Disclaimer: Methos, Mac and Joe don't belong to me. I don't mean any harm by this nor do I make any profit. But I can always dream can't I ;-)
Notes: Set post-FUOT, and at most a week pre-TMP. POV swaps around a bit in the last part but I'm hoping it still makes sense. Title adapted from GK Chesterton's 'The Ballad of the White Horse'.
Rated: PG-13 for implied m/m relationship
Parry, thrust, twist and the wickedly sharp blade sliced past cutting nothing but air. Duncan grinned as they separated and began slowly circling again. Methos' eyes were narrow as he measured up his opponent, trying to read the Highlander's next move. Duncan enjoyed this; a test of equals without the danger normally inherent in facing one of their own. Of all the things they had lost when Kronos and Cassandra had come to town, their spars were one of the things Duncan had missed most, oddly enough.
Exercises alone were good, but nothing could really substitute for a living opponent. Richie sparred with him when he was around and he was good, better than one would normally expect for an Immortal of his age, but for all his talent, Richie still had a lot to learn. He also had an unconscious tendency to defer to his mentor that made their spars terribly uneven, educational for Richie but usually little better than exercises for Duncan.
Methos though, that was another matter entirely. The old man was a skilled swordsman, not above fighting dirty, and he most certainly did not defer to the Highlander, he never had, not in their often heated discussions, not in their spars and not in bed. While Mac had dumped the Ancient on his ass any number of times, Methos always returned the favour sooner or later. It was nice to match himself against an equal, one who knew as many underhanded moves as there were legitimate ones, although as Methos was fond of pointing out, fair had never been a specification of the Game. It was better yet to be able to match himself against an equal without having to fear for his head.
The Highlander felt his grin turn fierce as he managed to get past the Eldest Immortal's guard, growling in frustration when he realised that only the loose t-shirt had felt his blade. The old man's smile mocked, daring him to do better and Duncan advanced again, pushing Methos back onto the defensive. Oh he had missed this, the simple camaraderie that could be found when your companion knew the score, about Immortality, about the Game, about all of it.
Quite aside from the simple enjoyment, Duncan was positive that the spars with his wily friend had improved his swordsmanship; it had certainly taught him a number of sneaky moves he hadn't known before. Duncan was abruptly forced onto the defensive as Methos moved swiftly forward, blade spinning, only to retreat just as quickly when Mac pressed back. Funny that, Duncan thought, if it hadn't been for their friendship, the trust that had allowed them to do this, he probably would have lost to Kronos, if not to Caspian before him. Yet Kronos had still had his revenge, shattering that precious trust between them. It had been months since that event, and a few things had helped matters along, Duncan's own past for one, but they were slowly rebuilding their friendship. They were still not as close as they had once been, getting together was now by arrangement rather than the casual dropping in they, or rather Methos, had once indulged in and sharing a bed was out of the question. But the Highlander felt sure that they would resolve things between them, soon if the resumption of their spars was any indicator. It was something to look forward to.
Methos' blade came perilously close on one swipe, a move Duncan had used on the old Immortal once thereby winning the match. It was nice to know the practice had benefited Methos' abilities too, enabling him to keep up with his partner, it would have been a real shame if Duncan had advanced beyond the equality of their matches. The thought brought him up short as it suddenly rearranged itself in his head. The momentary distraction cost him a slash to his thigh, first blood, and he lashed out quickly in response driving Methos back out of range. The Highlander circled warily, studying Methos' movements, buying time for his leg to heal itself and his churning thoughts to clear.
Picture perfect Immortal memory informed him with worrying precision that, with the exception of that first spar when Methos had deliberately thrown the game to make a point, the Eldest Immortal had matched him at every turn. Sometimes he won, sometimes he lost, never too much of either and never without making the Highlander work for it. They were evenly matched - too evenly. That wasn't natural.
Duncan sidestepped a blow, his return strike just catching Methos' left shoulder, drawing blood which quickly soaked into the torn white cotton. His own sweats were glued to his leg with the blood from his now-healed wound. Stroke for stroke, blood for blood. Too even. Duncan's eyes narrowed and he went on the offensive, but Methos just danced back out of reach. Just how good did a person have to be to maintain that precarious balance between too good and not good enough?
The adrenaline of the spar fired a sudden surprisingly deep anger in Duncan at the realisation. After the Horsemen he had thought everything was out in the open, but Methos was *still* lying to him. Duncan moved swiftly forward, blade blurring as he drove Methos back, with a sudden determination to force the Ancient into revealing the truth. Methos struck, scoring a shallow gash to Duncan's forearm, but rather than fall back Duncan pressed forward again. There was a flicker of surprise in narrowed eyes, gone so quickly it could just have been a trick of the light. And the spar stepped up a notch or three.
Mac tossed his head impatiently, flicking his sweat-soaked hair out of his eyes, the clasp had long since been lost; he was tiring now, his sweats sticking to his skin uncomfortably. Methos appeared little better; his t-shirt was a lost cause, dyed red in more than a few places and hanging grimly to the slender form by a combination of blood, sweat and a few tough threads. But still the swords were steady as the two Immortals whirled and struck in a sudden explosion of movement and controlled violence, damage done on both sides.
Duncan tried to ignore the pain and the warmth of his blood as it poured slickly down his side, soaking his already-ruined clothes. The deep slice into Methos' sword arm gave him some measure of satisfaction and hope that this bout would soon be over, but it was short-lived. Methos' eyes glittered gold momentarily in the light and he switched the Ivanhoe to his left hand, fending off Duncan's desperate blow and striking back with as much ease as when he had been fighting right-handed.
Fuck! How many secrets did the man have!?! Duncan winced as he moved out of Methos' reach, the wound in his side was slow in healing after the battering his body had already taken. If this didn't end soon he was going to pass out from blood loss and by the time he woke Methos would be as closed off as ever. Duncan growled in fury and went on all out attack. The surprise in Methos' eyes was no trick of the light this time and he fell back from the Highlander's anger.
For once, luck was on Duncan's side as Methos stumbled over the corner of the mat, his guard dropping slightly as he struggled to regain his balance. Duncan lashed out viciously; the tempered steel of the katana sliced through cotton and flesh with equal ease, opening a deep gash across the Ancient Immortal's chest, not too many inches below his collarbone.
Abruptly it was Duncan's turn to be surprised as, rather than go on the defensive as he had always done before, Methos moved to attack, his face oddly expressionless. Duncan hastily parried a vicious cut and fell back, scrambling to block the old Immortal's blade. The Highlander retreated, realising he had no hope of going on the offensive himself right now, it was all he could do to block the spinning blade and in his exhaustion even that was proving not enough.
A nick to his shoulder; a near-miss by his hip that parted fabric but not flesh; a blow to his face with the hilt, failing to connect but still pushing him back further; a shallow slice slit his thigh again; and the point of the sword gouged his left bicep. Concentrating on his desperate defence the sudden white-hot agony in his gut came as a complete surprise. Duncan looked down slowly, unable to believe what his body was telling him, and he watched in shock as a bloody foot of steel slid from his body.
The katana dropped from nerveless fingers with a noisy clatter in the sudden silence of the room, and the Highlander felt his legs give way beneath him, dropping him to his knees. Sheer disbelief was almost enough to blot the pain from his mind. As he saw the bloody Ivanhoe raise for the beheading stroke, Duncan found himself staring at his friend, completely devoid of thought. Methos' face was a mask of cold fury and as darkness began to crowd Duncan's vision, it occurred to him that it was going to be the last thing he ever saw. Somehow that thought failed to bother him as much as he was sure it should have.
Then the icy expression suddenly dropped away revealing a kind of sick horror and a bone deep hurt. Duncan's last awareness was the clatter of the bloody Ivanhoe as it struck the wooden floor. He never saw Methos leave.
The afternoon sun had completed its descent by the time Duncan revived and his first thought, absurdly, was that he was thankful they had been the last to use the room. He struggled to sit up and winced with the phantom aches of the recently-resurrected. The wan light filtering down through the high windows illuminated the two bloody blades where they lay abandoned and Duncan dropped his head into his hands. He was cold, he was alone, he was a complete mess and the floor wasn't much better. What the hell had he done?
Carefully Duncan reached out, wrapping a slightly unsteady hand around the hilt of the Ivanhoe, hefting the sword up and studying the dull steel as if it could tell him of its master. Duncan couldn't remember ever feeling so ashamed in his life; the once-bright metal now stained with his own blood seemed to accuse him, but it could berate him no better than he did himself. They had been trying so hard to rebuild their friendship, taking so much care not to cross any unspoken boundaries, and he had just ruined all of that. He had abused Methos' trust in the worst possible way and he *knew* the Ancient did not bestow that trust easily. And now he was gone, without even his sword. Duncan gently lowered the blade back to the floor and bowed his head in shame and regret.
"Phone, Joe!" Mike called and Joe began to make his way over. The bar was crowded tonight and it took him a minute to get there and take the receiver from his friend.
"Joe," he announced.
"Joe, it's Mac."
"Hey, Mac, what's up?" Something in the man's tone of voice didn't sound quite right to the experienced bartender.
"Is Adam there?"
Adam? "Just a second, I haven't seen him come in, but I'll check." Joe turned back to the bar and scanned the crowd with a practised eye. Sure enough, seated in his favourite dark corner the World's Oldest Immortal was nursing something rather stronger than his usual beer. "Yeah, he's here, Mac. You want me to get him for you?" Joe asked, studying the Ancient, the man didn't usually come in without at least saying hello. Methos looked up then, aware of Joe's regard.
"If you could, please."
There was definitely something not right about Mac's tone of voice this evening, that had sounded too polite and almost... hesitant. But the Watcher waved the old Immortal over anyway.
Joe studied Methos as he made his way through the crowd; the Ancient seemed unusually withdrawn, hunched in on himself as if expecting a blow. Methos was terribly expressive normally - his face, his tone of voice, his body language - a real gift to a good Watcher, or would be if he didn't lie as well with those as he did with his tongue.
"Here he is," Joe said and handed the phone over. Methos took it with some reluctance and a questioning look. "It's just Mac," Joe told him, probably unnecessarily. An odd expression flitted across the hazel eyes, too quickly for Joe to identify, and Methos carefully placed the receiver back in the cradle.
Joe met Methos' eyes, surprised and not, it certainly explained Mac's tone of voice and Methos' appearance, or it would if he could get the story out of one of them. Mike called for a hand serving and Joe was distracted momentarily, turning back in time to see Methos heading back to his table. Well, the man looked like he was here to stay, hopefully the old Immortal wouldn't decide to leave before the bar quietened down a bit and Joe could talk to him.
It was closing time before Joe got the chance to escape from behind the bar, fortunately Methos hadn't moved from the table where he sat still nursing the same bottle of scotch. Joe took the seat opposite his friend without waiting for the Immortal to acknowledge his presence. Only when he had poured himself a drink from the old man's bottle did the hazel eyes flicker up in a brief, non-committal greeting.
"Want to tell me what that was all about?" Joe asked. The direct approach rarely worked with the Ancient, but then that was true of every other approach when Methos wanted to keep his secrets. Still, it wouldn't be the first time if the old Immortal did decide to confide in Joe. The mortal bartender wasn't quite sure what he had done to deserve that dubious honour, but he wasn't fool enough to complain.
"Not especially," Methos' response was abrupt, then he took a slow drink from his half-empty glass. Joe watched him carefully, deciding that the old Immortal would talk eventually, if he hadn't wanted to he would have deflected the conversation or simply left. Joe waited patiently as Methos watched Mike close up behind the bar.
When Mike disappeared from view to take the empties out back, Methos' gaze returned to the Watcher. Joe tried his best to project patience and understanding, hoping that was what the Ancient needed to see. Another slow drink emptied the glass and Methos met Joe's eyes, reading all the questions there and deciding which to answer, he was sure.
"We were sparring - Mac wanted some definitive answers about what a 5,000 year man is capable of." Just that one statement, then silence as Methos poured himself another drink.
Joe watched him, turning the statement over in his head. He and Mac had debated that very topic a number of times over the last few years, never reaching any solid conclusions, except that, as with everything else, Methos kept something back. Sword skills were an integral part of any Immortal's ability to survive and as such it was definitely going to be one of the areas in which the Ancient would be more than a little reticent. Had Mac argued with the old man about it? But then Joe didn't think Methos would be so upset over a simple argument.
"What happened?" Joe asked, meeting the hazel eyes that drifted up from their study of the alcohol in his glass.
"He tried for my head, Joe."
Joe flinched in surprise at the quiet words. Mac wouldn't! He hadn't killed Methos during the Horsemen incident, even with Cassandra goading him and Methos' apparent betrayal, he wouldn't do it now. The Highlander might get impatient and irritated with the Ancient's propensity for keeping secrets but it wouldn't make him turn headhunter.
Joe sighed and closed his eyes as things fell into place. Mac had wanted his answers so he must have pushed Methos, hard, pretended to go for his head to see how hard Methos really could push back. It took no genius to realise why his best friend going for his head had upset the ultimate survivor; Adam Pierson had had few enough friends, mythical Immortals had even fewer.
Even though he now understood the reason for Methos' mood, his curiosity demanded one more detail. "And?" he prompted.
Methos' dark eyes held Joe's and for the first time Joe could truly believe he was seeing a 5,000 year old man. Another drink and then, "He got his answers."
Methos' voice was strangely flat and something in it made Joe shiver, forcibly reminding him that, for a thousand years, the innocuous-appearing young man before him had been known as Death. And it wasn't the sort of title a person came by accidentally. Joe recalled Mac's polite, uncertain tone on the phone, the verbal equivalent of dismantling a bomb. The two voices juxtaposed provided the last piece of the puzzle.
"You won." It was not a question, but the Watcher needed the confirmation. Joe had seen the Highlander fight any number of times, he knew how good the man was, how few Immortals really were a serious threat to him in a straight challenge. The idea that harmless Adam Pierson, who avoided challenges if at all possible, could beat him was hard to credit. But Adam was Methos, who had been Death... and if Methos said he'd won Joe would believe him.
Methos said nothing, but Joe thought he saw a faint tremor run through the long limbs. "Methos?" he prompted softly. Hazel eyes lifted to meet his own and Joe saw in them the shy, young Watcher researcher he'd met so many years ago. He steeled himself and held that forlorn gaze, hoping that the perceptive Immortal would see that Joe was, first and foremost, his friend. A long moment passed and Joe wished he could take a sip of his drink to ease the dryness of his throat, but he knew that if he did he would lose whatever chance he had of gaining the Ancient Immortal's confidence. It was a difficult thing at the best of times, after today...
"I nearly took his head, Joe," the voice was so low the Watcher had to strain to hear it even in the near silence of the empty bar. "I didn't mean to... I just... reacted, I didn't... couldn't..." Joe watched the rare sight of the Eldest Immortal struggling for words until Methos gave up and looked down at his drink. When he spoke again it was to the liquor in his glass rather than his friend and his voice held a faintly bitter edge, "Death isn't a good friend to have." Methos snorted, his voice turning bitter and amused at once, "Just ask Kronos... or Silas for that matter. For his sake it would have been better if Duncan had let this friendship die with the rest of the Horsemen."
Joe shook his head, dismissing the old Immortal's words. "You're not Death anymore, Methos," he tried to convince his friend.
"Am I not?" the self-hatred in Methos' tone was palpable.
"No," Joe was firm, "if you were Bordeaux would be a wasteland and the world would be reliving the nightmares of three thousand years ago."
Methos shook his head, though whether to deny the image Joe had conjured or to refute the statement the Watcher couldn't be sure. "Maybe," he shook his head again as if to dispel an unpleasant thought, "Doesn't matter anyway now, I've just proven everything Cassandra said about me was true, flung it all back in his face - we both know the proud Highland warrior is not going to accept that."
It was Joe's turn to shake his head in denial. "I think you're underestimating how much he cares for you - you had something, Methos - he's not going to give that up easily." Joe overrode Methos' attempt to interrupt him. "Bordeaux turned all his preconceptions about you on their head, it shook him badly. He's trying to reconcile the things he knows about you now with the fact that he still loves you." That earned him a sharp look from the Ancient, but Joe continued on regardless, "You know as well as I do that our lad is not the best thinker in the world when his feelings get involved; he says and does the stupidest, most insensitive things..." Joe trailed off, remembering some of his own encounters with the Highlander on a rant and Methos cut in.
"That's not the point, Joe!" Methos lowered his voice with an obvious effort and Joe wondered just how much the Ancient had had to drink this evening. When he spoke again it was with an intensity Joe had never heard before, "If I... If I can't trust myself, how the hell can I ask him to trust me?"
Joe smiled softly, there lay the problem in a nutshell and Methos did have a point, however... "Given that I spoke to Mac on the phone not that long ago, I assume you didn't take his head."
Methos gave him a sour look and Joe's smile grew without his willing it. "So why can't he trust you? I trust you, not with the bar of course, but with my life. When it came down to it, you *didn't* do it and he knows that." Joe's voice softened, "Mac needs you as much as you need him I think, he's not going to let something like this come between you. He may be a bit slow sometimes, but he does learn, Methos, and he has you to thank for a lot of that."
The Watcher expected the Ancient to deny that statement, regardless of the fact that they both knew it was true, but Methos just shook his head wordlessly before drinking down the last of his scotch. Joe waited for the Immortal to say something, make some further argument of his own, but instead the silence lengthened uncomfortably. The man's fears were valid, especially after all he and Mac had gone through with Cassandra and the Horsemen, but surely he could see that he meant more to the Highlander than just an ex-lover and sometime friend.
Joe looked at the old man, but Methos wouldn't meet his eyes, preferring instead to examine the tabletop and remaining stubbornly silent. Joe sighed, "Are you leaving town?" he asked quietly.
That got a reaction. Methos looked up, hazel eyes meeting Joe's before sliding away to study the empty bar. "No," Methos' voice was so quiet and sad that Joe was dragged back to his memory of the 5am phone call one cold November morning which had borne the news of Alexa Bond's passing. "Pathetic as it may be, Joe, I'll be here if he needs me - I just can't see that happening, not now, when he's seen firsthand what I am."
Joe sighed, the man was as stubborn as the Highlander, clearly the two deserved each other. "Go home, Methos. It's late, you're tired, go home." The Watcher stood and waited until Methos got to his feet as well. With a faint, sad smile and no words the World's Eldest Immortal left the bar.
As the door shut behind the swirl of great coat Joe shook his head in disgust and headed back to his office. It appeared Methos was still beating himself up over the Horsemen, or rather Duncan's reaction to their revelation. For all that things were on the mend between the two friends, their relationship was still a bit too fragile to handle Mac's bull-headed tactics. If the man wanted a greater level of honesty in their relationship, there were better ways of encouraging it than by forcing his friend to fight for his life. Joe sighed and picked up the phone, the Highlander had precipitated this little misunderstanding and Joe was going to make damned sure he fixed it.
The knock, like the sense of Presence, was persistent and not entirely unexpected. Methos tried pulling the quilt over his head in a childish attempt to block the sound, but it didn't work, nor did it make him feel any warmer. He felt cold inside; the alcohol he had consumed earlier had already burned itself out of his system and taken its illusory warmth with it - sometimes he really hated his Immortal metabolism. The knock sounded again.
Methos reluctantly threw back the covers and climbed from his bed; the air was cold, the night-time temperature had dropped with the arrival of the heavy rain that gusted against his windows. The Highlander's Presence seemed the only light, the only life, in the quiet apartment and it sang in a corner of his mind, promising the sort of warmth he remembered only too well. Methos shuddered involuntarily at the thought that he might have silenced that song for good.
The Ancient had known, as soon as he had seen the disbelief in those dark eyes, that Mac had never truly intended to take his head. For months now Methos had been terribly aware of how close the Horsemen had come to completely destroying the trust he had shared with the Highlander and now he'd gone and done it all by himself. They had been working to rebuild the friendship, but somewhere in the back of his mind Methos still found it hard to believe that Mac was coping with the revelation. The Highlander was an excellent swordsman and he had been pushing hard, far harder than usual, and Methos *knew* he hadn't imagined the anger in Mac's eyes, that last cut had come too close... His response had been as instinctive and as deadly as it had always been; long-dormant, but by no means atrophied, skills coming to the fore, overriding everything else with that fierce imperative to survive. Mac was good, and if he lived so long he would one day probably be the best, but he had a way to go yet. Privately, Methos often doubted that the noble Highlander would ever acquire the killer instinct it took to make that last step and a part of him was glad of that.
Methos crossed the apartment on silent feet, not bothering to collect his gun or even a knife. Through the blinds covering the glass door he could make out the Highlander's bulk silhouetted against the corridor lights; if Mac could see him at all it was probably only as an indistinct outline, given the relative darkness of the apartment. Methos put his hand on the lock, but didn't release it; he didn't want to open the door to see his friend's face with its hurt and its accusations.
"Mac," his voice was low, hushed by the darkness surrounding him. "Please, just go away; there's nothing to say."
Duncan paused, his hand raised to knock again when he heard the words, so quiet they seemed almost to have arrived in his head without the aid of his ears. Squinting hard through the glass he thought he could almost make out the figure standing on the other side, shoulders hunched and head bowed. Suddenly all the recriminations he had heaped on himself seemed insufficient, even the riot act Joe had read him, deserved as it had been, hadn't made him feel this bad. What he had done without thinking had been a base betrayal of a most precious trust - even during the Horsemen, with all hands turned against him, Methos had at least managed to avoid doing that.
Joe had told Duncan, in no uncertain terms, not to bother coming back until he'd made it up to the old man. The Watcher had provided a much needed perception first, however - that Methos was as scared as he was angry, not just of Duncan's reaction, but of himself as he had once been. It had left Duncan wondering how on earth he could make things better, the anger he could have dealt with, he deserved it, but the fear - when it was one he himself shared...
Methos felt the silence stretch, the Highlander a dark statue beyond the door, and he was almost ready to repeat his plea when the reply came. "Methos - I'm sorry. I don't know what else I can say. I wasn't thinking and I should have... I never meant to hurt you - I just... let my temper get the better of me. Please - let me in."
Methos sagged forward, resting his forehead against the cool wood of the doorpost. The words were nothing, Mac had often claimed to envy Methos' facility with language, but the truth was he didn't need it, everything the Highlander felt was plain in his voice. And Methos would have had to be both deaf and dead to miss the regret and the sincerity in that slightly hoarse voice.
Why did this have to be so hard? Methos was cold and tired and lonely and on the other side of what was in all honesty a rather flimsy door, sat the solution to at least two of those problems. And he wanted to let the Highlander in, truly he did, but he couldn't, not yet. Duncan was sorry for hurting his friend and once-upon-a-time lover, sorry for betraying his trust, but it wasn't enough. For both their sakes Mac had to understand why it had hurt Methos the way it did and why it was best that their friendship ended here.
He closed his eyes, swallowing with difficulty, the weight of the silence was oppressive. Duncan had made Cassandra spare his life; Joe and Duncan had both accepted his past on the basis that it *was* the past and he *had* changed. But he hadn't, not really, and it hurt to have to admit it, to hand them back their faith and trust because he didn't deserve it - he never had. But it had been nice to pretend for a while, to let himself believe that he could be someone they really could trust - he wanted to be.
"Methos?" Duncan's voice was hesitant, but there were undertones that spoke of determination. "Open the door, please."
Methos shook his head dumbly, close to tears and he didn't know why. He couldn't let the Highlander in, he'd end up letting himself believe the things Duncan would tell him and it would be just another lie because Duncan didn't know. Methos couldn't do that to himself again, couldn't do it to either of them. He swallowed again, forcing the tears down, as he found his own determination. Duncan didn't seem likely to leave any time soon, and Methos couldn't let their friendship continue in pretence. But he didn't want to lose the Highlander either, of that he was painfully aware. Which left one solution - tell him, give him the rest of the truth to satisfy his curiosity. If he was still interested in being friends after that...
Methos took a deep breath - the truth - it shouldn't be so hard, he had a way with words after all, in any language he cared to name, if he could just... make himself do it. After so long revealing secrets was hard, revealing ones as dark and deep as this was well-nigh impossible, especially since it offered the all too likely prospect of alienating the Highlander altogether. He couldn't do it alone.
Duncan listened to the silence from the apartment; he had no idea if Methos was still listening or if he had just decided to ignore the Highlander's attempted apology and gone back to bed. Only the steady song of the Ancient's Quickening reassured him that the old man hadn't just slipped out back. The voice that interrupted his vigil was low, enough to carry through the door and no further.
"You could have asked me." Duncan didn't need to question what about. "I would have told you - you never asked me." The admirable steadiness of the voice slipped a little at this last and Duncan felt his heart clench. The next words cracked it open. "Ask me," it was spoken so softly that Duncan wasn't sure at first that he hadn't just imagined it. "Ask me, Duncan," the quiet voice was stronger now, determined. Methos never used his first name, not unless he meant it. Duncan swallowed with difficulty and opened his mouth, pausing as he realised that, given the carte blanche he had always wanted, he had no idea where to begin.
"Methos, what... what do I need to know?"
Despite himself, Methos smiled softly, Joe had been right, the boy was learning and he didn't lack courage - maybe there was hope for them yet. Wrapping 5,000 years of willpower around himself as tightly as he did his arms around his body, the Ancient sought the words.
"For a thousand years, Duncan, I was Kronos' brother." Those first words were difficult and seemed barely more than a whisper, yet he was sure Duncan heard, he could *feel* the other man straining to listen. "I hunted, killed, ate, fought and slept with him." Methos took a deep breath, trying to find the words to explain that relationship to the Highlander was turning out to be far harder than actually speaking them.
"Difficult as it may be for you to understand, we did love each other," and that was only part of it, but the rest... Mac had no frame of reference, no way to understand and Methos was sure his words, any words, would not be enough. "After a thousand years we... *became* each other. I... I made him a man capable of engineering a virus that could wipe out every mortal on the face of this planet." Methos felt himself tense helplessly at the admission, but the silence on the other side of the door remained attentive and he slowly let out the breath he had been holding. "In return, he made me..." Methos hesitated, kicking himself away from the doorpost, restless and uncomfortable; he turned to lean back against it, his eyes drifting to the droplets of water on his window, glittering silver in the streetlights outside, and made himself continue. "He made me what I am... He made me a killer and he made me like it, made me want to be that, for him." Methos raised his eyes to the darkness above him and slowly slid down the wall until he sat on the floor, his legs stretched out in front of him. "You know how good he was, Mac, I've never seen a better fighter in all my life and I'm... a quick learner when I want to be. It was a harsh world, we sparred and we fought every day for a thousand years, after a while the skills, the reactions, became... automatic, instinctive. I... can't help it now, if the threat is serious enough it... kicks in and... I'll kill anyone to survive and I won't have a second thought until it's too late." There was a sort of broken half-laugh, "The legacy of Kronos' love, if you like. He was the only one I couldn't beat and he made sure no other lover could survive me."
Silence descended like a shroud and Duncan found himself fighting the urge to wrap his arms around himself to ward off the chill Methos' words had summoned. The wooden floor was verging on painfully uncomfortable, but Duncan couldn't have moved for the world. The insight Methos had offered him was unexpected and disturbing, but at the same time it was oddly reassuring and to his own surprise he found he understood at least some of it. He had wanted to know that, despite Methos' claims and projections, the Eldest was capable of handling himself in a fight. He'd got what he wanted - in spades. Maybe it was a twisted variation of that desire that had made Kronos push Methos into becoming the killer his brother was. But Duncan wasn't Kronos, he wouldn't demand that lethality of his lover, he didn't want it.
"Bottom line - Cassandra was right Duncan, I'm as much Death now as I was then," Methos' voice sounded oddly hollow.
"No, you're not," Duncan found himself saying, responding without thought to the despondency in his friend's tone. And Methos was still his friend, no matter what he believed of himself. "Methos," Duncan tried to put as much of that feeling into his words as he could, "open the door, please."
There was a long pause and then the click of the lock, abnormally loud in the 2am silence. The door swung inward, opening only halfway to reveal a dark apartment, odd items of furniture outlined in the blue and silver light coming through the windows. Methos sat with his back to the doorpost, his knees drawn up to his chest and his arms wrapped loosely around them. The light spilling in from the corridor did nothing to add colour to the pale features that turned to look at the Highlander.
Ignoring the ridiculousness of his appearance, Duncan rolled to his knees and crawled quickly through the portal as though it might close at any moment taking with it the Ancient Immortal. As soon as he was through the Highlander shut the door behind him; the sudden loss of light from the corridor rendered the darkened apartment as strange as another world. He could feel Methos' eyes on him as he moved around, still not rising from his hands and knees, to seat himself on the other side of the Ancient Immortal, copying his position.
Turning his head Duncan found himself mere inches away from eyes that glittered faintly gold in the dim light. "Can I ask another question?" he inquired carefully, not sure how the other Immortal would take it. He thought he saw something flicker in Methos' eyes, but he couldn't identify it; then the old Immortal nodded tiredly, "Yeah, if you want."
"Is that the reason why you weren't carrying your sword... during the Dark Quickening?" Duncan almost smiled at the surprise on Methos' expressive face; whatever the Ancient had been expecting him to ask, that hadn't been it.
Methos searched his eyes for a long moment as if unable to believe that was all the Highlander wanted to know. Eventually though he replied, his expression vaguely tinged with wonder. "Yeah. I had my gun and my knives to stop you if need be, but I hoped they wouldn't be necessary. I knew you were out of control, that it was possible you'd try for my head, I wanted to make sure that even if you did, you'd still have the chance of a cure afterwards."
Duncan nodded, finding himself grateful for the lengths to which Methos had gone to ensure his safety even at the risk of his own life. "Thank you... for that," he whispered, remembering the terrible lack of control during the Dark Quickening.
Methos smiled faintly in response, but it faded too quickly and though Duncan wanted it back, honesty had to come first. If Methos could bare such secrets then could he do any less? Duncan leaned closer to the Ancient, until their shoulders touched companionably, feeling Methos tense against him. "What you said - that the killing can become so much a part of you... it terrifies me," Duncan felt Methos go rigid as he turned his head quickly away, whatever the Ancient felt at the words, he didn't want Duncan to see it. "But... *you* don't," he continued determinedly and found a smile for his friend when Methos' head jerked back around. "It took me a while to figure it out, but I do know you're not the man you were back then. You avoid challenges and you don't kill if it can be avoided. You could have killed me and you didn't, though god knows you had reason enough to want to."
Duncan looked up at his friend's face, needing to know if his words meant anything to the Ancient. Methos' face was all shadows and light, his eyes unreadable; Duncan crossed his fingers and hoped for the best before he spoke again. "Death helped you to survive this long, gave us the chance to meet. Maybe he's still there somewhere, but you've leashed him as no-one else could." He desperately hoped Methos could see that he meant what he said because he'd hate to have finally managed to accept his friend's past too late to make any difference to the ruin of their friendship. "In fact," he said, playing his last card, "I'm glad he's there because it means you'll continue to survive despite my idiocies. If Kronos were here I'd thank him for it."
Duncan felt all the tension vanish from the slender body next to him as a weak chuckle sounded in the darkness. "Would that be before or after he handed you your head?" Methos asked and Duncan grinned, pleased that the Ancient seemed to have accepted his words.
"Before preferably," he replied with a smile and leaned a little closer, enjoying the proximity of his once-lover. "Besides," he added, not quite able to keep the pride from his voice, "I'd have the Mighty Methos to protect me."
Methos looked like he couldn't decide whether to be horrified or amused by that statement. "He'd wipe the floor with me for a warm-up, Mac," he protested.
Duncan smiled tolerantly in response, "Maybe - if you chose to fight with swords alone, but you don't do you? You use your mind and your heart too, I never understood how love could be a weapon until I met you." Abruptly all the tension was back in Methos' body and Duncan silently cursed himself; he shouldn't have said that, things were still too fragile between them and Methos might not take it as it had been meant. But Methos was looking at him strangely and before Duncan could decipher the odd expression the Ancient was leaning forward, his lips brushing over Duncan's in a ghost of a kiss.
The Highlander felt his heart lurch back into operation as Methos slowly pulled away. "Thank you, Duncan," the voice wrapped around him like the softest velvet and Duncan found himself reaching for the other man without thought. Something flickered in Ancient eyes and he found himself aborting the movement midway, 'no bull-headed stupidity, MacLeod,' Joe had admonished him; he'd just nearly ruined what was left of their friendship and now he wanted to jump into bed with the other man. Duncan wasn't entirely sure what Joe meant by bull-headed stupidity, but he had a feeling the Watcher would not approve of this turn of events. He raised his head to see Methos watching him curiously and reined in his wayward emotions.
"Sorry," he apologised. "Too much too soon isn't it?" Duncan murmured sheepishly.
Methos' smile was affectionate, "Yes." Then the slender Immortal rubbed his bare arms briskly and stood, looking down at the Highlander. Duncan tried not to pay too much attention to the fact that Methos wore only boxers and a thin t-shirt that disguised his body not at all. "I don't know about you, Highlander, but I'm cold," Methos said and held out a hand to help Duncan up.
Duncan took the elegant hand and scrambled to his feet, feeling the weight in his coat drag along the floor in the process. He released Methos' hand with some reluctance and reached into his coat, drawing out the Ivanhoe, cleaned and polished. Methos looked a little startled as Duncan offered the hilt to him. "I'm not afraid of you, Methos," Duncan said quietly and watched as the Ancient's hand wrapped around the hilt, taking the sword from him, letting the point drop to the floor again almost immediately.
With a smile Duncan turned toward the door to let himself out. "Duncan," Methos' voice stopped him and he turned back around to see the Ancient watching him, his expression vaguely hesitant. "It's late and it's raining... Would you like to stay?"
Having stopped himself earlier, Duncan now found himself extremely reluctant to accept the offer; Methos himself had agreed it was too much too soon - was this some cruel test to see if he had learned his lesson about pushing? "Just to sleep," Methos promised with a faint smile and Duncan nodded, finding that a smile of his own had crept onto his lips without his knowledge.
Ten minutes later saw the two Immortals beneath the quilt of Methos' queen-size bed. The warmth and comfort of sharing a bed with a loved one was welcome, but Duncan wondered if he should have refused the offer. He was finding it increasingly difficult to resist the urge to wrap himself around the other Immortal who lay with his back turned trustingly to the Highlander. Duncan was sure it wasn't a deliberate tease, but it didn't make it any easier to ignore.
A sudden shifting of the quilt startled him as Methos turned to face him, the warm expression on the pale face clearly visible in the silvered light that filtered through the raindrops. "Just to sleep, Duncan," the old Immortal whispered softly and snuggled closer to the Highlander, resting his head on Duncan's shoulder as he had done so often in the past. Duncan looked down at his friend, relishing the closeness of the slender form, and then carefully wrapped his arm about the broad shoulders, holding Methos to him. He was almost certain, as sleep finally claimed him, that he felt the Ancient's mouth curve into a smile - maybe there was hope for them yet.