Disclaimer: The characters in this story are not mine, and, considering the way that I treat them, that's probably a good thing. Lyrics are also not mine, but nobody pays me for this so hopefully nobody cares. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. Please do not link, publish or post this material without permission.

Rating: NC-17

Comments: Final part of the Shades of Grey series. Graphic homosexual adult content.

Summary: Things get dense, things shift around, stuff becomes apparent :-)

Author's Note: This story is the third and VERY final chapter in the 'Shades of Grey' series, which was never supposed to be a series at all but I just couldn't seem to shut up. The first two stories are 'Shades of Grey' and 'Eclipse', and if you haven't read them you're going to be terribly lost here. I have a weird sort of apology to offer with this story-- if you're looking for gory squickiness and ultraviolence, you're not gonna find it here. I kept looking for the bloody bits, but I couldn't find much (my guess-- Ratboy stole 'em). Oh well-- sorry 'bout that, folks.

Acknowledgements: Sincere and enormous thanks go out to Carmel and Bone and Killa and Mouselette, whose generosity and enthusiasm made all this possible. Massive thanks also to you blessed steady feedbackers-- way to feed the machine, guys! Additional prayerful thanks go out to Pink Floyd, for being the soundtrack of my life.

This story is dedicated to Madame Mouselette, for her unswerving faith, for giving me W.W., and for knowing what I mean when I say ham!

Feedback and other wails of outrage will be gloated over at mtriste@hotmail.com.

Coming Back to Life (Shades of Grey, Part 3)

By Mairead Triste

Prologue-- Death

//Can you see your days blighted by darkness?

Is it true you beat your fists on the floor?

Stuck in a world of isolation

While the ivy grows over the door//

--Pink Floyd, 'Lost for Words'

For whatever reason, the only place he felt truly comfortable this time around was in the cemeteries. As soon as the noise and clatter of the New Orleans traffic dropped away behind him, as soon as the spicy-rich intrusion of accents and aromas gave way to quiet birdsong and the slightly swampy-musty odor of replanted death, his head cleared and some indefinable weight lifted from his chest; leaving him free and calm to reflect on his own depression.

It was a small thing, really; but nevertheless it bothered him. Four hundred years of living brought with it the inevitability of repeated experience, and an equally inevitable burden of self-knowledge. It wasn't anything he'd sought out, in this case, but-- after four centuries of life, the predictability of how one would respond in any given situation was inescapable.

And, until this last trip, New Orleans had been one of those things that comforted him with its predictability-- the city had changed, yes; changed quite radically in the past century, yet somehow it still felt the same, still remained intimately connected to the lusty and almost nauseating decadence that characterized the city, the people, the very land itself.

In such places, in those few remaining pockets of America and Europe and the Middle East where the local spirit of the past had magically transcended the trappings and electronic sanitation of the present, Duncan MacLeod had always found himself uplifted. Comforted by the walking ghost of eternity as something bearable and not saturated with loss, he'd found that he could rely on such places to bolster any flagging determination born of fear or resentment or cold, creeping isolation. Every face, every voice, every building whispered to him that time was a friend to be treasured for the glimpses allowed into the miraculous-- these things go on, MacLeod; and you can leave them behind and fight and love and do what burns within you without a thought for their continuance-- but continue they will, to welcome you back unchanged when you next deposit the road-dust of centuries on their well-worn doorstep.

It should have soothed him. It had always soothed him.

But not now.

Instead, he found himself struggling to meet the bare requirements of the business he'd come here to transact; running off at every opportunity to either sniff the fetid subtlety of the graveyards, or hide silent and lost in the brain-numbing escape of paperwork while locked in his bland hotel room.

Duncan MacLeod-- uneasy in his life. Uneasy with life. Light and sound and the hectic scratch of pen on paper as business wound its burdened way towards conclusion-- these things chewed at him, fretted at the edges of the fabric of his being; an attrition he couldn't articulate, even to himself.

The few times that he'd been asked if he was okay, he claimed a mild touch of fever. He felt fevered-- in the throng and crush of humanity that he assiduously yet unsuccessfully fled from, the heat and humidity brought with them an almost unbearable pall of sweat that failed to cool him in the slightest. He itched constantly in places that he couldn't scratch in public, as if there was some form of potent acid seeping from his pores rather than salt-water. Dense and heavy with perspiration and irritated misery, Duncan moved slowly through the round of days, knowing only that what he'd imagined, what solace he'd hoped to find by attending to this transaction in person and immersing himself in the eternal corruption of New Orleans, had eluded him.

The demon was gone. Vanquished. His own personal demons were very much in evidence, however. And really, he didn't think, he'd never thought it would be this way. It was over; that year and more of hell-- so why did he feel like he was over?

A day of hot, leprous rain finally brought one evening of coolness, one precious hiatus of subtropical balm that made him long for those few, fleeting days at the end of a Seacouver torrential spring, when the earth would go quietly mad with life around him; tugging seductively at him to bask, to indulge his sensual streak, to rut. The evening air through the one-inch allowance of his hotel room window drew him out, dragged him from his self-imposed paperwork exile into the jasmine-fragrant aura of sweetness that, for the moment, didn't weigh him down.

The not-so-casual glances of interest he gathered as he strolled down the Boulevard pleased him in a wary and distant fashion-- it was good to feel vital again, attractive and slipping close to the edges of the slow dance of flirtation/seduction that saturated the overripe air he breathed; yet there was a dim warning in the back of his mind that cautioned that the experience could be worse than empty, something that could drain him even further if he wasn't careful. Given the erratic flux of his energy and tolerance, it was impossible to say whether a night with an unfamiliar but willing body would improve or worsen his situation.

He walked on aimlessly, willing to put that particular decision off until a concrete opportunity presented itself. Dark thoughts surfaced briefly, racing like time-lapse clouds across the skein of his mind, but they too were easily pushed away in this interval of coolness and comfort. He followed where his feet led.

His steps halted as he approached an enormous open-air palazzo crowded with iron filigree tables and elegant couples; an atmosphere of moneyed ennui that still somehow managed to blend with the seductively raw beat of live music that issued from the dim restaurant beyond. It reached for him and he responded, a blood-deep itch of percussion that spoke in crude and limbic terms of sensual pleasure. This was the place.

In that moment things were decided and Duncan's pulse sped accordingly-- he was going to go in, yes; he was going to enter this dark and sybaritic place and from here select a companion for the night-- a compliant stranger, an accommodating unknown.

A man.

And there it was; the thought that made his heart pound and his throat go dry and his head swim as if he'd inadvertently drunk absinthe-- in each shutter-click blink of darkness behind his closed eyes he saw himself draped with lazy abandon beneath the hard-muscled leanness of a male lover; the ripe-plum tip of an erection in his hand, at his lips, sliding over the hollow of his groin-- slow, hot love with a faceless man who could draw the poisoned thorn out of him and pierce him anew with eager and different flesh...

Different-- somebody different, it had to be; cocoa-cinnamon dark skinned handsomeness would do very nicely-- and that certainly seemed possible, what with the profusion of such all around him. There was at least the illusion of freedom in thinking that, even if he had been dragged face-to-face with some of his own uneasy desires, he could at least indulge the vice with different shades of beauty.

Rather than just the one.

A man, a man; he wanted one in a way that stirred his limbs free from the restive unhappiness that had plagued him for a long, long time-- the wanting woke him, shook him, forced his attention away from his miserable mind and onto the ready blade of his own body. Duncan stepped up to the palazzo and made his slow way towards the interior of the building, towards the bar and the music and the man who was about to give him enough new memories to replace the ones he couldn't bear to look at anymore, which in itself would make this entire trip worth every moment of discomfort, and then some.

He intended to pause when he stepped into the dim space of the interior to allow his eyes to adjust, but even before the thought completed itself he stopped, as abruptly as if he'd hit a wall.

Shocking, and entirely unwelcome in this place of overwrought lust he'd worked himself up to, Immortal presence cut across his nerves like a buzz saw over softwood. Jacket, sword, cell-phone-- even as his eyes sought out the source of the emanations, his mind automatically catalogued his readiness to fight, a list of survival tools that sliced instantly loose into freefall darkness when it percolated into his brain that he was staring at Methos.

Calm surprise-- barely discernible in the dimness and over the distance of the crowded room that separated them-- calm surprise on Methos' features, and nothing more.

Duncan himself had no idea what emotions might be writ large or small on his own face-- slack-jawed shock or numb impassivity; it was more than he could do to school his demeanor when the entire world had just slipped out from under him with scary speed.

He thought he'd known, before entering this place, what he wanted. The first second of eye contact with Methos disclosed the fact that he hadn't had the vaguest idea of what the word 'want' really meant at all-- like an alloy with no catalyst, like a recipe with no ingredients, he'd diagnosed himself as 'wanting' without any notion of the true nature of the illness.

He knew, now, what that word meant.

Words, words on a page-- his last words, written with unthinkable bravado in the fresh-fucked satiation and despair of having Methos' scent and sweat soaked into his pores-- what had he written? A sudden stab of terrible guilt suggested that he'd written enough to hurt, probably, or at least enough to annoy Methos that his toy had the gall to up and leave before the game had played itself out...

//Oh, Methos// his lips formed the words helplessly, silently.

As if speaking that name had invoked some kind of sanction, his vacant body caught up with the stunned and spinning path traveled by his mind, and in one brutal instant he found his breath cut short, his knees weak, and his penis painfully erect, a divining rod urging him forward with inexorable force towards the place he needed to go.

Methos looked different. Details disclosed themselves gradually as he grew ever closer-- longer hair now, softly spiky yet carefully arranged, black clothes-- a black suit, narrow double-breasted Italian; playboy perfect down to the silken shimmer of a charcoal tie.

Details-- he couldn't stop fixing on details; the gaze of the lover is the sharpest gaze of all-- and that in and of itself should be sufficient warning to stop staring but--

But.

A tie? Methos in a tie?

But--

Methos looked cold. Cold and hard and immeasurably beautiful, caught outside his accustomed dress like a strange bird molted into unexpected peacock finery; as exquisite and as haughty as that. Beautiful. And Duncan, with his defenses still down and reeling, found that there was no barring the thought that it was the edge that was attractive; the disdainful reserve in and of itself made beauty into something untouchable, impossible...

And irresistible.

And unfair-- so unfair! How many different ways could he find this man compelling? How could he guard himself against it when every interaction brought someone new to light, someone he'd never expected and couldn't resist-- not fair, Methos; you're too old and too pretty and too deep for me to ever touch the bottom, and the water all around is so very, very murky...

His stomach fell already, fluttering, before he was even halfway across the room. That last time between them had been precious, and now he was glad that he'd treasured it as well and as quietly as he had, because the composed aloofness in Methos' eyes informed him in no uncertain terms that they weren't about to pick up where they'd left off. He kept moving anyway. He had to. There was something here for him, something he'd been looking for and never even known it; and if Methos needed him to kneel on the floor in supplication before they could go off somewhere quiet and start getting tangled up, well; then that's what he'd do.

His feet slowed as he approached. Pulled in so many directions at once it was a wonder he found the wherewithal to move at all-- hunger, loose and raving inside him, fear and excitement braided so smoothly together as to be indistinguishable, anger, resentment, sadness-- there was a war on; and it was contained in his skin. Skin which he could not feel, because Methos' buzz had sunk in and grabbed hold and numbed him with intensity.

And what to say? 'I used to be normal before I met you'? 'I can't jerk off anymore without thinking of you'? 'What's a nice place like this doing around a guy like you'? 'Would you like a blowjob'? 'Do you still love me'?

He supposed it didn't matter. Methos would probably say it didn't.

There were two pairs of sunglasses discarded on the table. Two empty bottles of beer. Two glasses. His jaw clenched.

"I almost didn't recognize you, MacLeod. With your hair gone you look like an insurance salesman."

Antagonism. He could handle that-- the man seated at the small table in front of him might look different, but the voice and tone were comforting in their traditional hostility. He sank into one of the exquisitely uncomfortable iron chairs without being asked. "Do I? Well then-- can I interest you in a policy?" It was stupid and trite, but safe enough, for the moment.

It looked like stupid and trite was a wise choice after all, because Methos smiled a little, and with an abrupt sense of perforated reality Duncan could see the man behind the wall of affected indifference, someone he used to know wearing the costume of a stranger. It made his heart stutter in his chest.

"What have you got that covers 'acts of God'?"

He watched Methos take a long drink from a glass of dark amber liquid, mesmerized by the smooth motion of throat muscles rippling down towards the tidy knot of that unbelievable but indisputably real tie. Frustration and desire rose up to combine into an uneasy sense of angry lust, something strange and alien that nevertheless made his mouth water and made his hands shake with the need to reach out and tear Methos out of those ridiculous clothes. He cleared his throat softly. "Look, can we... can we go somewhere and talk, Methos?"

Methos regarded him coolly, tongue tracing lips reflectively in a way that made Duncan shiver, just a little. "You want to talk? Sure you wouldn't rather just send me a letter-- I've got a post-box here in town..."

With staggered gradations of dismay, Duncan found that he had no answer for that, and subsequently that now he knew exactly what was on his face-- raw, unparalleled need, and enough hurt along with it to make him wince. He scrambled for control but there was nothing, no resources within him to battle the blatant truth of what had seized him. He needed this. Needed Methos. "Methos, please..." he said softly, and knew that he'd actually spoken only when he saw the words flicker home in the other man's eyes.

"I lied to you, MacLeod."

He couldn't ask the obvious question. Methos evidently wanted him in this terrible place of needing to know and fearing to ask, and so here he'd stay. A just punishment? The words 'just' and 'punishment' were horrifyingly disconnected from any real source of meaning when Methos was factored into any calculated equation.

And Methos looked... sorry. Sorry and no longer self-satisfied, and that made his heart lurch worse than anything else had, because if Methos felt sorry for him then his transgressions were indeed grave enough to number him amongst the damned...

"You don't look like an insurance salesman, Mac. You look like someone who's busy seeking death. Again. Still. I heard from Joe that you defeated the demon and had things back on track and I've been very happy for you, but-- it's not any better, is it?"

Duncan opened his mouth to answer, and was forestalled in his efforts by one pale raised hand. "I cannot help you, MacLeod; you know that. All that would happen is that I'd disappoint you and then you'd hate me. I'm busy here, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to assume the burden."

Such cold words-- cold, when things had been so warm between them for those few, priceless minutes of grace and understanding-- Duncan couldn't see that ardent man anymore in the creature who sat across from him, not at all; and the horror of that icily ruthless equilibrium was matched only by the knowledge that he wanted it, still wanted him, still wanted--

If the ancient and composed thing in the other chair felt any love for him at all, he was doing a damn fine job of concealing it. "It doesn't have to be that way," Duncan murmured throatily, focusing on the words, on the thought behind the words to distract from the palpable sting in his eyes, "you know that-- we've done... we've been... it doesn't have to be--"

"Cruelty between us is inevitable," Methos asserted quietly, overriding his words. Duncan flinched back as the deep need that had drawn him to this point cut off as abruptly as if some internal switch had been thrown, and then there was only he and Methos; two distinct and widely separated souls with nothing holding them together but a little misplaced sentiment born of illusion. Methos' eyes looked like frozen flints in the darkness, obsidian-hard.

There was nothing more to say. Duncan nodded, his lips tight, actually relieved that, of everything snarled inside him right now, what had surfaced to the top of the tangled heap was a distant and stern resignation. It made it easier to rise, easier to walk away. He surprised himself by turning back before he left the room, and surprised himself further by a complete lack of external response when he saw a tall, slender, darkly handsome man carrying two bottles slide gracefully into the chair he'd vacated, smiling at Methos with fond affection, a smile Methos returned. Duncan did nothing.

He saw nothing of the path his feet walked as he headed back to his hotel, nothing of the surroundings or the people-- the night had lost the power of enchantment for him, had become only a blank void he walked through to keep himself away from where he never should have gone. His room welcomed him as such rooms always do, with a dull banality that even the colorful view from the windows couldn't enliven. He accepted it. He had work to do. He stared out the window anyway, putting off the moment, lost in an absence of thought.

Seeking death? Evidently so.

Too bad death was busy with somebody else.

Coming Back To Life

Part I: All Alone In The World

//Where were you, when I was burned and broken?

While the days slipped by, from my window watching

And where were you, when I was hurt and I was helpless?

Because the things you say, and the things you do surround me...//

--Pink Floyd, 'Coming Back to Life'

"I couldn't stay, Joe. I couldn't handle watching Mac play house with Amanda any longer. I had to go."

"Yeah, well; actually, this is more than a friendly check-in call. That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about."

Up until now Methos had sounded sleepy but ebullient, but now Joe thought that the sudden silence on the other end of the line seemed weighted, an utter absence of the lackadaisical sarcasm that usually characterized these occasional transatlantic calls. He pressed his lips together firmly and closed his eyes, thinking of all the words that could be spoken by silence, cursing his own seeming helplessness to stop playing this role, stop traveling this path-- and thinking also of soothing things; like the late hours when he'd finally be alone, free to take his choices and his thoughts and wrestle them into some coherent and therefore manageable form with pen and paper. "Methos?"

"Um-hmm." Very circumspect. Noncommittal.

Joe resisted the urge to sigh. Another uphill battle. "So you knew that they moved in together, after that O'Rourke thing?"

"Yes. I believe I just mentioned that as being the major motivating factor behind my most recent trip. Since I've been back in Paris I've managed to put off dropping by, and I have no current plans to do so. Was there anything else? I'd like to go to bed now."

Joe clenched his teeth together. He would have really liked to hang up-- his palm around the slick plastic of the telephone itched to do it-- but he needed to get this done, regardless of his own dismay at the pointlessness of it. He took a deep breath. "So you knew about their getting married?"

That, at least, seemed to cut through Methos' curt unconcern. Joe heard a muffled 'whump', as if heavy bedclothes had just been pushed back.

"What!?" it drilled into his ear and his eyes flew open, and he winced. "Mac and Amanda got married? When? Are you putting me on--"

"No, Methos; they're not married. They got engaged. They didn't get married." He knew he should go on, just spill it, just cough it up before it choked him. "Mac asked her, and she said yes, and apparently they were too busy getting excited about the wedding to go ahead and talk about what the hell it meant to be married..."

Joe's voice caught there, and despite his intentions, he couldn't continue. He closed his eyes again and was lost, back in a memory of the last time he'd seen Mac. Duncan had been happy, deep in the detritus of plans and caterers and location scouting and guest lists, but even then the happiness had possessed a slightly manic edge that had scared Joe badly-- a house of cards, elaborate but terribly frail, waiting only for the first breeze to transform a careful composition into nothing more than a big old mess. And yet there hadn't been anything outwardly wrong, nothing to point at and blame for the suspected cracks in the foundation. Just fear. Fear that he couldn't find words for.

Maybe he should have tried harder. He'd just headed home, and one of the circling, buzzing questions that wouldn't leave him alone now was whether it would have made any earthly difference if he'd stayed.

"Amanda's not the monogamous type." Methos' soft voice spoke the words in a way that was almost, but not quite, a question. Joe blew out a breath he didn't know he was holding, his chest warm with relief at this unburdening that had been so simply understood.

"No, she's not; and from what I understand, they didn't even talk about it. He assumed one way, and she assumed something else, and then that old lover of hers-- that Philippe guy-- hit town, and then the whole thing went to shit."

"I see."

"You see? That's all you've got to say?" It was wrong, to take his anger at this terrible situation out on Methos, but it was also irresistible. Methos' utter dispassion in the face of profound fuck-upitude always affected him this way, and God only knew his temper hadn't improved any over the years. "You don't even ask me what happened-- for all you know those two idiots killed each other, and I'm calling you to tell you that you're all alone in the world-- not that that would make a dent, would it, Methos? You..."

He couldn't maintain it. It felt good but it was blowing in the wrong direction, and it was probably best that he stop cold before he said something he'd have to be sorry for later.

"I doubt anyone's killed anyone, Joe. You'd have been much more overwrought at the beginning of this conversation, and I doubt that you would have engaged me in small talk if you were calling to tell me that I'm 'all alone in the world'." There was a quiet snicker, a sound that made Joe's temper flare for one last white-hot instant before it all drifted away on a wave of wry sorrow and he found himself actually smiling a little, sadly.

"Yeah, right; like who of us isn't?" He sighed, closed his eyes again, and looked for a way to sum up all the pain that had a hold on him. This never, never should have happened. "Well, Amanda's fine, fucked up and guilty as hell but fine-- at least she was the last time I heard from her. Mac didn't throw her out or anything, but after the initial screaming match he went quiet and wouldn't talk to her at all-- she was on the phone with me about every three hours trying to figure out what to do, but after two days of it she woke up and found him gone, and that was it. Her Watcher told me that she's packed up and headed out. I don't know if she went looking for Mac, but somehow, I doubt it."

"And I take it he hasn't shown up on your doorstep." All amusement had fallen away from Methos' words, replaced with a cautious wariness.

"No."

"And I bet you're calling to ask me to go find him." The statement couldn't have been any drier.

"Yes." Dry was easy enough to match.

"I see."

"Methos, just think about it, okay? Mac hasn't been... he hasn't seemed right since... well, for a long time. I know you two don't exactly see eye to eye these days, but... just think about it, okay? Will you think about it?" Joe shivered a little, hoping that it could end here, that he wouldn't have to go into his own reasons for not hopping on a plane and doing his own dirty work. Madness-- so much of it; too much over the past few years...

"I'll think about it. I'll call you tomorrow." Joe couldn't hear the note of annoyance he'd hoped for, that magic indicator that Methos had resigned himself. Not committed, then. Not yet.

"Thanks pal. Sorry if I kept you up late. Sleep tight, my friend."

Methos sighed, so loudly that Joe fancied he could feel it. "Goodbye, Joe."

Random thoughts intruded then, and Joe wandered the pathways of his private fears; staring off into nowhere while he chewed pensively on his lower lip. He reflected, remembered; followed MacLeod through trials big and small, through connection and distance, through sanity and its howling, woeful opposite. The world broke people, sometimes; and that seemed to be the sad truth of it.

Sometimes, the world just broke people. Not even Immortals were immune to that.

Eventually he realized that he still clutched the telephone, and he pulled it away from his ear and hung up a little guiltily, vaguely disturbed at the image of himself unthinking and suspended, mesmerized by nothing more than dead air.

Coming Back To Life

Part II: Keepeth His Own Wounds Green

//Lost in thought, and lost in time,

While the seeds of life, and the seeds of change were planted

Outside, the rain fell dark and slow

While I pondered on this dangerous, but irresistible pastime.//

In the end, Methos was relieved of the burden of choice-- he didn't have to find Duncan. Duncan found him.

He knew even before the knock sounded at his door-- knew the moment Presence hit him as he sat in his darkened apartment, bereft of sleep in the wake of Joe's call. He found that this arrival didn't surprise him-- he'd expected this, really; he just hadn't been quite aware that he did.

He let MacLeod in silently. There seemed no comment necessary-- Mac looked like hell, like whatever little sleep he'd gotten had been obtained someplace cold and wet and dirty-- there were a few stray leaves tangled in his dripping hair, short as it was. Methos expected to smell alcohol, but there was only the scent of unwashed Highlander and a low, barely-perceptible electric odor that the more primitive centers of his brain interpreted as unspent rage.

Without a word Duncan went straight to the couch and slumped onto it. Methos clamped down on the sudden urge to go to him, to speak to him-- first things first. He went to the phone, punched buttons automatically, and focused on the slow tide of his breathing to keep the task at hand clear-- he needed to keep his voice calm and reasonable; for Joe, for Mac, but most importantly for himself. Calm and reasonable.

He closed his eyes, listened to the lucid hum of an overseas connection. He heard a subtle click, and then one solitary ring as his connection went through-- and then there was nothing in his ear but silence. His eyes flashed open on Duncan, too damn close for comfort and one grubby hand on the cutoff button. He frowned.

"MacLeod, get your hand off the phone. I have to call Joe and tell him that you're okay."

Duncan's eyes were huge and solemn. Reminiscent of so many moments, so many little spills of heat and darkness between them-- Methos bit his lip to fend off a shiver.

"I'm not okay, Methos."

He didn't even get a chance to put the phone down.

"You're so fucking sure of yourself, so sure that-- what was it?-- cruelty between us is inevitable..."

Methos gasped, but uttered no other response as the sweatpants he wore were yanked roughly down around his knees. Duncan's words were muffled against the back of his neck, hot and hateful words in the right place-- blood humming beneath a vulnerable surface on both sides. It hurt to listen but he did it anyway-- the other alternative was speech, and he was terrified in this singular moment of what might come out of his mouth if he opened it. It would pass. In the meantime, he offered no resistance.

"That-- 'get off your high horse, MacLeod', 'stop pretending to be a saint, MacLeod'-- oh Jesus-- Methos, you don't know, you... don't know-- you said I can't survive any other way and so you win, Methos-- Fuck-- You win and here I am and... you better not move-- Don't move! Don't you fucking move a single fucking inch..."

The dizziness that had descended on him in the whirling instant when Mac spun him to face the wall lingered, became a floating distraction from the hard hands that pulled demandingly at his body. He considered the dynamic dreamily, pondering slowly over the fact that once upon a time the knowledge that Mac was currently carving himself to pieces inside would have carried a certain spark, would have lent a jaunty edge to budding arousal; now it only seemed to sadden him. Too bad. Getting old was a real bitch sometimes.

He did allow a low groan when Duncan pierced him, saliva-slick and so damn huge in his ass that suddenly he didn't care anymore about keeping himself distant from this, keeping his head above water so that he could be there to catch the Highlander when the inevitable fall happened.

"Is this what you wanted, Methos? Is this fucking sick enough for you...?" The growled words trailed away to a series of grunts, and Methos loosed a gasp of fulfillment that he would have really rather hung onto-- but he couldn't; he couldn't hang onto anything except the cold plaster under his cheek, blissfully solid surface to prop against so that he could shove back hard and take it, take it, take it again.

Lost as he was, surrendered however unwisely to the flesh that brutally and exquisitely fucked him so hard it felt like his bones might punch through the wall; when the moment came and Duncan's thrusts faltered and the furious, guttural noises drained abruptly into harsh, wracked sobs he was there, surfacing out of the vortex of his own pain and lust to hold firmly to the arms that circled round him. It released him from something, some threat he'd built between them, and when Mac slipped out and away he found voice for his sighs of loss, found that it was easier than he'd imagined to turn and take, to pull and to hold.

He struggled for breath while he held Duncan tightly, chafing and tangled with his pants around his ankles as he tried to separate out the twinned varieties of need that fate had bundled into his arms. His erection had nowhere to go except to nestle gently against hot, firm skin; and that didn't help much.

"Okay-- it's okay..." Cold, wet hair whipped him, a result of frenzied negation. "Yes." He pulled in another deep breath and tightened his hold. "You don't have to do that to make me love you, Mac--"

The wail that cut him off was terribly familiar-- that bottoming-out sound that Duncan produced whenever the blade of comprehension cut too deeply. Methos almost reeled with dismayed awareness of how well he'd come to know this man, through so few moments of connection. He'd been afraid, and he continued to be afraid, and all of that had a very good reason behind it.

"One thing... tell me one thing," he whispered into the curve of the nearest ear. As if the lower timbre of his voice required silence Duncan quieted, sobs hitching off quickly to low, panting gasps.

"Wha... what?"

Methos sipped the air, and leaned in close to nuzzle warm against damp, tangled curls. "Are you done punishing me?"

"Oh... God..." Duncan went rigid in his arms, pressed up close and squeezed him against the wall until Methos didn't know whether he was about to pass out or come all over the solid stomach that flattened him. Perhaps both, in any given order, he thought dimly.

"No-- and-- I'm sorry, Methos, but--" One final, soft sob. "No."

Methos offered what solace he could. He found himself rocking the other man, cradling him gently to shelter in the face of a storm that neither one of them could stand against. "It's okay, Mac," he murmured, "you do what you have to."

"I'm..." Just a shudder, just a twisting, bone-deep shudder in his arms told him everything he needed to know.

"I know," he whispered, "but you're angry, too. It's reason enough."

Duncan clutched him fiercely, held to him like the tides themselves were going to pull him away. "You don't know-- I can't."

Cold, cold rush in his ears as his eyes flinched down to darkness. Still. Damn the man for this despicable weakness! What the hell had he even come here for...

Methos drew in a deep breath, pulling scattered energies inward. Calm and reasonable. Right. He kept his voice soft. "Just get it out, Mac. It's time. We need to get this thing done--"

"No! Methos--" Clutching arms became a struggle as Duncan fought hard to get away, the panicked fury flight of an animal evading the jaws of a predator. The predator in him.

Methos let go. Let emptiness and chill fill up the vacant places. Watched dispassionately as Duncan leaned heavily on a nearby chair, turned away and closed to him-- and broken; unwilling to take the necessary step, the last step. Very well.

He drew up and retied his pants without looking away, storing up animosity for the coming challenge. "Go take a shower." It was an incredible relief to issue the command, to vent even a little of his own anger in the hard tone of his voice.

Duncan turned to him abruptly, that strange and despicable air of brokenness giving way rapidly to wary tension. "What?"

Methos rolled his eyes. "You heard me, MacLeod. I told you to go shower-- not that that back-alley scent of yours isn't delightful in its own sleazy kind of way, but I prefer to take you clean, if you don't mind."

Duncan's mouth worked, but no sounds were forthcoming. Suddenly his eyes lowered to the floor-- a chastened child, daring rebellion-- and he took one step, one single step towards the door.

"If you're waiting for me to stop you, you're about to be sadly disappointed," Methos spoke slowly, with calm savagery. "You know what you want, Mac; and you know what you came here for--"

"Methos," Duncan interrupted, his voice low and desperate, and his eyes rose from the floor flickering with panic. "You don't understand! I just... it's choking me, Methos; it's choking me-- I keep trying to deal with everything and figure out what the hell it is that I need to do, but..." he gulped air convulsively, "I'm choking on it."

Methos reached out, let himself cup that suffering, miserable face for a moment. "It's just the past, Mac," he said steadily, "and even at your age, it can be a lot to swallow."

Dark eyes, dense and unhappy and frightened. Methos waited, knowing that there was really no more to be said. Just choices to be made.

When Duncan was out of sight, walking with lowered head and measured, reluctant steps towards the bathroom, Methos allowed himself a smile.

He saved Duncan the burden of any further pretense-- by the time Mac emerged from the bathroom Methos had stretched himself out naked in the middle of the bed, legs crossed at the ankle and his hands behind his head, and was studying the ceiling as if it held the answers to the mysteries of the cosmos. He was indisputably and deliberately not aroused, and betrayed no awareness of the man shifting with restless discomfiture next to the bed. Peripheral vision was sufficient to disclose Mac's nudity, and his erection.

"Methos..."

Methos just waited, absorbed by that ceiling.

"Methos, I... what are..."

"I'm not really in the mood to make it easy on you, MacLeod. I could, I know-- I could start hurting you, get you to that place that you want so desperately to be-- but I think you'll be better off if you have to work for it."

Duncan's weight swayed the bed abruptly as he crumpled, as if he'd lost the ability to stand rather than chosen to sit. "Why-- why do you always... oh hell."

Methos chuckled; amusement bubbling through him like scattered sparks. "Because it is about you, Highlander. I said it before-- you know why you're here, and you know what you want."

"I know... I don't..."

Methos moved his tongue thoughtfully around the sharp, pricking edge of one of his canine teeth. He said nothing.

He heard a low, precarious growl, one single sound pure and clear and isolated in the symphony and cacophony of all the words that had passed between them; and knew it intrinsically for the turning point that it was. It iced him with goosebumps for a moment, but then a warm limp weight settled on his crossed legs, and Methos found all the heat he needed as soft melting incandescence sucked him in.

"A good start," he said quietly, "just get your mouth all the way down and then don't move-- let it grow inside you, MacLeod-- I'm sure the metaphor won't be lost on you, clever as you are."

He kept himself utterly still, abandoned physical sensation in favor of sound, closed his eyes at last and listened to the divergent noises of want and fear and vehemence that Duncan made as his mouth and throat were slowly filled. He could feel the Highlander shaking.

"Take it-- that's right. Displacement is a simple thing, really-- you need something to choke on besides your past, and I'm happy to lend you my cock for the experiment-- after all, what are friends for? Make yourself at home, Duncan."

The bed trembled. Methos remained motionless. Duncan's strokes on him were short and savage, raising an inch at most before sinking down fast and hard. Such need, such great, uprooted hunger; desperation distilled down to its very essence. Methos maintained his distance, kept himself aloof from the hot wet pressure around his shaft and just listened to the moist sounds of torment, waiting...

Duncan rose up off him, gasping, and Methos felt hot tears splash the sensitive skin near his hip. He shivered.

"It's not enough, Methos; it's... not right..."

He sat up. "Of course not. If that was what you needed, you could have gotten it anywhere."

Duncan flinched away from him, but Methos followed through and caught him, brought shivering limbs and damp soft skin close into his chest, and held on. Methos relished the moment of quiet surrender, trying not to think at all about what he did, what he risked with these words, these truths.

"Mac-- you haven't even been able to string a coherent sentence together since you got here." Duncan drew in a sharp breath and became restless in his grip, but Methos insisted. "We both know what's wrong. You can talk it out, or we can fuck it out, but as long as you keep yourself on that quaint little rack of indecision you've trussed yourself to, you're not going to be able to do anything except make it worse--"

"Methos, I--"

"Don't say 'I can't', Highlander," Methos muttered darkly, "I swear if I hear that out of you one more time I'm going to... oh hell--"

He pushed Duncan from him roughly, got himself off the bed and away before things became irreparable. Kitchen-- icebox-- bottle-- finally... He stood in front of the open refrigerator, drinking methodically, savoring the oddly relieving discomfort of chilled air on his naked flesh. Kicking Mac out presented too many difficulties, both physical and emotional, so he'd have to leave himself. A hotel, perhaps even splurge for a night--

Behind him, from the other room, the lights went out.

"Methos."

There was a force there, a weight-- something dark and dangerous that zipped up his spine like electricity. He looked at his forearm, resting idly on top of the refrigerator door, noticing even in the very faint light that all the hairs on his arm stood on end. Excitement rose, dreadful and yet compelling in his throat, and he had to pause before he answered to allow it to subside.

"What?" He let it snap out.

"Come here."

That showed some promise. His cock twitched.

He put the bottle on the counter and negligently swung the refrigerator door closed.

Duncan was only a shape in the darkness, outlined in faint relief-- the shape of man; always and ever a ruling influence in his blood. Methos had to get very close to see the spark of resolve in the wide eyes. He didn't mind. He'd felt it from across the room.

Duncan took his hand, a shockingly hot touch after the icy caress of the beer bottle, and lifted it. Methos felt his fingers buried in silk as his hand was pressed to Mac's head, and he drew in a breath Duncan clamped down, forcing his fingers into a relentless grip. Three silent seconds later, Methos was painfully, achingly hard.

"Are you afraid?" Gift horses and all that, but-- he had to ask.

"Yes." The blunt, raw sound struck Methos like a blow-- one he'd been waiting for. He heard his own heartbeat strong in his ears, speeding; and at the moment, he had no words.

One last squeeze, and Duncan's touch drifted away as if it had never been. The dark head fell heavily back into his hand; given, surrendered, so beautifully...

"Do it." At once a command and a plea-- when had Mac learned to master such subtleties?

Methos didn't know, but he knew what he liked.

"My pleasure, Highlander."

And wasn't that the truth?

Duncan fought him fiercely; scratching, clawing and biting like he'd never been civilized. It made Methos work extremely hard for every minor victory, it made Methos bleed in several places, and it made Methos very happy. Every part of him pulsed with something that was suspiciously close to rapture, sliding sweat-wet and grunting over and over Duncan's struggling body until he was glazed with fluids and intoxicated with the sweet ache of conquest.

The Highlander resisted with brute strength, but when Methos found himself flat on his back he made use of it, reaching around to slap a stunning blow on one muscular buttock. Duncan gasped and ground against him, and Methos had to bite his own tongue in an effort to ignore the pleasure that lay in wait between those slick, straining thighs. Ignore it he did, however; and with one violent wrench he was free and on his knees, one hand flat on Duncan's back while the other rained down palm-bruising calamity.

A new sound intruded where before there had been only groans and shrieks and muffled curses-- Methos heard Duncan laughing with him, both of them shaking with it-- and it was all he could do to not let it weaken his arm. He kept on, at once grim and gleeful, spanking Duncan until helpless laughter melted into helpless tears (his own eyes were wet but he never noticed, only blinked hard and stared mesmerized at the man squirming beneath him), and on further until wails of pain became an endless, husky lamentation of lust. His arm had gone utterly numb, but it had its orders and it performed without dereliction, and Methos leaned forward, inched closer and closer to that temptingly open mouth.

He kissed it, tasted the deep, bitter edge of pain and longing. His hand stopped.

"One more," Duncan whispered into his mouth, writhing under his hand, "just one more, Methos..."

"Shh..." He kissed sweat away from that furled brow, "I won't do it, Duncan. One more and it would all be over, and I do so love seeing you like this..."

Duncan whimpered and rubbed more frantically against the sheets, twisting. Methos moved closer, insinuated himself by degrees under that overheated and urgent body until he had the Highlander tight in his arms. "If you want lubrication you'd better see to it quickly," he growled, "because I want to be inside you within thirty seconds, and I don't much care how it happens."

Duncan rose up over him, swaying on his knees. Methos got one enticing sniff of spicy masculine arousal as Mac made a languid grab for the bedside table, burying Methos' head in his armpit on the way; and then there was a quiet 'flick', and then a truly extraordinary sensation as Duncan doused his entire groin in half a bottle of sandalwood oil.

"Oh, you're right out of it, MacLeod, no question," Methos said blandly, gathering the other man close, shaking his head ruefully even as his hands slid lower, further; smoothing sweat-slicked muscles on the way to silken, fiery hot skin. Duncan uttered a sharp cry when Methos' hands stroked over his buttocks-- one wild head-toss above him and then Duncan was there, right where Methos needed him to be, sinking down on him, screwing him to the bed with the weight of his body.

Close, soft cries in the darkness, and Methos couldn't stop touching, reaching; avidly watching half-glimpsed shadows of pain and pleasure chasing with flickering lightspeed intensity over that beautiful face. He felt the struggle that Duncan engaged in with his own body; heard the reticence and panic and determination that echoed in the twitches of flesh that tried so hard to encompass him. The odd variety of compassion that Mac seemed to awaken in him so effortlessly guided his hands up, up long muscular thighs to the opportune grasp of hip; muscle and bone and satin welcoming the clutch of his fingers as he sank in and pulled down hard.

Duncan shrieked, a high, ululating sound that stabbed Methos deep in his belly, unlocked the reliquary where he hoarded the darker flavors of lust. Methos growled and arched upwards, returning wound for wound as he bore down and forced his way through, battered through every auspice of resistance until thrusting was utterly impossible-- to thrust he'd have to pull back, let go, and no conceivable reward of friction could supplant the sensation of tight wide-spread flesh entirely transfixed upon him.

"Don't--don't--don't..." hot in his ear. Tight on his cock.

"I'm not stopping--"

"Don't make me come, Methos! Not-- please, not yet..."

The words hit against him with tangible impact: on his skin, deep in his groin; taking over his body like a hypnotic command. "Yes," he hissed, following where his hips led, lifting with all his strength into the dark shape writhing over him, bucking, still fighting, praises be, even now...

"No-- I want-- wait--"

All Methos could manage was a desperate grunt, rocking soul-deep in heat, grinding...

"No--ohhh...fuck..." Despair and ecstasy at once, and Methos burned with power when Duncan pumped out onto his stomach, satisfaction stoked to the point where he had the strength not to follow along, not to give in to hot squeezing temptation pulsing around him-- he had this capability, this control; what more could he ever possibly need?

Methos shivered as if something had seized and shaken him. Oh, there were needs, all right-- all kinds of needs. Methos held Duncan close until every last quiver and flutter died away, until the last strangled curse trailed off into a quiet whimper.

"Hurts?" Methos was panting so hard he could barely get the word out.

"Yes." A drop of moisture (sweat? a tear?) splashed lightly on Methos' cheek, tingling there, distinct and priceless.

"Will you take it?" Spoken softly and low, and Methos held on, held firm to the delicious weight in his arms.

"Oh yes."

Stabbed again-- so deep, so deep! Methos gasped with pain that wasn't supposed to be his and closed his eyes tight. Duncan moved on him, groaning, shuddering; and Methos' hands flew without thought to touch him, place the naked skin of his hands on this proof of sacrifice, touch to make it real, to make it bearable, touch to find a way to encompass the bubble of suffering he'd called up between them.

Duncan worked against him for a long, dizzying time, fighting no longer, apparently gone now to someplace very far away, except... Except, he was right here: so present, so vital-- every ember of pain glowing in his face, all that pain and hard again anyway, hard and needful. Methos made an offering of what strength he had left to hold and support him, a body abandoned utterly except for restless, churning movement and an anguished glitter beautiful in dark eyes. He saw Duncan's lips moving silently; a mute and incoherent prayer until Methos touched there, rubbed his thumb slow and smooth over that lower lip, releasing sound as if it had been trapped within.

"Please come please come-- Methos please I need-- I need you now..." in and out, inhale and exhale Duncan repeated the same words, the same supplication, at once soft and urgent, the awed and passionate orison of a believer.

Methos curled up helplessly, crushed their bodies together and then forced himself still, slipping a hand between them to gather up the saturation of oil and semen. His strokes on Duncan's rigid shaft were the only movement, the only motion, the only stimulation he could stand. So wet-- so fucking wet and hot and hard and Duncan groaned over him, unmoving except to loose a dark and deplorable sound of agony and pleasure that Methos felt in every cell of his body. Methos held tight, closed his eyes, and pressed his burning face deep into the damp hollow of Duncan's throat as he let it all go, throbbing hard into the place that trembled to receive him. His own faint and choking cries went unheard over Duncan's sobs of release, which were loud and unrestrained and wonderfully, wonderfully free; an unexpected liberty that only made Methos hold him tighter.

Methos fell asleep in the shower, propped against the tiles insensate while Duncan washed his back. Duncan fell asleep some minutes later, sitting up against the headboard of the bed, waiting for Methos to bring out clean sheets. They goaded each other drowsily, jibes robbed of any marginal efficiency by the punctuation of huge yawns. When at last (at last!) Methos found himself settled in a clean bed with Duncan entwined all around him, it was all he could do to get out one last coherent thought.

"Mac?"

"Mmm?"

Methos took one of Duncan's hands, brought it down and tucked it firmly between his thighs, trapping it. "If I wake up in the morning and you're gone, I just want you to know that I'll hunt you down and kill you."

A moment of silence, impossible to interpret. That could be the heavy pause of guilt for actions past, or the unthinkable pause of dismay for actions imminent. He knew he should turn, should at least roll back and read what answers he could find in Duncan's face, but he couldn't make himself do it-- his eyes snapped closed even at the thought.

A soft sigh from behind, then a tender kiss on the back of his neck. "No fear, Methos. Go to sleep."

And of course now he didn't want to sleep. He wanted, needed, to spend some time with his thoughts; to canvass the ground they'd traveled together tonight, to prepare himself with his usual consummate application for any and all possibilities. Moreover, he wanted to make sure that this time didn't pass unappreciated-- the gift of Duncan MacLeod heavy and sated in sleep was a rare enough treasure to make any voluntary unconsciousness seem wasteful-- but his eyes were so tired, and his body so weighted with voluptuous lethargy that...

...In the end...

...he had to just...

...let it go.

Coming Back To Life

Part III: Gifts and Curses Lightly Given

// I took a heavenly ride through our silence,

I knew the waiting had begun,

And I headed straight... into the shining sun.//

And wouldn't you know it, as if the difficulty between them was a pendulum that rebuffed all efforts at balance, Methos awakened to the sight of Duncan staring raptly down at him, and suddenly he wanted nothing more than to get up and go away.

He dismissed the urge as ridiculous-- yes, he had his fears, alright; but still-- last night had been such a victory, such fulfillment of the dark promise that their animal selves sparked off each other, and now he wanted to... what, hide? Ridiculous-- he was whole, he was free; all shields and boundaries firmly in place despite the killing intimacy of what had happened. There was no threat here, no matter what alarms might be going off-- no threat, not a threat, it didn't matter if his skin was crawling because it was just an evanescent reversal born of the surprise of having Mac awake and here and staring at him like an amorous romance-novel hero right before the fade to bad metaphors about crashing waves...

"Good morning." It seemed as valid an opening as any-- it was certainly morning, (and when was he going to learn to close those blinds the right way?) and it was obviously good, because there was freshly showered Highlander weighting down the other pillow rather than a note.

"Methos." Not an opening, not a bid for attention-- evidently Mac just had some sudden need to say his name. Methos nodded.

There was no further elaboration. Methos bore the silence stoically for a few minutes-- at any moment he could take action if he so chose; could rise up and seize command of the situation with just a cruel word or two. He went looking for the right words, just to have them ready if they were needed, but the words that occurred to him to say in this moment of realization and connection were not what he'd had in mind... Something else-- say something else...

"Do you want breakfast?" He made the offer automatically, and only belatedly realized that there really wasn't much in the house that could be manipulated into actual breakfast components.

"No."

Duncan licked his lips slowly, an unconscious touch of lewdness that brought up a few other words that might be appropriate. Methos smiled and moved closer, and slid his hand smoothly and possessively up one bare, furred thigh. "Do you want to have another go?" That was more like it-- abruptly he was glad that he'd taken the time to shower last night--

Duncan returned the smile, but his hand covered Methos' and held it, stilling all movement. "No."

Methos blinked. "No? What-- you have something else in mind then, MacLeod?"

Duncan tangled fingers with his own, brought his hand up from under the warmth of the covers, kissed his palm. "Yes. I'm ready to finish punishing you now, Methos."

Oh. So that's what that look was all about. Methos chastised himself silently for getting caught up in such ridiculous fears-- slap and tickle and a little outlet of rage, that's all; both body and mind were ready and willing, and it would be so very nice to see what Duncan had up his sleeve...

"It's about damn time, Highlander." Methos stretched luxuriously, then forced himself away from Duncan's eyes to glance around, scratching his head idly. "Is there anything you need-- accessories, a paddle--" he smiled off into the distance, smug. "Maybe a knife?" He kept the narrow balance between derision and a formal and courteous offer easily. "Whatever you're inclined to, let me know and I'll see what I can do. You've got a lot to work through here, after all--"

His words drained to sudden silence as Duncan captured his face and pulled him back, now nose-to-nose and the whole world defined by dark, solemn eyes, looking into him-- bright, blazing, brilliant with tears, such compassionate tears... something caught in his throat and he choked, quietly.

"Oh, Methos--" Duncan's voice captivated him-- the tone was sorrowful but not sorry, not the tone of a man apologizing in advance for getting pushy-- it was more than that, something just a little frightening... "You're not half the monster you think you are."

Fear on a whole new level. Amazing.

He swallowed firmly. It would pass.

It had better.

Methos held on until it felt like his choices were limited to two: speak, or die. "MacLeod," he heard the strain in his own voice and hated it, but the words had to be said. "You have very strange ideas about how punishment works."

Duncan had burned him with a shimmer-haze of slow kisses, stroked him with luxurious, lascivious devotion, and then climbed on top of him and proceeded to goad him towards insanity with a horrifying gentleness that made his eyes sting and his breath catch short in his throat.

Duncan pulled away a little, and Methos' ear went cold with the absence of the hot wet tongue that had been teasing out secrets there. "Can't help it, Methos," oh-- that dark voice wanted him, was low and growly with wanting, so lovely; "you're too damn warped for any of the more traditional methods to work--"

As if to test the veracity of his own words Duncan grappled with him forcefully for a moment, went from teasing to taking with only one brief pause to swipe the plentiful sweat from his chest-- and then Methos was crammed full, curling and shivering with the deep ecstatic pain that throbbed through every nerve. He didn't want to go with it-- this wasn't what he'd had in mind, after all, and his only real refuge lay in ennui-- but it took him anyway, and he uttered a cry that ravaged his throat. Not hard enough, not hurtful enough, not anywhere near enough to constitute adequate retribution but suddenly he knew that one thrust, one blunt stab of that cock sunk deep in his ass would spill him right over the edge...

But no thrust was forthcoming. Duncan just held him spitted, only trembling faintly as the Highlander lowered, lowered; came down onto him like a silken sensual dream. "What good would it do to punish you like that?" The words echoed, spoken into the hollow of his open, gasping mouth. "You'd just enjoy it."

"We could-- god, Duncan, please!-- pretend... that I hate it..." He didn't know what he was saying. He didn't care.

"Shut up, Methos," Duncan whispered sweetly into his ear, "I know what I'm doing."

Abruptly bereft when Duncan pulled out of him, Methos didn't have time to decide whether he was relieved or dismayed before he was lovingly, skillfully oiled and then entered again with consummate gentleness-- oh yes, Mac knew what he was doing, all right; somewhere along the line Duncan MacLeod had figured out exactly what the pattern of true cruelty was... and shouldn't that make him happy? Shouldn't that be a triumph of sorts rather than something that made him shake uncontrollably?

Movement began slow, slow and easy and so small that it crept upon him imperceptibly; rocked sensation past his senses and down deep into someplace he hadn't wanted it to go. Duncan's hand rested on his chest, pressed against his fluttering, twisting heart-- gentle, so gentle and terrible-- scraping some old scarred inner wound to fresh blood while taking him so softly that it might just rip him apart.

"My curse," the words spoken through feather kisses at his hairline that made him twitch, "I gift you with it, Methos."

"No..." (god no-- not this, don't do this to me I can't bear it...)

"Oh yes." Touch, touch, satin-soft kisses of abomination on his eyelids that made him shiver; "On those cold nights-- you know the cold, Methos, and what it's waiting for-- and when that cold is all around you, when you're more alone than you've ever been--"

"No!" He could say it-- he couldn't do anything about it without risking surrender to the pain that threatened to shatter him, but he could say it.

"You'll remember this. Remember. Remember this until the day you die, Methos. Yes."

That hand on his chest-- it might have burrowed inside his flesh and under bone for all the pain it caused him-- and he reached to pull it off but ended up trapped instead, his hand tight over Duncan's as the pounding increased, his breathing increased, the deep, plunging strokes into his body increased and just laid him open to what felt like liquid fire, liquid light.

"Every one," Duncan murmured, pressing, pressing his heart, moving over him so slow and so relentless, "I feel every single one, Methos. I feel it everywhere."

"Don't--"

"Don't tell me 'don't', Methos. You know... you know what you want. Tell me." Demon. Angel. Blessing and killing him, fucking him full of something that might as well have been poison for the way he drew away from it, dreading; and Methos found that he could struggle but god it hurt--

"Fuck me!" It tore out of him.

"That's not it, Methos. That's. Not. It. Tell me-- you want it, you know you want it..." Dark, alluring voice, so perfectly in accord with the actions that were undoing him one slow agonizing knot at a time-- the stiff cock that breached him eased against that place inside that lit him from within, but not roughly, not enough to satisfy or even to tease, no-- only pleasure, patient and irresistible, hellishly unavoidable. Over and over and over until he couldn't stop the tears that spilled, praying only that they wouldn't be seen.

"No... I won't--"

"You will." Serene and relentless, taking everything from him with despicable tranquillity. "You want..."

"I want--" Methos' traitorous mouth began, and that was much too much and he had to squeeze his eyes closed against the horrendousness of it. "Please, no--"

Over him, inside him Duncan shuddered, lunged faster, harder, again and again-- and Methos felt a flash of relief until he realized that this was worse; Duncan's abandonment to the pleasure of fucking him like this was worse than sedate insistence because he couldn't get away from it now, couldn't find the resistance or distance he needed to have... "Good inside you," a soft gasp iced the skin of his neck, interrupting the flow of words, tearing into him. "So fucking good with you-- so beautiful-- oh yes... oh yes... take you and never-- stop-- tell you... oh Methos..."

"Tell me--" he stopped on a sob, felt control slipping away from him like life; out of his hands, out of his mind... he bucked, swarmed up grasping with legs and one arm to pull close while his other hand pressed Duncan's touch there, there into his chest-- oh god he was going to do it, oh fuck yes he was-- need, unspeakable hunger, pain, but...

"Tell me you love me!" The cry bled in his throat.

"Ah--" Duncan took his mouth, tongue-tip touches with his heartbeat, with the fierce rhythm of hips that jolted him, skewered him, left him gazing through prisms--

And then away, staring down at him, unbelievably greedy. "I love you, Methos. I do. Come hard."

His own scream deafened him, staccato with the heavy beat of thrusts that punched through and punctured everything, fucking his heart into ribbons as he came and came apart, came shrieking unthinkable words and sucked Duncan with him into the vacuum of black that swallowed it all-- an open crypt, opened, erupted darkness of void where evaporated nightmares shriveled in the blazing light of... something... such light...

...love you...

He heard it, floating away; believed it, and found too late that he had no place left to hide, after all.

...Methos...

Such light...

Coming Back To Life

Part IV: The Bending Up Of Spirits

//I took a heavenly ride through our silence,

I knew the moment had arrived,

For killing the past, and coming back to life//

(Cruelty is inevitable...)

Yes. Obviously so.

Those words stuck with Duncan in the days that followed, winnowed their way repeatedly into his consciousness-- maddening, really; it meant nothing, they meant nothing-- it was impossible to assess the legitimacy of anything that had been said or done-- real? Unreal? Lies or truth?

No matter. He was okay.

Duncan enjoyed what he could, and tried to let the rest of it be irrelevant. He found himself surprised at odd moments that he really was okay-- frustrated, yes; and disappointed and occasionally furious-- but alive, possessed of his life in a way he thought he might never be again. Whatever it was that had been so wrong with him for so long, he at least had the satisfaction of knowing that it was over. Small things had changed, small things everywhere but very numerous; he could taste food again, and see colors and textures with an appraising eye, and appreciate the feel of wind and rain on his skin and the sight of the stars at night, so constant--

And he needed these comforts, needed the reminders of constancy and the newfound delight in small things, because turnabout is fair play, and cruelty is inevitable, and this time it had been his turn to wake up alone.

No note, of course. What, after all, remained to be said? Just alone. He supposed, in retrospect, that he should have expected it, but... well, he hadn't. Pure surprise.

An absolute ass-kicking shock, actually, if he was honest about it.

And why not? He had the luxury of honesty, now, and a whole lot of time to think about it in. He had his sadness and his solitude and his blessing of vitality, all living together in a mish-mash jumble of grief and contentment, coexisting from high point to low point without ever really caring where it took him because somehow it was all worthwhile...

He would sort it out. He would pick up the threads of his life again, dive back into activity. He would stand and be true and take care of those precious to him-- Amanda... there was almost no sting there at all now, and he felt free to seek his peace with her and let it be over, let them be what they could be to each other. He would do this and other things, he would take back the life that had been offered to him--

He would do this soon. Very soon. But first he would take a little rest. Heaven knows he deserved one.

And so he got himself a little house on the far outskirts of Paris, and left the barge cluttered with stuff intended for a wedding that would never happen (what the hell had he been thinking, anyway?). He made sure to apprise Joe of the amazing fact of his okayness (not an easy sell, but eventually he got his point across without coming right out and admitting that apparently the key to redemption was humping Methos), and then he settled himself in, which proved to be easier than he'd expected it to be.

In the evenings he sat on his diminutive porch and looked out on the world; either the sun sinking into distant trees or grey, slanting sheets of rain fading imperceptibly to black. He let his thoughts and feelings run unfettered, since that was, after all, kind of the point; and sometimes he cried and sometimes he laughed, and sometimes when a connection clicked in and he saw something naked and clear for the first time he would speak it out loud, foster his own illumination by cementing it in words, a gift given lightly in an old habit-- spoken not for himself, but for absent friends.

He kept the space open, he did that, too. Futile gesture or not, it was right, it was the thing to do, the thing he had to do for now. Two chairs on his tiny porch. He sat in one. The other-- well, he didn't really think of it as *empty*, so much as held open, unoccupied. For now.

A life at rest, a conversation continued through the process of slow mending; a life sufficient but with a place held open, a welcome, a readiness. Just in case.

It was enough.

Epilogue: Destiny

//No more turning away, from the weak and the weary

No more turning away from the coldness inside,

Just a world that we all must share

It's not enough just to stand and stare

Is it only a dream that there'll be no more turning away?//

-- Pink Floyd, 'On The Turning Away'

He'd pictured it so many times, rendered imagined shape and form real through so many hours and days and months of dialogue, that his first thought was that he must be lonelier than he'd thought, and consequently he was hallucinating.

But no. Hallucinations don't buzz with Presence (unless he was suffering from a very complex and insidious variety), and he doubted that, even at its most creative, his mind would have imagined a baseball cap. Of all things.

So-- there was Methos, in the chair on the porch, for all the world as if he'd been conjured there, right to the perfect spot where Duncan had pictured him, an obedient djinn.

Yeah. Right.

Duncan shifted his grip on the bags he held, and wiggled one hand free to brush the hair out of his eyes, hair which was now long enough to annoy him but too short to tie. He'd expected something else from this moment, some great revelation or awareness of need, but all he felt was a vague warmth deep in his stomach. Not in shock then, and not broken, and really after all this time that was a pretty big relief...

"Welcome," he said quietly, just so that wouldn't be in doubt.

As if Duncan's voice had broken a spell of immobilization Methos stood, came forward steadily but slowly and took the bags out of his arms. Duncan watched silently as the bags were set carefully down, and then Methos was in his arms and rocking him slightly, breathing him in-- and that was funny because he was doing the same thing-- they were sniffing each other furtively, like shy dogs, and it would have made him laugh except he didn't seem to have the breath for it, not when he could be breathing Methos.

"Will you stay?" Damn. He'd meant to work up to that gradually. Apparently, he wasn't quite as nonchalant as he thought he was.

Methos froze against him for a moment, and Duncan was ready to let him go but then that rigid and precious body relaxed against him, with a sigh that tickled through his hair. "I don't know."

"Oh."

Methos pulled away slowly. The embrace had knocked the ridiculous cap askew and Duncan had to smile-- he looked so bloody young like that--

The cap came off. "I meant what I said, Mac. About cruelty."

Yes, absolutely-- there was the Methos he knew; not such an enigma anymore but no less frightening for being better understood-- it was very true, it really did seem inevitable that life between them was going to be fraught with pain. Probably terrible pain. Five thousand years worth of fucking pain.

"I know." He countered with his own truth, gingerly-- the truth that had driven Methos away, last time. "Love is also inevitable, Methos."

Methos nodded, grim and determined as if this had been some kind of test he'd been preparing for.

Duncan perceived the steps of the dance even though all was still-- a careful negotiation, one where all elements would have to be considered lest the deal be rendered null and void... "Is there anything else, Methos? Tell me..."

Methos studied him carefully, a somber and critical assessment at odds with the fact that he reached out to brush Duncan's fallen hair back, a practical touch that became a lingering caress, sweet until Methos pulled his hand away quickly. "Nothing is forever. I need you to know that. I need to know that you understand that."

Duncan rocked a little, surprised. That particular observation seemed both simpler and more complex than what he'd been expecting, and yes, he had to admit, Methos had something there-- accepting that idea as truth, as fact, was extremely uncomfortable. On the up-side, the part of his mind that was already three steps ahead was pretty excited-- he sensed that he'd just found a big root cause of a lot of that pain he had to look forward to, and in his new life that which could be articulated could be conquered.

"I understand that you believe that, Methos. I'm willing to consider it, but honestly I'm probably going to fight you on that one."

Methos smiled, an incredibly sad smile. Duncan's heart lurched-- Methos was going to walk away now, he could feel it-- such resignation and sorrow and they'd only had a few minutes--

But then Methos' hand closed warm on his, and that melancholy, suddenly tired-looking face came close to lean on his shoulder, and Duncan brought his free hand up in slow, silent motion to stroke tentatively (gently!) against soft, soft hair.

"That'll do, MacLeod. That'll have to do."

The End.

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