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And Hades Followed Him

by C.M. Decarnin

Part 8


"Stop the car." The tone made Duncan gently brake and pull onto the shoulder at once. Before he could even turn to question, Methos had opened the door and was moving away into the roadside grass with a strange slight stagger. MacLeod was out of the car and following, when he saw Methos fold to his knees. He leaned forward from the waist and sicked up into the weeds quietly as some animal.

MacLeod turned back and brought the water bottle from the car to where Methos had moved aside, spitting into the grass. He took the water and rinsed his mouth over and over, with Duncan's arm around his shoulder sympathetically. He stood up from under the arm and went back to the car. But as he reached it, he put a hand out on the door and sank again to his knees, collapsing into a soft mound against the hard steel.

Duncan was with him instantly. He pulled him around into his arms. "My god. What did she do to you?"

Methos cringed almost convulsively, turning his head back and forth. "Don't!" he pleaded.

"What?" Duncan asked quietly.

"Oh god." Methos shrank smaller. "What she did to me?"


MacLeod relaxed a bit.


That he understood.

Methos still seemed to try to shrink from his touch. His eyes brimmed dark with pain.

"I don't deserve you. I'm the last person who should be with you."

All right. Nip this in the bud.

He put his hand along the side of his lover's face. Quiet, but rock-firm, he ordered,"Methos." When Methos immediately looked at him, he gripped him by both upper arms, leaning in so their bodies touched in places. "You belong to me. I'm keeping you. I plan to use you hard."

He saw the knifelike pain and wretchedness dissolve in irresistible sexual submission. His mouth touched the side of Methos's neck and he breathed on the skin, nibbling with his lips. Methos's breath went out in a moaning sigh, and his legs straightened.

"Get in the car," MacLeod breathed.

Methos's neck arched back helplessly, but then, instead of obeying, he moved his cheek against MacLeod's and slowly put his arms around his neck. MacLeod felt the pain come back, a long ache through his lover's tough body. He enclosed him in his arms.

Methos was shivering. "I can't take this. Kill me, Duncan. No! No, you don't want this inside you. Someone else -- But if you're the last -- you'll have to have what I've been -- what I've done -- to endure my soul --"

"Stop it, Methos," Duncan murmurred. "Stop it, stop it. Shhh. Stop now. Stop."

"I've condemned you to hell!"

"Well then I guess you'll just have to stay alive."

It brought Methos up short. MacLeod could feel him, through every skin cell, considering.

Methos relaxed, pulled away, and stood up, MacLeod with him to make sure he wouldn't fall. "Right. Home then." It was the Methos voice, blithe, bitter, head up, mouth tight, the green-gold eyes sweeping the sky before he turned to get into the car. MacLeod turned him back.

Methos pulled away gently. His hands spread apart. "MacLeod... There is nothing you can do."

"Yes, there is." MacLeod ran his hand up Methos's side, up under the loose sweater. Methos raised his eyes, pain-filled and hopeless. "I can tell you you're not the same person you were two, or three, or four thousand years ago -- any more than whole civilizations that were around then are the same." He stroked the side of Methos's face gently. "I can tell you how much you are loved, and revered, and needed. And I can tell you that you were not responsible for the destruction of any chance you had to be a loving and gentle human being. I can tell you to think of yourself in your first hundred years, before you had what was left of your humanity cut out of you. What were you like then? Do you remember?"

He waited; Methos looked away, then finally said, "I was a conniving little street-rat, with no education and no real friends, living off whatever I could get... Too cowardly to steal much... Hiding from Immortals. Hiding from mortals..." The long curved lashes blinked rapidly. "Mostly just trying to hide how little I ever understood of what went on around me."

"It sounds so lonely," Duncan said softly.

"If you're alone long enough, you don't know what loneliness is." He wiped the heels of his hands across his eyes tiredly. "I don't believe you're standing here making excuses for me MacLeod."

"Reasons. Not excuses." He stroked the back of Methos's neck and shoulders gently with his fingertips. "I hoped --" He hesitated. Methos swayed to the rhythm of his kneading. "I wanted to try and make it better. Not to hurt you."

Methos nodded. His eyes were closed. "It may be better. For her. Once it all... settles out. At least she knows things she didn't know before."

Duncan watched him sorting among the things he ought and ought not to say, would and would not. "And you come out of it suicidal."

"I never understood a thing about her. And she was my slave. It could never have worked. But she was all I had, the only thing that was mine in the world. It hurt so much when I lost her, as if a piece of me had just been ripped away. I didn't understand that kind of grief, I didn't understand how anything could hurt so much and never bleed, and never heal. I couldn't accept it. It was never the same after that. I recognized the screams, I knew the anguish all around us much too well. I hadn't known what loss was, because I never had anything before..." His eyes, which had closed, opened again. "It destroyed my life. I managed to make an opportunity to leave the Horsemen, and took it. Only some things you don't get to leave behind..."

"I know." Duncan's stroking turned to an embrace. He placed kisses for comfort along Methos's neck, cheek, lips... His hands massaged down the long back, and then slipped under the waistband of the jeans. Methos began trembling. He pulled him close and devoured him, demanding his mouth and searching out every inch of him with his hands. Methos went utterly flexible to his touch, helpless before the invading tongue. Urgently MacLeod clutched at his lover's crotch. "Damn!" he exclaimed, reverently, like a prayer. He opened the pants and pulled the shirt up. Methos went heavier and limper in his arms each passing moment; Mac had to ease him to the ground, still holding him up to pull at his clothes. He moved in Mac's arms like a big, slow python; his head hanging back, hands pressed against MacLeod helplessly, knees opening. Finally he turned his face against MacLeod's cheek and pleaded, "Hurt me."

MacLeod's erection filled tight as it could get. He tore the unwieldy sweater off over Methos's head. He arranged it in a spot that would be critical for himself, just under Methos's hips and thighs, after he rolled the pants down and away. The long body undulated up against him, naked and cool. "Mac --!"

"Don't worry, Mister I-haven't-felt-guilt-since-the-eleventh-century. You're going to love this." He ran his hands once more all over the pale, smooth, tender skin, and laid his lover down onto the roadside gravel.

Methos kvetched nonstop on the drive home about stones and dirt embedded in his back and private parts. Duncan knew there were none, because he had brushed Methos down most carefully and intimately with his own hands. He understood it was some sort of attempted segue back to a comfort- level Methos could handle, after his frightened exposure by the roadside, and whatever had gone on with Cassandra.

The one thing he hadn't counted on when he'd sent Methos to his doom (as the ancient had insisted on perceiving it) was his own ravening curiosity. He wanted to know what had happened. He wanted to help. He hoped and expected a day or a week would see Methos healing. Letting the bright murderous edge of the past grow dull again with neglect, even sheathed, perhaps, in a new sense of closure. He knew that what had happened between Methos and Cassandra was private, intensely none of his business. But seeing the results shake his lover's body, unseat his whole been-there, done-that persona -- hearing him, in torment, ask for death --

He'd no intention of taking his eyes off Methos over the next few days. But it would help if he knew what to counteract. Well, like fighting: he'd just have to respond as each move arose, with all the depth, power, and subtlety he possessed.

At the loft, Mac tucked Methos into a hot bath and went to prepare what he hoped might be comfort food for a five-thousand-year-old, a finely diced lamb stew with couscous. Wrong grain, probably, wrong vegetables... He should get Methos to teach him. Likely there hadn't been a lot of comfort, culinary or otherwise, in poor Methos's childhood. "Poor Methos"? Better not let Methos catch him at that. But the thought of the little child, so utterly alone he hadn't even been taught to talk, at the mercy of -- MacLeod found himself kneading the flatbread he'd decided to bake, with entirely unnecessary force. He left it to rise and wondered if he should go extract Methos out of the bath before he shrivelled up like Dorian Gray.

Listening at the bathroom door, he heard water-sounds, so went and sliced things very thin for a salad. Eventually he heard the bath draining and looked up to see Methos emerging like something new from a watery chrysalis. His eyes were brighter under spiky wet hair. Duncan noticed he had wrapped himself in the warmest and plushest of the bathrobes. "Hot rum?" he hazarded.

"Thanks." Methos came over to the counter and placed his long hands on it quietly. He looked so frail like that, Duncan thought; not leaning, not sprawling, not claiming any space. When the water was hot he poured it over the rum and handed the mug to Methos -- from the looks of him, stemware didn't seem like a good plan. He let his hand lie for a moment over Methos's. The ancient's mouth quirked a little, wryly. "Don't worry, MacLeod, I plan to repress it all again as quickly as possible."

"Do you think that's such a good idea?" Duncan asked hesitantly.

"Trust me." Methos glanced around and Duncan saw him spot where his clothes had been folded in a neat stack on the bed. "This smells really good," he said, evincing interest in the simmering pot. Mac started patting the bread into disks. Methos noticed these, smiled a little, and sipped his drink.

When Duncan slipped the fast-cooking flatbreads into the hot oven, he turned back to find that Methos had taken glasses and silver to the table and was setting their places. Something in this touched him to the quick. The first time since they had become such tempestuous lovers that Methos had shared a simple domestic task with him. Tears pricked his eyes. He turned away quickly to wash up the French knife and the cutting board, not wanting Methos to think he was being fussed over. He'd picked a Beaujolais from the cupboard, hoping it would be sturdy enough; Methos didn't care for coy wines. Cut fruit and golden raisins were marinating in honey, Camembert melting succulently on a plate...

He popped the hot bread rounds into linen in a basket and put them on the counter with the wine for Methos to carry in. When Methos's hand closed on the bottle, Mac saw his eyes drift guiltily to the refrigerator. "Beer or wine?" he asked.

"Maybe a beer."

MacLeod opened the freezer and took out one of the bottles of Edinburgh ale he'd providently set there, already opened so they wouldn't break if forgotten. Also so the caps wouldn't end up behind the fridge. Methos went off to the table with the air of someone reunited with his loved ones.

It took so fucking little to make the man happy, MacLeod thought viciously. You would think the world could have done a better job of it.

He fixed their cous-cous with stew in wide shallow bowls, but when he took them to the table he realized Methos still stood at the counter. MacLeod drifted back, tilting his head a fraction in inquiry.

Methos asked, "Do you believe in Hell?"

Duncan looked at him. "No."

"I do." Methos blinked, and seemed to be seeing into the distance. "I always have."


His lover shrugged a little. "It would be typical."

Duncan smiled and ruffled Methos's hair.

"I mean it. Don't you think it's logical that we'd die and then be punished?"

MacLeod stroked his hair gently this time. "I think you're in for a surprise."

Methos looked up, eyes wide with a sudden fearful hope. "Do you know? Have you been there?"

"No, no," he disclaimed quickly. "Methos, you knew Buddha. What did he say?"

"It wasn't like we were best pals. There were thousands of people around him. Lots of  'us'."

"Was he --?"

"No. But the ground around a true teacher is always crawling with Immortals."

"So didn't you ever talk to him?"

"He said it was irrelevant. He said I was never going to die."

Duncan was completely still for a moment.

"Yeah. I reacted the same way. Then I asked him if he meant that metaphorically."

"That was going to be my next question." When Methos didn't go on, he prompted, "And?"

"He said he meant it completely literally. That my soul wasn't going anywhere." He looked at Duncan wrily. "Go ahead, say it."

Duncan bit his lip. "Well... It is pretty basic Buddhism. There is only One, eternal, unmoving..."

"And yet," Methos prodded.

Duncan smiled. "And yet... here you are. Maybe he was right," he added.

Methos pushed away from him violently.

"Methos --"

"You think the last one left should be the one who's just too bloody scared to die? The Prize goes to the fastest runner, is that it?" Methos turned away and his shoulders slumped. Duncan was right behind him, turning him, holding him. He kissed into his hair, rocking him back and forth. Methos whispered, "I don't want to die!" MacLeod heard all the anguish and dread. Pity trickled through him painfully. It had been so long since he'd suffered such fear of death, if he ever had, that he did not remember it. "But I don't deserve to live. I know that." The voice was ghostly. "You should be the last. Not me."

Duncan rocked him in silence. Finally he said, "We know nothing about the Game, but what some other told us, long ago. I've thought sometimes, that's why we have Immortal memory, so we remember the Rules as we were taught, without distortion. But if anyone has ever really known what this Game was, it's long forgotten. No one knows what is needed. No one knows why. I only know I love you dearly. And you are deserving as the best. Methos. My beloved." He held him a few moments longer; then said, "Come on. Eat."

It was a subdued meal. Mac realized Methos was completely wrung out. As soon as the dishes were done, he firmly loaned him his warmest pajamas and put him to bed. Mac sat up doing his accounts, then reading a book on African history, glancing every once in a while at the darkened end of the loft. When he went to bed Methos was sound asleep, and he hoped the healing peace would take away much of the remembered horror. He lay awake looking at the shadowed outline of his lover's hand on the pillow, moonlight dimly touching the cheekbone, the edge of his ear. He knew what it was like to have something in your past that you were truly ashamed of, the torment that could not be changed but only avoided, or -- accepted. To multiply that by a thousand, ten thousand, more -- it was unthinkable, would be unendurable... But Methos endured it. His lover was much tougher than he appeared. "You cannot fight my battles for me." That cool warning, casual-seeming, yet final, that had made Duncan feel such a child, suddenly, in conversation with one of the grownups. Other moments when the passionate, spiky nature had revealed its hard-won adulthood. He wondered how much of the time dealing with others was for Methos like interplay with perpetual sophomores. How, he wondered for the hundredth time, had Methos come to love him?

He wanted to reach over and touch him, but he wanted more for him to sleep and heal. He lay caressing the old one in his gaze.

Gradually he became aware of another Presence in the room.

He eased his head around and followed it with his body, making not a sound as he crouched his way out of the bed and his right hand gripped onto the hilt of the katana. Someone was in the chair facing the warm fire. He must have forgotten to bank it before he went to bed. He was glad he had finally built the fireplace, Methos was so delectable taken on the fur rug in front of it, both of them addicted to the feel of what had been the most necessary of sensual luxuries when they were young. He heard a creak as of leather and a slight ching of metal. Kronos slowly turned his head to look at him, mouth set in his deathly smile.

Not wanting him near Methos, MacLeod went toward him as Kronos rose from the chair.

"MacLeod." The black-haired head tilted quizzically, eyes glittering out of the swirled face-paint. He was the same; and yet, Duncan suddenly felt, he was different. With that strange irrelevance of guilt and crime that came to him in these dreams, he saw the essence of Kronos as he never had before, as a lone figure, in his black and silver, in a world that had outgrown him, like a beast whose habitat has disappeared, but whose own nature can never change. Alone; of a species that could feel no human bond. Was there even a hint of transparency to his form --? Beautiful, like a glittering night sky of stars with no moon, upright as a planted sword; of short, antique stature, ambiguous in that garb that would strike the world today as half male, half female, drama incarnate, like --

Like --

Methos. He realized it finally. The life in him! Quintessence, unquenchable, archetype of himself. But all light involuted, a corruscating black. The diamond in the dark.

Perhaps it was age, centuries compacting, burnishing a personality. Perhaps it was death...

Perhaps it was innate, and this was what Methos had seen, known, responded to, millennia before.

Or only the dream...

Now, he realized, Methos sat on the couch reading, his bare nape curved, beautiful hands resting on the pages.

"It's much more companionable now you've freed your delight in torture, Highlander. Takes me back. Too bad you didn't find out sooner, we might have been -- close."

"I was never anything like you."

"Me? Oh no, MacLeod. That's not me. Pain is for punishment, or --" He smiled. "-- reward, maybe to take out a little anger -- As you get to know me, you'll find I'm a practical, unpoetic sort. I control what's around me to get what I want. No, the one who gets carried away --" He looked over at Methos. The Oldest suddenly looked very self-conscious, as if he knew they were talking about him, but he didn't look up. Kronos raised an eyebrow in amusement and opened both hands toward him in a presenting gesture. "Our little scholar."

Then Kronos was propped beside MacLeod against a workbench, leaning sideways a little, confidential. "You didn't think it was me with all those thoughts about your mighty arms and implacable organ did you? MacLeod, it's not me who secretly, way down underneath it all, has the soul of a romance novelist."

"You're jealous." He just stated it as a fact.

"You have what belongs to me." Kronos half turned, raised a hand, and ran it across Duncan's chest, then down to his belly. "But I own you where you live, MacLeod." The hot hand closed around his sex, which engorged. Duncan almost swooned at the pleasure. Kronos's body pressed against him, his other hand cupping butt-muscle, stroking down the back of a thigh, up to the small of Duncan's back, while his cock was worked exquisitely. Duncan breathed out with a light moan, his head back. The Horseman pressed himself between his thighs, and Duncan wanted a place to lie down, open, giving, to feel those hands, loins, thighs overwhelm him, a physical charisma like some god of love taking over his being.

Then he felt Kronos being slowly pulled away. He opened his eyes. Methos's hand on the Horseman's shoulder was easing him from MacLeod, and Methos placed himself against MacLeod instead.

"You don't belong to him, Highlander," his lover explained, his warm breath sweet in Duncan's mouth. "He belongs to you. Do with him whatever you wish. He has no love to give, he never had. So he owns nothing now."

"He's sexy," Duncan said, still with the great surprise he had felt. Methos only smiled. Duncan found himself looking a bit guiltily over his lover's shoulder, trying to still see Kronos, who appeared to have receded. "He has no sword!" he suddenly whispered, as at some terrible amputation.

Duncan woke up with a chill and realized he had lost all the covers to a now-cocooned Methos. A little groggily, he went to pee, slid a flannel sheet and blanket out of the linen press, and unfolded them silently, draping them around him and slipping carefully back into bed. The warmth felt heavenly. It was an effort not to reach out and snuggle Methos to him, and make his bliss complete. Let him sleep, he thought, as his own eyelids slid closed, and he drifted back to darkness.

When he woke at last, it was to the surprise of Methos already being up. At least, he was sitting on the hassock in front of the window, his head on his knees, all of him nearly covered in the big quilt, against a cold that Duncan did not feel. Maybe building that dream fireplace -- with the fur rug -- would not be such a bad idea. Duncan moved quietly into the bathroom, and when he came out, Methos was still bowed there. Duncan padded over and his big lion limbs took possession of Methos's body; breathing onto his neck and nuzzling into him, he tried to get him to raise his face. Methos slowly pulled back.

"I'm going home for a while. I need to be alone," he said.

"No," Duncan said in a voice that would stand for no nonsense, "you need to come outside with me into the real world. We're going out for breakfast, then I'm driving you to the shore. We're going to wade and find shells to bring home for Mary. On the way back we'll stop on the mountain and walk in the woods and get her some pinecones. We'll have dinner at Joe's, hear some music and after that -- it will depend. Go get some clothes on."

Methos smiled sadly. "Thanks, but I --"

MacLeod laid the back of his wrist across Methos's mouth. "You seem to think what I just described was an option." He leaned in close. "Wrong."

He saw the invisible flame lick through his lover's body. He let a predatory smile touch his mouth.

"Now. Get dressed."

"You're crossing that line again."

"I don't see any line. All I see is you." He pushed Methos back, and down, till he was stretched over the hassock like an Aztec sacrifice, the quilt falling around him. Duncan made short work of the pajama buttons, and nipped with his lips at the bare flesh exposed, along flank and loin, and Methos gasped with shaken breath, his cock standing up from the arc of his body. Duncan whipped the underside of the organ with his stiff tongue, and Methos gasped out his name. He let his tongue wander to the top of the cock, and play there, laving and circling, his palms on either hipbone holding down Methos's agonized movements. Finally he gripped the cock with one hand, pushed two blunt fingers of the other rudely up into him, ignoring the outcry, and stroked down over the prostate with his fingertips, again and again, and across the exquisite, sensitive skin of the testicles, just brushing, with the ball of his thumb, until Methos went completely still and trembling at the ecstasy. He began to suck at the tip of the cock, then to lower his hot mouth around it, down, to the top of his fist. Methos sobbed incoherently, as Duncan squeezed, sucked hard, jabbed sternly in on balls and prostate, hurting. Methos came extravagantly, spurting in Duncan's mouth and crying Duncan's name. MacLeod began to bite the coming cock and felt spasms pulse through the stretched body under him, ending with Methos writhing from side to side, crying out softly in blissful anguish. Mac licked and kissed him a few times as he became gradually quiet, the tender skin of his abdomen flexing with his panting. MacLeod ran his hand gently up the naked belly, following it until he could slip his hand under his lover's shoulders. Methos opened his eyes, still too overwhelmed to speak. Mac put his mouth next to the shell-like ear. He murmurred, "Now will you get dressed?"

Methos started laughing weakly. Duncan pulled him up and into his arms to complete his recuperation. A hand crept limply around the back of his neck in gratitude, all Methos could yet manage.

They went to the shore, the forest. On the way back, on impulse, MacLeod turned off the road at a sign he'd seen before.

"A butterfly ranch?"

"I always meant to stop here someday."

The place turned out to be several large greenhouses, labelled by geographical region. They chose Central America, since neither of them had ever spent a great deal of time there, but knew the insect life to be pretty spectacular.

But neither of them expected the splendor that they entered into. The plants alone were exotic and fascinating, though some looked suspiciously like what anyone would call weeds. But to the butterflies, clearly, the plantlife represented treasure beyond the dreams of the Conquistadors. Wings were everywhere. A butterfly immediately landed on MacLeod's hair, lofting and spreading wings like cathedral windows. Before Methos had time to say more than "Oh!" it was gone again, erratic flight losing it quickly among dozens of others.

Ephemeral works of such unimaginable beauty... they flew up around them, alighted, fluttered in the tiny storm of courtship in aerial pairs, yellows, blues, oranges, delicate pale greens... browns, greys, even marks of rose and pink; wings shaped with exquisite subtlety. They brought smiles from Methos as he tried to follow their sunny flights long enough to see their coloring They seemed attracted to Duncan, perhaps some scent he was wearing, and kept fluttering near and landing on him.

Duncan held out his hand, suddenly, in warning not to move. Methos looked down.

A butterfly had landed on his chest. This one was different from the rest. Small. Of plain and modest shape. And black. Without iridescence, or decor, just a small black butterfly against the light color of Methos's t-shirt, tottering delicately across the landscapes of his heart, spread wings lurching up and down a little, like the wings of an earthbound biplane turning about to taxi, the butterfly stepped and paused a few times as if searching for sweetness.

Then the wings folded upward, the toddling stopped, and it was as if the butterfly were sleeping, a moment. There beneath, where wing joined body, like a glowing ember, was a single spot of red. Methos breathed carefully. The wings suddenly descended again, beat, and carried the sable flutterer away, dark and strange, like the shadow of the other butterflies.

They went on through the clouds of rapturous colors, each species more fantastic than the last. Iridescences almost like mirrors, next to subtle powders, wings that held so still they could trace awesome mimicry of bark and leaves in their detail, almost see each individual plume. One, perched on a twig against the light, became an unbelievable blue gem, a brooch no queen would ever own. Some in the dustiest of shades entranced them with the intricacy of their patterning.

By the time they had followed the whole path they were almost exhausted by the overload of sensory input. They let themselves out the double-doored plastic vestibule, making sure they carried no little passengers. Methos turned his back to let Duncan look him over. As he turned back he glanced again into the greenhouse full of life. So many, yet only a minute fraction of the species known to the region, the sign had said. He felt there was something, something he should understand, some meaning in the endless prodigality and unfailing beauty, but it eluded him. Half of them would probably be extinct soon... Absently he touched the place where the black butterfly had sampled him. Out of all the rainbow colors...

Duncan leaned in and kissed the spot. After a surprised moment, Methos could feel the warm outline of the soft lips through his t-shirt. He shimmied back, flustered with happiness. "MacLeod!" he reproved, looking swiftly around.

Duncan spoke softly. "God, you destroy me when you do that."


Duncan smiled. "Get that look on your face, half defiant and half scared, half little boy, half old maid."

Methos laughed incredulously. "Old maid --?"

"Very prim."

"I never!"

They crunched back over the gravel to the car, Duncan arching his eyebrows provokingly.

He drove them to Joe's.

Waves, wind and woods had helped to ground Methos as Duncan had hoped they would, hearty food, the company of others, and contemporary music helped more. In a lull between sets, when Methos had left for the men's room, MacLeod felt a new Presence; after only a moment's wariness, he saw Richie spot him, and smile.

"Hey, Mac." The youngster pulled back a chair and sat down, his smile turning serious." Listen, I wanted to -- I mean, the other night. Were you okay with that? I kept feeling like I should leave, but you didn't say, and then things got so heavy -- I just felt like I needed to tell Methos..."

Mac held up a hand. "It was fine," he assured him.

"Is that..." Richie sought for words. "Mac, I -- I can't get it out of my head. It was so -- awesome. Is that what being Immortal gives you? That kind of... I mean, knowing how to be with another person... It was..." He gave up and just looked at Duncan beseechingly.

Mac thought, turning his whiskey glass delicately on the table. "I suppose," he said finally. "Some of it. You learn."

"Because, man, you told me you'd never done that kind of scene before, and I didn't expect... I was just so blown away. And I kept thinking, this is what it's all about. This is what we get back. For all the fighting and dying and losing people. We get to be... like that."

MacLeod looked at him, deeply.

"I want that, Mac. I want to live long enough to have that with another person."

Mac smiled a little, and nodded. "But you don't have to live hundreds of years. Mortals --"

Richie shook his head. "I know, Mac. Remember I told you I'd seen a lot of pros work? And they were good, some of them, really good. But they'd been doing it for years. They couldn't have walked into a scene like you did, knowing nothing, and made it work. Made it -- incredible."

"Well. I had been reading up a little."

"Trust me, Mac. You were clueless. I actually thought -- well, I thought I might have to step in. Hey," he protested at MacLeod's look, "I didn't, did I? I'm just saying, it was -- way unexpected."

Out of the corner of his eye, MacLeod was aware when Methos came out of the bathroom, saw them, and veered off toward the bar.

He pressed his lips together for a moment, considering. "I don't know, Rich. I know that after a while... maybe you let go of a lot of useless defenses. Relating to mortals, you learn that you have to make it happen while they still have time. Games don't do it..." He looked into Richie's serious eyes. "Of course you also get a real handle on whether you're turning someone on or not."

Richie laughed, half protestingly. Then he caught sight of Methos over Mac's shoulder, and the laughter faded. MacLeod saw a number of expressions there before Richie slowly stood up. MacLeod glanced over at the bar and glanced back, his own expression offering Richie an out.

"One thing I didn't need four hundred years to learn, Mac: there are some storms it's better to walk right into."

MacLeod lifted his eyebrows, then his drink in salute, and let his student walk away.

Methos's hunched shoulders relaxed in resignation as MacLeod's kid slid onto the stool next to him and murmurred, "Hi, Joe. Give my friend here one of those foreign beers, and a Busch for me."

Methos looked at the bottle set in front of him. "You buying me drinks now, macho man?"

The tone was mild and soft, but Joe looked quickly between them and faded to the other end of the bar. Richie met the challenge head on.

"So, what, you want to fuck me and make us even? If that's what it takes, hey, your place or mine."

Methos glanced with bitter eyes toward him. "I wouldn't have thought that was your -- thing."

"Can't tell a book by its cover." Richie turned, one elbow on the bar, the rest of his body open, inviting. Methos looked fully and skeptically at the kid. After a moment the pose collapsed and Richie smiled. "Okay, sometimes you can. From the couple of times I tried it, I'd as soon sit on a cactus. But -- I want you to know I meant every word I said that night."

"About taking me on when MacLeod dumps me?"

"As if. No. What I said -- about it being beautiful."

Methos's face slowly turned completely red. Finally he grated, "I don't like being watched."

"So I gathered. Too bad though, 'cause you could sell tickets."

Methos's voice was flat. "I know."

Richie looked at him, head tilted, and after some silence, sighed in acknowledgment. "Been there."

"And how did you like it?" Methos stared relentlessly ahead.

Richie answered frankly, "I felt like a dork."

For the first time Methos almost cracked a smile. "I guess you have been there."

"Nobody forced me. It could have been worse." He looked at his own beer. "A lot worse. I know that."

They balanced on the precarious silence.

"Logically," Methos growled at last, "I should be grovelling on my knees in gratitude instead of giving you a hard time."

"That I'd like to see."

"Instead of having to remind myself what MacLeod would do to me if I took your head some night in a dark alley."

"Probably never tie you down and whip your butt raw again." Methos's heat began rising and Richie intervened. "Look -- Adam... I was just trying to tell Mac what this means to me. You have one hell of a knack for breaking a mood, but... what I saw that night changed everything. It gives Immortality a meaning... a purpose."

"Ah yes. Sex. The answer to life, the universe, and everything." Methos took a dismissive guzzle at his beer.

"The sex was amazing but that isn't what I mean."

Methos jerked in irritation. Hard frost bit into his tone. "The 'L' word."

"That too. But I'm talking about the way you two opened up to each other. The way it worked. I'm not even sure what it's called. But I could see it, and I know it came from...us. Age. Experience. How we see, after we've lived that long. Like our reward. Maybe that's the Prize. What we get from everyone else's power."

"A transcendent moment."

"Look... Methos... You used to be able to piss me off with that cynical shtick. But now... I don't buy it."

Methos lowered his shoulders, and tipped his head. "But why," he quoted to the ceiling, "are you telling me all this?"

"Because I can't do that. I can't show you that about me. I can't give back what you gave me. I don't know how. But at least I can let you know that it meant something to me."

Methos's lips pursed. "Ryan, are you trying to tell me that you still respect me in the morning?"

Richie sat back and made a sound like escaping steam. He drank some beer. Finally he said, "What I saw... It showed me what there is to live for, what I want to live long enough to have. Something I never imagined. It moved me, it turned me on, it enlightened me. It wasn't wasted on me."

After a moment to see if Methos had a reply, he picked up his beer and swivelled the stool away from the bar. But Methos made a sudden, slight turn toward him, and Richie stopped. He waited, but Methos neither spoke nor looked at him. Yet tension held the long lean form, one hand flat on the bar, eyes half-lowered, unfocussed. A fine tremor rained through the straight back and angled limbs.

Richie laid his hand on Methos's shoulder, then rubbed it across his tense back; he stopped after a few strokes, his palm just below the nape of the bare neck. "God. Do you have any idea how seductive you are when you're not being an asshole?"

The tremor had stopped. Methos's voice was unadorned. "I don't want to be seductive."

"Well, that explains a lot then." Richie took his hand away. "I'm not putting any moves on you. I'm only about ten percent queer at the best of times. I just mean... I never really saw what you were till that night. Five thousand years, I expected something awesome that I didn't find." He smiled. "I was just looking from the wrong angle."

Methos was all out of commentary.

"Mac's needed somebody. I really hope it works out for you guys, long-term." Richie looked down the bar, where MacLeod had come over and was talking to Joe. He waved a hand. "I gotta go. I'll see you, okay?"

When Richie moved off, Mac drifted up the bar with a questioning look. Sensing Methos's vulnerability, he put his arm around the old man's shoulders. Without looking up, Methos said wretchedly, "Why can't I be like that? Generous and openhearted..."

"You are."

"I couldn't even say thank you."

Mac smiled. "I'll pass the message on."

With a sigh, Methos let his head lean against Duncan a moment. "Let's go home."

"I have a better idea. Get your coat."

Methos looked questioning. MacLeod smiled meltingly. Obediently, Methos went and got his coat. "Where --?"

"Come on. We're going dancing!"

The reaction was pretty much what MacLeod expected, but with perfect herding instinct he shooed Methos squawking and protesting out the door.

"You really have lost your mind." Methos contemplated MacLeod as he drove. "Do you seriously envision yourself at a disco, or some rave? You hate that kind of music."

"This is a place I heard about. Quiet. Unpretentious. But they don't care who dances. And they play music we'd both know how to dance to."

"Speak for yourself. I sat out everything after the minuet."

"Then I'll lead."

The place was as described, a restaurant with a large dance floor visible through a broad opening into the other room, lighting low enough to be cozy but not the Stygian blackness of a trendy bar. When they walked in -- and, wouldn't you know, MacLeod had made a reservation -- the sound system was playing "The Girl from Ipanema". Methos groaned inwardly. But people were in fact dancing, with competence, insouciance, and smiles. He spotted a woman with a woman, a man with a man, among the male-female couples. It must be some kind of period revival thing. It suddenly reminded him a little of The Viper Room, in L.A., except you could see, you could hear yourself speak, you had room to breathe, and there were places to sit down. The price of the drinks was also strongly reminiscent. He decided it was MacLeod's date, and MacLeod would be buying.

In his curmudgeonly heart, he actually loved to watch people dancing. And he had, of course, learned. And learned again, and again, as he moved and times changed around him. But the last three centuries had almost made him dizzy with the speed at which fashion whirled by, and it was still accelerating. Nothing stayed the same anymore. Nothing. Except human nature, of course.

After their first drink MacLeod stood up, smiling. "Dance with me."

"I told you, MacLeod, I don't know these."

Mac's head cocked slightly. "I'm sorry, did you hear a question mark somewhere in the phrase 'Dance with me.'? Get up."

To cover the sensation of clear light suddenly filling him, Methos complained and whined all the way to the dance floor. They were playing "Blame It on the Bossa Nova". MacLeod took hold of him. "Now be quiet and just follow."

"I never learned to --"

"You can pick up a new parry and riposte after seeing it once. Stop rubbishing." He pulled him close, so close Methos was warmed all down his front, and felt the Highlander's breath on his cheek. "Dance with me."

Methos danced. It took forty seconds to pick up the basic moves to follow MacLeod perfectly. MacLeod smiled at him, and the dance became a joy.

He had stopped dancing just about the time true individual partner forms got popular, he knew. Communal and formation types had been so much less alarming, so easily impersonal. He could fly down the line of an English country dance with the best of them, but to ask a partner into your own little moment, ignored by and ignoring all the rest, yet open to being watched...

But with Duncan...

It was wonderful. Duncan was wonderful. He taught and encouraged and praised with a look and a smile and a touch, then he inspired. Methos's own style slipped effortlessly into the rhythms. Duncan taught him to samba, to tango... things Methos had had no idea could be so sexy. Maybe you had to do them with Duncan MacLeod.

By the time they retreated to the quieter room by the bar, they had summarized the recent history of ballroom dance, and Methos knew from the way Duncan smiled at him that his own eyes were sparkling and his cheeks heated from the movement. Electricity connected him and the Highlander, but it was lighter, more open than sex. They had done something completely together, interdependent and intricate -- like swordplay except without a shadow of opposition or competition. Together.

"You like it," Duncan said, smiling. It was not a question, and Methos only waved to a waitress for fresh drinks as he sank into the chair to rest.

His happiness faded, as he thought again of the thing that had preyed upon him. He would have to have it out with the Highlander. He had found a way out. But Duncan wouldn't like it, and he didn't want to spoil tonight's mood.

But -- what if it happened tonight? No. Never put off anything to do with survival. Because too often, tonight is the night.

He sighed, and looked up into MacLeod's eyes. MacLeod looking back, patiently -- no, lovingly -- waiting for whatever it was Methos was preparing himself to say. Eyes dark and warm. Mouth still curved in a slight smile.

"MacLeod, I want you to promise me something." He held the dark gaze intensely. "Promise me... if someone takes my head, you'll let a mortal kill him."

MacLeod immediately shook his head. "Not a chance."

"Please. Listen. It's the only way. I don't want you to endure my Quickening. God knows what it would do to you."

"Methos, first of all, what are the chances a mortal would ever come along and cut off his head?"

"Oh that. Well by 'let' a mortal do it, I meant -- make sure. Hire it done. Whatever."

"Look Methos. Your memories torture you because of the guilt. I wouldn't have that -- they weren't my deeds. And you know how it works. I wouldn't even see that many specific memories."

"How do you know? Look what happened with Kronos. We don't know what would happen if you ended up with a five-thousand-year-old life. And besides, it's not the guilt. It's the deeds themselves. I don't want you to have to live with those memories. And... you wouldn't -- you couldn't love me if you knew what I really was."

MacLeod reached out and took Methos's hands gently. "I will love you forever. Methos, you have to promise me... you won't do anything like this if I am gone. I want to be with you in eternity. I don't want your Quickening and your life lost because of fear and misunderstanding. I want to be there with you, however it works with us. The greatest torture I could suffer would be to know that you are lost, that I could never be with you again. You must know that."

A moan was drawn out of Methos without his will. "You don't know... You can't know what it is you're asking for."

"Then tell me. Tell me all of it. One at a time. All the things that torture you. Until nothing is left that would bring you pain for me to know. Till you can die in peace, and so can I, knowing we'll be joined, someday."

Tears were dripping out of Methos's eyes. He couldn't... Yet it was true that the idea of dying and leaving Duncan MacLeod forever was almost too much to bear.

Duncan pulled Methos to his feet. "Come on. They're going to close in a few minutes." Methos blotted his eyes with his sleeve-ends as Duncan pulled him to the dance floor. They were playing a rhythm he had learned during the night and Duncan allowed him no time to find his voice to plead out of it, but whirled him into the dance. It was probably their signature closing song, he realized, as he remembered the words from another time, another place.

Duncan guided him away and into a turn with an upheld hand. Sorrow invaded him in a fresh assault, he couldn't keep back tears. The tragic scope of human hopes and dreams, history and faith, sometimes hit him too hard, if he let his guard down... It happened especially with music, and tonight, Duncan's insistence had pried open his feelings...

Duncan was watching him, as he tried to follow the dance and not let anyone see just how unmanned he was, by the song, the strange day, his own past and the question of his future, Duncan's... Duncan pulled him close, dancing him backward, letting him hide his face against him for a moment. But if anything the loving touch made it worse, harder to contain the overflowing emotion. Duncan bent his head and kissed Methos's cheek, then kissed it again, tenderly. Oh Duncan... Oh Duncan...

The Highlander seemed to understand the tears, letting them flow. But he lifted Methos's face finally so he could cover the sorrowful lips with his own, sharing his warmth and love. His embrace never faltered through the rest of the dance.

After the song had ended Methos still stood, hands on Duncan's shoulders, face hidden against his chest. Duncan lent him his handkerchief. Finally he leaned close again and murmurred under the noise of the crowd, "Never forget. You are mine. Whatever happens."

Methos looked up, tragedy still soft in his eyes. "And are you mine?"

Duncan smiled. "Oh, always. Always."

The lights came up brutally, telling them they were to leave. Duncan caught a glimpse of anguished doubt in Methos's eyes, before the old man went to get his coat.

He took Methos home with the idea that he would make love with him, not rape-like but tender, the way he always had with women. And he started in the shower, maneuvering him gently up against the wall, washing over his mouth with his tongue, sliding soapy hands all over him. He 'helped' Methos dry off, which took a lot longer than if Methos had done it himself. He then tried to help Methos brush his teeth, at which point Methos sent him in no uncertain terms out of the bathroom.

That was okay.

He lay in wait.

Methos emerged fresh-mouthed and unsuspecting in his pajamas and climbed into bed beside the innocent-seeming lump under the covers. Duncan then struck with the speed of some sea-bottom predator, pinning him to the bed. He dispensed briskly with the pajamas, and began nibbling from one nipple down the long torso to the groin, around and over the genitalia, and back up in a V to the other nipple. He licked along Methos's neck, and by the time he started down again to repeat his pilgrimage, Methos was gasping and the long hands were in his hair, pushing him on his way. He found a much harder cock to welcome him, and he lavished it with licks and kisses, took testicles in his mouth and rubbed them with his tongue, and finally engulfed the yearning shaft with hand and mouth until Methos was making sounds that could leave no doubt as to his needs. Duncan had wanted to try to suck him completely to orgasm at least once, but found himself overwhelmed by desire to take his lover, gratify his own hard throbbing in the hot softness of the squirming, sensual body. He moved up and over Methos's acquiescent form, prepared to have his way.

And Methos shrank at the majesty of him. The power of Duncan MacLeod's thighs between his own, the hips bearing down on him, the beauty shining down at him. It was a sun god who was to take him, and Methos knew there could be no resistance. He tried an instant to reason -- it was Duncan, a man, only a man -- but the oiled cock pressed against him, entered him with the white heat of the star itself, and the first stroke of Duncan's force put him beyond all rationality. The god had taken him, he was owned, penetrated, filled with the Presence, he became the god's, and as Duncan shook and thrust in him he was obliterated, his only awareness of his possession, and of the joy of his sex when Duncan took hold of his cock and commanded him, in the softest of whispers, to come. He was unable to do anything else. Duncan forced him again and again to orgasm, and Methos became dimly aware that the Highlander thought they were making love in a traditional equality. How could he explain the humiliation of how he saw Duncan when once those thighs had parted him, when once those hands had evoked, positioned, enjoined him... when once that mouth took possession of his own, and the tongue entered him, a serpent messenger... He simply became the helpless sacrifice, burning on Duncan's altar.

At last MacLeod allowed him to subside, slipping his palm behind Methos's head and kissing him deeply the whole time as he slowly withdrew. It was all Methos could do to keep from biting Duncan's tongue.

"God," he said at last, exhausted. "Duncan."

He felt himself drifting. The day had been so long, so fraught with leftover emotions, so full. Images of the tall curling green and white waves at the shore, the strong good smells, the sand, beach wrack, pearlescent interiors of the shells; cathedral silence of the forest, deep with fallen pine needles, the roughness of the bark, lying side by side with Duncan looking up through the distant dark boughs at fragments of the sky. Food, music, and dancing. Wine, Duncan, and song, he thought, smiling. All the images intermixed with the beauty that was Duncan, smiling at him, long dark hair blowing in the sea wind, or darker yet under the sacred umbra of the trees, sooty dark eyes smiling in the low light at Joe's, as he reached to pour Methos's wine; his voice, so sweet and comforting, his silence, loving and cherishing. It was so good when Duncan was with him. He didn't want to be without this, ever. "Duncan," he murmurred drowsily, "will you marry me?"

He heard himself, and woke up a bit. Then a bit more, and opened his eyes, to see Duncan's wide eyes staring back at him. Methos laughed sleepily. "Sorry. Force of habit." His eyes pulled closed again and he sank again under the blissful waves of exhaustion. He was aware of the bed giving as Duncan got out of it, some faint rustlings and thumpings, all that kept darkness from closing over him...

Someone took his hand. Duncan. That was all right then. He felt Duncan carefully separating out the third finger, and then he felt him sliding a ring onto it.

He woke up with a crash like a truck hitting him. He froze. A low light had been put on. Duncan was sitting on the bed by him. Still holding his hand. He looked down. The ring. A large oval cabochon of white opal. Set in old, old silver. He looked up numbly and Duncan looked deep into his eyes as he spoke, his voice gentle but strong. "I, Duncan, take thee, Methos, to have and to hold from this day forward. For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. To love and to cherish. Till death do us part." Duncan touched the side of the ring gently. "With this ring I thee wed. With my body I thee worship." He bent and pressed his warm lips on the backs of Methos's fingers. "And with all my worldly goods I thee endow."

Methos lay still stiff with shock. Duncan's beautiful dark eyes were still looking down at him somberly, lovingly. The Scot said softly, "It was foretold that I would never marry any woman. Now I know why. And what I thought a bitter fate was all along to be my greatest joy."

Methos struggled for breath, for words. At last he gasped out, "I can't take your ring." But his fingers were curled shut over it and did not open. The fist came up to his heart and pressed there tightly.

Duncan said solemnly, "Och, I think ye have."

"Duncan!" For a moment he could say nothing, but he had to, had to lay bare his deep fear, for Duncan's sake. He struggled with the first words, and then they tumbled out, rough, stiff, anguished. "What -- what if -- what if it isn't you -- who wants me? What if it's only Kronos? You didn't want me till you took his Quickening. Most likely you won't want me when it leaves you. Why should you? Oh god, why should you? I'm nothing. I'm so worthless. I betrayed you. I thought I had changed, but I still don't know the difference between love and greed. Oh Duncan. Kronos is the link. Without him, I don't think you'll feel any special tie to me. You... won't... l-love me." He bit back the quaver in his voice.

Duncan touched his face, his shoulder. He said gently, "I thought you told me Kronos never loved? Och, no, that was in the dream. But do ye think that Kronos ever loved ye as I love ye?"

"But that's not it," Methos said humbly. "It's me... wishing. The link taking my ...my wish for you..."

"Your wish is my command?" That smile again. MacLeod paused, and seemed to be marshalling his own thoughts. "Methos, as I look back from here, it seems to me that I have loved you since the day I saw your face. If you had been a woman, I would have recognized that feeling clear. You sent a fascination over me, I never was free of it from that moment on. You reappeared and I was glad, set as I was each time against your hard advice. Until you learned to manipulate me by telling me the opposite of what you thought I'd better do." He smiled. "'Do nothing.' Wily man. But whatever you said, whatever you did, I wanted you to be there, wanted you to be one of mine.

"What I felt when you left me for Kronos, I have never felt about a man before. No, nor any woman, for I never loved a woman devious as you.

"Believe me, Methos, my heart broke for you before I ever took that Horseman's head."

Methos said in a small, faint voice, that he hardly recognized as his, "I want to believe you."

Duncan answered, "Then why can you not?"

Methos was silent at the overwhelmingness of the reasons. His hand had closed so tight around Duncan's ring the joints and muscles hurt. He tried to make his grip relax.

It wouldn't.

He heard himself asking helplessly, "Why do you love me?" And heard Cassandra saying, "Ask him..."

The Highlander looked long at him, and Methos thought he would fall into that dark gaze.

"I dinna ken." Duncan smiled. "I canno' know. When you look at me with those big innocent sidhe eyes, how can I help it? Or when you look at me with narrow little calculating pissed-off eyes, right before you shoot me in the back. How could I resist you?" His sweet teasing made Methos's heart beat slow and painful. I can't give you up I can't-- "Methos, you touch my heart. You challenge my mind. You deepen my existence, you make my world and the foundations of everything so much richer. You bring me so much happiness... and just when I think I'm here to watch your ancient head, you turn around and save my soul. You..." He looked a bit shy, a look that almost sundered Methos's frail control. "You make me feel... protected... taken care of..." And MacLeod blushed. And Methos lost his hopeless fight, and his heart wed MacLeod and submitted to him in secrecy, forever.

His hand unclenched. He reached out tentatively, and put it in Duncan's.

Suddenly he felt an incredible strength, as of five thousand years of power summoned, to meet this Highland lover's, and be in service to it, till his death. And as suddenly, it all made sense. Why he had survived, learned to survive, perpetrated evil, suffered to the end of his endurance -- and endured; kept his head when all about him, he thought grimly, were losing theirs. Sought out, and sought to understand, virtue, for another fifteen hundred years, and still survived, though ending with the belief he was forever damned; why he still had learned, and learned, until he now could go almost anywhere, in almost any guise, and still -- survive.

"I am yours, MacLeod." The warm hand had closed gently on his. "I don't have a ring here. But I have one. For you. We can complete the... ceremony, when we go to my place. If that's all right."

"Yes," Duncan said simply. But then, impulsively added, "Let's go now."


"You're going to go right back to sleep?"

The strangeness of setting out at that hour, the cold, gave Methos a feeling of subdued adventure, an excitement suited to their intentions. It also woke his thoughts. He and Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod?

They had not had so much chance to get to know each other. And yet he felt he knew Duncan to the center of his Highland soul. And that MacLeod would learn him, was learning at a rate that he was not sure wasn't a little alarming. He felt as if he were being backed up into a corner by the Highlander's interested eyes, some kind of spiritual clothing taken from him, soon he would be naked in all the embarrassment of his feelings.

But nakedness under Duncan's eyes... it might... might not be so frightening. The unknown awaited him...

His apartment had the eery, static unfamiliartity of a home one has been away from. He turned on the heat, and then MacLeod followed him to a cabinet where Methos opened a concealed drawer -- seeing Mac smile at such romanticism -- and took out a small black velvet bag. He opened the drawstring and carefully shook the ring into his hand.

Burnished electrum, it shone softly as Methos picked it up.

It had no stone, but a design. A flat golden inset A, superimposed over a V of verdigrised copper, the two superimposed again on a smooth O of silver. Amor vincit omnia. He saw Mac blinking rapidly, yet smiling, as he understood the symbol.

Methos hesitated a moment, deciding the letters should slide on so that MacLeod could read them right side up, even if they then seemed upside-down to the rest of the world. He looked up into Duncan's beautiful dark eyes, which were shining with hope and quiet happiness.

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather have a big church wedding?"

Duncan said firmly, "Someday when you least expect it I'm going to make you rue those words, old man. Marry me and be quick about it."

Methos said again, in a completely different tone, "Are you sure...?"

Duncan answered, "I'm sure."

"But... the Game? The Prize?"

So gently that it was like wings brushing against him, Duncan took Methos's face in his hands. He only said, "You are my Prize."

Methos's final defenses began toppling, the slightest trembling coursed through his entire body, and without his willing it his lips uttered a whispered confession from the core of his being: "I want you."

Duncan opened his hands, and with only the slightest whimsical smile in his eyes, said frankly and practically, "Then have me."

And Duncan having invited him into the Paradise of which he was the master, Methos could only enter, and felt the outside world close off behind him, as if by gates with a lock called Happiness, and a key called Love.

He lifted the ring, and took Duncan's hand. His own hands still shivering, he brought the ring to the tip of the third finger, and slowly, shakily began to put it on. It seemed to take a very long time, and he kept expecting the ring to be too small, but it slid on, to the end, and it fit perfectly.

Now he should say something. For all the marriages he had made, all the words he had learned, his mind was blank. He could repeat back Duncan's beautiful poetry. But it felt as if it should come from his age, his foundation, symbolic of what he was, what he intended...Suddenly the words were there, old as he could wish, promises no one had uttered, probably, in forty-eight hundred years. The words spilled onto his tongue before he could think of their rightness or wrongness, making a vow he had never understood before, a meaning new, brilliant in the light, after darkness of centuries on centuries.

"I give myself to you, to love and to serve you on earth and in heaven. All that your heart desires I will give you, no wish of yours shall go ungranted. I will be your lamp in dark places, and your path strewn with lilies and incense. Let my body be sweet wine, let my spirit be a cup of gold for your refreshment. All that I am is yours."

He stopped and looked up into Duncan's eyes. "I will be true to you, Duncan. Don't fear."

Duncan smiled at him. "I never have."

Both of them moved forward into the softest of kisses.

After a while Duncan said, "I've never heard that vow before. It made me think of times when kings were buried with seventy or eighty of their closest advisers and servants and wives to keep them company."

"Best way to ensure a long life to the king."

"I never thought of that."

"None of those kings were idiots. Well," he modified, "no more than today."

"The vow?"

Methos had a very quick struggle with the concept of "being true". He was silent for a moment. "It's... It was... what this little cult of temple prostitutes used to say to their clients. But they didn't think of themselves as prostitutes -- more like nuns. The client was supposed to be the embodiment of a male god, and the prostitutes were servants of the divine female, Inanna, who ruled heaven... It wasn't any great official poetry about kings and war, just something a nun made up, I expect."

The Highlander looked at him curiously. "You were a client?"

"I worked there. Three or four of us, among the women... Because we were male, we weren't allowed in the actual temple, but all the temple precincts were holy ground... It seemed like an ideal gig, doing what I knew in a place safe from Immortals." He knew MacLeod was still wondering. "It was the first thing I ever did that had any religious significance, but to me it was just a job. I never thought of the words having any real meaning... And then, tonight... they just came back to me."

He looked down, suddenly very, very insecure. What if MacLeod was offended, what if --

MacLeod's arms settled closer around him. "They're beautiful. Though I have to feel a bit inadequate as an embodiment of a male god."

Methos moved his arms up around MacLeod's neck. "You are my male god."

MacLeod made a smiling sound as he nuzzled into Methos's neck. Methos knew Duncan had not taken his words seriously. Let it go. Someday it would come to the Highlander how literal his lover was. There would be a battle, then. Tonight he was tired, and he was married. He felt as if the past few weeks had dredged him through his entire life all over again, and now he was entering a part of it that had never been before. Immortal union.

Kronos... that dark range in the landscape of his past had absolutely no resemblance to the sweetness he felt through his whole body with MacLeod. Spring meadows, blossoming bowers, cedar and mown hay, clean rain, wind... Everything fresh and sweet he had ever known was in Duncan MacLeod and now by these vows it was all to be his to keep. Euphoria swept him.

And there had never been a marriage for him before where sexual repletion was even a possibility. A lot of first nights, that was all.

He looked into MacLeod's eyes, and knew they were both thinking the same thing. The fleetingness, ephemerality of life, happiness... a sword-stroke, and all was over. Suddenly he saw MacLeod's eyes very anxious, troubled. "Am I leading you to your death, Methos? I'm taking you out of your safety... your hiding-place."

Methos smiled. "The best survivor. Remember? 'I can take care of myself' is the understatement of this or any other millennium." And you, he thought. I will take care of you, Highlander, keep you safe in every way I've ever learned, and protect you until the end, so that you will be the One, and my life will have meaning, in bringing you where you were meant to be.

"Should we go on a honeymoon?" MacLeod asked.

"Probably. Newlyweds are so insufferable. They should always be encouraged to leave town."

"And -- who should we tell? And -- will you move into the loft? Do we need somewhere bigger?" He looked around at Methos's amazing furniture, and back into the eyes of his lover, the color of weathered bronze in the low light.

Methos rested his long hands on MacLeod's shoulders. "Not to mention do we call each other 'husband', or change our names." Methos was suddenly so tired his eyelids slid half-closed without his will. "Let's sleep on it."

MacLeod's hands went gently to Methos's waist, sending an erotic shiver through the age-old flesh. He kissed Methos kindly on the forehead. "You do look like you're about to drop." He looked down at his left hand, and drew Methos's down beside it. They both looked at the two rings gleaming softly, side by side. When MacLeod looked up again his eyes were so brimming with happiness that Methos felt it overflowing in his own soul, and his smile was an answer and a confirmation.

The good-night kiss they shared felt as if it would go on forever.

Amor vincit omnia: Love conquers all.

Lyrics to "Save the Last Dance for Me" by Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus used without permission, no infringement of copyright intended.

Hades noctula: family Riodinidae, subfamily Euselasiinae; range Mexico to Colombia andVenezuela; recto black, verso showing some paler striping with red blotch at the base of the forewing.

End of "And Hades Followed Him"

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