Disclaimer: We don't own any of these guys. Rysher, Pet Fly, UPN and a bunch of other people who make a lot more money than we do get to claim them. Please don't pick on us, it's all in good fun.

Attention: This is an ALTERNATE UNIVERSE. In reality, or as close to reality as Zen&nancy can get, Jim would never act this way. We love Jim!!!

That said, this story takes place in it's own time period. Zen&nancy no longer feel the need to comply to TPTB's timeliness. They left Blair dead (he's not dead-he's just damp!) and gave us a crappy final season of Highlander. This is our little world and here we have the power, so NONE of that stuff ever happened. Denial, denial, denial!

Story title and lyrics borrowed without permission from Bob Marley (r.i.p.)

Mucho thanks to Suze for always being there, and to Moonpuppy, who is crazy enough to be resident beta at the House Of Slack, and to all you wonderful people who have written us, we're still in shock that people like this stuff.

Three Little Birds

Part 21

By Zen&nancy

Duncan rolled over, one hand reaching out to silence the alarm clock. For a second, his arm groped for Blair in the bed, until he remembered that his lover wasn't there. Duncan rolled back onto his stomach, sighing. Blair was downstairs with Jim.

Had he made the right decision when he'd sent Blair down to Jim last night? Duncan thought about Blair's complicated relationship with the Sentinel, wondering if they had been able to get past Jim's dangerous zone outs on his Guide's touch. It had been easy to send Blair down to Jim last night, but waking up without him wasn't.

Duncan reminded himself that this was part of who Blair was. It had been his idea, not Blair's, and whatever came of it, he was going to have to accept it. Blair loved him, of that he was sure, but his attraction to Jim was instinctual, physical. Duncan decided that he was going to have to put his trust in Blair, and his natural ability to keep a balance in this delicate situation.

Like Jim, he didn't really have any choice. He wouldn't see Blair suffer because of his love for him, or his pride, more accurately. He couldn't ask Blair to choose between Jim and himself, not only because he was afraid of what Blair's choice might be, but because he couldn't cause Blair that much pain. Blair loved him deeply, and Duncan knew that if Blair had to leave him it would rip his lover apart. However, Duncan thought that if Jim's life hung in the balance, Blair just might leave him.

He couldn't force Blair to choose, and he couldn't watch him make himself miserable trying to resist the bond with the Sentinel. So, the alternative, the only realistic solution, was to share him. Duncan sighed, rolling to sit on the edge of the bed. He knew that this wasn't going to be easy, but they'd all been doing everything they could to make it work so far, and he had faith in Blair.

He pulled on a pair of sweat pants and a thermal shirt for running in the cold rain that was slanting against the window. Taking his keys and wallet from the dresser, he stopped in the kitchen for a glass of water before going to the elevator. He hesitated a moment before he pulled the gate, not at all sure that he was ready to face Jim. He sighed heavily, reminding himself that Blair would be counting on him to make this morning as relaxed as possible.

Jim opened his eyes slowly, breathing in the scent of his Guide next to him in the bed. Blair was sprawled out on his stomach, one arm flung out over Jim's chest, his fingertips resting lightly on his shoulder. Jim had slept deeply, conscious of the feel of his Guide against him even in his sleep. Blair was a restless bed mate, kicking the covers off and dragging them back up several times in his sleep. He shifted almost constantly, but he never broke contact with Jim, his hand had stayed on his chest all night long.

Jim let his eyes drift slowly over Blair's body. He had the covers bunched up around his waist, the sharp curve of his hip bone was just barely visible above the comforter. He was beautiful. The quiet strength of Blair's body had always impressed him. People never noticed how strong his Guide really was. Everyone saw Blair as an academic first, the things he said always made the strongest first impression, except maybe for his pretty face. His Guide's body was well muscled and strong for his size, and also incredibly resilient. Jim had seen him get hurt so many times, and Blair would bounce right back, his enthusiasm and determination unflagging.

Jim let his eyes wander over the smooth, golden skin of Blair's back, focussing his vision to memorize every line and variance of pigment. Blair's thick hair fell over his shoulders, a few of the long curls falling into his face. Jim brushed them back gently, and Blair smiled in his sleep.

He looked up at the radio alarm clock on the bedside table. It was only 6:13, he had almost an hour before MacLeod would come down to get him. For a moment, Jim wondered if he would, then he decided that he'd be ready to go if Mac decided to show.

Blair sighed, his fingers moving lightly over Jim's shoulder, a rapid, unconscious scratching motion. It was incredibly familiar, Blair's hand would clutch at the shoulder of his coat or his sleeve, twisting the material unconsciously whenever they were in dangerous or uncertain situations. Jim remembered Blair leading him out of the bar last night, and how the small hand clutching his coat sleeve had brought back a wash of memories. Then it had hurt, a twist of the knife in his gut, but now it made him smile, picking up the hand to interlace their fingers.

Jim shifted carefully onto his side, pulling Blair back against him with an arm around his waist. Blair twisted restlessly in his arms for a moment, then he settled, spooning himself against his chest. Jim sighed, closing his eyes to bury his face in Blair's mass of curls. He wanted to stay here, just like this, for the rest of the day. He didn't want to think about facing Duncan, or anything that would happen after this, he just wanted to stay here with Blair wrapped up in his arms.

All of his instincts said to take his Guide as far away from Duncan MacLeod as possible, but he couldn't do that. He knew he couldn't, no matter how badly he wanted to keep Blair exactly where he was, held reverently in his arms. It was because of Duncan that Blair was here at all, if what Blair had told him last night was really true. All his senses and instincts told him to do whatever necessary to keep Blair for himself. To beg Blair to stay, to fight Duncan, or to find a way to make Blair believe leaving his lover was the only solution, but his emotions and his rational mind knew he didn't want to do any of those things. What Duncan had done for him was more than anyone else ever had, save for his Guide, and he truly admired him and cared about him.

No matter what happened, he knew he wouldn't regret what he and Blair had done last night. Nothing had ever felt anywhere near as good as Blair did in his arms. Lying here now, perfectly content, listening to Blair's light, even breath, Jim couldn't even imagine what about this had disgusted him when they were drunk that night in Cascade. It seemed like a very, very long time ago. It wasn't, it was less than six months ago, but almost everything had changed. Everything except the fact that he needed his Guide, that would never change.

Jim let himself hold Blair for another ten minutes, his fingers stroking slowly through the messy curls. He inhaled his Guide's scent, letting it envelop him, his ears tuned to the familiar patter of Blair's heart. It felt so right, to be curled protectively around Blair's naked body like this. It surprised him a little, just how happy it made him to have Blair's back pressed close against his chest, Blair's legs curled up around his.

Jim heard Duncan's alarm go off upstairs, and released his Guide reluctantly, moving as quietly as he could to the other side of the bed. Blair rolled over, his arm reaching out towards Jim, but he didn't wake up. Jim was surprised. When they had lived together in Cascade Blair had always been such a light sleeper. Jim leaned down, pressing his lips lightly to the smooth forehead, brushing Blair's hair out of his face and pulling up the covers.

He went quietly into the bathroom to shave and brush his teeth. It looked cold outside, and it was raining. Pulling on sweat pants and a gray Army sweatshirt, Jim moved quietly into the kitchen. He pulled a carton of orange juice from the refrigerator, pouring himself a glass and chugging it in front of the open fridge. Putting the juice back, Jim caught the sound of Duncan's steps on the stairs above him. Taking a deep breath, he went to the door, unlocking it and cracking it open. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to say to Duncan, he wasn't even sure that he could handle seeing him. He didn't have a whole lot of choice though, Duncan's steps had reached the bottom of the stairs and turned down the hall.

Jim decided that if Mac could handle the idea of his company this morning, he was going to have to find the guts to face him. He opened the door, closing it quietly behind him just as Duncan stopped next to him.

"Good morning. Is he still asleep?" Duncan's voice was low and expressionless. Jim felt a strange and confusing mixture of anger, guilt and embarrassment wash over him, and he made himself answer to keep from zoning out on his own accelerated heart rate.

"Yeah, he is." He listened intently for a moment, wanting to hear Blair's heartbeat again.

Duncan took a deep breath, looking like he was about to speak, and then stopped, looking away from the closed door. Jim tried to make himself look Duncan in the eyes, and failed.

Duncan made himself try again, "Look, Jim... We don't have to talk about this now, okay? Let's just run."

Jim felt a grin spread across his face in spite of his discomfort. It helped to know that Mac was just as unsure of how to handle this as he was.

"Okay, let's go."

Jim passed the mile marker for the third time and dropped to a walk a few paces ahead of Duncan. He paused long enough for Duncan to catch up, falling in step beside him. They walked silently for a few minutes, both aware of the fact that they were going to have to talk now, but willing to put it off another minute or two.

"I think we can handle this, I really do." Duncan spoke first, his gaze directed at the trees along the path on Jim's right.

Jim turned to look at Duncan, unable to stop the rush of words that came out of his mouth, "Did you really tell him to come downstairs last night?"

Duncan nodded, "Yeah, I did."


Duncan sighed dramatically, looking away from Jim, "Because I don't want to see him miserable. Because I think that what's between you two is inevitable, and if I try to stand in the way of it I'm going to lose him." Duncan gave Jim a hard look, "I'm not willing to do that. I love him."

"I know."

Duncan's gaze was piercing, "Do you?"

"Yeah, I do," Jim spoke softly, letting the admission sink in. There was no point in denying it. He loved Blair. He probably always had.

"Are you going to try to take him away from me?"


"Good, then there's a solution."


"I haven't the vaguest idea, but I'm sure there is one." Duncan grinned at Jim, and he smiled back.

"I think Sandburg's optimism must be catching. You're a good man, MacLeod."

"Maybe. Maybe I'm just selfish."

As strange as that sounded, Jim understood him. Duncan wasn't any more willing to live without Blair than he was. Jim took a deep breath, and turned to look Duncan in the eye.

"Mac... I told you a while ago that I don't want to be your enemy. Now, I want to be your friend. If that's going to happen, I have to be able to feel like I know who you are, I gotta be able to trust you. Do you understand what I'm saying, here? It's not that I don't trust you, but there's something that's bothering me, and I have to know what it is."

Duncan slowed his stride, looking at Jim apprehensively. Jim listened to his heartbeat, hearing the slight fluctuation that signaled distress.

"What do you want to know?"

"I have this feeling... There's something you're hiding, Mac. I'm not accusing you of anything here, but my gut says that there's a hell of a lot more to you than you show, and if I'm going to be able to deal with this situation, I gotta know what that is."

Duncan knew he couldn't tell Jim, but he thought about Blair, and how he would want him to answer.

"You're not wrong... Jim, you're a Sentinel. If you had let that become common knowledge while you were a cop in Cascade, it could have seriously compromised your life, right?"

Jim nodded, motioning to a bench and following Duncan over to sit next to him.

"Yeah, that's right."

"Well, it's kind of like that. I'm sorry, it's just not something I'm able to tell you... But I can swear to you that it's nothing that I will ever use against you. I know we're going to have to be honest with each other if we're going to find a way to make this work, but honestly Jim, this has nothing to do with that, it won't affect it, I promise."

Jim took a long time to think about what Duncan had said. He wasn't very happy with his answer, but he didn't want to be the one to turn this conversation into an argument. MacLeod was being honest with him, he was sure of that at least.

"You can't tell me? You're sure?"

"No, I'm sorry... Maybe someday."

Jim sighed, thinking that as much as he didn't want to, it seemed like he was going to have to accept Duncan's refusal. He reassured himself with the thought that it was very likely that he would figure it out, eventually. Whatever Duncan was hiding, his Sentinel abilities would discover it sooner or later, and when he did he would make MacLeod tell him the whole story.

"Okay, I guess I can deal with that. It's not like I've given you a whole lot of reasons to trust me..."

Duncan interrupted him, "Yes, you have. That's not it, Jim, not at all. If I didn't trust you, I never would have told Blair to go to you last night. It doesn't have anything to do with trust... It's just not something I can discuss." Duncan tried to think of a way to put it that Jim could relate to. After all, Jim keeping his Sentinel abilities a secret wasn't that different from Duncan hiding his Immortality. "It could turn my life upside down."

That, Jim decided, he could understand. He was going to have to give Mac the benefit of the doubt, and wait for the answers to come on their own. He had no doubt that they would, eventually.

"Okay, I can accept that."

"Thanks, I know it's not easy... None of this is, but I think it's our only option."

Jim shook his head, still somewhat amazed by Duncan's acceptance. "I know you said that you don't want to have to see Blair unhappy, but Mac, I just don't know... How can you?"

Jim didn't finish his sentence, but he knew that Duncan would understand what he was asking.

"Because I know that it's about him being your Guide. I'm not saying it's not emotional, but the reason you're zoning is because you're both denying the attraction, and that's purely physical... I guess what I'm saying is that even if I can't totally understand the bond between you, I can respect it and understand that physical intimacy is a part of the connection. He needs you, Jim, as much as you need him. I don't know if you can see that, but I can, and I can't deny him anything he needs, I love him too much."

Jim didn't answer, he didn't know what to say. He could see that what Duncan had said was true, and it affected him deeply. He wasn't sure he'd ever seen anyone love the way Duncan loved Blair. It was more than he could do, if he were in Duncan's position, he was sure of that. Still, in spite of the impression Duncan's words had made on him, his first instinct was to do whatever he had to keep his Guide. Duncan's first instinct was to do whatever was best for Blair.

"I think you're a much better man than I am, Mac," Jim spoke his thought aloud, wanting Duncan to know how much he respected what he was doing for Blair.

Duncan smiled wryly, thinking that actually, they were very much alike, it was just that he'd had a great deal more time to learn from his mistakes than Jim had.

"I think that Blair needs both of us, and if we love him, we'll try to make that happen."

Jim nodded slowly, "Okay, let's do that."

Jim unlocked the door, closing it quietly behind him. He went straight to the bed to look down at his sleeping Guide. Blair was curled up around Jim's pillow in the middle of the bed, the covers wrapped up around his waist again. A feeling so strong he couldn't name it welled up in Jim, and he dropped silently to his knees beside the bed. Blair's hand lay limply on the sheet, over the place his body had been. Jim's breath caught in his throat, and he leaned forward, resting his forehead on the edge of the bed.

Minutes passed, and Jim knelt beside his sleeping Guide, fighting down the painful urges. Watching Blair sleep in his bed, he wanted to take back every thing he'd said to Duncan. He wanted to take his Guide and go far away. The need to have Blair only for himself was pure, raw, intense possessiveness. He wanted to be able to do what Duncan was doing, and put Blair's needs first. He reminded himself of that over and over again, but it didn't stop the pain. Blair was his, his Guide, his friend. The one person he needed more than anything else to live, and he didn't want to have to share him with anyone. Jim sighed softly, knowing that this would be just as hard if Blair were in love with a woman. There was no point in lying to himself, he'd done enough of that to last a lifetime.

His Guide's sleepy voice startled him, and he looked up into squinted blue eyes.

"Hey. You okay?"

"Yeah," Jim moved to sit on the edge of the bed, "Good morning."

Blair smiled, reaching for Jim's hand, "Good morning. You went running?"

Jim nodded, "With Duncan."

"Was it okay?"

Jim took a deep breath, watching the eyes that studied him so carefully, "Yeah, it was okay. We talked a little."

Blair nodded slowly, aware of the fact that Jim didn't want to be talking about Duncan at all. He felt so attuned to his Sentinel, it was as if someone had flipped the switch, and electrified the link between them. "Okay, that's good. How are your senses?" Blair curled himself around Jim, moving his head into his lap.

Jim's hand smoothed Blair's messy hair, raking gently through the tangles. "They're fine," his voice was very gentle, his gaze moving slowly over Blair's face, wanting to memorize this moment and remember it forever. Blair looked so beautiful, so happy. His blue eyes stared up at Jim, full of adoration and concern.

"That's really cool." Blair smiled, asking more hesitantly, "How are you?"

"Happy," Jim leaned down, brushing his lips lightly over Blair's.

Blair's arms came up to wrap around his neck, pulling himself up to a sitting position in Jim's lap, while his lips returned the kiss softly.

"Me too."

Jim sighed, wrapping his arms tightly around his Guide. "Thank you." He whispered against Blair's hair, inhaling his scent greedily.

Blair hugged him tighter, shaking his head. "This is where I'm supposed to be."

Jim bit his lip, not letting himself speak. He wanted to say to Blair that if this was where he wanted to be, then he never had to go back to Duncan, that he was wanted and needed and would never be refused again. It was the hardest thing he'd even done, but Jim closed his eyes, and forced himself to release his tight hold on his Guide. His voice was soft, giving away none of the rebellion inside him, "Duncan said I should wake you up and bring you upstairs."

Blair smiled brilliantly, moving out of Jim's arms. "Okay. Oh yeah, that's right. Christmas shopping, I forgot. Cool."

Jim looked away from his Guide. Did Blair really expect him to spend the day with them? He didn't want to be around anyone, least of all Duncan. "Blair, I don't know if I can do that."

Blair turned back to Jim, putting a hand on his arm, "Jim, I know you don't want to, but it'd be really good... Please? Listen, if we're going to make this thing work we're all going to have to spend some time together. I really want you to come, I wanna be with you today. Please?"

Jim looked into wide, puppy dog eyes and sighed, knowing he'd already lost. There was no way he could refuse Blair when he looked at him like that. He never could. He wanted to be with his Guide too, but he didn't want to be with Duncan. He sighed, looking away, "Okay, Chief. If you want me to go then I will."

Blair threw his arms around Jim's neck, hugging him tightly, "Thanks, man. This is gonna work, really. I know we can handle this. I realize you're making a major effort here, big guy, and it means a lot to me."

Jim hugged Blair to him hungrily, thinking about what Duncan had said earlier. It did feel like the right thing to do, putting Blair's needs first. If only he didn't have to let go...

"We should go upstairs." Blair spoke quietly, his head on Jim's shoulder. A part of him didn't want to, it felt so right, to finally have Jim's arms around him.

"Okay. Let me take a shower, and I'll come up."


"Yes. I said I'd go."

"I know, but you don't want to. Thank you." Blair spoke quietly, his head still on Jim's shoulder. He stayed there for another moment, letting himself relax completely against Jim's side.

"Sure I do," Jim smiled against the pain, pushing himself up off the bed. It was easier to pull away than to have to watch Blair get dressed and go. "I'll see you in few minutes," he told him, not letting himself look back at Blair, naked in his bed.

Once the bathroom door was safely shut, he slumped back against it, listening hungrily to the sounds of Blair getting dressed. Stop it! He told himself angrily, you're not losing him. It sure as hell felt like it, though.

Duncan was just stepping out of the bathroom when Blair came in. Blair rushed across the room and into his arms, Duncan hugging his lover tightly around the waist. Blair slipped his hands under Duncan's white terry cloth robe, his palms running greedily over his lover's back.

"Good morning," Duncan told him, laughing with the pure joy of having Blair wrapped around him.

"Morning. I love you," Blair mumbled against his bare chest, between kisses. Duncan's skin was still damp from the shower, and he smelled incredibly good. Blair nuzzled the warm skin, holding on tightly.

Duncan gathered Blair's hair away from his face to look at him. "How are you, Caro? Did everything work out okay?"

Blair blushed, pushing his face back into Duncan's chest. "Um, yeah, I think so. It was kinda rough for awhile, but we did... Sort of..."

"Hey, listen to me," Duncan tilted Blair's face up to look at him. "It's okay, really. We don't have to talk about it. I just wanted to make sure that you're all right. The rest is between you and Jim, okay?"

Blair looked up at him guiltily, "You mean you don't want to have to know, right?"

Duncan shook his head, smiling, "No, not at all. If you want to talk about it, that's fine, but if you don't, you don't have to tell me anything, okay?"

"Okay." Blair closed his eyes, leaning against Duncan. "It was, um, good. I think we're gonna get a handle on this zone out factor, I really do."

"That's good. I missed you," Duncan told him softly, without any trace of condemnation in his voice.

"Did you really?"

"Oh yes, Caro, very much. Where's Jim? He was supposed to wake you up and bring you upstairs."

"Taking a shower, he'll be up in a minute. So, you guys ran, did you talk?"

Duncan shook his head, smiling, "Uh-uh, this has to go both ways, or three ways, or whatever it is. I'm not going to tell you what Jim talked about this morning. If he didn't tell you, than he's not going to be comfortable with the idea of you and I discussing our conversation."

Blair pouted for only a second before he laughed. "And I thought I was going to be the moral one. Okay, I get it, fair's fair. But I do think that we're all going to have to work on striking a balance between privacy and communication here."

Duncan nodded, wondering if Blair had been any more successful in getting Jim to talk about how he felt than he had. He wouldn't let himself ask, and after a moment he forced his mind away from it, changing the subject.

"So, are we still going shopping today?"

"Yep, we are going to inflict ourselves on the malls. Think they're ready for us?" Blair grinned mischievously, going up on tiptoe to kiss him. It wasn't so much a kiss as a devouring of his lover's mouth. Duncan held still, pleasantly surprised by Blair's aggression.

A quick knock at the door interrupted them. Jim came in just as they were stepping away from each other. He stopped, three steps into the loft.

"Jim, stay, please?" Blair spoke quickly, certain that Jim was just about to turn around and walk right back out. He turned to look imploringly at him, taking a few more steps away from Duncan's side.

"Okay," Jim answered, one short, sharp word, but otherwise seemed to ignore his Guide's plea. He went to sit on the couch, his eyes on Duncan.

Duncan met his hard stare evenly, coming over to sit next to Jim in the chair. "We all need to talk about how we're going to deal with this, Jim."

"I don't think I can do that." Jim shook his head, looking away from Duncan. His eyes sought out his Guide, and Blair came to sit next to him.

"Okay, you can listen, then." Duncan didn't give Jim time to argue, "We can't all walk on egg shells around each other over this. The point here is for things to get better, less tension, not more."

Blair interrupted him, nodding in enthusiastic agreement, "Yeah man, we all feel awkward as hell here, but it's not going to get any better unless we talk."

Jim rolled his eyes, turning a little away from Blair and towards Duncan, meeting his dark eyes in a way that was almost a challenge. "Okay, what do you want to know?"

"I want to know if you think you can handle this." Duncan told him honestly, meeting Jim's eyes squarely.

"Define 'this'," Jim's voice was less antagonistic, he sounded almost afraid to ask.

"Well, to put it bluntly, sharing Blair." Duncan gave Jim a wry grin.

Blair burst into nervous laughter, "Oh man, that is definitely blunt."

"No offense, Caro." Duncan smiled at his lover.

"None taken," Blair assured him, reaching tentatively for Jim's hand.

Jim squeezed Blair's fingers for a second before he pulled away, leaning forward to rest his head in his hands, covering his face. He laughed shortly, shaking his head. "This has got to be the weirdest damn situation I could possibly get myself into. How can you two just laugh about it? Can I handle it?" He raised his head to look Mac in the face, "I don't think I have any choice. It's not that I don't want to try to make this work, it just seems so..."

"Weird and new age and everything you hate?" Blair chimed in helpfully, grinning madly at Jim's attempt to frown at him.

His Sentinel gave up, grinning back. "Yeah, exactly."

Duncan's voice was decisive, "It's not. Look, Jim, this is the way I see it. We both have what amounts to a lifetime commitment to Blair, for very different reasons. I'm not going to give him up, and you can't. So, either we can kill each other, which we've already tried, or we can share."

"Duncan! I'm starting to feel like an old sweater here."

Duncan laughed, his eyes moving intimately over his lover, "Much more important than that, and far more appealing."

Jim leaned back heavily against the couch, watching Duncan through hooded eyes, "It's going to take me a while to get used to all of this, that's for sure."

Blair sighed in relief, sure that if Jim was willing to admit to the possibility, that it would happen. "We will. Do we, um, need to set any rules here, or are we going to try and deal one day at a time?"

Duncan frowned at Blair in confusion, "Rules?" He sounded baffled.

Jim shook his head, chuckling, "I couldn't even begin to think of any rules that would apply to this situation, Chief."

Blair's eyes widened, a huge smile spreading across his face, "This is a historic moment. Jim Ellison can't come up with any rules? This is momentous!"

"Cut it out, wise guy," Jim cuffed Blair lightly on the side of his head. It was the old gesture, and for a moment both of them stopped, sharing a complicated, silent look. Then Blair smiled, relief and pleasure spreading quickly over his features.

Duncan interrupted them gently, "Well, we all seem to be a little more comfortable. Breakfast?"

Jim stood up, needing to put a little distance between himself and Blair. He had been about to pull his Guide into his arms, when Duncan had broken into their silent conversation. "Yeah, I definitely need food if I'm going to survive the shopping mall."

"Okay, let me take a really quick shower and put on clean clothes and we'll go." Blair got up from the couch, going over to the dresser to pull out jeans and a t-shirt.

"So where you do want to go for breakfast Mac?" Jim asked, getting up from the couch.

"Let's go to Mitchell's, they make the best omelets and it's on the way to the mall." Duncan went over to his dresser, turning his back to Jim to pull on underwear and a pair of jeans. Zipping them up, he turned around again, losing the robe and going in search of a comfortable shirt to wear to the mall.

"Okay, sounds good. So do you and Sandburg have lists, or is this going to be a holiday shopping mall free for all?"

Duncan laughed at Jim's trepidation, "Don't worry, We've got a list. Two, actually, one for the party and one for friends, although we're going to have to make another for food, as soon as we figure out what we want for the party. Joe Dawson cooks this gigantic buffet, we do an early dinner thing at the bar Christmas day, but Blair was talking about cooking Christmas eve. You'll like Christmas at Joe's, it's usually a pretty big crowd, but it's really laid back."

"How long have you known Dawson, Mac?" Jim thought that Joe was an unlikely character to fill the role of Duncan's best friend. He was much older than Mac, and definitely from a very different background, but as soon as he'd met him he'd known that the two men were very close.

"Seven years, or something right around there," Duncan turned to smile at Blair as he emerged from the bathroom. "Hey, kiddo, you just about ready?"

Blair came over to steal one of Duncan's hair tie's from the top of his dresser. "Yeah, almost. I'm starving, where are we going?"

"Mitchell's, do you have the lists?" Duncan asked him, pocketing his wallet and car keys.

Blair went to the corner to rummage in his backpack, pulling out one notebook after another. "Yeah, I do... Somewhere. No, here it is," He ripped the perforated page out of the notebook, folding it to put in his back pocket, "Okay, got it." Going over to the couch, he sat down to put his shoes on, smiling up at Duncan and Jim, waiting for him near the elevator. "This is gonna be so much fun. I love buying presents, it's the best part."

"Sandburg, you are one of the few people on this earth that thinks going to the mall two Sundays before Christmas is the best part. You're nuts. It's gonna be a madhouse."

"Oh yeah, totally, that's half the fun, the chaos." Blair smiled at Jim confidently, "Don't worry, you'll be fine, I promise, I won't let you get lost."

Duncan cocked his head at Jim questioningly.

"Major crowd scenes aren't exactly my favorite. It gets a lot easier to zone when you multiply scents and sounds by the hundreds," Jim explained. He wasn't really too worried about it though, he knew Blair would be right there to pull him back if he did.

"Understandable. I didn't really think about it..." Duncan pulled on his trench coat, only letting himself worry for a moment about not bringing his sword. It had become his most difficult challenge, keeping his immortality from the extremely perceptive Sentinel. So far, he'd been lucky. The times that the three of them went out together, he'd left the katana at home, and had no need for it. Eventually, though, his luck was going to run out.

Blair stood up, his eyes flicking quickly from Duncan to the sheathed katana in it's place on the other side of the room next to the bed. "Are we ready?"

"Yep, let's go Chief."

On the way down to the dojo in the elevator, Blair turned to his lover, asking him urgently, "Did you remember the checkbook? I think you left it on your dresser."

Jim looked at his Guide, squinting his eyes at him. Blair was lying, or obfuscating, to be more accurate. The telltale, familiar fluctuation of his heart rate and the slightly increased speed of his words were a dead giveaway. What was Blair really trying to say? Did Blair want a minute alone to tell him something, or was it something he was trying to tell Duncan, that he didn't want to say in front of him?

"No, Caro, I've got it, no worries." Duncan put an arm around Blair's shoulders, squeezing reassuringly.

"Okay, I'm sorry, I thought I saw it there. That's cool." Blair looked up at Duncan meaningfully, trying to say with his eyes that he understood, but that he was still going to worry about it.

Jim briefly considered calling Blair on it. When caught, his Guide could usually be pressured into telling the truth. What stopped him was remembering what Duncan had said to him this morning. He wanted to know, very badly, but he decided that it wasn't worth ruining their day over. He had a feeling that when he did confront Blair in a way he couldn't obfuscate his way out of, it was going to make his Guide unhappy, and he didn't want to do that this morning. There was plenty of time to figure out Duncan MacLeod, this morning had been difficult enough without adding more stress for any of them to their day.

Breakfast was consumed around planning their trip to the mall. Blair had their lists spread out next to his plate and made rapid notes through the meal, questioning Duncan about decorations for the party and what sort of games they needed to buy.

Jim picked up the check, reminding them that the mall would only get more crowded as the day wore on.

"Let's go, Chief, pack it up, we want to get there before Christmas."

"Okay, okay, I'm coming." Blair stashed his pen in his pocket, letting Duncan pull him out of the booth.

Traffic backed up about a mile from Seacouver's largest indoor mall. Duncan sighed, putting the T-Bird in neutral and grinning at Jim in the passenger seat beside him, "This is what you were looking forward to, right kiddo?"

"Aw, come on, it's not that bad. Look, traffic's moving." Blair leaned over the front seat, pointing to the lane to their right.

"Sandburg, I appreciate that 'tis the season to be jolly', but any normal human being would not be happy right now. Nobody likes being stuck in traffic."

"Remember, Jim, it's that exact attitude that puts people into that 'Road Rage' state of mind."

"Yeah, well, that's why Mac's driving, Chief."

Duncan laughed, looking between them, "Why do I get the feeling there's a story here?"

Jim and Blair looked at each other, waiting to see who would start. Jim did, laughing ruefully. "There was this crackpot, got totally obsessed with screwing with my life. It all started because I cut him off in traffic one afternoon."

Blair gave Jim a reproachful look, interrupting, "Yeah, but Jim, if you hadn't have been so aggressive from the beginning with that guy, it might never have escalated to the point that it did."

Jim frowned, "Yeah, okay, Chief, so I was out of line. Couldn't help it though, I saw that asshole coming at your door and I snapped. I shouldn't have thrown him up against the truck, but he had it coming. He threatened you, and he pissed me off."

Blair smiled, understanding completely for the first time. "Blessed Protector. I should have figured that out then... Man, I was just like, totally missing the forest for the trees that week, you know?"

Jim nodded, thinking that Blair did seem to be under so much less stress here in Seacouver than he was in Cascade. Duncan interrupted his thought, turning to ask him, "So, what happened? What did this guy do?"

Jim laughed wryly, "Made my life a living hell for a solid week. Had my truck towed, got a pile of horse shit delivered to my loft, charged watches for the entire Major Crimes department on my credit cards, maxed them all out. Then he nearly got me killed when he blew my cover on the case I was working on."

Blair piped in from over Duncan's shoulder, "Don't forget the restraining order."

Duncan shook his head, laughing, "All this over a traffic squabble? You two are just magnets for trouble, that's all there is to it."

Jim laughed "Not me, man, it's Sandburg. My life was quiet before he barged into it. "Jim turned and looked out the window. "Too quiet," he added more seriously.

They'd finally crept up to the entrance to the mall, and Duncan sighed softly at the long line of cars just waiting to get into the parking lot.

"I see one, Mac, twelve rows in on the left, next to the blue truck!"

Duncan gave Jim a incredulous look, "I can't see that far, Jim."

Blair laughed, "Jim! There's got to be fifty people ahead of us who are gonna get to that spot before we do."

"Damn, you're right Chief, that silver Datsun just got it. Just keep going Mac, I'll keep my eyes open."

Duncan chuckled, "That's great, Jim, you just keep me updated." Duncan thought that maybe he was beginning to get a feel for what Blair meant when he talked about living with a Sentinel.

In the end, Jim's advantage did pay off, and they found a parking spot. "Only about three blocks away, good job Jim." Duncan kidded, shutting off the engine.

"Come on, guys, this is great. We're here, we made it!" Blair bounded out of the car, list in hand.

Jim rolled his eyes, grimacing at Duncan. "Are we ready for this?"

Duncan laughed, "Yeah, but they might have to push us out of here in wheelchairs."

"No, no, we'll take it slow, I promise. I'll be totally under control."

Jim grinned at his Guide, shaking his head, "I doubt that. I know what you're like in a shopping mall."

Blair threw back his head, laughing. He jumped behind Jim to walk between them, looping an arm through the crook of Duncan's elbow, and then Jim's. He walked between them like that for a few steps, linking them all together, then bounced ahead again.

"So do we have a game plan here, kiddo?" Duncan asked him, walking Blair around a car that was backing out next to them.

"Yeah, we should do the toy store first, it's gonna be the most crowded. Then I figured we should concentrate on decorations. We need to get those today, and if we don't get presents for everybody today we can always come back."

"Not me, Chief, this is a one shot deal as far as I'm concerned. If you can talk Mac into being dragged around the mall twice in one Christmas season, more power to you."

Duncan smiled, thinking that Blair could talk him into just about anything with very little trouble. "He's right, though, good plan. After we get the decorations we can split up and meet an hour or two later."

Blair's eyes lit up, and he jumped around Jim to walk close on Duncan's other side, almost bouncing. "You're gonna buy my present! I know it. Man, I dig holidays so much." A devious light came into Blair's eye, "You know, handsome, if you wanted to celebrate Hanukkah too, we could..."

Jim chuckled, "Don't fall for it, Mac. He's just trying to get seven more presents out of you."

Duncan threw an arm around Blair's shoulders, squeezing tightly, "Imp."

Blair stuck his tongue out at Jim playfully, bounding ahead again, swerving around another car. Jim and Duncan followed him, both smiling. Blair reached the entrance several paces ahead of them, and waited, holding a door open and bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"Come on, let's go. Toy store first!"

"Okay, Chief, settle down, let's find a directory and figure out where the toy store is. This place is huge."

Duncan took Blair's hand as they meshed into the streaming crowd. Blair glanced back over his shoulder at Jim, "You doing okay?"

Jim nodded, consciously turning down the dials for hearing and scent. "Yeah, no problem Chief, you might just have to shout at me a little, that's all."

Blair nodded in understanding, "No problem, just remember that you've got it turned down, okay? Be careful."

"No problem."

Duncan threaded the way slowly to the center of the wide, jammed hallway, finding the directory of stores.

"Here it is, upstairs and across from the sporting goods store."

Blair rambled excitedly between them on the escalator. "Okay, so, we're figuring on about fifty kids, right? So that's sixteen presents a piece if we split up, I'll grab the extra two."

Duncan nodded, "It will be easier if we do it that way. Eight toys for girls and eight for boys shouldn't be too hard."

Jim leaned around Blair to look at Duncan. "Mac, that really is going to cost a fortune. I could help you out with it..."

Blair's excited face turned serious, and he looked questioningly at his lover, adding his own concern, "Is it really okay?"

Duncan smiled at him, squeezing his shoulder, "Don't worry about it Blair, sky's the limit, okay? Just pick out good presents." He turned to Jim, "It's really nice of you to offer, but this is my thing for the kids in the neighborhood. I try to do it every year. Don't worry about it, helping us pick out presents is payment enough."

Jim shrugged, deciding that if Mac wanted to blow a fortune in the toy store, it was his business. He had to wonder though, exactly how wealthy Mac was, and how he'd made that money. Certainly not running a gym.

Blair distracted his train of thought, tugging at his arm to pull him through the mass of people outside the toy store. "This place is a madhouse, Chief. We're never gonna get out of here."

"Oh man, Jim, this is so awesome! We get to be Santa for the whole neighborhood!" Blair squirmed through the crowd to the line of shopping carts, pulling out one for each of them.

"How are we going to make sure we don't get doubles or triples of stuff?" Jim asked, taking his cart and narrowly missing the head of a screaming five year old with the corner.

Duncan edged his cart behind Jim, calling to him over the din, "Let's start at opposite ends of the store, that'll help, and then we can stop and compare before we get in line at the register. Doesn't really matter if we end up with a couple of the same toys, anyway. Tell you what, you go right, I'll go left, and Blair'll start in the middle. Oh, and Jim, no guns, okay?"

Jim frowned, "Come on, Mac, no G.I. Joe?"

Duncan shook his head resolutely, "No guns, no weapons."

Jim's face fell, and Duncan relented, "All right, science fiction kind of guns are okay. Star Trek phasers, whatever, but nothing too realistic, no plastic AK-47's, okay?"

Jim laughed, surprised by Duncan's vehemence. "Okay, no problem. I thought Sandburg was the hippie pacifist. No problem, Mac, no rifles."

"Thanks." Duncan wound his cart around a large family, coming back to see Blair beaming at him in obvious approval. "Okay, I'm heading for that end of the store, see you later," Jim turned his empty cart around, heading for the far wall and the first aisle of board games.

Blair was already absorbed in checking out the Fisher Price castle on an endcap. It was being advertised as a "classic" Christmas toy, with a price tag to match. Blair gleefully reached for a box to put in his cart, thinking that it was the most appropriate first choice. He had the time of his life pushing his cart slowly through the jam packed aisles, debating over each gift and enjoying imagining what child would get it, or what each one would want. Although he only knew a few of the kids that came to classes at the dojo, he spent time deliberating carefully over each selection. A microscope, a chemistry set, a loom to weave yarn, and a create your own muppet puppet followed. He was trying to decide between spin art and a beaded jewelry kit when Jim caught up with him.

"I knew you'd get stuck in the arts and crafts aisle, Sandburg. I'm done," Jim bragged, showing off his packed cart by rolling it back and forth in front of Blair.

"Man, you picked out pretty good stuff, good job," Blair praised Jim's cart, looking speculatively over his booty.

"This place is a madhouse, Sandburg. This kid plowed into me at about fifteen miles an hour."

"Jim, kids can't run that fast."

"No, Sandburg, on a Big Wheel. Ran right over my damn toe."

"Ouch." Blair grinned at him, still holding both the spin art and the bead maker in his hands.

"Just get 'em both, Chief. You almost done?"

"I don't know, lemme count. Where's Duncan?" Blair bent over his cart, counting on his fingers.

"Last time I saw him he was getting a saleslady to get a doll out of a locked case for him."

Blair's face lit up into a wide smile, "That's awesome, that's the only thing I'm light on, dolls. You got the Barbie camper? Cool."

"You're a little too excited about that, Chief, you're scaring me here," Jim ruffled his Guide's hair, grinning at him. Even if he was trapped in holiday shopping hell, it felt good to joke and tease with his Guide again.

Blair shrugged, "It's a good toy. Come on, let's see if we can find Duncan. I need one or two more things, I'll grab them on the way. I haven't hit the stuffed animals yet, did you?" Blair rummaged in Jim's cart.

Jim slapped his hands away, "Get out of my cart. No, we'll get the stuffed animals, they're over there. Come on." Jim pushed his way to the front of the aisle, a look of pure, military determination on his face. Blair watched him, weaving through the crowd commando style, eyes fixed on the stuffed animals on the back wall. He couldn't help giggling, only Jim could take toy shopping this seriously.

One or two turned into no less than five different teddy bears, a couple of which Sandburg actually talked to before putting in the cart. "I think you're over your limit here, Chief. Come on, I just spotted Mac heading for the front of the store. Let's go."

Blair followed closely behind Jim's assault with his cart through the crowd, he was red in the face from laughing by the time they reached Duncan, standing at the end of a register line waiting for them.

Jim turned around, demanding suspiciously, "All right, Sandburg, what's so damn funny?"

"Army Ranger Captain James Ellison has completed his mission, avoiding the untold dangers of the toy store and returned, wounded, but victorious." Blair spoke into an imaginary megaphone, his voice dripping with mock seriousness. He burst into hysterical laughter, falling over his cart and to hold himself up, his face on a teddy bear.

Duncan crossed his arms, looking from his hysterical lover to Jim, who was trying not to laugh himself. "Okay, what did I miss?"

Blair gasped, shaking his head and wiping tears from the corners of his eyes, "Oh man, you should have seen him going up and down those aisles... Command Presence at all times, totally. You got awesome stuff though, Jim, you really did. That Super-Soaker is way cool, that's the new model this year, right?"

"This, is the PS-220 Super Deluxe, it fires water balloons and shoots water, and you have no idea what I went through to get it." Jim informed Blair seriously, holding his prize up for Duncan's inspection.

Duncan nodded appreciatively, looking over the other items in Jim's cart. The huge water gun was the only thing that even came close to resembling a weapon. "Great job, Jim. Let me see what you got, Caro. Did you have fun?" Duncan realized that he didn't even have to ask, he's never seen Blair's face lit up quite so brightly. He was absolutely beaming with pleasure.

"Oh man, it was the most awesome time I've ever had in a toy store in my life. Check this out, I got a chemistry set that will let you do any kind of experiments you want, not the just the cheesy ones they usually give you, and I got a clay bead making kit, isn't that cool? You bake them in the oven and then string them. Oh, and check this out, this is absolutely the best toy in the store, it's a muppet hand puppet and you make your own muppet, all the eyes and noses and ears and hair and everything is velcro, and you can make all these combinations... I even want one."

Duncan laughed, "Do you really?" He didn't have the slightest idea what a muppet was, but he'd learned not to ask Blair these questions.

Blair grinned, blushing, he looked down, kicking his shoe against the wheel of his cart. "Well, yeah."

"Go grab one," Duncan told him indulgently, "Early Hanukkah present. I need to pick up one more thing, can you hold our place in line, Jim?"

Jim grabbed Duncan's cart, pulling it up next to his, "Yeah, okay, just make it quick. It could get ugly."

Duncan laughed, not sure if Jim was serious or not. Blair had already abandoned his cart, going for his promised muppet. Duncan looked back once at Jim, and then headed quickly to the electronics department, catching the attention of the young man behind the counter. "Hello, I need one of those video game machines."

The boy smiled at him strangely. " Which one? Playstation? Nin64? 3do?"

Duncan recognized the name of the game he hadn't been able to pull the old man away from when he'd shopped here with him last year. It had been a display model, and Methos had gone crazy for the game.

"A Playstation, please. And some game cartridges, pick some out for me, five or so."

"Okay, they're cd's, not cartridges, and is there any certain kind of game you want? Fantasy? Driving? Violent, not violent? You got little kids? Teenagers?"

Duncan almost laughed, thinking that Methos had to be the oldest video game junkie in the world. "Um, they're older... Doesn't matter how violent, just pick me out some games you like. Give me a variety." Duncan thought back to the game that was on the display version Methos had been so excited about. "There is one, but I don't know the name. You had it on your display last year... There was a funny little alien, he kept saying "Okay, follow me."

"Odd World! Excellent choice man, that is a wild game. Okay, now I know what you're after. Let's see... Resident Evil 2, a must. Totally violent but really cool graphics, and you have to get Need For Speed III, that's the best driving game. Do you want any sports games?"

"I don't think so... More along the fantasy lines I think."

"Okay, cool, then you want Tekken 3 and Final Fantasy 7, that'll keep them busy for months, and um, how about Arachnophobia, it's awesome, you're the spider."

"Sounds perfect, thanks, you've been a great help." Duncan accepted the heavy box and the stack of plastic cd cases.

"You can pay for that up front, have a great Christmas, dude."

Duncan grinned, "Thanks, you too!"

Duncan walked back to the front of the store, wondering if he was crazy for spending a couple hundred dollars on a toy for a five thousand year old man that probably wouldn't even show up this year. Still, if he did, Duncan wanted to have something that would really make him happy.

Jim was going through his cart when he got back, looking at all the educational toys Duncan had picked out. "Hi Mac, you must be an old hand at this. You've got everything I wanted for Christmas from ages eight to twelve in this cart."

"That's great." Duncan set his box carefully on top, taking the cart back from Jim.

"A Playstation? Don't you think that's a little extravagant, Mac? Some of the parents might not feel right about accepting something like that..."

Duncan shook his head, looking for Blair, "It's not for the party. It's a present for a friend who might or might not show."

"Oh." Mac had surprised him again. What kind of friend would he be buying a video game system for?

"Hi! Sorry I took so long, I wanted a blue one and I had to dig through all these orange guys." Blair bounced up next to Jim, who put his arm companionably around his Guide's shoulder. "You are too much, Sandburg."

Blair noticed the Playstation box on the top of Duncan's stack of toys, "Oh man, who'd you get a Playstation for? These are awesome games." Blair picked up the cd's, looking up curiously at Duncan.

Duncan looked away, "It's for Adam, if he shows up."

Blair eyed the box enviously for a moment, "I thought Joe said he wasn't coming."

"He has this habit of not calling before he shows up. I think he might come anyway. If not, I can always ship it to him," Duncan made an excuse, although the truth was he had no idea where the old one was, or even a last address to mail a letter to in the hopes it might get forwarded.

"Tekken 3! Wow, I haven't even seen this yet. Two was incredible. Lots of people I knew at Rainier had Playstations, and let me tell you, you have no idea how cool these graphics are nowadays."

Duncan cocked his head at his lover, "You're into video games?"

"Oh, man, come on, video games are a natural extension of any computer geek's life. No, really, Duncan, some of these games are really complicated, cool stories. I'm into all the Japanese fantasy games, they're almost like Anime."

Duncan let that one go over his head, deciding that he would be back later in the week to buy a second system. "Whatever you say, kiddo." They all edged forward in line, reclaiming their carts.

"So, what's our next stop?" Duncan asked Blair, who was reading the back of his puppet box.

"Department store, for decorations for the loft, and the drug store at the other end of the mall for streamers and paper decorations for the walls in the dojo, and more lights, lots of lights."

"Okay, sounds great."

Jim looked over their three brimming carts, "I think we might want to make a trip back to the car to dump all this stuff off before we get anymore."

"Good thinking, Jim," Duncan agreed, "It's hard enough to walk in this place without dragging all these bags. It's going to be a tight fit in the car, you're going to have to ride up front in the middle on the way home kiddo."

"No problem, I'm used to it."

Two hours later, Jim, Duncan and Blair sat around a table at the mall espresso shop, bags from the three department stores littered around their feet. Duncan and Jim both slumped in their chairs, looking haggard, and even Blair looked a little worn around the edges.

"Okay, guys, we're doing great. We've got all the decorations, and all the stuff for the party, we're down to just personal gifts here."

"Don't I know it," Jim deadpanned, and Duncan raised his latte to him in tired agreement.

"All right, tell you what," Duncan offered, "I'll take all this stuff back to the car, I think I can get most of it in the trunk. I hope so, because the back seat is just about packed full. You two can shop together or split up, whatever makes more sense, and we can all meet back here in, say, two hours."

"Sounds like a plan," Jim agreed wearily, hoping Blair wasn't going to drag him the length of the mall a third time.

"After that we'll go home and collapse," Duncan told him, giving Jim a tired smile.

"Amen," Jim answered, raising his coffee to Duncan in a toast.

"I am down with that, man. This stuff really wears you out, but it's just so awesome. Buying the presents really is the best part of the whole holidays thing, that and cooking all the good food. I want to make us a duck for Christmas Eve, what do think guys?"

"Sounds fantastic, Caro. I can't wait." Duncan finished his coffee, accepting Jim's help in gathering up all the plastic and paper shopping bags and loading them onto his arms.

"You gonna be okay with all this, Mac?"

"Sure, no problem, just try to keep him from spending his last dime on me, okay?"

Jim laughed, knowing Blair would do exactly that if he found the present he was looking for. "Sure, I'll do my best."

Blair sat between Duncan and Jim in the front seat of the T bird, his muppet box on his knees. They were stuck in the long line of cars waiting to get to the traffic light at the exit of the mall parking lot. Duncan stretched, arching his back against the seat, "That was record shopping. We did all that in just under five hours."

"I know, I can feel it in my legs. Man, I need to walk more, I'm out of shape." Blair grimaced as he started to pull the muppet from it's box.

"No, I'm not out of shape, and my feet are killing me. You just dragged us on a mall marathon, that's all Chief."

Blair laughed, "You're right, but it was still awesome. I had so much fun. Thank you so much for coming with us, man."

Jim looked into happy, bright blue eyes, and felt something twist in his gut, "No problem."

"I think this day calls for take out. None of us are going to feel like cooking dinner when we finally make it home, and I'm hungry. What do guys think about Chinese?"

"Suits me," Jim agreed, locking his door and leaning back against the cold window. Even with his senses turned down, the mall had given him one hell of a headache.

A little over an hour later, Duncan pulled into his spot at the loft, turning the car off with an exhausted sigh of relief. "Well, that was an hour of pure stress. Why do people drive so much worse around the holidays?"

"Because they're all just as stressed out as you are, man." Blair kissed his cheek quickly, getting out of the car after Jim.

They divided up the bags out of the back seat and trunk, until all three of them were loaded down with their purchases. "Jesus, Mac, why didn't you just buy the whole damn mall?" Jim grumbled, adding another shopping bag to his arm.

"Thanks," Duncan smiled at Jim, who was holding the door open for him. They dragged themselves down the hall. The heavy shopping bags hanging in bundles off their arms.

Blair slumped against the wall when they made it to the elevator, "Oh, man, I need a huge, steaming cup of tea."

Duncan nodded his agreement, digging with difficulty for his keys, "Sounds really good, kiddo. With a hefty shot of brandy, and maybe a hot bath."

Jim laughed ruefully, "I just want a nap. Tell you what, why don't you give me a call when you're ready to order dinner, and I'll come up."

"Okay, sounds like a plan. Maybe about two hours?" Duncan asked, shifting bags from one hand to the other to help Jim wrestle with the gate on the third floor.

"Sure, no problem, I'm not that hungry, just give me a call when you're ready for food. You two gonna be able to manage unloading all of these?" Jim asked, setting his bags down carefully on the elevator floor next to Duncan's feet.

"Yeah, we'll manage, have a good nap, buddy," Blair smiled at Jim, wanting to reach out to touch him but hampered by his load of bags.

"See you later." Jim got off, heading left and down the hall to his apartment.

"Oh man, that was so much fun, I'm pooped. I think a bath is a totally brilliant idea, handsome."

"I agree," Duncan leered playfully, letting the bags slide off his right arm to pull the gate.

They took turns dragging bags into the loft until they had everything in a pile that took up most of the living room floor space. Blair flopped down in the chair, surveying the sea of shopping bags in amazement.

"I can't believe we really bought all this stuff in one day, it's incredible. That was some serious shopping."

"Sure was, kiddo. Completely exhausting, but I had fun. You are wonderful to Christmas shop with, you know that?"

Blair laughed, catching Duncan's hand when he came to stand next to him, "Who'd you go with last year?"

"Adam." Duncan answered shortly, thinking that if the old man did show up, it would be one less thing for him to worry about. He'd been scared, when Methos left last time after Byron, that he'd finally crossed the line and that this time the ancient wouldn't come back. A year of wondering where he'd disappeared to had done nothing to allay those fears.

Blair remembered the night Duncan had told him about Adam, and a twinge of something that felt like jealousy gave him the courage to ask what he hadn't then.

"Duncan... Should I be worried about this person coming back into your life? I know you said that you two were never lovers, but I can't help feeling that what you feel for him is pretty serious. Something about the way Joe looked at you when you guys talked about him at the bar the other night... Oh man, I know, I have like, no right to be getting possessive on you now, but I can't help it. I guess I'm just..."

Duncan smiled, "What you are is incredibly perceptive. I'll be totally honest with you, Caro. I am attracted to him, or his power, it's hard to say which, but it's not something I admit to myself very often. I told you that the last time I saw him we parted under difficult circumstances... I killed a man who had been his lover a long time ago, and someone he cared for deeply. He is... very hard to read, he can seem very cold. I don't think I've ever seen him display that much emotion over anyone else... Anyway, he asked me not to, and Byron and I came to swords anyway, and he lost. I was certain, at the time, that he wanted..., wanted to die. It was a very difficult thing to do. If I had to do it again, I'm not sure I would make the same choice, but at the time I was too absorbed in judging Byron's actions. I was self righteous, and angry over the needless loss of a mortal life that Byron had caused. I didn't stop to think about the consequences of my actions, or how seriously they would affect Adam. He did talk to me, a little, after it happened, but then he went away, and he hasn't come back. I miss him, and I'm worried about him."

Duncan took a deep breath, releasing his hand from Blair's grasp to place both hands on his lover's shoulders. "I think that's the most honest answer I can give you about how I feel about him. But as far as if you have anything to worry about? Never. Not at all. I wouldn't give you up for the world, Caro. You are more important than anything. If I could give one person in this world the gift of immortality, it would be you."

Blair shook his head wordlessly, too moved to speak for a moment, and when he did, it was in a whisper. "I don't think I'd want it. I'd have to fight... and someday we might have to fight, and I could never do that. I'm so glad, that you really feel that way, Duncan, it makes me so happy, I love you so much."

Duncan bent down, gathering Blair into his arms to kiss him passionately, his hand buried in Blair's hair at the nape of his neck to hold him up to his lips.

"I love you too," Duncan murmured over the full lips, drawing away reluctantly.

"I'll tell you what, I'll put water on for tea if you run water for a bath." Duncan's eyes sparkled warmly, enjoying the thought of Blair in the tub with him, tucked between his legs, Blair's back against his chest.

"Ooh, really good deal. I'll meet you in the bathroom, handsome."

Blair got up, going into the bathroom and closing the door. Duncan put on water for tea in the kitchen, standing at the counter waiting for it to boil. He thought about what he'd just told Blair, making himself question his words, ask himself if what he'd said was really true. It was. What he felt for Methos was very complicated, somehow, it had just never had the chance. Methos would laugh at him if he could see him now, he was sure. Standing in his kitchen, brooding over the ancient, while his lover waited for him naked in the bathroom. The thought sent a sharp jolt of annoyance through him, and he put the whole thing out of his head, decided firmly that if the old man did show, he would think about it then.

End Part 21

Part 22

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