The Mottled King

by

Dayspring



Light looked at the board and moved a piece. Dark reached out to make his move. Instead of a simple move, however, he swept the board clean with an angry stroke of his hand.

"I'm bored," he said to his virtual twin.

"Another game perhaps?" Light offered. "Playing with Job was fun. You got to destroy him; I know that pleased you."

"Yeah, but I lost. It wasn't fair, starting out with one of your pieces."

"Well, I'm not going to play if we start out with one of yours." Light was a reasonable being, but that was asking too much.

"How about...." Dark turned toward a dusty bag and reached inside. He withdrew a piece quite unlike the others in that it was neither black nor white. It was a blemished gray. "How about this one? We've both used him before."

"He's still around?" Light asked curiously. "He's been straddling that fence for a long time."

"Yeah. So let's knock him off," Dark said gleefully.

"To your side? Why should I help you?"

"Because you don't want him. He can never be clean enough for you. And in this state, he's quite useless to either of us. At least if he leans my way, he might scare a few toward you."

Light thought about this for a minute, then nodded. "What are the rules?"

Dark shrugged. "Well, we can't permanently kill anyone who's not scheduled to die within the year. Life and death aren't our departments, and you know how He gets if we mess with that."

Light shuddered, remembering what happened the last time they took it upon themselves to clean the board. Speaking of.... "What about the pieces you just discarded?"

"They were doomed anyway. I checked first. What? You think I'm an idiot?"

Light declined to answer. He gingerly took the game piece from Dark, frowning at its discoloration. Well-used and nicked about the edges. Should have long been out of play. He set it in the center of the board. "This shouldn't be too hard. He's been in the shadows a long time. Coaxing him into full darkness will be a snap."

Dark shook his head. "I hate to say this, but he's not an easy one. I tried to deter him from leaving my realm in the first place. But when this one makes up his mind...."

"You consider him a failure, Brother?"

"Yes," Dark admitted, dropping his head.

"Then together we will correct that. I will manipulate those in the Light around him. You shall manipulate those in the Dark, and together we will lead him back to where he belongs."

"I love you, Brother." Dark reached out and placed a hand on Light, and at that point nothing existed.

"I love you, too."

Duncan MacLeod opened his eyes to the dawn-bright loft and wondered what had awakened him. A soft sound, the beginning of a plaintive moan answered the question rather quickly. He turned toward his lover, and saw anguish on the distinctive face. Another nightmare.

"Methos," he whispered carefully. Experience had taught him that loud noises and sudden movements were not the way to approach an agitated ancient Immortal. "Methos, wake up."

The man froze, his eyes popping open and searching the room frantically for a second. He recognized his partner and relaxed. "MacLeod," he said in acknowledgment. "What is it?"

"Nightmare."

Methos reached out to his handsome lover. "Yours?"

Duncan moved closer and kissed the smooth chest revealed by a dropping sheet. "No. Yours."

A frown. "Really? I don't remember dreaming. I cried out?"

"You sorta moaned." Duncan laved a convenient nipple. Experience had also taught him that the best way to soothe an agitated ancient Immortal was by a good loving.

Methos smiled. "Maybe it wasn't a nightmare, but a fantasy instead." He ran his fingers through Duncan's thick, dark hair.

"You had a fantasy without me?" Duncan pouted, simply because he knew it amused the older man.

"Who said you weren't there?" Methos tugged on the hair in his fist until Duncan's mouth raised to his. He thoroughly explored the familiar mouth while the rest of his body did some exploring on its own. "Love me, Duncan," he whispered when their tongues finally separated.

"Always, Methos."

~*~

"I have to drive down to Seattle to authenticate a third-century mace for the museum, so I might be a little late for dinner," Duncan said as he pulled a gray turtleneck over his head. "We can meet back here, or you can drown your sorrows and simultaneously bitch about your inconsiderate lover at Joe's and I'll go directly there as soon as I get back to town. Which do you prefer?" Folding the collar into place, he patiently waited for an answer from Methos who was supposed to be making breakfast before leaving for the university where he worked. Continued silence made him turn to see Methos apparently lost in thought. "Methos?"

The elder Immortal jerked into awareness. "Sorry, Mac. I seem to be a bit distracted this morning. How do you want your eggs?"

Duncan didn't answer, but came up behind Methos and wrapped his arms around him. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know," Methos said bewilderedly. "But something is."

"Immortal trouble?" Duncan knew Methos' range was far wider than his. He eyed their swords near the bed. If there was a strange Immortal in town, there was no way he was going to go to Seattle and leave Methos unprotected. It wasn't that he didn't think his lover was a skilled swordsman; not only had he seen the man in battle, but five thousand years of existence sort of proved he was rather competent in a fight. However, he knew Methos didn't like to fight and reacted badly to quickenings. Joe thought it had something to do with Methos' age and the number of quickenings he'd taken, but Duncan suspected it had more to do with Methos' personal preferences. Except for battles of wit, Methos avoided conflict and steered clear of anything violent. He'd even been reluctant to attend a boxing match.

Methos shook his head. "No need to don the Clan Leader cap, MacLeod. It's probably nothing--sunspots, the moon being in the seventh house, or something equally portentous but banal."

"Or maybe it's that instinct which has kept you around this long. Don't underplay it, Methos. Not for me."

Methos leaned against the solid form warming his back. "Tell me you love me, Duncan MacLeod."

"I love you, Methos."

"Then the evil must surely be warded away from me."

Duncan kissed the slender neck. "Is that what you feel? Evil?"

"Merely an old man's foolishness. Let me go so I can finish making breakfast."

"Finish? You haven't even started," Duncan said, laughing like he was supposed to. But Methos' words bothered him. He often wondered if his lover had the gift of Sight. He'd mentioned it once and Methos had just brushed it off, muttering about seeing patterns in human behavior after so long. But Duncan was certain Methos "saw" more than that. He had teased and kidded the old man about his running from challenges--Immortal, personal, emotional, whatever, but successful running required skill and knowledge. The law of averages demanded that Methos and Kronos confront each other more than once in two thousand years, yet until that fateful day, Methos had avoided his "brother". How?

"Don't brood, Duncan," Methos chastised as he set a glass of juice in front of the Highlander. "I've faced Immortals and I've faced evil. Whichever it is, I can handle. After all, I can handle you, can't I?"

Duncan grabbed his shoulder and tugged the older man down until they were face to face. "You think you handle me, Old Man?"

"Handle, fondle, destroy, and completely rebuild you on a nightly basis," Methos said proudly.

Duncan grinned. "Aye. You're right. An opponent doesn't stand a chance against you. But just remember something, O Great Destroyer."

"And what would that be?"

"Come home to me," Duncan said solemnly. "Destroy who you must, what you must, but at evening's end, I need you here...with me, beside me, in me, around me, always."

"I've tired of being alone, Mac. I'm here for as long as you want me."

"How does eternity sound?"

"My calender just cleared."

*****

"...are known as dead languages. But just as extinct animals have left traces of their existence--" Dr. Pierson stopped his lesson as the doors to his classroom opened. Two uniformed officers and two plainclothesmen entered. Hmm. Looked like he'd have one less paper to grade at the end of the semester. "May I help you, gentlemen?"

"Adam Pierson?"

Okay. Maybe he wouldn't have any papers to grade at all. "Yes, I'm Adam Pierson," he said calmly to the older of the detectives. He was graying at the temples and the deep crevices decorating the lean face bespoke of years of dealing with the worst the world had to offer.

"Mr. Pierson--"

"Doctor, actually. I worked hard for the title, you understand."

"Doctor Pierson, you are under arrest."

Before the man could say anything else, Adam turned and faced his class. "It seems this session will be ending a bit early today. Have Chapter Twelve ready for our next class."

"Think you'll be sprung by then, Doc?" one of students called out.

"Want to risk your grade-point average on this arrest, Mr. Richards? I'm not sure Coach Guinness would like that."

The star soccer player was silent and the students filed out of the classroom, some curious, others giving him a sympathetic glance or pat.

"So what's the charge?" Adam asked curiously as he gathered his notes, the cops watching him carefully as if he was going to pull a gun on them or something. It was a good thing he felt safe enough on campus to walk around unarmed. Of course, he made sure he was never alone. And there was always a weapon at hand if one was creative enough.

"Sexual assault of a minor, Dr. Pierson."

Hazel eyes widened. "I'm being accused of rape?" Damn. That was something he hadn't engaged in for quite some time--two millennia and counting actually.

The younger detective spoke this time. He was taller than his partner, and his blue eyes revealed that he still thought he was doing some good. Poor boy. "The technical term would be sodomy," he said, watching closely for a response.

Adam nearly laughed. He wondered what they would say if he told them what had really gone on in Sodom. It'd even been too much for him-- after about a decade or two. Besides, while it was true he regularly engaged in the practice--and enjoyed it immensely--he couldn't picture Duncan filing a charge against him, especially since the Scot gave as good as he got, so to speak. Therefore, this had to be a huge mistake. "I know you must hear this all the time, but you have the wrong person."

"Dr. Pierson, I must inform you that you have the right to remain silent, that you have the right to an attorney and if you cannot afford one, the court will appoint one for you. Do you understand these rights, Dr. Pierson?"

"Yes, Detective. Yes, I do."

~*~

Mac grinned as Joe Dawson's car pulled in beside his in the back parking lot of the bar. "If you're just now getting here, I'm in double trouble."

"How's that?" Joe asked as he carefully got out of the car. Although artificial legs had come a long way since he'd first been fitted for them, they still were a bitch to bend.

"I told Adam to meet me here so he wouldn't get bored waiting for me to get back from Seattle. But if he didn't have you to bait, he's probably still bored and you know how he gets."

Joe laughed. "I'm glad I'm not the one taking him home with me tonight."

"Hey, if you want him..." Duncan said generously. "Just have lots of beer on hand and be prepared for anything."

"And you wouldn't want him any other way, would you, MacLeod?"

Duncan shrugged. "Guess I've grown fond of the old reprobate."

"Fond?"

"Okay, okay. I love him. Is that what you want to hear?"

Joe smiled. "No, but he's gonna want to hear it. I figure you better start practicing if you want to survive the night."

"An abject apology probably won't hurt either. You got yours prepared?"

"Apol-- I haven't done a thing but go to Cascade to talk to a liquor distributor."

"But you weren't where he wanted you to be. You know that's a great offense in his book," Duncan teased, as he lifted a box from Joe's arms. He waited for Joe to unlock the back door, then stepped inside.

"Just set it over here, Mac. What?" he asked, when MacLeod paused.

"Adam's not here," Duncan replied with a frown.

"So? He got tired and left. Now I know you're in big trouble," Joe drawled. He noticed something flicker in the eyes of the Immortal he'd Watched for decades. "Something going on I should know about?"

"Not really. It's just that Adam had a nightmare last night."

"Mac, I've barely lived one one-hundredth of his lifetime and I have nightmares."

"He thinks there's evil about."

It was Joe's turn to frown. "What kind of evil? Immortal evil or Ahriman evil?"

Duncan paled at the mention of his demon nemesis. "He didn't say. Just tried to play it off as nothing."

"But you don't agree."

"He's seen so much that it's hard to spook him, Joe. But this, whatever this is, had him distracted this morning."

Joe nodded. "I'll check the network, see if anything's up."

"It could be nothing," Duncan warned.

"Yeah, and it could be the end of the world. I learned something over in Vietnam, Mac. Roaches have survived for so long because they know when to run. If you were bunkered in and turned around to see all the roaches gone, you knew it was time to haul ass. I think the old man has a lot in common with roaches."

"I wouldn't say that to his face."

Joe grinned. "I already have. He took it as a compliment."

"He would. Let's go see if he left us a note with a skull and crossbones on it." They headed into the bar proper.

"Joe! You're back," Ross Penner called when he saw his boss. "And there you are too, MacLeod. Adam called and left a message with Sue during the lunch rush. It's for whichever one of you who showed up first." He held out a folded sheet of paper. Duncan reached for it.

"Don't tell me we were worrying about him, and he'd planned on running late anyway," Joe said, leaning back against the bar.

"He's in jail," Duncan said grimly, and reached over the bar for the phone.

"What?" Joe took the note from Duncan. "'To whom it may concern: I've been incarcerated at the 5th Precinct. Bail would be appreciated. Adam.'"

Duncan slammed the phone down. "Damnit!"

"Not parking tickets, I take it?" Joe crumpled the note in his hand.

"Sexual assault of a minor male."

"Honest mistaken identity or a set up?" Joe asked quickly.

Duncan smiled. Joe knew it was crap just like he did. "I don't know. I have to go get him, then we can worry about that."

"I'll check to see if any known enemies are in town. Watch your head, MacLeod, and his."

"I will, Joe."

*****

In Duncan's opinion it took way too long for all the paperwork to be processed and Methos released. In fact, by the time everything was ready, the officer had pity on Duncan and allowed him to accompany him to the cells below. The Highlander took no notice of his surroundings as the sweet call of Methos' Presence sang to him.

"Adam!" he called to the figure reclining on a thin mattress, his arm thrown across his face, booted feet crossed.

Methos got up slowly, stretching languidly. "Oh, is it time to go already? Hi, Mac." He stood at the door as the guard fumbled with the keys.

Duncan stared at Adam's fellow prisoners who were sitting in the farthest corner from the bunk. "You didn't make friends while you were in?"

Methos smiled. "On the contrary. These men were excellent company. Say hello to MacLeod, gentlemen." Silence from the three men in the corner. "I said say hello," he repeated in the same tone of voice.

Three heads popped up. "Hello, MacLeod," they chorused.

The guard looked at Adam in amazement. "I think I better have a look at the security tape. I want to know what you did to them--so I can do it, too."

"I didn't do anything to them, officer. We just learned to respect each other, that's all." Mac coughed and Adam patted him on the back. "No need to get all choked up, love. I'm perfectly fine."

"I'm sure you are," Duncan said. "I'm just wondering if they are," he added in a whisper. "What did you do to them?"

"Some prisoners have been known to make pets of rats. My rats were just--bigger, that's all. So how was your trip to Seattle, and why isn't your cell phone working?" Methos asked in a louder voice.

"The appraisal went fine, and I don't know. I'll have it checked tomorrow. I'm sorry you had to wait all day."

Methos shrugged and signed for his belongings. "I've had worse days." He waited until they were in the Thunderbird before turning to Duncan and asking, "How much do you know?"

"That you've been accused of raping a minor. Joe's checking around to see if it was an Immortal that set you up."

"Joe knows?"

"Yeah. We both arrived at the bar at the same time. We know it might be a simple case of mistaken identity, but it pays to be careful."

Methos turned to look at him carefully. "Have either of you considered that I might have done it?"

"No."

"But you know my past."

"We also know who you are now, Methos." Duncan reached out and squeezed his partner's too cool hand. "I try hard not to make the same mistake twice. Confusing my Methos with a past version is not something I'll ever do again."

"Your Methos?"

"My Methos. M-I-N-E."

"Possessive tonight, are we?" Methos purred delightedly.

"When we get home, I'll show you how possessive I can be," Duncan promised.

Methos scooted closer. "I'm definitely going to hold you to your word. Then maybe do a little possessing of my own."

"Maybe?"

"Depends on how good you are. After all, I'd hate to reward you for a shoddy job."

"Is that a challenge, lover?"

"There can be only one. May the best one win, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," Methos said with a smirk.

"You and me are always a win-win situation, old man."

"Just the way I like it," Methos said and laid his head on Duncan's shoulder.

~*~

Many hours later Duncan woke to find himself alone not only in bed, but in the loft. Frowning, he concentrated and tracked his lover's Presence to the roof. Unsticking himself from the sheets, he paused long enough to strip the bed and set out a fresh set of linens, before heading up the steps to the roof.

"You okay?" he asked the figure seated on the edge, legs dangling down the side.

"Just needed a bit of air. It's been a while since I was last incarcerated."

"Memories?"

Methos nodded, stretching his hand back and inviting Duncan to join him. "I don't know why. The American penal system has made great strides in its slightly over two hundred year existence. Nothing too demeaning happened to me."

"Maybe just being under lock and key was enough."

"Possibly."

"Wanna talk about it?"

Methos shrugged. "Nothing to talk about. I was in the middle of class, and the next thing I know I'm being booked and questioned. None of it makes any sense, MacLeod. Robert Hall, a seventeen-year-old freshman, has named Dr. Adam Pierson as his rapist. Sorry, not rapist. For some reason, there's a difference between rape and non-consensual sodomy these days. I've done both; there's nothing different, trust me."

"I do. Trust you, that is. Was this Hall person in any of your classes?"

"No. Never registered for one as far as I know. I'll see what the university turns up tomorrow."

"Who's your lawyer, and what is he or she doing to straighten this out?"

"I don't have one--yet," he added when Duncan glared at him. "I used my one phone call trying to get you, remember?"

"Don't even try to make me feel guilty. They would have let you contact a lawyer."

Methos shrugged. "Hopefully we won't have to bother with one. Lawyers and Immortals don't mix. You know that. Anyway, the specimen I gave them should definitely rule me out as Hall's attacker."

"Specimen? I thought you said nothing demeaning happened to you?" Duncan questioned angrily.

"There's nothing demeaning about you, Duncan, and that's where I went to mentally when I was faced with an empty, sterile cup--I was with you. It was filled in an embarrassingly small amount of time." Methos smiled sheepishly. "Afterwards, I was shown to the holding cell, and you know the rest."

"You made pets out of your fellow cellmates."

"What can I say? When it comes to terrifying mortals, I still have it. You might think it a dubious piece of vanity, but I thought it was kind of satisfying," Methos added, watching Duncan's face carefully.

"Everyone should have something they're good at," Duncan said diffidently. "Don't look so shocked, Methos. Are you ever going to believe I have accepted your past? Do you have so little trust in me?"

"It's not you I don't trust, love."

"Then who? Yourself? Aren't you always the one lecturing about putting the past where it belongs, accepting and moving on?"

"I've moved on, but that doesn't mean I've forgotten, MacLeod. I've been damned a long time. Forgive me for being wary when I'm offered a bit of heaven."

"You're not Tantalus; I'm not going to be forever out of your reach. I'm not your punishment."

Methos shivered. "Aren't you already, Duncan? My loving you has placed you as a weapon against me, a sword poised at my neck. I can't remember the last time I was this vulnerable."

Duncan examined the hand holding his. The long, tapered fingers seemed so delicate, yet he knew their strength, both in battle and in love. "I never meant to be your handicap, your weakness. Kronos played that weakness, didn't he?"

"Yes. My darkest hours were those spent knowing he'd sent Caspian and Silas after you."

"You shouldn't have worried. You taught your student well, old man." Duncan smiled when Methos gave him a startled glance. "Where do you think I got the idea of diving off a bridge? It certainly wasn't something Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod would have done. No, he would have tried to take on Silas and died. But Duncan MacLeod, the Ancient's student, remembered his teacher's words of wisdom: live, grow stronger, fight another day. You kept me alive, Methos. And then gave me strength when you fought Silas. I don't know if I could have taken Kronos to save Cassandra, or even to save myself. But I knew I had to save you."

"Why? You knew I wasn't worth it. Cassandra spoke the truth of it. I was a murderer, a rapist, a torturer."

"Yes, my mind knew all of that, but my heart, my heart knew the real truth. The Methos Cassandra feared was not the Methos I knew, the Methos who had befriended me, the Methos who had saved me from my own darkness. Tell me, my love. Was it the spring that saved me, or you?"

"I don't know what you mean," Methos hedged.

"I defeated the darkness because I had faith in the spring. I had faith in the spring because I had faith in you. And you had incredible faith in me. I challenged you in a church, yet you remained on my trail. Even after watching me take Sean Burns, you still refused to give up on me."

"I thought about taking your head."

"No. You just wanted to remind me, and yourself, that you had that option. You had no intention of killing me. Otherwise, you would not have summoned Rachel to bring Father's sword."

Methos looked out across the lighted city. Not exactly Paris, but nice in its own way. "You were too important to lose. You still are."

"You love me."

"Yes, I love you."

Duncan reached out and cupped Methos' face with both hands. Even in the darkness, the hazel eyes gleamed and Duncan drowned in their brightness. "Do you know I'm reborn every time you say that? I become a child who knows that I have nothing to worry about, that my world is safe and secure, that the sun might set but the darkness won't take me away, because I have your love and it will protect me."

Long lashes covered the mesmerizing eyes. "When it's not putting you into danger."

"What do you mean? It is my love that's a burden, not yours. I'm the one who attracts Immortals and cons you into rescue missions."

"And I'm the one who put you in the path of Kronos and the other Horsemen. I seduced you into taking me into your bed."

Duncan smiled and leaned in for a leisurely kiss. "Aye, that you did. But only because I'm a stubborn Scot who couldn't accept what was obvious to everyone. You might think it crazy, but I've been in love with you my entire existence. No one has owned my heart as you have. Tessa... Tessa came close, as close as a mortal ever could. Amanda--I love Amanda, but not the way I love you. Amanda is a star in my sky, but you are my sun, my moon, my universe."

Methos swooped forward, knocking Duncan down against the concrete roof. "I love it when you get all purple-prosy," the elder Immortal declared, taking advantage of Duncan's shirtless state to tease the broad chest with his tongue. "Such a heady dichotomy: a warrior with the mouth of a courtesan. Which one has won you the most battles?" His hand cupped the hot length of his lover, which strained beneath the thin cotton of well-worn sweats. "Which sword has cut the wider swath? How many hearts have been severed instead of heads, Duncan MacLeod?"

"It doesn't matter, for both swords belong to you now, Methos. One is wielded for your safety, the other for your pleasure."

"You know I'm all for safety...and pleasure," Methos growled against Duncan's navel. Reluctantly, he sat back on his heels. "The gentlemanly thing to do would be to move this to that nice firm mattress in the room below us."

"And the not-so-gentlemanly thing to do?" Duncan asked as he yanked his lover back down on top of him.

"To take you here while the stars and moon applaud."

"Gotta keep the universe happy some way," Duncan said, tugging on the drawstring holding up Methos's sweats. "We're Immortal. A few scrapes won't hurt us for long. Besides, I never feel anything but you when you're buried in me, Methos." He lifted his hips to shuck his own pants, kicking them off, not caring when the fabric sailed off the roof.

"Jesus, MacLeod," Methos said as Duncan's ankles reached around him. "Slow down and let me--"

"No. All I need is you, in me, now." Thanks to earlier activities, the joining was achieved smoothly. "This is where you belong, Methos. Not in some jail cell. Not as a target in someone's sick game. Let them do their worst. You will always have someone standing with you, my love. Despite your fears, I will never forsake you." Duncan reached up to wipe at the tear that dropped from Methos' eye. "But if you don't move soon, I might have to hurt you. Show me what you've learned in five thousand years."

Methos did.

"No!" Dark tried to tip over the board. "You were supposed to be helping me!" he screamed at his partner.

"I *am* helping you," Light declared, holding the board steady. "I see why you've failed so often with this piece. You have no finesse, no sense of drama. No wonder he out thinks you so easily."

"I don't see what the two of them fucking on a rooftop has to do with finesse," Dark said bitterly. "And those love-drenched declarations were sickening. The idea is to topple him fully into my realm. Why can't you control your piece better?"

Light caressed his white knight. "He's doing exactly what I want him to do."

"What? Bathing my piece in his love?"

"Exactly." Dark looked at his brother in confusion. "Revenge is a dish best served cold...but betrayal benefits from heat. From the warmth of the flame, into the cold of a dark, lonely night. Should be quite a jolt."

"Enough to tip my poor little piece right over the edge," Dark said, understanding finally arriving. "What is that song they sing? Something about bottles of beer? 'If one of those bottles should happen to fall....'"

"'No more bottles of beer on the wall,'" Light completed, smiling at his partner. "He falls this time. You'll see."

"You got anything, Joe?" Duncan asked as he and Methos entered the bar just before it opened at 11:00 A.M.

"No. What about you guys? You've been to the university?"

"To clean out my office."

Joe's eyes widened. "You've been fired?"

Methos went behind the bar and pulled himself a beer. "Suspended with pay."

"They don't believe you did it, do they?"

"They don't know what to believe," the eldest Immortal said with a shrug. "I don't blame them. Haven't you seen people on the news saying they've known so-and-so for fifty years and he wouldn't hurt a fly? Then when they start digging up body parts in this saint's backyard, they look like fools. It's best to leave yourself some room for error."

"At least the dean's secretary said she'd see what she could get on Hall for you," Duncan said, taking a sip of Methos' beer. "I think she fancies you, Dr. Pierson."

"She fancies the romance of 'unrequited love.' She knows I'm not available." He placed his hand on Duncan's.

Joe cleared his throat uneasily. "Could it be a hate crime? Because of your relationship? You haven't exactly been discreet."

"And why should we?" Duncan demanded.

Joe threw up both hands. "Hey, I was just making a comment. I personally prefer the two of you together."

"And why is that, Joseph?" Methos asked in amusement.

"Cuts my work in half." When it was discovered that former Watcher Adam Pierson had become an Immortal, there had been a scramble to put a Watcher on him. But when it turned out that he was going to set up housekeeping with Duncan MacLeod, it was concluded that only one Watcher was needed for the couple. Who better than Joe Dawson, whom both men trusted? "Besides, you're both less of a pain together than separate."

"That's so sweet," Methos drawled. "He's complimenting us, love. Next thing you know, he's going to let us redecorate the bar in fuschia and purple."

"Not in my lifetime," Joe muttered. "Anyway, I'm going to check some of the local hate group websites."

"Hang out there often, do you?"

"Yeah, Adam, me and all the other gimps."

Methos had the grace to look ashamed. "I'm sorry, Joe. I'm not at my best today."

"I know. Don't worry. I have a tough hide." He headed to the back.

"Bloody hell! The last thing I need to do is alienate my remaining friends," Methos mumbled bitterly.

"He knows you're under a strain. Besides, you're not all sweetness and light on your good days."

"That's different. Have you ever heard me make one snide comment about his disability?" Duncan shook his head. "I've had to take men's legs, MacLeod. I know what that does to their souls. So many of them can't accept it, and despite the care they receive, they die--out of sheer will, I expect. That's why the ones who do survive, who learn to live being physically less than what they were, should be commended and respected."

"You should go into medicine again."

"Maybe."

"Hey, guys," Joe called, reentering the room. "Got a fax from Methos' friend. You give her my number?"

"Yeah. Figured I'd be here drowning my sorrows," Methos said with a sad smile. "What'd she find?"

"Hall's a pledge for Alpha Alpha Alpha."

Methos sat up straight on the bar stool. "Shit. That's it! I flunked five Triple A's last semester. Someone misinformed them and said that my class was a slide. They threatened me in the end, but I paid little attention to them."

"You think--" Duncan stopped, both he and Methos looking toward the door. It opened and a familiar Immortal walked in.

"When will I learn that a bad day can always get worse," Methos muttered, rising from the stool. "I'm going with Joe to his office. Enjoy the visit with your friend."

Duncan reached out to snag one of the long-fingered hands before Methos walked away. He pulled him close and kissed him. "I love you."

"I know," Methos whispered, leaning his forehead against Duncan's briefly. He raised his head and faced the newcomer. "Hello, Cassandra. Sorry I can't stay to chat, but I'm rather busy at the moment."

"Running scared again, Methos?" the woman asked, tossing her long auburn hair.

"Not running. Not scared. Just busy. Mac, I'll be in the back in you need me. And you can lay off the tricks this time, Cassie. I've taught MacLeod how to ignore the Voice."

"Looks like you've taught Duncan a lot of things," she said, glaring at their clasped hands.

"Well, at least I waited until he was a consenting adult," Methos said glibly. "Come on, Joe. We have things to do."

Duncan and Cassandra just stared at each other silently until they heard the door close behind the departed men. "What do you want, Cassandra?"

"It's all true, isn't it? You've been seduced by that--that demon!"

Duncan gave a small smile. "Methos is not a demon. Trust that I know the difference now."

"And trust that I know him for what he truly is. I, too, was wooed into compliance by his skillful touch and silken words. He whores himself well, but the price is always higher than good men and women, like ourselves, are willing to pay."

"Speak for yourself, Cassandra. Methos is not my whore, and I am not his. We are more than you and I ever were."

"He is using you!"

"And you weren't? You and your damn prophecies!" Duncan hissed. "If Methos has used me, it was to save the whole world, not just his precious neck--unlike you!"

"You are so young."

"And this is so old. Three thousand years have passed. He's changed. You've changed. Let the past stay where it belongs."

"Ignoring the past only allows it to repeat."

"There's a difference between ignoring the past, and moving beyond it. He knows what he did to you, Cassandra. He carries all of what he did with him, and although it's a heavy burden, he's never once tried to set it aside. It doesn't have to be your load anymore. Let it go. Spare yourself that pain."

"Like I spared his life at your request? Only now that has come back to bite me in the ass, hasn't it?" She slammed her hands against the bar. "I had the ax poised above him. I could have ended it all right there."

"And then I would have ended you."

Cassandra shrugged. "At least then you would have been safe from his evil."

Duncan sighed. "What do you want here? If you came to turn me against Methos, you might as well leave now."

She slid onto the bar stool next to his. "You had such excellent taste in women, both mortal and Immortal. I always considered that as a tribute to me."

"You know there is a word for what you were back then. The word is pedofile."

Long fingers reached out to cup his face. "Is that the word you choose to use, Duncan? Did I rape you? Has he convinced you of that?"

"I was thirteen."

"You had the soul of a man. Did not your body react so? You were in such awe of me as I stood before you naked." She took his hand in hers and lifted it to her breast. Her nipple beaded beneath the warmth of his palm. "These have not changed since your first gaze, Duncan."

"But I have, Cassandra."

"You can't deny that you don't want me." Her hand snaked to his crotch and brushed the growing bulge there.

"A mere biological response. The same thing would happen if you were just a picture with staples stuck in your navel. In four hundred years, I've learned to distinguish between wants of the flesh and needs of the heart. You could lift that tiny skirt of yours and we could fuck right here, but that wouldn't replace Methos in my heart. I love him."

"Making love is not the same as fucking, Duncan."

"That's why I know I'd be fucking you."

Cassandra drew back. "What would your Tessa say? Were you just fucking her too?"

"First of all, I loved Tessa. What she would say, what she would want, is for me to be happy. She would want me to love and be loved. So she would approve of Methos, of that I've no doubt. Secondly, you will NOT speak of her again. Her name is a sacrilege coming from your lips. I ask for the last time, what do you want here?"

"To save you. He may have convinced you that I used you to save my own neck, that I'm a demented bitch for holding on to my hatred of him for so long. But the truth of it is that his opinion of me, your opinion of me, doesn't affect my love for you. You are special, Duncan, and I will always look out for you. I was wrong to let my anger keep me from you for so long, leaving you exposed to his influence. May the Goddess forgive me for that bit of self-indulgence."

"Forgive me for being blunt, but I don't want you here. I don't need saving. Contrary to your beliefs, Methos has not spent all his time railing against you. We barely speak of you. Why? Because you are a painful subject to him, and he's had enough pain."

"Never! For what he did to me--"

"He should suffer how long, Cassandra? A thousand years? Done. Two thousand? Done. My God teaches forgiveness. I don't think I want to know what your Goddess teaches."

Cassandra smiled tightly and stood. "This isn't over, Duncan. I will free you from his clutches if it's the last thing I do."

"Don't tempt fate, Cassandra. Go home, wherever that is. If you can't forgive Methos, then at least let yourself forget him," Duncan pleaded.

She shook her head and crossed the room to the door. "Know that what I do, I do out of love for you."

"I don't need your love, Cassandra."

She winced. "Yet you have it, Duncan MacLeod." The door closed softly behind her.

Duncan sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, wondering if he could convince Methos that the two of them should go home, go to bed, and wake up to start this day all over again. Well, it was worth a try. He trudged back to the office and knocked on the door.

"She gone?" Methos asked when Duncan entered.

"Yes."

"What did she want?" Joe asked, curiosity and dislike warring.

"To get him away from me," Methos answered easily. He moved over to where Duncan stood just within the door and sniffed. "You reek of her."

"I told her I love you."

"I'm sure that made her day."

"It makes mine."

Methos smiled. "Hey, Joe? Can you finish up on your own?"

Joe frowned. "Don't you two ever give it a rest?" He looked at his friends, noting the edginess of the thinner one. He could only imagine what ghosts being in jail had called up in the old man. Then to have Ms. Cassandra wander in.... "Go on. Get out of here. I'll take care of the rest of this."

"Thank you, Joe," Methos said solemnly.

"Next time I get a hot date, you have to take over the bar for me."

"Sure," Methos replied with a snicker. "After all, I'm five thousand years old. What's a decade wait to me?"

Joe tossed a pen at him. "Get him out of here, MacLeod."

Duncan lovingly shoved Methos out the door, turning to give Joe a grateful look before joining his partner.

~*~

"This is exactly what I wanted," Duncan said, stretching languidly before turning his head and peppering Methos' smooth chest with tiny kisses.

"What? To drool on my chest? Hate to disappoint you, but that happens all the time. Think I'm going to have to start wearing a bib every night to keep myself dry."

Duncan raised his head, his brown eyes sparkling. "The thought of you dressed only in a bib is oddly appealing. But what I was talking about was going to bed and waking up to start this day all over again."

Methos snorted. "You think me in a bib is appealing? Getting a new kink in your old age, me boy?"

"Everything that involves you is a kink to me, old man." Duncan blew a raspberry against Methos' throat to prove a point. "Even that's enough to get my blood stirring."

"And Cassandra thinks it's me corrupting you. Apparently you never shared this side of you with her."

"What I shared with Cassandra is infinitesimal compared to the joy you bring to my life each and every moment."

"There you go being purple-prosy on me again. Keep it up and you're going to end up walking funny for the rest of the day," Methos threatened.

Duncan laughed. "And you have the audacity to talk about my kinks? I ought to--" The phone rang and he groaned.

"Don't answer," Methos suggested.

"It might be Joe." Duncan lifted the receiver. "MacLeod." He held the slim piece of plastic away from his ear as a frantic woman's voice screeched through the line. "Calm down, Mrs. Taylor, and say it again--slowly." After a series of "uh huh's" and "hmm's", he returned the receiver to its cradle.

"Work?" Methos asked sleepily, having almost drifted off during the conversation.

"Some charlatan of an insurance agent is trying to convince Mrs. Taylor that her antiques are only worth a couple of million. I know for a fact she's sitting on at least twice that amount of inventory. What I don't understand is why he wants to under-insure her. Something's not right." Duncan reluctantly stood. "She's a nice old lady, Methos. I can't let someone take advantage of her."

"I know, love. Go take a quick shower, then hop on your white steed and ride to the rescue. I'll just keep the bed warm for you."

"Methos, it's after 4 o'clock in the afternoon."

The elder Immortal turned over onto his stomach and expertly bunched his pillow into proper shape. "Your point being?"

Duncan just shook his head. "We'll talk about dinner when I get back."

"Sure. Whatever."

"Maybe it's a good thing for our romance that at least one of us can talk purple-prosy. For someone who can talk for two hours about nothing--mpfth!"

Methos pulled back from the kiss he'd planted on his talkative lover. "What was that about my lack of romance?" he questioned.

"I--uh--well--uh." Duncan blinked several times, trying to regain his equilibrium. "You certainly move fast when you want to, don't you?" He'd been looking at his slugabed partner and still hadn't seen him move until his lips were being devoured.

"It's a gift."

"So was that kiss," Duncan mumbled. "You know, I'm not really sure I like Mrs. Taylor all that much."

Methos smiled and plopped back down on the bed in almost the exact position that he left. "Go on, MacLeod. You can't let the insurance villains of the world rip off a friend of yours."

"Be up and ready when I get back?"

"I'll always be up and ready for you," Methos said, close to drowsing again.

Duncan adjusted the bedding across his lover and let him sleep.

*****

Methos knew when Duncan left, and he also knew the moment that he was no longer alone. Mortals didn't broadcast a strong Presence like one of his own kind, nor did they have the faint thrum of a pre-Immortal. But they had something, maybe a very low frequency strumming sound, which either long survival, very old age, or way too many quickenings had taught him to detect. However, this awareness could do nothing to stop the bullet entering his heart.

He jerked back to life and sensed true Presence. Immediately he knew it wasn't Duncan and on the heels of that, he realized he wasn't in the loft.

"Cut the act and open your eyes, Methos."

"You had me shot while I was sleeping, Cassandra. Maybe I just want to go back to my nap." The tip of a sword swept across his belly, forcing him to open his eyes as he rolled away. He got to his feet quickly, noting his surroundings in a quick sweep of the area. It was a courtyard of sorts, an island of green surrounded by the balconies of a large house. Cassandra was to his left, the mortal behind and above her on a balcony, and Methos' own overcoat on the ground to his right. Hoping that meant what he thought it meant, he snatched up the coat and removed his sword in one smooth move.

"You had your pet dress me and bring along my sword? I didn't think you cared, Cassandra, dear." He didn't have on a shirt, but considering it would have been bloodied by the hole in his chest, not to mention the long, thin cut she'd just made, that was probably for the best.

"That's the difference between us, Methos. I only want to kill, not humiliate. You did both to me."

"A long time ago. I'm into neither these days."

Cassandra laughed and adjusted her sword. "Save it for Duncan, whom you've conned into believing your lies. All I want from you is to end our relationship once and for all. Only one of us will walk away from this."

"I don't want your head," Methos said with sincerity. "I never have. And I won't take it now. We both know I can beat you. What's to stop me from merely mortally wounding you and walking away?"

"If you try to do that Alan will shoot you, and I will take your head while you're down."

"Duncan will hate you."

"Better he hate me than continue being beguiled by you."

"What purpose will be served by your death?" he tried to reason.

"Duncan will dispose of you willingly."

"He loves me."

She smiled. "He loves me. My death will burrow into your relationship like a cankerworm, destroying it from within. The outside will look the same for a while, but the inside will be nothing but a rotting mass." She approached him and they exchanged a few parries, mainly testing each other's skill.

"Does it matter that I love him?" Methos asked, wondering if it would do any good if he stalled for time. How long had he been dead? Did MacLeod even know he was missing?

"You aren't capable of love."

"Because I didn't love you? You're wrong, Cassandra. I loved you enough to ensure your survival."

"You gave me to Kronos!"

"If I hadn't we both would be dead, woman!" He easily blocked her wild, downward stroke.

"Maybe I would have preferred being dead to that!" She whacked away at him, too angry for any finesse.

He tried to keep his moves defensive, but misjudged and cut her shoulder slightly. "Maybe you would have, but not me. And believe me, both of our lives were on the line that night."

"And there isn't anything you wouldn't do to survive, is there, Methos? Lie, cheat, steal, whore!"

"You would know something about that, wouldn't you? After all, you're still here. You can't blame me for all the times your survival depended on you lying on your back, little girl. I will not accept responsibility for that. At any time you could have surrendered your neck." Annoyed, he went on the offensive, beating her back toward the building.

"No. I had to survive to destroy you, Methos. And even if it takes my last breath, I will!"

Methos backed off, wondering how long he could keep her at bay. Come on, MacLeod. It's time for you to ride in and save the day.

~*~

Mac parked the T-Bird in its usual spot and headed into the dojo. So caught up in his thoughts, he'd reached the elevator before he realized he couldn't feel Methos nearby. Had his lazy lover actually gotten up and gone out? Maybe Joe had called with information. Duncan shrugged, figuring Methos had left a note upstairs. Probably would have called him on his cell phone if the damn thing worked.

He wasn't quite sure how he knew something was wrong so quickly. It was as if the loft felt wrong and even though he didn't feel an Immortal Presence, he drew the sword from his coat before stepping out of the elevator. His eyes scanned the room, looking for anything out of place. When he found what he was looking for, he almost cried out. In the middle of the unmade bed was a bloodstain. He dabbed a finger into the spot, then examined the residue. Maybe an hour or so old.

Grabbing the phone, he dialed even as he walked through the rest of the loft. "Dawson? MacLeod. Where is Cassandra?...I don't want to hear that, damn it! Methos is missing and there's blood in our bed.... Yeah, I'll hold." He saw Methos' coat was missing as well. Maybe that meant he was armed. "What? Yeah, thanks.... I don't know. His sword is gone as well. Maybe the wound wasn't fatal. He could be on the run. I still want to check Cassandra's.... Right. I'll let you know."

He followed Joe's directions to the estate outside the city where Cassandra's Watcher had reported she was staying. As he pulled up the long drive, he was immediately assaulted by two old Presences, one which was easily recognizable to him. When no one answered his assault of the doorbell, he ran around the building looking for an opening. A small gate gave him a view of the courtyard, and as soon as he saw the two Immortals engaged in combat, he sailed over the barrier, and froze before crying out, "Methos! No!"

His words did nothing to stop the descending blade.

*****

Methos grinned when he felt the approach of his Highlander. "Another time perhaps, Cassandra. Duncan is here." He batted her sword away and stepped back.

She shook her head and raised her weapon again. "No! I will free him of you, Methos. I swear that. Even if it means taking his head."

He stared at her, looked deeply into her brown eyes, and saw the truth of her words. "I never wanted this," he whispered in regret. With quick surety, he disarmed her, then made the final blow. Duncan's yell was but a second behind. "I'm sorry, Duncan," he called to his lover, who was looking at him in horror.

"Don't be sorry. Just have your things out of the loft by the time I get home," Duncan said softly and turned away.

Methos dropped his head and let the quickening take him. If it hadn't been for her mystical talents and her intense hatred the quickening probably would have been a mild one. Despite her age, Cassandra was no Hunter, and she'd spent a great deal of her life on holy ground as a priestess or a witch, depending on the observer's religious leanings. But her hatred empowered her magic, and Methos screamed as the quickening exploded around him, the individual tendrils of power becoming double-edged daggers that danced across his flesh, gouging runic symbols into his skin, then going deeper to carve divine blasphemies and curses into his bones.

By the time the quickening settled, Methos was a bloodied carcass splayed in the center of the courtyard. His Immortality worked furiously trying to repair the injuries, but it would take a while for the flesh to regenerate where hunks of tissue had been ripped out, and the bones to re-form over the mutilations scraped nearly to the marrow.

Almost with relief, he felt the approach of the mortal and heard the cocking of the gun.

Dark clapped his hands exuberantly. "How wonderful, Brother! I do believe there were tears in his eyes just before the Quickening destroyed him. However did you get the white knight to be so cruel?"

"They were words he would have said at some point in his four hundred years. He used to be very judgmental, you know."

"And the white queen's quickening?"

"That was her own doing. She wanted him flayed alive, and succeeded."

Dark looked at the broken queen in Light's hand. "Will we get in trouble for that?"

"No. She only had a few months left."

"Are we finished with him? Will he fall now?" He tilted his head toward the imperfect piece in the corner of the board.

Light shook his head and positioned a rook. "Now we go for the final push."

Joe frowned when he saw MacLeod entering the bar alone. "You didn't find them?" he whispered at his friend plopped down at the bar.

"She's dead. Cassandra's dead," Duncan said sadly.

"Sorry about that, Mac. Where's Adam?"

"She was m' first teacher."

"Yeah, in a lot of things. Where's Adam?"

"Ah don' know."

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"He KILLED her, Joe." Duncan pulled his coat tight around himself. "She was so beautiful."

"Where the hell is Adam?" Joe growled, wondering why the Scot's accent was suddenly so thick.

"I told him to have his things packed by the time I got home."

"You WHAT!" Joe smiled reassuringly as patrons turned to look in their direction. Nothing going on here, ladies and gentlemen. Just a friendly discussion. Like hell.

"She was verra special. And beautiful," Duncan said with a sniff.

Joe stared at him in disgust. Then his eyes narrowed. "Why don't we move this to my office, Mac? You look like you could use some privacy."

"Thank you, mon. You coming?" he asked when Joe didn't follow.

"There in a second. Something I have to get first."

A minute later, Joe ambled into his office with a pitcher. Duncan was slumped in the chair in front of the desk looking like a lost puppy. Taking a deep breath, Joe crossed the room--and dumped the ice water over his head.

"What the-- Dawson! What's the meaning of this?" Duncan sputtered, leaping out of the chair.

"Tell me what the hell you said to Adam."

"I told him to pack--I told him WHAT?" Duncan sat back in the dripping chair, not even noticing the icy wetness. "I never--I don't want--God, Joe, what have I done...and why?"

"I think you were under the influence of something. That's why...." Joe used his hand to indicate the pitcher.

"A spell. Cassandra. But she died just a second after I arrived."

"Maybe she gave you a post-hypnotic suggestion yesterday."

"Shit. I have to get home and stop him. You think he knows I didn't mean it?"

Joe tossed him a towel. "He knows you pretty well, Mac, but--"

"But, Dawson?"

"The old man is pretty sure of himself; hell, he'd have to be to still be sane after all these years. But he still has insecurities. The two main ones are your love for him and his self-worth. You managed to trample both pretty well."

"Damn it, Joe. Do you know how hard it was convincing him that we could do this, that we could be together without destroying each other? Last night--last night I promised to never forsake him and now.... What am I going to do?"

"If you catch him before he leaves, you're gonna have to work twice as hard at convincing him this time, and if you don't catch him--"

"I'll never see him again, right? Methos is good at losing himself."

"Especially if he's hurting. He's already disappeared on us twice, Mac. Once when you jumped on him about whether he was a Watcher or an Immortal, and then again after you wanted him to take your head following Richie's death. I tried to track him both times and failed."

Duncan handed Joe the damp towel. "Then we can't lose him. I can't lose him, Joe. He means too much to me."

"I'm not the one you have to convince."

Duncan nodded and nearly ran out the door.

*****

Methos never liked coming back to life. Sure, in a minute he would be grateful that his life was renewed, but the initial shock of blood flow was always agonizing and he hated the brief moment of disorientation--which wasn't helped this time by the back and forth sway of his body. Fuck. He was hanging by his wrists. That was definitely not a sign of good times to come. Mortal Presence approached and he opened his eyes with a resigned sigh.

"You killed my goddess. You must pay," the mortal said, revealing a tatooed wrist as he raised Cassandra's sword.

Methos stared into the blue-gray eyes of the Watcher and saw madness in their depths. Knowing words wouldn't help, and that rescue wasn't on the way because MacLeod wanted nothing more to do with him, he kept silent. Besides, if past similar situations were any indication, he'd probably need all his breath for screams in a few minutes.

He was right.

~*~

"Joe, he never came home. Can you check with your people about what flights left last night? Maybe he flew back to Paris." Duncan was frantic as Joe stepped off the elevator. He'd waited all night for Methos to return.

"Sit down, Mac."

"What is it? You know something, don't you? Did he call you to say goodbye?"

Joe shook his head and motioned for Duncan to sit, before he perched on the edge of a leather chair. "Cassandra's Watcher never made a closing report."

Duncan blinked. "What does that mean? You think Methos did something to him or her?"

"MacLeod, I'm armed and I haven't been to bed. Don't make me shoot you."

"You think the Watcher did something to him?"

Joe sighed. "After some creative questioning, Headquarters reluctantly admitted that they've had some concerns about Alan Palmer remaining Cassandra's Watcher. In the last year or so, his reports indicated he'd grown closer to her."

"I thought that was illegal."

"Yeah, well, I'm a fine one to talk about that, aren't I?" Joe said dryly. "They might have even been lovers."

Duncan paled. "I left him there, Joe. I know how vulnerable we are after a quickening, especially him, and I left him alone with a man who more than likely wanted him dead--a man who knows how to kill us." He buried his head in his hands for a few seconds, before he looked up, an unholy light in his eyes. "If a Watcher has taken another from me, that's it, Joe. I will see your organization destroyed. I will finish what Jakob Galati started. This I vow on my mother's grave."

"Shit, MacLeod. If Palmer has killed Methos, I'll personally help you wipe them out."

Duncan stood and grabbed his coat. "Let's go."

"Where?"

"To the last place I saw him."

The drive to the estate was made in complete silence, both men too full of worry to speak. As soon as he stepped from the car, MacLeod knew that Methos wasn't there, but he still led Joe around to the gate, disabling the lock with a swipe of his blade.

"Holy Mother of God," Joe muttered when he saw the dark splatters on the grass in the courtyard and realized it was blood. His stomach roiled when he saw the bits of flesh which were shriveled but still attracted a large insect population. "What the hell did Palmer do?"

"Joe."

He turned to see MacLeod pick up Methos' Ivanhoe. Shivering, he watched the Immortal take the blade, kiss it, and then slice his cheeks with it. A blood oath. Suddenly weary beyond his years, he hobbled over to the Immortal, kissed the blade, and sliced open a finger, his blood mingling with MacLeod's.

Thirty years after leaving Vietnam, Joe Dawson found himself at war again.

*****

Joe looked up from his computer at the Immortal who sat hunched on the sofa in his office, a bottle of whiskey clutched in his hand. In mourning. Later, however, Duncan MacLeod would be out for revenge and Joe planned to have everything ready for him. He'd already made lists of key Watcher installations, financial supports, and personnel. This time he was not only going to make sure the Hortons of the organization were ousted, but that the entire Council was disbanded permanently. Some would call him a traitor, but he wasn't one of the ones who were betraying the very foundations of the group. He'd watched them take out two of the Immortals best positioned to win the Prize--Darius and Methos, and if he sat back and let them get away with it, Duncan MacLeod might be next on their list. No. He owed his dear friend Adam Pierson that much, to make sure Duncan was safe. He owed Methos much more.

He pushed his chair back and made his way to the sofa where Duncan had fallen asleep and the bottle threatened to topple. Taking the bottle, he reached for the decorative afghan on the back of the sofa and spread it across the Scot. He didn't know what Duncan had done after he'd been dropped off at his place, but when Joe returned to his office after a three-hour nap, MacLeod had been there, apparently unable to face the loft. He'd been halfway through the bottle by then, and Joe didn't have the heart to try to make him leave.

"Methos?" Duncan whispered.

"It's just Joe, Mac."

Red-rimmed eyes opened. "I killed him, didn't I?"

"No. Palmer did. Not you."

"I abandoned him when he needed me most. Not for the first time either." Tears leaked down the side of his face. "Why did he trust me?"

"He loved you."

"Better than I loved him."

Joe was silent for a few minutes as he settled into the space cleared when Duncan raised his knees. "After five thousand years he was bound to be better at something, MacLeod."

Duncan tried not to smile, but failed. "You know he'd have a great comeback to that, Joe. He loved you, too, you know."

"Adam Pierson was an annoying, but easy friend. Methos--I thought his friendship would be more difficult. It wasn't. At least it wasn't after I realized that he was even more 'mortal' than the rest of you."

"He was, wasn't he? I mean, he never took his Immortality for granted. He was always cautious--"

"Unless someone he loved was in danger," Joe pointed out.

"Even then, he weighed his options carefully. When O'Roarke held you and Amanda captive, I led with my heart; he with his head. My way would have saved you. His way saved us all."

"He was an expert strategist. Kronos may have been a number one, grade A son of a bitch, but he had great taste in men." Joe took a swig from the bottle he was still holding.

Duncan rolled his eyes. "Never met Caspian and Silas, did you? Kronos got lucky when he met Methos. So did I."

Joe nodded. "Where are we going to put his memorial? With Richie's and Tessa's?

"Sure, why not? Save myself the trouble of running around putting flowers on graves. Maybe I should just buy a field somewhere and plant everyone there I ever loved. Wonder if I can find a field large enough," Mac said bitterly. "God, Joe. He was supposed to be the one. He was supposed to be the one that I never had to bury, to mourn. Five thousand years, then he runs into Duncan MacLeod.... I'd behead myself, but I know how much that would piss him off."

"Besides, we have work to do."

Duncan sat up. "Joe, you don't have to--"

"Goddamn you, MacLeod! You're not the only one hurting here. I betrayed him, too. I sold him out to Walker. Basically promised the murdering bastard Doc Adams' head on a platter. And the old man was just gonna let me do it, too, even after I treated him like shit earlier when he was looking for info on Walker. So you're not the only one with an unresolved debt here, okay?"

"Okay." Duncan emitted a soft snort. "For someone who rarely opened his wallet, he certainly left a lot of people owing him."

"That's because what he gave didn't come from a wallet. His currency was unconditional forgiveness, and it beats the gold standard by a long shot. Sure, he bitched and moaned about little stuff like who took the last beer, the jerk who dinged his car in the parking lot...and Lord help the person who had the audacity to perch on his barstool. But when you fucked up royally, when others wouldn't spit on you if you were on fire, Methos would just shrug, say that you were just human, and ask if you wanted to go to dinner or a movie. No lasting grudges, not even a parting shot in a future argument. He truly forgave and forgot."

Duncan nodded. "You could always tell what really mattered to him, because that's what he was most quiet about. We never talked about certain events that occurred during the dark quickening."

"I know. I tried to pick his brain about what happened after the two of you left Darius' church, but he refused to speak of it. Whatever happened, Mac, and I'm not saying anything bad did, but whatever it was, he forgave you. And I know wherever he is now, he's forgiven you for what you said yesterday."

"Just like he forgave Amanda for thinking he was trying to kill her. She's going to take this hard. The two of them bonded during that bloody crystal debacle." Duncan's eyes grew hard. "That was another fucking Watcher incident. They cost him Alexa, and now they've taken his life! They have to be stopped, Joseph."

"And that's exactly what we'll do, my friend." The telephone rang and Joe heaved himself up to answer it. "Dawson.... Yeah? Where?....Okay, got it. Thanks, pal." He hung up and looked at Duncan. "How soon can you be sober enough to drive?"

Swinging his legs to the floor, Duncan raked his fingers through hair that was once again long enough to tie back. "You know us Immortals. I'm good to go. What's happening?"

"Got a tip about Palmer's probable whereabouts."

Duncan stood and grabbed his coat, wincing as the unusual heaviness of Methos' Ivanhoe reminded him of his loss. "Let's go."

~*~

Jerking back to life for the nth time, Methos pondered how torture never ever went out of style. Fashions changed, mores changed, hell, the world had gone from beating drums as a means of communication to the freaking wireless internet, yet humans still relied on the same old techniques to slowly destroy their enemies. A flaying instrument, whether a bunch of dried reeds tied together, or a sophisticated, well-balanced cat o' nine tails. Something sharp--dagger, sharpened staff, a dead priestess' sword. And a way to keep the victim conscious for as long as possible--cold water, smelling salts, an unknown solution injected with a syringe. Century after century, millennium after millennium, the "craft" of torture never really changed. Including the glint of insane delight in the craftsman's eyes.

"Finally back with us?"

Methos ignored the question, although he briefly worried about the "us" part. If the demented Watcher had more than one personality, the others might want to have their go at him, too. He didn't know if he would survive that. His healing was already sluggish thanks to the massive effort to repair the damage caused by Cassandra's quickening and the numerous injuries and deaths he'd suffered at the Watcher's inventive hands. Pretty soon he was going to stay dead long enough for the mortal to get bored, and then the man would probably take his head.

No! He was not going to go out like this, a part of him cried out angrily. And you're worried about the mortal having multiple personalities? He knew whose voice he was hearing. Death just wasn't a "surrender and die" sorta guy. He was more of a "as soon as I get free I'm going to choke you with your own hot entrails" sorta guy, and it was not, as several had learned in the past, an idle threat.

Methos had just about convinced Death that he was hanging in there (so to speak) when he, they, sensed MacLeod's Presence. Methos gave a sigh of relief, and Death experienced a surge of anger. He'd never been particularly fond of the Immortal Dudly Do-right, except for the time of the dark quickening. The man definitely had potential. Coming to the rescue, Boy Scout? I don't need you to do jack for me, you pompous asshole.

With that thought, Death mercilessly jerked his wrists, and using blood as a lubricant, he slid the dislocated joints out of the restraints. Startled when the Immortal dropped to the ground, Palmer bent to retrieve the sword at his feet. Death beat him to it.

By the time Duncan burst onto the scene, Joe close behind him, Death had the mortal pinned against the wall, the sword gently caressing his trembling throat.

"Always did enjoy an audience," Death rasped over his shoulder, vocal cords still strained from earlier screams. He then turned to his prey and kissed him on the forehead. "Be a dear and say hello to Cassie for me."

Death stepped back and swung the sword .

*****

Duncan stood still as the sword sang through the air. No matter what happened, it couldn't dampen the joy he'd felt when he recognized Methos' Presence as he and Joe approached the old abandoned barn. Even seeing the instruments of torture and hearing the familiar tones of Death did little to stem his elation at knowing Methos lived. And if Death was the reason for that, then so be it.

"No!"

Methos' scream centered his attention, and Duncan watched in rapt fascination as the sword was checked in mid-swing, barely scratching the Watcher's throat instead of severing it. Taking the sword in both hands, ignoring the way the blade sliced into his palms, Methos brought it down hard across his upraised knee and broke it in two.

Breathing heavily, the ancient one backed away from the mortal. "No," he repeated. "No one. Not Cassandra, not some crazed Watcher--" he paused and turned to the latecomers, "--not even you, Duncan MacLeod, are going to force me back to being what I once was. Death has no place in my life anymore. None!" He threw the pieces of the sword down in disgust. Swiveling on his heels, he turned to walk away, and promptly ended up on his butt.

"Methos!" Duncan raced to his side, catching the slender figure before he could slump over into the dirt. Folding his long legs, he sat on the hard ground and leaned Methos against him. "Easy, love. I have you."

Methos flinched at the endearment. "Why are you here, MacLeod? Joe drag you along?"

"If anyone did any dragging, it was me. Methos, what I said before, back in the courtyard...it wasn't me. I mean, it was me, but what I said--I don't know why I said it. I didn't even realize the wrongness of it until Joe turned a pitcher of water over my head."

Methos looked over at the mortal in question, and maybe it was because he was looking, he didn't jump when the gunshot sounded. Duncan, however, was surprised, and had pushed Methos behind him before he realized what had occurred.

Joe stared at the dead Watcher for a second, them made his way to his friends. "No more Hortons," he explained before putting his hand on Methos' shoulder. "How y' doing, buddy?"

"I think I'll live," the Immortal replied with a hint of a smile. "Thank you for finding me."

"I had to do something to get MacLeod out of my back pocket. The man was living in my office. People were beginning to talk." Joe winked mischieviously.

"He says--" Methos stopped as abused muscles clenched in his back. Duncan massaged the area expertly until the spasm eased. "He says you doused him with water?"

"Ice water. It was either that or beat him silly, and we both know he's silly enough," Joe replied with a chuckle. Then he sobered. "I don't know if it was something the witch done--"

"It wasn't," Methos said with certainty. "Cassandra's powers were considerable, but not that formidable."

"Methos." Duncan placed both hands around his partner's face. "I swear to you on all that is holy to me, that I love you and don't want you to leave me. Although you don't believe I was compelled to say what I said--"

Methos placed his fingers across Duncan's lips. "I didn't say I didn't believe you. I merely pointed out it wasn't Cassandra's doing. Maybe even Cassandra's actions weren't her doing." He sighed and tried to gather the thoughts that flittered through his mind. Damn, he was tired. "I have--enemies. I'm an enigma, a puzzle piece that doesn't fit. There is good and there is evil. There is light and there is dark. I'm neither and both. A paradox adding disharmony to the general scheme. My existence means there is no balance. That upsets certain parties."

"In other words," Joe said, "sometimes when you think the universe is out to get you, it really is."

Methos found the strength for a smile. "Exactly."

"Is this what haunted you the other night?" Duncan asked, shrugging out of his coat when he felt Methos tremble beneath his hand.

"Perhaps." Duncan helped him into the coat and then to his feet. Methos frowned and stuck his hand in the hidden sheath in the coat. He drew the Ivanhoe. "I thought the weight felt familiar. Taking up a new weapon, MacLeod?"

"No. Just making sure that one found its way home. Now to make sure you do."

The three walked out of the barn into a dawn-colored sky.

"'Weeping endures for the night, but joy cometh in the morning,'" Methos quoted. "Your bible, Duncan. It may have been a while coming, but it's finally morning, isn't it?" The question had a desperate quality to it.

Duncan wrapped his arm around the man who represented his sun. "Yes, Methos. Morning has arrived."

"No!" Dark screamed. Picking up the faulty game piece, he threw it hard. But instead of it shattering against the wall, it landed safely in the palm of an arriving hand. Shocked, Dark ran and hid behind Light. Combined, the two of them disappeared, but they knew that wouldn't save them from the wrath of He who metered out life and death.

He caressed the figurine in his hand, always surprised by how quickly it warmed to the touch. A special one. And a favorite. He looked to where Light and Dark mingled. "His destruction will be yours. This is your one and only warning."

He felt the air swirl as the duo fled. "Ah, my sweet chameleon," He said, addressing the small token. "Still infuriating the youth, confusing them with your colors and mocking their beliefs in order and balance. One day you will teach them that some things are meant to exist outside the boundaries, that there are parallel paths, and edges that are blurred and uneven."

He stroked the figurine again and looked at the game board. Shaking his head, he walked toward a high shelf. The young ones weren't ready for such a piece yet. Later, the old king would take his place on the board, but for now, it was best if he was taken out of play. Stopping, He went back to the board and picked up the white knight. What was peace without comfort, He thought, as He placed both pieces side by side, out of the reach of curious fingers.

Smiling, He left the room.

"I'm going to take a shower."

Duncan watched Methos stagger toward the bathroom, then moved to the kitchen to see what was in the cupboards. He doubted Methos was hungry, but the Eldest needed food and lots of rest to fully heal. Something simple. Maybe just eggs and toast. A trill of the phone made him pause.

"MacLeod."

"It's Joe. The DA's office left a message at the bar when they couldn't contact you or your better half. Due to an investigation of Alpha Alpha Alpha fraternity, prompted by an anonymous email, all charges against Adam Pierson have been dropped."

"Thank God," Duncan murmured. "Maybe the universe is conceding this round."

"We can only hope. How is he?"

"In the shower. He was pretty out of it when I woke him. He didn't remember any of the trip from the barn."

"I'm not surprised. The Watcher clean-up crew reported from the site. Palmer apparently had some medieval tendencies that didn't show up in his psych exam."

"Fuck. You know, every day I'm more and more in awe of Adam's sanity. I sincerely hope the universe has given up."

"Well, you can blame the universe, but I'd rather be a bit more direct. Don't be surprised to find you're mentioned in my will. I plan on keeping my vow, even if I ain't around."

"My vow holds as well, Joe. I'll tell Adam the good news about the charges. We'll see you in a day or two, okay?"

"Whatever it takes, Mac, to get him well."

Duncan hung up and went to the bathroom, tapping on the door before opening it. "Methos?" A veil of steam slapped him in the face. Concerned when he didn't get an answer, he pulled back the shower curtain and found Methos huddled in the corner with the too hot water beating down on him.

Adjusting the water temperature, Duncan stripped, and stepped inside the shower. He coaxed Methos into standing, then carefully lathered and washed his beautiful lover, removing the dried blood and hardened secretions marring the pale skin. When every inch of him was clean, Duncan patted him dry with a thick towel, and dressed him in sweats and a tee. Then, he led him to the sofa and wrapped a blanket around him before he went to cook.

Throughout everything, Methos remained silent, surrendering entirely to Duncan's care. He shook his head when Duncan held out the plate, but opened his mouth obediently when a food-laden fork patiently approached. Satisfied when half the eggs were consumed, Duncan finally led Methos to the bed where he spooned in behind the exhausted man. When tremors came, followed by poignantly silent tears, he held on tight, not wanting to impede the healing process, but making sure Methos knew he was not alone.

After emotions were spent, Methos sank into a restorative sleep. Yet Duncan continued to hold him, whispering in his ear to hold the nightmares at bay. "You are home. You are safe. You are loved," he chanted over and over.

Even when he fell asleep, the words remained as a blessing over both.

He sighed as He watched them sleep. To His eye, one was almost pure white, and the other varying shades which flickered and shimmered even as he slept. So hard to describe, so hard to capture in words. Odd. Rare. Unique. Unequaled.

If Dark and Light could see him now, they would be even more frustrated because there was no way this one could have any innocence remaining, yet...yet innocence radiated from the peaceful face all the way down to the slim body curled upon itself. A child hidden from the wolves of time, shielded by a quick mind, swift feet, and a will that could shame a god.

He bent over the sleeping man and kissed away a lone tear. As He slowly retreated to His realm, He realized He had the perfect description for His stalwart mottled king:

Beloved.

THE END

Dayspring (ddayspring@yahoo.com)

Homepage: Dayspring's Desires (http://www.skeeter63.org/dayspring)

February 14, 2001