Disclaimer: The Highlander characters are the property of Panzer/Davis and Rysher Entertainment. Borrowed without permission. Do not archive, repost, publish or link without discussing it with me first. Written for pleasure, not profit. Contains sexual situations between male Immortals. If you're underage or the concepts offend, please read no further. Comments are welcomed (and almost always responded to) at JBonetoo@yahoo.com.

Title taken shamelessly from Canto 1 of Byron's "Don Juan" -- "I want a hero: an uncommon want."

Thanks go to Kady Mae for telling me what to take out and to Kat for telling me what to put in, to JaC for being my perpetual first-look guinea pig, and to Z&n for providing me with such a lovely home and such wonderful roommates. Special thanks go to the mole in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Canon Caveat: Uses "The Modern Prometheus" as a launching pad, but hastily diverts... This is another companion piece to Interlunation and Those Who Trespass. You needn't necessarily have read the others, but this one might make more sense if you do.

Thoughts encased in /...../

An Uncommon Want (NC-17)

by Bone

August 1998

Back in the 1960s, Methos lived for a time in Mississippi. How he ended up there he could no longer remember. How he left was infinitely easier to recall -- with his back end on the front end of a boot belonging to a Sunflower County sheriff's deputy. May 12, 1964. He'd been given two options: Jail or a hasty exodus from the state after signing a form stating he'd never return to their hallowed ground. Pen in hand, Ben Adams had gone for what was behind Door #2, and had never regretted his inability to set foot in the state of Mississippi again.

Not much raised Methos' ire to the levels achieved by that sheriff's deputy. More than the vote, more than freedom from the dogs and the firehoses, more than integrating the segregated water fountains and toilets, it was the "civil" in civil rights that Methos fought for. That human society could survive so long... and learn so little... Every now and then, Methos felt a compulsion to protest.

His memories of that time weren't all bad -- far from it. He'd lived on the edge of a small black community, his pale skin practically translucent in comparison to the others in the tiny town. Though he wasn't licensed as a doctor anymore, he helped where he could, and the locals eventually cast aside their reserve and accepted him. Nominally. Perhaps it was his accent, but they didn't seem to group him with the other white people who surrounded their enclave. They found a way to live together, the residents of the town providing company and conversation to the stranger who salved their wounds and set their broken bones.

One sultry summer evening stayed with him, a permanent exhibit on display in his memory, though he wasn't sure why. Perhaps because it was such a classic example of thousands of nights before it, and thousands more that would come after: Methos draped over a stool at a bar, a cold beer bottle dripping condensation on his fingers. Blues music spearing the night with the blend of humor, strength and pathos that could have been Methos' theme song. A hot, hot night. Ceiling fans doing their best to stir the torpid air, modesty discarded along with shoes, hose and anything else that might trap heat. The humid air filled with voices, the liquid vowels and dropped consonants and long-drawn out syllables like music in his ears.

Across from him sat a beautiful girl. He could see the sheen of perspiration on her neck, see the damp patches of cotton clinging in strategic places. He'd been watching her watch the door for more than an hour. Each time the screen door creaked, her eyes leapt to it, then when she saw that the person entering wasn't who she was looking for, her eyes would drop again. Each time, her anticipation sparked an errant charge that found nothing available to receive it. She smoothed a damp cloth across her cheeks and neck and Methos drank another slug of beer. If she knew of his attention, she never acknowledged it. Only the door received the favor of her glance, and then only for an instant.

Whoever he was, he never came. Methos watched the night out with her. The rowdy crowd dwindled to the very drunk and the very in love. No one else was out that late, except Methos, and the beautiful girl. They kept their vigil until dawn drew its first rosy stripes across the eastern sky, and still she sat.

She would always be his picture of what it meant to wait.

"You don't have to stay up, Joe," Methos said, pulling his forehead off his crossed arms on the bar.

He reached over and grabbed another bottle from behind the counter, then plopped himself on one end of the big black couch, cocking up a knee for his elbow to rest on. He poured another healthy portion of liquor in his glass, content enough for the moment. He had a bottle of whiskey, a comfortable seat, and thoughts enough to keep him company for this one night and a millennia to come. He appreciated the show of support, if that was what it was. The more cynical portions left in him wondered if Joe was just waiting for Act Two to begin.

"I don't mind waiting up," Joe said, thrumming a random tune on his guitar.

Methos glanced over at him, at his steady, sturdy presence, and felt mildly ashamed of himself. An awful lot of shit hadn't gone into Joe's Watcher files in the past few years, at no little risk to himself. If Joe wanted to see this through to the end, Methos wouldn't stop him. Besides, there was comfort in having company while he waited.

While he waited. Methos was waiting for MacLeod the way that beautiful girl had waited for her phantom lover, and probably as futilely. For hours he'd sat where he could see the entrance, see each person who wasn't MacLeod come into the club, even though he knew full well he'd feel the Highlander before he ever set foot inside the door. It bothered him a little to realize he had no doubts about the outcome of the challenge. He wasn't waiting for Byron to breeze in the bar. He knew very well who he was waiting for.

All the patrons had wandered off about an hour earlier, when the music stopped. Now it was just him and Joe, sitting and drinking. Joe would play a little and Methos would pretend to listen. Joe would try to start a conversation and Methos would nod once or twice, until silence descended again.

The buzz, when it came, had layers on top of layers. Quickening intensity, then Duncan's broad band of energy, with Byron's grace notes spread thinly on top. Duncan had won, although Methos doubted he would see it that way. Methos knew Byron had won, too. Red curtains parted and there he stood. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Pursuer of the wicked, defender of the just, slayer of the genius that has been overtaken by its own appetites. Six feet of righteousness, exuding unexpected waves of discomfort and remorse.

Oh, that look. That stubborn, sad, broody look. Methos could count on both hands the number of times the Highlander had smiled at him since they met. Really smiled at him. More often than not, some crisis arose, some issue to be resolved, some moral dilemma for them to disagree on. Once, just once, Methos would like to make Duncan smile. Not likely to happen now. Not on this night.

Methos looked away so Mac wouldn't see the momentarily relief in his eyes. It was good to see Mac whole, soul-damaged or not. He'd known the moment he heard Mike had died that it would come to this. Now Byron's poetry, his music, his raging appetites, lived in Duncan. The irresistible force had met the immovable object. Only one could survive such a collision.

Duncan joined him, tossing his coat over a chair, grabbing a glass from the bar. He sat heavily in a chair across from Methos and poured himself a drink. He drank, then set the glass down, obviously waiting for Methos to speak. Methos made him wait, figuring it served him right, but eventually, he capitulated, speaking a simple truth for once.

"Matter and anti-matter. Byron knew that, too. His life had become one long tragedy," Methos said wearily.

"And we all know how those end," Duncan replied.

That took care of conversation.

Time passed, the hour grew later and later. The level of whiskey in the bottle dropped. Duncan and Methos slouched further in their respective seats. Finally, the sad strains from Joe's guitar faded away and the gray-haired man pushed himself off the stool. "I'm gonna call it a night, guys. Lock up on your way out, ok? And don't kill each other."

"You got it, Joe. Sleep well," Duncan said. Methos just raised his glass in salute and farewell.

Without the soft background music, the bar was dismally quiet. A bar shouldn't be quiet. It should have music and laughter and shouts and applause. It shouldn't be two men sitting carefully apart, trying to think of what to say. Duncan looked at Methos, at his remote expression, the body turned away.

"Methos, I'm sorry," Duncan said quietly.

It seemed a reasonable place to begin. He was sorry. Sorry Byron had killed Mike, sorry that he had felt compelled to right the wrong. Sorry Byron had ever reappeared, especially when he and Methos were beginning to relax again with each other, no longer leaping down the other's throat at every suspected slight, no longer flinching away from casual touches. Then Byron had sauntered into Le Blues Bar, held Duncan's eyes seconds too long for comfort, then raked his gaze over Methos' body as if he knew exactly what lay beneath those loose clothes.

And he had known. In Byron's Quickening, Duncan had unwillingly taken in some of his memories. Erotic beyond the point of pornography, some of them. Byron with men, women, assorted livestock, and what appeared to be small musical instruments... And with Methos. Naked, writhing, just-at-the-edge-of-orgasm Methos. On his belly, on his back, on his knees. In states of surrender Duncan had never seen, never dreamed of. What had made it possible for Methos to turn over his body so completely to that weak, arrogant fop? And why couldn't he reduce Methos to that state of unabashed need?

The images combined with the usual post-Quickening arousal in ways that made Duncan feel as if his insides had melted together. He could feel the throbbing of his penis in his fingertips, in his lips. He felt like one big huge erection, the rest of his body just a source of blood for his cock. Never had he taken a Quickening more sexual. It felt as if Byron had penetrated him, entering him through crevices and portals that were previously virginal. Just one more thing to feel guilty about, as far as he was concerned. He'd killed Methos' friend, his lover, and all he could think about was when he could recreate one of the expressions he'd seen flash through his mind during the Quickening: Methos, with his eyes half-shut and his mouth half-open, tiny beads of sweat on his upper lip.

"Don't be sorry, MacLeod, not on my account."

Duncan pulled himself back into the room, sliding forward a little to make sure his erection was shielded by the table. He looked over at Methos. The Old Man was tracing idle patterns with the condensation that leaked from his drink glass to the glossy wood tabletop. The long finger wove circles and lines together, but they broke apart after him, leaving only drops in random patches. Methos didn't look up as he spoke.

"I wanted him to live. He wanted to die. He got what he wanted. Simple as that," he said, his voice low in the quiet. He glanced over at Duncan. "I tried to stop you because of who he'd been, not who he was now."

"People change," Duncan said, and that brought Methos' whole body around to face him.

"Yes," Methos said. "They do." His hazel eyes searched Duncan's, then dropped again. But his body still faced the Highlander, and that gave Mac some hope.

"Methos, I...." Duncan started to speak, but Methos cut him off.

"Do we have to talk about this?" Methos asked quietly, his hazel eyes somber, not angry.

Duncan reached out a tentative hand, resting it lightly on Methos' muscular forearm, exposed by the sweater he'd pushed up to his elbows. No matter how nicely Methos dressed, he found a way to make it casual day -- sleeves pushed up, a belt missing, creases every which way on his trousers. Not much for formality, was Methos.

"We don't have to talk at all," Duncan said, and even he could hear the seduction in his voice. He wanted Methos, so much that just the touch of his fingers on the Old Man's arm had his cock leaking. It wasn't like the night they'd killed Kronos, there wasn't any rage tonight, no hint of betrayal. If anything, Duncan felt the betrayer now. Once again, he'd killed someone Methos cared about, regardless of how little the object of his affection deserved that prize. But Methos didn't seem to be holding it against him. Wonders would never cease. Or perhaps Methos was just older and wiser.

Methos turned his arm up under Duncan's hand, exposing the tender inner surface, the veins at his wrist, the sensitive palm. Duncan played the vulnerable flesh, lightly scratching up to the elbow, then all the way back to the soft spot in the center of his palm, causing the fingers to curl in on themselves. Methos closed his eyes and a contented sound rumbled from him, a throaty purr. Long minutes passed. Duncan didn't know why he was dragging it out, except that the anticipation felt so damn good. Methos wouldn't refuse him. He'd have him, here, on the couch, or the floor, or across a bar stool, but he'd have him before morning. Knowing it, knowing Methos knew it, made it possible to draw out each stroke of his hand on that bare arm, watching his darker fingers on the fine skin, watching the tiny hairs stand up for him.

Duncan looked up eventually to find Methos' eyes on his face, intent and alive. Not quite gold, not quite green, nothing as ordinary as brown, they were some woodland combination: Speckled trout mixed with fawn, with a dash of autumn leaf for extra ammunition. Lethal eyes, capable of slaying Duncan's defenses without a protest, let alone a struggle.

"I want you," Duncan whispered, finding he had no voice at all.

Methos heard anyway. Never taking his eyes from Duncan's, looking as old as Duncan had ever seen him, he answered. "You have me."

Duncan let go of the arm he'd been caressing as if it burned him. He vaulted from his chair, brushed aside the bar tables that separated him from his destination and knelt in between Methos' outstretched legs.

"Here?" The question was almost a yelp. Methos tried to back up out of his slouch, awareness of where they were apparently returning in a rush as he looked around the deserted bar.

"Who's going to see? No one's here, Methos. No one at all," Duncan said, putting strong hands on Methos' thighs to still him.

Duncan was out of his mind. Methos didn't care that it was three in the morning and there wasn't a soul in sight, this wasn't a good idea. Duncan rubbed his face on Methos' thigh, his hands sliding behind him, pulling him down further on the couch. /Maybe I'm the one who's lost it,/ Methos thought, because he was going to let a 400-year-old Scot give him a blowjob in a public building. With the lights on. His sweater was pushed up, the snap on his trousers violently separated from its partner, his zipper ripped down. Whatever patience Duncan had used to pet him for minutes on end had obviously been exhausted, because before Methos could do more than moan a token protest, Duncan had his cock in his mouth.

Electric. Blistering. Strange. Familiar. Sensations crowded in on each other as Duncan swallowed every inch of Methos' cock. Methos couldn't watch without coming, so he closed his eyes, dropped his head to the couch back and let Duncan have his way with him. Fast and furious didn't begin to describe it. Methos felt battered by the strength of Duncan's hands on his hips, the suction on his throbbing penis, the heavy chest that rested on his widespread thighs. Surrounded by the Highlander's heat, raised on waves of feeling and passion, Methos pumped steadily into Duncan's strong wet mouth, sliding smoothly between layers of lip and teeth, Duncan's firm tongue finding the slit at the very tip and teasing it until it gushed in his mouth. Methos groaned out loud as he came, and he heard the sound reverberate in the acoustics of the room.

It took a couple of minutes to pull himself together. Duncan continued to surprise him. Surprise. That was a mild word for it. Methos didn't know if the attack had been provoked by what Mac liked to call the "post-quickening stiffies" or his own hunger, but Methos wasn't going to question anything that felt that good. Plenty of time for questions later, if need be. Methos raised his heavy head, smiling down at Duncan, savoring that marvelous post-climax, all's-well-with-the-world feeling, ready to reciprocate. He gathered the strength to reach for Duncan, saying under his breath, "Your turn," as he touched Duncan's broad shoulders.

"No need," Duncan murmured, coloring a little. Methos glanced down. Just to the right of Duncan's zipper, a damp circle told its own story. Methos bit his cheek to keep from laughing at Duncan's abashed face.

"Well, at least get up off the floor," Methos said, urging Duncan onto the couch beside him. Duncan followed his lead, but stretched out, putting his head in Methos' lap in an unexpectedly intimate gesture. A little startled, Methos rested his hand on Duncan's head, then tucked an errant strand of hair behind Duncan's ear.

"How many times are we going to do this before we talk about it?" Duncan asked quietly.

Methos exhaled on a quiet laugh. "You tell me, MacLeod, I'm not the one sucking a guy off in a bar."

Duncan grinned up at him, and Methos' heart turned over. Finally, he'd made him smile. All it had taken was some smut talk. Methos shook his head. He could have earned that smile months ago, if he'd known.

"I'm not used to this, Methos. It's been a long time. A long, long time," Duncan said, trying to be flip, but Methos heard an uncertain undercurrent.

"It's not that different," Methos said lightly, stroking one finger across Duncan's wide brow. "You're a man, you know what you like. All the same principles apply."

"Do you remember your first time?"

"With a man? Mac, I don't remember my first life," Methos said, touching the top of Duncan's head. "As far back as I can remember, I've loved both men and women. Old, young, pretty, plain, tall, short. I was a proponent of equal opportunity long before it became fashionable." Methos smiled. "I draw the line at farm animals, and with rare exceptions, I've tried to steer clear of other Immortals, but otherwise... "

"Oh, thank you for grouping me with the farm animals," Duncan groused, but he was kissing the soft skin under Methos' navel at the time, so Methos didn't think he meant it.

"What about Amanda?" Duncan prodded. Methos flushed, but didn't fuss. He figured Duncan deserved a dig now and then, given that his two dear friends had neglected to tell him of a five hundred year history they shared.

"How many times have you said 'no' to Amanda?" Methos goaded, toying with Duncan's small ears.

"Good point," Duncan said, his attention wandering to the hollow of Methos' hip, pushing aside the dark trousers to expose the achingly pure line of muscle and bone.

"What about you? Do you remember your first time?" Methos asked, curious.

"Yeah, I remember," Duncan said, and he turned his head into Methos' stomach.

Eriskay Island, Scotland, 1745

"To Charlie! To Charlie!" The roar went up into the dark Scottish night, flying up with sparks from the bonfires and raised flasks. In the dancing firelight, Warren Cochrane's face glowed, anticipation and hero-worship smoothing away lines of grief and worry. Duncan looked at his friend, at the light in his eyes, at the bright smile reaching all the way across his face. Duncan knew Bonnie Prince Charlie wasn't the man to save Scotland. But he didn't know how to tell Cochrane that.

Warren Cochrane approached life with an idealism and passion that made Duncan look like a debauched cynic. Cochrane adored his homeland -- he fought for her with the strength of ten men, straight-forward and vocal about his hatred of the English bastards who would shackle her. A man of deep conviction, he wore his Clan tartan like a flag flown over a battlefield. Duncan admired his zeal even as he feared reality could never live up to Warren's expectations.

The whiskey flasks eventually dribbled the last of their contents down parched throats, the rowdy songs dwindled to an occasional lament, the fires were stoked up for the night and the soldiers wandered to find soft spots of ground for sleeping. As usual, Duncan and Warren elected to sleep at the edge of the camp, closest to the road, closest to where intruders would most likely appear. Both were more than willing to give up an Immortal life or two for The Cause, especially to protect the troops -- these fathers, sons, brothers and husbands of good Scottish women.

The thin blankets weren't as warm as their thick wool plaids, so they used them for groundcover, then covered them with Duncan's heavy cape and Warren's overcoat, creating a barrier from the cold damp earth. Duncan followed Warren's lead and wrapped the extra length of his tartan around his shoulders. Away from the fire as they were, the night air was more than brisk -- it was downright cold. Duncan stretched out on his side, tucking his knees up to his chest, trying to get his bare legs covered by the plaid. Beside him, Warren did the same, moving closer to Duncan as he did so. A strange sound started, alien in the nightly serenade of owl hoots, horse snuffles and the fire's muttering voices. Duncan rolled over to look at Warren.

"That your teeth chattering?" Duncan asked, and Warren responded with a tight nod.

Duncan glanced over at the sleeping soldiers, probably fifty yards away. "Take off your plaid," he said softly, reaching down to unclasp the pin that held his own together. Warren complied, unwrapping the yards of good wool. The long white shirts they wore underneath left them more than decently covered. Duncan knelt up and spread first the MacLeod tartan, then the Cochrane one over Warren, then climbed underneath himself. He turned on his side, facing away from Warren, and the other man nudged himself closer to MacLeod, close enough that Duncan could feel his warm body at his back. Already it was warmer, the insulating cloth working much better with two bodies to feed its heat. His tight, tired muscles had just started to ease when Warren spoke.

"Have you done this before?" he asked, his voice a mere shiver in the dark.

"What, swaddled for warmth? Of course..." Duncan's answer slid away as Cochrane pressed closer and Duncan could feel against his back Warren's cock, long and hard, and hot, even between the two layers of their muslin shirts.

"Have you done this before," Warren asked again, putting one big hand on Duncan's shoulder.

Duncan froze. Heat pooled in his groin, his own cock responding of its own accord. The hand at his shoulder was strong and warm, the long fingers as familiar as his own.

"Nay," Duncan managed to croak out, feeling his pulse start an erratic, pounding beat.

"In more than a century of living, you've never lain with a man?" Warren's whisper sounded incredulous.

"I like women," Duncan answered quietly, though his oblivious cock had grown another couple of inches and his balls were starting to need more room. He shifted restlessly and Warren's hand slid from his shoulder to his side.

"Aye, so do I," Warren said, an undercurrent of mirth in his tone. "D'you see any here?"

Duncan smiled at that, rolling onto his back again so he could see his friend. His friend. They'd covered for each other, protected each other, fought beside each other for years. They shared a heritage, and a destiny. What a good feeling it had been to meet someone who was like him, in so many ways. Someone he didn't have to explain things to, someone he didn't have to check his words with. Someone with whom he could just be himself.

Warren's hand now lay on his chest, a heavy weight just over his heart. Warren propped himself up on his other elbow, looking down at Duncan. The light from the fire barely reached them at their outpost, but in its fallow glow, Duncan traced the familiar lines of Warren's face with his eyes, seeing it new. The lines were pleasing, the cheekbone and jaw strong and even, the eyes warm and full of life, the mouth... The mouth... Full lips, the lower one plump, like his own. The mouth, descending towards him. Duncan closed his eyes.

The mouth touched his. A man's mouth, strong and firm. The lips pressed briefly across his, then pulled away. Duncan didn't move, didn't even open his eyes, and after what seemed an eternity, he felt the mouth again, more sure this time, moving languidly across his own, encouraging him to open his lips. A day's growth of beard scraped his chin. /What a strange feeling,/ Duncan thought, and he rubbed his chin against the roughness. Warren's breath caught at the movement, and he pressed in closer to Duncan, the hand that had rested on his chest moving to cradle the back of Duncan's neck, tilting his head up to meet his mouth more fully, deepening the kiss with a twist of his tongue and a flex of his jaw.

Duncan let Warren ravage his mouth, not really responding, but not protesting either. Warren bit lightly at Duncan's lower lip, gnawing it with just enough force to knock the complacency out. Duncan's mouth moved under his finally, and his hands reached up to Warren's hair, gripping it hard and pulling him closer. It didn't feel so strange now, Duncan thought. It felt hot, and arousing, and right, until one of the horses tethered nearby shied away from some phantom in the night, distracting them.

Warren released Duncan's mouth and looked over his shoulder at the skittish horse, clucking to it soothingly. The mare calmed at his voice, and began nibbling again at the sparse grass. When he turned back, Duncan put a hand on his chest, stopping him.

"They'll see," he whispered urgently, indicating the other soldiers, the concern real.

"They won't see," Warren assured him, covering Duncan's hand with his own.

"They'll hear," Duncan said, shifting at the warmth of Warren's hand pressing his palm closer to the muscled chest. Under the thin shirt, Duncan could feel Warren's heartbeat, fast and strong.

"A noisy one, are you?" Warren grinned at him and Duncan could feel his cheeks flush. "Don't worry, I'll muzzle you if I have to."

Duncan's penis, which had started to wilt at the thought of discovery, made a miraculous recovery. Here was a man as strong as he. He wouldn't have to be careful, wouldn't have to worry about squashing a more delicate partner, wouldn't have to temper his strength. The idea held a marked appeal.

"I don't know what to do," he finally murmured, surrendering with a sigh.

"You don't have to do anything," Warren whispered as he moved closer to Duncan. "Just lie back and close your eyes."

Duncan complied, willing himself to relax. The night air cooled his hot cheeks, a light breeze soft across his face. Warren ducked under the cover of their mingled tartans, his big hands tunneling under the drape of Duncan's battle weary shirt. He skimmed the skin with his long fingers, lightly learning the shape of chest, shoulder and arm, flexing on the sturdy pectoral muscles, tracing the delineated belly with its arrow of hair.

"Ah, Duncan, you're a fine-made man, a bonny man," Warren whispered, his mouth against Duncan's quivering stomach, his cheek just brushing the darker man's erection.

Duncan put his hand under the covers and pulled his shirt up until it pooled under his chin, his first move to help Warren at their scandalous enterprise. Warren covered the newly exposed skin with tiny sharp bites, leaving a trail of fire behind him. Duncan started to move under him, heaving up a little when that mouth with its soft lips and sharp teeth started tormenting his nipples. Duncan opened his eyes, the sensation too much to take without watching what caused it.

Looking down, Duncan could see Warren's eyes closed in rapt concentration, long eyelashes sweeping across his cheeks. Duncan reached out to tug the tie from Warren's hair and the soft straight strands fell into his hand. He used them to tug Warren's head up, so their eyes met. Warren smiled at him, a warm, intimate smile, and Duncan drew that smiling mouth to his, melting under it, forgetting their setting and circumstance and giving himself up to the heat and urgency Warren evoked.

Warren smelled of clean sweat and victory. Under his rough muslin shirt, his skin was smooth, the muscles gliding under the skin in ways a woman's body couldn't imitate. Duncan spread his hands on Warren's back, feeling the unfamiliar strength in his embrace, the strange sense that he held himself in his arms. He brought Warren's body down on his, feeling for the first time a man's hard groin pressed against his own. /Oh, God./ Hot and urgent and unbelievably erotic, a long column of exuberant flesh just like his own.

Warren ducked his hips into Duncan's, starting a subtle circling motion that ground their hard cocks together. Fluid seeped from the tip of Warren's cock, dripping on Mac's in a heated smear, drawing a low moan from Duncan. Warren reached a hand down and held the two eager erections together, fire on fire, hot iron in a hotter grasp. Now when Warren pumped his hips, Duncan could feel his cock sliding along Warren's swollen prick and in the sheath of his friend's cupping hand. Never, ever had he felt anything like that. Duncan reached a hand down to bring Warren's hips closer to him, closing his palm on a rounded cheek that wasn't the fleshy mound a woman's would have been, but a firm muscular globe, strong and pliant at the same time.

Warren groaned low in his throat when Duncan touched him, then slipped off him to lie on his stomach on the ground, raising one knee slightly. "Cover me, Duncan," he hissed.

"What?" Duncan asked in a whisper, looking at Warren's bare bottom, golden and smooth in the low light.

"Put it in me," Warren urged, looking over his shoulder at Duncan, his eyes bright with arousal, his mouth red. He looked as beautiful as a woman, Duncan thought. But surely he didn't mean...

"Warren, I can't." He looked down at his bobbing erection, then at the tiny puckered entrance to Warren's body. "This is too big and that is too small," he protested. Warren grinned up at him, and suddenly Duncan felt awkward and ridiculously young.

"Give me your hand, youngling," Warren said, and took two of Duncan's fingers into his mouth, sucking, licking, coating them with hot saliva. "Start with those," he urged softly, then ducked his head into his crossed arms as Duncan tentatively put a finger to the rosy hole. Nudging in slowly, Duncan got one finger in past the knuckle. Beneath him, Warren shuddered. Duncan tugged the finger out.

"That's it, Duncan, do it again," Warren encouraged him in his whispered burr, the tone more than the words spurring Duncan on. Two fingers went in this time, all the way in, and Duncan wiggled them when he got inside. Warren was writhing now, rocking back and forth on Duncan's fingers. Inside, Duncan felt a smooth rounded plane and he dug his fingers in there. Warren nearly jumped off the blanket and Duncan moved quickly to cover him, the hand that wasn't otherwise occupied clapping over Warren's mouth to stifle the sounds coming from him.

"What'd I do?" Duncan asked. "You all right?"

"Yes, yes, yes, I'm all right," Warren panted, licking the fingers that covered his lips. "God's blood, Duncan, are you sure you've never done this before?" Warren rolled a little, turning his face towards Duncan. "Do it, please. Please."

"It's not going to fit, Warren, I swear," Duncan said, his fingers continuing to wriggle inside the hot tunnel.

Growling in frustration, Warren made a sudden move, jerked himself off Duncan's fingers, twisted under the tartans and engulfed Duncan's penis in his mouth, swabbing it down, then retreating before Duncan could do more than draw in a startled breath and reach for him. Duncan's hands found empty air, Warren having already flopped back on his belly again, his hands under his chest.

"Do it or I'll kill you," Warren grated out.

Duncan reached down to touch his cock, now coated with a warm layer of Warren's spit. Slowly, he separated Warren's cheeks and put the big tip of his erection at the entrance, then pushed. Sweet Jesus. The channel opened for him, the hottest, tightest place he'd ever been. Once started, Duncan couldn't begin to stop, and he pushed and pushed until he'd seated himself to the root, his balls snug up against Warren's ass. Below him, Warren trembled, his legs tense, breathing hard and fast.

Duncan lowered his whole body on top of Warren's, gaining pleasure from each place their bare skin touched. With a small movement, he pulled his cock out a little, but he liked it better inside and he surged in again. Thrusting felt good, but even staying still was amazing -- nothing in his life had gripped him the way Warren's tight furrow held him now. Warren wanted him to move, shifting underneath him, trying to find leverage under Duncan's heavy weight. Duncan flattened his body out on the strong one beneath him, holding him down, keeping him still. Warren moaned.

Eventually, staying still didn't satisfy Duncan. Holding onto Warren's brawny shoulders with both hands, Duncan started to move, long heavy thrusts scraping across that smooth round spot inside Warren, the astonishing heat and tightness gripping him every inch of the way. Duncan felt his balls tighten up, felt his eyes get hot, and he slammed harder into Warren, no longer caring if they were making noise, no longer caring if someone else would see the heaving tartans at the edge of the camp and know what was happening beneath them. All that remained in Duncan's world was the golden body beneath him, the hot hot channel around his swollen cock, the catches in Warren's breath as Duncan pounded into his body. It was Warren's unexpected climax, the body bucking under him, the anus in which Duncan was rooted spasming around his length, that finally sent Duncan over the edge. Dropping down to put his mouth hard on the back of Warren's neck, Duncan pulled out nearly all the way then banged home one more time, coming in a hot slick rush.

Hazy minutes later, Duncan gathered the strength to move, pulling his spent penis from Warren's relaxed body, tugging the rumpled muslin shirt down to cover his friend's nakedness. Duncan rearranged his own shirt, then smoothed their tartans straight again, finally dropping down to put his head next to Warren's. Warren reached out a heavy hand, dropping it onto Duncan's stomach, smiling at him sleepily.

"Warmer?" Warren asked, a wicked gleam in his bright eyes.

"Aye, I'd say so," Duncan replied, covering Warren's hand with his own.

Hands clasped under their colorful plaids, the weary warriors slept.

Methos looked down at Duncan's face in his lap. Whatever the memory, it was a good one -- a small smile played at the corners of Mac's angelic mouth. Methos marveled at the ease of their position. Given the tension of the previous days, weeks, months, how did they keep ending up like this, in stolen moments of comfort and communion? This roller-coaster he'd been riding since he met MacLeod came complete with awe-inspiring ascents, stomach-dropping descents, and nauseating, exhilarating twists. Who else could render him helpless with a look? Who else could have him feeling completely at ease sitting on a leather couch in a public drinking establishment with his sweater tucked up and his pants ruched down?

Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. His protector, his tormentor. His lover. Methos lazily dusted one finger across Duncan's regular features, ghosts of touches designed to bring Duncan's attention back to him.

Finally Duncan opened his eyes. "You remember Warren Cochrane?"

Methos' eyebrows drew together as he sifted through his memory. Then he nodded. "About our height? Cute? The crazy one."

"He wasn't crazy," Duncan protested. "He'd been through a traumatic experience."

"Not as traumatic as his student's," Methos felt compelled to point out.

"I still don't know how he could have done that," Duncan said, sounding mystified. "How could he kill his student?"

Methos sighed. "Human beings do awful things to each other, MacLeod. Surely you know that by now?"

Duncan lifted his head from Methos' lap, his mouth setting in that familiar stubborn line. "After the last few days, yes, I do know that." Duncan sat up on the couch, swinging his legs around to plant solidly on the wooden floor.

Methos had wondered how long it would take for Duncan to stop thinking with his dick and remember the stick up his butt. Methos hitched up his trousers and secured them, then gave his upper body a shimmy to get his lambswool sweater to fall back in its accustomed drape. If he had to do battle, he didn't want to be half-naked for it.

"I assume you're referring to Byron?" Methos asked silkily. "Byron the Depraved, seducer of street-wise boys?"

Duncan gave him an arch look. "He couldn't keep doing what he was doing, Methos."

"But who assigned you to be Mike's champion? Who decreed the great Duncan MacLeod should right this wrong?" Methos asked, standing up and going to pace behind the couch.

"I did what I thought was right," Duncan said, crossing his arms across his chest, his mouth set.

"I see," Methos said, leaning on the back of the couch, very close to Duncan's shoulder. "You killed Byron because he did something that offended your moral code," he said softly. "You killed him. But when Warren Cochrane begged you, begged you to take his head, you let him live."

"It wasn't the same," Duncan said.

"No? Do you want to know the only difference I see?" Methos asked, placing both hands firmly on the back of the couch near Duncan's broad shoulders, bracketing him.

"What?" Duncan replied quietly, as if he didn't really want to know.

"Cochrane was your lover, Byron was mine," Methos hissed in his ear.

Duncan sprang from the couch as if it had kicked him off. He turned on Methos, the couch a fragile wall between them. "You're full of shit, Methos," he said angrily.

"You think so?" Methos' voice was a whip with a tattered tip. "Let's review the facts, shall we? Your former lover kills his student. You shred him until he recalls every sorry detail, make sure he knows just what a monster he is, then leave him, pathetic and miserable, but alive. Fast forward two years. My former lover kills his protégé. You track him down and take his head. End of story."

Methos walked around the couch, sauntering to stand in front of Duncan, crossing his own arms across his chest. In his softest, deadliest voice, he snapped the whip in a final stinging stroke. "You were jealous, MacLeod."

After a moment of stunned silence, Duncan protested. "That's ridiculous."

"Is it?" Methos asked. "Your precious moral code isn't as rigid as you'd like to think, MacLeod. Look at the things I've done. I wonder how long it would take for my head to roll were it not for this thing you suddenly seem to have for my scrawny body."

Duncan backed up a step. "I do not have a 'thing' for your body."

Methos stared pointedly at the damp patch on the placket of Duncan's trousers, then met his eyes again, arching one brow.

Duncan opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, then turned away, sank into a chair and covered his eyes with his hands. "Christ, you're right."

Methos smiled. He went to Duncan and crouched in front of him, tugging Duncan's hands away from his face. "About which part?" he asked gently.

Duncan turned his hands so they clasped Methos' arms, steadying him in his crouch. "I was jealous of Byron. And that was before I saw..." his voice trailed off, but his cheeks heated and Methos could well imagine some of the scenes that Duncan had probably taken in with Byron's Quickening. "I'm not sure that I would have done anything differently, but now we'll never know."

Methos leaned into Duncan's hands, letting him hold some of his weight. "You do the best you can, MacLeod, and then you learn to live with it."

"Like Warren has to live with what he did," Duncan said, and Methos nodded.

"If he were standing here now, could you forgive him?" Methos asked, wondering just how rigid Duncan would be.

"What difference does it make, it's not like he's here," Duncan said, irritation lending an edge to his voice.

"I'm here, do you forgive me?" Methos asked quietly.

Duncan looked at him, briefly, then dropped his eyes. "I'm trying, Methos."

Methos shook his head. "I don't get it, Mac," he said. "You're telling me you'll try for me, but you wouldn't do the same for Warren Cochrane?"

"I expected more from hi....," Duncan almost choked on the last word, trying to stop it from coming out, but it was too late.

/Well, that hurt,/ Methos thought, going still, assessing the damage. So he didn't live up to Duncan MacLeod's ideals. He never had, and truth be told, he probably never would. He knew it, had known it for a long time, long before Kronos, long before Byron. Which left the question of whether he cared. The answer, unfortunate and emphatic, was yes, he cared. Too damn much. When he was sure all his defenses were shored up, the walls secure, sarcasm cannons reloaded, Methos forced his tired legs to stand, pulling free of Duncan's light hold. "It's late, Mac, it's been a long day. Let's get out of here."

Duncan picked up his coat from the discarded chair and followed Methos up the stairs and out into the still Paris night. Methos turned the key in the deadbolt, securing the club. The street outside was deserted. A right turn would take him to Mac's barge. To a lengthy conversation, an argument, and then, undoubtedly, into Mac's big, soft, warm bed, only to have the cycle repeated as soon as one of them spoke. It was a scene they'd played out before, but Methos didn't have the stomach for it again tonight. He headed left, toward his small apartment.

Duncan's voice stopped him. "You think one of us should call Joe? Make sure he knows we didn't kill each other?"

"I wouldn't worry about it if I were you, MacLeod," Methos said, turning so he could see Duncan's face. "He can always check the security tape."

/The security tape?!? As in security *camera*?/ MacLeod felt the blood leave his head. Surely Methos was joking. Sometimes he truly couldn't tell. Duncan hadn't told Joe about the recent developments in the on-going saga of his relationship with Methos, mostly because he didn't understand it himself. It was a murky, changeable thing, half passion, half torment. Anger shifting to desire in a heartbeat, insatiable need arising without warning and subsiding only when Methos was groaning in his arms. He'd rather not have a grainy video tell Joe that particular story.

Duncan looked at Methos again, gauging his chances of getting the club key away from him without knocking him unconscious. He'd taken two steps towards the Old Man when Methos' expression changed, a wicked, wicked grin popping up layers of dimples Duncan had never seen before.

"You should see your face, Highlander," Methos said, laughing out loud now, bent over at the waist, gasping for breath. "You are so easy."

Duncan stopped short, shaking his head. He wouldn't let Methos see how much his nasty little joke had shaken him. "And you are so immature," Duncan retorted, buttoning his overcoat and striding in the other direction, towards home.

"Good night, MacLeod," Methos called after him, laughter still dancing on each word.

"Good night, Methos," Duncan replied under his breath, furious. He was almost to the barge when realization dawned. /I *ruined* it,/ he thought, berating himself. Every time he made headway with Methos, he did something stupid. Like talk. He made a vow to himself: The next time he had Methos complacent and satisfied, he wasn't going to say a word, and he wouldn't let Methos either. Talking just got them in trouble. Much better to let their mouths entertain them in other ways.

Duncan spent what remained of the night in a state of agitation and sweat. Byron's Quickening continued to prod unwanted visions behind Duncan's eyes, full of heat. God, he was tired of seeing mental snapshots of Methos in flat-out sexual capitulation with men who weren't him. Duncan wondered a little at just how possessive he felt, feelings certainly unwarranted by the few seismic nights they'd shared. Warren had been his first male lover, but Methos was his first in more than a hundred years, and the intensity of it still shocked Duncan a little. When they were apart, it was easy to see Methos as just the guy he said he was, sarcastic, flip, balanced precariously on the scales of moral ambiguity. When they were together, though, something happened. Some spark, some electric connection that leapt from Duncan's mind to his heart to his groin in fantastic progression.

He'd cut the Old Man tonight without meaning to. But the more he thought about it, the more true it seemed -- for whatever reason, he held Methos to a different moral standard than he did himself, or even friends like Warren Cochrane. He really didn't expect the same strength of character from Methos, and that apparently hadn't gone over well with the world's oldest immortal.

Why was it that he could find the desire inside to try to accept Methos on his own terms, but he'd turned his back on a friend of 300 years? He'd left Warren on the ruined floor of the inn in Picardy, despair etched in each line of his handsome face. "I can't live with this," Warren had said, and Duncan had replied, "You're going to have to." But when it was Methos' turn, when Methos had done a similar horrendous act -- killing Silas, his brother -- Duncan had not only not left him alone, but taken him to his hotel and banged him all night long. Some difference. But why?

Much had changed since that fateful night in Bordeaux. He'd learned so much about Methos in the past few months, and about himself. Could he learn lenience? Maybe Methos' more laissez faire attitude was starting to rub off. If Warren Cochrane were standing in front of him now, could he forgive him? Reaching for the cordless phone, Duncan punched in a set of numbers, then drummed his fingers impatiently, waiting for the ring on the other end to be answered.

"Joe? It's me, yeah, yeah, I know what time it is, I'm sorry," he said. "I need some help."

When it got light enough, Mac threw on sweatpants and a loose cotton shirt and left the barge, determined to sweat out what he couldn't run away from. By the time he got to Methos' apartment, he'd only run about two miles, but his heart was pounding and his breath short. He vaulted the stairs two at a time and pounded on the door.

He could feel Methos inside, but it took longer than it should have for him to open the door. Unarmed, barely clothed, Methos looked like he'd been dragged through a bush backward, then dropped in a laundry bin. Tufts of hair stood up off his forehead, and his narrowed eyes were sleep-swollen. Taking up all the room in the doorway, Methos kept one hand at the sagging waistband of his navy blue sweatpants and leaned the other on the doorframe, managing to prop himself up and bar Duncan from entering in one simple gesture.

"Isn't it a bit early for another round of Fight-N-Fuck," Methos said, his voice still husky from sleep.

"I don't want to fight with you," Duncan said, taking in the casual splendor of a just-awake Methos.

"So you came to fuck," Methos stated, not moving an inch, and Duncan revised his opinion. Even half-asleep, Methos was sharper than a steak knife.

"No, Methos, that's not why I ... I mean... " Duncan stumbled for words, then finally planted a palm in the middle of Methos' chest and pushed him into the apartment, closing the door behind him. Knocked slightly off balance, Methos' fingers left their guard-duty and the sweats slipped tantalizing inches lower before he grabbed the drawstring and fashioned a knot with nimble ease. Methos went back to the bed and sat on the edge, leaning back on both elbows, seduction in blue sweatpants.

"Methos, could you come over here and sit at the table? I'll make some coffee," Duncan said, very nicely. "And put a shirt on or we'll never get out of here."

The last bit intrigued Methos, Duncan could tell. His eyes opened a bit wider and he sat up a little straighter.

"Where are we going?" Methos asked, a little suspiciously. He left the bed and came to sit at the table, tucking one foot up on the chair seat with him, wrapping his elbow around the raised knee.

"Feel like a trip to the US of A?" Duncan asked, not sure he was ready to just spit it all out yet. Methos was in an ok mood, but it was awfully early and he hadn't had coffee yet. Just in case, Duncan pulled a beer out of the fridge, too, and put both the steaming mug and the cold brew on the table, along with a box of cereal, bowls and spoons.

Methos quirked a grin. "Must be bad if I'm getting breakfast, coffee and beer. Just spill it, will you?"

"I want to go find Warren Cochrane."

Methos had just taken a mouthful of coffee, which he swallowed too quickly, then chased with a slurp of beer. One or the other went down the wrong way, because he was seized with a coughing fit that ended only when Duncan came around the table and smacked him hard on the back.

"OK," Methos finally wheezed out.

"OK? Just like that? OK?" Duncan said, stumped. He'd figured it would take most of the morning and a case of beer to persuade Methos to go with him.

"I think it's a good idea," Methos said, and that made Duncan even more suspicious.

"Why are you being so agreeable?" he asked darkly.

Methos grinned at him. "You caught me on a good day?"

"Doubtful," Duncan said, already seduced by the half-bare woodsprite at the table, resisting the urge to just jump him right there among the cereal bowls and spilled coffee.

"I'm ready for a change of scenery?" Methos tried.

"More likely," Duncan said, going back to his side of the table and literally sitting on his hands.

"Where in the States are we going? What should I pack?" Methos sounded like a kid getting ready for a camping trip and his eagerness sparked an answering surge of enthusiasm in Duncan. Getting the Old Man alone for a few days had originally been just a nice side benefit to finding Warren and making sure he was ok, but a happy Methos was completely irresistible.

"Joe said as of about six months ago he was working in Raleigh, North Carolina, using the name Curt Warren. There's no guarantee he's still there, but it's a place to start," Duncan said, gauging how that information went over.

Methos nodded, eating Cheerios out of the box. "You're paying," he said. "And we're going first class."

They were able to get a direct flight from Paris to Raleigh-Durham "International" Airport. Interminable, but direct, bringing them to the rolling hills of piedmont North Carolina the next evening just after sunset. Methos used the computerized accommodations directory in Baggage Claim to find a hotel nearby just expensive enough to irritate Duncan.

The air felt soft and moist, warm even at twilight. On each side of the highway, towering pines stood so close nothing grew beneath them. /"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,"/ Methos thought to himself, enjoying the sights and smells. "Roll the windows down, will you?" he asked, and they opened all the windows in the rented Suburban, letting in the humid pine air perfume.

Too soon, the hotel came into view and they left the soft air behind for air-conditioned staleness. Though only May, it was hot enough in the South to close up windows and turn on air conditioners, leaving behind the sweeter smells until the fall. As soon as they entered the suite Methos had reserved, he opened the sliding doors and turned off the A/C, and night sounds filled the room, crickets and frogs carousing in the nearby woods.

Methos went out to stand on the balcony, looking down into a courtyard with a fountain and a big swimming pool. "Ooh, Mac, there's a pool," he said, delighted with the choice of lodging he'd made. Seacouver and Paris had their draws, but climate wasn't one of them. Methos could feel muscles he didn't even know were tense starting to ease in the warm Southern air, his skin drinking in the moisture, the soft blur across his face and hands. Thirty years had passed too quickly. He'd missed this. He breathed deeply, smiling.

At a sound behind him, he turned to find Duncan watching him, an arrested look on his face. Duncan came toward him and Methos was sure he'd reach for him, or at least touch him, but Duncan turned at the last minute, leaning on the balcony railing next to him. "Glad you like it," was all he said.

Methos wondered if Mac was waiting for him to make the first move. He'd never done so, still woefully unsure of his welcome, willing to wait for the Scot to turn to him. It seemed to take desperation for Mac to do so, but Methos took it however it came. Once engaged, Methos had no trouble at all taking control, playing with his equal strength. He wondered why it was easier to penetrate Duncan's most secret spaces in the throes of passion than to touch his face if it meant he had to make the first move.

They stood for long minutes, neither speaking, taking in the view, then Duncan sighed and said, "You hungry?" Methos snatched at the excuse, saying "Have I ever not been hungry?" and Duncan grinned. /Twice in a week,/ Methos thought. /Maybe we're getting somewhere./

Room service delivered steaks, baked potatoes and salad and even though it felt like the middle of the night instead of just past 9 pm, they devoured the food as if they might not live to see breakfast. Jet lag set in as the last bites of dinner disappeared, both men drooping over their plates. Methos showered while Duncan put away his clothes, then Duncan, too, took a quick shower before climbing into the big bed beside Methos. It hadn't occurred to either of them to take separate rooms. The suite came with a couch and arm chairs, but neither made a move toward alternate sleeping arrangements. Methos supposed that was progress.

One thing Methos hadn't become accustomed to was Duncan's way of smothering him as he slept. All three times he'd slept in Duncan's bed, he'd awakened to find himself buried in twisted sheets and hot skin, the Highlander radiating waves of body heat like a furnace, heightened by the fact that he used Methos like a small stuffed bear, tucking him under his chin, fastening the older man to him with sleep-heavy limbs.

At some point during this night, Methos awakened in his now-typical position, sweating, with his nose buried in chest hair, unable to move. As usual, movement was then imperative. More imperative than usual, actually, since he felt a rather desperate urge to relieve himself. Finally, he just pulled himself away, seeing red marks on Duncan's chest where his face had been pressed there. Duncan muttered under his breath, but then just rolled onto his stomach and soft snuffles resumed. Methos used the bathroom, then came back to sit on the edge of the bed, enjoying the cool air that soaked in through the screen of the sliding doors. The crickets had stopped their seductive serenade for the night, but a bullfrog still croaked an occasional lamentation.

Methos turned to look at the sleeping Highlander, all his fierceness bled away by dusk and sleep, the eyes that leapt from accusation to passion in a blink now hidden behind their soft lids and long lashes, the mouth that could cut him with a word now lax in sleep, just open. Now he wasn't a warrior; he was just a man. Methos reached out a tentative hand, letting his palm glide over the smooth brown back, the intriguing deltas of his shoulders, the defined dip of his backbone. Methos pulled the sheet back, baring the rise of Duncan's buttocks, the strong rounded thighs. He let his hand fall on one bare cheek, then slid it up to the softest spot, at the end of his spine. He bent over and kissed him there, just there at the juncture of back and bottom, where two dimples stood sentry. Duncan stirred, but didn't open his eyes. Encouraged, Methos marched soft kisses up the notches of Duncan's back, then explored the blades of his shoulders, pushing aside the tangled hair to expose the back of his neck. Methos stretched out beside Duncan, the familiar tastes breaking down his reserve.

Holding Duncan's hair off his neck, Methos blew softly there and Duncan turned on his side, facing away from Methos, tucking his body back into the older man's. Methos slid his arm around Duncan, bringing him flush up against him, nestling his hardening erection between the Scot's muscular cheeks. Methos put his mouth against Duncan's neck and sucked a cherry-red brand there, using his teeth and tongue until Duncan moaned and put a hand down to touch Methos' thigh. And still Methos stayed at the strong throat, learning each inch with his lips.

Duncan finally reached for Methos' hand, drawing it down his stomach to his groin, where his cock had already left wet streaks on the sheets. Methos wrapped his fingers around the throbbing cock and pressed himself closer, rubbing his own erection on Duncan's smooth skin.

"Do you want to..." Mac asked, then swallowed the end of his question on a groan as Methos raked his fingernails down the swollen shaft.

"This is what I want, just this," Methos breathed into Duncan's neck, undulating faster against Duncan's back, his hand keeping up the same rhythm on the Highlander's eager penis. Smooth and easy this time, unhurried by any overwhelming desire, unhinged by Duncan's acquiescence, he rocked against the strong body, reveling in the pleasure he heard in Duncan's soft groans, spurred to his own pleasure expressing love he could only show by touch.

Duncan left the Old Man sleeping soundly, his arms wrapping instinctively around the pillow Duncan nudged at his chest as he left the bed. After a quick shower, Duncan dressed quietly and left, closing the door carefully behind him. He had breakfast in the hotel dining room, then stopped at the gift shop in the lobby. Into a gaily decorated shop bag went one pair of black swimming trunks (34 waist), a tube of SPF 8 sunscreen (no-sting formula for sensitive skin), and a copy of a paperback called "The Perfect Storm." Duncan gave an evil chuckle as the last went in the bag. Just the thing for an ancient man who hated boats. He went back up to the room long enough to drop the bag on the coffee table and leave a note saying he'd be back mid-afternoon, then left before he was tempted to make a meal of the sleeping Methos.

From the hotel, Duncan turned the Suburban east onto I-40, headed with the morning flow toward the Research Triangle Park. Somewhere in the labyrinth of concrete, pine trees and PhDs there stood a small non-profit organization called the Southern Poverty Law Center, a regional group dedicated to equalizing the justice system for the poor, primarily black, underclass in the South. Joe said "Curt Warren" had been working for the agency for just over a year, not as an attorney, but as a research assistant. Knowing Warren's preference for the underdog it was a logical choice, if somewhat philosophically distant from his original cause.

When Duncan finally found the place, the acting director was polite, but unable to provide much in the way of information. "Curt was one of the best researchers we ever had," she said, wiping her glasses on the hem of her skirt and pinning Duncan in his chair with an unexpected bright blue gaze. "He buried himself in his work. He never said so, but I always had the feeling he was trying to escape some very unhappy memories," she said, not quite asking a question, but making her point nonetheless. He wondered if that was a Southern trait. "I wish I could help you, but he left about two months ago."

"Do you have any idea where he was going?" Duncan asked, pulling out all the stops with his Eagle Scout face, trying to convince her he was not only harmless, but possibly even helpful.

The director sighed, restoring her glasses and moving on to fidget with the end of a lock of hair that had found its way free from her loose ponytail. "The only thing I can think of is that the State Archives office in Mississppi recently opened the Sovreignty Commission records, stuff about civil rights era spies. Curt seemed intrigued by that. He mentioned it to me a couple of times, but he resigned so quickly, we never really talked about it."

She paused, gazing not at Duncan now, but at something she saw in her mind. "Mississippi had a bad reputation in civil rights cases, but I happen to think Mississippi has come a long way, and this is another big step in the right direction. Anyway," she concluded, "Curt might have headed out that way, but he didn't leave a forwarding address."

Duncan stood, leaning over the desk to shake the director's small hand. "Thank you for your help."

She stood, taller and straighter than he expected, and returned his handshake firmly. "If you find him, give him my best," she said with a small smile. "Tell him we miss him."

"I'll do that," he said. "Do you mind if I talk to some of your other employees?"

"Help yourself. They're into research, after all, they might be able to at least set you on the trail."

But additional questioning just led to more dead ends. Warren had pretty much kept to himself, he was told. A nice man, but quiet, said one young woman. Intense, not particularly friendly, said another young man. Very good at his work, said a third, but she couldn't tell Duncan anything else about him, not even where he'd lived. Warren had been so full of life when Duncan knew him that the picture his old colleagues painted disturbed him. Intense, yes. Good at his job, yes. But quiet? Unfriendly? Reserved? Those weren't attributes he would ever have applied to the charismatic rebel who'd kissed him with such fervency and fought beside him with such ardor.

On his way out the door, the director called his name, halting his exit. He decided her disheveled state was probably constant, but knew from his discussion with her earlier that whatever her appearance, she was sharp as a tack. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, knocking her glasses askew and he'd reached to adjust them before he could stop to think if it was a good idea. She took it with good grace, grinning at him as she pushed the centerpiece more firmly on her nose.

"You piqued my interest, so I did a little research of my own," she said. "I called a colleague in the Department of Archives office in Jackson. She said Curt had been there, about a month ago, looking for a job as a research assistant. They didn't have a place for him, but she put his resume on file. It's not much, but it's more than we knew this morning." She handed him a business card with a Jackson address scribbled on the back.

If Duncan's sudden enthusiastic embrace startled her, she hid it well, tucking her blouse back in her skirt when he let her go, leaving just a tag of it sticking out the back as she turned to go.

"Good luck," she said.

"Thanks." Duncan went back to the Suburban, now broiling inside from several hours spent in the hot summer sun and headed back to the hotel, wondering how Methos would feel about a little road trip.

The hotel room stood quiet and deserted. Late afternoon light slanted in from the balcony, highlighting the empty bag on the coffee table, the tags from the swimsuit discarded in the ashtray. Methos had scrawled on the back of the note Duncan left that morning: "Come on down, the water's fine." Duncan smiled at that and went out on the balcony, looking down into the courtyard below. Methos lay on his stomach, his pale skin almost blinding in the sunlight, the dark swim trunks a stark contrast to what looked like yards of exposed ivory. More than just relaxed, the Old Man appeared to be fast asleep.

Duncan stopped at the hotel bar for two beers, then headed out to the courtyard. Closer, he could see a faint pink tinge on Methos' fair skin, evidence of a fair amount of time spent in the sun. He was sprawled with complete abandon on the reclining lounge chair, which was inches too short to contain his length. His feet hung off one end, and his head perched precariously on the edge of the other. How he could sleep like that, Duncan would never know. But sleep he did, like a cat in a sunbeam.

Duncan stood over him and let the condensation from the bottles drip onto the heated skin of Methos' back. He started awake, reaching blindly for a sword that wasn't there. Duncan moved quickly into his line of vision and the older man collapsed back on the chair, groaning.

"You almost gave me a heart attack," Methos said, squinting up at him before he grabbed a pair of sunglasses from the table next to him and slapped them on, still grumbling under his breath. He subsided some when Duncan handed him the beer.

"Sorry," Duncan said distractedly, enjoying the view of Methos' bare chest, the smooth expanse now decorated with stripes from the lounger. "You're getting burned," he said, indicating Methos' shoulders.

"I got all the parts I could reach," Methos complained, handing over the sunscreen and flipping back on his stomach again. Duncan took the tube and squirted some of the summer-smelling stuff on his palm, then spread it on Methos' roasted shoulders. Under his hand, the skin was hot and silky. It seemed to have absorbed a fabric softener with the sun because he'd never touched anything as soft. He lingered, smoothing the lotion down Methos' back in long sweeping strokes, paying particular attention to the space just at the waistband. He let his hand dip under the band, but Methos turned on his side, removing the temptation.

"Mac, we have an audience," Methos said under his breath. Duncan looked around the courtyard. On the other side of the pool, two young women in bikinis were pretending they weren't staring at them. One blonde, one brunette, they looked like they'd been put together by a committee of men who really liked women.

"I think I had a pretty good chance with the blonde," Methos said flippantly. "Now you're confusing them."

"Well, we wouldn't want that, now would we?" Duncan said, moving closer to Methos purposefully. "Why confuse them when we can remove all doubt?" Before Methos could do more than gawk at him, Duncan leaned over and kissed him full on the mouth, taking his time about it, shaping his lips to the warmer ones beneath him, tasting sunscreen and salt and something like strawberries, only sharper. Methos responded slowly, not moving his hands at all, but he did tilt his head to let Duncan come in for a better angle.

He was breathless when Duncan finally moved back, smacking his lips. Methos slid onto his back and sat up, his face flushed much darker than the sun alone could have accomplished. Duncan glanced over at the sun worshippers across the pool. They were gaping openly now, and the brunette had her hand over her mouth.

"Wave at them, why don't you, Mac?" Methos asked sourly. "The blonde is Cooper, the dark-haired one is Finley. They wait tables for the dinner shift in the restaurant."

Duncan waved half-heartedly at them, and they looked at each other before giggling and waving back. Turned out the hand was hiding a smile, nothing worse.

"Cooper and Finley? Did their parents want boys?" Duncan asked.

"Mother's maiden names. Must be a southern thing," Methos replied. "They're tri-Delts at Carolina," he said, shrugging when Duncan arched an inquisitive brow at him. "Beats me. They seemed pretty proud of it. They invited us to go to a club with them tonight. Of course, that was before you mauled me in broad daylight."

Duncan was still looking down on Methos like the Old Man was a plate of pasta and he hadn't eaten for a week. "Had enough sun for one day?" he asked softly, letting his eyes roam the body he knew so well, but hadn't seen often in daylight. He wondered why Methos hid his body under cavernous sweaters and baggy jeans -- this was one light that should not be hidden under a bushel.

Under his ardent gaze, Methos' shorts were taking on a new shape, the flush on his cheeks deepening even more. "Mac, this exhibitionist thing has got to stop."

"Exhibitionist?" was Mac's startled response. "I kiss you in front of two people, and suddenly I'm an exhibitionist? Who knew you were such a prude?"

"Not a prude, MacLeod. Prudent. There's a world of difference," Methos said patiently, reaching for a t-shirt to cover the obvious protuberance in his trunks. "We are in the Bible Belt."

Duncan reached for the mostly full beers on the table, then leaned over to say, "In that case, I'll race you to the room. Last one there has to be on the bottom." And he was gone at a jog, glancing behind him just once to make sure Methos would follow.

Being on the bottom had its advantages, Methos concluded a sweaty hour later. You got all that lovely friction from the sheets, you didn't have to worry about coming too fast, or too slow, or too anything. You got to just lie there and absorb all those fat happy sensations. Fullness. Heat. Completeness. Methos liked being on the bottom, but it wouldn't do to tell the Highlander that -- he had enough of an erotic edge as it was. Duncan had been like a big exuberant puppy, pouncing on him the minute he walked in the door, maneuvering them haphazardly to the freshly made bed, tossing off the covers in a grand gesture before he pushed Methos down on the crisp sheets, stripped him of his trunks and tasted him all over, paying particular attention to the now-whiter parts the damp trunks had covered.

The sunscreen had been used in an application not described on the label and now they both smelled like a combination of aloe, coconut oil and that ineffable essence of summer only contained in suntan lotion. /At this rate, I'm more likely to get a rug burn than a sunburn,/ Methos thought, and cracked himself up.

Methos stretched his sore, satiated body, brushing against Duncan's spent frame behind him. Whatever Duncan had discovered in his outing, he'd bet his toenails it hadn't been bad news. "Frisky" was the word that came to mind to describe Duncan's attitude since he got back, and that wasn't the first word usually used to describe Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.

"You have any luck today, Mac?" Methos asked, turning to look at the god who shared his sheets.

"I'd say so," Duncan said, and gave Methos a zorbet just below the breastbone.

"That's not what I meant, you silly child, stop that," he said as the vibrating lips started moving south, gasping back laughter as the strange sounds were felt along the narrow band of hair just below his belly button.

Duncan raised his lips finally, resting his chin lightly on Methos' taut abdomen. "I have a lead, but it requires a bit of travel."

That got Methos' attention. "You found him?" he asked. "Where?"

"I still don't know exactly where he is, but he was in Jackson, Mississippi about a month ago," Duncan said. "Up for a road trip?"

"To Mississippi?" Methos asked softly, stroking a stray lock of hair out of Duncan's face. "Ummm, there might be a small problem."

"What kind of problem?" Duncan asked. Methos squirmed a little, hesitating. "What have you done this time?"

"I haven't done anything," Methos retorted. "Not recently anyway. I ran into a little trouble there awhile back." He paused, searching for the right words. "I've sort of been banned from the state. For life."

"Good God, Methos. What do you have to do to get exiled from a whole state?"

"I called a sheriff's deputy a stupid, bigoted, cock-sucking, pig-fucking son-of-a-bitch."

"You didn't." Duncan looked at him like he'd grown horns. "I've never seen you that mad."

Methos shrugged. "It was a heat of the moment kind of thing," he said.

"What moment?" Now it appeared Duncan had to know the whole story.

Methos shrugged him off, rolling up to sit on the edge of the bed. "Can we talk about this later? I'm hungry." A brief respite was all he could hope for, but even a few minutes to figure out how to put it all would help.

"There's cheese and crackers in the mini-bar, help yourself." Methos hid a smile. Duncan must really want to hear this if he was willing to pay mini-bar prices to keep Methos in the room. He found the little packages and brought them back to the bed, munching contentedly.

Duncan looked at the Old Man, whose slender frame sheltered so many stories. He couldn't imagine him ever losing his cool enough to get banished from a state. Banishment was serious, Duncan knew that well enough. It didn't seem to bother Methos unduly though, so perhaps it was different here.

Methos finished both little circles of cheese and all the crackers, brushed stray crumbs off his chest, then finally turned back to Duncan. "Ever seen footage of the civil rights protests in the 60s?" Methos asked.

"Yeah," Duncan said, starting to get the picture, but mystified at what put Methos in the middle of it.

"Firehoses, sit-ins, all that? Well, I was arrested in one of the marches and given the choice of jail or leaving for good. I picked leaving for good," Methos said, standing up and heading for the bathroom.

"Methos, wait," Duncan said and Methos reluctantly paused.

"You were arrested in a civil rights march?" Duncan asked and Methos nodded abruptly.

"You, Mr. 'Empires Rise and Fall, Civilizations Come and Go' himself?" Duncan felt something new and golden rise inside him. His Methos had been arrested in a civil rights protest. The depth of his surprise was only exceeded by the delight at finding a chink in the Old Man's cynical armor.

"Yes, MacLeod, even those of us with the morals of cats in heat can sometimes find it in our sordid souls to take a stand for something," Methos flung over his shoulder, leaving Duncan lying in bed, staring after him in something like wonderment.

Methos stomped into the bathroom, muttering under his breath about narrow-minded Scottish sticks-in-the-mud. He ducked into the shower to rinse off the sunscreen (and other fluids) Duncan had so diligently applied. The water stung on his pink shoulders, but he welcomed that little bit of pain. He'd tan soon enough -- another luxury of being Immortal -- a sunburn was as much of a passing sensation as anything else. He toweled off and went back into the hotel room to find Duncan still languishing in the rumpled bed, a sheet now tugged across his hips for a modicum of modesty.

"What name were you using then?" Duncan asked as soon as Methos walked back in the room.

/Typical terrier mode,/ thought Methos. /Get that bone and gnaw, gnaw, gnaw.../

"Ben Adams," Methos replied, seeing where the Highlander was going with his question.

"So there's nothing to link young Adam Pierson with old Ben Adams, is there?" Duncan asked and Methos had to concede it was unlikely that anyone would connect the two, especially since he'd had a beard and mustache then, not to mention the fact that he hadn't aged in 34 years.

"No, probably not," Methos allowed.

"If you have too many bad memories or something, I guess I could go by myself," Duncan offered half-heartedly.

"No, it's nothing like that," Methos said, surprised he'd even offer. "I just never expected to have a reason to go back."

They passed the evening cordially enough, though Methos was a little stiff and Duncan tried a little too hard to ease the remaining tension between them. They drove to dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant, where they drank frozen margaritas and sampled the "hot," "very hot," and "holy shit that's hot" salsas.

They were walking through the hotel lobby on their way back from dinner, their mouths still burning from the last skin-searing salsa, when Cooper and Finley came into view. Oh, what the college girls were wearing these days.... tiny tank tops, layered two-deep, with narrow dark bra straps showing underneath. Jeans that drooped so low their smooth bellies showed, sandals with clunky heels displaying polished toe nails. Duncan felt all of his 400 years. Methos had seen worse in his time.

"Oh good, y'all decided to join us," the blonde, Cooper, said as she came towards them, extending her hand to Duncan. "You must be Duncan," she said, a flirtatious smile finding its natural home on her mouth. Duncan looked at Methos, who just shrugged and turned toward the exit, offering Cooper his arm, which she gaily took as she led the way to the parking area. She and Methos climbed into a baby-blue vintage Mustang convertible, with a license plate that read "FLY-D-COOP," leaving Duncan and Finley staring at each other. Duncan smiled to put her at ease, and she relaxed a little, saying, "Coop's impulsive sometimes. Hope Adam doesn't mind."

"Adam won't mind a bit," he assured her, promising dark vengeance in his mind as soon as he had Methos naked underneath him again.

Duncan and Finley followed in the more sedate Suburban, which they had a hard time parking on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, where the town fathers apparently just cut each parking place in half to create the illusion of more space. The band was mostly noise, and lots of it, the venue dark and smoky, the dance floor crowded, the drinks watered. Duncan found a spot against the wall in the back and spent too long watching Methos and Cooper find a rhythm to dance to in the noise. His fair skin stood out in the tanned young faces. Cooper attracted a lot of attention, but she seemed to enjoy just dancing with Methos, pressing against him, swaying her hips into his. He wasn't protesting, either, Duncan thought, watching the world's oldest Immortal abandon himself to the chaos of the music and the warm body sidled up to him.

"They seem to be having a good time," said a lilting voice at his shoulder. Duncan turned to find Finley standing beside him, still inches shorter than he, despite her heels. He nodded, not trying to talk above the din. "Would you like to take a walk?" she asked and he jumped at the chance to leave the smoky room. The night air felt cool on his face and he took a deep breath as he stepped out the door, holding it open for Finley to follow. She smiled her thanks, tucked her hand in his arm and steered him toward the little downtown. They didn't say anything until they passed an ice cream store, then Duncan asked if she wanted some. She nodded and they both got cones. Duncan liked how the cold smooth stuff contrasted with the mouth-scalding salsa he'd had for dinner. They walked several blocks, then stopped to sit on a stone wall in front of a church, nibbling their cones and watching the people go by.

After a few minutes, Finley said, "Have you and Adam been together long?"

Duncan almost choked on the last bite of cone. "Not that long," he said. Three nights in three years. That probably wouldn't even qualify as a summer fling in her world.

"You guys didn't set off my gaydar," she said. "You shocked the bejeezus out of me when you kissed him like that. I almost wet my pants." Duncan wondered if it was the southern drawl that made even the most outrageous things sound sweet from her mouth.

"Gaydar? I'm not gay," Duncan said, hearing how ridiculous it sounded. He'd kissed another man in potential full view of a hotel full of guests. That didn't nominate him for Straight Man of the Year.

"Just one of those things, huh," she asked, smiling, and he relaxed a little. "I think he's testing you, going off with Coop like that."

"Testing how?" Duncan asked, intrigued by the tiny girl with the big ideas.

"To see if you'll come after him. He wants you to declare," she said firmly, obviously quite sure of herself.

"You think you're pretty smart, don't you?" he said. "It's... complicated."

"Well, don't let Cooper worry you. She loves bringing guys she meets at the hotel down here. It's sort of her hobby. She's just showing off," Finley said, shrugging her narrow shoulders. "It doesn't mean anything."

"You know her pretty well," Duncan said.

Finley stood, taking the bedraggled paper napkin from him and tossing the detritus of their cones in a nearby trash can. She came back to stand in front of him. "I should, we used to share a baby bathtub," she laughed. "Our moms were bestest friends, so I guess we are, too. I love Coop, I really do, but I have a hard time liking her sometimes."

Duncan took in what she said, thinking how much it applied to his relationship with Methos. Wisdom came from unexpected sources, like a pixie girl with a southern drawl who wore a dab of ice cream on her chin. He reached over and wiped off the melting drop with the tip of one finger, then licked it off.

"When you've known somebody that long, they're pretty much just another piece of you, don't you think?" she asked. "Gotta take them, warts and all."

Duncan wondered how she got so smart, how she knew just what to say to him. He was getting ready to thank her when she looked over her shoulder and her warm, open expression closed up tight.

"What is it?" he asked, surprised at how much he disliked seeing the tight look on her face.

"Old beau, new girlfriend," she said shortly, and she looked the other way.

He put both hands on her waist and pulled her between his thighs. "Then I guess you'd better kiss me," he said.

She looked surprised, then smiled at him, a winsome little smile, and ducked her head to touch her lips to his.

Under her kiss, Duncan could hear footsteps behind him, and he pulled Finley in closer, raising his face to kiss her more deeply. The footsteps paused just beside them, then slowly moved on. By that time, Duncan was enjoying the kiss too much to call it off just because the audience had left. Her small mouth tasted like mint chocolate chip, fresh, sweet and dark. She felt blessedly uncomplicated in his arms, a warm soft body with no hard edges.

She blushed as she pulled away finally, smoothing her hair with an unsteady hand. "We ought to get back," she said, reaching for his hand to pull him off the stone wall. He linked his fingers with hers, and they walked back towards the Cat's Cradle. Just before they went back in, she tugged on his hand, bringing his head down to hers. "He's a lucky guy," she whispered in his ear, kissing his cheek.

The nest of vipers on the dance floor no longer included Methos and Cooper and Duncan eventually spotted them near the back door. Methos was leaning against a wall and Cooper leaned against him, pulling one of his hands onto her bare stomach as they watched. She wasn't very steady on her feet and Duncan wondered how much she'd had to drink.

"Do you know the southern woman's mating call?" Finley asked over the noise. Duncan shook his head.

"Ah'm soooo druuunk," she said and collapsed in a fit of giggles. He grinned at her.

"I think I'll go rescue him," he said. "Will you be all right to get home?"

She nodded. "I always drive us home. One more point on her license and her daddy'll take the car away. We don't want that."

"No, we don't want that," Duncan agreed, charmed by her no-bullshit manner. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Finley," he said formally, then ruined it by hugging her tight. She hugged him back and said, "You too, Duncan, you take care."

Peeling Methos away from the blonde temptation was easier than Duncan expected. He didn't even put up a token protest, just patted her once on the behind, said, "Thanks, Coop, I had a great time," and actually beat Duncan to the door. Duncan stood in the doorway long enough to see Finley and Cooper meet in the middle of the dance floor, then he let the door close behind him.

Methos opened his second duffel bag the morning they headed out to find what was left of Warren Cochrane. From it, he pulled wrinkled khaki shorts, a haphazardly folded thin white t-shirt, and a pair of beat-up Teva sandals. Once clad, he looked like a beach bum -- a comfortable, cool, beach bum. In contrast, Duncan looked ridiculously overdressed in his lightweight trousers, linen jacket and Italian loafers. Methos managed to blend in ways Duncan couldn't even attempt.

"Where'd you get those?" Duncan asked, pointing to the disreputable sandals on Methos' lean feet.

"Greece," Methos replied with an echo of a smile. "After 5,000 years you'd think I'd develop calluses, wouldn't you? But no, I was tiptoeing the beaches of Santorini like they were mine fields. Alexa got them for me."

Duncan must have looked envious, because Methos said, "We'll get you some along the way. You can even get them wet." Duncan didn't know why he'd need that particular feature, but Methos looked so pleased with himself he didn't have the heart to burst his bubble.

"And where exactly do you put your sword in that outfit?" Duncan asked.

Methos gave him a lop-sided grin as he stuffed his discarded jeans and henley into the soft bag. "Oh, I'm counting on my hero to come to the rescue should the occasion arise."

"Your hero?!" Mac scoffed incredulously.

Methos turned to him. "'I want a hero: An uncommon want.'" As so often happened, Duncan couldn't read the tone or the expression, but the reference was all too clear. Byron, rearing his shaggy head again.

"He was being facetious," Duncan finally said guardedly.

"And you think I'm not?" Methos moved like quicksilver and before Duncan could react, a small savage blade nicked a shallow slice in his chin. "Don't worry about me, Highlander. I'm not about to go out naked."

Duncan wiped the scratch, no worse than he'd done to himself shaving that morning, and berated himself for being drawn in to Methos' word game. Some days he felt slow as molasses.

The air was cool as they pulled out, a fine mist still settled like a lace shawl on the shoulders of the tall pines. They took the long way. Eschewing the interstate, they wandered the smaller, windier roads, the "less traveled by," and sure enough, it made all the difference. Methos shed his prickly guard like a molted skin, leaving a warm, accessible, young man to ride shotgun with Duncan. As the Suburban barreled through the Piedmont and up into the mountains of North Carolina, Methos belted out country songs as soon as he learned the lyrics, dropped peanuts in his Coca-Cola bottle, and kept one foot perpetually out the always open window, wagging his toes in the rush of wind past the sideview mirror.

They spent the first night in Valle Crucis, a tiny riverside town nestled in a valley deep in the mountains. Getting to it had been an adventure -- the curves sometimes felt shorter than the length of the Suburban, and they both took to leaning far out the windows to see what was around the next bend before attempting it.

The bed and breakfast where they spent the night boasted hosts more open-minded than either man expected. They were shown to a finished attic room with exposed beams and white-washed walls and a big broad bed that sat so high off the floor they had to climb into it. While Duncan squeezed into the added bathroom for a shower, Methos stretched his legs by mapping the streets with his feet. The Mast General Store looked promising in terms of redressing Mac, he thought, peeking through the windows at the acres of cotton clothing.

He strolled the tree-shaded streets as day slipped away, bringing out the singing night creatures, as well as a few biting ones. He slapped distractedly at a mosquito that buzzed around his ear. Fireflies flickered here and there, and as he reached a small rise, he could see hundreds of tiny lights blink on and off over the expanse of a rolling meadow. /I spend too much time in cities/ he thought.

A car serpentined its way down the mountain road, throwing twin beams of light at impossible angles, and Methos followed its progress. The road had nothing on the twists and turns his life had taken to bring him to this particular place, at this particular moment. For the most part, he did his level best to live in the present. The only way to go, really, he thought, when your past made you nauseous and your future looked like a hairpin curve without a guardrail.

For Byron with his poetry and modern appetites to have met Duncan with his conviction and medieval heroics -- how many strange forces had colluded to create that fateful moment? With Methos forced to the middle, where he least liked to be. It never worked -- the past meeting the present, the self you were trying to become tripping over the self you'd been, leaving behind sprained emotions and strained relations. When the time came to choose, he'd chosen his present over his past, the hero he wanted so uncommonly over the poet he'd once embraced. And that decision had led him here, on another strange quest, in another foreign place, with a man he could love within an inch of his life, as long as he didn't have to say so.

Methos sighed, looking over the ageless mountains in their worn cloak of trees, mountains older than he, and much more resolute, then turned back to the lights of the town, and the man he'd given his present to. The porch of the inn looked inviting as he approached it. White wicker rocking chairs were set to catch the breeze and the view. Light spilled out the windows, drawing warm lines across the weathered boards. Duncan sat in one of the chairs, rocking slowly, his bare feet chanting an essential beat on the porch railing. He looked up and smiled as Methos climbed the stairs. Methos paused at the top of the steps, taking in the casual comfort of the house, and the man adorning the porch. A strange little ache formed beneath his breastbone at the tranquil scene.

"What is it?" Duncan asked, and Methos wondered how he could read his face in such low light.

"I spend so much time by myself, I forget what it's like to find someone waiting for me," he said softly. He glanced around to make sure they were alone, then reached out to tug on Duncan's ponytail, pulling off the tie and letting the soft strands fall freely on the Scot's broad shoulders. He clasped Duncan's shoulder briefly, then moved to sit in an adjacent rocker. He propped his feet up next to Duncan's and they rocked in rhythm, the slow creak of the runners on the porch floor a steady accompaniment to the orchestra of crickets tuning up in the trees.

"They'll make supper for us if you want," Duncan said, pointing back into the inn. "Nothing fancy, omelets or sandwiches."

"Sounds good to me. I don't feel much like driving anywhere, and the town apparently closes at sunset," Methos said, leaning his head back on the sturdy rocker.

The plump hostess of the inn made omelets lighter than air, accompanied by muffins and fresh cut fruit. She told them she hoped they liked it because they were likely to see the same meal for breakfast. Duncan and Methos assured her they'd be ready for it again in twelve hours. They retired to the small front parlor after dinner, helping themselves to the brandy left for guests in a crystal decanter on a table in the corner. Good brandy, too, in good snifters. Methos let out a sigh of contentment as he settled onto an overstuffed couch, positioned so he could see Duncan, rocking again, this time in an upholstered chair with a high back and big arms.

After a few minutes of companionable silence, Duncan said, "Methos, tell me about Byron."

"What do you want to know?" Methos replied, sipping the brandy and letting the taste wash through his mouth before swallowing. Things had been going so well between them, he wasn't sure Byron was the best topic for discussion.

"No offense, but by the time I met him, there wasn't much left to admire. Obviously, you saw something different in him. I'd like to know what it was," Duncan said.

Methos sighed. Oh no, they couldn't just sit and enjoy a snifter of brandy and a serene evening. They had to rake another dead issue over the coals. But at least Duncan was making an effort, and that probably deserved some sort of response.

"The same thing that drew you to Cochrane, the same thing that I saw in you," Methos finally said, low and deep. "Passion."

Duncan's head came up sharply, and his eyes probed Methos.

"Not that kind of passion, Mac," Methos said. "At least not right away. I mean a zest for life, a firm belief, a raw conviction. Things I abandoned long ago."

"It seems to me if you've really abandoned them, you'd eventually stop looking for them," Duncan said, getting up and moving to sit on the couch with Methos, lifting his feet onto his lap. Duncan slid Methos' sandals off and traced the faint tan lines across his instep and the base of his toes.

"I wasn't looking for you, Highlander. You came to me, remember?" Methos said, closing his eyes as Duncan's long fingers traced the tendons in his arches. Tingles radiated from each spot Duncan touched, racing up his legs, settling in his groin.

"Tell me about him," Duncan repeated, sliding his thumb from the base of Methos' big toe all the way down to his heel. Methos moaned and pressed his foot harder into Duncan's hand.

"In his depraved little world, MacLeod, I was the boy scout, what does that tell you?"

Switzerland, 1816

"I'd rather have your poetry than your head," Methos said, holding his hands out at his sides, not indicating surrender, just a reluctance to fight. Byron lived from instant to instant -- mercurial and easily bored, he usually just needed to be distracted.

"Very well, as a favor to you," Byron said, and he bowed, a mocking little bow. Methos ducked his head in response and Byron bowed again, deeper this time, sweeping his arms to the side, grinning at him. Methos kept his eyes on his friend, bowing back, and so he was prepared when the slender man launched his lithe body at Methos, wrapping around him and knocking him to the floor.

"You won't take our fair Mary in her addled state, can I convince you to have me?" Byron asked, sliding his hand down Methos' lawn shirt, cupping his sex where it lay soft in his breeches.

"Here?" Methos asked, still disturbingly aware of Mary whimpering softly in the bed above.

"Yes, yes, here where she can hear us in her dreams. We'll still leave our mark, but with our voices, not our bodies," Byron said, burying his face in Methos' neck, licking the hollow at the base where his pulse beat. "Set aside your hesitation, send away your shy restraint, and live."

"Byron," Methos thought to protest, but then Byron kissed him there, just at the side of the throat, where some nerve connected directly to his groin, and then he no longer even cared if the door was open, let alone that a semi-conscious, laudanum-heavy woman lay drowsing three feet away.

"You want my poetry? I'll give it to you, freely, a phrase at a time," Byron said, unbuttoning Methos' shirt, pulling it from his trousers and off his body, tossing it heedlessly to the floor and dropping back to run his tongue across Methos' stiff nipples. Methos put his hands on Byron's head, holding him steady, lifting his chest to Byron's mouth.

"Once more upon the waters! Yet once more," Byron began, rocking against Methos, accenting his chest and stomach with wet kisses.

"And the waves bound beneath me as a steed that knows his rider," he mouthed against Methos' navel, then bit into the creamy flesh. Methos lunged beneath him, feeling his cock lengthen and press against the fabric of his trousers, as seduced by the voice as the touch.

"Welcome to their roar! Swift be their guidance, wheresoe'er it lead!" Byron's voice wove through Methos' brain like the haze from their opium pipes, enervating and arousing at the same time. Byron shifted his attention to the bulge below Methos' waist, tracing it with his fingers, then setting his mouth to it, dampening the fabric and outlining the eager length. Methos moaned, and Mary moaned after him.

Methos opened his eyes at the sound, wondering how Byron could reduce him to this state with so little effort on his part. He, who'd tried just about everything in the course of 4,800 years, was shocked by Byron sometimes, and shocked by who he became when he was with him. But Byron had a way of making gratification overcome reservation, desire batting away common sense, and that was how he ended up in poses like this, hard as a rock on someone else's carpet. Only Byron could reduce him to this. Byron, who viewed death as just one more sensation, and life as something to be devoured, but not necessarily cherished.

Byron smiled down at him, his eyes golden, heavy with desire, hot and intent on him. With one hand, he undid the clasps on Methos trousers, agonizingly slowly. Finally, Methos felt a long finger touch the tip of his penis, and he sighed in relief.

"Though the strained mast should quiver as a reed," Byron said, leaning over to sip at the tip, leaving wet streaks and teeth marks and Methos writhing on the floor, reaching for him. "And the rent canvas fluttering strew the gale, still must I on, for I am as a weed, flung from the rock on Ocean's foam, to sail where'er the surge may sweep, the tempest's breath prevail," Byron sang the words in a sing-song voice, peppered with sucks and licks and bites on Methos' pulsing shaft. Methos felt the words wrap around him, driving lyrically into his heart while Byron lay siege to his body. At each groan from him, he heard an higher echo above him, Mary linked with them in her sleepstate, feeling in some dark corner their pleasure.

Byron's mouth had found a better use, taking the whole length of Methos' penis into his throat, milking it with his cheeks, stroking his tongue along the prominent vein on the underside. Methos managed to reach for him, guiding him around so that his knees bracketed Methos' head. Methos undid only the essential buttons, freeing Byron's long, slender erection and bringing it to his own mouth, running his teeth along the length of it, hearing Byron's groan at the touch. The smell of him filled Methos' nostrils, the taste of him centered in his mouth. Methos lapped at him with lazy strokes, only half-conscious of the stroking, his attention concentrated in his own groin, where Byron now held his heavy sac, squeezing and lifting as he pumped Methos' erection in and out of his throat.

Three moans rent the air, three bodies writhed, desire spiking as two long cocks went deep into two open throats, spilled semen scent filling the room. On the floor, Byron dropped to Methos' side, smearing his wet mouth on Methos' stomach. Methos wiped his lips with the back of his hand, his heart beating double-time in his chest. As the soft whimpers from the bed continued, Methos pushed himself up and crawled to the end of the bed, peering over the edge. Mary lay curled up on her side, damp tendrils quivering at her temples, her red lips open, her thighs squeezing together rhythmically. She wasn't awake, she wasn't asleep, but in some half-altered state between the two. Not in distress, though, judging by the sharp nipples that jutted against her soft gown. Not in distress.

Byron came up behind him, sliding his arms around Methos' bare chest, glancing his thumbs across his nipples before dragging him back down to the floor. "We've only just started, my friend, we've only just started."

"You did that with that woman right there? Methos!" Duncan sounded shocked. Methos smiled up at him, and reached for Duncan's hand, pulling it over the placket of his shorts, where his erection pressed against the zipper. Duncan curved his hand over it, stroking distractedly.

"Passion, Mac, it was all about passion," Methos said, keeping his hand over Duncan's as it stroked him. "Byron had it." He squeezed Duncan's wrist. "You have it."

"I don't see much similarity," Duncan said huffily.

/No, you wouldn't,/ Methos thought. On the surface, they were as different as two men could be -- Byron with his open-mouthed pursuit of pleasure, Duncan with his pursed-lip views on honor. And yet so similar in their desire to push him, to change him, leaving him torn between the need to survive regardless of the cost and the siren call of a true connection to another person.

Methos moved restlessly, sliding one bare foot into Duncan's crotch, rubbing his arch along the hard length he found there. "You both dragged me out of a nice, safe, solitary life," he said.

"Well, you can't hide forever," Duncan said, arching into Methos' stroking foot.

"Actually, I think it's possible," Methos said. "I did it for seven hundred years once. Then this French knight came along, what was his name... Lan...."

But Duncan wouldn't be distracted. "I'm not like him, Methos," he insisted.

Methos sat up, tucked his feet under him and faced Duncan. "Byron collected friends like Christmas tree ornaments. He made me take risks I knew damn well I shouldn't. He wasn't very good with the concept of 'no'. Any of this ringing a bell, Mac?"

By the dull flush that appeared in Duncan's cheeks, yes, it appeared so.

"Byron was like a Roman candle, all sputtering sparks and random explosions," Methos said. "You're like the beacon on a lighthouse -- I can see you from a hundred miles away," he said. "But I forgot something."

"What's that?" Duncan asked.

"A lighthouse warns of rocky shores. Get too close and you'll drown." /Living dangerously, old man,/ Methos cautioned himself. /'Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.'/

Duncan moved at that, stretching out beside Methos on the too-small couch, crowding him with his heavy body. "Then I guess you'll need mouth-to-mouth, won't you?"

Methos groaned at his terrible joke, but let Duncan kiss him anyway, tilting up to meet his descending mouth, letting it wash away the residue of the memories of Byron, filling him with Duncan's familiar flavor, the smooth tongue that mated with his, the soft lips that fit over his own so perfectly. He tangled his legs with Duncan's, feeling the linen rasp against his bare skin. Duncan was reaching for the zipper on Methos' shorts when Methos stopped him, pulling away from the seductive mouth long enough to remind him they had a bed upstairs. Duncan yanked him off the couch by his belt loops and pushed him up the steps to the attic, stripping him as he went.

Duncan made love to him in the big wide bed face to face, heart to thudding heart, as if he could blister out the vestiges of Byron's presence with his skin and muscle and bone. Methos stopped even trying to respond at the last, letting Duncan fill him beyond saturation point, closing his eyes and accepting the force Duncan used on his body, as if he'd sear his seal on Methos' skin. Pleasured out and exhausted, Duncan crashed into sleep with his head on Methos' shoulder, one arm still wrapped loosely around him, the other hand still clenched in Methos' short hair. Methos held his weight, welcoming the heaviness on him. He slid a gentle hand up and down Duncan's back, soothing him in his sleep. He kissed the shoulder he could reach, then settled back, beyond content.

"For I am as a weed, flung from the rock on Ocean's foam, to sail where'er the surge may sweep," he whispered to the sleeping Duncan.

The trip took days longer than it should have. They only drove a few hours a day, stopping early enough for Methos to spend his afternoons basking poolside. Duncan supposed most people didn't stop in Florida on the way to Mississippi, but Methos wanted to revisit the Gulf of Mexico, and what Methos wanted, Duncan was willing to give. They ended up spending a couple of nights in Fort Walton Beach. The air there was even softer, with a strange hazy glow at sunset that made the beach and everything on it shimmer. The gulf's glassy surface never broke into a surf, just lapped quietly at the shore. A quiet beach, what a novel concept.

The air was soft, but also hot. Summer had already arrived on the gulf coast, complete with high humidity, afternoon thundershowers and glorious sunsets. Duncan looked down at his new clothes, crisp cotton walking shorts, a white pique shirt with a pocket and his very own Tevas. He wiggled his toes, enjoying the freedom the strange shoes gave him. Methos had been right, as usual. He felt much more comfortable in clothes that matched everyone else's. How Methos knew what the beachcombers in the Panhandle were wearing that spring Duncan didn't question. He thought Methos had probably originated the whole "When in Rome" concept.

Methos hadn't even unpacked before heading down to the beach. Duncan gave him some breathing room before joining him. They'd never spent this much time together and it felt a little strange sometimes. Duncan had become accustomed to his sometimes-caustic traveling companion. They spent their days in what Methos called debates and Duncan called arguments, and their nights in sweaty, silky, naked bliss. A more contrary creature had surely never been born, Duncan thought. Methos would argue the state of the moon in the sky, but in the dark, at night, he yielded to Duncan. Never weaker, always an equal partner, but yielding nonetheless, with a willingness and enthusiasm Duncan could never recreate in him with words, or with their clothes on.

Now Duncan wandered down the aged boardwalk protecting the dunes, looking for the changeling who swore at him on the highway but kissed him good night as if his mouth held honey. He hadn't gotten very far. He sat on the sand above the high tide mark, his long bare legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, leaning back on his hands, watching the colors change in the clouds. The only thing familiar about him was the sprawl. Methos had toasted to a golden brown, and the week of good food had put an extra pound or two on his spare frame. The tips of his spiky hair were starting to throw off a golden tint from their time in the sun. Always one to relax whenever possible, he now looked positively unwound.

Unwound and not-quite-real. On how many shores had this old man sat? How many sunsets had he watched over a calm sea? In all the world, there was no one like Methos. Duncan felt the truth of that simple fact sweep over him. Trying to fit Methos in a box was like trying to put a leash on a cloud. It was a lot of trouble and you'd wind up empty-handed. Methos was more than a man, he was walking history. He survived by blending and watching out for himself first. So what? He survived. If accepting that was the cost to have him whole and sound of mind, here on this beach, here with him, it seemed a price worth paying.

Methos grinned up at Duncan as Mac approached him, and Duncan saw again the dimples, and how white the Old Man's teeth were in his tanned face. Duncan kept his eyes on him for so long Methos finally said, "You're staring, MacLeod."

"I almost didn't recognize you," Duncan said. "You look happy."

"I thought I'd try it for a day or two, see how I liked it," Methos replied, and Duncan thought there was more truth in what he said than he'd admit. The years since they'd met hadn't been easy on the world's oldest Immortal. It probably did feel good to be away from the world for a few days. Duncan dropped down beside Methos and started sifting the sand with his fingers. He dribbled streams of it on Methos' thigh, drawing patterns in the hair.

"Going to bury me, Highlander?" Methos asked. "Cover me with sand and leave me for the ghost crabs to chew on?"

"Nah, I'd rather nibble on you myself."

Methos grinned at him, then dropped back on his elbows. The hem of his t-shirt rode up, revealing a strip of tawny belly. "Knock yourself out, but these shorts are not leaving my body. I've done the whole sex-on-the-beach thing, and trust me, you don't want sand there."

Duncan thought about that for a minute, then said, "I suppose I can control myself." He was rewarded with a smile so naughty and so warm that he almost changed his mind, sand be damned.

Methos turned his gaze back to the sky, where blades of sunlight reached into the heavens from behind a cloud. "Have you thought about what you want to say to Warren when you find him?"

"Not really," Duncan said. "Depends on how he is, whether he'll even see me." The possibility that Warren would simply spurn his efforts lay festering in a dark corner of his mind. To come all this way only to find Warren wouldn't talk to him? Well, the trip itself had been worth it. Anything that left Methos this approachable, this happy, was a success all on its own.

"He'll see you," Methos said with conviction.

"How can you be so sure?" Duncan asked.

"I'll make him."

The offer was so unexpected, so cute, that Duncan pounced on the Old Man, stripped him of his shirt and tickled him until he gasped for mercy. As soon as Duncan let him go, Methos tumbled him on his back, straddling him, only to find himself on his back again an instant later. They didn't end up with sand there, but pretty much everywhere else, and Methos demonstrated for Duncan how he could not only get his Tevas wet, but his whole outfit, by tossing the bigger man over his shoulder and dumping him in the gentle surf. Duncan retaliated with a quick swipe to the back of Methos' knees that had him swallowing sea water and sputtering. Like silkies far from home, they dove and cavorted in the warm soft water, shouting inventive obscenities only heard by stray gulls and courageous crabs.

Finally, when they were both waterlogged and breathless, Methos wrapped himself around Duncan's back, wrestling him to the shallows. He pressed against Duncan's broad back and bit his ear before whispering, "I'm going to have you, Highlander. Hard." Duncan shuddered under his hands, his mind already filled with chaotic, erotic images.

They rinsed their feet in the spigot on the boardwalk, still shoving and playing. They pulled off their sodden sandals and scrubbed the sand from them, then padded barefoot to the room, where the air conditioning sent chills across their damp skin.

"I'm going to shower," Duncan said as they stepped into the room.

"Oh no, you're not," Methos replied and two disorienting seconds later, Duncan was on the floor with Methos' butt lodged firmly on his chest.

"Quit goofing around, Methos, I'm cold," Mac griped, and Methos gave him that wicked dimpled grin.

"Not for long, Mac, not for long," Methos said, and he stripped the soggy shirt off Duncan, then grappled with the stubborn shorts until they too lay in a dripping heap on the floor. Methos tucked his head into Duncan's neck and started licking his collarbone.

"Mmmmm, salty," he said. Duncan felt the Old Man's hands comb through his wet hair, spreading it on the floor, catching in tangles and smoothing them out. And all the while, that warm mouth moved over him, soothing him, arousing him, warming him, one mouthful of skin at a time. Methos moved so his groin pressed against Duncan's and Duncan yelped as cold wet shorts met his hot cock. Methos chuckled around the nipple he was mouthing and without letting go, he wriggled out of his shorts and dropped full length on Mac's bigger body.

One of the things Duncan liked about Methos was how they matched in size. If their mouths met, so did their chests, groins and legs. The symmetry of that satisfied something in Duncan. He wrapped his arms around Methos, moving him a little to align him just where it felt the best. He let Methos do whatever he wanted, perfectly content just to lie there and absorb the chills and heat that swept alternately over him.

Methos raised his head, and Duncan looked up at him, struck again by just how different he looked. He'd never seen quite this exact expression before, open and easy, underscored with a sort of lusty delight. Mac put his hands along Methos' jaw, brought his head down, and let the Old Man kiss him until he couldn't breathe. /God, I love kissing him,/ Duncan thought, wishing he hadn't waited so long to try it, wishing he had free and easy access to that mouth 24 hours a day.

Methos pulled his lips away, slicking them with his tongue. Duncan licked his own lips and tasted the salty residue from the gulf. "I'm going to have you, Highlander," Methos whispered again. "Hard"

Duncan moaned softly at the words. He spread his arms out to the side, a pagan offering to an earthbound god. Methos got up and rummaged in his knapsack until he found the tube of sunscreen. "We're going to have to get more of this," he said, grinning and Duncan smiled back at him. They had real lube somewhere in the luggage, but they'd both grown rather fond of the smell of the sunscreen. In fact, they were starting to get hard-ons just slathering up each day from all the associated scents.

Methos knelt between Duncan's legs, spreading them to match his widespread arms. He moved into the notch and squirted the lotion on his fingers. He slid his hand down his own erection, coating it, then balanced back on his heels, one hand going straight to Duncan's erection, the other sliding underneath to rub gently at the small puckered opening beneath his balls. Duncan closed his eyes at the first touch, the nimble fingers on his cock so sure of what to do, the ones at his anus probing more tentatively.

Duncan felt one finger slide inside him, then duck back out. His heart kicked. "More," he whispered, and Methos immediately complied, increasing the pressure on Duncan's penis and nudging two long fingers deep inside him. Duncan moved against the twin sensations, feeling the intensity ratchet up with each thrust. Chills forgotten, now jolting waves of heat washed through him. This was still so new to him, this invasion, this penetration. Doing it was one thing, having it done to him was something else. He couldn't imagine giving anyone but Methos that kind of power over him. Methos, who knew just exactly how to approach him, with his combination of humor and aggression and heart. He made Duncan want to surrender.

Methos turned his fingers inside Duncan, stroking the smooth prostate and Duncan saw stars. Somewhere outside the sensation that took him over he heard a voice saying over and over, "Now, now, now, now" and realized it was his own. Methos shushed him, moving to drape Duncan's legs over his arms, pressing Duncan's knees back toward his chest, rendering him completely open and completely vulnerable. Methos braced himself over Duncan and touched the tip of his erection to the entrance of Duncan's body and without any further preparation, thrust solidly home.

Duncan's body came off the floor as it tried to adjust, to accept Methos' cock in its entirety. He felt impaled, stretched, burned. He felt complete. He had part of Methos inside him. He felt closer to Methos now than he did when it was Duncan thrusting and Methos bowing toward him, fighting for leverage. Duncan felt soft inside, liquid, absorbing the heat and hardness of Methos, holding him up, taking him in. Letting him in.

He didn't forget his own arousal, his own pleasure, but it paled next to the joy it gave him to be able to watch the urgency in Methos, the driving body, the strain in the corded tendons in his neck as he held the weight of Duncan's legs on his arms, and to feel the hard hard shaft inside him rock back and forth with ever-increasing speed and pressure. Methos stretched him even further, bending impossibly to attach his mouth to Duncan's and he brought with his lips all that hunger, all that pleasure, and he gave it all to Duncan, dragging him under into a sea of swirling desire and revelation. Methos' climax, bruising thrusts unbelievably deep, a strong cry burned against his mouth, triggered Duncan's own. Untouched by either man, his cock burst forth anyway, shooting streams of semen between them.

Methos dropped back, panting, his limbs shaking from release and strain. He let Duncan's legs fall back to the floor and then ducked his head onto Duncan's chest, his cock still pulsing, his heart beating so hard Duncan could feel it above his own. Duncan cradled his head, feeling the salt-stiff hair under his hands.

Duncan saw again the images of Methos with Byron, the absolute surrender in his body, and realized that nowhere, in all the wildly erotic pictures that danced through his mind, had Methos been the aggressor, the initiator. Now lying contentedly beneath his damp, hot body, Duncan cherished the knowledge that they'd moved another step closer. Reaching out was a lot harder than just accepting another person's desire. Duncan moved his hand to Methos' neck, rubbing the long tendons, sliding his thumb between them and pressing until Methos moaned.

"To hell with Warren Cochrane," Methos groaned into Duncan's chest hair. "We're never leaving here."

Two sun-drenched pleasure-dazed days later, with their still-damp clothes mildewing in a hotel laundry bag, they set out for Jackson. Methos gave a mocking salute as they crossed the state line. Jackson turned out to be a bigger city than they expected. They ended up buying a city map in a gas station and managed to find the street Warren had given as his local address. A quick read through the newspaper classifieds gave them several options for short-term rentals and they ended up in a garage apartment on a wooded street in Belhaven, just a couple of miles from Warren's neighborhood.

Furnished in early attic, it wasn't the Marriott, but it had windows on all four sides to let the breeze in and live plants dotted the windowsills. It was cheery and convenient and available, and it came with a kitchen. Methos and Mac just shook their heads when they saw the twin beds in the bedroom and left the sofa in its bed mode the whole time they stayed there.

For three days Duncan didn't even mention Warren, or why they were here, or when he might try to find him. They played tourist, visiting the reservoir, the Agriculture Museum, the planetarium and the Eudora Welty Library. Methos went along, though his own idea of a perfect afternoon had been discovering Lemuria Books, with its shelves of rare and old books. He shipped a dozen volumes to Paris on Duncan's credit card.

Methos managed to cajole Duncan into going to the most expensive restaurant in town. "Come on, MacLeod, it's called Times Change, what could be more perfect for a couple of Immortals? Besides, when was the last time you had moose?"

Times might have changed, but moose hadn't, and Duncan opted for venison stew instead. The food was good, the wine was great and Methos thought maybe now Duncan had relaxed enough to talk about whatever was causing his reluctance.

"You're not having second thoughts, are you Mac?" Methos asked, pouring the last of the bottle of wine into Duncan's glass.

Duncan looked up at him. "What do you mean?"

"Well, not to say that I haven't been enjoying the guided tour of Jackson, but didn't we come here for a reason?" he asked.

Duncan gazed into his wine glass, swirling the liquid and watching the sheen on the sides of the glass. "I've known him for three hundred years, Methos. If he won't see me, the friendship's over. I know I don't see him much, but I like knowing he's there, do you know what I mean?"

"Yes, I do," Methos said. "I know exactly what you mean." He leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table for emphasis. "Mac, you gave him his life back. All five hundred years of it, good and bad. Learning to live with one rash act has to be easier than not knowing who, or what, he is."

Duncan mulled that over for a minute, then nodded.

"He wouldn't have lasted long the way he was," Methos continued. "He'd either have been committed or fallen prey to a hunting Immortal. At least now he's making informed decisions."

Duncan nodded again. He still didn't look convinced.

"I'll talk to him first, if you like," Methos said. Duncan looked up at him, startled, and started to protest, but then nodded once more, saying "Thanks" in a low voice.

They went the next day. The last known address for Curt Warren was exactly three miles from where Methos and Mac were staying. A big old house at the top of a hill, cut into apartments. Duncan parked the Suburban around the corner. He looked over at Methos, unable, as usual, to read his expression.

"You don't mind doing this?" he asked, and Methos shook his head.

"For the tenth time, no, Mac, I don't mind," Methos replied. "Given your last meeting, it's probably best if you don't just appear at his door."

Duncan knew he was right. Still, he was surprised by the unexpected gesture on Methos' part. Non-interference was more than a policy with the Old Man, it was a way of life. Or at least that's what he always said. Duncan had started to wonder if it was all bluster and bluff. In the last three years Methos had stuck his admirably sized nose in Duncan's business more times than he could count. When you looked at his actions instead of his words, he wasn't exactly a poster child for indifference and distance, despite his voluble protestations to the contrary. To the contrary. /There's that word again,/ Duncan thought. The contrary nature was as much protection as weapon, of that Duncan was sure, but finding where the shield ended and the wounded man began wasn't easy. /It's worth trying, though,/ he thought, looking at Methos. /It's worth trying./

Methos got out of the Suburban, shutting the door firmly behind him.

"You're not taking a sword?" Duncan asked through the open window.

"It's ninety degrees, Mac, if I wore a coat they'd think I was a flasher," Methos said, smiling as if the image amused him.

"But you don't know how he'll react," Duncan said, concerned.

"Why would he want to kill me?" Methos asked in a reasonable tone.

"We're probably the only other Immortals in the whole state, you might startle him," Duncan replied.

"I'll be all right, Mac," Methos reassured him, patting his pockets. Duncan didn't want to know what sort of arsenal Methos kept in his shorts pockets. Could have been anything from a switchblade to a .38 special.

Duncan watched Methos stroll away, just another guy out for a Sunday afternoon walk. On the horizon, billowing white clouds had started to gather, forerunners of the daily thunderstorm.

Methos felt Warren's presence as he climbed the steps to the porch. Warren's was the first apartment on the right, just inside the front door. Methos knocked on the door with four hard raps.

After a long pause, the door opened slowly, revealing a tall man wearing only sagging denim shorts. He held a sword in one big hand and kept the other on the door, as if he might slam it shut at any moment. Methos looked him over. Short brown hair, ocean eyes, a beautiful, lush mouth. Long smooth muscles in his shoulders, chest and arms, a trail of soft hair starting at his navel and descending inches into the loose waist of his shorts. /No wonder Duncan succumbed,/ he thought, feeling tingles himself. He looked up to see he was getting the same once-over from Warren.

"Usually, people don't knock when they come to challenge me," Warren finally said, the Scottish burr more audible in his voice than in Duncan's. He sent those sea-green eyes up and down Methos' body again. "And they carry a sword."

Methos turned around for him, showing he had nothing up his sleeve, or tucked in his shorts, or hiding behind a corner.

"I'm not here to challenge you," Methos said.

"Who are you?" Warren asked, lowering the sword, but still blocking the door.

"I'm a friend of Duncan MacLeod," Methos said in his best Adam Pierson voice.

"That's all? You don't have your own name?" Warren asked, and Methos' eyes narrowed. Smarter than he looked, this one.

"You can call me Adam," he said.

Warren nodded, stepping back from the doorway and motioning Methos to come inside. "Adam, the first man," he said as he laid his sword on the kitchen table. "Adam was rendered gullible by love."

"What's your point?" Methos asked acidly, irritated that he was apparently so transparent to yet another big gorgeous Scot.

"Why didn't he come himself?" Warren asked

"He wasn't sure you'd be willing to see him," Methos answered, taking a look around the room. It looked as temporary as their own lodgings. A cereal bowl with a spoon in it sat on the counter, a single towel hung drying on the back of a chair. It looked like Warren was living a solitary life. He'd left his wife, his home, and his cause behind in the aftermath of one terrible, irrational act.

"He didn't think I'd see him?" Warren said with a surprised laugh. "I'd have thought that was the other way around. I've disappointed him terribly."

"Haven't we all?" Methos muttered under his breath, but Warren heard it, and Methos had to turn away from the eyes that darkened with compassion and understanding.

Warren came closer. "Why did he come?"

Methos turned back to him, taking in the straight figure. Warren Cochrane had charisma to spare, even brought low as he was now. What a shame he hadn't been able to lead Scotland to victory.

"I've only known him three years, you've known him three hundred," Methos said, dropping onto a sagging couch and letting it swallow him. "Let's hear your theory."

Warren allowed a small smile to play across his mouth. He paced in front of Methos. "Let's see... he's feeling guilty that he gave up The Cause and he's come to help me mount another army?" Warren asked with a straight face.

Methos grinned at that, shaking his head.

"No? He's feeling guilty about not taking my head and he's come to finish the job?" He turned to Methos with a wry smile, full of mischief.

Methos felt his body respond to the expression on Warren's face, but he just raised his eyebrows and shook his head again.

"He is feeling guilty?" Warren asked and Methos finally nodded. He was having way too much fun at Duncan's expense, but he liked Warren.

"And?" Warren prodded.

"He just wants to make sure you're ok," Methos replied. Duncan seemed to want more than that, seemed willing to forgive, or at least accept, and reroot their friendship. But it wasn't Methos' place to tell Warren that.

Warren slumped a little at the reminder of his last encounter with MacLeod, some of the spirit sinking out of him. He went to the bureau and pulled a t-shirt from a drawer, and pulled it on. He slipped a pair of moccasins on his feet and came back to sit beside Methos on the couch.

"I'm ok," he said finally. He turned to Methos. "It's going to take awhile to be more than ok, but I figure I have time, thanks to Duncan. He came all this way just for that?"

Methos nodded.

"He's such a mother hen, always was," Warren said, making Methos laugh.

"And how did you come to be with Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod?" Warren asked.

"That is a long story," Methos said. "Sometime I'll tell it to you, but right now there's someone waiting outside to see you."

Warren's eyes lit up, and Methos was envious on so many levels it would take him a week to sort through them all. He hauled himself out of the couch's embrace and said to Warren, "I'll let him know it's ok to come in?"

"Yes, yes, thank you, Adam," Warren said, taking one of Methos' hands in both of his, grasping firmly, then squeezing again for emphasis.

Methos went down the steps and headed back to Duncan. Warren wasn't just alive, but kicking. Duncan would be pleased. He went to the driver's side of the car and opened the door. He tugged on Duncan's arm, saying, "Well, come on, I've buttered him up."

Duncan blew out a deep breath. "Thanks, Methos. How did he look?"

"Damn good, MacLeod, he looked damn good," Methos said and Duncan shot him a startled look. Methos grinned at him as he climbed in the driver's seat. "I'll come back for you in a couple of hours."

"Thanks," Duncan said again as he turned and walked toward Warren's apartment.

Warren sat on the front steps, waiting for him. As Duncan approached, he stood, holding out one hand, with the big glowing smile Duncan remembered so well. Duncan ignored it and embraced him, a big bear hug that almost lifted Warren off the ground. Warren made a startled sound, then hugged him back, tight.

Duncan smiled as he released his old friend. Warren was very much in one piece, healthy, without the awful edges and furrows that had ravaged his face at their last meeting. His eyes were bright, but with some inner light, not tears. Duncan felt relief wash through him. On the surface, at least, Warren was recovering.

"You're a sight for sore eyes, Duncan," Warren said, touching his shoulder again, as if to reassure himself that Duncan was real. "You've come a long way."

"That's the truth. We started in North Carolina about ten days ago, and swung through Florida on our way here," Duncan said, shaking his head at the circuitous route.

"Florida? Whose map did you use?" Warren laughed at him, sounding perplexed and Duncan wondered how they could speak of such ordinary things, and with so little discomfort. The last time he'd seen Warren, he was on his knees before Duncan, tears streaming down his face as he begged Duncan to end his tormented life. Duncan shivered at the image, reassuring himself again that Warren now stood whole and undamaged before him.

"Adam wanted to go the long way," Duncan said, thinking how much he'd enjoyed the meandering route they'd taken. Had he been on his own, he'd have hopped a plane the second day and marched straight to Jackson. With Methos along, it had become a game, an adventure, an idyll.

"I like your Adam," Warren said, motioning Duncan up the stairs, bounding up the steps behind him and inviting him into the apartment.

Duncan grimaced a little. "He's not my Adam," he said, looking around the room, taking in all the details before seating himself in a ratty arm chair. He and Methos had found a rhythm in their travels, a way of being together that felt so normal, and so real, that Duncan didn't want to think about going home. But despite the ease of the last few days, Methos still seemed unpredictable and prone to flight.

"Does he know that?" Warren asked over his shoulder as he stood at the kitchen counter, pouring ice tea into two tall glasses. He brought one to Duncan and then sank into the couch, stretching his legs out in front of him.

Duncan looked up, startled. Unbidden, he heard again what Methos said on the porch in Valle Crucis: "I spend so much time by myself, I forget what it's like to have someone wait for me." Was that why he'd come along? For companionship? To forge some deeper connection? If so, why hadn't he just said so? /Because you pounce on him the minute he walks in the door,/ he castigated himself. /We really ought to talk more,/ he thought wryly.

"Adam doesn't belong to anyone," Duncan said. "He travels so light he barely carries luggage."

Warren grinned at that. "Is that frustration I hear, Duncan?"

"I just haven't even started to figure him out. He's older than we are. He grew up in a different time, a different world," Duncan said softly, hearing echoes of those same words, the way Methos had said them. "He's used to just looking out for himself."

"Really? He went to bat for you, didn't he?" Warren asked speculatively.

Images flashed through Duncan's mind: Methos, his body already sinking into the Quickening on the beach, saying, "Someone had to." Methos, putting out a strong and steady hand, pulling him from the spring, bracing himself to hold Duncan's weight. Methos, stepping out from behind a boxwood to try to talk him down from fighting Keane, even though they hadn't spoken in weeks. All things that had happened well out of Warren Cochrane's sensing range.

"Yeah, but how do you know that?" Duncan asked, puzzled.

"Today, Duncan, I'm talking about today," Warren said patiently. "He went to bat for you today, with me. A heroic act doesn't always require saving the world."

"He's done that, too," Duncan mused aloud, distracted.

"Well, there you go," Warren said, as if a vital conclusion had been reached.

/A heroic act doesn't always require saving the world,/ Duncan repeated to himself. Methos as hero. Not something the Old Man would have copped to. He'd found other reasons for his actions. Because "someone had to." Because MacLeod was "too important to lose." Any reason except that; it might tarnish his image. And Duncan had fallen for it, hook, line and sinker. He'd seen Methos the way Methos saw himself. As if there wasn't any more there to be seen. Duncan sat still, feeling as if something very important was just out of sight, just out of reach.

"You all right?" Warren asked, and Duncan's attention snapped back. Warren looked worried.

"I should be asking you that," Duncan replied, putting down his tea glass and looking more intently at Warren. "I didn't come all this way to talk about myself. How are you doing?"

Warren leaned back and draped one arm along the back of the couch. "I'm all right, Duncan. I miss my wife, I miss being an hour flight from Edinburgh. But I can't be there yet, it's too raw. It's good to think about something else for awhile."

"What made you decide to come here?" Duncan asked, sifting through what Warren had told him.

"The Sovereignty Commission records," Warren said. "They're reopening some old civil rights cases. It's a researcher's dream. In some ways, it's a chance to rewrite history, and we don't often get that chance."

Warren's choice suddenly made a lot more sense to Duncan. Warren knew what it felt like to be a minority, an oppressed people in a hostile land, he and Duncan both did. He'd transformed one passion into a pragmatic other, Duncan thought. It looked like he'd been taking lessons in self-preservation from Methos. Duncan realized that despite his self-deprecating attitude, it had taken tremendous courage for Warren to leave all that was familiar and safe and come to a new life. Courage and heart.

Duncan drew him out, asking him all about the places he'd been, the work he was doing, the people he'd met. They talked and talked, the afternoon passing swiftly under their conversation. From what Duncan could tell, Warren was living a content life. Perhaps not a happy one, perhaps not a passionate one, but one that gave him satisfaction and purpose. One that let him sleep at night.

In return, Warren asked Duncan about the year he'd spent, and Duncan found himself glossing over events that had rocked his firm foundation -- Ingrid, Kronos, Cassandra, Byron, Keane. God, what a year. And at the heart of it, at the tempestuous heart of it stood Methos. Every avenue of thought led back to him.

The room darkened as the stormclouds gathered strength, drifting across the sun, shutting it out. Warren stood and turned on the lights, then went to the window to look out on the glowering sky. "Are you staying long?" Warren asked, and Duncan shook his head.

"You'll think I'm crazy, but I really just wanted to make sure you were all right," Duncan said, rising and going to stand next to Warren at the window. Outside the trees started muttering amongst themselves as wind tripped through them. Against the blackened sky, the leaves were a brilliant green.

Warren wrapped an arm around Duncan's shoulders, a solid weight on him. "I'm glad you did, Duncan," he said warmly. "One of the worst parts about getting my memory back was knowing that you knew the awful thing I'd done."

"Warren," Duncan said, turning to face him. "I'm sorry I was so hard on you. I expect too much of people, I expect too much..."

Warren reached out and pulled Duncan close. "No more than you expect of yourself, Duncan. It's good for us to have something to strive for." The old accustomed mirth laced through his tone as he said, "The ultimate goal -- the approval of Duncan MacLeod."

Duncan smiled a little and pulled back so he could see Warren's face. The familiar features made his heart ache. Warren leaned forward, put his hand along Duncan's jaw and kissed him. Not a lover's kiss, but a brother's, warm and intimate, laced with memory and affirmation. Duncan closed his eyes and basked in it, in the resettling of Warren in his rightful place inside him. The buzz of another Immortal came as a shock. Duncan pulled away and looked out the window. Staring back at him with an indecipherable expression was Methos. Before he could even pull out of Warren's arms, Methos was a blur descending the steps. By the time Duncan got to the street, all he could see were the tail-lights of the Suburban disappearing over the hill.

Methos slammed the door to the apartment so hard a mirror fell off the wall. /Stupid, stupid, stupid,/ he berated himself. "Let's take a trip. Let's fuck each other's brains out. Oh yeah, but don't forget why we're going in the first place," Methos savaged the words to the trembling plants on the windowsill. He leaned both hands hard on the sill, struggling with what had started out feeling amazingly like jealousy, but evolved quickly into self-abasement.

What had made him think he could earn the love of Duncan MacLeod? Since he'd met Duncan he'd done everything he could think of to protect him, teach him, save him from time to time. Love him. And in return, he got accusations, lowered standards and the occasional, gratifyingly intense, use of his body.

Methos watched the first fat raindrops smack the window. When he closed his eyes, he could still see Duncan and Warren, their mouths angled to fit, their arms clasped. They were a matched set, the two Scottish warriors with their strong ideals and their consciences to spare. Put them with Methos in a room and someone would undoubtedly start humming the children's tune, "One of these things is not like the others..."

He sighed. He knew it wasn't really that Duncan wanted to be with Warren -- but Methos wasn't ever going to be part of a matched set with Duncan MacLeod. If nipping in the bud had to be done, better for him to do it. Pride was a cold bed-fellow, but it was better than none at all. Better for Duncan to think he'd infuriated him than that he'd hurt his spirit. Out the window he saw a familiar figure marching between the raindrops. Although he was still too far away detect a signature, Methos still felt agonizingly aware of him. He had just enough time to drop into a chair, open a magazine and prop his feet on the coffee table before he heard solid footsteps on the stairs.

The door to the garage apartment slammed behind Duncan so hard the windows rattled and the little philodendrons shook in their pots. The gathering storm outside had nothing on the wrath of Duncan in full righteous indignation.

"Thanks for deserting me, Methos," he spat out, advancing into the room.

Methos didn't bother looking up from his magazine. In an almost bored tone, he said, "Back already? That didn't take long."

"It wasn't like that, Methos," Duncan practically shouted.

Methos didn't have to conjure up false anger -- the real thing surged unexpectedly through him. He threw the magazine across the room, a rare lapse of self-control. "I have eyes Mac, and as you well know, I wasn't born yesterday," he said. He went chin to chin with Duncan, nostrils flared, straight angry stripes of red painted on his cheekbones. "Why did you bring me along on this little trip down memory lane, MacLeod?" He pointed to the unmade sofa bed. "Practice?"

In about a second and a half, Methos found himself flat on his back on the mattress, one hand pressed to his very sore jaw. Talk about a loss of self-control. Duncan swore under his breath as he cradled his fist. Lighting crackled outside, filling the air with ozone, then thunder followed quickly behind, a rhythmic rumble not too far away.

"That's a filthy thing to say," Duncan said, rubbing the split knuckles on his right hand.

"Oh, I'm so sorry if I've hurt your feelings," Methos snapped venomously.

"We were saying goodbye, that's all. If you'd stayed another minute, I'd have told you that. But no, God forbid you stick around long enough to finish something." MacLeod was working himself up to full throttle indignation again.

"How did I get to the bad guy again, MacLeod. You are unbelievable." Methos wiggled his jaw, almost enjoying the physical pain.

"What do you want, Methos? Do you want me to declare? I'll declare," Duncan said, coming to stand over Methos where he sprawled on the bed.

Methos sat up, not liking the submissive stance he found himself in. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Finley said you were testing me, that you wanted me to declare," Duncan said stubbornly.

"Mac, she's an infant. Declare what?"

"That I love you!" The words were right, but lost something in the volume with which they were projected. He might as well have added "you idiot" while he was at it.

"Give me a break." Methos said, laughing as he leaned forward and took a good look at Duncan.

"What's so funny?" Duncan asked, his chin jutting forward mutinously.

Methos stood, pushing Duncan back to give himself room to stand. He brushed a tentative hand across his sore jaw, feeling the healing tingles start and the pain subside. It was high time the Highlander heard a few home truths.

"Mac, this isn't about love," he said, indicating the space between them. "This is about sex." He swept a hand up in front of Duncan's face when the Scot immediately protested "NO!"

"Yes, Highlander, it's some polar attraction thing. I'm looking for a fantasy hero and as far as I can see, you're slumming it."

Good thing his jaw had healed because his cheekbone probably cracked under the next blow. Too bad he'd moved away from the bed -- the floor wasn't nearly as forgiving. This time he didn't have the will to move away when Duncan towered over him, so angry he was shaking.

"I'm not going to let you reduce this to hormones and fantasy," Duncan said through clenched teeth. "It's real. It's strange, I'll grant you that, but it's a lot more than just sex."

Methos rolled up to a sitting position, holding his hand over his cheek. Duncan crouched in front of him. "MacLeod..." he started, but Duncan cut him off.

"Shut up and listen for once. It's been a hundred years since I loved a man, but I haven't forgotten what it feels like." Duncan leaned forward, very close to Methos' face. "If this is just sex, what are you so mad about?"

Methos stared at him, all his anger and arguments fading.

"Pretend to yourself if it makes you feel safer," Duncan said quietly. "But I've seen the way you look when you make love to me."

The fury of the storm broke over their heads, rain slashing in the opened windows, wind knocking over the potted plants and sending the newspaper scattering to the corners of the room. Practical matters overtook the emotional as both men jumped to close the windows and mop up the overturned pots. Rain pounded on the roof and the wind howled around the corners of the building, but inside, they were safe and dry.

Methos scooped the last of the potting soil back into the philodendron, giving the leaves a little pet while he was there. The worst thing about loving a man as stubborn as MacLeod was that once he made up his mind, precious little changed it. In this particular case, that also happened to be the best thing. Still, to go from punching his lights out to ... what had he called it? "Declaring"... within the space of a minute? Looked like there might be some unresolved issues still batting around that brain.

Methos dropped into a chair at the kitchen table and propped his chin on his hands. Duncan came to sit across from him, studying him guardedly.

"Mac, you don't even like me half the time," Methos said, and Duncan had the gall to smile at him.

"Well, you're annoying half the time," he said, as if that explained it.

Methos shook his head, completely disarmed. "You think I'm a moral bottom feeder, selfish, egotistical, very likely criminal... need I go on?"

"You're not as bad as all that," Duncan said with a smile. "You just manage to live in the present most of the time, and I have a hard time giving up the past." Duncan leaned on his elbows on the table. "I'm trying, Methos, I'm really trying, and what I know of you is that you're as good a man, as good a friend, as anyone could want."

Words. They were just words. Not music, not notes winging in the air, not a harmony finding its way out in a bass note, just words. But they sang in Methos' ears and settled in his heart. Better than that shouted "I love you." Truer. Duncan thought him a good man, a good friend. He dropped his head to his chest.

"You're unique, Methos," Duncan continued. "There's no one like you. At this point in the Game, there probably never will be. If you want me to try to hold you to the standard I grew up with, I can, but I don't think it's fair, do you?" Mac said reasonably.

That sounded like a big fat juicy rationalization, but it was more than he'd expected to hear. Methos sighed. If Mac wanted him despite his failings, who was he to stand in the way, when it was all he'd wanted for three years? He'd done what he could to protect MacLeod. As far as protecting himself was concerned, maybe it was time to take a risk.

"I'd rather you keep your expectations low and take me as I am than hold me up to some mark I've already missed," he said, catching Duncan's eye and holding it.

"It's not that," Duncan protested.

"It is from where I'm sitting," Methos said, still not quite believing. He dropped his gaze. "Wouldn't you be better off with someone more like you? Say, Warren?"

Duncan sighed. "No, I wouldn't, thank you very much. Being with Warren is like looking in a mirror. With you, it's more like staring off the edge of a cliff."

"Yeah, that first step's a doozy," Methos muttered under his breath.

"It is, Methos," Duncan said, laughing a little. "You're the most exasperating person I've ever met, but when I'm not with you, I want to be." He leaned forward and Methos looked up at him again. "And as much as you want my approval, I want yours just as much."

/Doubtful,/ Methos thought, but damn if Mac wasn't trying hard. "Why?" Methos asked, pushing for more.

Duncan looked puzzled. It probably wasn't a difficult question for him. "Don't you usually try to please the people you love?"

Now it was Methos' turn to sigh. Naive, simplistic.... heroic.... Duncan wasn't at all like the other Immortal lovers Methos had been leashed to in the past. How had he ended up here, with this man who loved with his whole heart, when his penchant was for the likes of Kronos and Byron? Lovers who demanded, never asked, appealing to some buried part of him that liked having demands made of him.

"To tell you the truth, Mac, generally I'm just trying to pass the test," he finally replied, feeling like this might be the biggest test of all.

"You think I'm testing you?" MacLeod asked, reaching out, then pulling back before he made contact. "Methos, you have made me doubt myself more in the past three years than in the other four hundred. You make me question all my assumptions, you laugh at me, you scold me, you do things that need to be done that I can't do, you make me think..."

"Enough, Mac!" Methos held up his hands in surrender. "I'm convinced."

"Convinced of what?" Duncan asked.

"That there's something here," Methos conceded, finally looking up again. "And that we're never going to understand it. But if you're willing, so am I."

"I may slip from time to time," Duncan said, reaching out to wrap his fingers around Methos' forearm.

"I will undoubtedly continue to be annoying," Methos offered.

"What was the Shakespeare play where the characters couldn't 'woo peaceably'?" Duncan asked.

"Much Ado About Nothing," Methos said, thinking how well the phrase fit.

"Apt," Duncan said shortly, and Methos grinned across the table at him.

"Now what?" Duncan asked, stroking Methos' tanned arm.

"I guess it's time we head back across the Pond," Methos said.

Duncan wrinkled his nose. Methos could understand. He wasn't ready for their road trip to end either.

"We could take the long way, I suppose," Methos suggested.

"By way of what?" Duncan asked with a blinding smile.

Methos felt his own silly smile slip across his face. "Well, I hear Fiji's nice this time of year..."

The End.

Writer's Note: The events of the very first paragraph happened much as described, not to our favorite Immortal, but to my father-in-law, a Presbyterian minister from North Carolina. He was arrested during a civil rights protest and offered the option of jail or immediate departure after swearing never to return to Mississippi. Thirty-some years later, he still hasn't gone back.