize, and moved up along the sleek body to give Methos a taste of himself.
"I want you," he whispered.
"You have me," Methos replied, bending a knee and spreading his legs. Duncan hesitated. "I'm Immortal, Duncan. What is damaged will be healed. Besides, it's not like this is virgin territory."
"I don't want--"
"Fuck me, Duncan MacLeod. Now!"
Nights of dedicated practice came to the fore as their bodies perfectly aligned themselves, and before Duncan could mouth a last minute protest, he was inside Methos and Methos was all around him. He looked at the face of the man he loved, the eyes closed, the mouth slightly parted, and for a second he panicked.
"Look at me, Methos," he pleaded, starting to retreat until the powerful thighs closed around him.
"Duncan, it's me," Methos said patiently, his eyes opening to lock with Duncan's. "The man who loves you with every breath and every heartbeat that I've had in five thousand years. We are equal and unequal, the same and different, free and bound. We have found balance in each other, harmony in our mutual existence. I live in you. I die in you. You are my world, and I am yours. My mouth will mock you. My body may one day deny you. But my eyes, Duncan, my eyes can never lie to you. Look into them, and see the truth in stark nakedness."
Duncan looked, and even as his body responded to the pressures Methos subtly rendered, even as he pounded into the tight, hot channel, he stared into the eyes that never once turned from him-- the green crystals as clear as the sky and as deep as the ocean. Only after he came, after he filled Methos with long pulses of himself in liquid form, did he allow his eyes to close. And Methos, who still stared, lifted his head to capture the tears that fell from the closing lids.
"Stay," he murmured softly as Duncan moved to disengage. Duncan dropped his head to the smooth chest, and Methos wrapped his arms around him as Duncan's hot tears scalded him.
When Duncan's sobs became the deep even breaths of sleep, Methos slipped out from beneath him and went to the bathroom. He came back a moment later, cleaning Duncan with a warm cloth, and taking in the perfection of his lover. When sleeping, Duncan seemed much younger, and more fragile. Especially with the silvery glitter of tears trapped in his eyelashes.
With a sigh, he woke Duncan and guided the groggy Scot to the bed, where he curled up around him protectively. "Sleep deeply, my love," he whispered. "You did well to keep watch this night past. Now, it's my turn."
Methos met Joe at the dock the next morning, helping the mortal to terra firma.
"Where's Mac?" Joe asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
"Sleeping, Joe. Uninjured, except for the damage Benjamin Adams did to his spirit."
"Yeah, well, maybe now I can see why Morgan Walker was so desperate for your head," Joe snapped, then gave his friend the once-over. "You okay? I mean, you were a crispy critter less than two days ago."
Methos laughed. "I'm fine, Joe. After a while, you learn to bounce back from some instances. However, I suspect I better let you hold onto my sword if I ever run into the Aslaw again."
"You won't. They're all dead. Ritual suicide. The federal authorities found them back at their original headquarters. There was a note scrawled in Arabic on the wall, written in blood. Something about offending one of Allah's chosen. Mac and I think they saw you come back to life while they were burning you."
"And that scared them into killing themselves? So be it. One less urge I have to repress."
"Don't you ever wonder if you're repressing too much, Methos, that one day something's going to snap and all those things you've been holding back are going to come exploding out of you?" Joe asked worriedly.
"Not as long as I have Mac, Joe. The need for him outweighs all my other needs, wants, desires. But the day I lose him...all bets are off."
"Are you that certain that you will lose him?"
"When it comes to Duncan MacLeod, the only certainty I have is that I love him. I have a favor to ask of you, Joe. Would you mind staying here with Duncan while I run an errand? I don't want him waking alone, and getting it into that thick skull of his that I've run off or done something equally as stupid."
"You've been known to run before, Old Man."
"Exactly why I need you here to reassure him that I will return."
"Where are you going?"
"You'll see when I get back. Shouldn't take any longer than an hour, two at the most."
Joe's eyes narrowed. "You're up to something, aren't you?"
Methos laughed as he stepped into the boat. "Aren't I always? And, Joe, you might want to let him know you're about when he wakes. He's quite nude."
Joe reddened. "Well, you were, too, yesterday."
"Yeah, but he cares, and I don't. I remember there was a time when everyone walked around naked. Let me tell you, no one could lie about their age in those days--"
Joe held up his hands and backed away from the dock. "Just go, Methos."
"And you're the one who's always complaining that I don't tell you enough about my past," Methos complained cheekily. He laughed as Joe ignored him and headed toward the cabin.
Humming a happy tune, he picked up the oars, and started paddling.
"I don't know where he went, Mac," Joe said for the fortieth time, and cursed Methos under his breath for the fiftieth. "He said he'd be back in a couple of hours."
"And that was up five minutes ago," Duncan fretted. "I should have hidden the car keys. Or I shouldn't have fallen asleep."
"Mac, you were up with him the whole night prior. You're Immortal, but not inhuman. You had to rest. And he was well, wasn't he? Back to our Methos?"
"Yes, but.... He apologized for scaring me, but maybe I'm the one who scared him. I acted so needy, Joe. Maybe he couldn't take it. Maybe he wants a real man, and not some blubbering idiot."
Joe sighed. "MacLeod, they don't come any more manly than you."
"You didn't see-- Methos!" Duncan was out of the cabin before he completed the name.
Joe had to keep from laughing as he watched Duncan slow to a "casual" stroll as the boat approached the dock. It was nice to know that the added years didn't make Immortals any less prone to love's stupidity.
Methos leapt nimbly from the boat, smiling. "Hi, Mac. Did you miss me?"
Duncan shrugged. "Joe told me you'd gone to run an errand."
"Yeah, would have been back sooner, but I had to stop and get the car cleaned. Smelled like something had died in the backseat." Methos grinned at the morbid comment. "Must have been that crispy critter Joe mentioned earlier."
"You're all very sick puppies," Joe said with a shake of his head. "Give me a lift to the other side, will ya?"
"Not yet, Joe," Methos said. "Your presence is required for this."
"For this what?" he asked slowly, not trusting the old Immortal.
"All in good time, Joseph. Come, MacLeod, we have something to discuss."
Inside, Methos sat Joe in a chair, and Mac on the sofa. Then he pulled a velvet pouch out of his jacket pocket. "Traditionally, this would go to the eldest member of the Clan MacLeod. But since Joe is the only one in the area at the moment...." He handed the bag to the mortal.
Joe looked at it suspiciously before untying the cord at the neck and upending the pouch. From it tumbled a lapful of jewels. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires.... Joe was stunned, and looked up at Methos in wonderment.
"Once upon a time, this was known as a bride's price. When a man found the jewel of his heart, he offered the family replacement jewels," Methos explained. "Joe, as the resident member of the Clan MacLeod, I present you with this humble offering in the hope that you would share one of the bright jewels in your family, Duncan MacLeod, with me. What be your answer?"
Joe juggled the jewels in his palms, pondering the size of the fortune he held. Geez, what kind of fortune did the Old Man have?
He looked up at Methos, and remembered he was a key player in a very romantic scene. "It's up to Mac."
Methos nodded, and dropped to one knee in front of his beloved. "What say you, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod? I wish to join with you in witnessed and celebrated matrimony. I have wandered this earth a lonely man, sharing parts of me with others, but never the whole-- until now. I freely admit I am a complicated soul, neither leaning very heavily toward the good, but thankfully veering away from the summons of the bad. I have offered you my head, I have given you my body, and you have taken my heart. Complete my happiness by declaring your love for me before friends and family, God and man, mortal and Immortal, angel and demon. I swear to do the same, committing my life, whether one year or five thousand, to you and only you. Curses be damned, Duncan. If anyone or anything wants to tear that asunder, then he or it will answer to us-- and to our love. Marry me, Duncan MacLeod."
Duncan reached out a trembling hand, placing it against Methos' cheek. "It would be an honor, Methos."
Joe put the jewels down and went in search of a tissue.
Neither Immortal noticed.
V. Forever. Or until the beer runs out.
"If you're going to be such a baby about your hair, Duncan, you should have cut it," Amanda chided as she continued to braid the long dark mane.
"I can't," Duncan muttered.
"You can't? Can't what? Cut your hair? Why on earth not?"
"Adam won't let me."
"Won't let you? You're a four-hundred year old man. What do you mean he won't let you?"
"If I cut my hair, he promises to have a 'headache' until it grows back." The words were almost too low to hear. Almost.
There came a polite titter from the other side of the room. "Oh, Duncan," Gina de Valicourt said. "I'm afraid that your young man has you wrapped tightly around his little finger, as well as other places."
"Aye. And I'm much the better off for it."
"Spoken like a man truly in love," Gina said. "Do you know how happy I am for you, dear Duncan? So many years wasted with infatuations and meaningless trysts, present company excluded, of course," she added for Amanda's benefit.
"Of course," Amanda said, just slightly shy of bitchy. "But someone had to keep him occupied and primed until his young man arrived." She rolled her eyes at Duncan since she knew exactly how old the man in question was. "I'm sure Adam's grateful for all my tutelage."
"Amanda!" Duncan said, shocked to be speaking of such matters.
She took a step back to admire her handiwork. Hmm. Duncan reminded her of a certain Jedi warrior. Except he wasn't wearing a robe, but a kilt of MacLeod tartan. She had to give it to the Scottish; even in a skirt and a shirt with lace cuffs, there was no doubt at all that she was looking at a man. "Damn. If I didn't have Nick, I might have had to challenge Adam for you."
"Wouldn't have worked. Adam told me he was tired of fighting the women in my life, that from now on I had to do it myself-- and I better not have lipstick on me afterwards!"
Amanda laughed so hard that she didn't bother to look up when she felt an Immortal Presence enter the room. Why should she? The place was crawling with Presence; Duncan's entire makeshift clan had come to help him celebrate-- and drink his champagne, eat his expensive sit-down dinner afterwards, etc.
"There you are, Connor," Mac said. "I was beginning to worry you weren't going to show."
Amanda looked at the two men, puzzled. "Why wouldn't he show? He's been at the hotel with us all week."
"He doesn't approve," Mac said with a shrug.
"Of Adam?" Gina asked. "Why on earth not? Adam is a delightful, charming soul. Perfect for our Duncan. Don't tell me you are a bigot, Connor MacLeod."
"I do not object to it being a man, but the man himself," Connor said with no apology. There was something shady about the Immortal his kinsman was about to pledge himself to. What really made him edgy is that this Pierson seemed to revel in his dislike of him. Smug bastard.
Amanda moved close to Connor, tugging him out onto the terrace of the old castle Duncan had rented for the wedding. "You leave Adam alone. There is more to that man than you will ever know."
"Yes, and protective. He's been there for Duncan when you and I haven't been. He's been your kinsman's sword and shield when all others would have left him to his own destruction. He's saved Duncan from dark places and literally led him back into the light. The fierceness of his love can be scary, but it will keep Duncan safe."
"How do you know so much of his love, Amanda? Was he, too, one of yours? How old is he?"
"Old enough to give Duncan what he needs. I never could. Tessa got close, but she was mortal. Maybe that was the problem with the others who got close as well. Adam fills-- holes in Duncan's soul, Connor. None of us can promise forever, but Adam can give Duncan a permanence he's never had, something he has craved, I think, since Ian MacLeod banished him from the Clan. Adam is different; he doesn't pretend he isn't. He's far from perfect, something which Duncan probably knew but had to be hit over the head with anyway. It hurt him, but it also made him stronger. It was a lesson he needed."
"So, he gives Duncan everything he needs. That explains Duncan's enamored state What about Pierson's needs? Why is he with Duncan? Is he using him as a shield? Has he allied himself with Duncan in order to get my cousin to fight his challenges?"
Amanda laughed. "Adam doesn't need Duncan to fight for him, and one of the reasons he was reluctant to marry was because being with Duncan invites challenges, not discourages them."
"I tried to get him to spar with me the other day. He declined, saying he wanted to get some tablet translated before he went on his honeymoon," Connor said, obviously disgusted.
"No one wants distractions while alone with Duncan for two weeks," Amanda said impishly.
"Have you ever seen Pierson fight?"
"Actually, I fought him once."
"It was a dreadful misunderstanding on my part," Amanda confessed.
"I meant what happened in the fight?"
"Oh. He beat me."
Connor snorted. "That's supposed to impress me?"
"Connor, I'm twelve hundred years old. I've seen many players in our little Game. Mac is the best that I've seen. When Adam deigns to fight, he is probably the next."
Amanda grinned. "I've never actually seen you in action, so sorry for leaving you off my list. I'm sure you're an excellent-- swordsman." She gave him a suggestive leer.
"Does your fledgling Immortal know what he has?"
"Nick knows...to a certain extent. But I like to leave a little mystery in my relationships."
"Something tells me Pierson feels the same way."
"Adam loves Duncan, Connor. Do you actually think I'd step aside if I thought otherwise?"
"You've always stepped aside when it comes to Duncan."
"Not like this," Amanda said softly. "I should feel sad, but I don't. I haven't lost a friend; I've just gained one. Let it go, Connor. Trust Duncan in this." She kissed him on the cheek, and walked back inside.
Connor followed a moment later. "I'm going to see if everything is well in the garden," he said as he walked quickly through the room.
"I tried, darling," Amanda told Duncan, leaning against his arm.
He kissed the top of her head. "I know you did, sweetheart, but Connor has always been protective of me."
"I'm going to speak with Robert for a moment, Duncan," Gina said. "Make sure everything's okay." When she and her husband had found out about the wedding, they had volunteered to be part of the ceremony. When Amanda had found out about that, she'd volunteered Nick and herself. Since Duncan was closer to being the "blushing bride" than Adam, the women had decided to stand with him, and sent their men to the other room.
Amanda watched her leave, and turned to Duncan. "You could easily put a stop to this by telling Connor--"
"No! His name is his own, Amanda. Who learns it is his decision, and his decision alone. I was wrong to tell you and Joe. I won't make that mistake again."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know he was still angry about that."
"He's not. But just because he's forgiven me, doesn't make it any less wrong." He shivered as he remembered the accusations Benjamin Adams had made. "They'll work it out eventually. Connor is wary of Methos, but as soon as he figures out the man loves me, he'll back down. And Methos finds his bristling amusing."
Amanda too a step back and looked at him. "Why aren't you more worried about this? Shouldn't you be brooding?"
Duncan smiled. "I promised Adam I wouldn't brood today, and he promised to be on his best behavior." He checked the folds of his kilt. "He won't ruin this day for me by having a run in with Connor. And since every good argument needs two participants, Connor won't be able to ruin it either."
"They both love you very much, Duncan."
"Aye. After all that I've been through in the past few years, I never thought I'd be as happy as I am today."
"If anyone deserves it, love, it's you," Amanda whispered.
"You look like Regis Philbin's evil twin," Joe said to the Immortal sitting at the table doing a crossword puzzle.
"Shouldn't that at least be heavenly twin?" Adam asked, not even bothering to lift his head. He was dressed from top to bottom in white: white tailored suit, white hand-sewn shirt, white silk tie, white alligator shoes.
Someone snickered in the corner. Joe turned to see Nick Wolfe in a black suit similar to his own. Also in the room was Robert de Valicourt. "You shouldn't laugh, Nick. One of these days you might be in a similar situation," Joe warned.
"I wouldn't say that too loudly around Amanda," Nick said. "Weddings scare her. She nearly hyperventilated last night."
"That probably had nothing to do with the wedding," Adam observed with a wicked grin. "What's a six-letter word for bedroom acrobat? A-M-A-N-D-A."
Nick flushed a bright red, and everyone laughed. A knock sounded on the door.
"Come in!" Adam yelled. "The more the merrier. After all, I have two groomsmen I didn't even know I was going to have. What's one more?"
"I'm not a groomsman, Pierson," Connor said dryly. "Can I see you outside for a minute?"
Adam sighed. There was no way he was going to finish the puzzle before the wedding now. "Of course, Connor."
"Hey, Adam," Joe said softly as the Immortal moved past him. "Take it easy on him, okay? He's like Mac's father."
"Fine, Joseph. But it he starts singing 'Butterfly Kisses', I won't be responsible for my actions."
Joe laughed. "You are a piece of work, man. I wonder if Mac truly knows what he's getting."
"He knows, Joe." Adam joined Connor in the hall, and they walked outside together. "Surprisingly nice weather for Scotland, don't you think?" he said conversationally when Connor remained silent.
"Who are you?" Connor asked bluntly.
"The man who loves Duncan MacLeod unconditionally."
"Why wouldn't you spar with me?"
"Because I was trying to finish my work. Those tablets had cost me my life; I wasn't going to risk the chance that something would happen to them while I was away."
"Your work is more important than Duncan?"
"Nothing is more important than Duncan. He doesn't happen to agree with me, but as long as he doesn't interfere with my beliefs, I don't interfere with his."
Connor shook his head, wondering what he was missing. "Why are you marrying Duncan?"
"Because he asked. Well, actually, he asked, and I said no. Then he asked sweetly, and I said yes. But I died and he took it back, so I had to ask him, and he said yes. Hmm. I guess I'm marrying Duncan because I asked, and he said yes. I could have sworn it was the other way around," Adam murmured, running the sequence of events through his head again.
"What I'm asking is whether you're marrying Duncan for his protection."
Adam looked at him. "Yes, yes, of course I am. Protecting Duncan has always been my goal."
Connor sighed. "I'm not talking about you protecting Duncan. I'm talking about Duncan protecting you.
Adam smiled. "When has Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod not protected his Clan, Connor?"
"Pierson!" Adam looked at him, utter befuddlement in the hazel eyes. "I want to know if you are marrying Duncan so that he can protect you from Challenges."
Connor waited a beat for more exposition. There was none. "Your answer is simply, 'no'?"
A shrug. "If I was in search of safety, it certainly wouldn't be within the span of Duncan's shadow. The man attracts Immortals like a flame does moths. All night long it's sizzle, sizzle, as the moths come too close and die."
"And what do you do when the moths circle?"
"Light a flamethrower."
Adam turned toward the caller, grinning and waving when he saw his friends from the museum. He'd insisted on chartering them a flight to see him wed. "Well, Connor, I'm certainly glad we had this conversation, aren't you? I'll see you up front in a few moments, yes?" He walked toward his co-workers without waiting for Connor's reply.
"Remarkably unflustered for a bridegroom, eh?" Robert de Valicourt said. "But that's the way it is when it's true love."
"You know him, right?"
"Angelina and I met him a while back."
"Have you ever seen him fight?"
"Well, yes of course. I'll never forget what it feels like to be on the end of his sword." Robert rubbed his stomach in remembrance.
"You fought him?"
"I use the term lightly. It was all a farce, you see. My dear Gina and I were having problems before our third wedding and Duncan so generously offered the use of his friend as the blackguard threatening my head. However, it didn't quite work the way we planned...."
"Has the man ever taken a real Challenge!" Connor nearly yelled.
"Stop being such an ass, Connor MacLeod," Gina said, linking her arm with her husband. "It's time for the nuptials to begin. Will you stand with Duncan or not? I'm sure Robert will gladly take your place."
"Yes, of course, darling. All Duncan has to do is say the word. I owe him and Adam."
"I'm Duncan's kinsman."
"Then act like it," Gina demanded. "Men!"
"We are a sorry lot, aren't we, love?" Robert said sadly.
"Yes, but you have your uses," Gina replied, kissing him lightly. "Go play groomsman while I-- I guess I'm playing groomsman, too. Let's go get our grooms, husband. Then maybe later, I'll show you just how useful you can be. Coming, Connor?"
A growl and footsteps were her answer.
"Friends, family, we are gathered here today to witness Duncan MacLeod and Adam Pierson declare their love for each other," the priest said solemnly. As a student of Darius, he'd learned the stupidity of prejudice, and the validity of love in all its forms. "Know that the laws of man have no bearing on the laws of God, and it is in His eyes that these two men will be joined, and in His grace they will share their lives together. Let not the ways of man lead you to hell everlasting by interfering in this union.
"Do you, Duncan MacLeod, take this man to be your partner in laughter, in love, and in life?"
Duncan gazed at his lover, and a wash of harmony filled his heart. "I do."
"And do you, Adam Pierson, take this man to be your partner in laughter, in love, and in life?"
"I do," Adam said, his eyes letting Duncan know that it was also Methos speaking.
"I've been told that this is where the ceremony becomes unorthodox," the priest said with a smile. "I think I agree. Continue, gentlemen."
Duncan turned to face the crowd. "At this point most couples exchange rings. Adam and I understand the symbolism behind those traditional gifts, but have decided that our own symbolism is much more appropriate." He turned to Connor, and his kinsman unwrapped a sword and handed it to him. It was the sword of Ian MacLeod.
"Adam, this is the sword of the MacLeods, used for centuries to defend the land and its people. Today, I present it to you as a tangible symbol of my love, and my trust." He dropped to his knees and held the sword out. "My life I place into your hands." He threw his head back, baring his neck.
Adam took the sword and kissed the blade, before reaching out and urging Duncan to stand. "I accept your gift, Duncan MacLeod. Know that I will do everything possible to ensure its safety." All knew it wasn't the sword of which he was speaking.
Joe unwrapped a blade and gave it to Adam. The crowd murmured as the light glinted off the long weapon.
"Duncan MacLeod, this sword has a history, as well as a name. Sometimes noble, sometimes tarnished, but always true to its purpose, it is more than a tool. It is proof of a past, and a symbol of a hope. Camelot was--Camelot may be again. I give to you, Duncan, Excalibur." He placed the weapon in Duncan's hands, then guided the sharp tip to his neck. "My life is yours. It has been since the moment you darkened a certain doorway of mine."
Adam raised the sword Duncan gave him when Duncan lifted Excalibur from his neck. The swords arced over their heads and met precisely between them. Instead of clanging, a single note rang out, stilling Nature in its clarity. The two men grinned and kissed.
The priest raised his hands. "What God Himself has surely joined together, let no man put asunder. Go with God, my children."
"Where on Earth did you get Excalibur, Old Man?" Duncan whispered as they made their way through the throng of friends and family.
"Would you believe I was just riding along one day, and there was this sword sticking out of a stone, and I--"
Duncan laughed. "I love you."
"And I you. Let's get out of this crowd and--"
"Yes?" Duncan asked expectantly.
"And let's find the beer. I'm parched."
"You'll pay for that," Duncan threatened, even as he let Adam tug him toward the banquet tables lined along the front lawn.
Adam/Methos let his eyes shimmer toward golden. "Gladly."
Connor watched the two tease each other mercilessly throughout the reception, and he had to admit to himself that he'd never seen his cousin so happy.
Connor turned toward the speaker, a beautiful dark-haired mortal with a familiar accent. "Yes?"
"Rachel MacLeod. I think we be of the same family."
"Rachel." He kissed the hand she extended. "Duncan mentioned you when we discussed the sword, but he didn't tell me you would be here today."
"Aye, and where else would I be when my kinsman marries the love of his life?" Connor grunted. "I know I probably canna understand the ways of your people--"
Rachel flushed and looked away. "I'm not an idiot, Cousin. The humans I know are not apt to walk the world for hundreds of years. But Duncan MacLeod fought Kanwulf four hundred years ago, and yet again a few years ago. You are like him, as is Adam."
"You sound as if you know Adam personally."
"I do. Well, we have met. He called once and spoke of a great need for Duncan to have the MacLeod sword. From his words, I knew that he cared for Duncan greatly. From his eyes at the airport, I knew that it was love he felt. When I turned to leave, he beseeched me to stay. I asked why; I live in an old world, but I am not naive. He merely said he was not free. Later, Duncan told me of the dying girl Adam had left behind to come to his rescue. I knew then that this day would come." Rachel stared at Connor boldly. "As I said, your ways are probably not like ours, but surely love is love. And that, Cousin," she angled her head toward the head table where Duncan and Adam were messily feeding each other pieces of cake, "is love."
Connor smiled. "You are as wise as you are lovely. Come with me? I think I have been remiss in my duties." He took her hand and approached the table. "Your attention, please! Does everyone have a glass of champagne?" He watched in amusement as Duncan snatched a beer bottle out of Adam's hand and replaced it with champagne. "As best man, it is my duty to make the first toast. To Duncan-- clansman, kinsman, student, and teacher-- and to Adam, the newest member of the Clan, I wish you joy in times of peace, solidarity in times of war, and happiness in the company of each other, for as long as the peculiarities of time allows."
"Do you mean it, Connor?" Duncan asked.
"Yes, Duncan. Adam?" He held out his hand. "Welcome to the Clan."
Adam stood and they clasped forearms like the warriors they were. "Thank you, Connor. Anytime you're in Seacouver, drop by, stay a week or four. I'll even give you a free pass to my museum. They're going to be hard to come by in the next year or so."
"Your museum? I thought you were a translator or something."
"Adam is now the director," Duncan said proudly. "He's going to turn it into the talk of the Northwest. Your New York museums are going to be green with envy."
Connor laughed. "I doubt that. I mean the City museums have a long history behind them."
Joe snickered in his glass of champagne. Poor Connor didn't know what a long history was. Adam gracefully elbowed his best man in the ribs. "You'll owe me a case of beer when I prove you wrong, Connor MacLeod."
"You're on, Cousin Adam."
Adam groaned at the moniker, and Duncan rubbed his neck sympathetically. "Welcome to the family, Adam Pierson MacLeod."
"Hey, I thought you were the bride. Shouldn't that be Duncan MacLeod Pierson?" Adam argued.
Duncan shook his head. "Do I look like a Pierson to you?"
Adam rested his head on the brawny shoulder. "No. You look like a Highlander, my Highlander."
"And you," Duncan's voice dropped to a whisper, "are my Methos. Forever."
"Forever. Or until the beer runs out."
Joe laughed as the groom chased the groom around the tables, both stopping to smile and pose for whatever cameras, before continuing their lighthearted romp. It was good to see them happy; it was good to be a part of their happiness. No, Joe amended, as he lifted his champagne glass, it was good to be alive...five decades, five millennia, maybe even forever.
Or at least until the beer ran out.