Disclaimer: THIS IS NC-17 FOR GRAPHIC SEXUAL CONTENT AND VIOLENCE: IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE DARKSIDE, GO NOW! The characters in this story are not mine. I am only borrowing them, and, contrary to all appearances, I mean no harm. No money changed hands. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. Please do not link, publish or post this material without permission.

Author's Note: I've never sequeled anything before, and, frankly, I wouldn't have done it if it hadn't been requested through feedback. This story is the sequel to Shades of Grey. If you haven't read that one, this one won't make sense. Of course, if you have read that one, this one still might not make sense, but at least we'll know it's all my fault. Preliminary market-testing of this story has indicated that it should be placed on the dark end of the scale, so consider yourself warned. There might possibly be a third and final part to this series, if I don't get lynched for this one.

This story is lovingly dedicated to Z&n at House of Slack, for generous brilliance, giggles, and Damn the Man! Much thanks and gratitude to Killashandra for her amazingly gorgeous art, and to Killa and Bone for incredible editorial support and encouragement- it wouldn't have happened without them (but the mistakes & problems are mine, mine I tell you!) Extra bonus happy-thanks to all the readers who wrote to express enthusiasm for this dark world. You make it all worthwhile.

Feedback or other forms of attack are warmly welcomed at

mtriste@hotmail.com.

//The ability to transcend monstrous behavior does not come with age and experience, unless one transcends humanity and becomes a saint. Such individuals are few and far between. If one wants to go on living, however, one must learn to understand one's capacity for monstrous behavior. Sometimes we are demons. Sometimes we are angels. We each embody the best and worst of every human possibility.//

-Private journal of Methos Maelus, 390 AD (translated from the Latin.)

Methos closed the file and hunched his shoulders forward, running his tongue over his teeth in thoughtful reflection. His own words haunted him, reminded him again how easy it was to forget the lessons of the past.

He shook off his ruminations and stood, grimacing pleasantly as he stretched and his spine cracked. Underneath his thoughts there stirred a sudden urge to be gone, to pack only a few necessary items and flee his suddenly too-small Paris apartment.

It was a purposeless and unconsidered urge, but it tempted him nonetheless, worrying his mind with a simple, repeated imperative:

Get out.

Go find him.

Methos sighed, idly shuffling the papers that littered his desk. His eyes were unaware of what passed before them as they scanned an internal vision that represented the latest grotesquerie in a life that had witnessed far too many.

Richie had died with a look of shocked horror on his face. His disembodied head had rolled only a few feet before coming to rest against the base of a concrete pillar, leaning nearly sideways to look at the three of them with the characteristic surprise of the suddenly dead-mouth open, tidy cave of shadows spewing darkness, neat white teeth spattered red. The image of those well-tended, bloody teeth seemed somehow to be the crucial expression of the event for Methos, a quick silent shrieking picture that could remind him at any moment that Richie was dead, and that MacLeod had lost his mind. Again.

"It's not my problem," he murmured aloud. He started at the sound of his own voice, and looked around the room quickly.

No, it wasn't his problem, but suddenly Methos felt a familiar sense of sinking desperation as he realized that he was going to get involved again, regardless of whose problem it was.

The real dismay, however, lay in how long it had taken him to notice that he was an utter fool. He'd told Joe two months ago when Mac disappeared that whether the Highlander's demons were real or imagined, whether he was seeking death or a new life, their part in it was done. Finished.

Fool.

Joe had listened to him, of course. Joe needed to listen to somebody, because his own resources had been burnt out of him in one great swooping flash of a child's quickening. Those teeth- they had sunk themselves deeply into Joe's mind as well, that much had been evident.

Methos had been very clear in his conviction that his own part in it was done; had known, known that this time, MacLeod had to make his own choices. That surety had carried him through the past two months, kept him calm as he went through the customary motions of his own grieving process; now so familiar that, paradoxically, it soothed him with the mellow touch of intimate depression.

And now he labored under the much less comfortable, cringing knowledge of folly. The surety was false- a useful lie, built on the assumptions of reason.

As Methos rummaged through his closet for his duffel bag, he wondered vaguely what good it was to have such a finely developed voice of reason, when it always seemed to come down to what he wanted, what he needed, in the end.

He'd done it before. Once before, in a carefully controlled haze born of too much rage and too little sleep, he'd surrendered to what he wanted from Duncan MacLeod. For a moment. And, of course, the Highlander had been his, had given body and soul after a short struggle that had only made claiming him all the sweeter. For a moment.

A passionate connection, undeniably so; but also a fleeting one. Methos woke cold in the lingering grip of a dream, a confusing, kaleidoscopic, shifting carnival nightmare of suffocation and contradictory exposure. When Mac tried to soothe him, to gentle him with tender offers of solace, Methos turned away- a little space was all he needed; just a little time and space to fend off his own demons, to wait for his skin to stop crawling. He was still waiting when sleep reclaimed him.

Time and space is what he got, sure enough, and it wasn't a huge stretch of his faculties to assign blame for the vast overabundance of time and space he found himself burdened with shortly thereafter. Methos woke up alone, remembered triumph transformed in an instant to grey, ashy emptiness, somehow colder than he'd ever been.

MacLeod hadn't been ready- that much was obvious from circumstance. His own mind was very certain of itself in assuring him that Mac would never be so.

In the end, it had proven to be abysmally easy to match distance for distance, reserve with reserve. He clung to that frigid center of himself while he watched events march sedately past, while he absorbed Mac's flaunted skirt-chasing- Amanda, faceless others- without a twinge, without a word.

In his few, less-frozen moments, he achieved a great deal of torpid satisfaction from his memories- they were powerless to hurt him, after all- and from the fact that the word "rape" had not resurfaced between them. Not a whisper.

Methos' jaw ached with pressure as his teeth ground together hard- too hard; rage had crept up on him silently, rage that couldn't be countenanced. Acknowledging the anger meant acknowledging something darker, something that spoke in teasing, whispered voices about who and what he was. He forced himself ruthlessly into relaxation, told the voices to go to hell, and set about his hasty packing with a calm focus that soothed him with proof of his own dispassionate equanimity.

The words of his journal, written by him nearly two thousand years ago, recurred to him as he packed. It had been a shock to realize that apparently he was finished doling out a pointless retribution of inept neglect to Duncan MacLeod- he had something to say, now. The words running through his mind like a mantra distracted him from other things, obscured the final mutation as reticence transformed into certainty, and Methos surrendered one more time to the relief of reaching out for what he wanted.

"I thought you were made of stronger stuff, Highlander," Methos said with disapproval, casual in his study of the man who sat limply in the chair where Methos had placed him.

No response.

Duncan had been silent and filthy when Methos found him, a vacant husk that bore only the faintest resemblance to the man he used to be. Methos had no idea what was wrong, aside from the fact that the Highlander evidently hadn't yet found the resources to cope with either Richie's death, or his 'demons'. He'd shown no recognition, no awareness; no comprehension at all in the two days since Methos found him slumped and mute in a foul alley. He followed docilely enough when Methos pulled him to his feet and led him to the rental car, however; and that had to count for something.

Duncan's slack, obedient passivity was somehow both pitiful and repulsive, but Methos betrayed neither aversion nor compassion. He cared for the physical shell with the detached, rough professionalism of a healer in wartime, a ridiculously nostalgic recollection that left his nostrils stinging with a phantom memory of carbolic acid.

"It won't go away, you know," he said aloud, less in hopes that Duncan might hear him than to dispel the sense that he was alone in the room with a piece of barely animated meat. "Simply lapsing into catatonia isn't going to make any of this better, or make it go away."

No response.

Methos sighed. He got to his feet and stripped quickly, then maneuvered Duncan into the bathroom. He propped his less-than-scintillating companion on the closed seat of the toilet while he turned on the water, then moved to slip the hotel-provided robe off of Mac's slumped shoulders. He was pleased to see that the dry scales of dehydration death had at last vanished entirely. He guided Duncan into the shower stall, and ministered to the other man with newly established brusque efficiency, concentrating on cleanliness to help him resist the siren song of warmth and steam and firm, slippery flesh.

Under other circumstances, this could have been a sweet little reunion for them, a piquant education in forgiveness and need- but not now, not with MacLeod's head still full of demons and darkness, a vacancy into which any unknown might slip.

When Duncan was clean and dry Methos nudged him into the bed and made him drink two glasses of water. MacLeod was both too thin and too pale, but he looked now like a weakened, vacuous version of his former self rather than a dead man. Methos brushed back the long strands of wet hair that obscured blank, expressionless eyes, his touch perhaps rougher than it should have been, his stomach tightened with frustration. He had a message to deliver, dammit- that was supposed to be the extent of his redemption, not this bloody nursemaiding for an empty husk.

He leaned close to the other man's face, searching intently. "Come back, MacLeod," he said insistently, "you can't hide from this forever."

No response.

No recognition at all- just unseeing brown eyes, half-lidded with pupils dilated to wide blackness. Methos leaned closer, leaned forward to the point that their noses almost touched, determined that two days had been long enough- it was time to break through.

"Maybe I should just let you stay how you are," he whispered softly as he reached out with one finger to trace across the full growth of stubble along Mac's jaw, "you're much more tractable this way."

Duncan blinked.

Methos suppressed a smile. In the split second before the dark eyes flipped closed, he'd seen a momentary flicker of... something, gone again as soon as they opened.

"It's okay if you don't want to talk, Highlander," he continued, moving to recline on his elbow next to the gently-breathing body, "I'm sure I can think of something to keep us occupied."

He rested his hand on the smooth skin at the other man's waist; eyes fixed on the slack face beneath him as he stroked slowly up the cool torso to cup finally underneath the chin. "What do you think of necrophilia, MacLeod?" he asked casually, shifting a little closer, "isn't it convenient- you won't have to assume any of the blame for this."

Methos lowered to cover cold lips. Duncan's breathing caught briefly, then returned to measured respiration. Methos tasted and lingered, brushing his fingers lightly across stubble. He thought there might be the faintest tremor, but it soon faded, if it had even been there at all. Anger crested, pitched higher by arousal, both flashing hot and uncontrollable through his body. He seized on them- he would need both; he could use the anger, if he didn't pay too much attention from whence it came, and the desire would become its own end, in time. He betrayed nothing.

"You're cold, Duncan," he murmured, easing the other man onto his side, "but I think I can warm you up..."

Mac's heart beat under his palm; light, rapid pulses that seemed to quicken even further as he touched and nuzzled, as he slid his tongue in a delicate arc behind the curved shell of an ear.

His hand drifted downwards, pressing their bodies together and exploring, serving both purposes admirably. He came to rest between Duncan's legs, and gripped the Highlander's half-erect cock at the same time that he pressed his own eager flesh into the cool, available crevice. The slow curl of anticipatory pleasure that tingled through him didn't keep his attention from the pulse and twitch under his fingers. He could smile now, with Duncan turned away.

"Well, Lazarus," he drawled lazily, "I see you haven't forgotten about me entirely." A thought occurred to him. "Give me a moment. I'll be right back." He released the swelling shaft and pulled away, patting one smooth buttock affectionately. "Now don't start without me, MacLeod."

No response.

He found some oil in his bag, although he couldn't remember packing it. Grinning with satisfaction at the subtle workings of a devious mind, he returned to the bed and slid in, shivering at the delicious chill of the silky, pliant body next to his own. Against his heat, it was nearly icy.

"There, I've gone and let you get cold again. Will you forgive me?" With a tender display of apology he drew the covers up and wrapped himself around Duncan, pulling him close. A hasty exploration proved that MacLeod's penis had returned to a flaccid state, but it began to swell as soon as he took hold of it.

"Lovely," Methos sighed. He resumed his interrupted attentions, a patient and thorough indulgence of mouth, hands and limbs that produced only the slightest trembling in Duncan's body. Methos didn't really mind- Duncan's cock was now as hard as his own, and the Highlander had fallen in sync with the slow, deep, rhythm of his breathing. It was achingly exquisite to pet him so freely, so sensually- in the past Duncan had ultimately always been seduced by skillful fondling, but only after a bitter struggle. While Methos admitted that struggle added its own exotic spice to the mix, there was something gratifyingly decadent about giving so lavishly without any obstruction.

When he'd made himself dizzy with controlled respiration and the impression of Duncan on his senses, Methos coated his fingers with oil and slipped his hand between them. MacLeod matched him breath for breath until Methos eased one finger inside, then stopped breathing altogether, his lax body gone suddenly stiff.

"It's okay, Duncan," Methos soothed, "you know I just want to make you feel good. Relax."

Methos remained absolutely still until the other man's rigidity faded completely, then waited further until their breathing was once more in sync.

"Very good," he murmured, his voice low and dark, pitched to reach through all levels of disconnection, "that's right- just let me love you."

Something- a twitch? A tremor? It faded too quickly to tell.

He moved his hand almost imperceptibly in slow, continuous circles, all of him sinking slowly into the smooth haze of arousal. Duncan now seemed almost hypnotized rather than insensible; his body responded with small, tentative undulations to Methos' touch, and Methos heard the faintest slipped breath of a moan as he pressed a second finger in.

"I've missed you, MacLeod," he whispered, his words broken and muffled as he tasted the small beads of perspiration that had formed on Duncan's throat and shoulders, "and I've been waiting for you. I've been very patient, don't you think?"

No response.

The body pressed against his own suddenly seemed too erotic, a sensuous, expectant vessel that had been readied for his pleasure- slick with sweat, passive, trembling, open. Methos quickly smoothed some oil over his burning erection, then pressed close while he drew Mac's thigh up, leaning in, following where hunger led. When he was unwilling to wait a moment longer, when craving had reached the razor's edge before tipping into ravening, he thrust deep inside with one slow, exquisite push.

Duncan gasped, and Methos was immediately squeezed almost painfully as MacLeod's muscles locked into stiffness. A harsh groan tore Methos' throat- he was the one trembling now, shuddering with pleasure as he wrapped around Duncan like a clinging vine and sank into him. Despite his preparations, the other man's ass was nearly too tight- only the slick oil made the friction tolerable, and only just barely at that. It hurt, yes- and maybe it should. It didn't stop him.

Methos reveled in Duncan's body with smooth, pistoning strokes, and each one seduced a moan from him as pleasure built on pleasure and he found himself sliding impossibly deeper into newly warmed, passive flesh. When his eyes blinked shut there were flashes of unbearable light and color that exploded around him, waiting in abeyance for his moment of surrender to descend upon and overwhelm him.

Methos was so lost in ecstasy that he failed to hear Duncan's first, breathy sounds, he just pulled Mac's hips firmly backwards, wrenching them tight together in an effort to satisfy the growing demands of his body. MacLeod cried out, his voice rough and hoarse from disuse.

"Methos!" Duncan sobbed, and suddenly became a living, writhing, panting animal in Methos' embrace. "I-"

Methos brought one hand up to clamp firmly over MacLeod's mouth, and pressed deeper.

"Shut up, MacLeod," he hissed, his nerves on fire and his blood singing with retribution as his newly reclaimed lover struggled in his arms, "I've waited two days for you to talk, but right now I don't want to hear anything out of you except 'fuck me Methos'. Got it?"

He didn't wait for a response, and ignored the low, tense cry muffled by his hand. He rolled forward, forcing Mac onto his stomach, and pushed the other man's shaking legs apart. Duncan bucked under him, but Methos firmed his grip and used the Highlander's efforts to his own advantage. The harder he thrust the more Duncan struggled, and Methos found himself locked in a sensual combat, groaning under waves of pain and pleasure as he shoved forward again and again while he stifled Mac's sobs with one insistent hand.

Duncan's muscles clenched around him spasmodically, seductively; coaxing deeper and more wanton thrusts from him until the two of them became one heaving, sweating beast. Methos closed his eyes and gave himself over to sensation- every move his body made elicited a unintelligible cry, every twist and wrench of limbs became an opportunity to demand more. His senses were saturated with the intoxication of sliding in and out of luscious, gripping tightness, of taking his pleasure with such merciless abandon.

Methos' vision had gone black as unconsciousness threatened to sweep him away on a wave of delirium. He was very, very close to release when he realized dimly that the Highlander was both fighting him and responding to him, that the wild agitation in the body he held was as much a plea for more as it was a bid for escape. A wave of tenderness blended immeasurably with some indefinable pain rocked him, saturated him as he shifted his grip slightly and increased the pace of his thrusts, pounding Duncan's shuddering body as hard as he could. Duncan screamed in response, but there was a contradictory response in the way tense thighs opened wider, in the way the tight ass beneath arched sweetly up to meet him.

He'd fought as long as he could, but Mac's muted cries combined with the hot tears that ran over his muffling hand shocked him with an intimate overload of pleasure. He released Duncan's mouth, finding satisfaction instead in fisting his hand into a fierce, unbreakable grip on Mac's hair. The power in it, the feel of pulling sharply backward while plunging in to the fullest possible extent drew a noise from him that was almost a scream, an echo of torment fulfilled in erotic promise.

The man beneath him heaved again and gasped desperately for air, still fighting, still resisting even though each breath was released in an uncontrollable moan.

"Oh my God-" Duncan choked out, all broken sobs and broken words and dark reluctant lust. Methos thrust again, using his hold on MacLeod's hair to pull him hard onto his throbbing, hungry cock.

"Yes, Duncan," he sighed, clinging ruthlessly to his control, his lover, his power.

"Methos- please-" despairing. Lost. Beyond hope, because he no longer knew what to hope for. Methos knew the sound. It burned him.

"Take it, Duncan. Now. Fuck-" his words were lost in his own rising, buzzing shriek, muffled against wet flesh as he bit down into a muscular shoulder- spurting blood, spurting come- copper and salt hot on his tongue and he howlng in pleasure so close to his ear. He gave no respite, fucking with savage ruthlessness until the devastating harmony of pain and joy melted into shivering, exhausted bliss.

When there was nothing more to be wrung from him he pulled away, collapsed onto his back next to Duncan while desperate panting gasps settled slowly into a mellow, nearly peaceful rhythm. Sooner than he would have thought possible Duncan rolled over and sat up, looking at him with a dreadful mix of appalled confusion and horror. His face was flushed, streaked with tears, but cognizant, alive, present. Methos sighed.

"Methos..." So much of hatred and need and despair, just in the one word. Amazing.

Dangerous. Oh- he was his own worst enemy here, no question about that- just to look into those hot, brightly live eyes, to hear that voice speak his name...

Methos reached up and pulled Duncan's unresisting mouth to his own, sharing blood and sweat and the lingering metallic burn of rapture. He held MacLeod's head immobile while he lapped and tasted and plunged deep, another claiming, another proof, as if one had been needed.

When he forced Duncan's head away to gaze into wet eyes he heard a weak noise of insatiate suffering- an uncontrolled sound of need for him, staggeringly satisfying... saw the Highlander catch himself in revolted dismay. He allowed his own knowing smile, even though he understood that it would only deepen the wound.

"Welcome back. Let's just leave it at that, shall we?" he murmured, indulgent now in a gentle touch on twisted, sickened features.

Duncan shuddered, gasped- and for a brief moment Methos felt the other man's rage and confusion arrowed at him, felt his body burn in righteous fires- and subsided.

"I... Yes." So soft he could barely hear it.

It was enough. For now. Methos smiled again.

"Just say it, Methos- you think I'm fucking crazy, don't you?"

Methos placed his emptied plate back onto the ravaged room-service cart, then turned to look speculatively at Duncan. "No, I just don't believe in demons. I told you, MacLeod- you have to forgive yourself for what you've done if you want to survive. That's all."

"There is no forgiveness for me..." It was almost soundless, barely a whisper, but Methos heard it anyway because Methos knew to expect it. Apparently that little statement was Duncan's new litany for life.

Methos kept his temper through the simple expedient of knowing that some part of Duncan wanted to be yelled at. As soon as Duncan had been able to listen Methos had made his intended statement bluntly, with perfect faith that Duncan, even delusional Duncan, would respond to logic- we're none of us perfect, Mac; you've got to learn to forgive yourself for less-than-angelic actions, if you want to survive...

Wasted breath. He might as well have stayed home and translated the rest of his damn journal, for all the good it did him. The Highlander had dismissed Methos' words out of hand, waved him off with an indifference that would have been maddening if Methos had let himself feel it.

"There are no demons, Mac." Methos didn't whisper. He had his own little litany. His avowal of the virtues of self-absolution hadn't hit the mark, but he wasn't done yet. Methos listened, stored up stray pieces of ammunition that Duncan let slip, and bided his time. After all, there were other ways- some of them quite ingenious, not to mention undeniably pleasant- to suggest to Mac that maybe, just maybe, he still had something to live for...

Duncan sighed heavily- such sighs had been increasing in frequency ever since this discussion had begun- and buried his head in his hands. "I'm not crazy... I'm not."

Methos said nothing. He could have, he could have pushed it, but a quiet, calculating internal voice told him that this wasn't the right time, not yet. He wasn't really surprised that Mac was ducking responsibility for Richie's death- the initial shock had sent him spiraling into catatonia, after all. Time was needed. Time, and maybe just a few more sessions of expiation through surrender.

The thought stirred him. It had been nearly twenty-four hours since MacLeod had snapped out of it, since Methos had unlocked Duncan's self-imposed mental shackles... since Methos had touched him. They talked in circles and ate bad hotel food and argued meaningless points of right and wrong, and Methos let it happen, let his hunger grow. He wondered, occasionally, whether or not the Highlander knew that his every move, his every word was a subtle and unspoken appeal for punishment. Probably not, as amazing as that seemed.

There was a strange, expectant undercurrent between them now, a manifestation of all that had been left unspoken. Fear was still very present, tingling him in unexpected moments- Methos felt Duncan's fear of him like the touch of silk trailed across sensitized skin- fear of what Methos might do, deeper fear of his own responses. Methos fed on it, but was careful not to let it touch him- he would use it, in its time.

There were no questions. In their first encounter Duncan had asked- senseless questions, important only in the needs that they revealed. Apparently MacLeod now knew Methos (or himself), well enough to know that any answers would not help him.

Methos stretched lazily, and looked over to where Duncan sat slumped in an ugly, padded armchair, a sober, heavy expression on his face.

"MacLeod." Soft. Duncan twitched, and glanced at him warily, almost guiltily.

"What?"

"Come here." Methos slid down a little on the loveseat, uncrossing his legs and letting them fall open.

"Why?" Duncan asked defensively, "What do you want?"

Methos smiled. Duncan's eyes flashed with it. "This isn't about what I want."

Definite wariness now. Methos watched Duncan squirm, caught.

"What do you mean, it's not about what you want? Are you telling me that your little wake-up scenario was just for my benefit?" MacLeod scoffed, something he did very well. "I don't believe that you were motivated solely by altruism, Methos."

Methos held Duncan's eyes silently until the Highlander swallowed and looked away.

"Fine then. I want your mouth, MacLeod. Now come here. Come to me."

He saw Duncan freeze, sudden statue of a man. Rich with fear.

"Look Methos," the tone was so wonderfully percipient, so reasonable- it was good to know that Duncan had the ability for this kind of control; it opened the door to all kinds of possibilities, "there's a few things about this that we need to-"

The flow of words cut off cold as Methos stood up. They didn't start again until Methos was there, distance easily bridged with a few casual steps. "We need to talk, Methos."

Methos noticed that Duncan's eyes never left his hands, which had been busy unbuttoning his jeans as he walked. "I mean it..."

Methos pulled the flaps of his jeans open. "I know you do." Still soft, the dark, beckoning voice that always made Duncan shiver. He reached out and rubbed his thumb slowly over the full lower lip, now more visible without the beard growth.

"Your mouth is so beautiful, Duncan." Mac made a faint, almost interrogatory sound, but that was all. He didn't resist as Methos slid a thumb between moist lips, but his eyes fluttered closed.

Methos worked the pad of his thumb gently across the other man's tongue, moving through reticence that was not quite resistance, opening a place for himself. He bent down and replaced the thumb with his own tongue, licking away reluctance, feeding out open passion. Duncan's fine tremors rocked him.

He pulled back a bit, enough to delight in a rush of cool air as Mac gasped against his lips. "Keep your mouth open," he whispered.

He stood and waited, intent on Duncan's open, obedient mouth, closed eyes, and flushed skin that was just starting to break a sweat. A single drop of perspiration mesmerized him as it trickled slowly through the fine hair at MacLeod's temple.

"Wider," he insisted, and Duncan opened. A knot had formed in the smooth, damp forehead, tension speaking without words. Methos heard it anyway, and it pleased him. He cupped one hand under the freshly shaved chin while he freed his erection with the other- Duncan's nostrils flared, thrilling him, sparking against the deep mellow flow of want. He moved his feet further apart to stabilize himself, then directed the tip of his shaft between the open, unguarded lips.

"Take me slowly," he murmured, and shifted his hand to curve gently around to the back of MacLeod's head. He exerted no pressure, only a soft, continual guiding presence. He felt the moist whisper of Duncan's breath, and then a smooth lick of heat as wetness closed on him. Methos' eyes fluttered closed and he let his head roll back, savoring the delicate slick hollow that engulfed him in slow increments, taking more and more of him until the head of his cock rubbed silkily at the back of Duncan's throat.

Methos drew in air with a tight hiss, fighting the urge to hold Mac's head still and shove himself forward. He didn't give in to it, but brought his other hand around to slip tenderly into the satin luxury of Duncan's hair.

"Take a deep breath," Methos instructed, "open your throat." His voice was casual, patient. He felt MacLeod shaking, a tremor transmitted directly to his sensitive erection, but suddenly the slick barrier that had held him back was gone. Duncan slid onto him, another pleasurable inch before a reflexive flutter of muscle teased around him and a small, choked noise of panic issued from below. Mac began to pull away and Methos' hands were there, giving no allowances.

"Don't stop, Duncan," he growled low, "just breathe. Relax. Take me in."

He held himself still; his nerves burned as the hot mouth sank onto him in a series of short, tense strokes, punctuated with sounds of effort that sent shocks of pleasure through him.

"Duncan- yes..." he whispered, tense with the strain of remaining motionless while he slid deeper- full and throbbing in the shelter he'd made for himself, in, and in. His hands caressed Duncan's face, fingers slipping through the wet trickle of distressed tears. He followed the liquid down, down to the smooth skin of throat distended by his width. It made him ache.

MacLeod's shivering was more pronounced, his gasps for air more desperate. Methos felt shaking hands clutch softly at his ass, the plaintive grasp of a man caught between conflicting needs. He allowed himself to be pulled forward, and his throat splintered on a wrenching moan as he snuggled wholly within, his full length there at last.

"Don't move," Methos panted, holding Duncan's wet face tenderly, "just stay right there, and keep breathing." MacLeod heaved for air in response, a harsh, difficult sound, and his hands tightened on Methos' buttocks. Methos began to shift forward slowly, guiding the other man back to lean against the headrest, crawling up carefully to rest one knee on each padded arm of the chair, his hands braced close along the back so that his wrists could steady the Highlander's head.

"I'm going to take you now, Duncan," he sighed. MacLeod's only response was a gentle, fervent sound of what could have been either protest or ardor. Methos ignored it, shifting in small increments until he was settled to his satisfaction.

"Your cock is hard. Take it out and stroke yourself. Don't come until I do."

Duncan relaxed a little. Methos felt a subtle shift of movement from below, followed by the quiet purr of a zipper and a muffled groan that vibrated through him so fiercely that he had to bite his lip to keep his hips still.

"Good- your mouth is so good, Duncan." Now he moved, control still held rigid as he allowed himself only the slightest rocking movements. "So wet, and hot- and so beautiful." He risked his balance to shift his hands to Duncan's head, and found an easy grip in the hollow between arched tendons at the back of the other man's neck. "I want you so much," he continued, speeding a bit, just a tiny taste of fulfillment, "you know that, don't you?"

MacLeod hungered for him now, sucked him in eagerly, shuddering with his own pleasure. Methos heard a sharp, wild grunt of assent.

"Yes, you know that I want you." Methos pulled back and back and back, almost out, and tightened his grip on Duncan's hair. "So- when I tell you to come to me, I don't want to wait."

Methos thrust forward hard, testicles aching and heavy from his long constraint. He disregarded Duncan's strangled, dismayed cry, gave all frustration up to his strength as he jerked MacLeod's head forward to meet his hips. The way had been opened and he slid in fast and deep, right to the root of his cock with such satisfaction that it almost undid him.

He spent a few perfect, delirious moments thrusting with wild abandon into Duncan's mouth, his own cries nearly loud enough to drown out the sobs that echoed through the room every time he withdrew. The pleasure was so keen that it couldn't be sustained for long- each push was a hot wet promise fulfilled. He shifted Duncan's head once, easing the path into his throat so that every slide in and out was unhindered bliss.

"Come now," he grunted through clenched teeth, his hips ramming forward, fucking hard enough to slam Duncan's head back against the chair with each movement, "do it."

Release coupled with suffocation is a potent mixture, and Methos gave voice to a raw cry as he came into Duncan's incoherent, tortured scream. Hot liquid spattered his ass, jetted up to his lower back, and MacLeod clung to him with a drowning man's desperation, shaking violently. He allowed it, lost all sense of control for a few frantic moments as the last brilliant bursts of ecstatic fire quenched itself in the hot welcome of Duncan's throat.

In the aftermath the conflict of their bodies melted away, fused slowly into a languid, liquid torpor of gentle caresses, a piquant revival of the tenderness Methos had begun with. Methos sighed as he slipped free of MacLeod's mouth and shifted his knees down from the arms to the cushion of the chair, rubbing, absorbing the other man's shudders.

"My Highlander," he murmured softly against Duncan's slick, swollen lips, seeking entrance. He cupped Duncan's face while he kissed him gently; tasted himself mixed with tears- a bitterly compelling, nostalgic flavor. He smelled sweat and musk and the sharp tang of betrayal- a special blend, created only through the old magic of an arbitrary and unexpected shift from tenderness to brutality and back again; very close in composition to an illusory suggestion of ancient desert wind.

MacLeod didn't resist as Methos held and cuddled him, but the brown eyes were still brilliant with pain. Methos rocked slowly, claiming more and pressing closer, denying any efforts at turning away.

"Why did you do that?" Duncan whispered. Methos met his eyes, let his own tears well- he saw them strike home, and then Mac looked away, guilty again. "I just..." Duncan's voice was ragged, "I just thought we should talk..."

"We can talk," Methos said soothingly as he caught Duncan's chin to tilt the tense, unhappy face up to his own, "let's talk. You can start by telling me how that made you feel."

Duncan wrenched away savagely, and Methos released his grip. He watched fury flash over MacLeod's face, swallowed quickly by panic and then tense, shuddering defeat.

"Why ask me, if you know already?" Sullen. A beautiful, debauched child.

Methos smiled kindly, guided the flickering, hostile eyes back to his own. "I told you- I love it when you make me hot."

No response.

The piercing spray of the shower was hot, but not hot enough to wash away the molten flush of shame. Duncan washed his body automatically, kept his thoughts carefully blank as he turned the temperature up again. He shivered as restless images pushed at him, refusing to be kept down, demanding answers from a mind that was already overwhelmed.

Methos had suggested the shower, and Duncan went without another word; desperate for a little time and distance away from events that defied understanding. Rational thought had fled, abandoned in the very moment he ended Richie's life.

His hands clenched into fists, remembered pain stiffened his limbs, and his throat cracked raw and sick with horror. He'd been miserable enough before, immobilized between rage and terror at the thought of what he'd been tricked into doing, but now Methos' implacable insistence that there was no demon had made things unutterably worse.

A cool, seductive blackness began to steal his vision, draining the pain away and offering refuge in tranquil isolation. Richie's death had undone him in some vital way, made a mockery of everything he'd thought he was. He'd fled mindlessly, but there proved to be no escape except into his own inner silence, a cold, frighteningly black place whose existence he hadn't even suspected. It called to him still, that vacant, quiet place of no memories, no regrets.

Without thought, Duncan slapped his own face as hard as he could, holding to the brief sting like a lifeline. His vision cleared, and he sighed heavily. He was determined not to retreat again- it gained him no advantage in any battle whether real or imagined, and God only knew what Methos would do with him if he slipped back.

Methos

His skin shivered with goosebumps, followed immediately by a rush of sexual heat that nearly drove him to his knees. Methos had done something to him, had brought him by degrees into a prison only marginally better than the one he'd escaped from. His first moments of awareness were clouded with the sense of Methos, a dim reassurance within his closed silence that he was being touched, loved, cared for. He'd surfaced towards it, seeking blindly for any warmth and light that might offer surcease from the endless cold black depths. He had known it was Methos, even in his thick padding of isolation, and he'd wanted, needed, to reach out.

Duncan leaned heavily against the slick, tiled wall. His hands clutched hard at his upper arms to control the shaking as memory took him, as he remembered flooding all at once back into his body, and finding it already occupied. Panic and pain followed, and a wave of betrayal so profound that it left him weak.

The real pain, of course, lay in the fact that he couldn't even find a rationale for the extent of his horror- he was fully aware of what Methos was capable of, after all; had known those parameters intimately ever since the first time Methos refused to let him go. Blame, betrayal- these were pointless dynamics when he'd known damn well what Methos was.

Gritting his teeth with concentration, Duncan lifted away from the wall and continued his ablutions, despairing of making himself feel any cleaner. He'd been compromised, utterly and totally- self-will? Right. An empty promise to slip glibly off the tongue, rooted only in the counterfeit foundation of pretense.

And, in the end, even the pain had betrayed him. The guilt-ridden man within lusted for it, yearned after it as a possible element in the recipe of penance, but his body had found a voluptuous, weightless delirium that existed within the pain and yanked him right past retribution and into debased ecstasy. Shame- such deep, powerful shame...

Duncan closed his eyes and turned his face into the spray as sudden hatred bloomed hot in his chest, an urge to punish that moved sinuously within, familiar response to any threat. Rage shook through his limbs at the memory of Methos' demands, his carefully calculated manipulations... but how could he allow the rage to exist when he twisted on the barbed hook of memory- his own excitement; everything obliterated except the deadly edge of a toxically addictive pleasure, the keenness of craving that burnt in him, even now.

The opposite side of the equation burned in him too- soft lips taking his breath, knowing hands that held him close with a tenderness that flowed like blood from a fatal wound; frightening in its abundance, catastrophic in its reality. He was trapped, caught perfectly in a mesh of need that pulled him under despite the revolt of mind and spirit, and hating Methos was as much an exercise in futility as wishing poor Richie back to life.

Tears went unnoticed in the torrent that sluiced over his face, small drops of leached despair blending invisibly with water that carried no power to either cleanse or heal, diluted but undiminished pain that spun down into cross-hatched darkness; abandoned, irredeemable, lost.

Three days later and Duncan was still immobile, still held fast in the grip of a passion that was as irresistible as it was dangerous. Methos had rescued him from endless cycling death locked within the confines of his own mind, but Methos' gift of deliverance had not been given without a price- a terribly high price.

Duncan turned his head to look at the pillow next to his own where Methos slept peacefully, the soft fringe of lashes curled sootily on pale cheeks suggestive of an innocence that seemed nearly obscene given the raw violence of the drama they'd just enacted. He sighed and closed his eyes and floated free within his buzzing body, unable to comprehend how there could be such mellow satisfaction in reflecting on what had just happened between them, in diving into the blood-lit memories of an abomination.

Even stripped of clothing and dignity; Duncan still couldn't stop fighting. It was automatic and it never got him anywhere and it just made Methos laugh at him and that hurt even worse, but he couldn't help it. The strength of will that would have allowed him to win oozed away the moment his cock hardened- betrayed by both Methos and himself, what strength was there to call on? There was only despair that would never sink into resignation, only desire that ate away at the core of what was left of him.

"What do you want, Duncan?" he could see Methos' smile, even in the dimness.

"Get off me..." his own voice sounded dreadfully weak, even to himself.

Warm hand- knowing hand, cupping him at the source of everything. "Get off you? Or get you off- your choice, Mac."

"Don't... don't-" gasping- God, there was never enough air, and always tears, now terribly familiar, terrifyingly comforting.

"Mmm...tell me, Duncan, or I'll choose for you," Methos' mouth descended, kissed him almost to the point of coming, pulled away the moment it was cruel to do so. "I can fuck you, if you like- you can even tell me how you want it. My guess would be hard- you're such a whore for pain, MacLeod."

He responded, wailing, hating Methos for saying it, hating himself for the truth of it. Methos lost patience- cries always made him impatient, but Duncan could never manage any degree of success in suppressing them- and flipped him over, pulled him roughly to his knees.

"You're going to come quickly now. Enjoy it, because you're going to have to beg for the next one."

Panting through the haze, Duncan's mind grappled with that- he begged every time, didn't he? He was sure that he did, unless his pleas were throttled at the source by Methos' engorged flesh.

The first thrust of Methos' tongue into his ass drove all such questions from his mind. Sweet fire melted his spine, jolted him with fierce, urgent flickers of want. He opened, obedient, and his acquiescent body absorbed only five hot stabs of liquid ecstasy before he screamed, locked into bright-edged, rigid panic, and gushed out onto the sheet beneath. He fell sideways but Methos caught him- Methos always caught him, somehow- caught him and pulled him close.

"Hush, MacLeod," Methos' hands were tender and soft against him, cradling and rocking and engulfing his sobs in the welcoming hollow of his shoulder, "it's just a rim-job- nothing to cry about. It's over now- Shh."

When his tears had evaporated to desolation and darkness he shifted, caught only the bright gleam of Methos' eyes. "Why are you doing this to me?" He regretted asking even as the words left his mouth. All questions were pointless, he knew that.

Methos smiled. "You want this." Methos lowered close, but Duncan pressed against his chest firmly, ignoring the craving for the taste of his mouth.

"I don't want this, Methos- what you do to me... it hurts me, dammit." He tensed.

Methos only blinked at him, indifferent. "Yes. And when it hurts bad enough, you come. Hard. Where's the problem?"

Duncan winced. "Don't you care that you're destroying... us? I... I wanted to love you, Methos. I can't love you when you scare me like this."

Methos smirked, mockingly. "You wanted to love me so much you let me wake up alone after our last time, Duncan- showed your love for me by treating me like something bad you stepped in." His arms tightened, and Duncan went willingly, held with confusing, contradictory intimacy against Methos' damp, silky chest. "You don't get to hold the destruction of our relationship over my head, MacLeod- not after what you did."

"You frighten me..." the whisper refused to be held back but it was breathless, strengthless; never to be spoken anywhere but against the pulse of Methos' throat.

Methos pulled away from him, not angrily, but Duncan's heart staggered in his chest nonetheless. He uttered a low groan of terror as Methos reached for him and guided him up onto his knees. Already, he shook.

Methos regarded him calmly, kneeling across from him in the same position as if they were about to stage some bizarre ceremony. "You don't know what fear is, MacLeod." His voice was gentle, seductive. "When we get there, I'll let you know."

"Oh- you bastard..." His mouth moved, groped for the rest of the words that needed to be said if he was ever going to break free; but there was nothing, nothing...

"What do you want, Duncan?"

They were back to that again. The shakes were uncontrollable, and he felt his own heartbeat furious and high in his throat. "I want you dead."

Methos didn't even blink. "Say it again, Duncan."

He was shaking himself apart, inside- some huge thing tore loose within and burst, bloody and free into the dark home he'd made for it. "I want you dead."

Methos reclined in front of him, cock erect and bobbing slightly, legs wide. "Again. And fuck me while you say it."

"No..." God, if he did that- if Methos made him do that...

"You want to. I know... I know what you really want, Duncan-"

More games. More moments of hideously exposed terror while Methos screwed with his mind. So why was he creeping between Methos' thighs?

"I want you DEAD!" He screamed, and plunged forward. Methos struck and pulled, shoved against him, tore around him so that blood eased the path. Methos' agonized shriek ripped through him, sparked him, showed him an appetite for brutality that threatened damnation. His erection burned, chafed and abraded past pleasure but still a rock-hard thing of fire that consumed and took- everything, taking his breath, his life- whatever pitiful piece of his soul remained...

"I- want you... dead..."

"Yes!" A harsh rattle of sound. "Harder- fucking harder, MacLeod!"

He thrust and pounded, slamming towards completion. Methos' hands swooped in to claw at him and without thinking he grabbed and held; no problem at all now with weakness- he was terribly strong, a righteous fire, and God help him it wasn't what he wanted- it wasn't what he was supposed to be...

"That's it, Duncan," Methos sobbed into his ear, "make me take it- oh fucking Christ, yes-"

"I want you..." His body held but his voice gave out, hot and broken in his splintered throat. He let it go. His body would have to do.

He rose up, his weight a fulcrum to pin Methos to the wet, bloody sheets, and drove himself faster. Methos wailed in his grip, bucked and arched beneath him, shaking, suspended, waiting for him to give the word. Apparently he wouldn't have to beg for this one, after all. Duncan's eyes burned with new tears.

"I want you..." A demand- speaking the words felt like a purge. He trembled with tears, a terrible, deep weeping and everything was burned, lost, dead...

Methos gave him nothing. Answering tears and a hungry body and the bright fire of white-hot lust, that was all. Not enough. He turned inward, shut out all external reality except for the simple physical pleasure of snug flesh riding his shaft. Thrust again and again and felt things narrow down, release gathered and waited for him in the darkness- his cock was fed while his heart went hungry but there wasn't much he could do about that...

"Come!" The word snarled out of him, as deep and compelling as if it hadn't been soaked in pain on its way to the surface. Methos howled and fought like a wild animal beneath him, something hot and wet hit his chest; and Duncan groaned in disconsolate ecstasy as he pumped himself into sucking, rippling darkness where muscles clenched and milked him dry, leaving him cursed, emptier than he'd ever been.

And then panting, panting in the dark while things slowed and meshed; Methos rose below him like a wave of flesh, rubbing as if he couldn't get enough.

"Methos. Are you trying to prove to me that you want to die?" He jumped a little, startled. He hadn't meant to speak his question aloud.

"No," Methos purred against him, nuzzling. "I'm trying to prove to you that you don't."

That choked him. He'd never felt more like dying than he did in this moment. He'd found no words to express his outrage when Methos groped blindly at his face and pulled him into an exhausted, lingering, succulent kiss. His eyes burned.

"Oh, MacLeod," Methos sighed blissfully when their lips parted, "you are such a great fuck."

He bit his lips and squeezed his eyes shut, refusing further tears. He'd cried enough. "You think rape is a great thing, Methos?" It cost him to say it. He pushed through anyway. "Is this what you rescued me for?"

Methos chuckled against his neck. "We've been through this before, Mac," Duncan blinked as one trembling finger traced gently over his face, "If you want to complain to somebody, maybe you should speak to your cock- it seems to have a lot to answer for."

And to that, he had no response.

Now terror and grief took up their accustomed places, his normal state of existence when he wasn't engaging in some form of perversion with Methos. His own heart beat dull and heavy in his ears, and some tidal dread shifted within him as he watched Methos sleep in satiated, deceptive sweetness. There was fear, yes, but more than fear- a looming, overwhelming despair at the not-quite-realized understanding of what he'd become. His breath seemed caught high in his throat, and his skin rashed with icy goosebumps. Methos slept on.

Methos' face looked almost mask-like in the dim light, varying shades of grey unblended and distinct, stark relief of chiaroscuro- shuttered, and eerily blameless. Duncan understood, with a profound click that was nearly audible inside his head, that there was none of the pure clarity of love or hate in the muddied waters of obsession.

Slowly, tentatively, Duncan reached out and placed his hand against the warm, living surface of Methos' cheek. The solid reality of the touch surprised him, as if Methos must be chimerical to be acceptant and undefended against his caresses.

Duncan felt his stomach tighten. Something was coming for him, he felt it- some freshly realized awareness that could heal or kill, locked deep in his mind until this brief moment of solitary clarity. He closed his eyes, and waited.

His mind rushed, blazed, arced open with sudden knowledge-he had to go. He had to go now. Methos was beyond the pale, had orchestrated within him an eclipse of darkness that would destroy him, damn him to endless night if it went on.

He paused, relieved when his breathing deepened past the block in his throat, eyes wet again but that was alright now, because there was certainly sadness here, as sick as it might make him.

He was in the middle of a slow slide out of the bed, one foot already set firmly on the rug when a glimmer of light from the closed hotel-room door caught his attention- a murky red glow, oozing like fog across the floor toward him, harbinger and warning; a deadly indication that his final, desperate bid for freedom had come too late.

Methos could have sworn he'd gone to sleep in a hotel room. He'd closed his eyes on the hot smell of sex and a tremendous, pleasured ache in his body- floating, blissful; untethered from everything real and almost drunk on what Mac had wrung from him.

Yes. Mac had fucked him stupid in a sturdy hotel bed. Therefore, he must be dreaming.

The walls were gone. The sturdy hotel bed was still there but the walls of the room were nothing but flickering grey mist. As he watched, the mist swirled and coalesced, transformed to rough, dank stone, solid in some places, blackness yawning at intervals like paths through a catacomb.

He blinked. This was not a dream. He smelled wet subterranean rot, felt a cold wind on his face.

This had to be a dream.

It had the slowness of a dream; the weightless, sludgy immobility of fear, failure to run, failure to escape. His body was torpid and dense, all live electric jitter on the inside, somehow floating and yet too heavy to move.

He blinked again. When he opened his eyes, the rock walls had mutated to long swags of flapping canvas, and Kronos was sitting on his chest.

For the first time ever, Kronos' presence eased him. Kronos was dead. Furthermore, Kronos had abandoned the armor-and-facepaint look thousands of years ago. Therefore, this must be a dream.

It would be good to wake up now.

"Beautiful traitor," Kronos said conversationally, reaching out to trace his lips with slow sensuality, "no truth so powerful as that twisted by keen lies. Alchemy and old secrets- what is it you hope to forge here, Methos, with your tortured truths? Salvation? Love? Your love is death- did you forget that?"

Sand and sweat. Kronos' finger against his lips stung, burned, wracked the fibers of his body with the old echo of compulsion. He would wake soon- he had to. Here was the proof of his own, half-realized suspicions- incontrovertible evidence that Duncan MacLeod called forth more from him than was safe or wise. He'd ignored too many whisper-soft apprehensions, and this maddened, terror-flickering dream was the result. Enough. More than enough.

Methos closed his eyes and pulled in as much air as he could. The weight on his chest fluctuated wildly- sometimes so real and solid that it crushed him, sometimes nothing more than a pall of vapor. //Wake up. Wake up- wake up now, Methos, your mind has had it- you'll have to leave him behind and let him make his way as best he can but I don't care if you suffer the cold fires of loneliness forever because you need to *wake* *UP*...//

When he opened his eyes, Kronos was still there- staring, mocking; a cumbrous weight. So far he'd kept off the fear, but now it fell upon him all at once, slick and terrible, shuddering in his body like the onset of death. He fought without thinking, knowing only that if he didn't get away from the intimate press of Kronos' body it would drive him insane. "Get off of me!" The words spilled hysterically from his tight throat, each one a squeezed bullet of denial.

He thrashed as hard as he could until a quiet 'snick' of sound cut through the fog of panic, until Kronos leaned into him and flashed one hand forward to mark hot wet pain under his throat. He froze.

Kronos stretched out carefully atop his naked body- an icy, metallic burden; sharp contrast to the heat of blood that flowed from the cut on his neck. Methos panted under the blade, shrinking from it.

"Get off of you?... Or get you off?" Kronos' voice was as knowing and lecherous as ever, his body a recollected shameful pleasure as he rocked between Methos' thighs, traced a filigree of skilled pain into Methos' throat. "Your choice, Methos."

Methos gasped in aroused terror, his muscles frozen. This was no dream. There was no way his own mind would be this cruel to him. Duncan had the right of it, after all, and the condensed black horror drew a shriek from him- Kronos was dead, dead and buried and committed to the earth months ago; which left no doubt as to the identity of this hot thing that hovered over him and jabbed at him with knife and cock.

He screamed until his throat fractured, but the creature that pinned him only watched avidly, nostrils flared as if savoring the smell of him. When his cries trailed off to weak, choking noises the familiar face nuzzled him, sighing.

"I've missed your screams so, brother. You always did know how to please me."

Methos' teeth chattered. "Kronos?" It hurt to speak.

A hot, slick tongue slipped into his ear, jolted him, retreated. "Yes."

"No..." his own voice was terribly feeble, desperate. "Please- no."

The other didn't gainsay him, but suddenly Kronos had a fierce, unrelenting grip on his thighs, squeezing brutally. "Your choice, Methos. Blade or cock- one of them's going up your ass. What's your pleasure?"

Methos writhed, sucked in air that seemed suddenly too thin to support life. "No! Kronos-"

His struggles gained him nothing. The body above him was as dense as stone in places, misty and ephemeral in others. "Please don't..."

Kronos rose above him, so very high, stretched like a snake to loom over him like a storm of black metal. "Then obey me, Methos. Amend your broken promise and I'll let you go."

"What?" His mind seemed horribly slow, dragging under the weight of fear, the weight of ancient rock.

The world blurred, shifted, and then Methos was on his feet, naked except for the cold iron of Kronos' arms around him from behind. The blade- a curved, cruel knife, still stained with his blood- rested in his own hand.

"You swore a promise in a brother's blood. Keep your promise, Methos." Kronos' words stirred against his hair.

Methos looked up. MacLeod was there before him, strapped onto the 'X' shape of two crossed beams. His head hung forward, slack and inanimate, crowned with a garland of white roses. His forehead was marked with a few drops of blood from where the thorns had punctured the skin. The garland was his only raiment, but the rest of his powerful form was hidden behind black, runic script that covered every inch below his throat, vertical lines of arcane symbols in some language Methos had never seen.

"Oh no." It whispered out of him, paper-dry, and he would have dropped the knife if Kronos' fingers hadn't fastened over his hand.

"Oh yes." Seductive flattery in his ear, warm and compelling. "This is the price of your freedom. He's ready for you, Methos- he'd rather it was you."

"No!" His throat had healed, and his high-pitched cry carried and echoed between the wavering walls. He struggled again, but the arms that held him were implacable.

"You've already poisoned the well of his mind, Methos." Kronos' voice was almost mournful. "You've already broken his link with the one thing that allowed him to survive- his belief in his own goodness. You came here to save him, to tell him that monstrosity is inevitable, to get him to accept it and go on. Was it stupidity or malice that kept you from understanding that this would destroy him?"

Methos went rigid as if struck with sudden paralysis. His stomach clenched, and for a moment he thought he might vomit. Kronos paid no mind to him, but continued on. "When you walk the world clothed in the White, grey is not grey but an eclipse of hope that equals the very pit of blackness."

A shiver struck his core, and the motion somehow released him. "I was wrong about some things. He'll get over it." Clever demon, to use his desire to believe that anything he said or did mattered to MacLeod...

Kronos' voice grew angry, hectoring. "He wanted to stand and fight, Methos. He wanted to fulfill his destiny- to do righteous battle with all the power of his faith and conviction behind him. Now he is broken, muddied; defiled by your sweet, solicitous insistence that we're none of us perfect. You did worse than rape his body, Methos. You raped his soul."

The acrimonious words died away, a fading phantom of wrath that merged seamlessly into a rising chuckle. The arms around him tightened into a grotesquely affectionate hug, and Methos' mouth filled with the sour electric tang of hate. "You did my work beautifully," the demon continued, "and I won't forget to be properly grateful. You want to burn, do you not? Is that not why you've been chasing the shadows of power with this weak vessel?"

"You bastard-" Before his will could flag he struck with the knife, a swift duck-turn-and-thrust that should have left Kronos eviscerated and gasping on the floor. The knife evaporated in his hand, but it would have been useless anyway because Kronos wasn't behind him at all. Kronos sat cross-legged on the bed, regarding him with amused delight.

"Hah! That wouldn't have done you much good in any case. You've gotten terribly slow in your old age." Kronos lazed and smiled, pulled the knife from a sheath at his hip and flipped it, casually. Caught it, easily. "This is it, Methos." He pointed with the tip of the blade to the painted sacrifice hanging from the crossed beams. "Will you take his head?"

"No." Methos' lips went numb as he spoke the word.

The knife shifted, rotated to point at his chest. "Do you want to die?"

"No." Ice- ice in his throat, cold dread choking, waiting...

"Very well then." The knife flipped, circled, spun through the air in majestic slow motion that sent liquid sparks skittering off the curved edge. It went higher and higher into the grey mist that had been the ceiling, and as it paused at the top of its arc Methos saw the sickle moon, holding sway over the cool desert night while the sand stretched forever in every direction.

The moon descended, became a knife again; was tucked away in its sheath with the ease of long practice. "I have to go take care of a little business, Methos. I'll be back."

Startled, Methos met the glittering, bird-bright eyes, and all the breath dropped out of him. Demon or no demon, the man on the bed before him now stared at him with such a Kronos-perfect look of comprehension that it made his heart race. He watched as Kronos got to his feet, each movement something he'd seen a thousand times before, embedded in his consciousness forever. The last thing seen was that mock-tolerant, shrewd smile of anticipation, so well remembered that it made his cock harden, his mouth water, and his body shudder with perfectly recalled agony, all at once.

The shakes worsened as Kronos melted away in a swirl of red fog, and Methos tried desperately to hang on until the other man disappeared entirely. He couldn't. He fell to his knees with a despairing sob, Kronos' scornful laughter thick and hateful in his ears.

Methos watched from his knees while he waited for his breath to slow, watched and waited for the hotel room to come back into focus, but it didn't happen. He was trapped in a grey enclosure that melted by turns into stiff, rippling canvas or ragged and dripping rock with only...

//Oh, Jesus, no-//

An ancient, rough-hewn table; the sight of which wrenched him with foul memory as he registered the bowl, the cloth, the tall vessel of water... and the small, earthenware cup of oil. He couldn't look at it long, but it was amazingly difficult to drag his eyes away. Something deep in his chest burned and roiled with horror, and it was too easy to envision himself greased and ready, hurting and bleeding and screaming- but not riding that hot edge between satisfaction and craving... not with Duncan...

Duncan- he was there, on the floor, grey and Methos had almost missed him against the color of the fog. The garland of roses, the crossed beams and the runic paint were all gone- the offering had been rejected, the sacrifice forsaken. MacLeod was naked and insensible, stretched headlong on the floor, his fine skin covered with a strange, sooty layer of ash. Methos knelt.

"MacLeod." He slapped the other man's cheeks lightly, used his other hand to shake the cold shoulders. "Wake up, MacLeod, and help me." His voice trembled, and he fell silent.

"Please... Methos..." Duncan's words were slurred and sonorous, an auditory picture of despair. Methos bit his lip and kept tapping MacLeod's face until the brown eyes opened and focused on him, wide and afraid. "Methos- the demon..."

"I know." It was all he was prepared to say about it, at the moment. "Do you know how to beat it, MacLeod?"

Duncan glared at him reproachfully. "If I did, I wouldn't be here, would I? I wouldn't have..." he trailed off, and Methos watched pain obscure panic in the other man's eyes.

"Stop that!" His voice was sharper than he'd intended, but it had the wanted effect- the brown eyes cleared. "Get up," he continued in a softer tone. "He's not gone for long, Mac. We need to figure out what to do."

"There's nothing we can do, Methos." Duncan sounded despondent, but he allowed Methos to pull him to his feet.

Methos closed his eyes and sighed, searching for the right words, the right way to say this. There was too much of the past here, too many doors he didn't want to open. "He offered me a choice. Either I kill you, or he would kill me. I chose neither." He opened his eyes and stared into the hungry vacuum of MacLeod's gaze. "We have to find another way...it was Kronos, Mac. You really don't want to know any more about what he's capable of."

Duncan flinched, and his face went pale beneath streaks of ash. "Christ- no..." Methos tensed as strong hands closed on him, pulled him close. "Methos, I don't want to live like this, I... I haven't really wanted to live since Richie... You can't... you have to take my head."

"Fuck!" The word exploded from him forcefully, and Duncan jumped. "I said no before, MacLeod, and I meant it. If that bastard wants you dead he'll have to kill you himself."

"He can't!" Duncan's voice was almost a wail, "it's the one thing he can't do! But you can-"

Methos' reins on his temper slipped, and he shook Duncan like a terrier shakes a rat. "Goddamn it, MacLeod, what the hell is wrong with you- what happened to your backbone? You're a warrior, damn it, not some sniveling coward! You're strong, MacLeod- tempered in fire- your faith has seen you through the past four hundred bloody years, through more challenges than I've taken in my entire life! You find that strength and you use it, damn you, or else..." he trailed off, his anger evaporating, staring ripe with an old fear into Duncan's shocked, empty face. "You don't want to know, Mac. You really don't want to know."

Duncan flinched, his eyes dark and haunted. "Oh God..." He pulled away, shivering. "Methos I can't do this... if I pick up a sword around him and you're here I'll... I can't-"

Methos took one last chance; his hands gentle now as he pulled Duncan to him, as he held and soothed and tried to imagine what magical key would restore the Highlander's faith in himself. "You can be strong, Duncan- I know you can. You can fight this thing..." and on and on and on, crooning, seeking the right words.

At first Mac lay limply against him, but gradually, almost imperceptibly, Duncan changed. Methos felt a gathering strength, a curious, increasing density- almost as if the man in his arms was somehow becoming more real. A hand on his face surprised him, guiding him, compelling him to meet questing, desperate eyes.

The glance held for only the briefest of moments before Duncan shivered in his arms and turned away. Methos saw, and understood, Mac's head shake of denial even though there was no verbal response. He sighed. Stepped away. Let his head drop and his eyes close. Wished that he didn't feel so much like hurling Duncan through the nearest wall. Or non-wall, for that matter.

"Come on then," he said coldly, walking towards the table.

He was pouring water from the pitcher to the bowl when Duncan's voice came hesitantly to his ears; soft, anxious. "What is it, Methos? Did Kronos-"

Methos tensed and slammed the pitcher onto the table, almost hard enough to break it. "You don't get to ask any questions," he hissed venomously, clutching the bowl with all of his strength. "Until you're prepared to do battle with this thing, you're not going to get to do much of anything except sweat and scream. Be ready for it."

Duncan subsided, cowed. Methos hated him for it. He saw terrible, dismayed awareness bloom in the brown eyes- it was his one hope, that Duncan would refuse this final violation...

But apparently, all resistance to violation had been burnt out of him. He submitted meekly to Methos' touch, his eyes lowered. Methos was sickened- was this what Kronos had seen in him all those years ago, after most of the fight had been trained out of him- a bold, brave man brought low by his own accursed weakness? He was suddenly sure that it was so.

Methos was neither rough nor gentle with the Highlander as he washed and prepared him. The ancient musk of sandalwood oil produced a knee-weakening rush of memory, and Methos' penis hardened at once. Duncan began to cry silently when Methos slipped oiled fingers into his ass, and Methos had to clamp down fiercely on the sudden, overwhelming urge to either scream at him or shove him face-down on the table and fuck him within an inch of his life. He washed and readied himself with the same automatic detachment, paused in thought for a moment, then oiled his erection.

He took more oil from the cup and reached for Duncan's flaccid penis. The Highlander shivered and stood aloof under his touch for a moment, but then all reticence fell away and he crowded close, holding to Methos like a man sliding helplessly into an abyss. Methos' rage flashed one more bright-hot flare through him before it melted into a terrible, welling pity. He gathered MacLeod to him and stroked his hardening cock tenderly, softly; the circle of memory closed and he was instantaneously back again to where he swore he'd never be- too much vulnerability enclosed in his embrace, too little protection from the threat of the dangers around their little hecatomb of two.

As the first glimpse of blood-red mist swirled at the periphery of his vision Duncan went absolutely rigid in his arms. Methos pushed him away gently, and turned to see Kronos striding toward them, triumphant.

The demon's first words were directed at Duncan. "Pick up your sword."

There was a hushed thump, and the Highlander's katana landed on the carpet next to their feet.

Methos winced in anticipation of MacLeod's response- he'd said he never wanted to see that sword again, had become almost overwrought when Methos had only mentioned it...

Duncan surprised him. His shoulders were square and set, his head high. He spared a glance at the sword on the floor, then looked back at Kronos, his face tight with contempt. "I will not. Go fuck yourself." His voice trembled, but there was none of that tone of despair from before.

Kronos laughed and nodded, as if this response delighted him. Methos realized with a sudden chill that Duncan's only concern was that he not be responsible for anyone else's death- that was the only threat that held any fear over him. He reflected on that for a moment, wondering if between MacLeod's attitude and his own they somehow evened the scales. There was something there, some suggestion that tugged at the edges of his mind, vaguely...

He had no time to think about it. Kronos turned to him, and Methos was instantly caught in that light, penetrating gaze. "He wants to die, Methos. Will you deny him this? Think carefully before you answer- it's your last chance, and his last hope for salvation."

Methos ignored the wide-open fire in Duncan's eyes, and shrugged. "You want him dead, you kill him. Go fuck yourself."

Kronos was not as delighted with his response. Methos didn't even see him move, but suddenly Kronos was right there, wild fury and something more than that in the wide, mad eyes, his hands tight on Methos' head, crushing. Methos heard a sickening crack that seemed to be happening somehow /inside/ his head, and then awareness crowded down to a pinpoint, one speck of light in a world of dark pain.

"How long do you think it will take, my brother?" Kronos hissed at him, "how long before you're reduced to the crawling, servile worm you used to be? Three days? A week at best? A week between now and the time you cease to be a man and become only-"

"Enough!" Duncan's voice shot through the haze that Methos had been sinking in, a haze of monstrous pain coupled with icy, frozen fear, licked at the edges with hot electric panic. His vision had blurred, but he caught a vague picture of Duncan over Kronos' shoulder, reaching...

The killing pressure on his head eased as Kronos flew away from him, hissing in recoil at Duncan's touch. Methos gasped and sank gracelessly to his knees, holding his head, waiting for his skull to knit. Black clusters bloomed at the edges of his sight, but through it he saw MacLeod standing before him, shielding him, offering whatever protection was to be had. Methos said a brief and silent prayer of gratitude for clan instinct, and waited for the grinding, torturous buzz in his head to go away.

"Your battle is with me, demon," Duncan's voice was steady, commanding; Methos only hoped that it was enough. "You will not harm him, nor any more of mine."

Kronos laughed again, contemptuously. "Yours!" The word was derisive, mocking, perfectly Kronos. "Come now, Highlander- surely even you must know that you'd have to be much better at doling out pain for him to be yours? He is a slut for anyone with the heaviest hand, that's all. Surely he's informed you of this fact?"

"I don't... You..." Duncan's voice was softer, less sure.

"For the weaker ones, like yourself, he's nothing but betrayal and death. He's a whore for pain, MacLeod, he craves it like air- and you can't give it to him, can you? All you can do is take it from him-"

"Shut up!" There was a harsh, rising note of panic now, and Methos wanted to reach out; but the image intervened of Mac screaming into his palm, choking on his cock, and he couldn't move.

"You don't know how many times, or in how many ways he's betrayed you," Kronos continued sorrowfully; "you've been chasing shadows with him. Blood comes not from the stone, Highlander, no matter how hard you squeeze, and love comes not from death-"

Methos heard Duncan sob, and his eyes fluttered closed as something cold and infinitely weary beat in his chest.

"You've been one of his little games, you know- one of the more amusing ones. How far can he push you? Can he rob you of your self-respect, your pride, your sanity? You doubt yourself, Highlander; according to his design- and when he has reduced you to nothing more than a shadow of his will he'll grow bored and cast you off-"

"You lie" Duncan's voice was full of hatred- bloody, bitter hatred- but no conviction.

Methos was dragged up from his knees so roughly that his head spun. Everything whirled as the mist pressed close and he felt himself rushing, rushing through layers of darkness towards some unknown, crashing end.

The fog cleared, and Methos found himself strapped to the solid wood of crossed beams, his limbs pulled horrifically tight. Blood and dirt caked his skin, and a gruesome string of looped, peeled skulls, infant-small, hung about his neck.

There was no air. He gasped and sucked for breath, but it seemed as if his lungs had been replaced with some stiff cartilage that would not give- his body felt itself dying for air and yet he simply remained, stifled and mute.

Duncan stood before him, dark with hatred still, and over his tense shoulder Methos saw the demon smile.

"Is this the creature whose devotion you seek, MacLeod- this ancient, rotting, murderer's soul trapped forever in this lovely body; only truly alive when he's cut to ribbons or fucked till his blood runs sticky down his thighs or busy with one of his pitiful games of ruination? His age ate him from the inside millennia ago- life renounced him, and death took its place. This is death, Highlander. This is what you tried to love."

Methos tried. "No-" a breathless whisper, shaped with lips that found it too much effort. No one heard him.

"Shall I prove to you, then, that he cares only for whatever master can successfully wield the whip hand? Shall I show you the maze of lies he has in place of a heart?" Duncan's head shook in forceless negation, but Kronos continued on, his voice pitying, grotesquely tender. "It gnaws at you terribly, MacLeod, doesn't it?"

No response. Duncan stood shocked and mute, trembling, his hands clutching and grasping obliquely at nothing.

A quiet moment passed, and then Methos saw Duncan stoop, bending so gradually he looked like slowly melting wax. One shaking hand reached out, crept forward in infinitesimal increments, and closed finally, all trembling ceased, around his katana.

Methos sobbed voicelessly, fighting his deadened lungs. "Mac- don't..." it reached no farther than the scream inside his own head.

Duncan stood like a man going regretfully to his death, pulled listlessly to draw the blade from the sheath. Hateful red vapor swirled at the edge of vision, and to his surprise Methos saw the demon fading back, waning; a dark chuckle draining away in the fog, leaving them to face each other, as perhaps it had been meant to be.

All he had were his eyes, so he used them as best he could. He held Duncan's gaze, searching for the sanity that must be there somewhere underneath that vast ocean of pain.

Duncan moved closer, eyes flickering as if he were absorbing the picture of Methos' gore-streaked body. Closer still, and Methos saw something rising from the deeps within- Mac's features twisted and broke, and Methos realized to his grave dismay that for the first time in as long as he could remember he'd actually underestimated something...something about the depth of Duncan's feelings for him...the same something that was probably about to get him killed. It bit him, pierced him, lanced through to his core- and tumbling after it, too late now to do him any good, was an understanding of exactly what it was that Mac needed to win the battle he'd been drawn into so unwillingly...

And then Duncan's lips were hard against his own, salted with unknown blood.

This touch brought air back to his world, and Methos sucked in a desperate, whooping breath from the Highlander's lungs. Duncan shared breath with him, took and gave, and Methos panted against his mouth, his body twitching with reaction.

"Duncan, you can't...don't...don't believe him."

MacLeod pulled away, new tears bright on his cheeks. Despite the brilliance of his eyes, he regarded Methos dully. "I'm not going to kill you, Methos, so stop looking at me like that."

"Duncan-"

"I don't really want to hear it, Methos. I just needed-"

"No!...Wait. This is...important." He felt like he'd never stop gasping, that his body would never stop feeling starved for air.

"You don't need to say anything, Methos-"

"The first time I met you," Methos interrupted frantically, "I tested you. I would never have let you take my head."

MacLeod was silent for a moment, his eyes shocked wide. "What?"

Methos sighed sadly. "I didn't know you, Mac. It was a hard situation. If you had taken me up on my offer, I would have either slipped away or tried to beat you. In the event that you turned out to be a good man, it was an effective way to help you paint a noble picture of me." He paused, panted a little, and then smiled ruefully. "And if we'd never seen each other again, it would have worked pretty well."

"Why are you telling me this?" Duncan's voice was so hoarse, so hurt- the hurt was not new, but it seemed that way.

"Please- let me finish. Hear me out." Methos took a deep breath, felt the sticky skulls hanging on his chest pry free from half-congealed, cooling blood, shifting to a new spot. He gazed levelly into Duncan's wounded, wondering eyes.

"In the years since, I've manipulated you, and played games with you, and hurt you without even thinking about it. You've gotten in a hit or two of your own, Mac, but if you're looking for someone to blame for the pain between us, that someone should probably be me."

Methos' breath had finally slowed, but now Duncan seemed to be the one having trouble getting enough air. "Methos, no-"

"Almost done, Duncan; just stay with me a little bit longer." He said it tenderly, almost plaintively- it felt strange; he'd been gentle with Duncan before, yes; but he hadn't dared to show much compassion. "You asked me once why it was so difficult, why I couldn't just love you. The truth is, Duncan, that I can't help loving you."

His mouth burned with the words. Duncan's eyes were huge, questioning. Methos took a deep breath, and continued. "That gives you power over me."

Warm earth-brown flickering hot, waiting, suspended... Methos sighed, surrendering. "I just felt that I had no choice but to push you away."

He watched Duncan's throat work, as if he were struggling with something he'd rather not say. "I wanted to..." The Highlander swallowed, convulsively. "I had wished, after that first time, that I hadn't left the way that I did... I thought you-"

"Shh, Duncan, please- I did everything I could to make sure that you wouldn't want to stay..."

Duncan's head bowed forward, leaned hard against Methos' shoulder, heedless of blood. Methos nuzzled him. "Why-" Methos heard the shiver in Duncan's voice, realized that he was crying. "Why are you telling me this now?"

Methos sighed. "It's another hard situation, Mac, only this is one I don't think I'm going to get out of. You're up against something that I can't help you with at all, but the one thing I can do, the one thing I can try to take away from him is his power to bring you down by using lies about me- they're powerful lies, Mac, because they're woven between truths." He felt Duncan nod dejectedly against his shoulder, and turned to kiss the soft silk of hair. "Yes, MacLeod, I'm a murderer and a manipulator and a cruel, cunning thing- but I do love you, more than I ever thought I'd be able to love anyone. Whatever happens, whatever he makes you do- all I ask is that you know that one thing."

He lowered his voice, speaking his last words warm into Duncan's hair. "I sometimes hate it that I carry your face branded deep into my heart, MacLeod, but it's there, whether I hate it or not."

Duncan seized upon his mouth with a ravening hunger that sent a hot, brutal shock through his entire body. He slipped a little and melted under Duncan's tongue with a sharp, soft cry; so very glad to simply open and offer, a miracle of appetite being fed by the starving. His limbs burned with the thwarted need to reach out.

"Methos, you don't know," the words were sobbed into his mouth; he could barely make them out; "I've wanted, I've needed to hear you say that- for so long..."

Further revelations were, perforce, temporarily suspended. Methos saw the light fade, dying by slow squeezed inches under an oppressive pall of crimson. He pulled back fiercely only to return, staring with all the force of will at his disposal into harrowed brown eyes. "I love you with all my heart, Duncan MacLeod," he murmured fervently, "don't ever doubt it. I'm glad I told you."

He raised his head as Duncan turned, and watched over Duncan's shoulder as Kronos strode toward them, as the grey mist recoiled away from him as if he burned.

He did indeed look like he burned. The eyes were brilliant, flaming red, and his hair stirred and fluttered as if blown by an invisible hot wind.

"You're a pitiful fool, MacLeod." The voice was too low to be Kronos', it was horrifying to hear that rough, dragging bass issuing from Kronos' cruelly curved mouth. "You've bought his lies, haven't you? You've got that look of the gleefully deluded about you."

The demon came closer, and a flicker of light became a long blade in his hand. "This too, can be used, fool. His blood will be on your hands-"

"If you touch him, you are dead." MacLeod's voice was booming, almost painfully loud. Methos gasped. "Fight me, if you want to, demon; but no more of these games!"

Time seemed to drag, Methos saw Mac's lunge as if in slow motion. The demon engaged, without any of that eyeblink speed that had vanquished Methos. Blades struck and whirled, and Methos followed them through one sluggish, fearful heartbeat after another, followed them around as they circled until Kronos' back was to him, with Duncan opposite.

Despite the slow, thick flood of time, Methos could not make his mouth move fast enough to call out a warning- no time to warn, no time to cry out, no time left to scream in as the demon left a careful opening in his defense, just at the spot for Duncan to sweep through, sweep through both Kronos and Methos behind him, with no time to pull-

There was no pulling back, but Duncan took the opening not for a sweep but a thrust, drove his glowing blade straight through Kronos' heart, through Methos' heart, through Methos, and into... grey...fading...black...

Into the solid, unyielding, blank bland blessed normality of a hotel room wall.

Methos sobbed at the perception of plaster against his naked back, more overwhelming to his senses than the terrible spear of pain that pinned him there. Kronos had wafted away like smoke during the shift, and all that was left to his dimming vision was the sight of MacLeod staring at him with the incredible purity of utter devotion, and those smooth, welcome, glorious walls.

"The walls are back," he hiccuped, blood spilling from his mouth, "I'm glad. I hate grey."

Duncan leaned toward him, careful around the blade, and kissed him as he died.

Of all the times in all of his long, long existence that Methos had come back from the dead, this had to be, undoubtedly, his hands-down favorite. Usually recovery involved a harsh, gasping lurch of revival; complete with air burning through numb tissues and blood burning in cold veins. It was painful and shocking, but in Methos' opinion much better than the alternative, which was staying dead.

Apparently, however, the customary negative effects could be significantly offset if you returned to life clean and warm in an aura of low, flickering light, wrapped in the dual embrace of a hot bath and a tender lover. Under these amazingly ideal conditions, coming to life was much more like waking up- a gentle, gradually increasing flood of awareness, a buzz of sleepy physical joy accompanied by a not-entirely-unpleasant stiffness that could have been caused by sleeping too long and too heavily in one position, or dying with a sword skewered through your heart.

MacLeod was around and behind him, a nicely firm and delightfully slippery resting-place. His hands moved endlessly, cupping water and smoothing it over Methos' chest to warm him, while his lips nuzzled close to Methos' ear, whispering his name over and over.

"Careful, Duncan- you'll spoil me, and then where will I be?" His voice was low and still a little weak, but Mac seemed to hear him just fine.

"I'd like to spoil you, Methos." Hot arms closed around him, cradling. A muted chuckle tickled his ear. "I'd rather spoil you than be indulged by anyone else."

"Mmm. You should stab me more often, if this is how you make up for it."

"I'll keep it in mind."

Quiet descended, broken only by the musical trickle of water that Duncan poured over him. Methos thought he might just be falling asleep, when Mac's voice pulled him to the surface again.

"It's not over. Not yet."

There was weariness in the words, soul-deep. Methos sighed.

"I know. I don't know how to help you."

Time passed, beats of silence in which Methos felt Duncan gathering himself. His own muscles tensed a bit in anticipation, but it was only a faint exertion- he was wiped out, too lethargic to do much of anything, no matter what fresh cataclysm was rushing at him.

"Say... Tell me again, Methos."

Methos crossed his arms over his chest and wrapped around Duncan's embrace, pulling them together almost to the point of pain. "I love you."

"Ah..."

A few moments of rocking, enfolded comfort, a noiseless hymn, and then Duncan let him go.

"We should get out, Methos. I don't know about you, but I'm so wrinkled I'm starting to look my age."

Gaining his feet was a long, arduous task, and the final result was only shaky at best. Methos yawned hugely and watched Duncan pull himself gracefully from the water, then blinked sleepily between the need to close his eyes and the need to memorize Duncan as he was- flushed, dripping, and nicely naked. Mac caught him looking, and laughed.

"That's priceless, Methos- you look like you can't decide whether to pass out where you stand or leap on me. Very flattering."

Methos yawned again, cavernously. "Can't help it- I'm dead on my feet, but you're unusually appealing when you're wet and hot and far more coordinated than I am."

He swayed, and Duncan steadied him. Methos allowed himself to be guided slowly out of the bath, noticed with half-lidded eyes that Duncan dried himself with rough sweeps but eased the towel over Methos' form as if performing a sacrament, and noted with a distinct lack of surprise that somehow his body amassed enough blood to provide him with a rather stunning erection. It must have been hard work- it made him light-headed and fuzzy.

"So don't keep me in suspense, Methos," Duncan murmured dryly, "who wins out- Rip Van Winkle, or Casanova?"

Methos' jaw cracked in another sepulchral yawn. "Both," he replied when he could, leaning into Duncan's welcoming arms. "I'll just drift off, and you can fuck me blind while I do it. Yes?"

Mac chuckled and took him by the chin, brought his nodding head up so that their eyes met. "You trying to take my ego down a peg or two, Methos? Or is this a challenge to see if an infant like myself is good enough to keep your attention engaged for the duration?"

"Consider the gauntlet as having been hurled, Mac. I hope you're up to it."

"Mmm. I'm not going to spring for the obvious joke. Just take it as read."

Methos followed Duncan's lead into the bedroom, marveling. It couldn't possibly be this easy, could it?

Apparently, it could. There was a companionship implied in their words to each other, a warmth that hadn't been there since before the Horsemen, but it was more, deeper than that old comfort. It was good- too good to last. He warned himself of that sternly, counseled himself to remember that it would take more than a rejected opportunity to kill each other and a desperate admission of love to counterbalance all the darkness that lay between them.

But... But... but as Mac laid him down on the soft sheets and swarmed over him like a malnourished incubus; it became very difficult to heed the cautionary, sober tones of that voice. Duncan eager and desperate was a treasure too singular to waste, a rarity too sublime to be diluted with the bothersome trivialities of calculation. It might be too good to last, but it was also far, far too good to stop.

With no preliminaries other than a few clinging, ravenous kisses that left Methos breathless, Duncan swung about over him and settled into a crouch, both hands squeezing and tugging at Methos' cock with a rushed, inexpert urgency that brought him hissing up off the sheets. Duncan slammed him flat.

"Lick me." The rough command was unexpected, and therefore a pure erotic jolt. "But don't make me come. That's for later."

Methos writhed a little, but managed to keep himself from asking exactly how much later. He brought his arms up and pulled Duncan's hips down to his chest- how much later might be up to him, if he did well... He plunged in eagerly, obediently, gripping muscular buttocks as if they were necessary for his survival. His tongue flickered and delved, and Methos considered the battle half-won as Mac pressed back against him and uttered a raw, throaty groan.

"Deeper, Methos... More-"

Methos shuddered, delighted. Something had finally convinced Duncan to take control, and whatever it was, Methos was grateful. He offered up his mouth gladly, and thrust his tongue as far as possible into Duncan's tight ass, withdrawing only to circle, nibble, and then plunge again.

Duncan's rhythmic grunts of lust fractured into irregularity as his mouth closed around the tip of Methos' erection. A sound that was terrifyingly close to a scream reverberated from Methos' throat, and he rose up again, seeking, pushing, only to be shoved back down.

Apparently, he was supposed to just lie there and take it. Undoubtedly, that was going to kill him. Duncan worked down his length with steadfast devotion, lack of finesse more than redeemed by zealous enthusiasm, and Methos lost himself in helpless, staccato cries until Duncan pulled cruelly away, thumbs fierce against his hips to keep him down.

"Lick, Methos. Don't stop." A dark, terrible growl.

Impossible. Flatly impossible, and yet Methos would do anything that rough, blunt voice asked of him. Even the impossible.

He did the best he could, but it was a great hindrance to his creativity when Mac closed once more around him and began to suck him down. He found that struggling and lifting his hips only made Duncan squeeze him tighter and growl around his cock, so he did a bit of that, and tried to keep his tongue moving despite his constant moans.

It was while he was lost deep in the haze of grappling, unsatisfied desire that a strange thought came to him, melancholy and yet oddly satisfying. Duncan was okay- not insane, not dead and not wishing he was, and no longer lacking in purpose. Methos had begun with a deep and burning resentment of Mac's dependence on him...but now that it was gone, he was shocked to find that he actually missed it, just a little.

Duncan MacLeod would win his battle- not much question of that. It was inevitable, at least to Methos' mind. It was the emergence of the sun after an eclipse- as inevitable as that, and as poignant to him- to Methos, who had clandestinely grieved at such moments for as long as he could remember. It was one rare instance where his choices always seemed to haunt him, as the world brightened and birthed into a light he knew he could not share. He did not notice his own tears as he bucked under Duncan's tempered dominion.

"Please..." he begged, just because it felt good to do so.

Methos reached out, grasping, as Duncan pulled away, but his hands were captured quickly and pressed deep into the pillows above his head before they could find purchase on anything.

"Please what, Methos?" Duncan looked wild; tumbled, animal hair and feral eyes. Methos gasped as his wrists were squeezed. "What?"

"Anything-" his body arched- burned, hungering. "Anything you want, only please... Something..."

Duncan abandoned him for a terrible moment, releasing his hands to grope at the bedside table for the oil, but then returned to feast on his lips, skipping off between kisses to lick unsuspected tears from his cheeks. "Open your legs."

Methos did it, fervently, wantonly; drawing his thighs up against his trembling stomach. He cried out one plea, one hoarse affirmative, but Duncan's hand appeared suddenly over his mouth, silencing him.

"No words, except to answer to me."

Methos expressed both his frustration and rapture in one endless, guttural groan, lifted while Duncan shoved a pillow under his hips, and struggled to keep himself from grabbing.

Duncan reared back onto his knees and looked at Methos as if he were a conquered victim, one hand absently massaging oil into his own tumid, ruddy erection. "Not falling asleep on me yet, are you, Methos?"

That husky voice, composed and nearly insolent, whipped across his nerves and pulsed in his cock. "No, Duncan."

And Duncan left him there, open and exposed and wanting, forbidden to speak and without any stimulation except through his ears and eyes, while he stroked himself close to completion. Methos quivered, tormented but unable to look away as Duncan shifted his thighs further apart and let his head fall back, pushing into his own hand and gasping with pleasure. Every flex and ripple of powerful hips lacerated Methos with unbridled envy, and when Duncan arched upwards and groaned under his own caresses Methos cried out, certain that the moment Duncan came on him he'd explode without any further inducement.

The moment never came, however, and Methos backed away from the edge of release with a dizzy, disconsolate sigh. Duncan's head tilted forward, and their eyes caught and held. Methos bit his lip to keep his implorations inside where they belonged, wondering dimly if it would entice Duncan at all if he started to squirm. Probably not- MacLeod still looked savage and yet totally under control, an unusual but incredibly arousing combination.

"You know what I want to hear, Methos. Say it again." Beautiful eyes, beautiful voice, so deep and compelling-

"I love you." And at last, Duncan moved toward him, rising over him with the relentless implacability of a dark idol.

"Again." His wrists were caught, held, trapped- //oh thank you...//

"I love you..." Duncan was right there, nudging against him, just the slightest most frustrating press, and Methos panted unstoppably after his words trailed away, arching, begging in the only way he could.

But Duncan held back. "Mmm- You want me to fuck you, Methos?"

"Yes!... Duncan, please-"

A soft chuckle hit him like a slap, freezing him with sudden dismay. "Shh- don't break rules, Methos- not when you're doing so well."

"Oh..." Methos subsided, shivering.

"Good." Duncan kissed him deeply, sucking and nibbling at his bottom lip until Methos was ready to scream. "Methos?"

"Uh... yesss..."

"You can move yourself onto my cock now, just a little- not too much!"

Oh yes. Oh no. Oh- how was he supposed to stop... Methos was sure that he'd never, ever taught Duncan this type of cruelty. This had to be one he'd thought up on his own...

Methos wrapped his legs around Duncan's firm waist and rocked, working his hips as the pressure against him grew and then grew sweeter. Duncan remained motionless above him, his face a sculpted focus of concentration, now dewed with tiny drops of perspiration at his temples. Methos cried out in sheer, shocked pleasure as his unprepared body opened to Duncan's cock, and then he was faced with the hell of knowing that one firm pull of his legs would drive that exquisite, throbbing pain deep to where he wanted it, but he'd been told to wait- he had to wait... and he was about to go insane, already, with the waiting...

"Good?" Duncan's voice trembled just a bit.

"More- I need more-"

Duncan actually had the nerve to pull back. "I didn't ask you if you needed more, Methos. I asked if it was good."

"Ah- Yes Very good!" Methos sobbed once, hoarsely, felt limbs he knew to be his own nevertheless shuddering out of control.

"Mmm." Duncan kissed his wet face; light, tickling kisses like tiny shocks. "You can take a little more now, Methos."

Methos rocked again eagerly, his stomach muscles cramped with strain. He'd been fully breached, and pain had floated off to parts unknown, leaving only hunger. He moaned bitterly as he came to a stop- Christ, he was going to go down in history as the only person ever to be not-fucked to death...

"You're hot, Methos," Duncan's eyes had fluttered closed, and for a brief moment Methos was satisfied- such sensual voluptuousness, to watch Mac enjoy him so. "Hot, and...tight." Duncan's breath drew in with a hiss, and Methos felt the Highlander hanging over him with barely-leashed violence, a tempest waiting to happen. He wished it would.

"You can come when I do, Methos. Okay?" Mac's brows had drawn together.

"Yes! Please-"

"Do it, then, Methos. Make me come."

His hands had numbed under Mac's fierce grip, but Methos could do without them- he bucked and slid, pulled and shivered and then screamed over Duncan's shoulder as he pushed himself down onto unbearable sweetness. Duncan was huge, filling and pervading him, and there was doubled joy in the knowledge that he worked for Mac's pleasure as well as his own.

His hips lifted and dropped, churning; and sweat ran down the crack of his ass and stung blissfully, a small but priceless reminder that this was all real.

Movement became automatic, something his body did the same way it drew in great heaving gasps of air, just another element that kept him alive. Methos was washed, lapped, laved in sensation- the scent of musk like something glowing warm; the sight of Duncan lost in him, perfectly lost and deeper into him than he'd ever been; sound that had melted to one fluctuating, endless moan carried like a chant between two entwined voices. Methos levitated on invisible waves of intensity, balanced carefully and suspended over a mindless abyss of pleasure, waiting for the word to be given.

When Mac started to buck against him he almost lost it; all he could do was clench his teeth hard and demand that his body hold out, hold on...

Duncan relinquished his quiescent control with shocking suddenness. Methos couldn't feel it when his wrists were released, but they must have been; because abruptly Mac's arms dug underneath and around him, grappling for purchase.

"Come now," Duncan's breath was hot against his ear, "I want to feel you-"

Strong arms tightened around him until he thought his ribs would splinter, held him thoroughly, perfectly still while Duncan pounded into him. The transition for Methos from active to passive was a deep, almost terrifying shock; sensual input that overwhelmed his scrupulously gauged balance with one raw, carnal stroke. He heaved once- uttered a groan that seemed to shake the bed- and then came; relying only on Duncan's strength and his own will to be sure that he wasn't really flying apart the way it felt like he was.

"Methos- God... That's- so good-" Mac's words dissolved into a low, urgent cry. Methos echoed, chased, swallowed the sound as he captured Duncan's mouth, shuddering as his own pleasure was unbearably drawn out by the hot, fierce throbbing of Duncan pouring into him, pulsing into him, coming...

And in the slowdown, in the cooling, flickering aftermath when they drew reluctantly, slowly, stickily apart into the separate components that made up two separate people, Methos was not at all surprised to find his face wet with renewed tears, and when Duncan gathered him close and whispered a sweet entreaty into his ear he said it again- I love you- each word cool and easy in his mouth, as honeyed as Duncan's kisses.

//Methos,//

He woke up alone, again.

//Methos,//

Hotel notepaper the only inhabitant of the other pillow.

//Methos,//

The only salutation. The last communication from a man he might never see again.

//Methos,

I know you'll probably be quite relieved to find me gone.//

It was as far as he got, as much as he read before he crumpled the pages and thrust them carelessly into his duffel bag along with the rest of his things; his eyes dull as cloudy marbles, tight-lipped and silent and blind to everything as he walked calmly out of the room and never looked back.

The pages are limp and creased now, fragile like love-letters from deep in the past; but their appearance of age is belied by the still-brilliant colors on the hotel's logo- these pages aren't more than a year old. They are well-read.

Methos reads them more often than he likes to admit, even to himself. The text is so familiar to his eyes that it is no longer necessary to read. Just to look at the words is enough.

//Methos,

I know you'll probably be quite relieved to find me gone. It didn't take me too long to figure out what you did, or why you did it; it was the only way to give me the strength I needed to save us both. I actually expected you to pull away from me as soon as you came back and found the demon gone, but I guess I wanted to see how far you'd go.

I'm watching you sleep now- you wouldn't believe how sweet you look when you're asleep. Funny, but I think I'll remember that more than anything else.

You went all the way, Methos- you surprised the hell out of me. I kept waiting for you to hedge, or take control, or start to slip away from me, but you kept not doing it.

That brings me to the sticking point here, which is that it occurred to me that perhaps there were more lies between us than I suspected- yes, I believe that you lied to me when you said you loved me, but I've also come to believe that you've lied to yourself if you think that you don't. For right now that's what I need to believe- I've got a lot of thinking and other things that I need to do, as you know, and I hope you don't mind that I've chosen to carry with me the belief that somewhere in that heart of yours you really do love me.

I'm finding it very difficult to write this, imagining how you'll probably snicker over it when you wake up. But that's the problem- I don't know what you'll do. You're not exactly the world's most predictable guy. It's part of the problem, but of course it's part of the attraction, as well.

This last time, these last few hours with you, it changed the way I see you, once again. I should probably just get used to that- it's happened often enough, God knows- but this situation was every bit as powerful as the first time I found out about the Horsemen, only it was an opposite experience. I was so warm with you, like for the first time in a very long time I was able to be your friend, and the first time ever that I felt good about being your lover.

Well, of course it's always _felt_ good... physically, you're... well, you know what you are. But this was the first time I ever wanted you in a way that didn't feel wrong- and no, it's not because you're a man- oh hell, you can think that if you want to, I certainly can't stop you.

The bottom line is, for me, that this is a really wonderful thing that I never would have wanted to miss, and it's also sad- more sad than I really want to talk about, actually.

It's very strange, writing this way to you, and never knowing what state of mind you'll be in when you read it- hell, for all I know, maybe you actually fell in love with me while we were fucking like rabbits and the fact that I'm gone will cause you pain and suffering- you're laughing again, aren't you, Methos? I wish I could see it.

Another thing that just

Had to break off there. You reached out for me in your sleep, and I don't want you to wake and find me gone until I've finished this. You're a wonderful nuzzler, Methos, when you're asleep.

Another thing that just occurred to me is that you actually succeeded with the whole reason you came after me in the first place- I'm not stuck inside my mind anymore, and I certainly don't want to die. I still have to find some way to deal with what I did; that's what I'm off to do now, if I can figure out anything to do besides pray for mercy on that poor child's soul.

So you've performed the task you set out to complete, and you've hauled my ass out of the fire yet again. A fine job, Methos. Tell whoever employs you in these matters to give you a raise.

It's hard not to be bitter, sometimes. Don't mind me, I'm just looking at the way you burrow into your pillow like a beautiful, demanding child, and I'm doing that bitter/maudlin bounce that most of us Immortals tend to master as the years go on.

The ironic part, the part that I have to smile at even though I'd much rather not, is that now that I've had a chance to understand you a little, I have this weird, overwhelming certainty that I could deal with who you are- I mean, like in my life; and yet I've never been more sure that that's something that will never happen. It's got a funny feel to it, like all I had to do to keep you in my heart is give up on you forever. Irony. I hope you're getting a kick out of it.

I have to go now, Methos. I have things to do and places to go, and I don't know when I'll be back. If I don't get back, please keep an eye on Joe and Amanda for me- I know you would anyway.

You don't have to worry about me seeking you out, or asking you if everything that went on means nothing to you and all that melodramatic crap. As far as I'm concerned, this little journey into darkness and out again is something that never happened between us- and perhaps, after all, that's for the best.

I'm going to kiss you good-bye now, Methos. I'm packed and ready and eager for the road, but first there's that one kiss, that last one, the one that has to count. I'm going to have to settle for your right cheek- it's the only part outside of the blankets, which you've stolen quite effectively, I might add-

Whoops. No more. Good-bye, Methos. Keep well.

Duncan//

Methos' eyes are dry as he finishes reading- the letter long ago lost all power to hurt him and has become a comfort, something he can turn to in the face of any one of the myriad disappointments or moments of pain that come with living, and especially with living long.

As is his habit, after the pages have been folded along well-worn creases he touches the letter gently to his right cheek, just once- his eyes closed, shuttered to preserve inner mysteries; feeling himself somehow warmed, as one who stands in the sun after an unimaginable time spent in darkness.

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