The rain of your spirit has refreshed my soul.
Everything inside of me is clean and fresh -- all the haziness gone.
My heart is filled with joy -- A new morning has begun.
All the colors of my soul are bright and new.

Methos knew enough to be suspicious when Amanda showed up at his apartment and invited him to accompany her to MacLeod's for an informal get together. Amanda simply didn't do anything without some sort of ulterior motive. His suspicions grew when she pulled a large box out of her car and shoved it in his arms, asking him to carry it onto MacLeod's barge.

What in the world had gotten into Amanda? He and MacLeod had finally managed to get back on friendly terms following the resurrection of the Four Horsemen, but it had been a long and difficult road that still had a few potholes in it. Interference from someone like Amanda would certainly not assist in furthering the mending of the rift in their friendship. He and MacLeod had to work through this on their own and at their own pace. They still tended to get a little testy with each other on occasion but each had come to the conclusion, independent of the other, that their friendship was worth salvaging. They certainly didn't need any prodding from the likes of Amanda, and Methos wasn't about to admit to her or anyone else that his feelings for the Highlander ran much deeper than friendship. That was one of Methos' most carefully guarded secrets and he intended that it stay that way.

Standing in the doorway, coat still on, box in his arms, Methos wondered if it might not be wiser to make a discreet but hasty exit. Then Joe was there, standing at the bottom of the steps, waving him down with the enticement of an open bottle of beer.

Methos slid Amanda's box onto the kitchen bar and confiscated the beer from Joe. As if reading his thoughts, Joe said, "Take off your coat and stay a while, Methos." Leaning forward, he whispered conspiratorially, "Did Amanda dupe you into this too?" Methos frowned at Joe, his gaze clearly stating that Amanda would never get one over on him but the ironic twist to his mouth telling a different story.

That had been two hours ago. Dinner, Chinese takeout à la Amanda, had arrived and been consumed. MacLeod had indulged them all with refills of their favorite beverages, and now Amanda was eagerly leading MacLeod over to the box that Methos had lugged onto the barge for her.

The bottle of beer tipping toward Methos' mouth stopped in midair, forgotten, when he got a look at what MacLeod was pulling out of the box. A sculpture. An old one. More than old. Ancient. A priceless antiquity dating back to the days of Ancient Rome. Methos could have dated it exactly for them. He knew, from personal experience, that it had been sculpted during Nero's reign as emperor. In fact, his recognition grew from having been present at the time the sculptor had crafted it.

Methos shot Amanda a quick look, wondering where she had happened upon it, or more precisely, where she had stolen it from because he couldn't imagine her paying what a dealer would certainly be asking for it these days. The bottle of beer finally made it to his mouth and he took a drink without really tasting it. His gaze remained riveted on the sculpture that MacLeod was now eyeing appreciatively. The work of art stood approximately forty centimeters tall and was carved out of marble that had been polished to a virginal alabaster white. Its aged surface had lost most of its original luster but it still gleamed smoothly under the interior lights of the barge. The sculpture had obviously been well cared for over the years. Its original owner would have been pleased.

Twinkling eyes and a bright, jovial smile suddenly filled Methos' vision and he found himself recalling the first meeting with the sculptor.

ROME 64AD

Methos lowered himself into the communal bath. While the bathhouse was crowded, it wasn't yet crowded to the point of being confining and he was still able to find an area that allowed him plenty of personal space.

Lounging back, his long legs drifted outward, partially buoyed up by the water. The warm waters gently tugged at his cock and tickled his balls. It wasn't enough to be arousing but it did make a distant part of him long for the intimate touch of another human hand upon him. It had been far too long since he had allowed intimate contact of any sort. He had been unable to stand being in close proximity to others ever since . . . he gave himself a mental shake, refusing to revisit those particular memories. Nevertheless, an image of swords and horses and masks along with the scarred face of one man in particular rose unbidden to haunt him.

Trying to banish the disturbing images, Methos' eyes slit open to lazily glance around the bathhouse in an attempt to locate a distraction. He gave the appearance of being utterly relaxed, but even though the warm water was working wonders on his tired muscles, the rest of him refused to let its guard down. There had been too many years of shielding himself from others, of not trusting, of loneliness. His lounging form tensed at that last admission. Yes, he was lonely. It was what had brought him to a major civilized metropolis after sixty years of wandering alone, only making contact when the fates demanded it. Now, though, his decades of solitary travel had him craving contact with others.

His roving eye was caught and held by an olive-skinned, dark-haired man. The man's body was compact and muscular, but that wasn't what attracted Methos' attention. It was the way the man moved. He didn't so much move as flow. He might be built like one of Rome's many laborers but he moved fluidly with a sensitivity that tugged at a part of Methos that had been slumbering for far too long.

Methos maintained his half asleep, eyelids at half-mast appearance while covertly studying the other man. Wearing nothing but a loincloth, the man had stopped to talk to another. Seeing how his hands moved while he was obviously describing something, Methos sensed that this man was no laborer. An artist of some sort perhaps. Or an actor. His hands moved too gracefully to be the hands of a field or stone worker.

Methos hadn't realized his appraisal had grown so intent until the man, as if sensing the attention, half turned to look in his direction. Their gazes met and Methos felt a jolt in his groin. This was not idle curiosity about a stranger; it was sexual attraction. He had been away too long if he wasn't recognizing that particular impulse until it physically hit him. Methos, refusing to lower his gaze, continued to boldly appraise the other man.

The man's curious gaze acknowledged him before he was drawn back into conversation with his companion. Methos watched the man's stance shift to a pose designed to show off his body. The message was subtle but definite. This wasn't a man who found male attention unwelcome. It was also a risky proposition in these times.

Forcing his gaze away from the stranger, Methos sank lower into the bath, trying to lose himself in the warm, soothing embrace of the water. His head leaned back to rest against the edge of the bath and his eyes slid closed as he floated away on the haven of a cloud of emptiness.

A short time later a quiet splash of water nearby brought him back. Opening his eyes, he found that now familiar dark gaze in close proximity. The alluring stranger lowered himself into the bath next to Methos.

"I am Makarias."

The man's voice was low, mellifluous, and definitely not Roman. A Greek among Romans then, realized Methos. Interesting. Especially in these times. And no apologies for intruding upon Methos. A simple introduction only. Methos liked his straightforwardness. The man had the insight to know he would be welcomed and didn't waste time on unnecessary courtesies.

"Methos," he responded, his voice unexpectedly husky.

"I have not seen you here before," commented Makarias, his tone neither questioning nor demanding, only stating fact.

"I have not been in Rome long."

"Yes," smiled Makarias with a flash of white teeth, "you have the look of a traveler who has not enjoyed the luxury of the baths for far too long."

Methos' slight nod acknowledged that Makarias was right. "Do I detect a Greek accent?"

"Yes. A Roman senator viewed my architectural work in Greece and engaged me to come to Rome to assist in the rebuild. My work has been in growing demand so here I stay. Unfortunately, the Romans do not seem to hold the same fascination for my sculptures."

Makarias' voice was rueful but his face never lost its smile. Methos nodded. "You are an artisan then. I thought you had the look of one."

Makarias' brows worked their way up his forehead in feigned surprise. "And what look would that be?"

Methos considered Makarias for a moment. Was the man flirting with him or not? Still unsure, he decided to give an honest answer and see where it took them. "You move too gracefully for a laborer. Your hands sculpt the air when they move. You are--" Methos cut himself off abruptly. He had just said more in one breath than he had in one sitting in the past sixty years. This man -- this stranger, Methos reminded himself curtly, had an ease about him that had Methos unconsciously lowering his guard. Makarias could be very dangerous to him, or could be his saving grace. Methos wondered if he had the courage to find out which it might be.

Respecting Methos' sudden sojourn into silence, Makarias studied the compelling stranger. There was an elegance about him that was almost stately yet he didn't wear it pompously like many of the Romans did. Long-limbed, fair of skin despite his claims of being a traveler, which would mean long days under the sun, his body had the look of one who knew how to use it in combat and in other more enjoyable endeavors. But it was the eyes that puzzled Makarias the most. There was a depth in those eyes he didn't understand. He had only seen that kind of depth once before and that had been in the eyes of an elderly grandmother who lived well beyond others of her generation and had seen too much of the harsh cruelties that life could pile upon a soul. Yet Methos, while not young, was not an elder either. And the man had not smiled once, as if it were a behavior lost to him. Even worse, Methos didn't seem aware that he had lost that particular ability. An overpowering urge to give this man laughter washed over Makarias.

Speaking impulsively, and knowing if he was reading this man wrong he could possibly be placing himself in danger, Makarias said, "Come to dinner tonight. I will cook a Greek dish for you, and we shall enjoy some good wine."

Methos looked as surprised as Makarias felt when he accepted. It promised to be an interesting evening.

PARIS: PRESENT DAY

Methos stared at the sculpture, marveling that it had survived all this time. Somehow he knew, without giving it a closer examination, that it wasn't a reproduction. But it didn't seem possible it had survived all these years completely intact. His gaze took in the familiar lines of a nude man who looked to be in the beginning throes of an orgasm. Heat washed up his face. You'd think after nineteen centuries, he silently chastised himself, it wouldn't affect you that way any longer. The sculpted man knelt, buttocks resting on his heels, with his erect manhood held between the fingers of one hand in midstroke. His back was arched, head thrown back to reveal a long slender throat. The eyes were closed, face turned toward the heavens with a hand raised beseechingly upward, as if reaching for the unattainable. Methos swallowed another healthy swig of beer as he tried to distance himself from the sculpture and the memories it engendered, only to find himself sideswiped by the memory of another friend made during his time in Rome.

ROME 64AD

Even though he had been in Rome for nearly a week, Methos was still finding it a bit overwhelming. This particular day found him once again wandering the streets in search of a diversion while attempting to acclimate himself to Rome and its people.

The last few years had been difficult for him. The disbandment of the Horsemen had more to do with fate and changing times than anything else. Methos had grown restless with the Horsemen lifestyle long before they had gone their separate ways. The only thing that had kept him there so long had been Kronos' refusal to give up the power and the fear that the Horsemen generated. But the times had no longer been in the Horsemen's favor and Methos had found that his fervor for power had dimmed somewhat.

Bored and disquieted by his Brothers' continued gluttony of killing, Methos had covertly looked elsewhere for challenges and discovered there was much more out in this vast world he lived in than the destruction of others' lives. Much had changed in the last few centuries and he had grown eager to explore those changes. As his interests had expanded and his self-awareness had grown, an inner voice had been reawakened and its revelations had been, at times, unkind. He was forced to face some harsh truths about himself.

Methos had traveled the lands, observing humanity in all its infinite combinations of gentleness and harshness. Shying away from close contact with other people, he only approached them when needing to trade for goods. To most he appeared to be a somber, quiet man with a great many ghosts haunting his eyes. Methos was thankful that his stern demeanor tended to keep unwanted visitors away. He had survived this way for over sixty years and had been mostly content. Until a few weeks ago when that simple, if lonely, existence had come to an end.

Asleep in his bedroll under the stars, he had awakened on a harsh breath, knowing immediately it had been a nightmare that had disturbed his sleep but unable to remember the dream. Methos had lain there for the rest of the night staring up at the heavens and watching the stars. Most stayed in the sky, as immortal as he, but some fell, giving up their life in one flash of glory. As the sun slowly rose and the moon faded, Methos finally admitted to himself that he was lonely. Lonely for conversation. Lonely for companionship. Lonely for the feel of others full of life around him. What good was immortality if he were to spend it wandering the world alone? And so, come sunrise, he had packed up his meager belongings and headed for the nearest civilization and eventually to Rome.

Rome, Methos found, was no different than many of the villages he had visited. It only existed on a grander scale and had more defined barriers between the classes of people. His clothing clearly marked him as a foreigner but Methos determined he would correct that soon, should he decide to stay.

A strong voice in the near distance captured his attention. Following the voice, Methos found a small crowd gathered around a dignified statesman who appeared to be an orator of some skill and persuasion. Methos' instincts for survival kept him near the back of the crowd where quick escape would be possible.

It wasn't long, however, before he found himself being lulled into a state of tranquil ease by the speaker's voice and words. Shaking off the dangerous state of inattention, Methos straightened and stared hard at the speaker. The man was gifted, that much was obvious. Methos found himself both fascinated by the philosophies he preached as well as holding back a strong urge to question the man's beliefs and theories. Eyes narrowed and arms crossed, he gave his full attention to what the speaker was saying, only belatedly realizing that his intense perusal had caught the man's eye. Methos, in turn, was now being examined with interest. Still shy of direct confrontations, Methos quietly melted into the crowd. Once he was lost from the speaker's sight, he walked away, the speaker's intriguing words echoing in his mind.

A short time later found Methos in one of the marketplace stalls examining a dagger when a familiar voice from nearby startled him.

"That one has rough edges. You might find this one more to your liking."

Methos took the proffered dagger before looking up to meet the intriguing orator's gaze. Had the man followed him here? And if so, what did he want? Methos regarded him with suspicion.

Nodding at the dagger now in Methos' hand, the man continued to speak. "That one has smooth, clean lines and sharp edges. More to your liking, I suspect."

Careful not to cut himself on its sharp edges lest he reveal his immortal healing powers, Methos examined the plain but well-honed dagger.

"You are new to Rome?" the speaker asked when nothing was forthcoming from Methos.

"Arrived a few days ago," Methos replied quietly, his eyes still upon the dagger. His demeanor didn't encourage further conversation.

"I thought as much. I saw you at my public address and had the feeling you would debate some of what I said but were hesitant to speak up."

Now Methos did lift his head to meet the other's gaze and take his measure of this man. He saw no hidden agendas, no malice, just a simple curiosity about his fellow man that echoed Methos' own curiosity. Methos slid the dagger back toward the vendor and walked away from the weapons display. He was not surprised to find the man still at his side.

"You will not purchase a dagger today?"

"I did not come to Rome in search of daggers, sharp-edged or otherwise," replied Methos indifferently.

"No," agreed the speaker. "You come seeking truth and knowledge. And yourself."

Methos stopped and turned to stare at the stranger. His gaze asked what he himself refused to voice.

The man smiled invitingly. "I am called Seneca. And I believe I have been waiting for you."

And with those mysterious words a friendship was born. Once Methos had overcome his initial suspicions regarding this enigmatic man, they had dived into a mentor-student relationship. It was at times questionable as to who was mentoring whom. They debated philosophies. Found enlightenment in truths. Argued politics. Shared opinions on ethics and justice. In the midst of all this, Seneca slowly but surely peeled away the protective layers to find the core of the man known as Methos.

Between the deepening relationship with Makarias and the intellectual friendship with Seneca, Methos began to find joy in living again. He began to heal, his past transgressions never far from his mind but his acceptance of self growing daily.

PARIS: PRESENT DAY

Methos settled back into an insouciant pose on one end of the couch, falling once more into his perfected sprawl, as he contemplated the scene playing out before him. MacLeod had removed the box, giving all a clear view of the sculpture. Joe and Amanda crowded round for a closer look. Joe was looking slightly red-faced but his curiosity wasn't allowing him to back off. MacLeod looked rather staggered by the generous gift but there was a hint of resigned suspicion in his posture as well. Amanda's methods of acquisition were all too well known.

"Amanda--"

"Duncan, I wouldn't!"

Methos' eyes danced in amusement as he anticipated the argument between these two.

"Of course you would."

"But I didn't."

Amanda went up a notch in Methos' estimation when she produced a pout to rival MacLeod's. The girl definitely had talent. His estimation increased tenfold when she pulled out a roll of papers and waved them in MacLeod's face. Legal documents proving her ownership. Good girl. Even if they were forgeries. Methos took another drink of beer, giving Joe a small salute with the bottle when the Watcher exchanged smirks with him. Both of them were enjoying this little Amanda and Duncan show entirely too much.

MacLeod looked over the papers with an expert eye. Then his gaze fell back on the sculpture and the fascination in his eyes told Methos that MacLeod would take the papers at face value and accept the gift. MacLeod recognized a rare antiquity when he saw one. Still, mused Methos, it was a strange gift to give a man like Duncan MacLeod. What in the world would possess Amanda to give him an artwork of male eroticism? Methos' gaze slid to Amanda, who was looking like the cat who swallowed the canary. She grinned at Methos, giving him a wink before turning her attention back to MacLeod.

Methos stiffened. Did she know where the sculpture originated? But how could she? The only other person besides himself who did know had been dead for over nineteen hundred years.

ROME 64AD

"You cannot be serious!" Methos made sure to put a deeply affronted tone in his voice, although, truth be told, the idea that Makarias had just put forth did intrigue him. It wouldn't do to allow Makarias to see that right away though, but it was difficult when those big brown eyes were staring at him with such devotion.

"But you would be the perfect subject, Methos!" argued Makarias enthusiastically. "In truth, it would be only for us. Not for outsiders' eyes."

"Have you forgotten, Makarias? Romans tend to frown upon men posing for such--such--"

"Works of art?" supplied Makarias, the twinkle in his eyes letting Methos know he wasn't buying his censorious attitude.

"I was intending to say--" Methos was stopped from saying anything when Makarias moved closer, his body brushing up against Methos'. A hand trailed gently down Methos' cheekbone to rest with a light touch on his lips.

"You are beautiful, Methos," whispered Makarias. "I want to capture that. I want to show you how I see you. Please permit this?"

Methos' hand crept up to tenderly cup Makarias' face. Feigned resignation in his voice, he asked, "Where do you want me?"

Makarias' startled bark of laughter brought an unaccustomed smile to Methos' face. He hadn't shared smiles of genuine affection or humor much in the past thousand years, and Makarias seemed determined to correct that oversight. The last time Methos could recall laughing unchecked, it had been filled with the harsh cruelty of Death. He was no longer certain he deserved to feel a joy deep enough that it would bring honest laughter to him.

When he had banded together with his fellow Horsemen to wreak havoc and fear among those around them, his more civil side had been purposely left behind. All those years of untamed, savage behavior had left him wondering if any benevolence he might have once possessed had been burned out of him by the blood and death he shared with his Brothers. The uncertainties left him living in constant fear that Death would reappear and he would be lost once more.

Makarias deserved better than someone such as himself, but Methos simply could not break himself away from the Greek sculptor. Makarias' very presence in his life brought a desperately desired sunlight to the shadows that pervaded his soul. It was a craving he could not, and would not, deny himself.

Makarias cupped Methos' face between his strong hands, his touch gentle and full of affection. "You are a joy to me, Methos. I want you here, there, everywhere." An impish smile curved the full lips. "But for now I shall be satisfied with you over there."

Following the nod of his head, Methos gazed at the spot in question. It was a small alcove where the afternoon rays of sunlight angled across the floor from an unshuttered opening high in the wall. "How do you want me?" he whispered in a deeply seductive tone.

Makarias' hands went to the belt at Methos' waist and loosened it. As Methos pulled the knee-length tunic over his head, Makarias bent down to remove the sandals from his lover's feet. Once the sandals were off, Makarias took his time exploring the territory he would soon be sculpting. Moving from where he knelt at Methos' feet, Makarias slid his hands up the leanly muscled legs, his fingers caressing the curves and valleys while marveling at the granite veneer that held untapped gentleness captive. Makarias desired to show Methos he could free that gentler side without compromising the granite. Encountering the loincloth, he deftly removed it before straightening to his full height, which was a good three inches shorter than that of the other man.

Makarias lifted his head to meet the enigmatic gaze of his forbidden lover. He and Methos played a dangerous game. Should anyone discover that they were happily engaging in intimacy together, they would most assuredly be cast out of Rome. It was even possible, given the current ruler's erratic temperament, that their punishment would involve far worse than simple banishment.

Makarias, however, was helpless to ignore the call of Methos' soul. A soul in  need of being taught how to live again, to be reassured that it was safe to emerge from the darkness. Makarias did not know what dark past haunted Methos; he only knew that Methos carried the blood of many on his hands and could not find forgiveness in himself for those deaths. His past did not matter to Makarias. What mattered now was the man who stood before him and Makarias' heart told him this man was capable of great good. He would not allow Methos to deny the basic goodness that resided at the core of his being. Perhaps if Methos could see himself through Makarias' art, he would begin to see his own worth.

Hesitation inched over Makarias when he caught a flicker of Methos' lingering reticence. "Are you certain you wish to do this, Methos?"

Methos caressed Makarias' lower lip with his thumb before leaning in for a brief kiss. "For you, yes."

Methos pulled away from Makarias and made his way to the alcove, aware of Makarias admiring his backside during his journey across the room. Pausing in the alcove, Methos asked once again, "How do you want me?"

"On your knees," Makarias requested, his tone benevolent. His mouth quirked dangerously at Methos' raised brows but the other man said nothing, merely slipped effortlessly to his knees, sitting back to rest his bare buttocks on his heels. The sunlight glinted down atop his head, casting his skin into alabaster marble-like shadows.

Makarias moved behind his worktable. Pulling the damp cloth off the shapeless clump of clay, his fingers worked quickly, molding the basic shape of a man that would be eventually be crafted into Methos. He would then use the clay image as the model for a marble sculpture.

While he worked, Makarias kept one eye on Methos, who was amazingly unselfconscious about being under continual surveillance. This surprised Makarias as he had noticed Methos had a tendency to blend in with the crowd when in a group of people. It seemed, at times, almost a self-defense mechanism that Methos himself was not aware of engaging. Be that as it may, it gladdened Makarias' heart to realize that Methos no longer felt that level of self-consciousness around him.

Silence fell comfortably between the two men and the first hour quickly slipped into the next. Makarias watched the gradual decline of self-awareness as Methos lost himself within his inner thoughts. There was a sad cast to the man's face that Makarias wished he could mold into a contented, peaceful expression, if only to ease Methos' distress. Yet, it was these complex facets of unspoken emotions that drew Makarias to the other man. Even so, he refused to allow Methos to wallow in it.

"Enough for one day."

Methos started at the sound of Makarias' voice. He had been deep in his past again. That seemed to be happening with increasing frequency lately. A small shiver shook his body and, looking for the sun, Methos discovered that it was setting. More time had passed than he thought. Slowly climbing to his feet, Methos shook his limbs to work the stiffness out of them. He watched as Makarias draped a damp cloth over the molded clay. "You will not allow me see it?" he asked, already knowing the answer. It was the same answer Makarias gave him about all his works in progress.

"Not until it is finished, Methos." Makarias walked over to him. "Come, you have been sitting there for so long you must be sore. I will give you a rubdown."

Methos gladly followed him, anticipating the feel of those gentle but strong hands on his body.

PARIS: PRESENT DAY

Bottle of beer forgotten in his hand, Methos watched MacLeod's fingers gracefully move over the plains and angles of the sculpted image. A shiver of pleasure flickered through him as he imagined those fingers tracing over his body. A hand glided down his back to balance on the curve of his buttocks before moving upward again to gently touch a shoulder. Fingers trailed over his cheekbones, brows, nose, lips, then the flat of a palm slid over his chest before dipping lower toward his abdomen and lower yet--

Methos' lips parted, panting silently. His pupils dilated; his breathing grew ragged. A burning desire raged through him too quickly to be quenched. He had wanted Duncan almost from the first moment he saw him. He had loved him after he came to know him. But, above all else, he valued their friendship, and for that reason he determined the wiser course of action was to not let his attraction to Duncan be known. With difficulty, he focused on what MacLeod was saying to Joe and Amanda.

"How old do you think it is?" MacLeod asked. He ran a knowledgeable eye over the sculpture. "It's definitely Greek."

"Roman actually," replied Amanda, hiding a smug grin. She was no fool; Duncan and Methos were the fools. Every wily feminine instinct she possessed told her that Methos was harboring a sexual attraction to Duncan. He professed entirely too much indifference to Duncan for it to be genuine. And she knew Duncan was attracted to Methos. It was a little difficult to ignore those late night unconscious murmurings of "Methos" that fell from Duncan's lips in reverent whispers of longing.

"Roman?" Duncan's eyebrows shot upward in surprise. "Are you sure?"

"Well, you're half right," Amanda admitted. "They told me the sculptor was Greek but it was found among Roman ruins. It's been dated back eighteen to two thousand years."

"They?" Duncan was looking suspicious again.

Amanda smiled sweetly. She certainly wasn't about to admit how she came to be in possession of this particular piece of art. Duncan's gaze was drawn back to the sculpture, his suspicions seemingly cast aside in the wake of his fascination with it. Amanda breathed a sigh of relief that had Joe chuckling under his breath.

MacLeod stared intently at the piece. "It's definitely not something a Roman would have openly commissioned. Do you think it's a lovers sculpture?"

"Lovers sculpture?" Joe's voice was one big question mark.

MacLeod, his gaze still on the sculpture in question, elaborated. "Lovers sculpture. It's an antiquarian term. We run across pieces of erotic art once in a while from time periods where that particular art form wasn't popular. And if this piece is as old as Amanda says it is, well, the Romans weren't known to fancy artwork of this sort during that era. This is most likely from a private collection or one of the sculptor's personal pieces."

Joe dug through his spotty memory on Ancient Rome. "But you called it a lovers sculpture. Weren't sculptors from that era all male?"

MacLeod grinned at him. "Yes. Which makes it all the rarer. It's most likely a depiction of someone's forbidden male lover."

Methos missed Joe's comically incredulous expression. His memories drowned out their voices as he traveled back to Ancient Rome once more.

ROME 64AD

After several days of posing for Makarias, Methos was growing weary of it. All this inaction was causing his thoughts to wander to places he wasn't ready to go to yet -- if ever. Still, a part of him hated to disappoint the other man. The sculptor had brought a much needed mixture of granite and softness to his life; he could afford to indulge him. Right now, though, it was time for a diversion -- something that would pull Makarias' attention away from the clay figure and refocus him on a more animate subject.

Eyes drifting shut, Methos trailed fingers over one thigh before his hand moved to his inner thigh, fingers fluttering lightly over the sensitized skin there. When his cock twitched in response, Methos gently fondled himself, sending a jolt of sexual pleasure flooding through his body. No hesitation in his actions, he began stroking himself. He arched his back, knowing the position would provide better viewing for his distracted lover. Peeking from beneath lowered lashes, Methos expected to see Makarias eyeing him hungrily. To his consternation, that wasn't what he found.

Makarias was working quickly and adeptly on the sculpture, his eyes flickering back and forth between it and Methos. He worked with an excited fervor that had replaced the complacency of the past few days. Methos froze at the unexpected picture of his lover apparently so fixated on the sculpture that he was impervious to the ongoing seduction.

"No! Do not stop!" protested Makarias excitedly. "Please, Methos! This is what I wanted! Give yourself to me!"

Methos swallowed apprehensively when he realized what Makarias was asking. It was no simple matter for him to drop his guard -- physically or emotionally. Survival instincts honed over millennia fought against it. He opened his mouth to voice an adamant no but the sculptor's next words battered at the fortress he kept erected around himself.

Makarias paused in his frenzied molding of clay to stare beseechingly at Methos. "Please do not close yourself off again, Methos. Please. Let me see past the wall, just this once. I will not hurt you. I treasure you. Do you not know that?"

The crack in Methos' defenses widened and Makarias slipped through. Instead of being swallowed by his darkness, Makarias brought light to the shadows within Methos' soul, and Methos was helpless to defend against this unexpected intrusion. How do you fight against a light that deep in your soul you crave?

Methos wasn't certain what to call this bond that existed between himself and Makarias. It wasn't love. At least he didn't think so. But Makarias filled him with a warmth of life so generous that Methos wasn't sure he could deny the other man anything. He stared into the imploring eyes of his lover and felt himself slowly falling off the crumbling walls of his inner citadel to sprawl, defenseless, at Makarias' feet.

Makarias held Methos' gaze, feeling the import of the moment weigh heavily on the air. Something deeply personal was being decided at this moment that would affect both of them. Then everything dropped into place with the elegant bow of Methos' head in assent. When Methos presented his profile to Makarias once again, eyes closed, head slightly bent so that his face was in partial shadow, his hand once more stroking himself, Makarias knew the gods had delivered perfection to him.

Time stood still as the all too frequent harshness of the world dropped away from Methos. The sounds of Makarias working at his sculpture faded. The hardness of the floor was forgotten, and Methos found himself emerging from the wasteland of disappointments into a lush oasis of serenity.

The heat of the sun delicately caressed Methos' shoulders, and he raised his face, eyes still closed, to soak up its warmth. For a brief span of time all his sorrows, all his guilts, all the hardness of the last thousand years dropped away. He found a piece of who he had been before his years as Death. That essence of his true self, laying dormant deep within him, rose to meet the sunlight once again.

Makarias worked quickly and surely, knowing the moment was fleeting. His talented hands endeavored to immortalize the beauty of this man who had captured his heart. Methos' head flung back in uninhibited abandon. Tendons stood out in his neck as he arched his back. An arm shot upward, hand reaching toward the skies. His face turned heavenward, as if seeking absolution. Makarias' convulsive breathing matched Methos' as both their bodies spasmed with the power of the orgasmic releases shuddering through them.

Makarias glimpsed the perfection that life could be but all too often wasn't. The artist in him wanted to capture it. But the man in him released it and let it fly free.
 
 

Methos slowly descended from the great heights he had soared. His eyes, appearing nearly black with the afterglow of deep arousal, opened and he turned his head to gaze at Makarias, who stood with hands braced on his worktable. He was panting heavily. A cloth had been haphazardly tossed over the sculpture.

"By the gods, Methos!" Makarias finally blurted in agitation before breaking out in throaty laughter. He stepped from behind the table so that Methos could see the proof of his own excitement that had refused to be tamed.

A bright, spontaneous smile that enhanced his post-orgasmic glow lit Methos' face. He kicked his legs out in front of him and sat on the cold stone floor and laughed, loudly and unashamedly. It was the most beautiful sound Makarias had ever heard.

Joining Methos in the alcove, Makarias spooned up behind him, pulling Methos to him so that the other man's back rested against his chest. "You are beautiful," Makarias whispered in his ear. He placed a hand on Methos' bare chest over his heart, feeling its strong beat. "In here, Methos. This is where your beauty lies."

Methos stilled, his laughter subsiding. His hand found Makarias' and he held it to his chest. Heads bowed together, they remained like that until the sun set, neither moving nor speaking, simply sharing.

PARIS: PRESENT DAY

"What do you think, Methos? . . . Methos?"

Methos' startled gaze landed on three pairs of eyes across the room. One pair was puzzled, one concerned and one hinting at suppressed laughter. He settled on the laughing ones, glaring daggers at Amanda.

"Everything all right, Adam?" asked Joe.

Methos passed a hand over his eyes. Joe tended to call him Adam when he was concerned. It didn't seem to be a habit he was willing to break and truth be told, Methos didn't much mind it.

"Methos?" chimed in MacLeod, a brooding weariness beginning to creep into the Scot's tone, indicating he feared they were headed down a much too familiar path.

"We were just wondering what era you thought the sculpture might be from," interjected Amanda.

Throwing her a frosty glare, Methos snapped, "I'm sure I wouldn't know." He drained the last of the now warm beer from the bottle in one long swallow, stood, picked up his coat and headed for the door.

"Methos!"

Ignoring the Highlander's concerned cry, he plunged outside, unmindful of the pouring rain. He couldn't get the image of MacLeod's hands caressing the sculpture out of his head. It was as if Duncan had been caressing him, and he had the aching erection to prove it.

Stepping off the barge, Methos barreled forward full tilt until he reached the tunnel several meters from the quay. He stopped just short of it when he realized he had just bolted from MacLeod's barge like a frightened virgin and would no doubt have to explain himself the next time he saw the Highlander. Damnation!

Pulling his coat tighter around his body, he focused inward in an attempt gain control over the rush of images, both past and present, that were swarming in discordant chaos through his mind.

MacLeod. Makarias. Laughter. Seneca. Rome. MacLeod. Caspian. Silas. Kronos. Death. MacLeod. Makarias. Fire. Loneliness.

He raised his face to the rain, wishing it could wash everything away. A few raindrops, however, could not wash away five thousand years. The memories still came. Rome. Seneca. Makarias. It had all ended so abruptly. So tragically.

ROME 65AD

Methos' sleep was disturbed with an abruptness that told him something unusual had agitated his inner sentry enough to wake him. He tensed, his senses reaching out for an immortal presence. Not finding one, he had just started to relax his guard when the sound of the front door to Makarias' abode crashing open brought him to full alert once more. Methos rolled out of Makarias' sleeping embrace, grabbed his sword and surged to his feet all in one motion.

Makarias was just starting to stir from a sound sleep when the Roman soldiers stormed through the door to their sleeping quarters. Methos had no choice but to lower his sword and release it to the custody of the soldiers, one of whom now held a sword to Makarias' neck. The threat was clear:  surrender or Makarias dies. He surrendered.

One of the soldiers, his disdain of Methos and Makarias' intimacy clearly showing, threw their clothing at them. Sharing silent, concerned looks, the two men quickly dressed.

Methos' expression turned rigid with unwanted resignation when his arms were twisted and bound behind him. While he and Makarias had been extremely discreet with the intimate part of their relationship, it was now clear they had been discovered. Methos had known it would only be a matter of time before suspicions were raised about the nature of his and Makarias' friendship by some party with a grudge to bear, but he had believed he would have enough warning to get himself and Makarias out of Rome before arrest could occur by the local authorities. It would seem he had grievously erred.

As the soldiers herded them out the front door, Methos silently speculated on the outcome of their arrest. Two free-born men, who were also foreigners, consorting together like common prostitutes were not the sort of citizens the Imperial Court tended to look upon with favor. Most likely they would be banned from ever entering Rome again. Possibly, depending on the Court's temperament, a public flogging might go along with their being cast out of Rome.

Privately, Methos would be relieved to be leaving Rome. Nero had been showing signs of an instability that was unbecoming for a leader. Although Makarias was blind to it, always insisting on seeing the good in people, Methos was aware that unrest in the Roman ranks could soon make the life of a foreigner in Rome most uncomfortable. He had wanted to get Makarias out of Rome before it came to that.

Methos could only hope that their banishment would go quickly and painlessly. Much as he attempted to harden his heart against it, he couldn't suppress his concern over how all this would affect Makarias. Methos' strongest desire at the moment, other than wishing for his own freedom, was to get Makarias as far away from Rome as quickly as possible -- to keep him safe.

PARIS: PRESENT DAY

MacLeod stared at the door Methos had disappeared through. The oldest among them had been very quiet all evening, and whenever MacLeod had looked up he had found Methos observing him, looking as if there were something he wanted to say but wouldn't -- or couldn't. Methos' abrupt departure had caught MacLeod off guard. And the agitated tone in the man's voice when he had snapped at Amanda hadn't been at all characteristic of him. Methos was generally affectionately tolerant of Amanda. Something had definitely been weighing heavily on his mind this evening.

Frowning, MacLeod distractedly turned back to the sculpture Amanda had given him, the fingers of one hand absently stroking it. His thoughts, however, were still with Methos and his odd behavior.

"Well?"

Duncan refocused on Amanda, who stood, hands on hips, staring expectantly at him. "Well what?"

Her eyes rolled. "Aren't you going after him?"

"He's a grown man, Amanda," replied Duncan. "I think he can take care of himself. Besides, he's probably long gone by now."

Frown lines appeared between Amanda's delicate brows. Her expression clearly indicated she was less than impressed with him at the moment. Duncan watched, dumbfounded, as she headed for the door in much the same manner as Methos had.

"Amanda?"

She ignored him and sailed through the door without a backward glance. For the second time that night one of his friends had left abruptly and without so much as a good-bye. MacLeod looked at Joe as if half expecting him to suddenly disappear too.

Joe shrugged. "You got more of the good stuff?" he asked, holding up his glass.

"Yes, but--"

"Then I'll stay for a while." Joe redirected his gaze to the sculpture. "What are you going to do with it?"

"I'm not sure." MacLeod, deciding Methos and Amanda would have to wait, focused on Joe and the object of their discussion.

"It's . . ." Joe paused, searching for the right word.

"Erotic?" MacLeod grinned at the flush that rose up Joe's face but the Watcher continued on gamely.

"You think so?"

"Don't you?"

"It really doesn't run to my tastes, MacLeod."

"You mean you don't find men attractive . . . in that way?" MacLeod teased.

Joe cleared his throat. "Do you?"

MacLeod dipped his head to hide his smile. The Watcher was fishing. He and Joe played this game from time to time. He stared contemplatively once again at sculpture. "I don't know. Something about this one calls to me." MacLeod paused, only then realizing how true those words were. There was something compelling about the sculpture. His hand reached out once more to stroke fingers over muscles the artist had etched into the marble figure's arched back. His fingers lightly trailed down one thigh and back up the other, coming to rest near the figure's hand that possessively cupped an erection. He looked back up to find Joe's speculative gaze on him.

Smiling softly, MacLeod said, "Yes, Joe, I have had a male lover. More than one, in fact." Grabbing up Joe's glass, he retreated to the bar to pour them each another drink. "Just not this century." Not yet, he added silently, his mind flashing to Methos and finding himself wishing he could acknowledge his attraction to the other immortal to someone other than himself.

For the first time in a long while, he gave serious thought to actually pursuing Methos, instead of the occasional harmless flirting they had indulged in over the years. Some of those voiceless glances Methos had cast his way tonight that Duncan was supposed to pretend not to notice were suddenly making way too much sense -- if he considered them from the flirtation angle. He'd always been afraid to give serious pursuit, afraid he would discover Methos was merely playing with him. That he was yearning after something unattainable -- at least on an emotional level. But what if Methos wasn't unattainable?

Drinks refreshed, MacLeod handed Joe's to him. His attention returned to the sculpture and the conversation with Joe.

"I surprised you."

"Hell, MacLeod, nothing you do should surprise me by now but, yeah, you did."

"It's not a problem, is it?"

"No--" was all Joe got out before Amanda chose that moment to rush back inside. She grabbed Duncan by the arm and pulled him toward the door.

"Methos is still out there. He's just standing near the tunnel in the pouring rain. Duncan, he looks--" She stammered to a halt, her expression concerned. She hadn't meant to hurt Methos by trying to fan the flickering flames she had sensed between the two men. But the solitude surrounding Methos when she had caught sight of him outside had wrenched at her heart. She had hurt him. Unintentionally. Confiscating Duncan's drink, she downed it in one gulp and then proceeded to shove him out the door. "Go talk to him, Duncan, and tell him you're sorry."

Duncan resisted her shoving. "Me? Sorry? For what?!"

"Just go!"

"Amanda--"

"Go!"

Duncan surrendered to her prompting. Going topside, he stared in the direction of the tunnel, spotting Methos right away. He stood frozen in solemn silence, loneliness wrapped around him like a dark mantle. Instead of standing huddled against the rain, he held himself open to the elements. Coat open, eyes closed, face turned upward, he had the appearance of a statue being cleansed by a refreshing rain.

The Paris moonlight bathed Methos in light but shadows lurked around him. Shadows that had been keeping the two of them from talking for long enough, MacLeod decided. Being immortal didn't necessarily mean you had all the time in the world for these things to work themselves out. It was time to let Methos know, without reservation, that he wanted his friendship. Maybe, thought MacLeod optimistically, it was even time to let him know he wanted more than friendship.

ROME 65AD

Methos paced the confines of his cell. Dungeon, he corrected himself. Dank, dark, smelling of rot and piss. It definitely fell under the classification of dungeon. He had been here for two days now, if one didn't count his involuntary forays into the world of the Roman legal system.

Just the thought of those supposedly justified interrogations caused Methos' anger to boil dangerously close to the surface. His pacing grew more agitated. He could feel it coming. The Rage. Dark, ugly, overpowering -- a black rage he had beaten into submission after leaving his Brothers.

Now that rage was threatening to take over again. To demand its -- his -- rightful place. To roar about the impropriety of him being held against his will. They should be bowing down to him, begging for their lives.

The whoosh of an imagined sword taking revenge upon those who would dare to not show proper homage to him had Methos stumbling back, literally. How easy it was to fall back into the old ways. Breathing heavily, he crouched down, attempting to regain control -- a control he had struggled for since leaving his Brothers. The years of isolation had helped. And then he had come to Rome -- and Makarias -- and everything life had to offer had seemed so much brighter.

Makarias. The name was a balm to his battered soul. Methos savagely shoved the rage back, pushing it down deep where it was kept under tight rein. He had to maintain control for Makarias' sake.

He took up the pacing again, this time in an effort to stay warm. Clad only in his tunic, arms and legs bare, the chill of the stone room sank deep into his bones.

The questions that had been thrown at him during his interrogation had not been at all what Methos had expected. Questions about how long he had known Seneca. Demands that he give an accounting of what he knew of the plot to assassinate Nero, of who was involved, and of what part he and Makarias played in the assassination plot. The interrogation had seemed endless. Only the thought of what they might do to Makarias had allowed Methos to keep his temper while maintaining their innocence in the alleged conspiracy to take Nero's life.

Methos had been stunned that Seneca, once one of Nero's most trusted confidantes and now a respected philosopher, was being accused of treason. He had spent a great deal of time with the philosopher, sharing and debating a variety of philosophical beliefs. Their debates had grown quite lively at times but always tempered with good cheer and enlightenment. His friendship with Seneca was an entirely different sort of brotherhood from what Methos had shared with Kronos, but in its own way was just as intoxicating. Methos had learned much from the scholar. Seneca had claimed to learn much from him as well, but Methos couldn't imagine what knowledge the other man might have gleaned from him.

And now, because of his association with Seneca, Methos was being accused of treason, as was Makarias.

Discovering their arrest had nothing to do with the frowned upon intimacy of their relationship and everything to do with the more serious charge of treason had been disheartening. Treason was a much more serious crime. Death was the usual sentence. It mattered not that they were innocent. The Courts and Nero were looking for scapegoats and he and Makarias were the unlucky recipients of that search.

The commotion of someone being tossed into the cell next to his dragged Methos out of his dismal thoughts. The guards retreated and Methos could hear the other cell's occupant struggling to get his labored breathing under control. Some sixth sense triggered Methos to alertness. Moving to the door of his cell, he called softly through the tiny barred window.

"Makarias?"

There was a moment of stunned silence from the other cell and then an excited but hushed voice answered him. "Methos? Thank the gods. I feared you dead."

"I'm fine. No need to worry yourself."

"How can I not worry? They have accused us of treason. Surely they cannot convict us where no evidence exists," Makarias stated with certainty.

"We're scapegoats, Makarias," Methos told him, hating to be so blunt but knowing Makarias would have to face the truth sooner rather than later. "Even though we're innocent, they will nevertheless find the needed evidence."

"But we did not commit treason! How can they do this to us? We are innocent!"

The controlled fear in the other man's voice tore ragged strips from Methos' soul. It did not once occur to the naive sculptor to question Methos' innocence. His trust was that great.

A familiar darkness descended upon Methos. There was no way out of this for them. For him there was escape through death, but Makarias' light would be forever extinguished. Instincts had him shutting away extraneous emotions in preparation for what was to come. He fought to delay the resurrection of his defensive walls, holding them at bay by sheer force of will long enough to hopefully find the right words for Makarias. But words that would not hurt the other man failed him.

The silence hung heavily between them.

When Makarias spoke again, there was a calm confidence in his tone that belied the earlier fear. "Everything will be fine, Methos. We will be cleared of the charges. You will see."

Gods! So much faith. Methos' heart twisted in agony as Makarias tried to maintain calm and reassure him that everything would be fine. Hurt stabbed through Methos at the naive acceptance pouring forth from Makarias. He couldn't find it in himself to be cruel and force Makarias to face the truth. The reality of their situation would be foisted upon the other man all too soon. Methos could only hope Makarias' life would be ended as swiftly and as painlessly as possible.

"Makarias--"

Before he could say what needed to be said, the sound of the guards once again approaching interrupted. Methos stepped back as the door to his cell swung open. His arms were trussed tightly behind him and then the guards were pushing him down the passageway.

As they passed Makarias' cell, Methos looked his way. Familiar dark eyes peered back at him through the small, barred window in the cell door. Everything they were to each other was shared in one brief glance before the guards shoved him forward. Somehow, they both knew Methos would not be returning to his cell this time.

"All the hours wound you; the last one kills," Methos murmured. He wasn't certain Makarias heard him until the other man's voice floated softly to him over their footfalls.

"Don't despair, Methos. Art is long; life is short."

Many centuries would pass before Methos would come to understand Makarias' last enigmatic words to him.

Once Methos was beyond his sight, Makarias retreated to the darkness of his cell. He had tried to keep up a positive front for Methos but his mind told him what his heart refused to admit:  Death would come for him soon -- just as it was fast approaching Methos now. Head bowed, he made peace with himself and remembered the good times with Methos. Their time was past, but a part of them would live on. Immortalized by his art, he and Methos would forever be lovers.
 

Several Hours Later

Methos regained consciousness abruptly, a cold chill invading his bones. Not yet fully aware of his surroundings, he was unable to bite back a cry when a sharp stabbing pain unexpectedly knifed through his right arm. Trying to climb atop the pain, he sluggishly registered the fact that he was nude, on his back, and tied down to a hard narrow surface.

Methos attempted to clench his right hand against the pain and found he couldn't. His eyes opened at the exact moment the Roman soldier drove a stake through his left wrist. Methos gritted his teeth against the pain, a low grunt escaping him. His breath caught in his throat, threatening to strangle him.

When the soldier moved toward his bound feet, Methos tensed, knowing what was coming. It still left him ill-prepared for the two stakes that were driven through his feet, firmly nailing him to the wooden beam beneath him. He involuntarily arched upward against the pain, trying to dislodge it, until his weary body collapsed under the heavy weight of agony.

The soldiers began the slow, laborious process of setting him upright. Lines of pain etched themselves in Methos' face while he struggled to remain silent. The sentence had been handed down, decided by Nero's will even before the treason trial had commenced. He was to be flogged, followed by crucifixion, a punishment reserved only for those of lower class, those of Christian faith and foreigners. Methos had been unable to discover Makarias and Seneca's fates, but it seemed likely that Makarias would also be crucified. Seneca, due to his long tenure in Nero's service, would most likely suffer a different, but no less final, fate.

Methos was unable to hold back a groan of pain when the wooden cross, with a final jolt, settled firmly into place. Knowing this would not be a pleasant death, Methos found irony in his current situation as he wondered if there was such a thing as a pleasant death. Tears of pain pricked at his eyes as the weight of his body pulled at his staked wrists. Already he could feel his breathing becoming constricted. He tried to let his feet take some of the weight but it was too painful a position to hold for long and his body collapsed downward again, his wrists once more taking the full brunt of his weight. Blood trickled down his arms and feet, the nails through his wrists and feet preventing his immortal healing from working its usual magic. Here he would remain until his body, unable to heal itself, finally gave in and the darkness of death claimed him.

When the sun rose on the second day of Methos' crucifixion, the centurion overseeing his execution arrived to check his latest treasonous charge's status. He was impatient for this to be over so he could move on to his next duty. The others who had been crucified on the same day as this traitor were all dead. This one, however, seemed to have a stronger will to survive than the others and the centurion was not surprised to find that he still lived.

Wanting an end to his duties here, the centurion performed his expected duty. While it was not permissible to kill the traitor outright, it was understood that he might encourage death. Picking up a nearby wooden mallet, the centurion moved toward his charge.
 

Methos cried out, too far gone to control himself, when both his legs were shattered by the powerful swing of the mallet. His body arched in protest before collapsing back onto the cross, wrists and feet bleeding anew. Satisfied that his charge wouldn't last much longer, the centurion left instructions with the sentry on guard duty that he be notified once the traitor had expired.

Minutes turned to hours as time slowed to a crawl for Methos, who suffered in silent agony as he moved ever closer to death. His weakened body couldn't find the immortal energy to heal his broken legs. Even the smallest movement was torture. Submerged in a painful fog, his last moments were filled with glimpses of the sun setting on the horizon, its rays of brightness slowly dimming as life ebbed from him.

Praying that Makarias' death had been quick, Methos heaved a final, tormented breath before giving in at long last to the urge to let go. His body, bathed in the light of a quarter moon, went slack.

The sentry, hearing Methos' death rattle, summoned the centurion. A spear was thrust into Methos' left side to ensure his death was complete. There being no reaction from the body that hung from the cross, the centurion stood back to observe as his men carried out the final steps of the traitor's sentence. The cross was lowered and the dead man, now free of the wooden cross, was carried to a nearby mass grave where the bodies of other recently executed traitors had been tossed. The grave would be covered at sunrise.

Methos regained life with alarming abruptness and for a long moment all he could hear was the furious pounding of his heart. He lay unmoving as his senses reached out, trying to get his bearings. His body had healed, but his mind was in retreat from the memory of death by crucifixion. It was not an experience he wanted to repeat.

Sensing he was alone, Methos finally opened his eyes, only to spend a long moment staring blankly up at the moon. No matter how long-lived he was, waking from death was still a startling experience.

Shifting slightly, his nose crinkled in distaste as the stench of death and decay wafted over him. Death, once such a familiar and powerful aphrodisiac, now revolted him. Curbing an overwhelming desire to escape it as soon as possible, Methos listened carefully to confirm that no others were nearby before he moved.

Slowly sitting up, he took in his surroundings and realized he was in mass grave that had yet to be covered. Swallowing the bile in his throat, he crawled over the bodies to the nearest wall of the pit. He barely bit back a curse of surprise when a hand unexpectedly reached down to pull him out. Looking up, he met familiar eyes. Seneca smiled grimly down at him, his gaze filled with a strange combination of sadness and hope.

Once Methos out of the pit with Seneca's cape wrapped around him, they made their way to where two horses waited. Silently, Seneca handed him clean clothing. Methos dressed quickly then turned to face his teacher.

"You cannot die," Seneca said softly.

"No. Not in the usual manner."

Seneca smiled fondly at him. "Perhaps you truly are an old soul."

Methos' head inclined in acknowledgment. He waited for the questions, but they never came. Nor did Seneca choose to enlighten Methos as to how he had come to the conclusion of Methos' immortality. In the span of those few seconds, the statesman's gaze told Methos that his immortality was accepted and would not be spoken of further. It was Seneca's way.

"Take the horse," Seneca told him. "Leave Rome this night. Do not come back -- during this lifetime."

"Why--"

"Why do I do this?" Seneca completed the question. "Why do I risk myself for you?"

Methos waited.

"Because, Methos, you give me hope for the future."

Seneca's words hit Methos hard. He, who had been Death, was Seneca's hope for the future. He swallowed. "Makarias--"

"Is beyond your help." Seneca's voice was soft but firm.

It was on the tip of Methos' tongue to ask how Makarias had met his death but the formidable expression in Seneca's eyes told him he didn't want to know. Methos pulled himself up astride the horse. He sat for a long moment, staring into the distance, before turning to look down upon the elder statesman. "What will become of you?"

"Nero has ordered my suicide at sunrise." Seneca's posture indicated he had dealt with this turn of events and was at ease with it. His eyes told Methos that he was innocent of the charge of treason but would do as his emperor commanded. Death with dignity was very important to the statesman. And he had risked that to ensure Methos' escape. Certain Seneca had been under guard, Methos had to wonder how he had managed to gain access to two horses and ride outside the city limits to where the crucifixion had taken place. There was no time for such questions; however, Methos could not prevent stop himself from asking one, more of a request actually, even though he knew it was futile effort.

"Come with me."

Seneca's mouth turned upward with an ironic smile and Methos knew Seneca was going to bequeath one of his philosophic ideologies upon him again.

"Man worries too much about living a long time, when the quality of one's life ultimately does not depend on how long one lives, but on how well one lives. You would do well to remember that." Seneca pulled himself up onto the other horse. "Immortality becomes you, Methos." His demeanor grew even more resolute. "Do not waste it." With that said, Seneca wheeled the horse around and headed back toward Rome at a gallop. Heart heavy with unacknowledged emotions, Methos urged his horse to a gallop, leaving Rome, and the rebirth of a contented soul, behind.

PARIS: PRESENT DAY

Methos slipped back into the present with an ease that came from centuries of practice. He shivered, the thin overcoat not heavy enough to protect him from the damp chill of the pouring rain. Eyes closed and face still lifted to the rain, he considered his options. He could go back aboard the barge, but MacLeod was sure to be full of questions. Or he could go home and spend another lonely night with his journals. How long had he been standing out here anyway? Another shiver shook him. Long enough to get soaked through to the skin.

A part of him was disappointed that MacLeod hadn't stormed out after him in his usual possessive, take-charge manner. He could use some of the Highlander's unrestrained zest for life right about now.

An image of dark hair and impassioned eyes swamped him -- taunting him with the bribe of a warm embrace. Methos attempted to shrug it off. He didn't need Duncan MacLeod. He had survived five millennia on his own, after all.

A defeated sigh escaped him as the yearning refused to be stifled. He hadn't felt this need for someone else so sharply in centuries. It was why he had run tonight. His passions had been too near the surface. He had felt himself wavering, wanting to tell Duncan how he felt, yet knowing he was deluding himself that the other man might feel the same for him. Reality had dropped back into his lap, reminding him that being with Duncan, in that way, was an impossible dream. Methos shivered again, not with cold this time but misery.

No longer finding solace in the rain, Methos' head slumped to his chest as he stared dismally at the wet ground. Perhaps it was time to move on. Time to distance himself from Duncan and his clan. He took a hesitant step away from the barge, away from a part of his life that had brought a soothing completeness to his soul he hadn't felt in ages. An immortal presence registered behind him, causing his step to falter. Duncan's quickening reached out toward him, clinging to him.

Methos stilled as Duncan's presence wrapped around him, easing the weariness in his heart. He couldn't leave. It had been a foolish illusion to think he ever could. Hands stuffed deep in the pockets of his coat, he turned to face his destiny.
 

Duncan breathed a sigh of relief when Methos waited for him to catch up rather than ignoring him completely. "We need to talk," he said as he came within touching distance of the other man. Duncan immediately wished he could take the words back. No four words were guaranteed to make Methos run quicker. But, to his surprise, Methos stood his ground.

"What about this time?" Methos' voice was weary, none of the usual cynicism present.

"Us." Duncan's voice was soft. "The future."

Methos stared at him silently for a long moment. "Not the past?" he finally asked.

"Some old guy once told me that what's past is past and what's important is how we live in the present and plan for the future."

"Sounds like a smart guy."

"He can be." Duncan paused. "He can also be extremely pigheaded."

"Sounds like a certain Scotsman I know."

Humor glimmered in both their gazes, easing the tension somewhat.

"What happened tonight, Methos? You've been on edge all evening. I can't help thinking it has something to do with me."

Methos hunched further down into his coat and quashed a sharp retort designed to put MacLeod in his place. Instead, he shrugged. "Just old ghosts."

Duncan gave him a worried look. "I was hoping we could put all that behind us. There is still a friendship worth salvaging between us, isn't there?"

Methos stared at the wet ground in silent contemplation. He really didn't want to resurrect all the bad business of the Horsemen again. It was in the past. And it sounded as if Duncan wanted it left in the past as well. If they were to move forward, however, he owed the other man a little honesty. He looked up to gauge Duncan's reaction to his words. "It wasn't that particular past tonight, MacLeod. That sculpture Amanda gave you? I'm acquainted with it. I was there when it was created."

Duncan absorbed this piece of news quietly. "Bad memories?"

Methos looked off to one side. "Not all of them, no."

"Then it wouldn't bother you if I wanted to keep the sculpture?" Methos' surprise was evident. Duncan grinned. "What? You didn't think it would be to my taste?"

"Well, it does seem more Amanda's."

Guessing but knowing he wasn't wrong, Duncan asked, "Or yours?"

Methos smiled slightly. "I'm five thousand years old, MacLeod. I've--"

"Tried everything," Duncan finished for him.

Methos' eyes glinted with humor. "No, it wouldn't bother me if you kept it. I think Makarias would be honored if someone such as you were in possession of it."

Duncan could tell from the way the sculptor's name rolled off Methos' tongue that he had been close with this Makarias. Further inquiries about the sculpture and its origins were interrupted by a violent shiver shuddering through Methos' body. Duncan moved closer. He reached out, touching his fingertips to Methos' ice-cold cheek. The other man didn't jerk away from the touch, merely watched Duncan with one of his fathomless looks. "You're cold," Duncan murmured. "Come back to the barge with me. Please."

The shadows in Methos' eyes lifted minutely and a familiar, tolerant warmth reached out to stroke Duncan, its touch fragile and elusive. Their gazes met in a surge of understanding that swelled into a gentle rapport that left Methos with a wild desire to turn his head and press his lips to the palm of the hand that still rested on his cheek. Another shiver wracked his body, breaking the moment before he could act on the impulse.

Laughing, Duncan took Methos' hand in his and pulled him back toward the barge. "Come on, Old Man. I'm getting soaked and you already are."

Methos allowed himself to be led, unresisting, back onto the barge, both men enjoying those few moments of Methos' hand being held warmly within Duncan's possessive grip.

Back aboard the barge, the two men pretended not to notice the abrupt lull in Joe and Amanda's conversation upon their entrance. It was clear the two had been discussing them. Methos shook off his coat, hanging it to dry. Amanda brought him a beer, her eyes apologetic. She wasn't sure what she was apologizing for but she knew on some instinctive level that the sculpture had caused Methos some grief tonight. Her hand lingered upon his for a moment until he raised his eyes to acknowledge her. Satisfied by what she saw there, Amanda returned to Joe's side. The Watcher was sitting on one of the barstools at the kitchen counter. Amanda slid in beside him.

Methos caught the towel Duncan tossed him and dried off as best he could. He was damp clear through and the towel merely mopped up the worst of it, leaving his skin chilled.

"So, you really like it, Duncan?" asked a pleased Amanda as she studied the sculpture residing on the counter near her and Joe.

Looking up from where he stood near his bed as he toweled off, Duncan replied good-humoredly, "Yes, I really like it, Amanda. Thank you." His gaze slid to the sculpture in question. There really was something familiar about it. He just couldn't quite put his finger on it. His eyes moved to Methos to find the other man, one hand shoved in his faded denims while the other caressed a bottle of beer, watching him. Methos' gaze uncharacteristically evaded his by furtively sliding down to contemplate the floor at his feet.

Frowning, Duncan's gaze returned to Amanda to find her watching him while Joe's gaze was fixed on Methos. Joe's demeanor indicated he was on the edge of discovering a new facet to the old immortal. Looking at Methos himself, all Duncan saw was a man who was not at ease tonight. Troubled by Methos' still obvious discomfort, Duncan returned to scrutinizing the sculpture while reflecting on how heavily five thousand years could weigh on a man. An image of Methos standing in the rain, face turned upward toward the sky, superimposed itself over his vision, not quite obscuring the sculpture. Methos had presented the picture of a man buried in loneliness who yearned to reach out for a touch and to be touched in return. Duncan lost his inner focus when his eyes snapped back to the sculpture in dawning comprehension.

He studied it with a critical eye. The build was the same. Long-limbed. Lean. Well-defined that muscles disrupted the smooth plains in all the right places. A slimly muscled form that hinted at hidden strengths. The familiar aristocratic profile and long elegant neck. Fingers that should have belonged to an artist. Fingers that stroked -- Duncan nearly gasped aloud at the imagined sucker punch. Methos had not only known the sculptor, he had posed for him.

This time Methos didn't avoid his gaze and Duncan knew the other man had witnessed the slow play of revelation wash across his face. A secret smile graced Methos' mouth. He slowly inclined his head in recognition of Duncan's discovery, and Duncan knew the action for what it was -- the same acknowledgment that Methos had given him upon their first meeting when he had known instantly and without a doubt that this man was the mythical Methos.

Returning the smile with a triumphant one of his own, Duncan softly uttered, "Mi casa es su casa." Methos' startled eyes locked onto his. He understands, thought Duncan with relief. Welcome home, Methos. It was a profound moment that both were tempted to indulge; but they did have an audience. With great reluctance, Duncan tore himself away and walked over to the bar, where he busied himself splashing a couple of fingers of Scotch into a tumbler.

Strolling into the kitchen, Duncan leaned on the other side of the counter across from Joe and Amanda. He ignored their curious expressions and, aware of Methos' eyes following his every move, casually reached out and ran his hand suggestively over the sculpture. He watched Methos from beneath lowered lashes, delighting in the other man's delicious shiver of pleasure when his finger  gently caressed the sculpted figure's back. Methos sauntered over to the fireplace and Duncan drank in the sight of the deceptively slim body. Bolts of lightning-like pleasure shot straight to his groin and he found himself grateful that he was partially hidden behind the counter.

Not taking his eyes off Methos, Duncan spoke to Amanda. "Where did you come across the sculpture, Amanda? Was it in a private collection?" Duncan's fingers moved over the sculpted figure's face, touching on the nose briefly, before stroking down the arm whose hand held the figure's erection in midstroke. His eyes glinted in amusement when Methos tried to cover his reaction with a drink of beer from the bottle in his hand and nearly choked on it.

At the sound of Methos' choked cough, Joe asked, "You okay?"

"Fine," growled Methos. "Just went down the wrong way is all." His gaze narrowed in on MacLeod. The man was playing with him. Teasing him. This was a seduction if he ever saw one, and MacLeod even had the audacity to attempt it in front of others. Methos wasn't certain why he was so nervous. This was what he had wanted. But MacLeod suddenly moving into sensual overdrive with their friendship had come at Methos out of left field. He wondered if the wiser course of action might be to run for the hills. That thought was quickly quashed, however. It was too late to run. Even Methos' need for survival couldn't overcome the allure of what MacLeod was offering. He struggled to regain his lost equilibrium. It wouldn't do to let MacLeod know he had this much power over him.

Pulling a cloak of nonchalance around him, Methos joined the group gathered round the sculpture. He chose to ignore the cry of his chilled body for the warmth of the fire. The warmth of Duncan's proximity was much more alluring at the moment. Tossing his damp towel at Duncan, he asked, "What are you going to do with the sculpture?"

Duncan pulled the towel off his face where Methos had flung it, acting as if having a rain-soaked towel plastered to one's face were an everyday occurrence. He nodded his head in the direction of the bed. "Thought I might put it over beneath one of the portholes near the bed. It should look good with the moonlight illuminating it, don't you think?"

Methos' eyes lingered on the bed, giving Duncan hope. Before they had come back inside, he had seen a need in Methos' eyes. A need for him. A wish that his need be reciprocated. Armed with that knowledge and the certainty that no matter what the past held he didn't want to lose this man from his life, Duncan no longer had any doubts about being the one to make the first move.

"Planning to use it as a lure for potential lovers, MacLeod?" asked Methos dryly. His gaze darkened with challenge.

"Actually, I think it might already be working," Duncan responded in a deep, velvet tone that had Methos jerking his head up in surprise. Methos caught an all-too-short glimpse of sultry Highlander before it was shuttered away with a promise of 'later'. Erotic shivers of anticipation flew up and down Methos' back before landing in his groin.

Methos thought he heard Joe mutter something under his breath about "so much for none this century" but ignored it when Duncan's hand began caressing the sculpture again. Methos' eyes slid closed. He could feel Duncan's fingers whisper gently over his body. A small smile graced his lips. This was what it felt like to be alive. Duncan's presence washed over him and his body reverberated with the fullness of life and light that presence brought to him. Throwing caution to the wind, he softly asked, "Wouldn't you rather have the real thing instead of a piece of marble?" There was no mistaking the suggestion in his voice. He opened his eyes in time to catch Duncan's reaction.

Joe choked on his drink. Giving up, he resolutely climbed to his feet and graciously held out his arm to Amanda. "Shall we?" he asked, nodding his head toward the door. Time to escape the testosterone-laden atmosphere of the barge and leave this to the other two to work out, whatever this might be. Joe wasn't certain he wanted to contemplate that too closely -- yet.

Amanda's laughter echoed within the confines of the barge as she accepted Joe's offer. Much as she would like to stay and watch this, Amanda knew she would only put a crimp in their play.

As Joe escorted Amanda out the door, he couldn't resist tossing over his shoulder, "You two behave yourselves."

"Night, Duncan!" chimed in Amanda. "Night, Methos!"

Alone at last, both men's bodies seemed to have minds of their own. Their eyes were wary but their traitorous bodies leaned in toward each other, both quivering for that first initial, explosive touch. They froze when Amanda's voice suddenly intruded.

"Stop wasting time already. Rome burned faster than you two--" Her voice cut off with a sudden squeak as Joe's arm reached back in the door and dragged her through it.

Duncan would have chuckled at Joe and Amanda's antics but Methos had tensed at Amanda's intrusion and was now backing off to a safe distance. The fire that had been burning in his eyes moments ago had banked to mere embers. Not willing to let him retreat that easily, Duncan reached out to pull him closer only to discover that Methos' hands were ice-cold.

"You're freezing! Why didn't you say something?" Not waiting for an answer, Duncan pulled Methos along behind him until they were in the bathroom. Methos looked around in confusion, having a hard time keeping up with the swift change of events. Today was definitely turning into a test of his ability to go with the flow. But Duncan was right. He was freezing. Chilled to bone, as a matter of fact. The cold rain had started the chill but Amanda's words had caused a bitter frost to settle in his bones. Her parting words had unintentionally reminded him of Makarias' death. A death Methos could only imagine since he had not been present to witness it.

Methos shivered and a frowning Duncan plucked at his damp sweater. "Get out of these wet clothes and take a hot shower. We'll talk when you get out. Help yourself to whatever you need."

Duncan moved past him to leave Methos some privacy, but Methos didn't miss the disappointed slump in the other man's shoulders. The tension that had pervaded their friendship since the Horsemen fiasco seemed to ebb and flow on schedule like the tide. All this emotional bouncing around was getting tiresome. Methos had no intention of letting what they had rebuilt tonight slip away.

"Duncan?"

Duncan stopped and turned to face Methos. Sometimes it seemed the two of them were destined to spend the rest of their lives circling around each other, never moving forward. Methos had obviously rethought the situation and backed away. Duncan was shocked at the hugeness of his disappointment. It was rapidly becoming clear to the Scot that he wanted more from Methos than a roll in the hay, but that was obviously not going to happen now. He felt as if he had just lost something precious, even though it had never been his to begin with.

"Yes?" He frowned at the other man, until it dawned on him that Methos had called him Duncan. Not MacLeod. Not Highlander. Duncan. Confusion replaced his frown as he watched Methos' slow approach, hardly daring to breathe when Methos leaned in close to him. Lips lightly touched his in a whisper of a kiss and then were gone before Duncan could fully grasp the softness of the moment. Only when Methos squeezed his hand reassuringly did Duncan realize that Methos held his hand in an intimate caress.

"It wasn't you," Methos said. "It was something Amanda said. We will talk." Unexpected gentleness in Methos' gaze promised that and more. Duncan stood gawking, imagining the something more, until he realized with a start that Methos was stripping down for his shower. Much as he would have liked to stay and watch, he knew now wasn't the time for that, if they were to ever indeed get to that. But Methos' kiss and words held a promise. He closed the bathroom door quietly behind him as he exited, surprised to feel his heart beating as if it would jump out of his chest at any moment. He laughed at himself getting giddy over a simple kiss from Methos and headed topside to check the barge's moorings before settling in for the night.

Methos exited the shower, once more relaxed and in charge of himself. As he toweled himself dry, he was caught by his image in the mirror. Staring, he tried to see himself as Duncan saw him. He saw a youngish-looking man, wet hair sticking up in spikes, chin and upper lip showing the beginnings of a five o'clock shadow, prominent nose that some days seemed to fit his features better than others, but it was the eyes that captured his attention. Did Duncan see the same thing he did? He stared at his reflection, watching as his eyes transformed into fathomless pools of darkness reflecting the depths of his millennia of existence. Images of his past self superimposed over his Adam Pierson persona, layer upon layer upon layer, his true self so deeply buried that Methos was no longer certain he knew who he truly was, if he ever had. However, if he had learned anything during his long life, it was that he was the sum of his parts, be they good or bad. He was not his past or his present but all of it. Could Duncan accept that? Accept all that he was? Methos' doubts resurfaced and he couldn't help wondering if it was Duncan's doubts about him that held him back or his own.

His thoughts fell back to Rome and Seneca and Makarias once more. He had been having a difficult time assimilating himself back then too. Sixty years fresh from the demise of the Horsemen, he had been living with a developing awareness of what he had spent the past several centuries doing. Methos had found himself a difficult person to live with. He had shied away from close contact with others. But the more he had seen of the world the more his appetite for things of a scholarly nature had grown. Seneca had seen that hunger and had tempted Methos with his philosophical debates and rhetoric. It hadn't taken long for Methos to fall in with the philosopher, taking what was so freely offered.

Words Seneca had spoken to him during one of their endless debates came to Methos so clearly it was as if the philosopher were in the room with him. The evil which assails us is not in the localities we inhabit but in ourselves. We lack strength to endure the least task, being incapable of suffering pain, powerless to enjoy pleasure, impatient with everything. How many invoke death when, after having tried every sort of change, they find themselves reverting to the same sensations, unable to discover any new experience. To this day it still amazed Methos how Seneca had been able to read him so easily. He had nearly always known the right thing to say to him to soothe his fears and anxieties. Even now, nineteen hundred years later, Seneca's ghost calmed his doubts -- doubts about himself, about Duncan, about moving their friendship to a more intimate level.

A draft of cold air brushed across his bare skin, bringing Methos out of his reverie. Looking around the bathroom for something warm to wear, he snagged Duncan's expensive-looking robe off the hook on the bathroom door. With a sense of perverse pleasure, he shrugged into it, enjoying the feel of the heavy brocade silk against his skin, not to mention the feel of something so personal of Duncan's wrapped intimately around his nude body.

Once again staring at himself in the mirror, Methos discovered a much more mellow man than the one who had existed back in Rome. A fond smile graced his face as he remembered Seneca and Makarias. Before tragedy struck it had been a wondrous time filled with self-discovery and waking passions. He had fallen into Makarias' companionship with a great deal of trepidation, but the other man's generous spirit had drawn him in. To this day it still mystified Methos that both Seneca and Makarias had seen something in him worth salvaging. He had been a shell of himself back then. But they had given him hope -- hope that he could make a future for himself.

Even so, every few centuries he found himself withdrawing from society. At those times his age overwhelmed him and he ended up feeling alien and disconnected from the rest of humanity -- standing apart and peering in from the outside. Only when the solitude became too much would he would seek out companionship. Sometimes it was enough to involve himself with a group, such as at university, but every so often he needed someone like Makarias or Byron, and now Duncan, to re-infuse that needed zeal for life into him -- to wake him up and remind him that life was not something to endure but to live. He hadn't realized how much he had once again withdrawn until Duncan, exuding both danger and benevolence, had burst into Adam Pierson's quiet existence.

It unnerved him how much he craved what Duncan offered with his simple acts of friendship. There had been an instant kinship at that first meeting here in Paris; it was still there now, only it had evolved into something more. Something deeper, and much more precious.

Turning his back on his mirrored image, he leaned against the bathroom counter, arms crossed, and gazed absently at the floor while sorting past from present. Duncan seemed to be ready to move forward, not only with their friendship but in other areas as well. Methos knew he could stand here and overanalyze the situation, trying out all the various scenarios to see what fit him best, or he could just go with the flow. He wasn't exactly a stick-in-the-mud. He could go with the flow when he wanted. It was just that life tended to become complicated quickly whenever he jumped aboard the MacLeod bandwagon. Look at the whole de Valicourt affair. What a mess that had been. Though that wasn't to say it hadn't been fun. The look on Duncan's face when the vase had smashed to pieces had been priceless. A small smirk escaped before being chased away by the more sobering thoughts of what getting involved with an immortal -- particularly this immortal -- meant.

Methos forcefully pushed aside the frightening aspects of becoming involved with an immortal to consider the more pleasurable. Becoming intimate with Duncan didn't frighten him. That the intimacy might end badly was the real issue. Of course, given what their friendship had already survived, perhaps he was giving that little 'what if' too much power.

Voices from his past crowded into his head, offering advice. Strangely enough, it was Kronos' voice that came through with the best piece of wisdom. Scared gets you nothing, Methos. Somehow, he didn't think Kronos had intimate relations in mind when he uttered those words. Still, Kronos was right. If he didn't take this step in Duncan's direction, he'd forever wonder about what could have been. Better to take a chance than to have no chance at all.

Doubt still fluttered about him like an annoying gnat, though. Duncan would demand more than his mortal lovers. There would be no keeping a piece of himself hidden. Doubt warred with desire, and just when it seemed doubt would win out, an all too recognizable, jovial voice from within spoke. Makarias. Urging him to take a chance again. To let the walls down and live outside their protective but suppressive confines. Following his death in Rome, Methos had only partially taken to heart Makarias and Seneca's coaxings that he live life to its fullest. Perhaps it was now time to heed what the two mortals had tried to teach him so long ago.

Taking a deep, decisive breath, Methos exited the bathroom, only to find Duncan wasn't waiting for him. Hearing footsteps topside, Methos cocked his head, listening. The pattern of Duncan's footfalls told him the other man was performing his kata. Must have stopped raining, he realized. Methos debated going topside to watch. Duncan absorbed in performing his kata was art in motion A cold draft from outside twined round Methos and suddenly the fireplace looked much more inviting than freezing his butt off.

Still slightly chilled, Methos tossed a large pillow to the floor in front of the fireplace so he could be nearer its warmth. As he settled himself on the pillow, he caught sight of the sculpture. Duncan had moved it from the kitchen counter to a small table underneath one of the portholes near his bed. Moonlight gleamed off its surface. The sculpture looked good there. Like it belonged.

Still trying to sort out his conflicting emotions that had the past mingling with the present, Methos settled in to wait for Duncan. Total honesty always made him uneasy, but he knew that's what he'd have to give Duncan if they were to move forward. There would be no edging around the truth. No evasions.

Feeling more anchored thanks to some time well spent losing himself in his kata, Duncan paused just inside the door on the landing. Methos sat cross-legged on the floor. Firelight flickered off his face, accentuating cheekbones and a strong profile. Although he had to be aware of Duncan's entrance, Methos did nothing to acknowledge it, merely continued to gaze into the flames with a pensive expression. Granting the other man his unspoken wish for continued private contemplation, Duncan grabbed a change of clothing and disappeared into the bathroom.

Fresh from his shower minutes later, Duncan emerged from the bathroom dressed in a pair of his loose-fitting kata pants and a flowing top that did nothing to conceal his muscular torso. Pausing, he took a moment to watch Methos, who still sat before the fireplace seemingly lost in thought. The robe, Duncan's robe -- his very expensive silk brocade robe -- clung to Methos in a tantalizing display of silk and skin. Duncan's libido kicked right back up to where the earlier kiss had left it, the calm the kata had brought him completely obliterated. He wanted Methos. Wanted to feel that body against his, wanted intimate knowledge of the feel of those muscles straining against his in the midst of a sexual frenzy.

Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Duncan poured them each a brandy before joining Methos on the floor in front of the fire. Their fingers touched as Methos accepted the brandy from Duncan.

Methos' eyes fluttered briefly to Duncan's to see if he had felt that spark between them re-igniting when they touched. Gazes met and locked and suddenly the air was crackling with sexual tension. Methos' gaze slid away from Duncan's in a vain attempt to ignore the building explosion that was threatening to combust into something he wasn't sure they were ready for yet.

Feigning a nonchalance he was nowhere near feeling, Methos said, "Little cold to be doing your kata outdoors, isn't it?"

"I had some excess energy to work off. . . ." Duncan's voice trailed off suggestively. Methos looked back up to find Duncan's gaze focused on him -- on his mouth to be precise. Apparently, Duncan wasn't ready to bury his sexual urges yet. Then the other man's tongue flicked teasingly over his lips, purposely drawing Methos' attention, and Methos had to give him points for persistence.

Curbing his desire to grab Duncan and take him right there and then, Methos pretended indifference and returned to his former contemplation of the fire. Drawing a leg up so he could rest his chin on his knee, he shifted position just enough for the robe to slide off the drawn-up leg, baring an expanse of inner thigh that barely left his groin covered. If Duncan wanted to play . . .

Methos took careful note of Duncan's discreet tug at his pants and the slowly rising heat in his face. If one could have sex with just a look, Methos was certain he had just done so.

Releasing a self-satisfied breath, Methos decided it was time to redirect the sexual tension resonating between them before it got out of control. They had things to discuss and it wouldn't do either of them much good at this point to fall into bed if they later discovered they couldn't live with the differences between them. Regretfully, Methos flipped the robe back over his bared leg.

Lips twitching in amused understanding, Duncan's heated gaze rose to meet Methos'. "Nice robe," Duncan commented.

"I rather like it."

Seeing that Methos was backing off the flirtation, Duncan's gaze slid past Methos in an effort to get his mind more focused on things other than how tempting Methos looked dressed in nothing but his robe. His eyes found the sculpture, safely ensconced on a stand beneath a porthole, and Duncan found himself wondering what kind of man the sculptor had been to be able to convince Methos to pose for such a piece. Methos' voice pulled him back to the fireside and the man sitting next to him.

"I knew Seneca, you know. Remarkable man."

"The philosopher?" Duncan asked. Not certain what Seneca had to do with anything, Duncan nevertheless silently encouraged the revelations. If Methos needed to find a roundabout way of talking rather than the direct approach, Duncan was willing to indulge him. For now.

Methos nodded. "Near the end, yes. In the beginning he was one of Nero's right hands. But Nero was never the stablest of rulers and, in the end, that cost Seneca his life."

Duncan tried to remember his Roman history but there was too much of it to sort through. "What happened?" he finally asked.

"Seneca was accused of treason against Nero. Of plotting to kill Nero. Makarias and I were implicated by association with Seneca. Funny thing is, Seneca and Makarias never even met each other. I was the common link between them. All three of us were innocent of the charges but Nero's word was golden." Methos' tone turned grim, and Duncan suddenly knew this was another part of Methos' life that had ended badly.

"First time for everything. Even for me. I was put to death by crucifixion. Not very pleasant, let me tell you. Even less pleasant to come back to life in a mass grave. At least they hadn't burned or buried us yet."

"But you escaped. How?"

"Seneca. Somehow, I don't know how, he knew I couldn't die. He came for me that night. Brought a horse, my sword, provisions, and sent me on my way. Nero had ordered him to commit suicide by his own hand the following morning. I tried to get him to come with me but he was a man of honor. He stayed and followed Nero's orders, even though he wasn't guilty. I left Rome that night. Didn't go back for a long time."

Duncan was almost afraid to ask. "And Makarias?"

"Seneca told me it was too late for him. I ran into a man in a tavern in Corinth who had been there the night Makarias died. The man's tongue was loose from too much drink so it didn't take much to pry the story out of him. He took such joy in retelling it. I wanted to kill him." Methos paused to take a calming sip of his brandy. The memories were becoming all too vivid again. When he next spoke, it was as if he were reciting history rather than a personal and painful memory.

"Did you know that one of Nero's favorite ways to be rid of troublesome offenders was to use them for a torch at his gatherings? They'd fasten them, fully conscious, to a beam. Erect it vertical to the ground in Nero's gardens and then set the person aflame. It amused those present to hear the screams. Even the smell of burning flesh didn't seem to trouble them. They--"

Duncan's palm cupped Methos' face, gently turning him in his direction. "Enough, Methos." Methos started to speak but Duncan shook his head. "No more. You and Makarias were both a victim of the times. It wasn't your fault."

"Is that what you tell Cassandra?" Methos' gaze was bleak. "That it wasn't my fault?"

The bleakness dimmed to sorrow and regret before the unguarded eyes closed in a wince that clutched at Duncan's heart. He pulled a resistant Methos into his arms, cradling him between his legs as he soothed him with gentle touches. He couldn't help wondering what had happened to the arrogant man who didn't feel guilt.

"I don't tell Cassandra much of anything these days, Methos. She and I haven't talked since Bordeaux, and I doubt we'll talk for some time to come. Too many wounds that still have to heal. One of these days you and I will talk about Cassandra but not today. Today is about you and I and healing our wounds." He kissed Methos' temple. "You're only human, Methos. You're allowed to hurt. You're allowed to be scared. And you're allowed to love . . . and be loved."

Methos, still clinging to the old pains, resisted losing himself in Duncan's longed-for touches, but Duncan was persistent. His lips touched feather-light over the planes of Methos' face. Ancient sorrows slowly lifted, Duncan holding them at bay while giving silent pledge to what could be, if only Methos could release them. Duncan pulled back slightly, his gaze asking Methos to accept what he offered.

Methos, however, was still caught in a chasm between sorrow and joy. Gaze riveted to Duncan's, he struggled to believe in the possibilities he saw there. He wanted to make that leap of faith, but he held back, expecting the cruel hand of fate to slam him back down to reality. But it never came. Instead, he was given Duncan, overflowing with tenderness and understanding, and urging him with that vibrant will of his to believe.

"I loved him, Duncan," he said softly. "As much as I was capable of love at that time, I loved him."

"So honor that memory with love, not guilt."

Another silence fell between them -- this one not as comfortable as the first. Duncan felt Methos pulling away and allowed it, knowing the other man needed to distance himself from the strong emotions the past had stirred within him. Duncan wanted badly to reach out and run a soothing hand down Methos' back but his instincts told him that touch wouldn't be permitted -- yet. So, instead, he patiently waited.

When Methos began withdrawing behind his all-too-familiar shield of equanimity -- the one that Duncan knew would prevent him from reaching Methos' true feelings -- Duncan was quick to attack. "Don't do that," he admonished gently.

"Do what?"

"Don't protect yourself from the memories, Methos, or my reaction to them. It's not necessary. I'm here to make the memories easier for you. You need no protection from me. If you feel you do, then we've not made any progress after all."

Methos' gaze speared him. "You've judged -- harshly -- in the past."

"You surprised me," Duncan defended.

"I'll surprise you again," Methos shot back.

"Probably," Duncan admitted. "And we'll probably fight about it -- again. I can't change who I am any more than you can. But," he paused, trying to find the right words. "We shouldn't have to shield ourselves from each other."

"Nothing wrong with a good healthy fight, huh?"

"Something like that. Can you live with that?"

"Nothing comes without a price, Duncan." Methos gave him a small smile. "And some things are worth it." Methos sipped at his brandy.

"What were you like back then?" asked Duncan, with a slight nod in the sculpture's direction.

"Not so very different than I am today, in some respects. Sixty years fresh from the Horsemen, I was . . . damaged, I guess would be a good description. I had a hard time relating to others. I couldn't comprehend that there was more to life than inflicting pain and having power over others. That there were other ways, more gentle ways, of finding joy. Funny thing is, I did know that once. Before the Horsemen. But I willingly left it all behind me. Left my soul behind and became Death, and ran amuck for several centuries. And I enjoyed it. Reveled in it. Until I got restless, and bored. All that rage and power lost its allure when I started remembering there was more to life. Makarias helped me find myself again. Helped me reconnect with what soul I had left." A smile graced Methos' lips at the mention of the sculptor.

"You were lovers?" asked Duncan.

Methos nodded. "What he saw in me I'll never know. But something drew him to me. Some goodness. At least that's what he always said. He was so full of life, Duncan. So full of the joy of life. He was like a bright light at the end of a dark tunnel. I couldn't stay away. Moth to flame and all that. Except in this case the flame got burnt rather than the moth."

"The sculpture is a lovely piece. Makarias was very gifted." Dawning realization had Duncan pausing to consider something. He had wondered why the name Makarias seemed vaguely familiar when Methos had first mentioned it. "When Tessa was alive, she made annual contributions to a charitable organization that was founded to help gifted, underprivileged children and young people. It's been around for several decades. The Makarias Foundation. You?"

Methos' gaze met Duncan's briefly in acknowledgment before sliding away. "You kept up the contributions after she died," was his only comment.

Duncan shrugged. "It was doing good things. Still is."

Tension was still rolling off Methos in unrelenting waves. Duncan knew truthful revelations weren't something Methos was comfortable with. Despite his claims to the opposite, Duncan's instincts told him Methos wanted his acceptance but feared his past would sabotage his present. Duncan had to convince Methos that he understood now. That he knew he was quick to judge at times, even if Methos had goaded him into his initial reaction somewhat. With slow deliberation, Duncan reached out, hoping Methos would understand what he was trying to say and not rebuff him.

Methos jumped like a startled cat when a warm hand slid beneath the left lapel of the robe and came to rest over his heart. His gaze met Duncan's and he found himself caught and held by the honesty and trust there. More trust than a man Duncan's age ought to have.

Duncan's hand warmly caressed Methos' chest over his heart. "You're not alone, Methos. Not out here, and not in there."

Methos barely kept his surprise under wraps at the familiar words. Words he had said to Duncan while under the other man had been under the influence of a dark quickening. Methos had never been certain Duncan remembered that moment in the church. Covering his ambivalence with a sternness that fell pitifully short of his usual attempt, he growled, "I don't have the excuse of a dark quickening, MacLeod. I am what I am."

"I know that, Methos. You wouldn't be the person you are today if not for your time as one of the Horsemen and whatever else may lurk in your past. Makarias obviously saw you for who you were and not who you had been. Can I do any less? You're still the man I've been friends with, fought with, fought beside, drank with. You're still you and that's all I want. Just you. Not an image you think I hold of you."

The moment was quickly spiraling to emotional depths Methos was leery of navigating. He tried to think of something pithy to say and came up empty. When he finally did find the words for a reply, he realized belatedly they were not what he truly wanted to say. Somewhere in the last few minutes he had gone on the defensive for no reason other than he was forcing himself to be open and honest with Duncan. It wasn't something he had a lot of practice at. The moment the words left his mouth, he was sorry, but it was too late to take them back.

"I do not need nor desire your acceptance, MacLeod. I've lived with myself for five thousand years and have done just fine on my own."

Instead of the expected offended retort, Duncan spoke in the soft tones of one who has experience gentling wild animals, once again catching Methos off guard. Duncan had surprised him twice now today. The odds were not looking to be in his favor for coming out on top of this discussion, thought Methos sourly.

Duncan's softly uttered words battered at Methos' defenses. The walls he had spent centuries perfecting into a hardened shell of self-preservation began slowly disintegrating under the gentle barrage of Duncan's honesty, and Methos found himself listening to the passion behind Duncan's words rather than the words themselves.

"I'm not offering help, Methos. I'm offering friendship, and possibly something more. Why should you have to deal with the weight of all your years alone? It's what's in your heart that truly matters. You're safe with me. Can't you, just this once, toss aside your instincts and live by your heart, if only for a short while?"

Methos couldn't tear his eyes from Duncan's sincere gaze, even though he knew his own were entirely too expressive at the moment. Damn the man! And damn his passionate nature. His own gaze hardened as he delved deep into Duncan's eyes, daring him, and those eyes unflinchingly met his as the Highland warrior within rose up to meet five-thousand-years worth of immortal power. Duncan's mute message was clear. He was ready to do battle to win Methos. The more subtle message underneath the fiery passion was a steadfast promise that Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod would stand at Methos' side no matter what might come their way in the future. Honesty and trust so deep and true it was painful arrowed through Methos' being, destroying the last bastion of doubt within. Duncan would hurt him again. He knew that just as surely as he knew he would hurt Duncan. But perhaps they could start with a steadier foundation this time. One that would hold against those future hurts.

"How did you get so wise for one so young?" he whispered. And then they were  moving forward, both with the same intent.

Their lips brushed lightly in confirmation, but the touch quickly ignited into an explosion of consuming need. Methos' hands framed Duncan's face and locked him in a devouring kiss that stole their breaths. Duncan's hands pulled at him, demanding more. More. MORE. The outside world faded until all that was left was an overriding sensation of pleasure, wave upon wave of rapture deluging them until it became too much and they were drowning.

Methos reluctantly tore himself away, holding Duncan distant with a hand to his chest until the other man regained himself. Overwhelming, throbbing need raged through both men.

"Methos," Duncan protested. Methos' hands gently kneaded Duncan's shoulders before abandoning him altogether.

"Much as I despise 'talking things out', we need to finish this first, Duncan."

Methos' tone was calm but there was a subtle undertone of aroused wonder in his voice that Duncan found promising. Methos was not retreating; he was merely postponing. Duncan's hand squeezed Methos' shoulder in understanding. Understanding, however, didn't prevent him from leaning his forehead against Methos' as he voiced a groan of disappointment.

A hand touched briefly to the side of Duncan's face before withdrawing and then Methos was pulling away, putting distance between them. Duncan saw his own frustrated humor mirrored in Methos' eyes before the other man turned away, using the moment to straighten and retie the robe before turning back to the fire and resuming his thoughtful pose.

Needing a moment to get his raging hormones under control, Duncan retrieved the brandy decanter, pouring them both another drink before setting the decanter off to one side. His gaze once more found the sculpture over under the porthole, backlit by moonlight. Unable to let go of his fascination for the piece and its origins, Duncan climbed once more to his feet and retrieved the sculpture.

Once the antiquity rested on the floor before them, the flames from the fire flickering off its alabaster finish, Duncan rested a hand lightly on the sculpture, as if he could give the physical comfort there that Methos would not yet allow to his own person.

Duncan's actions drew Methos' eyes to the sculpture. He smiled, remembering how Makarias had cajoled him into posing for it.

"What?" asked Duncan, sensing Methos' amusement.

"I was just remembering how Makarias had to talk me into posing for that. I was a bit reluctant at first. It wasn't exactly permissible back then, you know, for two free-born men to be open about an intimate relationship between them. I knew what could happen if the sculpture were discovered. But Makarias could be very . . . persuasive. The sittings were . . . interesting at times. He didn't always get as much work done in a sitting as he wanted. I tended to distract him."

Duncan grinned, imagining the sort of distractions Methos had caused. This time when Methos fell silent, Duncan respected it, allowing Methos some moments to be alone with his memories of Makarias. Then the mood shifted to something much more somber. Duncan found himself tensing, as if to ward off a blow.

"I won't compromise myself for you, Duncan. I won't always do the honorable thing when it comes to saving myself, or those I love. I'll run from fights. I'll lie, cheat and kill, if it's the best way to get out of a situation. I'll avoid getting overly involved in someone else's fight. My morals won't always match yours. And, you may not always come first with me. Can you live with that?"

Duncan's troubled gaze evaded Methos'. He contemplated his brandy, as if life's answers could be found there. Finally, he said, "In other words, you'll just be you. Not who I want you to be."

"Yes." Methos' tone was unyielding.

Duncan's eyes rose to meet Methos'. There was a defiant gleam in them but it was couched in fond indulgence. "I won't stop doing what I think is the honorable thing. I won't stop trying to get you involved in my causes. I won't kill for you -- without good cause. I'll probably run to more fights than from. And  you may not always come first with me either."

Methos' eyes twinkled. "So nothing's changed."

"Looks like."

"I can live with that."

"So, the talking's done?"

"Looks like."

"Will it always be this easy?"

"MacLeod, nothing about you is easy."

"Ditto, Old Man."

Methos' breath puffed out on a tremulous sigh. His hand found Duncan's and their fingers intertwined in a union that pointed them toward the first stepping stone in forging a relationship that had the strength of immortal friendship as its guardian. "So where have you been all my life?" Methos asked with a small, hopeful smile.

"Right here, Methos. Right here, for as long as you want me to be." Methos didn't resist when Duncan tugged him forward. Their breaths wove together into a single breathless sigh.

Methos found himself balancing on the edge of a precipice, the vastness below it threatening to engulf him. Thunderous waves of shattered dreams crashed upon his shore, threatening to drown him. And then a hand reached out, calming the waters before drawing Methos down into a kiss that sealed his fate.

The first kiss barely existed.

The second was gentle.

The third savored.

Methos pulled back to gaze upon Duncan, only to find himself falling into the pool of affection and love that lit Duncan's eyes. His eyes slid closed in contentment as Duncan's fingers traced over his face in a slow, sensual dance before sliding down to his neck. "Duncan." The whisper of naked longing and urgency laid open his soul as he lost himself to the tender passion of Duncan's touch.

Methos tugged Duncan back into a kiss. When Duncan smiled into the kiss, Methos' desire for the other man edged up another notch, the gentle kiss fleeing in the wake of passionate hunger. Methos wrapped Duncan in a warm embrace that was more than just physical, and the past that had so fettered their friendship dropped away as the present overwhelmed it.

Duncan's hands slid downward and felt the strength of Methos' desire for him through the silk veneer of the robe. They slowly drew apart, both breathing heavily, both anticipating the next touch.

Eyes met and spoke what neither man could say. Love was given and returned. Old hurts were painted over with new wonders. They moved toward each other, no longer wary, no longer denying what both had wanted, and waited for, for far too long. Methos pushed Duncan back onto the pillows piled on the floor while Duncan was busy pushing the robe off Methos' shoulders.

As Duncan fumbled to find the robe tie, Methos took advantage of Duncan's lapse in attention and had him out of his clothes before Duncan quite knew what had happened. Methos straddled Duncan's hips and, untying the robe himself, slowly slid it from his body, unabashedly displaying his desire for Duncan.

Duncan's hands trailed a path over Methos' chest, his palms and fingers shaping their own personal sculpture. Methos' breathy exhalations and submission told Duncan that he had been craving this touch -- his touch - for a long, long time.

Sitting up, Duncan gathered Methos to him. Hands splayed across the other man's bare back, he kissed Methos' throat before moving downward where his tongue cherished an erect nipple. Catching the nipple between his teeth, he gently tugged on it. Methos gripped Duncan's shoulders in reaction. A low moan was dragged from him and Duncan shuddered delightedly in response.

Duncan tried to exert his strength against Methos, to force him from his straddled position over Duncan's legs to his back. Methos resisted and Duncan's ardor notched up another level as strength met with strength.

A tussle ensued and Duncan suddenly found himself laid out flat on his back with a grinning Methos hovering over him. Duncan made a grab for him but Methos slithered out of his grasp, retreating down Duncan's body to kneel at his feet. Warm hands stroked Duncan's feet, sensuously sliding over his arches before tickling at his ankles. Then Methos' hands were moving up Duncan's legs in a self-indulgent crawl that had Duncan's head dropping heavily to the floor in surrender, his whole body a pliant pillaging ground for one ancient warrior. His eyes drifted closed as Methos continued to take shameless advantage of Duncan's submission.

When the intoxicating touches halted, Duncan lifted his head to see Methos, on all fours, slowly prowling up his legs. Methos' gaze was fixated on Duncan's arousal with such heated intent that Duncan nearly came from that alone. Methos' advance was a slow torture that left Duncan wanting to grab him and have his way, only he was loath to distract Methos from his final destination.

When Methos' tongue first teased his erection, Duncan moaned as a wave of desire hit him like a tsunami, nearly bowling him over. Shudders of pure pleasure racked his body as Methos' mouth closed over the tip of his cock. When those majestic eyes lifted and peered up at him, a jolt of lightning traveled straight to Duncan's groin.

Duncan reached for Methos, his fingers dancing through Methos' hair, urging him on. Methos tongued and teased him until Duncan thought he would go crazy. When Methos began fondling his balls, it was too much. "Methos!" he groaned in warning. He tugged urgently on Methos' hair, forcing Methos to reluctantly abandon his cock. Methos slowly slid up Duncan's body, making sure Duncan felt every undulation.

Duncan forcefully pulled Methos down, greedily devouring him. Methos barely had breath left for kissing, let alone the chuckle that emerged.

"What?" Duncan murmured around kisses.

"Nothing."

"That wasn't a nothing chuckle, Methos." Duncan abandoned the kissing for a moment to look at Methos searchingly.

Methos buried his face in Duncan's neck and started nibbling. Duncan arched back to accommodate him, all thoughts of pressing Methos for an answer flying out of his head. Duncan pulled him closer as Methos' hand slipped between them to bring their erections together.

"Methos . . . ahhhh." Duncan was having a hard time concentrating. Methos murmured something against his neck.

"What? Methos -- a dhia!" Duncan couldn't contain the exclamation when Methos' tongue discovered his ear. His whole body bucked upward. Methos rode him, grinding their erections together as Duncan settled back down to the floor.

Mouths merged once more. Fingers twined together then separated to lovingly touch before twining together again. The intimacy of their lovemaking was savored. No words were needed; all was said with gazes, touches, needy whimpers and moans of pleasure.

And then their world exploded in orgasmic splendor and neither man remembered who Awareness was until she returned some time later to reclaim them.

Methos sleepily stumbled into bed after Duncan. Even half asleep, it didn't take him long to fit himself snugly to Duncan's back, one leg pushing between Duncan's to nestle comfortably. Methos, dimly aware of Duncan holding his hand to his chest, planted a soft kiss on Duncan's back before drifting off to sleep. A contented smile graced his face to match the satisfied pleasure humming between their sleeping bodies.

Duncan woke to find himself half buried under a sprawling and still sound asleep Methos. That in itself wasn't too bad. But Methos' shoulder and arm had Duncan's head pinned in such a way that his own pillow was beginning to smother him.

"Me -- ugh -- umph!"

"Wha--?" Methos drowsily moved, unintentionally shoving Duncan's face even further into the pillow.

"Ca -- bre -- umph -- off!"

Methos rolled over and off of Duncan. "What are you mumbling about?"

Freedom at last! Duncan took a deep breath and grinned. Methos was a bedhog. For some reason, that small piece of information delighted him. He slid over next to Methos and kissed his exposed nape while sliding a hand under the covers to glide down Methos' bare back to his buttocks. Methos pushed back, encouraging the groping.

"Like that?" murmured Duncan.

"Ummm."

Duncan leaned over him to capture Methos' lips with his own. Midway through the kiss Methos' stomach rumbled loudly, only to be answered by an equally loud rumble from Duncan's. Both men laughed.

"You wouldn't by chance be hungry . . . for food, would you?" asked Duncan in between chuckles.

"Famished," Methos admitted.

Never one to ignore a friend's, or a lover's, needs, Duncan gave Methos a quick kiss on the lips before bounding out of bed. Not bothering with clothes, he headed for the kitchen area, tossing over his shoulder, "Let me see if I can find us a midnight snack of some sort."

Methos stretched, taking up every bit of available space in the bed and enjoying the luxury of doing nothing more than savoring the tranquility of the moment. He lay there basking in the echoes of Duncan's loving touches.

Gradually, noises from the kitchen pulled Methos out of his reverie. He crawled to the end of the bed so he could see what the other man was up to and was rewarded with the pleasant vision of Duncan's ass as he moved about the kitchen, fixing a tray of food and drinks.

Methos' contentment grew into a satisfied smile. He felt good. Gods, he felt terrific! He felt free. Loved. Blessed. Happy. That was the word for what he was. He was happy.

Duncan jumped when a pair of arms unexpectedly slid around him from behind. Crowding him up against the counter, Methos reached around Duncan to snatch a grape off the platter. He popped the grape into Duncan's mouth.

Duncan turned his head slightly and Methos was there to capture his lips. The grape slid from mouth to mouth amidst a tango of tongues until Methos crushed it, sending a burst of sweet nectar into Duncan's mouth.

"Ummmmm," Duncan hummed into the kiss as he turned fully into Methos' embrace.

"Um hmmm," replied an equally contented Methos.

They pulled back slightly, but still remained in each other's arms. "You were supposed to wait in bed for me," chided Duncan.

"What am I? Your bed slave?"

"You could be." Duncan's eyes were hopeful.

"Been there, done that," replied Methos in mock weariness. "You wanna see the 'cuffs?"

"Leather or fur-lined?"

"Soft leather, of course," replied Methos indignantly. "I insist on the best; besides, fur-lined are just plain tacky. Have you no taste, MacLeod?"

"Of course not," grinned Duncan. "I chose you, didn't I?"

Methos, who had been reaching around Duncan to snatch more food off the platter, detoured to bite Duncan's shoulder instead.

"OW!"

Methos beat a hasty retreat out of the kitchen before Duncan could retaliate. Grabbing up a long-handled wooden spoon from the countertop storage, Duncan gave chase.

Turning to see an armed Duncan coming after him, Methos grabbed the nearest weapon he could find:  a tall, slim metallic candlestick. Quickly dispensing with the candle it held, he assumed an en garde position with the candlestick held tightly in his left hand. A wicked grin lit his face as he awaited Duncan's attack.

Drawing himself up to his full height, Duncan formally proclaimed, "I am . . ." A strange glint entered his eyes as he stumbled over his introduction. Methos' candlestick wavered but steadied as Duncan began his formal introduction again, only it wasn't what Methos was expecting.

"I am Inigo MacLeod. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Methos only had time for a brief grin of recognition for the quote before he was forced to defend himself. Candlestick and spoon clashed and the battle was joined. Both grinning like maniacs, they battled across the barge, heedless of their nudity. When Duncan suddenly shifted to another fighting style, it was too good an opportunity to pass up and Methos found himself quoting Duncan's movie back at him.

"You're using Bonetti's defense against me, eh?" To his delight, Duncan took up the dual challenge of sword and quote.

Eyes glowing with pleasure, Duncan affected a shrug. "I thought it fitting, considering the terrain." He hopped over a pillow and up on the bed. Methos quickly pursued him, trying to take advantage.

Grinning, Methos said, "Naturally, you must expect me to attack with Capo Ferro." He quickly shifted styles.

Duncan, his grin widening, performed some quick footwork to cope with the sudden change. "Naturally. But," Duncan transitioned into yet another style, "I find Thibault cancels out Capo Ferro, don't you?" A flurry of movements had Methos retreating quickly.

Perched atop the bed and with no obvious line of defense, Methos studied his opponent. "Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa--" He gracefully leapt from the bed to the floor then quickly scampered down off the bedroom platform to the main floor of the barge. Duncan swiftly followed and the two men ended up facing each other, spoon and candlestick crossed. Methos, his expression now predatory, finished his statement, "--which I have." He attacked.

The battle raged on. When Duncan nimbly tipped a chair in a purely Fred Astaire move, Methos paused in appreciation, not only of Duncan's graceful elegance but of his swinging assets which lack of clothing left in full view. Grinning, Duncan took full advantage of the distraction and attacked. Methos scrambled atop the couch to gain the high ground. Once he had Duncan back on the defensive, he leapt from the couch and descended upon Duncan in a flurry of thrusts and feints. Duncan was ready for him and met him move for move and, ever so slowly, forced Methos to the defensive.

Picking up the fight between Inigo and the Dread Pirate King once more, an exuberant Methos shouted overdramatically, "You are wonderful!"

Duncan, never slowing his flurry of strikes, replied, equally exuberantly, "Thank you. I've worked hard to become so." He forced Methos back, closer and closer to being backed into a corner with no way out.

Methos, still full of vigor but quickly losing ground to Duncan, confessed, "I admit it -- you're better than I am."

"Then why are you smiling?" asked an equally wide-smiling Duncan.

Inches from defeat, Methos said, "Because I know something you don't know."

"And what is that?"

"I'm not left-handed." Methos tossed the candlestick into his right hand and immediately the tide of battle turned.

Duncan tried to keep Methos cornered, but it was no use. He was forced into retreat as Methos regained the advantage.

Methos' candlestick was a blur of movement as he increased the pace of his attack. He suddenly switched styles again and Duncan, having no choice, continued to retreat. Nothing he tried against Methos worked.

Picking up his Princess Bride character once more, Duncan breathlessly gasped around thrusts and feints, "You're amazing!"

"I ought to be after five thousand years," replied Methos smugly.

Duncan fell back to the stairs, only to end up pinned to the door under Methos' candlestick. "There's something I ought to tell you."

"Tell me," breathed Methos, mere inches from Duncan, his arousal pushing at Duncan's.

"I'm not left-handed either." Duncan's spoon switched hands and at last the battle was fully joined. Forced back down the steps, Methos tried another style but Duncan anticipated him and was once more gaining control. Before Methos could find a defense against Duncan's attack, his candlestick was knocked clear of his hand. He dived under Duncan's spoon and scrambled for his candlestick. Duncan smacked his bare butt with the spoon as he passed by.

"Hey!" Methos protested. Then he caught up the candlestick and, moving like lightning, thrust forward, slashed and then fell back all in one movement. Duncan dodged. Again, Methos thrust forward, even faster than before. Wise to that move, Duncan blocked the slash this time.

The battle raged on, back and forth across the room, both men moving with the grace and speed of improvisational dancers. In a sudden flash of movement the spoon was knocked free of Duncan's hand. Methos moved in, trapping Duncan against the wall, his aroused body rubbing against Duncan's.

"Finish the scene," growled Methos lowly, his eyes glinting, the candlestick held across Duncan's throat. Duncan breathed convulsively, Methos' aggressive playfulness making him desperate for the man. He attempted to break away but Methos was holding him tight. "Finish it!" Duncan's body responded instantly to the deep baritone register Methos' voice had migrated to.

Barely able to remember his own name at this point, let alone a movie scene, Duncan finally recalled enough to gasp out, "Who are you?!"

Shrugging, Methos slid the candlestick back and forth across Duncan's throat in erotic imitation of what they had been doing earlier. "No one of consequence," he finally murmured, his eyes aglow with anticipation.

"I must know." Duncan's gaze pleaded with Methos for release.

Smirking, Methos told him, "Get used to disappointment."

Duncan's whole body capitulated in easy acceptance. "Okay."

A long look between the two of them confirmed that everything was, indeed, 'okay'. The candlestick dropped to the floor with a loud clatter and Methos was suddenly trying to push Duncan through the wall with a fierce kiss.

A loud crack of thunder reverberated through the barge as the brief lull in the storm outside passed and the storm hit full force. The lights flickered before returning full strength. A slow patter of raindrops could be heard as the distant thunder boomed ever closer.

Mouths still firmly joined, Methos tugged Duncan away from the wall and toward the bed on the other side of the room. Halfway across the room they went down, the coffee table shattering under the impact of their bodies. Neither paid it any attention as their mouths frantically sought to reconnect and hands moved in a flurry of ravenous touches.

They rolled out of the remains of the coffee table with Duncan ending up atop Methos. Taking full advantage of his position, Duncan pinned Methos' hands to the floor while thrusting against him. Their erections slid against each other, the friction propelling them toward mutual gratification. Duncan could feel the impending explosion quickly building. Not wanting it be over with quite yet, he reached down between them, gripping both erections at the base, refusing either of them release.

Once the initial frenzy had passed, Duncan grasped their erections together in a slow slide of his hand, wringing a moan of pleasure from Methos.

"Fuck, MacLeod!"

"That a request, Methos?"

"No."

"No request?"

"No." Methos' hips surged upward, seeking closer contact. "Demand."

"Bossy, aren't you?"

Methos yanked a hand free and snaked it around to Duncan's nape to pull him down into an incendiary kiss. Then, before Duncan had time to comprehend, Methos surged upward and twisted. Duncan found himself on his back, looking up into eyes glittering blackly with lust. "Not bossy. Demanding." Methos grinned wickedly and Duncan's heart rate tripled in excitement. Then Methos' weight was gone from him and Duncan found himself being dragged across the room toward the bed by one leg.

"Caveman!" hollered Duncan.

"Possessive," Methos shot back.

"Domineering!"

"Besotted," Methos countered.

"Sexy," Duncan sighed.

"You don't know the half of it," Methos challenged. Having reached the bed platform, Methos dropped Duncan's leg and bounded up the steps to land in the bed.

Still laying on the floor below, Duncan said, "What? Not going to heave me over your shoulder and throw me into your cave?"

"Do you know how much you weigh, MacLeod?"

Grinning, Duncan jumped to his feet and gave Methos no time to prepare for his flying tackle. The ensuing wrestling match quickly turned to sexual conquest.

As the storm outside picked up, the thunder was no longer distant and the steady, cold drizzle of rain had increased to a full-blown rainstorm. Awash in their own turbulent storm, Duncan and Methos, their actions unknowingly echoing the hard, pounding rain, moved in frenetic thrusts of consummation. Their shouts of pleasure echoed joyfully as they sank into each other, their union shooting rays of brightness through the diminishing storm clouds until all that was left were blissful sighs of contentment.

Methos reclined back against Duncan's chest, enjoying the feel of the strong arms cradling him and of skin against skin. Duncan's right hand idly traced patterns on Methos' chest, his fingers grazing a sensitized nipple from time to time. His other hand rested possessively over Methos' now lax member. One twitch from Duncan's still hand, though, and Methos knew his body would awaken from its slumber.

"That was nice," murmured Duncan into Methos' hair.

"Just nice? That's all you have to say?" shot back Methos in mock outrage that fell sadly short of his usual performance. He was much too satisfied at the moment to put much heart into being cynical or sarcastic. He could feel Duncan's mouth curving into a smile.

"Nice, Methos. As in seductive, enticing, captivating, charming, enchanting, bewitching, ravishing, heart-melting, heart-warming, exciting, heavenly, blissful. Nice."

Methos turned his head invitingly and Duncan obliged him. They kissed gently, reaffirming their closeness. "I can do better than nice," Methos murmured into Duncan's mouth and was rewarded with a chuckle from his lover.

"Looking forward to it."

Methos resumed his previous position of joyfully sprawling on Duncan. He tried to keep hold of the happiness of the moment but fears were creeping in again. Little voices telling him this was temporary. That it would only last until the next bit of flotsam from his muddied past floated to the surface, or Duncan tired of him. He must have been mad to encourage this. Happiness was never long-lived in his experience.

Duncan felt Methos tensing up. He tightened the embrace, refusing to let Methos withdraw. His hand slid upward until it was resting on the flat plane of Methos' stomach while his other hand caressed Methos' face "Don't," Duncan said softly. "It's okay to be happy. I'm not going anywhere." A fine tremor ran through Methos' body but he relaxed bit by bit until Duncan no longer had the feeling he was going to bolt at any moment.

Duncan tenderly kissed Methos' temple and continued holding him close. "You know," he finally said, "Fitz told me a story once. One of those times when he was trying to teach me something about life and I wasn't taking him seriously."

"Fitzcairn was a little hard to take seriously." It was evident from Methos' smirk that he had known Fitz. Duncan made a mental note to ask Methos about that at some future date.

"Maybe," Duncan admitted with a fond grin, "but he had his moments."

Methos' hand caught up one of his and gave it a sympathetic squeeze. "And what bit of wisdom did Fitzcairn impart upon you, MacLeod?" Methos' tone was just shy of turning cynical but his touch was tender, one more indication to Duncan that Methos should never be taken at face value. Layers upon layers with this man, and it no longer bothered him quite so much that he might not know all those layers. Ever.

"You've heard the story about the Colors of the world, how they quarreled, until Rain came along and encouraged them to join together?"

"Mm hmmm," was Methos' only response, as he was once more busy mapping out all the erogenous zones on Duncan's body.

Duncan squirmed when Methos' tongue found one particularly sensitive spot and he took a moment to enjoy the sensations before doggedly pursuing the conversation. He had a message for Methos and wanted to be sure the other man received it loud and clear before this night was over.

"You recall what the Rain told the squabbling Colors?"

Methos paused in his mapping of the other man's body, recognizing that Duncan was going to persist with this until he got whatever it was Duncan was trying to tell him. "Something about each Color being made for a special purpose, each one unique and different. And that they should join together."

Duncan smiled at Methos' distracted tone, appreciative that he was making an effort to hear him out when all he obviously wanted to do was jump his bones -- again.

"And the Colors did join together after the Rain cleansed the Earth, stretching across the sky in a symbol of peace and hope for tomorrow and a reminder to always appreciate each other."

Methos stilled and Duncan knew the other man was close to comprehending what he was trying to say. Duncan's arms tightened around Methos. "You're my rainbow, Methos. You give me hope."

Touched beyond words, Methos squeezed his eyes tightly closed in an attempt to prevent the tears. It did no good. A lone teardrop still escaped. Nobody had spoken of or to him in such a manner since Makarias. What was there in Makarias and Duncan, and Seneca for that matter, that saw such glimmers of hope for the future in him? He simply couldn't fathom how he could inspire such feelings in others.

Duncan caught the teardrop on a finger. "Rain to wash away your sorrows?"

"No," murmured Methos, turning in Duncan's arms until they were face to face. "Rain to celebrate the joy you bring to me, Duncan MacLeod." Methos gazed deep into Duncan's soul and saw himself reflected back, and liked what he saw.

EPILOGUE

Clad only in his kata pants, Duncan knelt on his knees, rear end resting on his heels, and looked out over the water at the horizon. The morning air was fresh and crisp with the scent of the night's rain still in the air. Duncan was awaiting the sunrise. It somehow seemed appropriate that this morning of all mornings he be up to greet the sun. Last night had been the closest he had felt to another person, let alone another immortal, in years. Probably since Tessa.

He had hated to leave the warmth of the bed and Methos, who had been twined around his back like a second skin, but upon spying the glimmer of a new day dawning, the urge to greet the day had been so strong that Duncan had reluctantly left Methos' arms and come topside.

The darkness in the sky had dimmed and a faint light appeared on the horizon. The light grew, expanding out beyond the horizon in a rebirth of color that brought a new day. Duncan breathed deeply of the fresh morning air as the edge of the sun peeked over the horizon before beginning its ascent to warm the day.

A gentle, joyful thrumming filled his being. Methos. Smiling, Duncan stood and turned to see his lover -- his lover, his heart sang -- standing just beyond the doorway. Methos was looking deliciously sleep-tousled. Barefoot, he had Duncan's robe once again loosely belted about him.

Duncan turned back to look out over the water and at the distant horizon once more. Methos came up behind him, wrapping Duncan in his embrace and turning him slightly in another direction. "Look there," he said quietly.

Duncan looked. A rainbow arced across the sky.

"A new morning has begun," Methos quoted softly. "All the colors of my soul are bright and new. The rain of your spirit has refreshed my soul. Everything inside of me is clean and fresh -- all the haziness gone. My heart is filled with joy. A new morning has begun. All the colors of my soul are bright and new."

"Poetry, Methos?" Duncan's voice was softly appreciative.

"Something someone special once told me. Seems fitting this morning somehow."

Staying within Methos' embrace, Duncan turned to face him. Last night had broken the last barriers between them. Duncan wasn't so besotted that he was unaware there would most likely be difficult times in their future, but it was a future they would face together, for however long it suited them to remain together. The ease of it, the acceptance that it might not be forever, didn't upset Duncan. For now, it was enough to live in the moment.

His gaze connected with Methos', and he smiled a smile that was reserved only for Methos. And Methos smiled back, the sun brightly reflected in his eyes, before tugging him down below to further research this thing called happiness.

As they disappeared inside, Methos' voice drifted back out on the morning air. "Fuck, MacLeod. I nearly froze my bum off topside. We've got to move to a warmer climate."

"Methos--"

"I'm serious, MacLeod."

"Methos--"

"Are you listening to me?"

"Yes, Methos. You're right of course, Methos. You always are."

"Remember that, will you?"

"Is this our first fight?"

"Where's that bloody candlestick?"

SWAT!

"MACLEOD! That's my bum! Put down that spoon! MacLeod!"
 

~Finis


This excerpt was borrowed from a website of inspirational poetry:

The rain of your spirit has refreshed my soul. Everything inside of me is clean and fresh -- all the haziness gone. My heart is filled with joy -- A new morning has begun. All the colors of my soul are bright and new.



 


Sapphire                                          Home