Disclaimer: 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.

Rating: NC-17

Comments: Extreme violence. Graphic and occasionally nonconsensual homosexual adult content. If you don't like nastiness, get out now!

Summary: Darkness happens.

This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. Please do not link, publish or post this material without permission.

Any comments, questions, etc. can be sent to me at mtriste@hotmail.com.

Poles Apart

By Mairead Triste

"The rain fell slow, down on all the roofs of uncertainty

I thought of you and the years and all the sadness fell away from me

And did you know...I never thought that you'd lose that light in your eyes"

-Poles Apart (Pink Floyd)

Methos stood quietly in the darkness, his own pulse seeming loud in his ears in contrast to the stillness around him.

Outside the sun was shining; a slight breeze from the northwest rippled over quiescent water, stirring everything it touched, but Methos thought that the freshness and brilliance of the day only emphasized the brooding silence inside the abandoned submarine base.

The sound of his footsteps was magnified here, bouncing back from the empty, cavernous spaces with a hollow shuffling echo. He'd brought a flashlight with him, but right now he preferred to use a torch; the flickering uncertain light seemed somehow in harmony with the dismal emptiness.

He hadn't wanted to come back here, and yet he'd been unable to stop thinking about it for three days. There was no reason for him to return to this place; the virus was in Duncan's hands now, along with the small controller of the reservoir bomb. Methos had handed both items over, knowing full well that part of going with the winner was that to the victor go the spoils.

Methos ruthlessly quashed the surge of conflicting feelings that resulted from calling Duncan to mind, reminding himself again that all he had to do was wait-sooner or later Duncan would get over his disappointment and rekindle their friendship; he was sure of it. Methos was patient, after all, and he could easily distract himself with the miscellany of creating a new life for himself until MacLeod showed up again.

Kronos, on the other hand, wouldn't ever be coming back. Methos still had a hard time believing that he was dead, and was surprised by the depth of his own feelings of combined relief and regret. Perhaps that was why he was here-to somehow come to terms with the deaths of those who had once been his brothers.

He couldn't think of Silas without an internal wince-another in the ranks of those he'd cared for dead, and dead by his hand. The pragmatic part of him flatly understood the choice he'd made, but still there was a small and unquiet voice that disturbed his waking mind with a tale of checks and balances: we choose, we act, but at what cost? He was keenly aware that the consequences of any choice could be deviously subtle; time and circumstance meshed to capture all possibilities in a complex web.

His brothers were dead. An ancient and terrible force had been destroyed forever-but he still lived. He was alive to see the world move on; to bear witness to all that the dead would never see, to remember, to mourn if necessary, and sometimes to speak forgotten names in a dark and empty room, the sound of his own voice a manifestation of his endless existence.

And so he had returned to the base, to walk the cold halls, to let the echoes and shadows etch themselves on his memory, to confirm life among empty stone chambers of death.

The first day that he tried to come back he'd had to be satisfied to look on from a distance as a team of Watchers acted as a discreet removal service-quietly toting away cages, monkeys and chemistry equipment to augment their collection of Immortal memorabilia. He had wondered vaguely if they knew he'd been there, if they knew who he was, and realized with dull surprise that he didn't care. That part of his life was over.

The second day he'd kept himself busy in Paris looking for a new place to live, his survival instincts once again urging his feet on an evasive pathway.

Now he was here again, the bitter air of extinguished torches and stagnant water heavy in his lungs. There were so many memories in this dark place, a surprising number considering the brief time he'd spent here. Terror, solidarity, nostalgia, revulsion, panic, all of these had been a part of the unfolding experience. The echoing walls almost seemed to call to him, memories beckoning insidiously to intrude on his consciousness.

Methos suddenly halted, listening. Sounds-some faint auditory vibration where the only noises had been his own. He wavered in momentary panic, unable to tell if it was a real noise, or only the sly whisperings of old fears.

With the absence of his own footsteps the muffled reverberations died away, leaving an oppressive silence. He began to suspect that what he'd thought he heard was just his mind playing tricks, another dead voice come to haunt him, when the sound came again-a dim echo, pleading.

The hairs on the back of his neck prickled as they stiffened at the roots, and before he knew it he'd drawn his sword. He waited silently, trying unsuccessfully to see into the gloomy darkness from which the sound came. Again he heard it-definitely a voice, wailing and lost. Warily Methos began to advance, his pulse beating rapidly in his throat as he lifted his torch higher. He wondered what sort of nasty surprise Kronos had left here, possibly a human test subject for his little germ, possibly a bone to throw to Caspian to keep him tractable-possibly a trap.

He followed the sound down to the maze of corridors that made up the lower levels. He'd never been down here before; this was a part of the base far away from where Kronos had set up his den. As he continued on the sounds became clearer, muffled screams and pleas from somewhere at the end of the corridor. He paused for a moment in indecision, and suddenly the cries fell silent. Steeling himself, he went on.

When Methos reached the turn he found himself at a dead end, a large and evidently solid door blocking his way. There was a lighted keypad to the left, and he pondered for a moment as he studied it. On impulse, he tucked his sword into his armpit, reached out and entered 1348, the year of the great plague. He was surprised when with a metallic click and a low hiss the door released. His blood seemed to cool in his veins, and automatically he retrieved his sword-maybe Kronos had been a little too predictable, or maybe he'd anticipated even this.

Nudging the door open with one foot, Methos stepped forward cautiously, his nerves tingling. Torchlight flickered on the dank walls of a dark chamber, and a smell of combined mildew, rot and human waste hit him like a slap. At first he saw nothing but walls, but then his eye was caught by a ragged hump on the floor. Someone was lying prone on the rough and broken concrete. There was no buzz of Immortal presence.

Methos turned his head aside and took a deep breath against the stench of the room. He stepped inside. A quick glance around confirmed that he was alone except for the bundle on the floor; there were shards of broken glass lying in one corner, but other than that the room was empty. Still moving cautiously, he approached the still form, reaching out gingerly with one foot to turn the body over. Even in the uncertain light he could discern faint breathing movements. Not dead then-at least not yet.

It was a boy, maybe eighteen, certainly not yet twenty. Greasy tangles of brown hair fell away from a bruised and dirty face, wan even in the ruddy light of the torch. An innocent face, the face of a child who was lost and had given up hopes of ever again being found. Methos felt his heart constrict with pity, intensifying when the boy groaned in pain.

Methos turned and shoved the end of his torch into a gaping crevice in the wall before sheathing his sword. His heart was pounding from the adrenaline rush brought on by fear, and his hands trembled slightly. He forced himself to take a breath, wincing at the smell, and then turned again to the body on the floor.

The boy's eyes were open now, staring up at Methos in panic.

"Where is my Master?" the boy asked in English, his voice cracked and dry, "what did you do to him?"

Oh shit. Methos wondered what the hell he'd stumbled into now. The boy was sitting up, and Methos saw that his hands were caked with dried blood, as if he'd tried to dig himself free. The boy rubbed his bloody fists into his eyes, leaving behind a grimed maroon tattoo.

"We've got to get you out of here," Methos began, moving towards him, "we'll get some water for you. Can you walk?"

The boy was scooting away, terrified.

"Stay away from me!" he sobbed. "You're Caspian, aren't you? He said he'd give me to Caspian if I was bad... Please," he croaked, tears cutting pinkish tracks down his dirty face, "I can be good..."

Methos froze, sudden realization flooding him, held immobile in the iron grip of memory.

Horsemen's Camp

Methos was sitting next to the cold ashes of the common fire, idly drawing attack plans in the dirt with a charred stick when Kronos rode into camp. Methos heard the soft thwup of hooves on sand, and saw the slaves scurrying quickly for any bolthole, a wise precaution in case Kronos was in a foul mood.

Kronos occasionally rode alone, sometimes scouting for their next victims, sometimes just letting the desert sun simmer the madness that lived inside him like a parasite. This time he'd brought something back with him, Methos saw, a long bundle bound across the rear of his horse.

The slaves needn't have worried. Kronos was laughing as he galloped up to the common area, and Methos waved wildly at the flying dust and sand that ensued.

"Come, brother!" Kronos said cheerfully, pulling off his mask. "Come and see my new prize."

The dust obscured whatever it was, but Methos stood up anyway, curious. He looked for a moment to the other side of the encampment, to where Silas and Caspian were bickering and hurling their knives at a makeshift target, and looked a question at Kronos.

"Leave them to their sport, brother," Kronos responded, "I doubt they'd quite appreciate it, anyway." With this cryptic comment Kronos turned his horse's head, making directly for his tent. Methos paused, curiosity and slight unease both bidding for his attention. Curiosity won by a slender margin, and he followed slowly in Kronos' wake.

As always when he entered Kronos' tent, it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimness. He blinked until his vision cleared, and then he saw the other man busily cutting through knots on the long wrapped bundle on the floor. Finally the ropes were severed, and Kronos yanked at the wrappings until a still form rolled unceremoniously to the floor at Methos' feet.

It was a boy, sixteen at the most. He was naked, dirty and disheveled, but even in the dim light of the tent his long, shaggy blond hair gleamed mellowly. Yellow hair. Very rare in these parts. How in the world had Kronos found a child with yellow hair in the middle of the desert? Almost disbelieving, Methos bent down and touched the still head gently.

"I see you share my appreciation, brother," Kronos said wryly. "Is he not a fine treasure? Come, let me show you the rest of him." Kronos scooped the slight figure up and carried him to a space between the two main support posts of his tent. There were ancient stiff leather manacles secured with thongs to the top and bottom of each post.

Methos repressed a shudder. He'd known that the manacles were there; a long time ago Kronos had cheerily explained that this was the way to get best access to both sides of a slave, but he'd never seen Kronos actually use them before.

Kronos was both strong and fast. Before Methos knew it Kronos had tethered the unconscious boy to the restraints, and tied a gag into his mouth for good measure. This completed, Kronos went to a small chest in a dim corner of the tent. Methos was expecting some form of whip, but when Kronos returned he was only holding a roasted haunch of meat from last night's feast, and his other hand held an earthenware pitcher of water.

Kronos set the pitcher at Methos' feet and clapped a brotherly arm around his shoulders, and Methos swallowed nervously. He was not quite sure if he was being invited for a piece of meat or a piece of ass, and he didn't know the polite way to ask which it was.

"Look at him, Methos," Kronos said proudly, "just think of how pretty he'll be when he's cleaned and trained!"

Methos cleared his throat and wished that Kronos would let go. "I take it you're not planning to work him with the other slaves?"

Kronos chuckled. "Oh, I'll work him, brother," he sniggered, "trust me, he'll be worked hard. Come on."

Kronos stepped away, bending to the pitcher on the ground, and Methos sighed with relief. It was a constant struggle, this fragile balance of power between them, and Methos often felt like he was walking a very narrow line between being a brother and being prey.

Now Kronos went to the boy, upending the pitcher over his head. Dirt washed away in rivulets, and the boy gasped and straightened in his bonds as consciousness returned. He looked up, wide blue eyes with delicate gold lashes staring in shock.

Methos felt the boy's loveliness and innocence stab through him like a blade. He always avoided the innocent ones himself, finding some sort of justification for his actions when they were practiced on those who had well-established seeds of ferocity already growing within them.

It was one thing to put them to the sword. That was somehow impersonal, and he slaughtered with impunity and without a twinge of conscience. But rape was different, and the truly innocent ones frightened him with their intensity. Mostly, he tried not to think about it, simply choosing victims who suited both his taste and his need for insurgency.

Now it looked as if he was going to be called upon to participate in the violation of this young one, and Methos knew already from the stirring in his breeches that his body could care less about what his conscience had to say-his body wanted to be at Kronos' side, to be part of the process of breaking this exquisite prize.

Methos took a deep breath and tried to repress his response. Kronos was behind the captive now, standing a little to the side, holding his forgotten dinner in one hand as he touched and squeezed the damp, shivering flesh with the other. As Methos watched Kronos clenched his fist into the boy's shaggy hair and yanked back, shaking experimentally. Even through the gag Methos could hear a groan, and he started to tremble.

"Such a lovely boy..." Kronos said softly, tossing away his hunk of meat. He fumbled in his clothes for a moment, freeing his sizable erection, stroking himself with his greased hand. Without further preamble he stepped completely behind the smaller body, and Methos watched, fascinated, as Kronos wrapped his hands around the boy's slender hips and yanked him sharply backwards.

A muffled scream blended with Kronos' sigh of pleasure, and Methos found himself mesmerized by the picture they made, Kronos staring at him over the captive's shoulder, a look of ecstasy softening his usually harsh features, his hands looking dark and rough against the smooth, paler skin.

"Come join me, brother," Kronos panted, smiling, "I'll find something to keep you occupied until your turn comes. You won't believe this, Methos; but I think this one was a virgin." here Kronos pulled the blond back against himself viciously, and there was another muffled cry of agony. "Just wait 'till you feel this...so tight."

He had to get out. He had to go before he gave way to the pounding insistence in his blood to get over there and tear the boy apart. His palms itched with the desire to touch that beautiful skin, to kiss, to bite that arched, suffering throat. To feel Kronos' heat, to squeeze the tortured body against him when Kronos came, to touch just a little bit of that fire and freedom. His stiff and aching cock pulsed with the images his mind conjured, not at all helped by the vision in front of him.

Pressing his lips together tightly in determination, Methos turned and walked out of the tent, his ears ringing with Kronos' mocking laughter. The sound followed him. He heard it all the time he walked away, as he crossed the common area, as he brutally gripped the arm of the pretty mahogany-skinned woman he was currently using. He heard it even as he flung her into his tent, as he pushed her backward onto the floor and yanked her legs open. Even her shuddering moans as he moved within her couldn't drown out the echoes of that derisive laugh.

He closed his eyes tightly when he came, Kronos' voice fallen mercifully silent for the moment. He could still see the boy, however; even as he shook with release he was staring into those frightened and helpless innocent eyes.

The look in the boy's eyes stayed with him for days, recurring at odd moments. Methos continued grimly on with his daily work, planning raids, keeping Caspian and Silas from killing each other; hoping that time and forbearance would eradicate the burning itch he felt every time he saw that yellow head docilely following Kronos into his tent.

The boy's name was Yvar. Methos had heard the other slaves speaking of him, half of them believing that he must be a demon or an omen of impending doom, the other half maintaining that a yellow-haired, blue- eyed stranger could only portend good. Kronos never left him for long, not trusting either the frightened slaves or Caspian to keep their hands off him.

About three weeks after Kronos had taken Yvar, Methos approached Kronos' tent; wanting to ask for the other man's ideas on their next raid, which was to be against a large and very well-defended band of marauders far to the south. He paused a moment as the rush of Immortal presence hit him, guarding himself against whatever scene might be waiting to snare him on the other side of the tent flap.

"Come in, Methos!" Kronos called cheerfully. So he knew. Methos wondered if Kronos could tell the feel of his presence from the others, or if he had just known that Methos would come. Methos took a deep breath and walked into the tent.

Kronos was lounging on the fur-covered pile that served him as a bed, wearing nothing but his long shirt and the kohl pattern of his warpaint. Yvar was kneeling in the corner facing Methos, wearing a loincloth and a leather collar from which depended a large bronze runic symbol. Methos immediately made himself look away, not wanting to see those eyes again. Kronos was sitting up now, smiling at him and gesturing toward a rough-hewn stump next to his table. Methos nodded and sat, studying Kronos' profile.

"Well, my brother?" Kronos asked companionably, "to what do I owe the pleasure of your company? Has Caspian transgressed the bounds of your patience again? Or perhaps you've grown tired of that tough old whore of yours and you've come to taste some sweeter flesh." Kronos laughed, amused, and despite the heat of the day Methos felt his internal temperature plummeting.

"Neither, Kronos," he said calmly. "I need to ask you about the raid on the Mawenei, for they are many, and well defended. I think it would be best if we-"

"I think it would be best if you stopped pretending that the sight of this boy didn't drive you to distraction," Kronos interrupted, smiling at him serenely. He shook his head at Methos as if chiding him. "Really, brother, since when do you come to me for advice on a raid? The planning is your task, Methos, as it always has been. Making it happen, keeping the bloodlust high, that's my task."

Methos felt his stomach tighten, a horribly embarrassing sensation of being transparent; but before he could retort Kronos turned to Yvar and snapped his fingers. At once the boy moved gracefully to Kronos, never rising from his knees. His hands remained clasped behind his back, but Methos saw that they were not restrained.

The youth looked up at Kronos, and even in profile Methos could see the love in Yvar's eyes. Kronos had done it again, apparently.

Methos could never fathom Kronos' ability to inspire love in the people he abused, and it was uncomfortable to wonder how much of his own loyalty was due to the same inexplicable charisma. The man was a magnet, something in his warped and insouciant manner creating an aura of fascination that many couldn't resist. Methos knew that some of the slaves were even jealous of Kronos' favors, competing for his attention even though he used them barbarically.

Now Yvar had fallen under the same deadly influence, kneeling at Kronos' feet as if he were praying to some kohl-painted god. Kronos bent forward and turned the blond head towards Methos, stroking the gorgeous hair back from the smooth, unmarked brow.

"Look at him, Methos," Kronos said softly, "how can you resist such purity? How can you see this beautiful child and not want him? Come now, brother," he continued, his voice low with irony, "put this little one in your lap, and then tell me again of your need for my help with the raid."

Methos couldn't answer. His cock was getting harder every moment that he sat immobile and watched. The boy was simply lovely, made even lovelier by his submissive, adoring posture and the contrast to the rough, dark hands which held him. Methos swallowed, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

Kronos turned Yvar's face up to his own. "Who are you?" he demanded.

"I am your willing slave, Master," the boy said softly, his voice strangely accented and deeper than Methos had expected.

Kronos smiled, "And what will you do?"

"Everything you desire, my Master." Methos couldn't believe it. Such complaisance, obedience to such a brutal man as Kronos, and still innocence sang from every word, shone from every look. Extraordinary.

Kronos now ran the ball of his thumb slowly over the boy's lips, which immediately opened to receive him. "And if I...hurt you?" Kronos persisted. The boy stiffened slightly, but Methos only saw because he couldn't stop himself from staring, his mind relentlessly documenting every moment of this interaction to be recollected later.

"I am yours, Master, to do with as you will." Surrender. Methos felt his erection throbbing, protesting within the confines of his breeches. He had been right to stay away from the untainted ones. Too intense.

Kronos smiled, and pointed to Methos. "Go to my brother," he commanded. "He wants you, and I want you to please him."

Methos' protest died on his lips as Kronos' slave moved quickly towards him, knowing he should stop this now, feeling a moment of panic when he realized that he wouldn't. He didn't stop Yvar from reaching into his trousers, and he only gasped when the boy found his aching cock and freed it with a practiced, obedient caress.

Kronos reclined on his furs, smiling knowingly into Methos' eyes. Methos made himself look away, but then all he saw was Yvar's dutiful mouth closing around his shaft.

Yvar took him deep and Methos gasped again, his hands moving automatically to that sensual golden hair which tickled against his stomach. So soft: the strands between his fingers, the hot mouth which sucked him; soft like the barely existent fuzz on the boy's downy cheek which he had to touch, soft as the tender and unblemished skin of his back; shoulders which looked fragile and slight under his large hands.

The boy was devastating him, and Methos found himself wondering if it was Kronos' training, or if Yvar was just naturally skilled. Before the pragmatic part of his mind left him entirely, he decided that it didn't matter; it was this incredible result which counted. His throat opened with a groan and he slid to the edge of the stump until his back rested against the table, shifting his hips forward to get just that much deeper into the accepting and compliant mouth.

Methos heard Kronos sigh, and he looked up immediately. Kronos was watching him intently, stroking his own exposed shaft in rhythm with the movements of the boy's head. Methos drowned in Kronos' aroused eyes, feeling his pulse stutter with the sudden increase of desire. Kronos was dangerous, yes, but there were times when unpredictable brutality could be a powerful aphrodisiac. Like right now.

Without thinking, Methos wrapped both hands in Yvar's hair, pulling the open mouth faster onto his desperate cock. There was no resistance, no sound of protest, just willing heat which swamped him.

Methos watched Kronos arch upwards, his strokes faster and harder now. Methos felt each one as deeply as if it had been him that Kronos touched, and he moaned at the exquisite agony as his muscles cramped. He held the boy's head steady while his hips thrust furiously, and then he was coming, long pulses of release that tore him with pleasure. Kronos cried out then, and Methos' body quivered as he watched Kronos spilling over his own hand. Kronos held his eyes unrelentingly, joining both of them in an endless and ruthlessly intimate moment of completion.

Methos felt Yvar swallowing, sending ripples of residual pleasure through his sensitized nerves, and he shivered. The boy shivered as well, pulling quietly away from Methos and panting. Finally Methos tore his gaze from Kronos, looking with wonder at the extremely talented slave who knelt before him.

Without thinking, Methos bent forward, cupping Yvar's fragile head as he kissed him, tasting his own essence, running his tongue gently over moist, swollen lips. When he pulled away Yvar was staring at him with unbridled surprise, and Methos suddenly wondered if he'd made a mistake.

When he looked at Kronos, his question was answered. The peaceful, satiated look was gone, and the cruel glee which had replaced it froze him.

"I'm so glad you liked my little trinket, brother," Kronos snapped, "it does my old heart good to see you enjoy yourself."

Methos looked unhappily into Kronos' eyes. He knew what was coming next, oh yes. The next course of the feast was going to include pain. Lots of pain.

He couldn't do it. He thought of watching Kronos flay the tender skin he still felt gliding under his hands, of seeing the blond hair soaked with sweat, and the handsome brow twisted with suffering. He was frightened by his own response, and abruptly he pulled his hands away from Yvar, standing and covering himself with one smooth movement.

Kronos looked at him dubiously. "You're not going now, are you brother? Why, the game's only begun!"

"I'm not in the mood for your sort of games, Kronos," he replied coldly, and walked out.

He was obscurely grateful that Kronos didn't try to stop him, and directly grateful that his knees waited until he got outside to start trembling.

Three days later. Three days of marginally veiled taunts from Kronos, taunts answered either with a flippant intellectual obscurity, or dignified and icy silence. Three days of wondering how Yvar's smooth body would feel under his hands, cursing his own lack of discipline at his inability to suppress these thoughts.

And here he was at the end of three days, woken from a rare afternoon nap induced by too many sleepless nights; feeling abysmally slow and stupid, still partially in the grip of a half-remembered dream of willing flesh. Yvar stood just inside the flap of his tent, looking at him with worried eyes.

Methos hurriedly sat up, pulling his trousers loosely around his erection, wondering what was going on. He felt angry with himself for his embarrassment. After all, it wasn't as if Yvar hadn't seen it all before.

He pushed matted tangles of hair out of his eyes and looked at the other's frightened face. "What is it?" he managed sleepily, "where is Kronos?"

The slave crept to him quietly, his features now wavering between fear and remorse.

"Please forgive me for disturbing you, Master-brother," he whispered urgently. He knelt by Methos' pallet, looking steadily at the floor. "My Master rode out early this morning. He thought that none would see him leave, and yet this cannot be so, for now there is one who watches my Master's home, and he moves closer as hours pass."

The boy reached out beseechingly with one hand and gripped the edge of the pallet. Methos saw the tremor in the slender fingers.

"Who is it?" Methos asked, "who watches you?" He moved away to sit sideways on the pallet, now fully awake.

Kronos would not take kindly to this harassment of his favourite, but Methos might be able to handle the problem before Kronos even knew about it. Whichever of the slaves had grown so bold, Methos would have his head on a spike before Kronos returned.

Yvar looked at him briefly before bowing his head again. His voice dropped even lower, now barely perceptible. "My Master-brother Caspian watches."

Methos sighed, burying his head in his hands. He cursed Kronos silently. Kronos should have known that something like this would happen if he left the boy alone.

Suddenly he felt a light but insistent grip on his arm. He looked up. Yvar was kneeling in front of him, tears welling. Methos' erection had actually subsided a bit while he thought about what he should do, but now the sight of the suppliant figure kneeling before him brought all his frustrated desire raging to the surface. Methos ground his teeth in a torment of denial.

"Please," Yvar begged him, "please don't let him have me-I'm so afraid..."

With a coldness which belied the fever inside him Methos pried the hand away, holding the delicate wrist in a tight grip. Yvar gasped. Methos waited for the slave to recoil, but he never did. Methos fought a silent but furious battle with temptation, and lost.

"You're right to be afraid of Caspian," Methos said as he pulled the boy to him, "in fact, if you were wise, you would be afraid of all of us."

Yvar cringed. "My life is in my Master's hands," he breathed, "I fear him as I do my gods, for he and my gods are one."

"Yes, Yvar," Methos growled, "but Kronos is not here now, and neither are your gods."

Although the boy's eyes were wide with terror, he made no sound of protest as Methos dragged him onto the pallet and pinned him.

Taking hold of the symbol which hung from the leather collar, Methos pulled the slave's lips to his own, feasting on him. The sweet taste of innocence burned in his blood.

He ravished Yvar's mouth, shifting himself over to his side so that he could stroke the fine golden skin which trembled under his touch. He stifled a moan when he felt a hard, slender phallus beneath the loincloth, and he groped until he had the boy's silky flesh in his hand, smooth and hot. Yvar shivered, but made no sound.

Methos leaned back, releasing the slave's mouth and cock at the same time. Yvar was shivering, with a look of combined confusion, arousal and dismay that was nearly comical.

Methos pulled the loincloth away, admiring the lithe muscles under tanned and tender skin. Yvar made no move to cover himself, but his eyes closed as a faint blush stained his cheeks.

"How romantic," Methos purred, leaning downwards again and nuzzling softly behind the boy's ear. Yvar stiffened and made a shocked interrogatory sound, but Methos' hand immediately covered his open lips.

"Shh, my young friend," he commanded, "if you are noisy I'll have to gag you; and I want full access to that talented mouth of yours. Understand?"

Yvar nodded solemnly under his hand, and Methos let go.

Methos rolled off the pallet and stood, pulling impatiently at his own trousers. Yvar's eyes were open now, and Methos' body tingled under the curious gaze. When he was naked he knelt and took the slave's erection in his hand, sliding the soft skin slowly back and forth. Yvar bit his lip but remained silent, only his arching body and the heat in his eyes telling Methos what he wanted to know.

"I think you have a lot to learn about desire, boy," Methos whispered. "Kronos may have taught you the fear of gods; but there are a few gods I think he missed, Yvar, and I know all their names."

Abruptly he released his grip, moving quickly to a chest in the corner of his tent. When he turned to Yvar his arms were open, and he captured the boy's eyes with his own before Yvar looked too closely at the rough leather thongs in his hands.

"Come to me, boy," he commanded.

Yvar obeyed as if entranced, moving slowly towards him with his head lowered and both hands twisted together in supplication, meekly held out for the restraints.

And so all of Methos' darkest hungers were satisfied.

He'd had to gag the boy after all. Yvar could withstand amazing amounts of pain, but pain combined with pleasure made him howl like a jackal. He'd taken the slave over and over again, used every trick he'd ever learned and even invented a few new twists. Now Yvar was pliant and debilitated within the bonds which secured him to Methos' pallet; his eyes glazed, his legs flung open on Methos' lap.

Both of them were drenched with sweat and semen, but still Methos kept thrusting into the boy's inflamed body, his desire cresting despite impending physical collapse.

Perhaps it was exhaustion that caused him to become so lost that he confused the rush of approaching orgasm with the approach of an Immortal. Whatever it was, Methos was profoundly shocked to find himself meeting Kronos' facetious, speculative gaze.

Kronos stood in his doorway, the tent flap still swinging behind him. Methos gasped, but even as his heart froze in dismay his body was coming, his hips flexing uncontrollably as he pulsed into the boy's abused body for the sixth time. He groaned helplessly with both release and despair.

To his great surprise and even greater relief, Kronos started laughing, drinking the sight of them with brilliant and amused eyes.

"Well, my brother," Kronos said when his laughter had tapered off to hearty chuckling, "I see your mood for games has altered. I guess I needn't have come home in such a rush after all."

Kronos moved toward them, and despite his apparent good humor Methos felt a dismal wave of panic. Kronos bent down next to the pallet, running a fond hand gently over Yvar's sweaty brow. The boy looked at Kronos with mute terror.

Methos suddenly found his voice. "This is my fault, Kronos," he said as calmly as he could, wishing he wasn't still panting, "he came for help and I...I made him do this."

Kronos turned toward him, still smiling. "We share everything, brother," he said, reaching out to pull playfully at a lock of Methos' hair before he stood and walked toward the tent flap. He paused, and Methos tensed with apprehension.

"Be sure to wash him before you give him back to me, Methos. The pair of you stink like a herd of rutting goats." Kronos pushed the flap open, chuckles ripening into hearty laughter as he left.

Methos felt the cold grip on his heart slowly begin to ease. He slid away from the boy, barely noticing as their bodies separated. Moving as quickly as he could in his torporous state, Methos donned his trousers before he undid the restraints on Yvar's wrists and removed the gag.

Yvar neither spoke nor moved, and he didn't resist as Methos pulled him carefully to his feet.

Methos went to his trestle table for water and washed the boy, taking care to be gentle. He winced at the bruises, the heavy marks left by the restraints, and the raw, abraded state of the slave's groin. What had he been thinking, being so rough with Kronos' pet? He sighed, knowing that he hadn't been thinking at all.

Methos tied the loincloth in place, and then covered Yvar with one of his own cloaks. He stepped back, feeling strangely unwilling to meet the boy's eyes now that there was no more he could do.

To his surprise Yvar stepped close to him, stretching up to kiss his mouth softly.

"I give you thanks, Teacher," Yvar whispered against his lips, and was gone before Methos could even decide on a response.

Methos returned to his pallet and lay down, turning his head into the fur beneath him, pursuing the hot musky smell of the boy. He fell asleep determined go to Kronos tomorrow, his senses brimming full of that vital and enticing scent.

As it turned out, he didn't have to go to Kronos. Kronos came to him. Methos woke to the buzz of Immortal presence, and he squinted his eyes shut against the sudden glare as Kronos entered his tent, early sun delineating him clearly in silhouette.

"Good morning, brother!" Kronos called cheerfully. Methos surreptitiously looked for his sword, feeling his stomach drop when he realized that it was out of his reach. Kronos laughed.

"Never mind your blade, Methos," Kronos chuckled as he approached, "there's no need. I knew you'd want to speak to me this morning. You do have something to say, don't you?"

Methos was sitting up now, and Kronos sat next to him on the pallet, shrugging a fraternal arm around Methos' bare shoulders.

"Kronos," Methos began firmly, "I didn't mean for that to happen. I shouldn't have done it, I know that now." He swallowed, forcing himself to continue. "I knew it then, only I couldn't help myself."

He looked at Kronos, searching for some clue, any indicator of feeling, but Kronos' face evidenced only wry amusement, nothing more.

"You were right, Kronos," he continued, "I want him." Methos breathed deeply, pausing. He wanted desperately to get away from Kronos; discomfort, fear and desire tangled within him indistinguishably, but he had to see this through, had to try to made sure that the boy wouldn't have to pay for Methos' mistake.

Kronos pulled him closer in a jostling one-armed hug, and Methos suppressed a shiver.

"You don't have to confess to me, Methos," Kronos said gleefully, "I knew the first moment you looked at the little brat that you wanted him. Oh, my brother," Kronos was chuckling now, vibrations that seemed to sink into Methos' bones, "the sight of the two of you yesterday-you should've seen your face..."

Methos turned to Kronos again, taking the other man's free hand in his own.

"Give the boy to me, brother," he murmured earnestly, "let me be his teacher-he has the potential to grow into a formidable man."

Kronos squeezed his hand, looking curiously at him. "You're a formidable man yourself," Kronos said. "I wonder-what sort of teacher did you have? Did your lessons include special studies in copulation and fellatio, Methos? Tell me all about the noble pederast who taught you to be so very formidable."

Methos' muscles tightened. He knew that Kronos was not serious, but the jests hit home all the same. Methos struggled to pull his hand away.

"Never mind, Kronos," he said coldly, "forget that I asked. Just don't blame Yvar-"

"I'd be happy to give the boy to you," Kronos interrupted. He released Methos' hand.

Methos swallowed. "You would?"

Kronos smiled, a calculating, evil expression on his face. "We share everything, as you well know. I'd gladly give you the boy, brother, but I'm afraid that Caspian asked first."

Methos felt sudden pain lance into him and for a moment he thought he'd been stabbed, but there was no blade, no wound at all.

Kronos eyed him speculatively, still grinning. "Of course," he said, "I'm sure our generous brother Caspian will happily give you whatever's left..."

Methos heard no more. He bolted from the pallet and ran for Kronos' tent, not seeing the slaves who scattered before him.

He heard panting and growling even before he pulled the tent flap open. Yvar was facing him, spread wide across the space between the two posts from which he hung. The merciless morning light shone from behind Methos as he stood transfixed in the doorway, glittering brightly on the fresh blood that covered the boy like a mantle. The boy's flawless skin had been obliterated under dozens of bites, all of them bleeding, some of them almost spouting with the excision of what must have been an entire mouthful of flesh.

And yet the boy lived. His eyes bulged horribly above the cloth strapped in place between his bloody lips, hideously vital. His body jerked back and forth. Caspian was fucking him from behind, sharp nails scratching deep gouges into the boy's already mangled skin as he thrust brutally.

Methos watched, a dead scream locked forever in his throat, as Caspian pulled Yvar's head back and sank his teeth savagely into the boy's neck. Methos gagged, feeling his stomach heave.

He couldn't move. He wanted to run, to close his eyes, to somehow remove himself from the abominable vision which clenched in his guts like a slick fist, but his body was dumb and unresponsive.

Caspian screamed and went rigid, his face painted with blood and decorated with gruesome pieces of still-bleeding flesh. At the same time Methos saw the boy's eyes cloud over, losing their terrified awareness as the raw wound in his throat sluggishly pumped out the last of his life.

Caspian moaned happily, wrapping his arms around Yvar's body. He leaned forward, nuzzling the boy's neck in a grotesque parody of a lover's caress. When he raised his head, meeting Methos' eyes, he laughed.

"He's all yours, brother," Caspian panted, "but I don't think you'll have to tie him to your bed-this time. I think he'll stay wherever you put him." He stepped away from the body, pulling his bloody breeches up and reaching out casually to rumple Yvar's hair.

Methos remained frozen as Caspian approached him with gleaming eyes. Neither Caspian's hand on his shoulder nor the pungent aroma of blood as the other man leaned toward him could break his paralysis.

"I wouldn't wait too long if I were you, brother," Caspian whispered to him intimately, "it's not nearly as much fun when they're cold." There was a low chuckle and then Caspian's tongue was licking his ear, warm and nauseatingly sticky.

Methos recoiled, but Caspian was already gone. Methos was alone with death, alone with himself again, a solitary mourner listening endlessly to the silence of betrayed flesh.

Paris, 1997

The boy's name was David. It took Methos the better part of an hour to get the shivering, terrified youth calm enough to tell him his name, but in the end Methos grew stern as his temper shortened, and David responded to that as he hadn't to all of Methos' gentle soothing.

Now David was soaking in the bathtub at Methos' apartment, and Methos was cursing himself for his softheartedness even as he loaded a tray with broth and dry toast and a carafe of water.

David had refused to go to hospital. Methos had insisted, but he'd capitulated when the young man tried to throw himself out of the car. Methos knew nothing about him except his name and the fact that he had indeed belonged to Kronos. When Methos told him that Kronos was dead his hysteria had evaporated into stoic silence, distant and removed except for the tears which flowed silently down his dirty cheeks.

The boy's presence weighed on Methos and he sighed, wondering what in the world he was going to do with him. David would undoubtedly recover quickly from the physical ordeal, but he had obviously been very attached to Kronos, and the scars from that would be a long time healing.

David looked up at him warily as he entered the room, and Methos noticed that he was still crying, his eyes now red and swollen even though they had been washed clean of blood.

Moving quickly, Methos set the tray of food on the low glass-topped table next to the bath. He poured a glass of water from the carafe and held it out, glad when David accepted it without coaxing. The silence worried him; he didn't need a suicidal teenager on his hands. After a short internal debate whether to go or to stay, Methos settled onto the closed seat of the toilet.

David was sitting crosslegged in the now-dirty water of the tub, holding the edge with one hand as he guzzled the water that Methos had given him. He finished the glass, gasping for air.

"Thank you," David said quietly. Methos was surprised, but relieved that he was speaking again.

"You're welcome."

Now the boy was drinking the broth, foregoing the spoon in favor of holding the bowl with both hands and gulping. Methos caught himself making a mental note to shop for food, and sternly reminded himself that David was not staying, that as soon as he was well he would be sent out the door and back to whatever life he'd had.

The tray was emptied with alarming rapidity, and Methos noticed with amusement that toast crumbs had been added to the layer of detritus which floated on the surface of the bath water. He wondered what would be the best way to begin asking all the questions he needed answers to, but before he could begin David startled him by asking a question of his own.

"Who are you anyway?" he asked abruptly. "Did he send you to find me-before he died?"

Methos was momentarily speechless. It had never occurred to him that the boy might think this. He scrambled, and decided that it would be easier to answer the first query.

"I'm Adam. Adam Pierson." He cleared his throat mechanically, feeling himself slide effortlessly into the persona that had served him for so long. David was looking at him curiously, obviously expecting him to continue. Methos was irked to discover that he was uncomfortable under that frank scrutiny, and he countered the discomfort by asking a question himself.

"Why were you there, David? How long had you been..." he groped for a euphemism, "with Kronos?"

Tears were welling again in the brown eyes, and Methos knew that he'd answered the earlier question by not acknowledging it.

"He didn't send you, did he?" David asked unhappily, his chest heaving with emotion, "It's true then-he really didn't want me anymore."

David was crying openly now, and Methos found himself at a loss. Even as long as his life had been, comforting other people's abandoned slaves wasn't something he'd had a lot of experience with.

"You see, David," he began uneasily, "there wasn't much time, at the end...there was a terrible fight going on..." He wondered where to go from here, but David spoke again before he could begin.

"Were you there? When my Master died, I mean?" Earnest, questioning eyes pleaded with him, insistent despite the tears.

Methos sighed. Deep water here. He had no idea how much the boy knew about... Well, about anything.

"I was there," he confirmed quietly.

David was a little calmer now, but Methos could still see misery lurking in the shadowed eyes.

"He had lots of enemies," David said as if he needed to explain, whether to Methos or to himself Methos couldn't guess, "I know. He told me." The narrow, muscled chest hitched again, but that was all.

David turned to him suddenly, curious.

"Are you going to go after the guy who killed him? Is that why you came to get me?"

Methos repressed a dismayed smile. "No, David, I'm not." A sudden, unexpected wave of longing for MacLeod swept through him, a threat with too many angles. He pushed it aside. "There are many things you don't understand-"

"But you were his friend, weren't you?" David interrupted, again pinning Methos with serious, questioning eyes, "I mean, you wouldn't be so nice to me if you weren't his friend-right?"

Methos was exasperated, feeling oddly helpless in the face of this implacable, innocent logic. He was aware of an unsettling sympathy for Kronos, seeing in David's pleading face the desperate need of a child. Had David looked at Kronos with that same haunting appeal? Methos was suddenly sure that he had.

"Look," Methos began, "I just happened to be there, and I just happened to hear you calling for help; that's all."

The boy's face fell, and Methos forced himself to go on. "Kronos wasn't my friend. You must have known him, David; Kronos didn't have friends-just people he could use."

And exactly who does that remind me of? He thought briefly. He pushed the thought firmly away. "It doesn't matter, David. Kronos is dead, but you're not."

David looked away from him reflectively, as if pondering his words. Suddenly Methos found himself staring in fascination at the fine arch of tendons under the pale skin of the boy's neck, and he stood up abruptly, moving to collect the tray.

"I'll be back with some clothes that ought to fit you," he murmured quietly as he backed out through the doorway.

Methos chided himself silently as he dumped the tray next to his kitchen sink; as he rummaged through hastily taped cartons of still- unpacked clothes; as he gathered up a pair of old jeans and a T-shirt that he never wore because it was bright green.

He'd believed that he had left such thoughts behind long ago, that he'd shed those particular urges like a snakeskin: a scaly, nasty husk discarded in favor of seamless armor. He was dismayed to find that it was not so.

The only thing which made it bearable was the knowledge that his response seemed almost inevitable given his recent experiences and even more recent memories. How many times lately had he found himself automatically reverting with scary speed to a way of being which had once defined his world?

And yet he was different now, he knew that. He'd better be.

He paused for a moment outside the bathroom door, his eyes closed as he patiently and emphatically reminded himself exactly why seducing the boy was a bad idea. He mentally reviewed all of his reasons, his brain automatically sorting and organizing them into sequential order from most cataclysmically stupid all the way down to just don't. That done, Methos nodded to himself, set the clothes down carefully, and rapped gently at the door.

"There are clothes for you outside the door, David," he called even as he backed away, "I'll see you when you're not...when you're dressed."

Methos turned quickly and headed for his living room, hoping fervently that David had friends in Paris with whom he could stay.

David didn't.

David had no friends, no family he would acknowledge, and nobody waiting for him anywhere. In fact, David had nothing except a profound sense of gratitude, an enthusiastic appreciation of Methos' choice of beer, and a voracious amount of fear and need that drove him in the middle of the night from his hastily-made nest on the couch and straight into Methos' bed.

Methos, after briefly lamenting his own weakness for desperate young men who woke him out of a sound and celibate sleep, surrendered.

He held David gently beforehand, drying his frightened tears of loss; and he held David very tenderly afterward, as the boy wrapped around him like a tentacle and sobbed into the hollow of his neck; in the between time Methos held David much more firmly, reacquainting himself with the intoxication of plundered innocence.

Methos was drifting. Life passed over and around him, and somehow he managed to wade through each day without adding another feather to the burden of days that sometimes threatened to crush him.

It was David who anchored him, and David's lighthearted joy in life that made it a safe harbor. Everything seemed to have gone on hold somehow, five thousand years of experience magically suspended for this fragile pause of peace.

Drifting. Methos had felt it before, of course, but only very rarely. He had dropped out of everything connected with his old life, but he hadn't run anywhere. Instead he floated gently along, detached and marveling at his own uncharacteristic content.

"David-I'm home!" Methos called loudly, toeing the door open in deference to the netted bags of provisions he carried.

There was no response. Methos kicked the door shut behind him and dumped all the bags on the living room floor, wondering if his lover might be in the bathroom.

"David?" he called again, "come help me put all this stuff away! I ought to make you do it all yourself-you're the one who eats everything." Methos began sorting through the bags. Bread, lumps of cheese, garlic sausage-David eschewed vegetables but ate enormous amounts of everything else-and, of course, beer. Soon everything was neatly put away, and Methos was supplied with a freshly opened bottle.

Still no David. Methos wondered if he could have gone out somewhere, but there had been no note on the door when he got home. Methos took his beer to the couch and sat, pondering the possibilities.

David hated going anywhere alone. The few times he'd gone out there had always been a note tacked to the front door, telling Methos exactly where he had gone and when he would be back. David was fanatical about it, and Methos understood. It was just another wrinkle in the fabric of domination-just a part of the complex ritual David needed to feel like he belonged to someone.

David had been with him for three months. Initially, Methos had resisted him. He was only seventeen, after all; and while Methos hadn't been able to stop himself from taking what was offered to him on that first night, he couldn't quite accept the idea of a live-in homosexual relationship with an underage masochist.

But it had already been too late; David was happy. In fact, David was completely smitten; Methos had replaced Kronos as his focus of existence, and after a determined struggle of failed attempts to get David to go back to America and attain some semblance of a normal life, Methos had given up.

They rarely spoke of Kronos. Methos had established that David was unaware of the existence of Immortals; Kronos had told him nothing. Methos kept it that way. To David Adam Pierson was simply someone who'd run in a kind of gang with Kronos when they were very young.

Methos did manage to pry out the fact that David had been with Kronos for almost a year; just before his seventeenth birthday he'd walked down a dark alleyway and into the arms of the man who first raped his body and then claimed his soul. The few details Methos gathered were more than enough to paint the complete picture; David had quickly fallen under the spell of Kronos' charisma, and from that moment he was lost.

Methos was both surprised and curiously moved when the boy told him of the strange patterns that Kronos often painted on his own face before making David submit to him. Methos had a bizarre moment of wanting to honor the spirit of his fallen brother, despite the knowledge of what Kronos had been.

David had shaken off the shadow of Kronos' influence with a speed that did great credit to the fickleness and resilience of youth. Methos admired him for it, envying the effortless pleasure in simply being alive.

Now David was a fixture of his life here; he had gotten a job at a small patissierie which catered mostly to tourists, enabling him to get by despite his mangled and insufficient French, and every day he would come home to Methos coated with flour, waving franc notes around extravagantly while he boasted about all the tipping customers who'd flirted with him that day.

Despite the bragging Methos believed him; David was an exceptionally handsome young man. He looked quite a bit like a young Rudolph Valentino, or would have if Valentino had ever pierced his nose and dyed his hair crimson. It was easy to see why Kronos had been drawn to him, timeless beauty hiding behind the gaudy trappings of a modern youth.

David was obliviously happy in his new life, his happiness increasing with every step Methos took towards dominion. Two weeks ago they'd celebrated David's eighteenth birthday by going out and drinking their way through half of Paris before Methos dragged David home to give him his present; a gold ring from which hung a small bronze disk bearing an ancient symbol.

Methos had tied David down, sucked him off, and quite politely asked permission before placing a gag in his mouth and forcing the sharp ring through his left nipple. Afterwards, as they lay on top of the bedclothes with blood and semen slowly fusing them together but both of them too tired to get up and wash, David had told him that he'd never been happier.

And now for the first time David had gone somewhere without leaving a note. At least, Methos thought he must be gone, since his greeting had not been answered. Feeling a sudden thread of unease, Methos decided to check the rest of the apartment just to be sure.

Methos walked into the bathroom, expecting to find it empty, and stopped short in the doorway when he realized that he was not alone, after all.

David sat crosslegged on the tiled counter with his back to Methos, naked. He was facing the mirror and Methos met his reflected eyes, studying the barbaric pattern that covered the boy's face like a mask. Kronos' pattern, reversed in mirror image, reproduced with extreme faithfulness and turning David's normally open features into something profoundly sinister.

He felt a completely unexpected surge of fear, followed immediately by an equally surprising rush of arousal. David said nothing. He didn't move. He simply sat there without any expression at all, watching Methos watching him.

Methos was amazed at the depth of his own response to this transformation. For some reason he actually felt a little threatened, no longer able to perceive the sweet boy he shared his bed with; seeing only a diabolical stranger with a killer's face. His jeans were suddenly too tight as his erection strained painfully against the confining denim.

He was pretty sure that he understood the game David was playing, and he fell effortlessly into character. David was experimenting-a bit of a challenge, a bit of defiance; to see what it was like to be on top. Methos was happy to oblige. He could always take control again when things got serious.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, boy?" he demanded harshly.

David turned gracefully and stood, moving with an assurance that was eerily familiar.

"What's the matter, Adam?" the familiar stranger asked brashly, advancing towards him with a menacing air, "don't you like it?"

Methos did, but he wasn't about to admit it to this arrogant little flirt.

"What," Methos sneered, "I'm supposed to be impressed by your Halloween preparations?" David was very close now, but Methos stood his ground.

Then David's hand was squeezing him, caressing his erection almost painfully through his pants. "Well," he said seductively, with a calm assurance that tingled nostalgically down Methos' spine, "part of you is impressed, anyway."

This was very nice. Methos relished a struggle, as long as he won in the end.

"Get down on your knees!" Methos hissed. David smiled at him, a cunning smile that was years away from his usual boyish grin, and suddenly the echo of Kronos' presence was much stronger, almost overpowering. Methos swallowed, his muscles automatically tensing for a real conflict. He forced his limbs to relax a little, reminding himself that his David was somewhere behind the painted face and the well-studied mannerisms.

"Make me," David challenged.

Methos didn't have to be asked twice. He grabbed the thick brown hair fiercely, pushing David's narrow shoulder with his other hand until his slight figure buckled, falling to his knees with a gasp. Methos let go and hastily opened his pants.

"Now," he commanded, "suck my cock, you teasing little bastard."

David hedged, licking his lips, and Methos wondered what he was up to.

"Take your clothes off first," David murmured, "I want to see you."

Methos considered gripping his hair again and forcing him, but since he wanted to see where David was going with this, he decided against it for the moment.

"Take them off me, then," Methos said mockingly.

David immediately reached for him, one hand bunched securely at the waist of Methos' old sweatshirt. He paused.

"Well?" Methos growled impatiently, "what are you waiting for-an engraved invitation?"

"No," David replied with a snarl, "just an opportunity."

Methos was astounded at how fast David was. With one incredibly swift movement he sprang to his feet, ducked sideways to grab an antique dagger which sat in state on the wooden bathroom shelf, and shoved Methos against one side of the doorway, holding the blade steadily against his throat.

A rush of adrenaline increased Methos' desire. His breathing quickened as heat bloomed softly from deep within his chest down to his groin. This was certainly unexpected, but not at all unwelcome. They had played with blades a few times before, as a vague and indirect threat during foreplay; but never anything as intimate as this, and certainly never with Methos on the receiving end.

David had him by the collar of his shirt, using his other hand to run the edge of the dagger slowly around Methos' throat, back and forth hypnotically, coming very, very close to cutting him. The black swirls and lines of paint filled Methos' vision, creating a tempting illusion. He had dreamed this, hadn't he? Night terror or wet dream? He couldn't remember. Didn't care.

David's naked thigh slid between his own denim-covered legs, and Methos couldn't stop himself from groaning when satin warmth pressed insistently against his exposed erection.

Methos' hands wanted desperately to reach out and pull David towards him, but he resisted with an effort. He didn't need to be any more out of control than he was right now; already Methos knew that he was going to have to be extremely careful when he took the knife away.

Now the blade was gone from his neck, and Methos heard the distinctive sound of tearing fabric as the boy sliced his sweatshirt open. Methos broke out in goosebumps as the rags slid from his arms and cool air brushed his shoulders and chest, and when he felt the knife return to his throat he let his head fall back, baring himself to the exquisitely keen edge and gasping.

"Oh my, Adam," David said with low amusement, "I hope no-one else knows how much you like this; people would line up for miles for the chance to hold a knife to your throat."

"It's been known to happen," Methos said tightly, his eyes squeezed shut as shudders of arousal shook him. David was a natural-after all, he'd been trained by the best.

"Come on, Adam," David insisted, "tell me how much you enjoy this, how much you love it." The warm body rubbed sensuously against him, sighing, and Methos knew he had his chance.

"Yes-I love it," Methos acknowledged breathlessly, sliding once more against David's nakedness before he acted. When he felt his lover arching in pleasure, he brought both hands up as quickly as he could, clamping viciously onto David's wrists and overpowering him.

"I love it," Methos repeated, this time with a menacing snarl, "but not as much as you will."

David struggled a little, and Methos let him. It was easy to hold the knife hand safely out of reach while he twisted and writhed. After enjoying the ineffective grappling for a few moments, Methos whipped the boy around with a move he hadn't used in centuries, pressing the cool buttocks against his own hard cock while he glided the edge of the knife against the vulnerable neck.

Methos reached down with his free hand and began stroking David's erection, alternating caresses with the pressure of the dagger until his painted lover moaned and leaned against him in surrender. Methos bent his head to David's shoulder and bit gently, then licked up the back of his neck. David was gasping, wiggling himself back against Methos' cock while his body trembled with anticipation.

"Well," Methos murmured into the curved shell of the boy's ear, "you're an easy one, aren't you?"

"I'm yours," David said slyly, "I'll do whatever you want-"

"I know you will," Methos interrupted blithely, "and right now what I want is to be buried in your tight little arse. So tell me, boy," Methos spat, his arms squeezing his captive mercilessly, "are you going to be a good slut and let me fuck you, or are you going to make me take what I want?"

David began to struggle, and Methos had his answer. He allowed the boy to break away from him, but he kept the dagger. Now facing Methos, David began backing towards the living room, his eyes wide and hot with excitement. The evil filigree of Kronos' pattern taunted Methos, and there was a strange doubling sensation. Kronos' presence added an edge to the game, a touch of threat that sang in his blood.

Methos stalked the ghost before him, threatening him with the knife even as he subtly manipulated him towards the middle of the living room, where there were fewer things that could get broken. The rug would be soft enough, he thought; and if not, well, he was sure that David wouldn't mind a few minor rug-burns earned in the heat of the moment.

"Very naughty of you, teasing me like that," he chided in his most imperious tone, "you know I'm going to have to make you pay for that- I'm going to fuck you rigid."

Impish rebellion combined with the arousal in David's eyes. "You'll have to catch me, first," he wheedled, still lithely retreating, "and I'm a lot younger than you are."

Methos didn't try to hide his smile. "Oh, yes," he agreed silkily, maneuvering forward until David was in the middle of the room, "but you know what they say about youth and skill..."

Methos struck, feinting right with a mock grab for the nipple ring, and David fell for it. Within seconds the boy was stretched on the floor, pinned and helpless, with Methos straddling his chest.

"No match for old age and treachery," Methos triumphed, pushing the dagger's point into the vulnerable throat while his other hand directed his aching cock to his lover's mouth. "Now suck me," he demanded, "and make it good and wet, unless you want me to tear you open when I fuck you."

David did as he was told, and Methos' breath caught as his shaft was engulfed in welcoming slick warmth. He shifted his hips forward, pushing himself further into the open throat, pulling impatiently at the flaps of his jeans which kept interfering.

David was taking him nearly to the base of his cock. The brown eyes were smoky with desire, and Methos could feel the slight body trapped beneath him quivering in need.

His vision blurred as sensation overwhelmed him, and suddenly it was Kronos who sucked him; his proud, painted brother who was swallowing his cock with devoted enthusiasm. Methos released his grip on himself, grabbing instead for a handful of hair. He pulled hard, forcing himself all the way in, and the body beneath him stiffened. He paid no heed.

Methos moved faster now; moaning deep in his throat as he fucked his brother's mouth, ruthlessly taking what had never been given. He crushed the painted head against himself while he pressed down harder with the edge of the knife, cutting just a little every time he thrust forward, flinches of pain causing a cascade of pleasure to flood through him.

Suddenly Methos needed more; he needed desperately to make this subjugation complete. He withdrew quickly, keeping the knife in place while he stretched out, positioning himself between open, muscular thighs.

As he lowered his head he saw a series of tiny wounds beading with blood on the taut neck, and he traced these slowly with his tongue even while he pressed his erection to the opened body beneath him.

The salt of blood and perspiration stung erotically in his mouth as he sheathed himself with one hard stroke. A cry of combined pain and lust floated dimly to his ears, fueling his own excitement as his thrusts gained momentum. He exulted in his victory, reveling in the tight heat which surrounded him again and again as he lost himself in the pleasures of mastery and brotherly love.

The heady rush of control combined with the ecstasy of fulfillment of a long-denied need; it was his knife, his cock that ravished Kronos, it was his irresistible power that produced shudders of passion as he took what he wanted.

His own primal groans of desire were now superseded by louder, higher cries as the body beneath him approached climax, and Methos felt the assurance of command settle over him, giving him the strength to resist. He buried himself as deeply as he could and then stopped, smiling wickedly at the desperate moans and struggles under him.

"Oh no-please," the helpless words delighted him as much as the palpable sense of frustration, "don't stop now!"

"Beg me for it," Methos demanded coldly, his distant, superior tone belying the fire which burned inside him.

He was obeyed, eloquent and frantic pleas ringing in his ears like a benediction. He pulled back gently, only to thrust brutally once more. Under him there was a leap of response.

"Call me brother," he panted, seeking perfection in this daring moment.

"Brother-" the voice gasped at once, rushing, "please, my brother; take me, make me yours, I want you, I belong to you, I need you to fuck me hard-"

"Kronos," Methos murmured as his hips rammed forward, his prized control lost under this influence.

"Yes, my brother," came the response, ending in a sharp cry as Methos thrust again.

Methos felt himself surging unstoppably toward orgasm, his body tingling as if Kronos were really there. His whispers escalated to moans as the pleasure sharpened unbearably; yet he somehow managed to keep the knife in place while pushing an insistent hand between their bodies to grasp the throbbing shaft between them.

Only a few brutal strokes later Methos felt hot liquid pulsing over his hand, the sound of fervent cries of release pushing him over the edge. He let himself go, groaning his brother's name as his body erupted, shuddering ecstatically. Kronos drew him on, coming with him, accepting and welcoming him, flaying his nerves with sensation.

Methos invaded the painted mouth beneath him, feeling the last flutters of overwhelming pleasure ripple quietly away as he licked and bit at soft lips. He was saying goodbye to his brother, ready to let him go; and he wasn't surprised to feel tears standing in his eyes.

The tingle of Kronos' presence wasn't diminishing.

Abruptly on guard, knowing already that he was too late, Methos' head jerked up, meeting the wide, stunned eyes of Duncan MacLeod, who was standing immobile in his doorway.

"MacLeod..." Methos froze in dismay, feeling his cheeks burn with helpless embarrassment. He heard David's confused noise of surprise, and felt the body beneath him tense with shock and fear.

"What the hell-" David rasped, but Methos didn't respond. He couldn't look away from Duncan's eyes, emotions whipsawing queasily through him, too fast to register.

Duncan's mouth was open, but he made no sound. Before Methos could say anything at all, the other man quietly turned away, absentmindedly pulling the door shut.

"Oh damn," Methos murmured, leaping to his feet and tossing the bloody dagger to one side before attacking the buttons of his jeans in an attempt to close his pants. David was sitting up, looking at him curiously, his face miserable behind the smeared, dark pattern.

"Stay here, David," Methos warned as he moved toward the door, "I'll be right back, I promise, and I'll explain everything."

The tile of the hallway was very cold beneath his bare feet, but Methos wasn't willing to take the time for shoes. He strode toward the stairs, his body rashed with icy goosebumps, already thinking about how he would explain, never stopping to wonder why he would want to.

The cold air couldn't dampen the heat of embarrassment. Methos found himself tempted to just let Duncan go, to leave the situation as it was. Both his shame and his fear dictated that he should do just that, but Methos persevered, reminding himself sharply that he hadn't done anything wrong. He wasn't Kronos; and he wasn't a rapist. He had to make MacLeod understand that.

Methos felt a brief flash of frustrated anger. Why did Mac have to show up now, after three months of no communication? Hadn't he ever heard of a polite telephone call? Methos' mouth twisted wryly. He supposed that he was to blame for that-after all, it had been him who had set the pattern of dropping by out of the blue.

He moved quickly down the first flight, catching a glimpse of a dark head moving fast through the murky dimness below.

"MacLeod-wait!" he said sharply, and the dark head whirled toward him. Even in the faint illumination he could see disbelief warring with anger on the other man's face.

"What?" Duncan demanded curtly.

Methos was ready. "I can explain this, MacLeod. You don't understand-it's not how it looks." He came down the last few stairs slowly, stopping while he was still a safe distance away. His heart was racing.

Duncan scoffed indignantly. "Oh yeah, Methos? You can explain why you were raping some kid at knifepoint while calling out Kronos' name? I don't think I want to understand that, Methos. Thanks anyway."

Methos' embarrassment fueled his residual anger, and he struggled to control his temper. "It was just a game, MacLeod," he insisted, "I wasn't raping him-I didn't do anything to him that he didn't want."

"Then you're both sick," Duncan retorted, his face tight. "I came here because I thought I was wrong about you, can you believe that?" Duncan's voice was trembling, whether with rage, pain or both Methos couldn't tell. "It took a while for me to see... I wanted to tell you that I knew you weren't like Kronos..."

Methos felt frustration grinding in his temples. "I'm not like Kronos, MacLeod," he said impatiently, forestalling Duncan's contradiction with a raised hand. "Can't you grasp this? Haven't you ever played games before? It was just a fantasy-no harm done."

Methos felt his conviction increasing as he listened to his own words, although he noticed that Duncan wouldn't meet his eyes. Some unexamined and undefined emotion battled for freedom deep within his chest, but Methos remained steady. Later. He would feel all this later.

"No harm done?" Duncan queried, disbelieving, "Methos-you had a knife; he was bleeding."

"Yes, well, David's a masochist," Methos replied quietly. Duncan's eyes squeezed shut as if in denial, and Methos' exasperation increased. Even red-hot embarrassment couldn't make a dent in his belief that he hadn't done anything wrong. "If you don't believe me, come up and ask him yourself. He's a nice kid, MacLeod, you'd like him."

Duncan pressed his hands to the sides of his head. "I can't believe I'm standing here having this conversation," he murmured weakly. "For God's sake, Methos, you can't expect me to just take this calmly! I didn't even know that men...that you liked...you know." Now he finally looked up, his eyes wide with realization. "Is that why you couldn't kill Kronos?" he asked, "because you and he were lovers?"

Embarrassment faded into something that felt alarmingly like shyness as Methos shook his head. "Never." He shrugged. "I may be a little perverted, but I'm not sick."

Duncan stared at him defiantly. "Okay, Methos, if the boy is a masochist and Kronos was sick, what the hell does that make you?"

Methos' self-assurance slipped, and his discomfiture increased as he felt himself blushing. "I'm not a sadist, MacLeod," he replied, forcing his voice not to tremble. He felt oddly transparent, his powers of dissimulation suddenly fled into the ether. "At least, not usually. It's just that David needed someone so badly, someone who could...do that for him. He fell apart when Kronos died." He made himself stop before he stammered.

Duncan was looking at him in amazement. "Wait a minute," he snapped, "that boy was with Kronos?"

Methos realized his mistake. "Look, MacLeod, it's a long story." Duncan stared at him stonily. "Yes, David belonged to Kronos. I didn't know about it. Kronos kept him locked up, away from the rest of us. If I hadn't found David when I did he would have died."

Duncan was shaking his head. "Let me get this straight," he began, "Kronos kept this kid as his own personal slave, or something; and when you found him you just-took over?"

Methos summoned all his patience. The frustration of feeling deliberately misunderstood was enough to overwhelm his previous unease. He wondered briefly if Duncan was using this as a convenient excuse to go on hating him, if the stubborn Scot needed to manufacture a reason to justify shutting him out. His temper flared. "It's not like that," he said icily, "Kronos took what he wanted; he had absolutely no interest in the well-being of the people he enslaved-"

"Oh." Duncan interrupted angrily, "but it's okay when you do it, because you at least make sure that the people you enslave have a good time, is that it?"

Methos felt hot fury pressurizing behind his sternum, anger that pulled bitter words from deep within him.

"Listen, you sanctimonious bastard," he said harshly, "I don't have to justify my life to you! You're an idiot if you think I'm like Kronos, and I'm tired of trying to explain the spicier sides of my personality to you." Methos met Duncan's agitated, dangerous eyes, resenting the closed mind behind them. There was nothing in those eyes except what would anger Methos even further.

"MacLeod," Methos continued finally, walking an internal knife's edge as he issued a challenge, "it's my life, it's my business, and if it makes you uncomfortable you can just stay away from me!"

"You can count on that," Duncan said coldly, turning away. Methos stood motionless and watched him leave, fighting an urge to call him back, to try again to make him understand. Something moved deep within him, a jagged, precipitous feeling that Methos ignored.

He sighed. He hadn't expected Duncan to be quite so narrow-minded, but he supposed that life was like that when you just ran around killing bad guys for four hundred years. How dull could life get? Had he ever really liked that Scottish prig, anyway?

He knew what he was doing, trying to belittle Duncan so that this wouldn't be quite so painful; but knowing made no difference. His heart beat in his chest as if it would try to escape, and dismay twisted him until he hissed in response. He hurt, and for the first time he felt glad that MacLeod was gone; if he was hurting this badly, then he had felt more for the idiot than he'd ever acknowledged.

Loss swelled within him, and with it came the realization of how confident he'd been that Duncan would come back to him someday; how he'd been fully expecting Duncan to eventually just show up and quietly occupy the empty spot that Methos kept waiting for him.

Methos' eyes furrowed closed as despair gripped him. His body rocked with pain, but his mind relentlessly made another mark on the tally sheet of Those He Had Lost. Another small mark, one of thousands, each one hiding behind it a story of ruin.

There was a moment of disbelief. Had he actually just told Duncan to stay away from him? He had, he knew it, he just couldn't believe it; the ease with which it had been said, and the affirmative response. Duncan was gone.

In that silent moment of acceptance, Methos realized what his undiminished confidence in their future friendship had been concealing from him. Awareness engendered deeper dismay, an empty-stomach sensation of appalling strength.

As Methos recognized the signs in himself he sank down onto a stair riser, burying his face in his hands, quietly moaning obscene curses in a dead language. At some moment over the past three years, with no warning and less desire, he'd fallen in love.

Futility overwhelmed him. Why hadn't he seen it before? When he could have done something about it?

He struggled against tears which wanted to flow, resisting with every fiber the thought of sitting in a dusty stairwell crying his eyes out with unrequited love for an unappreciative, closed-minded, straight git.

No good. Methos had to settle for sobbing as quietly as possible into his muffling hands, curling himself around the cold suffering ache in his chest.

Little by little he got himself under control; more than anything else the thought of the boy helped him to calm down. David would be waiting patiently and obediently upstairs, probably going through hell as he wondered if he was going to be abandoned again. Methos needed to reassure him, and then he could worry about going somewhere to be alone with this newfound pain.

Please let David understand, Methos thought as he stood, wiping his damp face; hoping desperately that his lover would be easily assuaged so that he could get away and think. He couldn't stay with David. Not right now.

He climbed the stairs tiredly, feeling oddly empty, as if there were nothing inside the shell of his skin except dark hollow places and an ocean of grief. He composed himself forcibly as he neared his own door, making sure that his cheeks were dry.

David was sitting on the couch when Methos entered, dressed in sweatpants and one of Methos' T-shirts. The same one Methos had given him that first day, he noticed. His eyes were red as he looked at Methos unhappily, all traces of paint gone from his face. Methos felt a wave of tenderness for David, a passionate tenderness which still couldn't overshadow the pain that clutched Methos' heart.

"I'm sorry, David," he said gently. He sat next to the boy, pulling him into his arms. He kissed the smooth brow, threading his fingers through silky hair, pushing away thoughts of how Duncan's hair might feel in his hands. He had to make this quick, before this new awareness destroyed his composure.

"Who was that?" David asked, turning his face up to Methos'.

Methos sighed. "He used to be a friend of mine, that's all. He wasn't expecting to see me that way, and I thought I could make him understand." He shrugged. "I was wrong."

"Does he want you back?" David asked timidly. Methos smiled.

"A friend, David; Duncan was my friend, nothing more than that." Methos nearly cringed at his own words, words intended to comfort the one he cared for. Something inside him was bleeding; he was sure of it.

David was crying now, gently, and Methos' hands stroked harder in automatic response. "I'm sorry if I was bad..." David managed, words muffled against Methos' chest, "it's all my fault-if I hadn't tried to play that game with you-"

"Hey-" Methos interrupted quietly, turning David's face up to his own, "just stop that right now. That was my game too, if you'll remember, and I loved every minute of it."

The boy grew calm, and let himself be held. Methos felt David wiggling against him, trying to get as close as possible.

"Will you come to bed with me, Adam?" David whispered in his ear, and Methos tensed.

"I have to go for a while," he said reticently. At once the body he held stiffened in alarm. "I won't be gone for long, I promise; but I have to go."

"You're going to him, aren't you? Do you love him?"

Methos was firm. "No, I am not going to him, and I told you-there's nothing like that between us. But he was a good friend, and I just need some time to sort it all out." A simple response, but it was the best he could do in this moment.

"Please don't leave me," David begged, clinging to his neck with hands that shook, "I'll do whatever you want, really I will-"

"David!" Methos snapped, "will you please stop that? It's okay when it's part of a game, but game time's over for now." He pulled the trembling hands forcibly away. "You'll be fine, I promise," he soothed, "I'm not going to anyone else, and I won't be gone long. Now, do you understand me?"

David nodded miserably. Methos leaned down and kissed him, a deep, hard, hot kiss that could have easily led to other things if both of them had not been so steeped in unhappiness. As it was, a little of the fear had left David's eyes by the time Methos pulled away, and Methos gave him his warmest smile.

Methos rose and offered David a hand. The boy took it, allowing Methos to lead him into the bathroom. Methos got them both into the shower, glad when the tense body relaxed under his ministrations. He bathed David lovingly, ignoring the tentative stirrings of his lover's arousal.

David kept his good spirits as he was washed and dried and put to bed, and Methos was relieved. He dressed quickly; jeans, sweater, trenchcoat, making sure to turn his back to conceal his sword. He returned to the bedside briefly, sitting and taking the boy's warm hand in his own.

"I'll see you soon, David, don't worry."

David was trying to smile. Methos kissed him softly and lingeringly, then stood and walked out. The pain in his chest tore at him, driving his steps faster until he was out of the apartment.

It wasn't until there was a closed door between them that both pairs of eyes began to flow with bitter tears of loss.

Duncan was almost ready for bed when a soft knock sounded at the door of the barge. There was no buzz of presence so he left his sword where it was, wondering if it was one of Joe's surprise visits.

"Just a minute," he called, slipping on a soft shirt and a pair of drawstring pants. If it was Joe, he'd have to explain that he wasn't at his most hospitable and send him away. He didn't want Joe poking around in his head right now. Or anyone else, for that matter. He had a fleeting wish for someone he could talk to about what had happened, someone who would understand; but he dismissed it. He'd get through this on his own.

At least he knew it wouldn't be Methos. Duncan grimaced. It was only yesterday that he'd finally come to the decision to approach Methos, to try to regain the camaraderie they'd lost, only to find...what he'd found. He shuddered as he walked to the door.

"Who is it?" he called, his hand on the lock.

"Sorry to bother you," a soft voice, not one he knew. "Um...is Adam Pierson here?"

Oh dear God. It couldn't be. Duncan turned the lock, opening the door just a crack. Sure enough, it was. The boy he'd seen yesterday being raped by Methos was now standing outside his door, his eyes and nose red with misery. David, Duncan remembered, his name is David. Something tightened in Duncan's chest, and without conscious thought he tensed himself as if for battle.

"He's not here and he won't be here. Go away." Duncan was about to shut the door, but suddenly the kid was pressing himself against the open space.

"Please," he begged, "just tell me if he's okay-I'm so afraid..."

Duncan forced himself to relax. There was no threat here. He scoffed, but opened the door anyway. "I told you, he's not here. And you don't need to worry about Adam-he knows how to take care of himself. It's what he does best." he didn't bother to disguise the cynicism in his voice.

David looked like he might be close to collapse, his skin unnaturally pale even in the warm light of the barge, dark circles looming beneath his large brown eyes. Duncan almost felt pity for him.

"How in the hell did you find me, anyway?" Duncan asked abruptly. "Did he tell you to come here?"

The tousled, brown hair whipped back and forth in an emphatic negative. "No. I know he'd be furious if he knew, but I had to try to find him; he's been gone since last night." The boy swallowed twice, fighting tears, but managed to go on. "I heard it when he said your name, and today I searched his stuff until I found some papers, antiques he bought, I think. I thought that-that maybe you could help me find him, that you might know where he'd go..." the tears finally won out, and David stopped to mop his face with a damp-looking handkerchief.

Duncan's muscles tightened again, but this time with annoyance. His anger at Methos was exacerbated by his compassion for this unhappy young man, but still, even the thought of what he'd witnessed clenched his stomach with repulsion. He found himself confused between wanting to comfort him and wanting to slam the door in his face.

"He really will be fine," Duncan assured lamely, "you don't need to worry. If I know one thing about Adam it's that-"

"Do you know he's in love with you?" David sobbed, and Duncan suddenly went cold.

"What are you talking about?" he asked warily.

"I wanted him to love me, I hoped that if I did everything right he'd eventually love me...but I didn't know about you." The kid was hiccuping with grief, making his words hard to understand, although to Duncan each one seemed hellishly clear.

"I think you'd better go now," Duncan said abruptly, beginning to push the door shut. Before he could close it David dropped to his knees in the doorway.

"Please, if you see him; tell him I only want to know that he's not...not dead like Kronos..."

Duncan suddenly remembered that he was responsible for killing this young man's previous lover, and that this innocent kneeling before him had been the willing slave of one of; no, two of the cruelest men in history. The perversity of the situation overwhelmed him; he felt as if his feet were slipping on a treacherous path with a sharp drop on either side.

"Get out!" he demanded, and the boy flinched back from the doorway, scrambling to his feet. "I don't want anything to do with you, or him, or any of your little games. I can't help you. If you want to help yourself, why don't you just walk away from him-it's working for me." He closed the door, making sure that he locked it securely.

Duncan listened to shuffling footsteps retreating on the other side of his closed door, keeping his grip on the lock until they died into silence.

He was trembling. Thoughts and feelings pushed at him, demanding his attention, but Duncan had had enough. He took a deep breath, reaching internally for the self-possession which allowed him control. His body obeyed his commands, and the tremors stilled. Duncan wasn't tired anymore, but he made himself go to bed anyway, not wanting to give this strange situation any further hold on him.

He couldn't sleep. Fragmented images chased each other behind his closed eyes; Methos barechested, arms crossed, his body still sheened with sweat-"David's a masochist," spoken in a dry, matter-of-fact voice that maddened him; David on his knees in the doorway, pleading; and again-"Do you know he's in love with you?"; the two of them struggling on the floor-blade and blood; Kronos-

Enough. Duncan sat up, scrubbing his sleepless eyes with hard, callused hands. He couldn't understand what the hell was happening to him, why he couldn't just let it go. His stomach was churning, and abruptly he threw back the covers, wondering if he had any tea.

He found an old packet in the back of his cupboard, left long ago by some forgotten visitor. He meditated briefly while the water boiled, and then took the tea back to bed with him.

The boy had to be wrong. Methos couldn't be in love with him-he would have known. Methos had told him only yesterday to stay away, and Duncan was going to take him up on it. It seemed that the more he got to know Methos the more things he found to dislike.

Duncan knew what his mind was doing, trying to diminish Methos so that he wouldn't feel this discomfort, but it was effective. He began drifting off to sleep, vaguely congratulating himself on having successfully banished Methos from his mind; not aware that he actually thought of nothing else as he slipped quietly into blackness.

He stood in shadowed darkness, unable to move, staring fixedly at an alabaster slab on a raised platform illuminated by thousands of candles. The boy was tied to the slab with what looked like white scarves, naked except for a wreath of pale flowers around his brow and a ring which pierced his left nipple.

There was an aromatic heaviness to the air, either incense or woodsmoke drifting around him and weighing his lungs with a bitter, ancient smell. He felt a distant harbinger of alarm and tried to call out to David, but no sound came from his mouth.

The captive turned his head toward him anyway, and Duncan felt sudden dismay as he saw that his eyes were only blank ovals.

"You don't understand," the ghost-boy said to him without moving his lips, "we are proud to be called for sacrifice. This is the flesh that chokes the Beast that feeds on us." Duncan looked on in horror as a gaping wound opened itself in the boy's throat, as arterial blood pumped sluggishly over the pallid stone.

Duncan felt a scream locked in his throat, and he struggled unsuccessfully to break through his paralysis. Suddenly there was a warm and comforting hand on the back of his neck, and the horror abated. He grew calm.

Then Kronos was before him, standing in front of the altar, obscuring the boy's body. His face was painted in a pattern Duncan had seen somewhere before, and he held a dagger, the edge gleaming sharp even through the blood which covered the blade.

"Make love to me before I kill you," Kronos said conversationally, starting towards him with the knife raised, his other hand fumbling in his clothes to free his engorged penis.

Panic descended on Duncan and he tried to back away, but there was someone behind him, someone who pulled him close and whispered calming words in his ear. Kronos was approaching, floating towards them without touching the ground, the dagger held ready.

"Take my hand," the voice behind him whispered, and Duncan found a strong hand locked in his own, both wrapped around the hilt of an ancient sword. "We cannot save those who are lost to their own demons," the voice recited steadily as they raised the sword together. "We find our own demons, and then we fight."

Power rushed through Duncan as they brought the sword down in a deadly arc, as Kronos fell headless before them, as white mist began to obscure the flickering motes of candlelight.

In the Quickening Duncan felt his arms wrapped tightly around Methos; soft lips yielded under his, and there was smooth skin under his hands. They withstood the ecstatic jolts of power together, and awareness flowed into Duncan that he was taking Methos, holding him tightly while he moved inside him.

As lightning speared them brutally, electricity crackling between their joined bodies, Duncan heard Methos screaming in pleasure, his head arched back, coming in Duncan's arms. Duncan bit his throat, salt stinging his tongue as he came himself, hot, electrical pulses of light and fire that burned his skin.

"Love is like fire," Methos said in his ear, and Duncan felt sudden fear grip him as he realized that Methos was gone. Only his voice remained, "Nothing passes through it unscathed."

There was nothing left; no altar, no candles, no Methos-just cold blackness that seemed to creep inside him with every breath. He felt his heart cramp with fear and loss, and from a great distance he thought he could hear the boy, pleading-

Duncan sat up in bed, the moist sheet clenched tightly to his sweaty chest, the echo of his own cry dying slowly in his ears.

"What the hell was that about?" he asked aloud, panting. He fumbled for his bedside lamp, wincing at the light but nevertheless glad to see the solid reality of his own bed, his own home. His heart was racing, and there was a vague and thunderous sensation of barely averted disaster that bristled his nerves.

He released his breath in a great shuddering sigh, running one hand through his damp hair. A nightmare, that's all. Something warm trickled on his stomach and he pulled the sheet back, startled.

Oh. A combined nightmare and wet dream, then; undoubtedly the weirdest one he'd ever had. He was surprised to find himself blushing with embarrassment. He got up quickly, making his way to the bathroom where he washed away all the physical traces of the dream, wishing he could eradicate his thoughts as easily.

He was trembling again, but this time none of his efforts to focus and calm himself worked. His thoughts ran unfettered, and Duncan was shocked to realize that things simply weren't the same anymore. Events were unchanged, but he'd now been cursed with a perspective which made everything hellishly different, obliterating his former easy dismissal.

His mind refused to see Methos the same way. Duncan viewed the scene he'd witnessed with different eyes now, knowing that whatever else was true of Methos, he undoubtedly cared for that boy.

David. That damn kid was out there somewhere, probably searching through the worst parts of the city, and Duncan had sent him away. Somehow Duncan couldn't recover the righteous anger which had filled him earlier; each time he reflected on the situation all he could think about was that the boy had come to him for help, and Duncan had sent him packing.

He felt an undefinable sense of foreboding, some unnamed threat which weighed on his heart, spurring him to action. The sacrifice. The altar. Unlike other nightmares which always faded into jumbled unpleasantness upon waking, every detail of this one was preserved in his memory. The oddly premonitory quality of the dream disturbed him.

Duncan sighed, burying his head in his hands. "Damn you, Methos," he murmured. Methos should never have left David alone.

Duncan dressed quickly, all possibility of sleep gone. His mind kept questioning him, asking what the hell he thought he was doing, plunging into a situation where he wasn't wanted and didn't desire to go. As if in refutation of this question, the white-on-white image of the boy combined with the uncomfortable dream-memory of Methos in his arms kept recurring to him, deepening his unease.

He locked the door securely when he left, walking briskly into the Paris night with his breath sending visible streamers out behind him, vaporous manifestations of life which were quickly tattered to nothing.

Methos' chest was tight with panic as he clattered down the stairs. He was nearly to the landing when a wall of Immortal presence hit him, and abruptly his steps faltered. He looked down the adjacent staircase, ignoring the rush of panic he felt as he saw Duncan slowly climbing up.

"MacLeod," he stammered, wondering why the man who had dominated his thoughts for the last thirty-two hours was now dominating his landing, exactly where they'd spoken before.

Duncan looked sick, his eyes deeply shadowed. Methos reviewed possible reasons, hoping that this wasn't going to be another one of Duncan's bursts of recrimination. He didn't think he could take it.

"I have to tell you something," Duncan said quietly.

Methos felt himself flush with anger, but he kept it under control. "Not now, MacLeod," he said dryly, "I'd love to stick around and listen to you berate me for my twisted lifestyle, but I don't have time right now. I have to find David-"

"Methos," Duncan interrupted tonelessly, "David's dead."

Methos went cold. Everything inside his head became fuzzy and loose, and suddenly he could hear his own heartbeat loudly in his ears.

"What did you say?" he asked in a weak whisper, his hand gripping fiercely at the banister for support.

Duncan moved towards him, but Methos didn't even notice.

"Sit down, Methos. C'mon," Duncan said, pulling at his hand, "let go- you're going to fall over if you don't sit down."

Methos was sitting on the stairs now, feeling completely unconnected to his body, almost as if he were floating above himself. He knew this feeling, oh yes-he'd felt it too often-every time he'd lost someone.

"How?" Methos asked, staring blankly at the wall in front of him.

"It's my fault, Methos. He was worried about you and he came to me. He wanted me to help him find you-"

"Did you fight him?" Methos asked disbelievingly, finding himself needing to look at Duncan. Duncan was shaking his head, and Methos was surprised to see the soft brown eyes brimming with tears.

"No, of course I didn't fight him." Duncan sighed, "but I sent him away. I told him to get out and that he should just stay away from you." Duncan fidgeted briefly before he continued. "Later, I went looking for him. I found his body in an alley near the Rue de Pigalle."

Methos felt coldness seeping through him, his heart cramping in a frigid grip. "What happened to him?" he asked in a whisper, unable to look away from Duncan's guilty, compassionate eyes.

Duncan grimaced. "He'd been dead awhile. He was-he'd been assaulted. I don't think you want details, Methos." Methos was silent, the glacial detachment of shock blanketing him.

Duncan cleared his throat briefly and continued. "I searched, but there was nobody around, no evidence that I could see. I called the police and the ambulance for him, and I watched until they'd arrived-I did what I could-"

Duncan's voice faltered. He covered his eyes with one unsteady hand, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Methos," he murmured, "I know you cared for him..."

Unfortunately the sense of disconnection was fading; Methos was starting to feel again, and memories were starting to flood his unwilling mind. Deep-these emotions, these memories; rooted in some gnarled and interconnected core that lived deep within him. He knew what it meant. Consequences; choices easily made, paid for in blood. Again.

He closed his eyes, trying to stay on top of the pain, to not let it suck him under. Behind his closed eyes David turned his trusting face up to be kissed, burrowed into the curve of his body for warmth, rubbed his eyes with bloody fists, and reluctantly watched him, face pinched with misery, as he walked away.

Methos broke, his tears coming in a torrent as he buried his face in his hands. He felt arms surrounding him and he howled, not caring who held him as he shook with outrage and grief. There was a horrible sensation of unreality; a desperate denial of the words still burning in his brain. David couldn't be dead-only yesterday Methos had kissed him goodnight and told him he'd see him soon.

Even through the sorrow the burden of culpability descended; he had left David on his own in a very vulnerable moment, thinking only of his own suffering. The bitter edge of failure cut keenly; another piece lost in the ancient game between himself and death. Another little black mark-that sheet was very full, now.

Methos slowly came to the realization that he was crying in Duncan's embrace, his tears soaking into the other man's shirt. He tried to pull away, but the arms around him refused to yield, instead pulling him even closer, cradling him. Methos felt the threat of closeness even through the pain.

He resisted, needing to claim this sadness as his own, resenting comfort when what he wanted was castigation. David's face was before him again, and Methos lost himself in a wave of repentance. Innocence had no place near him...he should have known.

MacLeod was rocking him in a gentle but insistent embrace, and suddenly Methos was excruciatingly aware of the danger here. He wanted this, even in this time of loss; he couldn't turn away from his need to be touched, to be reminded that he, once again, was still alive.

As the crushing waves of sadness finally began to recede, Methos felt a familiar depression. That made it real-this was his customary process of mourning. After so many years and so many deaths, Methos was only grateful that he still felt anything at all.

Duncan released him, but one warm hand remained against his back. Methos curled into himself, pulling his sweater up to wipe his wet face. He needed to hide now, too conscious of the enduring ache, scarred by the memory of revealing himself so totally in that one unguarded moment. He had to get away from Duncan. Right now.

"I think you'd better go," he managed, his face still buried in the scratchy and unabsorbent wool of his sweater.

"I'm not going anywhere, Methos," Duncan replied softly. Even through the pain Methos felt a sudden goad of irritation.

"Look, MacLeod," he sighed, "you've done your duty by me, okay? We both know it's not your fault that David-it has nothing to do with you. Thanks for telling me. Now go!"

The hand against his back was moving in gentle, soothing circles, and Methos wrenched away, rebelling against the offered condolence.

"This isn't about duty," Duncan said implacably. "I don't want to interfere, Methos. I just want to be here for you, if you'll let me."

Methos hadn't ever heard MacLeod use that particularly tender tone of voice with anyone he wasn't sleeping with, and for a moment his anguish was dimmed by sudden horror as he wondered what David might have said to Duncan in the extremity of his fear.

"Listen, MacLeod," he snapped, "I'm not asking you; I'm telling you-go away! I mean it!"

"But why?" Duncan's voice was terrifyingly soft, seductive with compassion, and Methos had to struggle to maintain his distance, taking refuge in his grief.

"Because every time I look at you I'll have to remember why I let David die." It was the truth, and the disclosure brought fresh tears, warm traces of pain that overflowed but brought no relief.

Relief came when the comforting hand deserted him, when the warm presence by his side left a chill vacancy behind, when the sound of reluctant feet retreated into blessed silence. Methos sat on the stairs until his entire lower body went to sleep, unwilling to move, his burden lighter for being shouldered alone.

Despite emotional exhaustion and bone-deep weariness, Duncan hadn't been able to sleep when he finally got home. He'd spent the better part of two hours sitting in his favorite chair, sipping a glass of mediocre wine and fiddling with anything within reach.

He felt haunted. The senselessness of death hung around him in an almost palpable fog, images from his dream combining with memories of a still form crumpled on the filthy pavement of a dim alleyway.

His sense of self-preservation kept goading him to action, insisting that he do something; take vengeance, give comfort; anything to feel less like a helpless bystander. He dealt with this restlessness firmly, knowing that his part in this tragedy was done. He wasn't going to intrude again.

David had been right, he knew that now. Methos felt something for him. Duncan's sorrow about sending the boy to his death was increased by imagining the strength David must have summoned to beg for his help. His head ached, a painful awareness of having been too late.

No particular event had confirmed what the boy had told him; Duncan had simply known it the moment he met Methos' eyes as he came up the stairs. Under the painful influence of having to tell Methos of David's death the knowledge had gone almost unnoticed; even now it existed within him as a quiet and unspectacular fact.

Duncan took another sip of his wine and closed eyes that were dry with fatigue. At once he saw David's body again, feeling the burden of death like an irresistible pressure in his mind. He wrapped his arms around himself and wished he had the energy to push it all away.

He was resigned to spending the night in his chair. After the dream he'd had the bed seemed a lair for ghosts, and he dreaded it. He felt a strong need for comfort, something to remind him that being alive was a reward rather than a punishment, and he turned to his bookshelves, searching familiar titles for something that would soothe him.

A listless internal debate between Dickens and Twain was taking place when he felt the sudden buzz of Immortal presence, followed by a quiet knock at his door. Duncan put both books down.

"Who is it?" he called, even though he already knew.

"It's me." The soft voice confirmed it, and Duncan opened the door, studying the spare form slouched in his entryway.

Methos looked as tired as Duncan felt. Duncan found himself suddenly wondering where Methos had gone when he left David, but he knew that this wasn't the time to ask.

He stepped back out of the other man's way, gesturing with one arm. "Come on in," he invited.

Methos entered wordlessly, pausing in the middle of the room as Duncan closed the door and locked it. When he finished he found Methos looking quizzically at the rumpled bed, the chair, the half- empty glass of wine.

"I didn't think you'd be up," Methos said, turning towards him.

"I can't sleep." Duncan moved towards his kitchen. "Can I get you something? A beer? Are you hungry?"

Duncan's steps halted as he watched Methos' face suddenly constrict with emotion.

"MacLeod!" Methos exploded, "will you stop being so bloody nice to me?"

Duncan was unaffected. He'd expected some kind of outburst as soon as he'd seen Methos in his doorway. "You mean you came all the way here at," he checked his watch briefly, "four-thirty in the morning hoping that I'd be mean to you? I thought you said you weren't sick."

Duncan watched Methos biting back some retort, and then the mercurial temper disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. Methos shrugged, and Duncan saw the sarcasm sliding off a familiar veneer of annoyance.

"I'm sorry to have bothered you," Methos said, turning towards the door, "I don't really even know why I came here...I shouldn't have come-"

"Methos-wait!" Duncan interrupted, stepping quickly to the other man and putting a gentle hand on his arm. "Don't go." He paused, and Methos looked at him blankly. "I'm glad you're here. I don't think either one of us needs to be alone tonight."

Methos' eyes narrowed with suspicion. "What's wrong with you, MacLeod?" he asked, "Yesterday you were ready to put me in jail for my crimes against humanity, and now you want to volunteer as my next victim?"

Duncan sighed. "Enough, Methos." God, he was so tired. "I don't want to argue. Things are different now; I was wrong to judge you the way that I did." Duncan squeezed the tense arm he held, trying hard to make everything clear, to make Methos understand him, but the other man's face was impenetrable.

"I didn't want to listen to you then," Duncan continued, "but I do now. There's been enough pain between us already, God knows, and I just don't want it to get any worse. You're still my friend, Methos, and you're hurting-I just want to be here for you. Can't you see that?"

Methos scowled, pulling his arm from Duncan's grasp. "Aren't you afraid I'll whip out my knife and force you to submit to my evil desires?"

Duncan relaxed. When Methos descended to ridiculousness it meant that the crisis was almost over. He pulled the other man into his arms, feeling the inexpressible relief of giving solace.

"You won't hurt me, Methos," he murmured, accommodating to the strange feeling of having a man's body pressed against his own. He stroked the silky head under his hand, sliding down to cup the nape of Methos' neck. As he silently relished the warm velvet of skin his dream recurred to him, and he moved his hand quickly away even as Methos stiffened in his embrace.

"MacLeod," Methos objected stridently, "why are you making a pass at me?" He was trying to shake himself free, and in surprise Duncan let go.

"I'm not!" Duncan insisted. He started to explain, to tell Methos how he just needed to offer comfort, to ease his own pain by assuaging another's; but the words wouldn't come. There was a sharp tingle in each of his hands, a residual pleasure which urged him to reach out, to hold Methos again.

"Scratch that. I guess I am making a pass at you." Duncan rubbed his hands together to allay the sensation. "Why am I making a pass at you?" he asked Methos curiously.

Methos' eyes were wide as he shook his head. "Don't ask me!" he said defensively, taking a retreating step, "but I can tell you that it's not the smartest thing you could do."

Duncan agreed, but the desire persisted nonetheless. He nodded.

"I know that. This is a bad time for-"

"Your bloody timing isn't the issue here," Methos interrupted, rounding on him.

"Then what?" Duncan felt the first pangs of rejection, and he drew away a little. "Look, Methos; I don't really understand what's happening here, but I just keep feeling like I want to be with you, that somehow I can help you through this." He sighed. "I'm going on my gut feelings, Methos, so you're going to have to be the one to tell me why I should back off."

Methos looked angry, but when he spoke his voice was gentle. "I could give you a detailed list, but I know I'd never hear the last of it." He sighed, and Duncan saw tears brimming in his eyes. "Let's just say that you have no idea what you're asking of me. I'm not who you think I am, MacLeod; I can't give you any promises."

Duncan was drawn inexorably forward. He was worried that this was too soon, that he'd be doing more harm than good; but everything inside him was telling him that it was time for him to reach out, that this was what both he and Methos needed. He obeyed the impulse, his hand reaching up to stroke the other man's stubbled cheek. "I don't want promises, Methos," he said earnestly.

A knot of tension in his chest eased, the fear of loss dispersing into the slighter fear of the unknown. He wondered abruptly how long he'd wanted this, how long this secret had been hibernating within him. He couldn't pin it down, the exact moment when he'd started down the path of desire, he only knew that desire was here. Methos was a strange and complex man, and Duncan was simultaneously drawn and frightened by his unfamiliar depths.

Methos intercepted his hand, tossing it away. "You don't know what you want, Duncan," he said sadly. "It's not that easy."

"Yes it is," Duncan contradicted, giving in to his compulsion to pull Methos against him, "right now it's the easiest thing in the world."

He kissed unwilling lips, his own doubts fading as the other man's resistance slowly melted away. Methos capitulated by degrees until Duncan felt the body in his arms relax completely, the mouth under his open to his insistent tongue. This was right. He could make it right, if Methos would let him.

Duncan was shaking; just a little, but enough to grasp the extent of his own fear. He was going on instinct, ignoring the voice in his head that was demanding to know what the hell he thought he was doing.

There was a powerful sense of tenderness and taking, an enormous responsibility in receiving this precious gift that Methos offered, a dizzying sense of privilege that was almost holy. He wondered why Methos was letting this happen, momentarily dismayed when he realized that he'd almost been counting on Methos to deny him this.

His body felt submerged in heat, hunger burning a path from his groin up to his mouth. The intensity was more than a little scary, compounded by an even more frightening urge to lay claim to Methos, to answer this compliance with a demand for more.

His hand moved slowly down the slender back, crushing Methos to him until he felt a rising hardness pressing against his own. The novelty was both frightening and terribly exciting; he seemed to be standing on treacherous ground, things sloping away beneath him as balances shifted.

Although the mechanics of this were not utterly new, it had been a very, very long time. He recalled the embarrassed and inept fumblings of boyhood, a misguided attempt that was light-years away from this irresistible appetite, this need for possession. Suddenly an inarticulate fear overwhelmed the potency of desire, and Duncan was able to let go.

As soon as he relaxed his grip Methos was no longer his, some strange alchemy transforming them from one person into two. Methos slid adroitly out of his arms and stepped away, one hand to his own chest as he gasped for breath.

"I take it back, MacLeod," Methos panted, his cheeks flushed, "I guess you do know what you want." His eyes closed, and Duncan saw pain resurfacing on his face. "I just don't know if I can give it to you."

Duncan was a little calmer now, and he reached out slowly, placing a gentle hand on Methos' shoulder.

"We'll never know unless we try," he said softly. "Now, will you please stop running away from me? You're safe here, Methos."

Methos actually laughed, a shaky and uncertain sound. "If this is safe, I'd hate to see your idea of dangerous."

As if in reflex Duncan gripped Methos' biceps and pulled their bodies back together. He could feel Methos wavering between retreat and submission, and he tightened his hold on the other man's arms, determined not to let go. A memory of his dream surfaced, a palpably physical memory of Methos willing and passionate under his touch. He shivered, and Methos trembled against him.

"You can't..." Methos whispered, nearly pleading with him. The pain in the other man's voice wrenched Duncan's heart, the need to comfort blending seamlessly with desire.

"Let me do this, Methos," Duncan whispered urgently into the other man's ear, "whether you need to remember or need to forget, let me remind you that you're still alive."

Whatever he'd said, apparently it was something the other man needed to hear. Duncan was aware of a soft sigh as Methos relented, and then there was burning closeness as the other man flowed into his arms, molding their bodies together and opening to him.

Duncan groaned, clutching Methos tightly. He began backing the other man slowly towards the bed, trying not to lose contact with any part of his body.

They were inextricably tangled as they thumped onto the mattress, Methos reluctantly responding to passionate kisses as Duncan struggled with his own clothes. When Duncan finally wrestled his shirt off and felt Methos' strong yet tentative hands stroking sensually down his back he shivered, feeling an arousing tenderness run through his whole body.

Methos turned his head away, gasping for air. "It hurts..." he murmured, eyes squeezed tightly shut. Duncan touched the furrowed brow, soothing as best he could.

"It hurts because you're alive," he said gently. "Be alive with me, Methos. I want you to live."

The only response was a ragged sigh. Were his words causing further pain? Duncan couldn't tell. He had a sudden sense that everything between them had led them to this moment, this unlikely and unconsidered crux. The skin under his hands was radiating heat- warmth that seemed to saturate him to the bone, drawing him irresistibly on.

He worked his hands up under Methos' shirt and over his sides, muffling any protest with another deep kiss. There was a slight pricking as nails dug almost painfully into his shoulders, and his stomach melted at this evidence of Methos' arousal.

Duncan lost himself in the experience, knowing only that Methos seemed to be giving more and more of himself as Duncan wriggled him out of his clothes.

Fear was kept at bay by the simple fact of Methos' reticence. Duncan was so busy assuring Methos that he was safe, that all of Duncan's own internal resistance passed away virtually unnoticed.

Soon there was nothing between them, barriers shed along with the discarded garments littered about. Perspiration slicked their bodies, easing Duncan's movements as he slid down Methos' chest, holding the other man's hands immobile. He was becoming familiar with Methos' smell and taste, a distinctively masculine and addictively spicy combination that heated his blood.

"You taste good," he murmured, raising his head for a moment to study Methos' closed, taut features.

"Umm..." was the only response, and Duncan was at a loss to say which it was, unease or arousal.

Duncan frowned with sudden self-doubt, wondering stupidly why he was doing this in the first place. He closed his eyes, finding an immediate answer in the images which flashed across his consciousness: Methos-playing every card in his hand to survive, turning and walking away, crying his eyes out in the circle of Duncan's arms, standing firmly behind him in the confines of his dream. He knew.

He placed a wet, lingering kiss on Methos' abdomen, enjoying the quiet, nearly protesting sigh of response. There was something strangely compelling about Methos' passivity, something that made the other man's relationship with David eerily comprehensible.

Duncan was aware of unfamiliar forces at work, a shared need between them that Duncan be in charge of what was happening. Methos needed him-needed this.

Unconsciously, his hands tightened on Methos' arms. When Methos struggled a little in his grip Duncan clamped down ruthlessly, unprepared for the rush of heat his own body responded with. He gasped, and nearly pulled away.

Duncan forced himself to be still, his erection still throbbing from the sensation of having Methos defenseless in his grip. Understanding flooded him. This wasn't about simple force-the increased conflict only brought them closer together. The more Methos abandoned himself, the more Duncan claimed him, and the more Duncan felt himself indebted.

Methos' eyes were open now, looking at him curiously. Knowing he was blushing, Duncan made himself stare back.

"Got a bit of a surprise, did you?" Methos asked gently, the pain in his voice faded to a slight background echo.

"I told you before that I was wrong," Duncan responded with more than a touch of surliness, "what more do you want?"

"Spoils the fun if I tell you that..." Methos said dryly, eyes closing again as his head reclined into the pillows.

Duncan was paradoxically both reassured and annoyed by this typical Methos smart-ass remark. Both sensations goaded him to sink lower, ignoring his own fears and keeping a firm grip on the other man's wrists as he took Methos' cock in his mouth.

Methos trembled and gasped sharply, and Duncan nearly groaned at the pleasure that washed over him. He took as much of the rigid shaft as he could, his heart pounding with the intensity of this unfamiliar act, every nerve in his body tingling with awareness of his new-found needs. This wasn't just for Methos; this was for himself.

He found a seductive rhythm, using his tongue to lave the underside of Methos' erection at every stroke. Duncan kept waiting for his own fears to surface, for his mind to revolt against the intimacy of taking Methos into himself, but his mind seemed eerily quiet, and all his body wanted was for Methos to be as excited as he was.

The man trapped beneath him strained upwards, the wrists in his grasp almost pulling away as Methos cried out softly. Duncan's body flushed with heat, and his throat opened in desire. He sank downwards, engulfing Methos completely, insisting upon surrender with rapid, demanding strokes.

"Duncan, please!" Methos sobbed, writhing in his grip, "stop-you have to stop!"

Duncan moved back onto his knees and released Methos, concerned. His own erection was aching, an odd, pulling sensation that seemed rooted deep within him. "What's wrong?" he asked between gulps for breath, "what did I do-did I hurt you?"

"No," Methos replied softly, not meeting his eyes, "it was just-too much. That's all."

Duncan felt suddenly adrift, unsure of what to do next. He wondered if Methos was thinking of David, feeling his stomach tighten as he realized that Methos might be thinking of Kronos, for all he knew.

"Methos," he began quietly, "I have to know-do you want this?"

Methos' lips were pressed together tightly, but at least the other man was looking at him. Duncan felt a palpable wave of relief at seeing the heat in Methos' eyes, the only real answer he needed.

"Yes, MacLeod," Methos admitted, "I want this more than is wise."

Duncan shifted backwards as Methos sat up, admiring lean muscles moving fluidly under damp skin. For the first time Methos initiated a kiss, tasting and teasing him, making him weak with desire as he was pressed insistently back into the pillows.

Methos was a warm, comforting presence along his side, and Duncan immediately responded to the gentle hands that explored his face and chest.

Duncan was about to insist that he hadn't been finished with what he was doing; but then Methos took his aching erection in a firm grasp and Duncan's protest deteriorated into an inarticulate groan as Methos broke their kiss and pulled away, shifting lower to surround his shaft with a warm, open, willing mouth.

"Oh God," he moaned, his body quivering, "Methos..."

Methos was very, very good. The physical pleasure was intensified by the comforting, tender touches that stroked over his inflamed body, kneading his muscles, soothing his fears, opening his heart.

As Methos moved around him Duncan gasped in ecstasy, something inside him giving way to a molten, terrifying vulnerability-making love, this was how it felt to make love, and the bittersweet sting was because he was making love with Methos.

Duncan's body was being deluged with an almost unbearable pleasure, five thousand years of skill flaying his sensitive cock until he cried out, desperation increasing until his hands were clenching mercilessly into the other man's muscles and demanding release. Methos stayed with him, responding to every demand with an undefended eagerness that brought tears to Duncan's eyes.

There was fear now as he trembled on the precarious edge of self- control; fear that Methos' passivity would erode his own awareness. Even through the fear deeper desires were surfacing; he wanted to take Methos completely, to make him utterly his, to make them one.

This need burned within him even as the expert torture of his cock brought him to the edge of fulfillment, and he made the decision blindly, groping for Methos' head and pressing him close, all movement stilled except for the hot awareness of being engulfed in this wonderfully alive and responsive mouth.

"Methos, wait," he groaned, "I want...I need-oh, you know what I need, damn you-"

Methos glided away from him smoothly, and Duncan immediately regretted the loss as cool air surrounded his burning, saliva-slicked shaft. Methos turned over and stretched himself out, his long muscular legs expectantly and obediently open, his lean frame still except for slight tremors. Abruptly Duncan was trembling himself-deeply affected by this immediate surrender, touched in a way that filled him with devotion even as he fought the overwhelming urge to grab Methos' hips and ravage him.

"I'll go get something," he managed, forcing himself to back away from the incredibly tempting body, "um-I'm afraid I don't know much about this, Methos," now lust was tempered with embarrassment, "is there anything... I should use? Or shouldn't?" he was almost stuttering, and he shut up, hoping that Methos wouldn't need further clarification.

"There's no need," Methos said calmly, stretching erotically as he lay abandoned on the sheets, "you should be wet enough."

Duncan felt himself blushing. "But I don't want to hurt you-"

"Come on, MacLeod," Methos' voice was dark and seductive. Aroused, dilated eyes studied him over one damp shoulder. "You started this; don't go all coy on me now."

Duncan couldn't resist the invitation in those passionate eyes; he moved forward before he knew he'd decided to do so, and then there was warmth permeating him as he stretched out on Methos' receptive body. Legs opened wide beneath him, and his rigid cock was nestled between muscular buttocks.

There was no need for him to reach down, he could feel a slight give in the hot flesh he pressed against. His breath was coming in shuddering gasps as he captured both of Methos' passive hands in his own, linking their fingers together in an unbreakable bond. Finally surrendering to the fire inside himself, Duncan drove himself forward.

His fears were realized as Methos tensed and cried out sharply. Duncan's body overrode his mind's need to be gentle, muscles vibrating with ecstasy as he restrained Methos in an iron grip, thrusting again and again. He was melting, drowning, utterly lost in sensation; and helplessly terrified that he was hurting the one who made it possible.

Fear evaporated when he felt the man underneath him responding, pushing back against him to urge him deeper inside. Methos called his name, voice rough with desire, and Duncan answered Yes, with his mouth, his cock, his soul. This was the essence of what he'd sought; this desire that existed outside the boundaries of simple pain and pleasure, this consummation of intimacy. They were one, and Duncan felt a bright moment of combined pain and joy as he acknowledged what had been waiting for him here, right here all the time.

"Methos-this is...I can't-I..."


"Not-hurting you?"

"Oh no."

"I want you..."

"Take me."

He invaded Methos, seduced past all possibility of detachment by the need to possess, to drive out old demons by supplanting them. He leaned downwards and bit the moist skin at the back of Methos' neck, commanding further arousal as his thrusts intensified. Each push into accepting flesh was echoed by a passionate moan from Methos, erotic wordless sounds of helpless desire that tore at Duncan's last shreds of reserve. He was out of control now, hips moving mechanically in a futile attempt to satisfy the unfulfilled and endless craving to fuck Methos' willing body.

Within this simple need there was a deeper compulsion, a sudden desire to push Methos over the edge, to demand the other man's submission to pleasure.

Trying not to give in to the tight muscles which rippled around his desperate cock, Duncan released his grip, ignoring Methos' whimper of protest. His movements slowed as he enfolded Methos in a fierce embrace, one arm wrapped tightly around his chest while the other sought the smooth hardness of the erection which pressed firmly into the sheet beneath them.

Methos went rigid, and Duncan suddenly understood that for some reason being pleasured was a threat to Methos in a way that being ruthlessly fucked wasn't. He persisted anyway, caressing the hot shaft in his hand in time with the rhythm of his thrusts. His heart beat solidly against Methos' back, and tenderness swelled inside him for the man who'd given him this, this vulnerability that must cost so much.

"Let me touch you, Methos," he gasped, "I need to touch you."

An inarticulate moan was the only response.

Methos had buried his fists in the pillow which rested under his head, the large veins in his hands throbbing visibly as he clenched the blameless cotton as if he would tear it to shreds. This obvious conflict gave Duncan a small measure of control, his own needs sublimated by the urge to give pleasure, to overcome Methos' resistance. He leaned down to kiss the furrowed brow he saw in profile half-buried in the pillows, whispering reassurances and endearments into an ear which turned suddenly red with blushes.

Now he rocked sensuously within the tense body, shallow and gentle thrusts counterpointed by firmer strokes of his hand. Methos bucked and panted beneath him, writhing under the influence of some internal battle. Duncan continued, his own arousal fed and fueled by this subtle demand for capitulation; he was going to make Methos come, whether he wanted to or not. His heart spilled over: control and submission, love and desire.

The aching tenderness didn't deter Duncan from tightening his grip on Methos' torso, holding Methos in place while he shoved as hard as he could, at long last taking everything he'd wanted. Methos cried out in desperation, and Duncan was rewarded with the quickened throbbing of the erection in his hand. The squeezing tightness around his cock increased as muscles rippled and Methos opened to him, taking Duncan as deeply as possible.

He thrust hard again, and Methos uttered a high and despairing cry of release as Duncan felt hot liquid spilling over his fingers. Triumph and longing ripped through Duncan in almost painful waves, and consciousness retreated as he stroked Methos ever more slowly, the end of the other man's orgasm becoming the beginning of his own.

Somehow his hands found Methos' hips, holding firmly and taking, taking; dream blended with reality as he plunged into Methos' open willing body and came, crying out his lover's name over and over as he flowed endlessly out of his body and into Methos'.

In the slow return of awareness Duncan realized that Methos was crying, face buried in the pillows as his entire body shook. A moment of cold fear prompted Duncan to roll off of the other man, offering up an inarticulate and silent prayer that he hadn't hurt him.

Even as his heart was trying to pound through his chest, Duncan wondered what it had cost Methos to do this. Walls had been breached, he knew that. He could feel Methos on every pore of his skin, sinking slowly into him, becoming a part of him, a part he jealously wanted to keep.

He remained close to Methos' side, tenderly stroking the moist skin of back and shoulders, wondering what he should do now. His chest ached in sympathy for the incoherent desperation in Methos' continued sobs, and tears stung his own eyes as he lay there, still tingling from the sexual intimacy, feeling Methos slip away from him with an anguishing tug of loss.

Methos was crying harder now, and Duncan went suddenly cold with the thought that he'd caused this, that these abandoned tears were the end result of all his selfish need to give.

"Methos-" Duncan whispered, clutching the other man's trembling shoulder. "Please-tell me what I can do..."

Duncan fought the sense of separation fiercely, gathering Methos to himself, pressing the other man's hot, wet face to his chest. Methos sobbed in his arms and Duncan soothed him, searching for the right words, the elusive and magical phrases that would somehow make everything right. He was stung by his own helplessness, confusion descending where all had been bliss, wondering incoherently what had gone wrong.

As Methos' cries tapered to sniffles Duncan felt a moment of relief, but relief abated as soon as Methos rolled away from him and sat up, pulling up the sheet to wipe his face and sighing.

Methos seemed locked away from him now, shut away behind a mask of composure. A sudden, strange fear gripped him-did he know this man he'd just made love to? Did he really? He shivered. He'd felt so close; he'd never felt so close to another man, given so much, and Methos was pushing him away as if it had never been.

"Methos," he murmured, "did I hurt you?"

Methos laughed miserably, a sarcastic bark that added to the weight on Duncan's chest.

"Don't worry, MacLeod," he said dryly, "you didn't do anything to me that I didn't want."

Methos had said that before; Duncan had to think for a moment before he remembered. David-Methos had said that about David. Duncan was gripped with shame, but he couldn't tell if it was for past or present.

He had to do something, find some way to conquer this frightening distance. Duncan found himself staring helplessly at Methos' profile, realizing for the first time how very beautiful this man was to him. He felt powerless in the face of that inextricable blending of loveliness and sorrow, unsure of everything except the fact that somehow he'd made a mistake.

"I wanted to help you, Methos," he stammered unsteadily, "I thought if I could somehow bring us together-that maybe we could-that is..." He trailed off, floundering, unable to express his previous convictions. He felt like he was choking on his own foolhardiness, faced with the knowledge that he'd done everything he could, and it hadn't been enough.

Methos looked at him, reserved distance melting into compassion as he leaned forward and kissed Duncan's cheek. Duncan reached to hold him, and Methos submitted.

"You did," Methos reassured him, stroking Duncan's hair back with a gentle hand, "it was an incredible gift, and it was wonderful..." Methos paused and Duncan watched pain return to cloud the caring in his eyes.

"What is it, Methos?" Duncan asked sadly, "why are you pulling away from me? What did I do?"

Methos struggled out of Duncan's arms, sitting up and leaning his head into his hands. "I...I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I wanted you, Mac; I think I'd wanted you for a long time..." There was a sudden, heavy sigh. "It isn't anything you did."

The pain in these words pierced Duncan's heart. Contrite, he reached out and rested his hand on Methos' shoulder, glad when the other man didn't shrug away from him. "I can't change what happened, Methos."

Methos sighed again, and then spoke, his voice muffled by his cupped hands. "I have to go, MacLeod," he said quietly.

Duncan was seized with sudden panic. "Go?" he asked, "What do you mean, you have to go? Why?" His hand had tightened unconsciously, and he made himself ease up when he saw his fingers threatening to disappear into Methos' pale and easily marked flesh.

"Please..." Duncan paused, wondering how to convey the enormity of his emotions when every word seemed insufficient. "Stay with me, Methos," he finished quietly.

Methos turned to him, and Duncan felt his heart torn by the fierce pain in the other man's liquid eyes.

"I'm sorry, Mac," Methos said soberly, "I can't."

Duncan's head was shaking back and forth, an involuntary manifestation of denial. "Why?" he asked miserably, feeling a cold dread settle in the center of his chest, "I don't understand..."

Methos had moved slowly away from him, and now he seemed to avoid Duncan altogether, his face carefully blank as he gathered his scattered clothing from around the perimeter of the bed. It seemed only moments before he was dressed, unreachably distant behind the cloth armor and impenetrable composure.

Duncan was dismayed at the amount of pain caused by this simple act. As Methos shut himself away behind barriers Duncan dropped through levels of cold and isolation, becoming a frozen and solitary being who stared hungrily at a stranger. Duncan felt as if he'd been halved, and would never be whole again.

Methos finished dressing and took his coat from the chair where Duncan had flung it in the first heat of their passion. This memory wrenched Duncan, pulling an anguished sigh of loss from him. "Please, Methos," he begged, unable to stop himself, "don't leave me now."

Methos' distant veneer melted, becoming a look of tenderness and longing that cut Duncan to his centre. The coat fell from Methos' hand unnoticed, and he took one hesitant step forward.

Suddenly Duncan found himself pressed deeply into the bed, Methos flowing over him, twining their hands together and thawing Duncan's icy numbness.

"It's okay, Duncan," Methos whispered in his ear, "I'm not going away forever, but I have to go."

Before Duncan could protest Methos' mouth was on his, a gentle, slow, passionate kiss that made tears spring immediately to his eyes because it was perfect, a perfect kiss of both apology and farewell. He felt Methos' tears trickling onto his own face and tried to fight the despair that rose up within him.

Methos kissed him for a very long time, a blessing and a curse that opened Duncan's heart only to flay it. Duncan wanted to withdraw, to take refuge in anger so that he could sidestep the pain of abandonment, but the overwhelming tenderness prevented him from even trying. Methos was sharing everything with him, as if to put a lifetime of loving into this one caress, and Duncan could no more stop it than he could stop his own heart.

Finally, after an endless time of drowning in the solace of Methos' compassionate mouth, Duncan felt the other man pull away. He closed his eyes, knowing that if he watched Methos leave he'd do or say something he'd regret. Strange, how his body seemed so peaceful when he was so full of pain.

A gentle hand brushed his forehead in a sweet, mute plea for forgiveness, and then there were steady footsteps, retreating. Duncan bit his lips against the words that wanted to escape, a fierce and bitter struggle which he won, the silence broken only by the final click of the closing door.

Methos was grateful for the coldness of the air as he walked through deserted pre-dawn streets; the cold numbed him, sapping Duncan- inspired heat from his body and giving him an excuse for shivering.

Even the intense cold couldn't touch the hot pain welling inside him, however; the same feeling as a mortal wound, but one which he knew would be a long time healing.

Duncan's hurt, puzzled face recurred to him, blending seamlessly in his mind with the last time he'd seen David. If he'd learned anything in the past five thousand years, it was that it was better to be the one who leaves than the one left; sometimes ties were severed despite every effort to preserve them, and sometimes they had to be forcibly amputated-but always they bled.

Methos had felt his own bleeding start as he came in Duncan's arms, surrounded with a love and tenderness that threatened to consume him. His teeth chattered relentlessly as the memory of his surrender sent a sudden flash of heat through his body, an adrenaline rush that only made him more tired. It had been dangerous, and foolish, and very, very good.

David had been with him in that moment, the memory of his lover clouding his surrender with doom-a blade touched to the spot of his greatest vulnerability.

He had given David so very little. He had cared for the boy, enjoyed him, and had been somehow cleansed by his innocence and sweetness, but he'd always held the line between lover and beloved. David had given him a chance to heal some very old wounds, a chance to put history to rest. Methos had been grateful, but he had never been in love.

The burden of grief after the boy's death was a warning-it was only too easy to imagine how it would feel to lose someone he deeply loved: how it would feel to lose Duncan. The countless privations of five thousand years had not inured him to the pain, it seemed; even now his raw, exposed nerves were shrieking that they couldn't possibly stand any more.

The pain he felt in leaving MacLeod had been freely and deliberately chosen. The anticipated pain of loving Duncan only to lose him was unimaginable. As the sharp, biting cold sank deeply into his bones Methos curled himself around the ache, too aware of the dark emptiness that stretched over and before him, each step a bitter triumph in a hollow victory.

In Duncan's eyes there had been a promise of everything Methos had ever dreamed he could want-a companion, a lover, a brother who could withstand the centuries with him. He couldn't accept that. Not when fate and desire had the power to render him helpless.

Methos silently cursed the fates, aware of the worthlessness of the gesture but unable to stop himself. He clenched his hands into fists and shoved them deeply into his coat pockets, wishing that he could lay blame for the fact that David's death had shown him how badly he still could be hurt.

Methos ignored the tears which rapidly cooled on his cheeks as he moved tiredly towards his abandoned and solitary bed, light dimming in his eyes until there was only a bleak absence of spirit, indistinguishable from the eyes of the dead.

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