Decisions - Methos
An immortal’s Presence touched me and I looked up, putting my book down on the cafe table. The flight-or-fight impulse tensed my spine for the split second it took to recognise MacLeod. But I didn't relax.
He walked toward me like God's gift to the human race, his coat flaring as if it thought it was a cloak, for Christ's sake. He'd missed his morning shave, or was going in for the designer-stubble retro look. Then there was that smile on his face.
Confident, self-assured, a man so thoroughly at ease and secure in who and what he is that nothing could shake him. A man with a plan.
Alarm bells went off in my head and I scowled up at him. I had a feeling my breakfast was going to be spoiled.
MacLeod sat down without waiting to be invited. I didn't speak. He'd asked for this meeting, so the ball was in his court. I wasn't subtle, I didn't try to hide my suspicion, and his eyes dropped first, those absurdly long lashes thick on his skin. Then he looked up and held my gaze.
"It's an auction," he said, his dark eyes locked on me with Bassett hound earnestness rather than seduction. I would have preferred seduction, but this was Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. He kept the smoldering glances for the ladies, not the likes of me, though there were some occasions over the years of our friendship when I'd wondered about that. There were, after all, a few episodes in his Chronicles that hinted he'd strayed away from the straight path sometimes. At least, that's what I read into them, and it added the spice of sexual possibilities into our friendship. Not that I had any intention of nudging him in that direction.
"So?" I said dismissively, and picked up my book again. "You're an antiques dealer. Auctions are what you do." I poured out the last of the coffee, and Camille obligingly arrived with a fresh cafétière and an equally warm smile for me. I like Paris and its boulevard cafés, especially this particular café on the first floor of the same apartment block I live in.
"It's not antiques. Well, not exactly."
I glanced up at him again, and was snared. Damn it, he does it to me every time; big velvet eyes and that solemn intensity, his mouth on the edge of a hopeful smile.
"What?" I snapped. He didn't have to know he'd started that sweet fire in my blood. Again. He looked away, expression borderline guilty.
"I, uh, just thought you'd maybe like to come along," he said, and helped himself to my coffee.
"So what, exactly, does not exactly antiques mean?" I demanded, moving the croissants out of his reach in case he had designs on them as well. They were supposed to be my late breakfast, not his, and I was pretty damn sure he hadn't arranged to meet here just so he could thieve the food from my plate.
"Amadeus needs a transplant," he muttered, and that distracted me long enough for him to filch a croissant.
"Ama-- Oh. The barge. So? What does that have to do with auctions and me?" Then my brain did a few semi-lateral hops and I got the picture. His latest piece of river flotsam was about eighty, ninety years old. Its propulsion unit was not exactly up to 21st century standards, and finding spare parts for it and its predecessor was always a headache. Now it needed the whole works. I didn't have to ask where I fitted into the scenario. He's driving the latest BMW these days, a sleek silver beast that went from zero to escape velocity in about six seconds; I'm driving a nondescript and slightly battered Mercedes SUV with plenty of room in the back if you take out the seats. "Bugger off, MacLeod! You are not putting a ton of dirty metal in my car!"
"It won't weigh anything like that much," he protested. "Besides, you owe me a favor."
"I do?" I gave a snort of disbelief. "Since when?"
"Last night. Amanda wanted you to help her out with a scam at the British Museum. I told her you were in Sydney and she's gone off to track you down."
I shuddered. "Are you sure?"
"Watched her board the plane. I could really do with your help," he pleaded, earnestness transmuted to beseeching. "Please?" Deja vu. Damn it, that bloody man uses his natural-born assets by instinct. But you don't get to my age without growing some very tough armour, not to mention I hadn't forgotten the last time he'd tried the patented MacLeod wheedle on me. It had taken some fast talking to save my neck from Gina de Valicourt's sword.
I heaved a self-sacrificing sigh. "All right," I said irritably. "And get your paws off my croissants!"
Then, after the bloody auction, I had a fit of insanity and invited him over to dinner to celebrate the purchase of his new toy--engine.
MacLeod was uncharacteristically late, so I went down to the boulevard, to have a look around. Just in case the delay was something or someone I needed to know about.
No lurking trouble, just a replay of the morning. Same jaunty stride, same coat with delusions of archaic style, except his still-damp hair looked as if he'd braided it back.
I surreptitiously checked his fingernails as he held out the bottle of wine. They're oil-free and clean. The scent of his cologne almost covers the unmistakable aroma of Swarfega.
"Sorry I'm late," he said. "The valves--"
"Spare me the technical details." I smiled to take the edge off the words. "And I'll try to pretend you don't smell of mature sump gunk."
"I don't!" he exclaimed, expression horrified. "Do I?"
"Probably not, but it'll be a long time before my car doesn't."
"Oh. Sorry." His grin was abashed and impish at the same time, an irresistible combination. "I'll make it up to you," he added guilelessly, and I suddenly teetered precariously on the brink of a decision.
"You certainly will," I replied, a mock-growl in my voice. "I'm going to start a list. Come on up, dinner's on the way to being ready." I refused to itemize all the ways he could make recompense, because they were all salacious. But I was aware of him in every nerve-end as he followed me to the elevator.
We didn't talk, just rode up in a comfortable silence. It gave me time to regain control of my libido and thought processes.
Okay, so I wanted him. Have done for a long time, but commonsense has always prevented me from acting on it. Not that I had any doubt on how a sexual advance would be received. Regardless of what was or wasn't in his Chronicles, the man was a sensual animal, a hedonist: push the right buttons and he'd be in my bed, and sex with him would be... better than good. That wasn't the issue. The issue holding me back was the aftermath. For me.
I wanted him in ways I hadn't felt in centuries. I wanted to bury my face in that curve of shoulder and neck and breathe in the scent of him, draw him deep into my lungs and into my soul. I wanted to bury my hands in the heavy silk of his hair. I wanted to sculpt my fingertips over the contoured angles of his body, feel the flex of muscle under my palm as it rested on his belly, rediscover every plane and curve of his features with my mouth and tongue. I wanted the sleek, lithe power of him in my arms, his strength wrapped around me, his joyous vitality in my life for the rest of his life--our lives--because I was in love with him, and that terrified me.
Before March 1995 I'd spent a lot of years alone, deliberately isolating myself from commitments, friendships. Unfortunately, friends had a way of sliding under my shields and getting closer than I'd intended. Okay, they were all mortals, but then Duncan MacLeod of et cetera walked through my door and blasted all my barriers to hell and gone. I didn't make friends of immortals. Well, not for the last couple of centuries, anyhow, but he was different.
He was, and is, an opinionated, arrogant, self-righteous, stubborn, pompous, self-deluded, I-have-to-save-the-world-from-itself, magnetic, charismatic, over-sensitive, blindly optimistic, caring, loyalty-personified idiot with an honour complex big enough to sink the Titanic and more sensuality than any human being had a right to have. And that doesn't even begin to unravel the complexity of the man.
There's a reason I don't commit to immortals. Been there. Done that. And walked away before that final price came due. Which only postponed the inevitable. Safer to commit to a mortal because their frailty meant there was a natural closure to the loving and the grief of pre-ordained loss. It's part of the package you take on board when you include them in your life, knowing that age or accident or illness will claim them away from you.
But for us there is only the blade, and it could come at any time, sudden and final.
If MacLeod and I were to share our lives, that potential end would be so much closer. The man didn’t have the sense to come in out of the rain, let alone disappear when another immortal comes hunting, and I would be pulled into the Game by association.
I did not want to die. I did not want that nothingness that surely waits beyond the final cutting edge: all that I was and am subsumed into another's life.
Dylan had it right. I wouldn’t 'go gentle into that good night', but 'rage, rage against the dying of the light'.
Kronos. I spent nearly a thousand years feeding the entropy in my soul, but there’d come a time when I could no longer ignore the questions that simmered below the surface. Then it had taken me another century to finally be free of my need for that charismatic Chaos-child and the life we'd led, to walk away from Silas' innocent savagery and Caspian's distorted voraciousness.
Byron--I'd drifted with him. A dream-time tangled with poppy, with heedless sensation, heady with the magic of his bardic gift, and lit by the flawed jewel that was his mind. I'd drifted and dreamed until Mary Shelley jarred me awake with her own talent with words.
Duncan MacLeod. He was the antithesis of Kronos for certain, and all that Byron might have been but wasn't, except that the poetry in his soul was spoken with body and blade rather than words.
In the past, I'd taken other immortal lovers, of course, but committed to them? No. But if I took him, I’d have to commit. I wouldn't be able to help myself. There were some out there, immortals and Watchers, who thought MacLeod was uncomplicated, an easily read and understood manuscript of a man. They were so wrong. He's a Gordian Knot of contradictions, and I could spend centuries exploring his convoluted thread. But like that other Knot, he's vulnerable.
He killed with the terrible and wondrous grace that belonged only to the highly evolved, instinctive killer, honed to something approaching perfection by his centuries of fascination with the more esoteric martial arts. And like all of us, he was a palimpsest of light and dark. Because of his skills, his darkness is more dangerous than most. He raised ruthless deadliness to an art form. Inevitably, he sometimes ended up killing friends, lovers, and those wounds aren't healed as swiftly as our slashed and bloodied bodies. Those wounds cripple.
We are what we are: hunter-killers, and harrowing your transitory soul about blood and quickening fire won't gain you anything but a permanent cure for grief. 'Do what you have to do to survive' should be the watchword for every immortal, but no one will ever convince the MacLeods of this world of that.
I'd told him on a couple of occasions that he was too important to lose. He hadn't reacted, just brushed it off. Well, we were a little distracted at the time. Maybe he hadn't taken in what I'd said: he'd heard it often enough from Cassandra the Self-Appointed Omnipotent, as well as Amanda, and he might have thought I was giving him the same old flannel about the Game and how he was the Number One Contender and all that bullshit.
Fuck the Game. He was important to me. My defence, my harbor, my counterpoint, and my main hope that the Game will never be won. Because Duncan MacLeod of et cetera would not, in his right mind, collude in the extermination of a race. Or maybe we're a species. Whatever.
The bottom line is that I have lived for over five thousand years, and I fully intended to live another five thou at least.
If I took him, that ambition could well get short shrift.
If I didn't take him, for the rest of his life he'd be there, just out of my reach. Another regret.... Shit, Tantalus had it easy.
On the other hand, if we stood together, sword-brothers, shield-brothers, lovers, who on this beautiful, tortured planet could defeat us?
And while we stood together, the Game, that ultimate in ethnic cleansing, would never be won.
By all the bloodstained gods I didn't believe in, I think I'd be damned if I do and damned if I don't.
So what the fuck did I do about Duncan MacLeod?
The elevator clanked to a halt at my floor and I walked the half-dozen steps to my door. He followed close behind me, almost close enough for me to feel his body heat, or to imagine I could. I fumbled the key in the lock, then managed to get the door open. With a courteous half-mocking bow I ushered him over the threshold and closed the door behind us.
He was on my territory now.
Maybe he sensed the difference, because he spoke my name, his voice little more than a whisper, and those two syllables conveyed more than any poetic declaration.
Okay. Decision made.
Duncan MacLeod. A man so thoroughly at ease and confident in who and what he is that nothing can shake him.
Except me. I was the earthquake that would shift his tectonic plates and bring all those walls of self-discipline and control tumbling down.
And who was he?
Lover and Beloved.
What was he?
The Road To Damascus - MacLeod
The damage was worse than I'd thought. I sat back on my heels and gazed sadly at the entrails spread out on the quayside. I don't believe in omens, but if I did, I'd be getting an uneasy feeling that maybe I should be reviewing my options. Or maybe it was just the underlying restlessness that had been plaguing me lately, giving me a bite on the ass. Life hadn't been dull, of course, there was always plenty to do and friends to be with, but there were times when I'd sit on my own in the barge and I'd know that something was missing. I just couldn't put my finger on what that something was. Perhaps it was time for me to move on....
"It looks horrible," Amanda said, hovering over my shoulder like a scented vulture, and she didn't manage to get much in the way of any real horror into her voice. "I think she's finally dead."
"Yes," I agreed dejectedly. "Very dead. Cylinder head's cracked, pistons seized, gaskets blown, rods--"
"That's a shame. Come on, go and clean up. We're going somewhere exclusive and atmospheric, remember? We can drown your sorrows at the same time."
Amanda's words didn't really register. I loved that barge and I wasn't ready to give up on her. There had to be options. "All I can do now is try to find another--"
"Duncan. You are not listening to me."
"What?" I stared up at her. She was wearing something elegant in rust cashmere and emerald silk, and looked as if she'd just walked away from a fashion-shoot.
"You. Me. La Vigne D'Or. Montmartre."
"We are?" Then I remembered and scrambled to my feet. "Oh shit! Amanda, I'm sorry! I, uh, got so involved with this...." The words trailed off lamely. She'll never let me live it down, I knew. I was going to have to keep a close eye on my credit cards. "I'll phone them, make sure they hold our table."
But she just smiled sweetly and blew me a kiss. "It's okay, lover. I know how much this old boat means to you." Long experience and a well-honed instinct of self-preservation started to send out warning signals: Amanda was up to something, and I'd best be on my guard. I had a feeling that more than my credit cards might at risk. But I didn't let my suspicions show, I hoped. Then again, what the hell, this was Amanda, and I loved the devious, conniving, charming, gorgeous...."You just scrub all that black stuff off and I'll make the call."
On my way to the shower, a catalogue caught my eye. I'd consigned it to the waste bin nearly a week ago and hadn't gotten round to dumping it with the rest of the trash; the Jules Bretagne Yard was having one of their rare auctions very soon--tomorrow--and since I'd bought spare parts for the late and lamented Nobile some years ago, they'd dug my name out of their computer and sent me details of their up-coming sale. I hadn't been interested, but right then it seemed like a godsend. Another omen, maybe? If I believed in them. Which I didn't.
There were half-a-dozen river and estuary-craft of various types, including an old ketch that had made me pause the first time I'd leafed through the pages. But now I was more interested in the back sections, where the engines and fittings were listed--
"Duncan!" I dropped the catalogue. Sometimes Amanda's voice could etch glass. "Shower!"
"This is important!" I snapped, embarrassed as if I'd been caught doing something illicit, and irritated that she'd startled me so successfully.
"I know." She began to put her arms around me, but drew back, wrinkling her nose. "Honey, Eau De Grease is not sexy."
"Okay, okay," I muttered. "Try not to be so subtle next time."
"Ooooh, sarcasm!" Amanda chuckled. "You've been spending time with Methos, haven't you?"
I didn't know why, but that stung. What if I had? The man was great company, and I liked him, for God's sake. "So?" I demanded, scowling at her.
"So you're picking up his bad habits. Pleeease clean up so we can go and eat! I am starving!"
I was distracted during the meal. The necessity for a replacement engine for Amadeus and the auction were enough to counterbalance Amanda's charms, and I was guiltily aware I'd missed chunks of her bright chatter. But she didn't pull me up on it, which reminded me of my earlier suspicions. Then a familiar name suddenly appeared, and I started paying closer attention.
"So how is Methos these days?" she'd said.
"Methos?" I echoed, surprised. She didn't usually ask after him.
"Or Adam, or whatever he's calling himself now. Maybe he'd like to go out for a meal sometime as well. Where did you say he was staying?"
"I didn't." An idea hit me. His car was a whole lot better for getting heavy engines from point A to point B than mine was. If he'd agree. Then I took in Amanda's wide-eyed ingénue expression and my earlier hunch strengthened. "Why?"
She gave an extravagant shrug. "Why not? He's an irritating old bastard, but I'm fond of him. He's also fun to be with when he chooses, and," her smile became a speculative smirk, "he's a delightfully amoral hedonist."
"You'd know that, of course," I said curtly, caught on the raw again. Okay, they'd known each other since long before I was born, but--
"Jealous?" Amanda somehow managed to turn the sibilants into a purr. "You don't have to be. You'll always be first in my heart, Duncan. Well, before Methos, anyhow."
I gazed at her hand lying over mine, and realised with a shock that I was resentful, envious even, and not of Methos, but of her. She'd known that subtle, many-layered mind, that intriguing, oddly magnetic individual so much longer than I had. But not jealous. No, definitely not that.
"But I would like to see him again," she went on, "talk over old times, maybe make some plans...."
"Ah-huh." And that was the key word. Plans. "What's the scam, Amanda?"
"Duncan!" She was outraged and snatched her hand away. "Plans for a dinner--here, maybe! For three, if you like?" But her eyes slid away from mine for a fraction of a second.
"The scam," I said stubbornly, refusing to be distracted by the image of the three of us sitting in warm companionship. She muttered something under her breath.
"No scam, I swear. I just need to talk to him, and it's urgent. I've tried his old addresses, and he's long gone." Her gaze was locked back on me, sharply speculative. "Joe won't tell me where he is, but you and he have always been pretty close so you must know. Well, not always, but that was years ago now and I really do need to talk to him."
"Talk to me first. Give me a good reason to pass on his address, and I'll think about it."
"Okay!" For a moment Amanda scowled at the remains of her dessert, then she gave another shrug and sighs. "Okay. It is so--stupid--I could scream. And if you laugh I will castrate you with a cheese grater!" The waiter, who was about to remove her plate, nearly dropped it in her lap, and she offered him a sweet smile. When he was safely out of earshot, she leaned forward conspiratorially. "Back in the 1400's, I was over in England, and I hid some stuff under the floor of a stable. I never went back for it, and, well, I forgot about it. Then I read this Reuters newsflash about a medieval hoard found by metal detectors in some idiot's orchard, and it's mine!"
So far, it sounded like a typical Amanda stunt. I didn't say anything, just looked at her, and she sat back with a hiss of anger. "Don't even think it!" she snarled. "It is mine! I didn't steal it, I damn-well earned it! They were gifts from--an admirer." I stayed silent. "I swear it, Duncan! We'd been lovers off and on since he was about eighteen or so, and his fortunes sort of went up and down a lot." A small, secretive smile curved her lovely mouth, and her eyes became mistily introspective. "Then they went up. And up, and he was generous. I'd helped him out in all kinds of ways, and not just in bed. I played go-between for him while he was exiled, and when he took--"
She stopped, then laughed at herself. "Why the hell am I being coy?" she drawled. "Ned Plantagenet, who became Edward Four." I swallowed my snort of disbelief, and tried to look suitably impressed. "When he died and it looked like the Woodvilles were going to rule the roost through his eldest, I buried my jewels and skipped town." She sighed again. "I'd been too quick off the mark. I should have stayed around; Dickon took over instead. You know, Richard Three, and don't you believe Shakespeare! I was planning on going back for them, but I left it too late and Dickon lost out to Henry Tudor. Now there was a penny-pinching, scheming, devious son of a bitch! Anyhow, I never did go back, and now they're sitting in the British Museum. *My* gold, *my* jewels!"
"And you think Methos can help you do what?" I asked, and I couldn't keep the skepticism out of my voice. "Get them back?"
"Of course," she said impatiently. "He knows that place inside out and upside down. Trust me. So where is he?"
I thought fast. Amanda was a great con-artist. No one did it better. But I could usually tell when she's lying, and I was beginning to have the feeling she was telling the truth this time. Okay, not all of it, but enough. I'd check her story with Joe, just to be on the safe side, but that wouldn't solve the immediate problem.
If I told her, Methos would either be whisked off to England or he'd disappear so thoroughly no one would have a hope in hell of finding him for a very long time. Neither was an option I was prepared to accept. I needed him and his SUV to transport a marine engine, and, damn it, I enjoyed his company. He'd been spending a lot of time in Paris over the last twelve months or so, and we'd met up frequently. In fact, when I thought about it, we'd passed most of the year together, just hanging out, more at ease with each other than we'd been for a long time.
I didn't like the idea of not knowing where he is, I liked even less the thought of him not being around.
"Sydney," I heard myself say.
"Who?" Amanda frowned. "Is that his new ID?"
"No, it's where he is. He's at the Metropolitan Museum, and I don't know how long for. They've acquired some Hittite inscriptions and they commissioned him to do the translations. Knowing him, he probably wrote them in the first place," I added, and she laughed.
"Duncan, you're a sweetheart. I'll just go and powder my nose, then we can go back to my hotel for a nightcap. Or something."
I smiled, and didn't feel at all guilty about lying to her. This was Amanda, who could spin more fiction and half-truths than a politician's publicity agent, and if I had a dollar for every time she'd lied to me, I'd be a hell of a lot richer than I was. Knowing her, I'd place an odds-on bet that right then she'd be trying to book a flight to Australia.
So while she was gone, I made a quick phone call of my own. Methos might not be about, of course; he kept strange hours.
He was home. "Pierson and this better be good," he said. I could hear something with screaming guitars and a heavy beat playing in the background, and his voice was cheerful rather than disgruntled, despite the choice of words.
"Sorry," I answered, grinning. "Did I interrupt something? Wake you up?"
"Smart-arse." But there was a smile in his voice.
"Can you meet me tomorrow morning?" I asked.
"Sure. When and where?"
"Your choice, but it's urgent."
"Okay. Eleven o'clock, Chez Marceau. I'll be having a late breakfast."
"Thanks." I'd have preferred it earlier than that, but there wasn't time to say more, Amanda would be coming back any minute. "See you then."
I'd barely put the cell phone back in my pocket before she appeared, poised and stunningly beautiful, and drawing every eye in the restaurant. Her smile warmed as our eyes meet, and I smiled back. No question I loved this woman, but if I had to spend any length of time with her, I knew I'd probably end up strangling her. If she didn't strangle me first.
I poured more wine as she sat down. "A toast," I said. "To your Plantagenet jewels. And talking of jewels, would you like to go to the De Medici exhibition at the Louvre tomorrow?"
"Oh, I'd love to, but I can't." She looked genuinely regretful. "I, um, made a phone call just now. I can catch a flight to Sydney at ten in the morning."
"Oh." It wasn't hard to sound disappointed. She hadn't been in Paris anywhere near long enough for either of us to get to the throttling stage. "Okay. Do you want a lift to the airport?"
"You are so good to me," she murmured, trailing her fingertips across my cheek and lingering on my mouth. "And there'll be plenty of time for us to have breakfast in bed...."
I managed to get Amanda to the airport just in time to be processed through and onto the plane, and I drove back into the heart of Paris, bullying my way through the traffic. I didn't want to be late, or give Methos any excuse to use his own particular brand of snarkiness. I needed him to be in a good mood.
Luck was with me; I found a parking space within walking distance, and headed for Methos' apartment block and the street-café on its first floor. Despite having no sleep the previous night, I felt pretty damn good. The day was full of potential; there were a couple of suitable engines in the auction, and I fully intended that one of them would end up as mine.
I was also reasonably sure I'd be able to persuade Methos to help me out, and if I couldn't, well, we could always meet up for a meal after the auction. It was a beautiful morning, if a little on the cool side, and optimism brought a champagne tingle to my blood. Right then it felt great to be alive, even if I was wearing the dress shirt and pants I'd worn yesterday, and needed a shave. I doubted that Methos would notice, or care if he did.
I spotted him as I crossed the street toward the café, and the day took on an added luster. He was sitting at one of the small tables under the bright awning, oblivious to everything with his head in a book. His hair was a wind-tousled mess, and I was obscurely glad he hadn't gotten round to the visit to the barber he'd been muttering about. It reminded me of the first time I'd seen him, or rather, Adam Pierson. One was camouflage for the other, and it wasn't often in those early days that the prime identity had shown through. Our Presences converged and he looked up quickly, meeting my eyes, and I watched him relax, a smile growing on that mobile mouth.
Then the smile became a scowl of suspicion. He could read me too well, sometimes. I sat down and took a few seconds to re-order my strategy, but all my carefully planned words evaporated as I met his fathomless, knowing gaze.
"It's an auction," I said earnestly, and prayed it doesn't sound as lame to him as it did to me.
The shower was pleasantly hot and the grease gradually came off my hands. And off my forehead, though I wasn’t sure how it got up there. The auction had gone well, the replacement engine was mine and currently in pieces up on the deck. Methos had finally agreed to cart it back to the barge in his SUV, if only after I'd used Amanda as a bargaining chip and told him I'd steered her to the far side of the planet. The invite to a Methos-cooked dinner had surprised me, but I wasn't going to turn it down. An offer like that comes along once in a blue moon, after all.
I glanced at the clock as I dried off, and swore. It was later than I thought. So I dragged on something smartish and raked my hair back. It was still damp, uncomfortably close to wet, and I braided it into a queue, coincidentally this year's fashion for the fashionable-trendy, and the way I'd worn it a couple of centuries ago. The more things change the more they stay the same. Or was that what goes around, comes around?
Wine. He'd mentioned something about pasta, so I grabbed a good red as I headed for the door. I took the car, driving by instinct, my thoughts circling around Methos and the dismembered engine. Mostly the engine.
Luck was with me. I found a parking space not too far from Methos’ place, and walked the few blocks. The next day I planned on starting the final stages of Amadeus' transplant. Once I'd finished the installation, it'd need a shakedown run: a cruise up the Seine, maybe, visiting some of the towns and villages I haven't seen for years. I'll invite Methos along, I decided. Okay, he doesn't like boats, but this was a barge, for God's sake, with river banks close by and frequent stops for inns and restaurants. Besides, sharing the trip with him would only enhance--
I slowed to a stop, and examined that thought as if it was a suspect package. Methos. And I was hurrying to meet him as if--as if he's the sun that warmed my day and made it bright. For a timeless moment my world tilted on its axis, and all I thought I'd known about myself was realigned.
Standing in the middle of a busy Paris pavement was not the best place to handle personal revelations, but I needed to get my head around this. Suddenly my urge to deflect Amanda took on a whole new slant, and I acknowledged it with a sigh.
In four hundred years I've loved a lot of people, mostly women. I'd thought myself *in* love often enough, and more rarely, I'd known it with a deep certainty. Sometimes it had hit me like an avalanche, unexpected and overwhelming, like the moment I'd first set eyes on Tessa. Other times it had sneaked up from behind and hit me before I'd even guessed it was there. Like now.
When had Methos become so important to me? Not just as a friend, a companion, but potentially something more. I didn't know, couldn't pin it down. It just was, a fundamental part of my life, and to recognise it shook me to my core. God, how could I have been so blind, so caught up in--trivialities--that I couldn't recognise what was in my own heart?
I've always known Methos was complex. It was easy to assume that Adam Pierson is the sum total of who he is, because he made the man so real. Probably because Adam was mostly built on one aspect of the intricate mosaic that was Methos: his love of learning and books, the cerebral hunting pattern of a questioning mind. But he was so much more. Every tessera was a multi-dimensional facet of the man, and time the cement that embedded him. He was dangerous, unpredictable. He was an elemental force, enigmatic and as transparent as a lagoon, where the water is so clear you lose all depth-perception and you cannot see the bitter edges of the coral for the beauty of them. Nor can you see the current that will draw you down and take you far from any safe shore....
Most of the time I'd closed my mind to that, but every so often I’d look into his eyes and see more than five thousand years staring back at me, and I knew myself to be young, naive and foolish. I was in awe of his experience, his knowledge, and above all, of his incredible courage, his strength and tenacity. But underneath, I knew he was a man no different to me in many respects; he bleeds, feels pain, grieves and rages as I do. He just hid it better. Five thousand years, and he was still sane--more or less, as much as any immortal can be--still he found real enjoyment in living. And loving. And friendships.
I remembered the first time I saw him. He'd been diffident, almost shy, 99.999% Adam Pierson. At the same time I'd caught a fleeting glint of something else in that disingenuous gaze. Something ancient and indefinable. But the instant of almost-recognition had been lost, and it was much later on in our friendship that I began to catch glimpses of that older, infinitely more perilous entity. Five thousand years older--that he could remember--or so he'd said. It had taken me a while to realise that the truth and Methos are sometimes mutually exclusive. He was the master of misdirection, with a bladed wit that makes my katana seem dull, and he can flay with the skill of a first class surgeon. Words are a weapon for him, and I had no wish to subject myself to verbal dissection.
This Paris street was my Road to Damascus. I loved him and I was in love with him. It's nothing as simple as lust, a hunger for the athlete's whipcord body he hid under baggy sweaters and loose shirts. That would be easily satisfied, because I doubt there's much in all his centuries that he hasn't experienced, and God knows, he'd teased and flirted with me enough in the past, if not recently. So if I gave him the right signals, he'd probably respond.
Possibly. Maybe. Nothing was certain about Methos.
And besides, I'd discovered I wanted a hell of a lot more from him than sexual gratification, which was a terrifying realisation to have about another immortal.
But what would he want? There'd been no Damascan Road for him, I was certain. I'd seen Methos in love. With Alexa he was giddy and exhilarated and oddly, touchingly, unsure of himself. He was never that around me. So what would he want, if anything? Certainly not the kind of love that right then was making me imagine drowsy mornings with him sleeping beside me. Waking with a heavy-lidded smile that would promise so much, and fulfill each vow with the kind of easy joy that would light all the years and centuries of our lives with a deep and abiding contentment that would never fade, despite the inevitable arguments and misunderstandings that happen in relationships, no matter how deep the loving.
I couldn't believe he'd want that with me. A few hours of pleasure, maybe. Sex without commitment. I could do that. And he needn't know the rest if that was what it took to keep him drifting in and out of my life as his whim moved him.
So I'd say nothing, do nothing. It would be difficult, but the alternative was losing him, discovering he didn't want commitment and definitely not from me, and he'd skipped town without a word.
Or worse: I’d watch him walk away and know I'll never see him again. And that is-- Simply. Not. Acceptable.
I took a deep breath and started walking again, using every gram of stubbornness in me to school my emotions. I was later than ever now--and then I saw him in the doorway of his apartment block, and my breath caught in my throat, an idiotic grin spreading over my face. He stepped out onto the pavement, glancing around with deceptive casualness.
Time to act as if no earth-shaking revelation had hit me, and that everything was the same as it had always been. I changed the grin from besotted to cocky and strolled toward him, praying to God and all His saints I could pull this off without him suspecting anything.
"Sorry I'm late," I said, and used the only excuse I could think of that has the benefit of being partially true. "The valves--"
"Spare me the technical details." He accepted the offered wine and smiled, mouth quirking, eyes slitting catlike. I fought back the urge to step close and kiss him. "And I'll try to pretend you don't smell of matured sump gunk."
"I don't! Do I?"
"Probably not, but it'll be a long time before my car doesn't." He sounded crabby, but there was an amused glitter of hazel beneath his lashes.
"Oh. Sorry." Somehow I managed another smile of my own. "I'll make it up to you," I added with lunatic rashness.
"You certainly will," he said, a throaty undertone to his voice that struck home in my gut and kindled a slow sweet fire there. "I'm going to start a list. Come on up, dinner's on the way to being ready."
He turned away and I followed him through the lobby to the elevator. He was wearing something dark over tan pants. They were tailored, but probably at least a size too big and they disguised a runner's legs and hips. But they couldn't hide the way he moved. That casual strolling glide was Methos, not Adam Pierson, so was the slouch against the wall of the elevator, shoulder canted toward me. He was supple to the point of bonelessness. Like a cat. Or a serpent. His hair curled onto his collar, and it half-hid the curve of his ears. My fingers twitched against my control, wanting to touch, to discover--
I knew his body so well. I knew every flex of those long muscles, every subtle shift of balance, the speed and suppleness of him. I even knew the feel of his sweat-sleek skin under my hand, against my chest, the scent of him, spice and salt together. But it was all combat-learned: the knowledge of a sparring partner, a potential opponent, not a lover.
I clenched my hands into fists and buried them in my coat pockets. Best to keep my thoughts away from that. Arousal settled warm and heavy in my groin as it was. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Was it too late to invent a date? An appointment somewhere else: like Sydney?
I couldn't do this. I wasn’t not strong enough. I was going to make a fool of myself, but that wouldn't matter so long as it didn't drive him away. Please God don't let me drive him away--
The elevator stopped and he walked out. I followed close on his heels, too close, when I should have been back in there and riding down to sanity and the cold light of day--okay, the cool of a Parisian evening. He stood aside and opened his door. A wry smile and an expansive gesture invited me in, and like a tunnel-visioned fool I walked across the threshold. The door shut with a sharp steel snick and the sound shivered through my nerves as if he's drawn a blade. I turned, and he still wore that amused expression. His mouth was slightly parted, and instinct more than sight told me his breathing is hurried, unsettled. He wasn’t as certain as he wanted to appear. Why? Unless he--
His name was on my breath, spoken before I could bite it back. "Methos...." and I heard in that one word everything I’d sworn to myself I would never say.
His eyes became hooded, dark, and they had an archaic intensity that trap my own gaze as if he'd spoken my name.
Without looking, he placed the bottle of wine on a small table and moved forward, lithe and suddenly dangerous. Instinct cut in and my centre of gravity shifted. I was poised for attack or defence and he knew it. His smile widened and I saw the pale flash of sharp teeth.
This is the primal hunter, I abruptly realized, the stalker born before civilization, before a war band of Brothers manufactured terror out of destruction. I took my hands out of my pockets, but that's all. Part of me screamed to reach for my sword, yet something deeper, more ancient and feral than it should be, woke in my soul and it matched his deadliness. It told me no, wait, and I obeyed. If there was to be a contest, then it would be with the weapons we were born with, not tools shaped for killing. We were weapons. Of flesh and blood and bone and savage intelligence, and he and I were of one forging, no matter the centuries between us.
"This is me," he said, the sibilants drawn out. "Take a good look. You have no concept of what I am. You said so yourself, once."
"You are," I reply. "That is enough." We're not talking in English, or French. I have no idea which language we're using. "We are."
He nods, and abruptly he was the Methos I'd come to know, the lethal blade sheathed and at rest. His head tilted a fraction to the left and the smile finally warmed his eyes. He chuckled, the ironic amusement aimed as much at himself as at me. "And aren't we a pair of posturing idiots," he murmured, and it's definitely English this time. "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, come here."
Autocratic bastard. "No," I drawled. "You come here."
His chuckle became quiet, uneven laughter, and he moved toward me, doesn't stop until our faces are scant inches apart. "Decision time," he says. He was the same height as me, and I felt his breath on my cheek. My lungs couldn't seem to get enough air. Neither could his, because I saw the slight flare of his nostrils at every indrawn breath and the effort it took him to remain in control. "Do you want red wine or white with the anti-pasta?"
I gazed into eyes as wide and guileless as a shady pool, and the need in my body echoed the need in my heart. "Anything," I whispered, "as long as you're on the menu."
He blinked, startled, mouth parting a little more. He hadn't expected that, and the small victory was almost as heady as his closeness. But he rallied almost at once. "You're the main course," he said smugly. "I'm dessert."
Then he leaned in and kissed me.
His mouth was soft. Cushioned satin, moist and hot. The fleeting touch of his tongue-tip across my lips struck a spark of fire. I forgot I needed to take in oxygen occasionally, and I suckled on his tongue, encouraging him to deepen the kiss. With a shivering moan, he did just that. I wrapped my arms around him, held him tight enough to be jolted by the hammering of his heart against my ribs. Or was it my own? I couldn't tell because they seemed to be in synch.
I could feel him along the length of my body, from bony knees, thighs, hips, belly and breast. And the pulsing erections pressed together by the shared necessity to be as close to each other as we can get. One of his hands slid under my coat and cupped my ass, the other was at the nape of my neck with a death-lock on my braid. I couldn't move if I wanted, and I didn't want to. A kiss had no business being that good: I was drowning and flying at the same time, and I didn't want it ever to end. He invaded me, the hunger in him a tangible thing. I drank his breath, the taste of him. He was wine and oregano and fresh basil: he was an essential I could not do without.
Then I lost track of the rest of the world. All my awareness centered in on him. He was all I needed, all I'd ever want in my life no matter how long or short it may prove to be. Others might tempt me for a while, but he was my sun and moon and stars, and all others could be just brief candles.
A distant timer pinged and he leaned back in my arms. The arching of his spine pressed our groins closer, and whatever he started to say was lost in a sigh of pleasure. I wanted his mouth again, but he laughed and somehow twisted free. "There's no rush, is there?" he said, voice rough and rich, velvet on my senses. "Or do you have somewhere else to be?"
"Only here. With you," I answered, the words husky and deeper than usual. I watched his eyelids lower, slitting his gaze to a narrow assessing gaze. "Nowhere else."
"Oh, good. Why don't we put dinner on hold and find out where this is going?" He turned away toward the kitchen, a casual: "And you can do with shedding a few layers," tossed over his shoulder.
I was grateful for the respite. Not because I was still unsure of him--he wanted me as much as I wanted him and that was a crazy, heady delight rioting through my blood--but because I had to get back some self-control or we'd be rutting like demented mink on the floor. It didn't help that my erection was throbbing in time with my pulse, and the constriction of my clothing was a phantom caress over my skin.
I took off my coat and hung it on the rack by the door. When I turned back, he was stood by the couch, two wine glasses in one hand, a bottle in the other. His expression was strange. A mixture of wry amusement and almost sardonic aloofness that made me wonder if he's the one who's uncertain, who wanted to step away from this sudden heat between us.
"I won't insult you by asking if you're sure and if you know what you're doing," he says crisply, pouring the wine with a steady hand.
"I wouldn't still be here if I wasn't," I answered. "But if you want me to leave--"
"No," he interrupted. "That option isn't available. Not any more. I've read your Chronicles, and some things are conspicuous by their absence. How many lovers have you had? Male lovers?"
"What does that have to do with us?" I demanded, and it sounded defensive to my own ears, let alone his. "A few. Why?"
"Because I want you too much and I might not be able to hold back to a virgin's pace." The harsh edge to his voice underlined the stark words and my breath hitched in my lungs My cock jerked as if he'd touched me. Not many could do that to me with just the tone of their voice: Tessa could, Connor, and Amanda, now him.
"I know what I'm doing," I said, which is the truth. Well, almost the truth. As good as the truth, anyhow. I moved closer, accepting the glass he offered. His aloof amusement wavered, and I realized it was a shield, a barrier against revealing too much. Maybe- Oh, God, maybe he wants more than just sex with me. Maybe we were on the brink of something profound and lasting and as priceless as life itself. Or maybe it was just wishful thinking on my part.
For a few hours or forever, it doesn't matter. Here and now was all that was important.
So I took a sip of the wine and drifted my gaze over his face, plotting the course my fingertips and my mouth would take. Mapping him, exploring him--
"Damn you," he said huskily, and drained his glass as if it contained red water. He took mine from me, snatched it so that some of the liquid spills onto my fingers. He gave a shaky laugh and captured my hand, lifted it to his mouth and the delicate touch of his tongue lifted rich flavor from my skin. The sensation was intensely erotic, and I wanted--needed--more.
I cupped his head, tilted it a little and sought his mouth with mine. I wanted that kiss back, so I could drown and soar again. Our mouths moved together, a gentle suckling, and our tongues met, slid together, probing and tasting. Only wine, this time, the herbs all but lost in the alcohol, and something else that had to be him. Methos. Hungry, I delved for the elusive flavor and he moaned in his throat, pressed his body close and urgent against me.
Methos' hands scrabbled at my shirt, unfastened buttons, tugged it out of my pants. That was a good idea and I should have thought of it before. We broke the kiss long enough for me to shed my shirt, and tug his sweater over his head. The drag of fabric left his hair an untidy tousle around his flushed face, and I bit back the urge to babble out how much I loved him. Not yet, not until I was sure it's what he wanted to hear. Instead, I kissed his throat, found the line of tendon and muscle at the side of his neck with my lips and tongue. I bit gently, not even enough to mark him, and the sound he made was primitive and raw. He rocked his hips, grinding our erections together. His hands slid down my back to my ass, pulled me closer still. His fingers dug into my clenched muscles, bruising, but I was flying so high the discomfort was only an added stimulus. What I didn't need was anything between us, especially clothing.
I fumbled at Methos' belt and waistband, and he took the hint. We broke apart and kicked off shoes, got rid of socks, pants and boxers, and then we paused, gazing at each other. It was as if I saw him naked for the first time: the lean body with not an ounce of spare flesh, the tinted marble of his skin that seemed pale against my own tanned olive, the flushed and seeping cock that rose from its thatch of dark hair, all the power and grace of him no longer hidden but displayed for me. He was--I didn't have the words. Perfect and glorious and magnificent didn't even come close.
Something like reverence showed in Methos' eyes. He slowly lifted his hand and laid it on my breastbone. His touch felt like a brand marking me, but painless. He whispered something in a language I recognize, and then he began to laugh, a joyous paean of delight, free and shadowless. It told me without words that he was in love with me. I reached out for him and the shock of full body contact was enough to have me poised on the edge of orgasm. He was vital and more alive than anyone I have ever held, and without anything remotely resembling an inhibition.
I wanted to take this slow. I wanted to learn all there is about his body, chart it, taste it, but I couldn't. I simply didn't have the will-power to hold back, and neither did he. He drove his hips to mine, arms like metal bands around me, fingers clutching, and his mouth fastened onto mine as if he would leech the soul from my body. Our erections slid against each other, against bellies slick with sweat and pre-come, and when he pushed his hand between our straining bodies and curls his fingers around me, I came with a choking cry.
Methos held me upright through the rush of pleasure that left me boneless and shaking, then somehow w we're on the rug. He flexed my knee and pushes the leg to one side, then he leaned over me, face inches from mine. Sweat trickled down his cheek, one drop fell to the corner of my mouth and I licked it away, savouring the salt of him.
"Duncan," he whispered, his hands stroking through the semen I've spilled on our bellies. Then he reached across to his discarded clothing, and retrieved a small bottle from his pants’ pocket.
“Yes.” I answered his unspoken question, and he lifted my other leg, spreading me. Methos flipped open the bottle, coated his fingers with lube, and slid them along my perineum to my entrance. He worked me open with gentle care, stroked more lube over his cock, and tossed the bottle away. He positioned himself with one hand while the other caressed my mouth. I sucked on his fingers, tasting my own come, and then he eased past my sphincter muscles with a long growl of pleasure. It hurt a little, just the right side of pleasure and pain. I tilted my hips, locked my legs around his ribs. He'd given me fair warning and I wanted this.
He stilled, buried in me. The sensation was incredible even before the burn eased off. Methos stretched and filled me, completed me in ways I hadn't felt before. All the times I'd refused Connor, refused Lucas, this ultimate of intimacies, come back to laugh at me, or laugh with me, because this was right and Methos was my soul's companion. He turned his face into my neck and his breath is sobbing in his throat.
I canted my hips as much as I could with his full weight on me, and used my heels on his buttocks to urge him deeper. His thrust impacted on my prostate and the electric jolt of pleasure dragged a shout from me. He's dessert, he'd said. So our positions will be reversed, it'd be me thrusting into him, sheathed in the throbbing heat of him. I clench my internal muscles and he calls out again. He starts to move, finding a driving rhythm that hits that knot of nerves with every stroke, and stiffening my cock again.
Methos shouted, his face transfigured with ecstasy, his tempo faltering as his orgasm crested through him. His cock throbbed inside me, filling me, and with his name on my lips I came again in waves of pleasure that left me washed up on a secure shore. Methos' arms locked around me, his forehead pressed to my shoulder and he whispered my name like a mantra, throaty with sated passion. His lips moved on my skin with each syllable, caressing without kissing. I stroked his hair gently and he sighed, somehow managing to edge even closer.
The rug was coarse against my skin, and he was heavy, but I didn't want to move. I was content. More than content. It had been a long road, but I knew I was home for the first time in over four hundred years. I tightened my arms around him. "Mo cridhe," I murmured. He stirred slightly and kissed the pulse in my throat, and replied in a ripple of syllables I didn't understand. But I was pretty sure what they meant.
He'd found his home as well.